So here we are, about to enter the final month of the football season. Fans up and down the country are gearing up for one last push for promotion, a play-off place, or the lucky few, a division title. Or, dare I say it, fearing relegation, determined to fight it off, or for some, already preparing for next season in a lower division. In the Money-Bags Premier League, with a little further to go, there are plenty of battles still to be fought. So follows my predictions for the final shake-up in English football and beyond:
Starting at the bottom of the pile, in League Two.
Champions: Chesterfield. They have led for so long now, and although they’ve seen a substantial lead wither away, I think they’ll have too much pride to let the title slip away.
Promoted: Bury & Wycombe. Bury have had a great spell over the past few weeks, catching Chesterfield, beating them on Easter Monday, but I think they will just fall short of the title, while Wycombe have been up and down like a yo-yo battling for the final automatic promotion place. I think a win for Wycombe this afternoon will be the deciding factor.
Play-offs: Shrewsbury, Accrington, Torquay & Gillingham.
Play-off Winners: Shrewsbury. Having been pre-season favourites again for some success, yet again Shrewsbury have failed to show the consistency that would earn them an easy automatic promotion. Previous play-off campaigns have ended in heartbreak at Wembley, but with this seasons final at Old Trafford, the pressure is off, there won’t be the awe that comes with playing at Wembley. Which is why I’m tipping them to finally prevail.
Relegated: Stockport & Northampton. Stockport are already as good as relegated before today’s games as they are 6 points adrift with 2 games to play, and have a far inferior goal difference. I’m tipping Northampton to join them in the Blue Square Premier next year as they are just not doing anything, while Barnet have sprung into life and are on a roll.
On to League One.
Champions: Brighton. Already crowned Champions, Brighton have been by far the best team in the division this season. They will be playing Championship football in their shiny new stadium next season.
Promoted: Southampton. The Saints have finally come good after sinking to their lowest point a couple of seasons ago. They’ve been involved in quite a battle, but I feel their pedigree will carry them up.
Play-offs: Huddersfield, Peterborough, MK Dons & Bournemouth.
Play-off Winners: Huddersfield. I’m going for the Terriers to succeed. They will only just miss out on automatic promotion and this will spur them on. Lee Clark has kept his team fighting all the way, and they’ll get their reward with a return to the Championship.
Relegated: Swindon, Plymouth, Bristol Rovers & Walsall. Swindon are already down, Plymouth have battled back after losing 10 points for their financial troubles but it’ll be too much for them. Bristol Rovers have two tough games left, and I can’t see them getting anything, and Walsall will slip down at the last minute after a season of struggle.
Up to the Championship now, and the fight to reach the big time.
Champions: QPR. They have led for virtually the entire season, and will get the points on the board to finish first. However, with the current uncertainty surrounding them and a breach of rules on Third party player ownership, whether they are allowed to make the step up into the Premier League is still in the balance.
Promoted: Norwich. It’s a tough one to call, but I think their late winner against Derby last week will boost their confidence for the final run-in.
Play-offs: Cardiff, Swansea, Reading & Nottingham Forest.
Play-off Winners: Cardiff. After countless promotion chasing seasons and subsequent play-off disappointments, this is the year they finally break their jinx and hit the big time. They’ve got the players to do it, and also the experience of failure to give them the extra desire to finally succeed and take their place at the top table.
Relegated: Preston, Scunthorpe & Sheffield United. Preston are already down before kick-off today, and inferior goal differences have all but condemned Scunny and Sheffield United to join them, as they are both 6 points back with only 6 to play for.
And so we come to the Premier League. Where dreams allegedly come true and the best players in the world apparently ply their trade.
Champions: Manchester United. A record-breaking 19th title awaits this bunch of flukey, jammy, fortunate but somehow still successful lot. Deserving? Perhaps not as I think they’ve just not been as bad as the chasing pack. Some will argue that it’s been the closest and best season so far. That maybe the case, but I think last season was better, and next season will also eclipse this one.
Champions League: Chelsea, Arsenal & Manchester City. Chelsea and Arsenal are only one win away from guaranteeing it, while City are bringing up the rear. They may have the distraction of a Cup Final, but with a decent 4 point gap and potentially an easier game than their rivals this weekend, that should do it.
Europa League: Tottenham. The top four is just tantalisingly out of reach for them this time round. But to maintain a top four challenge whilst making the Champions League quarter-finals in their first year takes some guts and quality. They are just a dependable goalkeeper away from another top four finish. Assuming they can keep their stars.
Relegated: West Ham, Wolves & Blackpool. This has been the closest relegation scrap for some time. At the time of writing only 10 points separate the bottom 12 teams. However, someone has to go and for me it looks like West Ham will be one after a season of struggle. Wolves will join them after a poor recent run looks to have drained them of confidence and fight. Finally, after a season of unprecidented success (a double over Liverpool for starters) and much entertainment from manager Ian Holloway, Blackpool look to have dipped at the wrong time, they can’t get a win for love nor money (a vital commodity in this league) and with others picking up the odd point here and there around them, it looks likely to be goodnight from them.
Elsewhere, there are cups still up for grabs involving English teams:
FA Cup: Manchester City. The blues will finally end their long wait for some silverware at the expense of gallant losers Stoke. Not the final many envisaged, but it certainly gives teams hope to have seen only one of the so-called Big Four even reach the semi-finals.
Champions League: Barcelona. After the respective first leg results, both Barca and Manchester United look odds on to meet again at Wembley. There will be no fairy tale win for Sir Alex this year either, as Barcelona on a bad day could still run rings around this current United side, even with Rooney. Lionel Messi looks untouchable, David Villa looks to be almost slacking in comparison. Xavi and Iniesta are still their imperious selves, and Pique and Puyol have continued to dominate their opponents. The only question for me is how many they’ll win by.
And so ends my attempt at clairvoyance. I’ll either be proved right or will have to smash up my crystal ball in anger and disappointment. But one thing’s for sure, as a Shrewsbury fan, my heart is yearning for automatic promotion for two reasons. Firstly to prevent the nervy down to the wire nature of the play-offs. Secondly so I can head off to Austria in May already knowing that League One beckons.
Ta ta then.