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Sky Bet Championship: Five things that could happen when the 2019/20 season resumes

The Sky Bet Championship season has been placed in an indefinite suspension with no football scheduled for the near future.

It brings a temporary halt in the battle for the Premier League – with Leeds and West Brom in strong positions to return to the top-flight of English football.

Elsewhere, the race for the play-offs continues to heat up with nine clubs in with a realistic chance of securing one of the four spots on offer.

At the other end, Barnsley and Luton have picked up results in recent weeks which has moved them closer to safety, while the likes of Charlton, Hull and Middlesbrough will all be looking to avoid finishing in the bottom-three spots.

The signal from the English football authorities is that they wish to resume the current campaign, but only when it is safe to do so.

But what can we expect to see happen if the campaign continues as it was? Tom Carnduff delivers his five predictions.

Leeds to win the league

It’s been a long wait for Leeds to return to the Premier League, but Marcelo Bielsa has completely revolutionised a side who were previously struggling in mid-table.

The Whites went 13 points clear of third in December, but a complete collapse over the next two months saw them level with the play-off positions after defeat to Nottingham Forest in February.

However, the determination of this side shone through and they now sit top of the table with a significant seven-point gap over Fulham in third.

The Cottagers are the only other top-six side that Leeds have left to play as well – that’s a home contest in two games’ time. Considering Fulham have Brentford in their first game back, it could be a big opportunity for Leeds to move well clear in the race for automatic promotion.

There were many questions about this Leeds side during their slump but they’ve answered in the best possible fashion. They’ve not only beaten teams but have looked comfortable throughout. It’s also worth remembering that the Whites have won their last five games – keeping a clean sheet in every single contest.

West Brom’s home defeat to Wigan (who love to play their disruptive part in the promotion battle) and draw with Swansea have led to those little doubts creeping into the mind about whether they can regain top spot.

Leeds and West Brom should both secure promotion – but it’s the Elland Road club who are the stronger fancy for the title.

Millwall to win the play-offs

Brentford have been a favourite for play-off success throughout the course of the 2019/20 campaign and they sit fourth with a five-point cushion inside the top-six.

It’s likely that they’ll be joined by Fulham in the post-season battle, Nottingham Forest too, but there is a case to be made for six teams to get that one final space.

In that mix is Millwall, who have barely been spoken about when it comes to looking at the promotion picture.

If you look at the table since Gary Rowett took charge at the end of October, the Lions are fifth, with only West Brom losing fewer games.

Their nine draws can only be bettered by Birmingham and Swansea. What we are seeing from this Millwall side is one that can grind out results and, crucially, they can do that away from home as well as the Den.

Rowett’s Millwall are the perfect play-off team. Tough to beat, physical and utilise their aerial dominance to perfection at both ends of the pitch.

Of course, there are the results against top-six sides to back that up too. Leeds and West Brom are the only two teams at the top-end of the division who have beaten Millwall under Rowett. It’s also worth noting that they held a 2-0 lead at Leeds at half-time.

Since the end of October, Millwall have beaten Brentford at home, while there have been away victories at Swansea, Bristol City, Preston and Nottingham Forest.

Alongside that, there were home draws against Forest, Fulham and Bristol City while they also picked up a point on the road at Cardiff.

The focus will be on those clubs who were expected to be in the promotion picture this season, but if they can secure a top-six spot, Millwall will be a strong contender to reach the Premier League.

Jean-Kevin Augustin to score the most goals

I made the bold claim that Augustin will be a sensation at Leeds when he signed in January and, despite limited appearances, I’m sticking to that for when the season gets back under way.

A key part of Bielsa’s coaching is that a new signing has to take time to learn his way of playing, along with getting to the right fitness levels, before having a real role in the first team.

It’s why Augustin has only made three appearances so far and all of those have come from the bench. However, this break has given the striker time to get his fitness levels up to the required rate.

The excellent Phil Hay in The Athletic recently revealed that Leeds’ medical team started preparing for an enforced break back in January. When the news came out that they couldn’t train together, they delivered fitness packs to every single member of the squad that night.

Augustin appears to have stuck to the regime. It’s also given him time to understand fully the way that Leeds want to play and his role within that system.

The basis of my original claim revolved around seeing him in the Bundesliga for RB Leipzig, his parent club, and the surprise when it emerged that Leeds were in a serious position to sign him.

A full stats breakdown between him and Patrick Bamford from January can be found here. Essentially, if he can replicate the form of his last full season for Leipzig, he’ll have no issue in finding the net in the Championship.

I’m intrigued to see if Sky Bet will offer a market along the lines of ‘top goalscorer for the final nine games’. If they do, Augustin is definitely worth consideration.

Hull to be relegated

There was a point this season where a small argument could be made that Hull were play-off outsiders. There is absolutely nothing along the same lines now.

Grant McCann’s men are in free fall. They haven’t won a league game since their 1-0 away victory at Sheffield Wednesday back on New Year’s Day.

Since that fixture at Hillsborough, the Tigers have played eleven Championship fixtures and lost nine. Their two games before the break saw them concede nine goals with just one in reply.

That’s left them 21st in the standings. Just two points separates Hull and Charlton, who currently occupy the final relegation spot.

The January departures of Jarrod Bowen and Kamil Grosicki have hit them hard. Bowen had 16 goals and six assists in 29 league games prior to his move to West Ham while Grosicki had direct involvement in 12 goals – he is now at West Brom.

Hull looked to find replacements but it just seemed too much to do in a winter transfer window. McCann is a good manager, that was reflected with spells at Peterborough and Doncaster, but he needs a lot more from the current crop he has.

Their remaining fixtures seen them come up against promotion-chasing West Brom, Millwall, Bristol City and Cardiff while they also face fellow strugglers Charlton, Middlesbrough, Wigan and Luton.

Those games will be tough, and given their recent form, they need to turn things around as early as possible. Defeat in that contest with the Addicks though will leave them with a mountain to climb.

A ten-goal game

Ok, this is another slightly wild one and based on what I’d like to happen as opposed to some of the arguments with a little more substance made previously.

However, saying that we’ll have ten goals in a game this season isn’t too unrealistic given the results we have already seen during the 2019/20 campaign.

Alongside that, Aston Villa and Nottingham Forest played out a remarkable 5-5 draw last season so, hey, there is some hope.

And who could forget the fact that Bristol City and Hull had the same scoreline the season before. Nottingham Forest have beaten Leeds 7-3 in the past, while Preston have also won 6-4 at Elland Road (sorry, Leeds fans).

That said, Leeds do hold bragging rights for the most successful high-scoring game this season when they beat Birmingham 5-4 with virtually the last kick of the game in December.

We’ve also seen Hull and Swansea play out a 4-4 draw, Brentford beating Luton 7-0 and QPR hammering Cardiff 6-1 so there is more than enough evidence that this division produces goals.

As the weeks progress, more teams will have nothing to play for and that can open up the contests. It also works on the flip side, although those involved in promotion or relegation will more likely hold a cautious approach.

Ten goals, if my research is correct, remains the highest number of goals scored in one Championship game. This season has been remarkable enough, but there’s every chance we could even see that record broken over the next nine game weeks.

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