After 45 thrilling rounds of action, the 2017-18 Sky Bet Championship has reached its season finale.
Somehow automatic promotion, play-off and relegation spots are all yet to be sorted with several of them colliding on the final day.
Wolverhampton Wanderers are promoted as champions but we await which of Cardiff or Fulham will join them, with the loser contesting the play-offs.
Cardiff just need to match Fulham’s result and they’re up whilst the Cottagers need to win or draw and their rival to lose to Reading.
The last play-off spot is also at stake with Derby, Preston and Millwall all separated by three points.
Derby can clinch it with a draw given their superior goal difference over Preston whilst Millwall must win and hope the others suffer huge defeats. Defeat for Derby and a Preston win will see the Lancashire club snatch the play-off spot regardless of what Millwall do.
Relegation is a five way fight between; Reading, Birmingham, Barnsley, Burton and Bolton.
The relegation permutations are so complex that Reading and Birmingham simply just need to avoid defeat and they’re safe, as long as Burton don’t dish up the mother of all attacking riots at Preston and win by 10+ goals.
Add in the fact that they all bar Bolton face teams fighting for something and this is seriously complicated.
Birmingham City vs Fulham
This is a must win for both sides so expect a tough battle that could come down to the final moments.
Birmingham won here in this fixture last season but haven’t beaten Fulham in two consecutive home games since 1951. A season later was the last time that the Cottagers managed a league double over the Brummies.
Since suffering relegation to Championship in 2011, Birmingham haven’t lost on final day but Fulham are 23 games unbeaten here.
Add in Aleksandar Mitrovic’s three goals in each of last three games and Fulham have to be favourites.
Garry Monk however have drawn all his meetings with Fulham 1-1 as a manager.
For that reason, expect both teams to score but I reckon that Fulham will win this, no matter what Cardiff does.
Prediction: Birmingham City 1-2 Fulham
Result: Birmingham City 3-1 Fulham
Bolton Wanderers vs Nottingham Forest
Bolton will definitely fancy their chances here, as the only relegation threatened team facing a team who has nothing to play for.
The Trotters just have to win because a draw wouldn’t be enough unless Barnsley got crushed 15-0 at Derby, which is very unlikely to happen.
They however haven’t won in last nine games against Nottingham Forest, who in turn haven’t won at the Macron Stadium in nearly 40 years.
Ultimately, the defining difference might be Aitor Karanka, who is unbeaten (W5 D1) in his six games against Bolton from his time in charge of Middlesbrough.
Prediction: Bolton Wanderers 0-1 Nottingham Forest
Result: Bolton Wanderers 3-2 Nottingham Forest
Cardiff City vs Reading
Cardiff just need to match or better Fulham’s result and they will be in Premier League next season.
Reading meanwhile just need to avoid defeat because Burton are unlikely to net 20 goals at Deepdale.
Although Reading won here 1-0 last season, the Bluebirds won their previous three against the Royals but are unbeaten in just two of last four home/away.
Since 2018 arrived, Cardiff have won 13 whilst Reading could only muster up three so I think that this will be a comfortable home win because confidence is with the home team.
Prediction: Cardiff City 2-0 Reading
Result: Cardiff City 0-0 Reading (Cardiff City are promoted!!!)
Derby County vs Barnsley
Should Derby fail to win, goal difference could very well be the defining factor in the play-off race.
Draw and Preston will need to win by nine goals whilst Millwall are eliminated from contention.
A Derby defeat and a win for Preston will see them leapfrog the Rams into sixth. Should Preston fail to win and Millwall do, the Lions need a roaring nine goal victory margin to be able to nick that last play-off spot.
Barnsley will be relegated if lose and Burton and Bolton both win. A draw would require both Bolton and Burton to not win for the Tykes to be safe.
Their goal difference however should see them safe if win because Burton would have to score 22 goals to stand any chance of sending Barnsley down.
This season has already seen these sides meet twice, Barnsley winning in Carabao Cup whilst Derby won the league game.
Throw in the Rams dismal final day record in recent years, drawing and losing four in past four seasons and Barnsley should have a chance here.
At end of a dramatic 2014-15 season, Derby were in a similar position and blew it, but this time around I think that they have learned their lesson and will get the job done.
Prediction: Derby County 2-0 Barnsley
Result: Derby County 4-1 Barnsley (Derby County in play-offs and Barnsley relegated!!!)
Millwall vs Aston Villa
Millwall’s task is simple!!
They MUST win and hope that Derby and Preston both lose their games. Derby particularly need a heavy defeat to reduce what Millwall need goal wise to overtake them on goal difference.
Luckily for them, Aston Villa got nothing to play for and they are unbeaten in last nine final day home games.
Villa have lost four of their last six final day matches across both Championship and Premier League and are winless on last five trips to The Den, so face history here.
Add in that they’re already in play-offs so can rest players and I reckon it be a Millwall win.
Prediction: Millwall 3-0 Aston Villa
Result: Millwall 1-0 Aston Villa
Preston North End vs Burton Albion
Most eyes are probably on this game given its signifance in the play-off and relegation battles.
If Preston win and Derby lose, they will get that final play off spot regardless of what Millwall do. A Derby draw would mean that the Lilywhites must win by nine goals if are to extend their season.
As for Burton, they just need to win because of their shambolic -42 goal difference.
Should they fail then they’re down and if they win, they need those above them to all lose their games.
These teams have met just three times with Preston winning twice and drawing once.
Preston are also unbeaten in last 14 home games on final day (W11 D3), so I am backing them here to get the job done even if not enough for sixth place.
Prediction: Preston North End 2-0 Burton Albion
Result: Preston North End 2-1 Burton Albion (Burton Albion are relegated!!!)