Preston, Birmingham & Leeds all chasing Championship play-off spot

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The international break has given us time to sit back and assess what the next seven months could potentially hold for a whole host of Championship clubs. With Newcastle United and Brighton & Hove Albion occupying the top two spots, and Aston Villa finally finding some form, we’ve identified three teams who could push for the remaining three play-off spots.

We begin with a team who are enjoying a fine run of form in their second season back in the second-tier of English football…

Preston North End

Two months ago, Simon Grayson’s men were priced at 20/1 to make the top six come May next year, and now they’re just 8s to achieve that.

That’s a credit to the Lilywhites, who’ve found some incredible form of late.

Losing just one of their last eight league matches, Preston have enjoyed victories over the likes of Aston Villa, Norwich and Huddersfield already this campaign, and they find themselves in 11th-place as a result.

Sitting just three points off a play-off spot after 16 games is all the more impressive for a side that were more likely to go down than up this season according to traders, especially when you consider the fact that they lost their first three games.

They’re sharing the goals around, too, with no less than 11 players finding the net for them already this season. That means they aren’t too reliant on just one player to score, whereas several sides in and around them are in that position.

Now that they’ve clearly found their stride in the division, they could well find themselves in the top-flight of English football for the first time in 55 years.

Birmingham City

Gary Rowett has been linked with several managerial posts at bigger clubs over the last year or so, but he’s stuck by the Blues. And his loyalty looks to be paying off as things stand, with the West Midlands outfit currently sitting in seventh-place, a point off the play-off spots.

Clayton Donaldson and Lukas Jutkiewicz have a combined tally of nine league goals to their name this season, while David Davis has chipped in from midfield with three goals, most notably the equaliser against local rivals Aston Villa.

City have only failed to find the net on three occasions in the Championship this year, but for all the attacking threat they pose, they’re yet to rediscover the defensive form of last season which saw them concede just 49 goals, their best record since their return to the division.

The Blues are currently 11/2 to make the top six, and while it’s something they haven’t done that since the 2011-12 campaign, fans will feel they have a squad strong enough now to make a genuine challenge for a play-off spot.

Leeds United

Finally, it looks as though there’s some stability at Elland Road.

It seems Garry Monk, after a shaky start, has now settled at the Yorkshire club, and if they can maintain their current position for the duration of the season, they’ll have a crack at making a return to the big time via the play-offs, as they’re currently sitting in sixth-place.

Striker Chris Wood is in the form of his career right now, with the 24-year-old having notched eight league goals already, meaning he’s now just five strikes away from matching his tally for the whole of last season.

Last weekend’s victory against Norwich City emphasised just how hard this side are working to prove themselves to their manager, and it’s safe to say that the squad as a whole are showing more grit and determination than any Leeds side we’ve seen in recent years.

Whatever Monk is doing, it’s working right now – and fans won’t want that to change any time soon.

And we mustn’t forget there’s a January transfer window just around the corner. If the 37-year-old gaffer can keep his side within touching distance of the top six, you can all-but guarantee he’ll bring a couple of high-profile, experienced names in for the second-half of the season.

Right now, they’re just 3/1 to make the top six, and that’s the shortest price they’ve been all season.

But we reckon that should they make the play-offs, they may just go all the way and book themselves a place in next season’s Premier League, meaning there’s certainly value to be had in the 12/1 for them to go up.

All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing

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Alex Apati

Having graduated from Birmingham City University with a degree in Creative Writing with English, Alex joined the News team following a three year stint working for Ladbrokes behind the counter. When he's not watching darts, he's throwing them. Failing that you'll find him YouTubeing Thierry Henry's greatest Arsenal goals.