Every season favourites are established by bookmakers to which teams are the bankers to see off the competition and achieve promotion back to the Premiership, alongside netting two lucrative television deals. This season the favourites have under performed and astonishingly are fighting to keep their Championship status and not get relegated to League 1.
Blackburn, Wolves and Bolton who were all relegated from the Barclays Premier League in the 2011/12 season and alongside Blackpool and Birmingham have all struggled this season, with Wolves astonishingly in the drop zone two points from safety.
This season four teams have a realistic chance with ten games remaining to gain promotion to the Premier League they are Cardiff, Hull City, Watford and Crystal Palace. All expect Cardiff have experienced Premiership football, but could again be in a familiar position to somehow mess up that opportunity and keep their reputation of not reaching/losing in the play-offs, like they have for the last few seasons.
Cardiff are currently four points clear at the top of the Championship table, six above third placed Watford, but it was ten points just three games ago, sparking fears that the dreaded reputation was again surfing it's ugly head.
The squad they have is arguably better than some in the Premiership with the likes of Craig Bellamy, Peter Whittingham, Fraizer Campbell and Jordan Mutch etc. and should really be able to see out the remaining games and be at least the play-offs come April. Plus in manager Malky Mackay, who has Premiership experience with Watford as caretaker manager in 2008, should be able to add some reinsurance and advice to his playing squad to see out the remaining games.
Next come Watford, who were in the Premiership last in the 2006/07 season. Charismatic Italian manager Gianfranco Zola has with the help of owners, the Pozzo family, who own Italian Serie A side Udinese and Spanish team Granada, loan no less than ten signings from them both. All loans are in regulation with Football League rules and have seen Zola's team cement a place in the top four and currently sit 3rd 2 points behind Hull, who are in the last automatic promotion position.
The most influential of those loans has been Czech Republic international Matej Vydra, on loan from Udinese. He currently has 20 goals in the League, only bettered by Glen Murray (29), Charlie Austin (23) and Jordan Rhodes (22) and is attracting interest from clubs in the Premiership and across Europe.
Alonside Vydra, they have experienced heads such as ex Arsenal keeper Manuel Almunia and Fitz Hall who have surely helped reassure most of the young loan signings including Ikechi Anya, Almen Abdi and obviously Vydra to keep up the momentum and try and gain automatic promotion or a place in the play-offs at the very least.
Hull are the other side in my opinion alongside Watford and Crystal Palace who will be in the Premiership next season and have taken a leaf out of Watford's play book. They are currently 2nd, two points clear of 3rd placed Watford and are being backed heavily by Egyptian owner Assem Allam. He has used connections back home to allow Hull to loan two of the country’s biggest international players Mohamed Nagy and Ahmed Fathi from Cairo giants Al Ahly. Alongside those two Egyptian internationals, manager Steve Bruce has also brought in a third in winger Ahmed Elmohamady, a player he knows well after working with him at Sunderland.
Alongside the three Egyptians pushing Hull up the table is George Boyd, a player in my opinion who is one of the best currently in the division, on loan from relegation threatened Peterborough. All these players have been instant impacts on Bruce's side with Boyd scoring two against Birmingham City on his debut (one within 60 seconds), Nagy scoring three in his last four games and Elmohamady also hitting the back of the net.
Captain Robert Koren and Abdoulaye Faye, whom both have Premiership experience with West Brom and Bolton respectively are also helping Hull's push for a return to the big time.
Crystal Palace who appointed probably the best man for the job in Ian Holloway, after losing Dougie Freeman to Bolton half-away through the season currently sit 4th three points behind 2nd placed Hull. They have the League's top scorer in Glyn Murray (29) and some of the most exciting youngsters in the division, Wilfried Zaha (recently signed by Man Utd) and Yannick Bolasie and are gunning for the two automatic promotional places.
With these players you would expect to see Palace in the Premiership next season playing at Old Trafford, the Emirates and the Etihad next season. Glen Murray has been on fire this season banging in goals left, right and centre and is for that reason the league's top goalscorer, Wilfried Zaha, who recently signed for Manchester United and loaned back to Palace for the rest of the season has been tormenting opposition defenders all season and they also have their own trump card in veteran goalscorer Kevin Phillips.
Manager Ian Holloway has the ability unlike other clubs around him to call upon Kevin Phillips, a veteran goalscorer from the bench or for a rare start; which might not be that rare after he netted a hat-trick recently against promotion rivals Hull City in a 4-2 win. I can see his and Murray's goals alongside the trickery, energy and excitement of Zaha and Bolasie and other experienced heads such as Owen Garvan and Mike Jedinak firing Palace back into the Premiership.
With ten games left in an already pulsating season, no one expects anything else than a rip roaring ride to find out who will be travelling to grounds such as Old Trafford, Stamford Bridge and Anfield next season.
My predictions are Cardiff to yet again do their regular end of season turn and not even win the play-off final at Wembley in May. So for me its Crystal Palace to win the division, Watford in the second automatic promotion place and Hull to win the play-offs at Wembley come May.