Championship promotion race: A guide to the eight clubs slugging it out for the £3bn Premier League reward

 
Joe Hall
Follow Joe

With Chelsea seven points clear at the top and Manchester City four points ahead in fourth, there isn't too much left to get excited about in the Premier League season. But you don't have to look too far to get your fix of title-fight drama.

The Championship is set for yet another barmy, barnstorming finish with eight teams still in contention for promotion and the top four separated by just three points. Never before has so much been at stake. The Premier League's current £3bn TV deal guarantees at least £80m on promotion, but the chance to secure a place in the elite before the lucrative £5bn deal kicks into effect in 2016 makes the prospect even tastier.

Here's our guide to the eight teams duking it out for football's biggest payday.

1st: Watford - 85 pts

  • Manager: Slavisa Jokanovic
  • Top scorer: Troy Deeney & Odion Ighalo - 20
  • Most assists: Troy Deeney - 8
  • Net spend: -£484,000
  • 2014 revenue: £16.7m
  • 2014 profit/loss: £1.4m loss
  • Form: LDWWWW
  • Last two games: Brighton (A), Sheffield Wednesday (H)

Watford - 85 points

After losing three managers in less than three months at the beginning of the season, Watford have found stability and success with Slavisa Jokanovic who can boast of the highest win percentage of any manager in the club's history.

The Hornets are owned by the Pozzo family who also own Udinese in Italy and Granada in Spain. Large investments have been made to renovate Vicarage Road while Udinese's large European scouting networks have been made available to Watford's managers, helping to both steadily grow matchday revenue and reduce the wage bill.

In Troy Deeney and Odion Ighalo, Watford have the joint second highest scorers in the league, while Matej Vydra - with 14 goals - is always a threat lurking in reserve. In a testament to the trio's prowess, Watford are the second-highest scorers in the Championship despite the fact nine other teams have created more chances.

2nd: Bournemouth - 84 pts

  • Manager: Eddie Howe
  • Top scorer: Callum Wilson - 22 
  • Most assists: Matt Ritchie - 15
  • Net spend: £554,000
  • 2013 revenue: £5.1m
  • 2013 profit/loss: £15.3m loss
  • Form: WDWWWD
  • Last two games: Bolton (H), Charlton (A)

Bournemouth - 84 points

Whatever happens in the next two games, this is already Bournemouth's greatest ever season. In only their second campaign since promotion from League One (and just their fifth season in the second tier), the Cherries are unlikely leaders of the chasing pack.

With an unassuming bite-sized ground, an attractive but adaptable style of football and a manager in possession of Robert Redford's million-dollar smile, it's hard not to fall head-over-heels for the romantic elements in Bournemouth's meteoric rise. Manager Eddie Howe saved the club from relegation from the Football League in his first season and now has them on the cusp of the billionaire boys club.

Alas, these days in football few can enjoy such success without a sugar daddy behind the scenes and Bournemouth are no different. Russian owner Maxim Demin has had to provide millions in loans to cover widening losses (2014 figures have not yet been released).

3rd: Middlesbrough - 84 pts

  • Manager: Aitor Karanka
  • Top scorer: Patrick Bamford - 19
  • Most assists: Grant Leadbitter & Lee Tomlin - 9
  • Net spend: £6.1m
  • 2014 revenue: £12.8m
  • 2014 profit/loss: £20.4m loss
  • Form: LWLWWW
  • Last two games: Fulham (A), Brighton (H)

Middlesbrough - 84 points

For Middlesbrough, promotion is perhaps more of an urgent issue than any of their competitors. The Teeside club racked up heavy losses of £20m last season, and this season's accounts are unlikely to look much healthier after a £6m transfer net spend this season.

Boro have lost crucial meetings with Bournemouth and Watford which could ultimately prove terminal in this tightest of title races, but reclaimed top spot on Friday night after reversing that trend with an impressive win at Norwich.

4th: Norwich - 82 pts

  • Manager: Alex Neil
  • Top scorer: Cameron Jerome - 19
  • Most assists: Wes Hoolahan - 10
  • Net spend: £856,000
  • 2014 revenue: £95.5m
  • 2014 profit/loss: £6.7m profit
  • Form: WWWWWL
  • Last two games: Rotherham (A), Fulham (H)

Norwich - 82 points

Unlike the clubs above, Norwich have been familiar to Premier League viewers in recent seasons. And unlike Cardiff and Fulham who came down to the Championship with them last season, they've been pretty serious about getting out as quickly as they can.

Manager Alex Scott, the 33-year-old Scot brought to the club after impressing north of the border with Hamilton Academical, has reinvigorated the squad following a mid-season stutter. Since Scott's arrival the Canaries have won a staggering 74 per cent of their games.

Despite relegation, Norwich remain in a healthy financial position. The club is free of debt and wisely negotiated relegation causes into players' contracts while in the Premier League.

5th: Derby - 76 pts

  • Manager: Steve McClaren
  • Top scorer: Chris Martin - 17
  • Most assists: Johnny Russell &  Jeff Hendrick - 8
  • Net spend: £2.65m
  • 2014 revenue: £20.2m
  • 2014 profit/loss: £7m loss
  • Form: LDWDWD
  • Last two games: Millwall (A), Reading (H)

 

Derby - 76 points

After suffering heartbreak in last season's play-off final, Steve McClaren's Derby side has recovered well to keep themselves in the hunt but automatic promotion now looks a longshot.

As anyone who has made the trip to the iPro stadium would testify - Derby's Canadian owners know how to drive advertising revenue. Even substitute announcements are sponsored. So it's no surprise that the club recorded a £5m rise in revenue to £20.2m.

6th: Ipswich - 75 pts

  • Manager: Mick McCarthy
  • Top scorer: Daryl Murphy - 24 goals
  • Most assists: Paul Anderson - 7
  • Net spend: -£4.1m
  • 2014 revenue: £13.6m
  • 2014 profit/loss: £7.2m loss
  • Form: WDLWD
  • Last two games: Nottingham Forest (H), Blackburn (A)

Ipswich - 75 points

Mick McCarthy's reputation as Championship oracle could blossom even further if he can keep the Tractor Boys in the coveted sixth place and guide them through the play-offs. Ipswich's place among the contenders is arguably the most remarkable considering their small revenues and paltry transfer spend. McCarthy has hardly spent a dime in comparison to some of his rivals, and has actually made the club money.

7th: Brentford - 72 pts

  • Manager: Mark Warburton
  • Top scorer: Andre Gray - 15
  • Most assists: Alan Judge - 10
  • Net spend: £4.93m
  • 2014 revenue: £3.3m
  • 2014 profit/loss: £8.7m loss
  • Form: DWDDD
  • Last two games: Reading (A), Wigan (H)

 

Brentford - 72 points

Brentford are tantalisingly close to their first taste of top-flight football since World War II after surpassing all expectations in their first season in the second tier for 21 years.

Managed by Mark Warburton, Brentford's squad is a melting pot of developing players on loan from the Premier League such as Spurs' Alex Pritchard and Arsenal's Jon Toral, lower league graduates like Andre Gray and Moses Odubajo and seasoned veterans such as Jonathan Douglas. The well-balanced formula has worked well for the ex-city trader , yet a disagreement with owner Matthew Benham on philosophy means he is unlikely to be in the dugout next season even if the Bees can secure a play-off place from their three - relatively accommodating - final fixtures.

Benham, who made his fortune from betting firm Smartodds, has pumped over £40m of his own cash into the club and is planning to move the club into a new 20,000 seater stadium. Promotion to the Premier League would both relieve some of the personal financial burden and help pay the costs of the ambitious West London devlopment.

8th: Wolves - 72 pts

  • Manager: Kenny Jackett
  • Top scorer: Bakary Sako - 14
  • Most assists: Kevin McDonald - 11
  • Net spend: £0.55m
  • Last season's finish: 1st (League One)
  • 2014 revenue: £32.5m
  • 2014 profit/loss: £1.7m loss
  • Form: WWWLLD
  • Last two games: Wigan (A), Millwall (H)

 

Wolves - 72 points

Former Millwall manager Kenny Jackett has completely reversed the downhill trajectory Wolves found themselves on following relegation from the Premier League in 2012. After dropping two tiers in two seasons, Jackett has brought back the smiles to Molineux that could get even wider should the club do the reverse by sealing a successive promotion via this year's playoffs - but they will need to rapidly rediscover their form after two defeats in their last two outings.

The club's accounts took a hit during their short stint in League One, but thanks to a relatively large average attendance of 20,860 the damages were limited to just £1.7m. Another season of consolidation in the Championship would be no disaster.

Related articles