Neck and Neck in the EFL Championship: Who Will Gain Automatic Promotion?


The 2023-24 EFL Championship season is rapidly approaching its conclusion, and what an incredible campaign it has been so far. With eight games remaining, only one goal separates Leeds United and Leicester City at the top of the table, with Ipswich Town only one point behind the leaders. Southampton is nine points off the pace for the automatic promotion places, but they have two games in hand over Leeds and Ipswich. Which two teams will gain automatic promotion, and who faces the lottery of the playoffs?

Leeds United – 1st Place – 82 points from 38 games

Let’s start with the current Championship leaders, Leeds United. After a dire 2022-23 season that saw Leeds United only win seven games, draw ten, and lose 21 of their 38 fixtures, Leeds were duly relegated from the Premier League into the Championship. The biggest and best online sportsbooks predicted Leeds would be one of the hot favorites to return to the Premier League at the first time of asking, but that was before the club almost imploded before the current campaign kicked off.

Relegated teams often lose several squad players during the off-season, but Leeds lost eight first-team players. Matters worsened when Luis Sinisterra threatened legal action if the club stood in his way from a loan move to AFC Bournemouth, and Willy Gnonto downed tools and refused to play.

Leeds were languishing in tenth place after the first six games. However, they had two secret weapons at their disposal: the raucous Elland Road crowd helping to create a fortress and Daniel Farke managing the team. Farke has twice won the Championship with Norwich City, with his squad strongly finishing the second half of the season. The same looks to be happening again.

Since the turn of the year, Farke has guided Leeds to 12 wins in 13 games, a 1-1 draw with local rivals Huddersfield Town being the only blip on an otherwise perfect copybook. Leeds have scored 29 goals and conceded only four during that run; they have been incredible.

Games against playoff-chasing Hull City and Coventry City aside, Leeds have a relatively straightforward run-in. However, their final game of the season is at home to Southampton, which could be pivotal to Leeds’ season. That said, Leeds is the only team across all four divisions to have not lost a game on home soil this season.

Slightly worrying for Leeds fans is the fact leading goalscorer Crysencio Summerville has not found the back of the net since the 4-0 win at Swansea City on February 13, and the league’s leading assister, Georginho Rutter has had surgery on a hernia during the international break. The Elland Road club needs these two stars fit and firing during the season’s final eight games.

Leicester City – 2nd Place – 82 points from 37 games

Like Leeds, Leicester City were relegated from the Premier League last season. Although Leicester lost quality players in James Maddison, Harvey Barnes, and Timothy Castagne, they did manage to sign Harry Winks, Conor Coady, and Stephy Mavididi. On paper, Leicester’s starting XI looks like a Premier League team, and the club’s early form reflected that.

Seven wins and one defeat in eight games saw Leicester soar to the top of the Championship table, where they remained up to last weekend’s fixtures. Leeds’ 2-0 win over Millwall saw them push Leicester into second place on goal difference, although the Foxes have a game in hand after the postponement of their clash away at Southampton and their deep run in the FA Cup.

Three of Leicester’s last nine games are against teams in the playoff positions: Norwich City, West Brom, and Southampton, which is not ideal. Furthermore, having reached the quarter-finals of the FA Cup, Leicester’s league form has suffered. They have one win in five games, including losing three in a row. Throw into the mix the psychological knock they have had from being 19 points ahead of Leeds at the start of 2024, and head coach Enzo Maresca has a massive task on his hands to keep his team on track.

Ipswich Town – 3rd Place – 81 points from 38 games

Ipswich Town are the surprise package of the Championship this season following their promotion from League 1. Ipswich accumulated 98 points last season after scoring an incredible 101 goals and conceding only 35 in 46 league games. Most expect the Tractor Boys to struggle in the Championship, but they are flying.

Ipswich got off to a flying start, winning 11, drawing once, and losing once from the first 13 games, form that saw them keep tabs on the then-runaway leaders Leicester. Kieran McKenna‘s boys endured a nine-game blip that saw them win only once, draw six, and lose twice, but they seem to be back on song again.

McKenna’s Ipswich won six games on the spin following their brief faltering before slipping up and losing away to Cardiff City. The last time they played, Ipswich silenced their critics, demolishing struggling Sheffield Wednesday 6-0 at Portman Road.

The final run-in is littered with difficult fixtures for Ipswich, who have the East Anglia derby against Norwich and host Southampton. They must travel to Coventry and Hull before the season ends. Nobody has scored more goals than Ipswich (80) in the Championship this season, but only four teams in the top half of the table have conceded more (49). That porous defense could be Ipswich’s undoing.

Southampton – 4th place – 73 points from 36 games

Russell Martin should be applauded for the job he has done for Southampton. The club finished rock bottom of the Premier League last season and lost a host of stars, including Romeo Lavia, Tino Livramento, and the talismanic James Ward-Prowse, and confidence among his players was low. Southampton are struggling financially, so besides spending £10.5 million on young defender Shea Charles and another £10 million on striker Ross Stewart, Martin has relied on free transfers and loan deals to prop up his squad.

A difficult start to the campaign, which saw Southampton win three from four but then lose for consecutive games, left the south coast club in 15th place. Martin and his coaching staff returned to the drawing board, and whatever they did behind the scenes worked wonders because Southampton embarked on a 23-game unbeaten run to put them within touching distance of the automatic promotion places.

Southampton has lost three of their last six games and continues to leak goals at an alarming rate; it has only kept nine clean sheets in 36 games. The Saints are nine points behind the automatic promotion places but have two games in hand on the leaders. Those games in hand mean Southampton has a congested fixture list that sees them play Ipswich, Coventry, Leicester, and Leeds before May 4.


Leeds, Leicester, Ipswich, and Southampton have squads talented enough to beat anyone in the division, as they have shown up to this stage of the season. There are still 24-30 points to play for before the curtain comes down on the 2023-24 EFL Championship, so it is anyone’s game.

It is better to have points on the board at this stage of the season. We predict Leeds and Leicester will automatically be promoted to the Premier League, leaving Ipswich and Southampton to face the playoffs. It could be a case of whoever blinks first loses the race, meaning mental fortitude and luck with injuries could be the deciding factors. Exciting times are ahead.

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