Relegation battle poised to drag on long after season finally ends
In the great elongated campaign of 2019-20, it is perhaps fitting that even the final day of the season will not bring any real certainty to the teams involved in the Championship relegation battle. The football will stop tonight but the arguments and calculations will continue.
Even without factoring in the various legal disputes and possible points deductions, the lower end of the league table is complicated enough. No side have yet been mathematically relegated, with teams from 19th to 24th all at risk.
Then, once the table is settled, the clubs in the bottom three could face a painful wait to hear the conclusions to the disciplinary cases involving Wigan, Sheffield Wednesday and Derby.
The team with the hardest task on the pitch are Hull, at the foot of the table, three points behind 21stplaced Charlton. Hull must win at Cardiff and hope results elsewhere go in their favour. Barnsley, in 23rd, also need to win and hope for good fortune in other games. Their task is not made easier by travelling to play a Brentford side who have automatic promotion in their sights.
A win for Lee Bowyer’s Charlton at Leeds, his former club, would ensure they remain outside the bottom three. Charlton are level on points with Luton, but have a vastly superior goal difference. Two points further ahead are Middlesbrough and Birmingham, who would be dragged into the fold if they fail to win a point against Wednesday and Derby respectively and both Charlton and Luton win.
Here is when things become tricky. Wigan will receive their 12-point reduction, a consequence of going into administration, immediately after their match against Fulham. Wigan are 13th, 10 points clear of the relegation zone, so could avoid relegation, even with the deduction, if they beat Fulham and either Charlton or Luton lose.
Should they fall into the bottom three, Wigan’s future will be determined by the result of the appeal they have lodged against the points penalty. As a result, the team who finish above them would still have to wait for the outcome of the appeal before knowing their fate.
The relegation landscape could shift further if Wednesday are found guilty of breaking financial rules. The club were charged in November over the issue relating to the £60 million sale of their stadium to owner Dejphon Chansiri. Wednesday have denied any wrongdoing and are awaiting the verdict of an independent panel.
Their punishment could be as severe as a 21-point penalty, and they start the day only eight points clear of the bottom three. They too could appeal against any sanction, causing the situation to drag on further.
Derby, 13 points clear of the relegation zone, were also charged with breaching financial regulations after the sale of their stadium to Mel Morris, their owner. They have also denied any wrongdoing.
On top of all this, Barnsley cochairman Paul Conway told The Daily Telegraph last week that his club were considering legal action if they were relegated with the outstanding cases not concluded.