Championship run-in: How do Wolves and Aston Villa compare with the pack?
With the Championship run-in getting into full flow, how do Wolves and Aston Villa compare to their promotion rivals.
Thanks to our friends at the Evening Gazette, here's a look at all the contenders from their respective reporters across the country.
Get a look at how they compare to Wolves and Villa, both of whom are vying for the automatic promotion spots.
Wolves - Nathan Judah, Express & Star
It’s fair to say that for much of this season, the question has not been, ‘can Wolves win the Championship?’ but, ‘how many points will they win it by?’
A mixture of Portuguese talent and a British core has blown away most of the league with a mixture of attacking flair and steely resilience that has left fans and media purring over Nuno Espirito Santo’s young squad.
But the Wolves party bus has stalled in recent weeks. Just one win in five including defeats at Fulham and a 4-1 thumping at Aston Villa has left more than a few fans fearing they may get sucked into the play-offs.
Meanwhile the EFL will meet with club officials to discuss the club’s owners Fosun’s relationship with super agent Jorge Mendes. While Wolves are extremely confident they have acted within the FFP guidelines, it’s still provided an unwelcome distraction.
But Wolves have always responded well following a defeat and they have two fantastic games against Reading and Burton at Molineux to get back on track.
Cardiff, Aston Villa and Fulham will push Nuno’s men all the way, but expect Wolves to regain their mojo sooner rather than later and wrap up the league with a couple of games to spare.
Reading (h), Burton (h), Boro (a), Hull (h), Cardiff (a), Derby (h), Birmingham (h), Bolton (a), Sheffield Wednesday (h), Sunderland (a)
Diogo Jota - Their best attacking player and should be involved in plenty of goals moving forward with Wolves set to play seven of the bottom eight.
1st (with Boro winning the playoffs!!)
Cardiff City - Dominic Booth, Wales Online
Cardiff City have defied the critics all season, gatecrashing the automatic promotion race with an early season burst and staying there.
Other teams might play the more expansive and attractive football, but few have been more effective than Neil Warnock's side. The Bluebirds certainly haven't been matched for physicality this season and will continue to flex their muscles for the rest of the campaign.
Particularly in those away games against fellow promotion hopefuls Derby and Aston Villa - and a mouth watering home tie with long-time leaders Wolves - Cardiff will rely on their totemic centre-backs and workaholic midfielders, not to mention a lightning quick front three.
Most Bluebirds fans would have been delighted with a play-off place at the start of the season but now, with the finish line in sight, it will be an ugly slog to see out a top two position. If they fall just short, don't be surprised to see Warnock haul his players off the deck and get them revitalised for the play-offs.
It's all to play for.
Brentford (A), Derby (A), Burton (H), Sheffield United (A), Wolves (H), Aston Villa (A), Norwich (A), Nottm Forest (H), Hull (A), Reading (H)
Junior Hoilett. The Canadian is the Bluebirds' main creative source and top scorer this term, cutting inside from the left to play havoc with opponents and defences. He holds the key to unlocking Cardiff's goal-scoring potential.
Aston Villa - Matt Maher, Express & Star
With ten games remaining, Aston Villa have given themselves a great chance to claim automatic promotion.
Steve Bruce’s team might still trail Cardiff by four points but after battering long-time leaders Wolves on Saturday, they must surely believe they can erase the gap and overtake the Bluebirds between now and May.
Villa have won ten of their last 12 Championship games - a run of form which can only be rivalled by Fulham.
Having been very much a work in progress over the first-half of campaign when they relied on individuals to scrap results, Villa now appear very much the finished article.
Jack Grealish has been the final piece in the jigsaw. The 22-year-old is finally starting to look like the player every Villa supporter knew he could be and, most importantly, he is doing it on a consistent basis.
Yet while Grealish is undoubtedly the talisman, Villa’s recent success has very much been a team effort.
Their defence is among the most solid in the division with James Chester and John Terry both enjoying fine campaigns, with the latter in particular playing a huge part in changing the dressing room culture.
Albert Adomah and Conor Hourihane have, meanwhile, both scored big goals while the on-loan signing of Robert Snodgrass has proved an inspired move, the Scot’s never-say-die attitude epitomising the desire which now flows through Villa’s ranks.
Throw in Lewis Grabban, who has scored four goals in four starts since arriving on loan from Bournemouth and it is easy to see why Bruce’s team have become such a force.
The run-in promises to be nerve-shredding but Villa have several players and a manager who has been over the course before. With momentum behind them after the Wolves win, they may prove difficult to stop.
QPR (h), Bolton (a), Hull (a), Reading (h), Norwich (a), Cardiff (h), Leeds (h), Ipswich (a), Derby (h), Millwall (a).
Jack Grealish’s performances have helped elevate Villa to the next level.
Predicted finish :
Fulham - Ryan O'Donovan, GetWestLondon
At the moment, there's no doubting it - Fulham are a Premier League team in all but name.
The last six fixtures were seen as season defining, with Slavisa Jokanovic'ss side facing those in and around them all one after another, but Fulham have taken that in their stride, brushing aside the likes of Aston Villa, Wolves, Derby and Sheffield United with ease.
The additions of Aleksandar Mitrovic, who has scored seven goals in his past five games, and Matt Targett, who has allowed wonderkid Ryan Sessegnon to flourish further forward have added weight to the argument that Fulham are destined for the top flight.
Fulham's run-in is pretty decent, but with two west London derbies and a visit to Norwich City, it isn't straight forward.
It's 15 games unbeaten now, but I think the side are destined for the play-offs as I just can't see them making up the ground on Villa, who finish in second.
Preston (a), QPR (h), Norwich (a), Leeds (h), Sheffield Wednesday (a), Reading (h), Brentford (h), Millwall (a), Sunderland (h), Birmingham (a).
Aleksandar Mitrovic - the Newcastle loanee has added a new dimension to the front line and his goals are proving to be invaluable for Fulham's promotion charge.
Derby - Christopher Watson, Derby Telegraph
Derby County's promotion push has faltered in recent weeks. They are without a win in seven games and have won only once in 10 outings.
That run of results has seen them slip from second to fifth - and they are now 11 points adrift of Cardiff City in the automatic promotion spot behind leaders Wolves.
Gary Rowett's men are now looking over their shoulders as they aim to cement their position in the play-off zone, with only a four-point gap between them and seventh-placed Bristol City.
Derby are picking up a few knocks at the wrong time - both physical and mental. Late equalisers have cost them points in recent games, at Reading and Queens Park Rangers.
They went on a superb run to get themselves into promotion contention - and somehow need to rediscover their kind of form for the final push.
It will be tough, with the likes of Cardiff, Preston, Wolves, Middlesbrough and Aston Villa still left to play - but the Rams have brought in a lot of players with experience of getting out of this division. They really need them now.
Cardiff City (h), Sunderland (h), Preston North End (a), Bolton Wanderers (h), Wolverhampton Wanderers (a), Burton Albion (a), Middlesbrough (h), Aston Villa (a), Barnsley (h).
Matej Vydra - 18 goals in all competitions so far this season. The Czech forward has flourished in the number 10 role under Gary Rowett. He has not quite looked himself in the past couple of weeks and has been struggling with a groin injury of late but, if he can find his form in the final weeks, he could help fire the Rams to promotion.
Middlesbrough - Dominic Shaw, GazetteLive
Finally, finally, Boro seem to be clicking into gear.
After a season of waiting and wondering and under-achieving, Boro are belatedly joining the promotion party and seem to be finding form when it matters most.
It wasn't an overnight fix with Tony Pulis but there's a clarity to both the team selection and the way the team play that was missing under Garry Monk.
In the early stages of the season the sheer size of the squad did Monk no favours as he struggled to nail down his best team and best system. Pulis has wasted no time in establishing a go-to XI.
And while he's given Boro that bit of steel and grit they were lacking, the real upturn in recent weeks has been at the front end of the pitch. Since Pulis took charge, only Aston Villa and Fulham have scored more goals.
Patrick Bamford, a fringe figure under Monk, has taken full advantage of Rudy Gestede's absence (ankle fracture) and made the most of the opportunity he's been craving - a chance to show what he's capable of up-top.
And Adama Traore. Wow. He's shown flashes in the past but the story of his time at Boro was ultimately one of frustration. Not under Pulis. The wily Welshman has a reputation for favouring a certain style of play but he's succeeding where his predecessors have failed and making a matchwinning first team regular of Traore. On song, he's the most exciting player in the league. He frightens the life out of defenders. He may well be destined for the top.
What Boro now need to do is prove they can cut it against their rivals. All season they've beaten the teams at the wrong end of the table but struggled against those in and around them.
To finish in the top six, that needs to be addressed in the coming weeks.
Brentford (a), Wolves (h), Burton (a), Forest (h), Sheffield United (a), Bristol City (h), Derby (a), Millwall (h), Ipswich (a)
Rather men than man: Patrick Bamford and Adama Traore. Bamford scored two league goals in 2016 and 2017...now he's scored eight in five! Given his chance up-top after Rudy Gestede's ankle injury, Bamford is suddenly looking like the player of 2014/15 - when he was named Championship Player of the Year - again. And Traore, well he's quite simply been an absolute revelation, finding consistency and a final product. Combined with his devastating pace, that's a lethal cocktail.
Bristol City - Aidan McCartney, Bristol Post
For Bristol City, it's a case of hoping that the Robins can rediscover the form that won them national headlines in the Carabao Cup and took them into second place in late 2017.
The last-minute winning goal conceded against Wolves on December 30th seemed to knock the punch out of the Robins automatic promotion bid and it's been a downward spiral since.
We all enjoyed the marvellous cup run but it's clear that in the relentless Championship it took a lot out of the players and was an unwelcome distraction from the league.
City have won only twice since that Wolves defeat and their playoffs hopes are looking thin with the chasing pack catching up and taking over in Middlesbrough's case.
But the superb 4-0 Bobby Reid-inspired victory over Sheffield Wednesday last weekend suggests that there is still some life in Lee Johnson's side.
They were back to their best dispatching the Owls with Reid hitting his first professional hat-trick and his goals will be key for their playoff push.
It was back to earth on Tuesday night as Preston proved too strong at Deepdale and City's away form is now becoming a major concern. The Robins are without an away win since the 2-1 success over Sheffield United at the start of December. With a vital trip to Boro in mid-April, they must address this.
Fans haven't given up hope yet that Johnson's talented side could step up and gain the momentum needed to take them into the top-six.
The fixture list doesn't look too daunting and their upcoming games against Ipswich and Barnsley represent a chance to get back into shape for a final push.
The final day of the season Aston Gate clash with Sheffield United could yet be pivotal for both sides.
Ipswich (H), Barnsley (A), Brentford (H), Millwall (A), Birmingham City (H), Middlesbrough (A), Hull City (H), Nottingham Forest (A), Sheffield United (H)
Bobby Reid. The Bristol-born striker is leading the way at the top of the Championship charts after an excellent breakthrough season. Keeping him firing will be key for the Robins as he demonstrated with his hat-trick against Sheffield Wednesday recently.
Preston North End - Dave Seddon, Lancashire Evening Post
Preston have done pretty well against the teams above them – they secured draws over Wolves and Aston Villa recently, done the double over Cardiff, so there’s the current top-three dealt with by the team.
Preston had two eleventh placed finishes over the last few campaigns. It had looked like last season they would go on and improve but fell to the wayside in the final few weeks.
I think the biggest factor is the change in manager and that’s installed a new mentality amongst the players. Simon Grayson left for Sunderland and Alex Neil has come in determined to get Preston up the table and he’s done that so far.
To be so close to the top-six in mid-March is some going but there’s plenty of football still to be played.
Sunderland (A), Sheffield Wednesday (A), Derby County (H), Reading (A), Leeds United (H), QPR (A), Norwich (H), Sheffield United (A), Burton Albion (H)
If you wanted one man on your team sheet every week, it’s Ben Pearson in centre-midfield. He’s the heartbeat of North End and everything he does gets the team going forward. Preston aren’t blessed with a 15-20- goal a season striker and whilst there’s not been mountains of goals, everyone has mucked in.
Alan Browne has emerged as a key figure, Tom Barkhuizen is great on either wing, and Sean Maguire is the top-scorer so far. There’s not been one main standout which means everybody has had a part to play so far.
Final league position:
Sheffield United - Nathan Hemmingham - Daily Mirror
The Blades have perhaps been this season’s surprise package, spending the first half of the campaign firmly in the top six. They secured impressive results early doors, putting four past bitter rivals Sheffield Wednesday and Hull, and registering victories against Leeds and Derby County.
However, the loss of key player Paul Coutts to a broken leg; a disastrous run of just two wins in 13 around Christmas and the failure to add Championship-quality players in the January transfer window has seen the division catch up with the Steel City club.
They are now among a pack of clubs hoping to secure the final spot in the end-of-season promotion shoot-out and are five points behind sixth-placed Middlesbrough, albeit with a game in hand and with Tony Pulis’s men still to come to Bramall Lane in the coming weeks.
Expect United to remain in the hunt for sixth spot all the way until May, where they face a final day trip to Bristol City, however, a top six finish may just be beyond them, unless top scorer and key player Leon Clarke can rediscover his goal-scoring touch.
Burton (H), Nottingham Forest (H), Brentford (A), Cardiff (H), Barnsley (A), Middlesbrough (H), Millwall (H), Birmingham (A), Preston (H), Bristol (A).
Leon Clarke – his 15 goals early in the campaign propelled United into the top six, but goals have dried up lately for the striker.
Millwall - Rich Cawley, South London Press
Millwall are on a terrific run of form. If they win their next home game they'll be five months unbeaten at the Den and if they win at Barnsley on Saturday that will be six wins on the bounce away from home that will equal a club record set in the 2008/09 season.
There are a number of reasons behind their recent success. Their workrate is second to none, they press high and they're so difficult to beat at home. The supporters have played their part, too. They don't get the biggest crowds in but the atmosphere this season has been excellent and the Den has been such a difficult place for away teams to visit.
They're flying on the road now, too. What's frustrating is the points they threw away early in the season away from home. There are two or three games that spring to mind where Millwall dropped points when they should have won comfortably. If they'd have won those games they'd have been in the top six now.
Barnsley (a), Nottingham Forest (h), Ipswich (a), Bristol City (h), Bolton (a), Sheffield United (a), Fulham (h), Middlesbrough (a), Aston Villa (h).
The team ethic comes before anything else at Millwall under Harris, yet it's hard to ignore the contribution of certain individuals.
Shaun Hutchinson has been terrific in defence. He was released by Fulham but is showing that he's an excellent defender at this level. And George Saville is key. A cheap signing who has scored nine goals from midfield.
Eighth. The Lions have looked a top-10 quality side all season but would need title-winning form over the last nine matches to lock down a top-six spot. Not impossible, but still unlikely at this stage.
Brentford - Tom Moore, GetWestLondon
Brentford have been taking two steps forward and one step back since their slow start to the season.
Eight games into the season, the Bees were in the relegation zone before going on a nine match unbeaten run to move away from the bottom three and into a mid table position.
There have been moments where it looks as if they will threaten to move into the top six but, whenever they have had the chance, they have suffered a slip up such as the 1-0 defeat at Leeds in February.
Brentford's habit of dropping points from winning positions in the first half of the season has also cost them in the race.
If they hadn't switched off in stoppage time against Bristol City and QPR while holding onto their lead in one further game they'd be very close to the top six.
With 10 games remaining, Brentford will feel they need to win at least seven of them to stand a chance of finishing in the top six.
Those fixtures include games with Cardiff, Fulham, Middlesbrough, Bristol City, Sheffield United and Ipswich. Those matches will be critical for the west Londoners.
Cardiff (H), Middlesbrough (H), Sheffield United (H), Bristol City (A), Ipswich (H), Nottingham Forest (A), Fulham (A), QPR (H), Barnsley (A), Hull (H).
Key Brentford player:
Ryan Woods. The Ginger Pirlo has been in exceptional form of late and he makes the Bees tick going forward.