It is impossible to think about the teams we might face from the Championship next season, even as the relegation spots appear to be panning out on the field.
Going into the final round of matches, any one of Hull City (45 points), Luton (48), Barnsley (46), Charlton (48), Middlesbrough (50) or Birmingham (50) could be relegated over the 46 matches. Wigan, on 58 points, have a 12 point deduction to come into play pending an appeal, which leaves them level with Luton. Then there’s Derby and Sheffield Wednesday, who could theoretically be deducted up to 21 points. Derby are currently on 61 and it would seem unlikely they’d lose the whole lot, so they should be safe, whilst Sheff Weds are on 56 – if they were hit with as little as nine points, it would leave them adrift of the lot.
The games will be concluded on Wednesday night, with Hull (at Cardiff) and Barnsley (at Brentford) likely to be two who finish in the bottom two. After that, Luton could beat Blackburn meaning Charlton would need something at champions Leeds, with Birmingham and Middlesbrough facing Derby and Sheff Weds respectively. Those could be two games where winning and losing doesn’t necessarily indicate who will go down.
From our point of view, the two big names in that lot would have to be Hull and Sheff Weds. I grew up seeing Sheff Weds as a big club, often in cup semi-finals or finals and a staple of the top flight. Hull were just a club from north of the river, someone we met every year. Who would I rather us play?
Personally, I’d love it to be Sheff Weds. I recall going to Scunthorpe versus the Owls back in early 2010, taking a couple of mates along. I had free tickets for the Scunny boxes whilst all my mates were Sheff Weds. I’ve never experienced anything like their fans, they were so well supported. I went to Scunny a bit that season as I got freebies when City were away or not playing; I saw Forest, Newcastle and Swansea too and not one of those clubs had support anything like the Owls. Even in pre-season against us, they bring huge numbers. I’d love to have them in real league action, I love breaking new ground in that way. I remember when Huddersfield *spits* came back in 2004/05 for the first time, it felt exciting and new. I like that, just as I did with Sunderland this season and in my eyes, there are fewer clubs as big within easy driving distance as Wednesday, and that includes Forest.
However, it appears I am alone. I ran a poll on my Twitter page which got well over 500 votes and 72% of Imps’ supporters would rather we faced Hull City next season. I can understand why, they’re woeful right now and that is unlikely to get any better next season, plus there is history there. Many of our fans won’t recall us playing Sheff Weds at all; we’ve only been in the same league on seven occasions, only three of which have come in the last sixty years, They might be a big club, but the rivalry isn’t there and I guess that is what appeals to supporters.
Instead, it seems a resumption of our clashes with Hull is what fans want to see. It isn’t hard to understand why; we’ve played them 29 times in my lifetime, although not once since 2004. They were very much a local rival, just like Grimsby, Scunthorpe and Mansfield up until they had their foray into the top flight. Now, as a falling giant, there are some severe bragging rights up for grabs and fans of a certain age would much prefer to see them back here with their tail between their legs.
My prediction is that we’ll get our chance to face them again. Hull will come down legitimately, probably with Barnsley and Charlton. I think Wigan will get enough points to survive a deduction anyway, and their appeal will likely be upheld. I can’t see the EFL relegating either Sheff Weds or derby on FFP rules, especially not when a lengthy appeal process could further postpone the start of the season. No, sadly for me but much to the delight of 72% of fans who took the survey, we may have to wait until we earn that Championship promotion before booking train tickets to Sheffield.