The Championship has long been regarded as one of the most compelling football leagues. Competition is so fierce in this division that it sometimes surpasses the Premier League for excitement and entertainment.
However, that is because all of the teams are desperate to escape it for the Premier League promised land. Achieving that dream is a guarantee of status and wealth.
Both Burnley and Sheffield United are odds-on to do so at sports betting sites. They sit comfortably clear of the pack in the automatic promotion spots.
Below them are several sides separated by only a handful of points though. They are the ones that we are going to look at in this article.
A return to the top flight has been a very long time coming for Blackburn. The days when they were an established Premier League side have receded from the memories of most.
They are pushing pretty hard for promotion in 2022/23, leading the play-off pack. What is intriguing about this is that they have managed it despite being in double figures for defeats already this season.
That is not the sort of record that we would expect such a high-flying team to have, but it remains the case. Their success so far has been built almost entirely on strong performances at Ewood Park.
It is where most of their points have been won, but they have missed crucial opportunities. In early December they could have moved into the top two but suffered a horrendous 1-4 home defeat to Preston.
There have been other big setbacks too, including a thrashing by Burnley in the derby. Ben Brereton is having a decent season for them up front, having been touted for a possible Premier League switch during the summer, but they need more convincing performances on the road.
They have encouraging home games against strugglers Wigan and Blackpool on the horizon as well as a testing trip to Watford.
The reason Blackburn may be nervy about that game is that Watford are one of their big rivals for promotion. Like Blackburn, Watford are not a particularly high scoring side, but Joao Pedro has led the line for them effectively so far, while Ismaila Sarr and Vakoun Bayo have chipped in with important goals.
It did not look like being a good season for Watford back in September, when manager Rob Edwards was sacked at the end of that month. Watford had three wins from 10 matches when he was fired and form remained patchy at first under new boss Slaven Bilic.
Big wins over Stoke and Luton were marred by defeats to Millwall, Blackpool and Swansea. The team started to find more consistency from late October, but the Christmas period brought further dicey results.
Watford will continue to challenge but do not seem a compelling bet to win the play-offs.
Another side that sacked their manager early in the season is Middlesbrough. Chris Wilder was dismissed at the start of October and was replaced by ex-Manchester United midfielder Michael Carrick.
He took over with the side having achieved just four wins from 15 games and has overseen an astonishing turnaround. The team have lost only twice since he was appointed, rising up the table into the play-off places in the process.
A big part of that success has been built on a shift in formation from the 3-5-2 set-up favoured by Wilder to a 4-3-2-1 that emphasizes retaining the ball. He has been helped by the brilliant form of Chuba Akpom in the lone striker role, who has hit double figures for the season already.
Upcoming matches against Watford and Sheffield United will be ones that show whether this is a temporary improvement or whether Middlesbrough are serious contenders.
Millwall last competed in the top flight in 1990, before the creation of the Premier League. Promotion would be a huge thing for their supporters and there is a chance it could happen.
As another side that does not score large numbers of goals, a solid backline has been important to Millwall’s success this season. Zian Flemming has done well up front, but he often lacks support.
Just like Blackburn and Watford, Millwall are better at home than away – but that is partly a reflection of how tough a division the Championship is. A plus point for them is that they are out of the FA Cup.
It may not seem it now, but the absence of that distraction could be invaluable later in the season, letting them concentrate solely on promotion.
At the moment any of these teams could finish up in the promotion slots, but the play-offs will be a further challenge for those dreaming of the Premier League.