Championship: Premier League spots at stake - who will go up?

By Chris Osborne & Phil CartwrightBBC Sport
Bournemouth boss Eddie Howe (left), Ipswich boss Mick McCarthy and Derby boss Steve McClaren

Ipswich boss Mick McCarthy has been telling us all along that the Championship is "bonkers".

In 2014-15, the promotion race is tighter than it has ever been. With seven games remaining, the top eight teams are separated by just eight points.

Two teams will go up automatically and one through the play-offs - and the stakes could not be higher.

Promotion was worth more than £130m to clubs last yearexternal-link and is likely to be around the same figure again next season, with the Premier League's hugely lucrative new TV deal starting in 2016-17.

McCarthy has been there and done it, having previously led Sunderland and Wolves into the top division. He is up against seven other men who have yet to achieve the feat as a manager.

Which three teams will be celebrating promotion to the Premier League in May? BBC Sport looks at the form, facts and prospects of all eight Premier League hopefuls.

How it stands after 39 games

Championship table

This is the closest promotion race since the second tier became known as the Championship in 2004.

At this stage in 2013-14, there was a 28-point difference between first and eighth.

The only season close to this one was 2007-08, when the gap was just 10 points, while the largest difference was 33 points in 2005-06.

Just a few weeks ago the league was even tighter, with the top four level on 66 points after 36 games - and Norwich, then fifth, on 65 points.

Points gap from first to eighth after 39 matches

Bournemouth (First, 73 points)

Last time in top flight: Never Ground capacity: 12,081 Record signing: Callum Wilson (£3m from Coventry City, 2014)

Season in a nutshell: After a sluggish start, goal-happy Bournemouth emerged as top-four mainstays and have led the pack more often than not.

Manager: The returning hero...

Eddie Howe

When Eddie Howe left Bournemouth to take over at Burnley in 2011, little did he realise that your first love can often be your longest. He returned to Dorset in October 2012 slightly hardened by his Turf Moor experience, and after taking the Cherries into the Championship in 2013, he is fulfilling his promise as one of England's brightest young managers.

Form: Statistically the in-form team of the top eight, with 14 points from the last 18 available. They go to Ipswich on 3 April but Town are the only promotion rival they have left to play.

Matt Ritchie

Watford (Second, 72 points)

Last time in Premier League: 2006-07 Ground capacity: 20,877 Record signing: Nathan Ellington (£3.25m from West Bromwich Albion, 2007)

Season in a nutshell: Watford remain in the promotion race despite some managerial mayhem. Under their fourth boss of the campaign, the Hornets are buzzing.

Manager: The joker in the pack...

Slavisa Jokanovic

Nicknamed "The Joker" by Chelsea fans during a less than memorable spell as a player at Stamford Bridge, Slavisa Jokanovic has brought stability to a club that saw three managers leave by mid-October. He brings with him the unrivalled distinction of having won back-to-back league and cup doubles with Partizan Belgrade in his native Serbia.

Form: A stoppage-time loss to Ipswich last time out ended a six-game unbeaten run. Their next two games, away at Derby and at home to Middlesbrough, could define their season.

Troy Deeney

Middlesbrough (Third, 72 points)

Last time in Premier League: 2008-09 Ground capacity: 34,988 Record signing: Afonso Alves (£12.8m from Heerenveen, 2008)

Season in a nutshell: Middlesbrough were making it look effortless for so long, losing only one in 18, but are they showing some home-straight jitters?

Manager: The Real deal...

Aitor Karanka

A former player at Real Madrid, where he was also assistant to Jose Mourinho, Aitor Karanka hopes to join his one-time mentor in the top flight. A fan of punctuality, rotation and detail, the Spaniard is on the verge of earning his shot at the big time.

Form: Four defeats in eight games might not be the end of the world, but it is dire compared to how good Boro were between October and February. The trip to Watford on 6 April looks very tasty.

Dimi Konstantopoulos

Norwich City (Fourth, 70 points)

Last time in Premier League: 2013-14 Ground capacity: 27,244 Record signing: Ricky van Wolfswinkel (£8.5m from Sporting Lisbon, 2013)

Season in a nutshell: Norwich are well-placed to make an immediate top-flight return, something which looked unlikely until Alex Neil's arrival in January.

Manager: The unknown Scot...

Alex Neil

Familiar to Barnsley fans after a four-year spell as a player there and enthusiasts of the Scottish Premiership, Alex Neil arrived having taken Hamilton into Scotland's top tier. The Canaries are more resilient and more expressive under the 33-year-old, who replaced Neil Adams in January and whose style mirrors aspects of former City boss Paul Lambert.

Form: One defeat in the last 12 makes for good reading, and so does their fixture list, with five of their seven remaining games against sides currently in the bottom half.

Cameron Jerome and Bradley Johnson

Derby County (Fifth, 67 points)

Last time in Premier League: 2007-08 Ground capacity: 33,010 Record signing: Rob Earnshaw (£3.25m from Norwich City, 2007)

Season in a nutshell: Derby seemed untouchable for much of the season, but recent injuries to key players are threatening to derail their challenge.

Manager: The ex-England boss...

Steve McClaren

After finding shelter in European football, winning the Dutch title with FC Twente in 2010, Steve McClaren has returned to England and shed much of the mockery that derived from his unsuccessful spell as England boss. The job is only partly done, though, as Sir Alex Ferguson's former assistant at Manchester United searches for his first promotion as a manager. His Rams team were defeated in last year's Championship play-off final.

Form: Top of the table at the end of February, but six games without a win have seen the Rams fall to fifth. The wheels are wobbling and could fall completely off if they lose at home to Watford on 3 April.

Chris Martin

Ipswich Town (Sixth, 67 points)

Last time in Premier League: 2001-02 Ground capacity: 30,311 Record signing: Matteo Sereni (£4.8m from Sampdoria, 2001)

Season in a nutshell: Understated, underrated, under the radar. Ipswich are more functional than fancy, recovering from a sticky spell to remain a threat.

Manager: The Wizard...

Mick McCarthy

Mick McCarthy once proclaimed the initials "MM" did not stand for "Merlin the Magician" but the man who has previously won promotion with Sunderland and Wolves is waving his wand to mesmerising effect at Portman Road.

Form: They went on a run of one defeat in 20 earlier in the season but lost three of their first four matches in March before ending the month with back-to-back wins. Daryl Murphy has emerged as a regular scorer and is having the best season of his career in front of goal, topping the Championship list with 23.

Christophe Berra

Brentford (Seventh, 66 points)

Last time in top flight: 1946-47 Ground capacity: 12,763 Record signing: Jota (£1.5m from Celta Vigo, 2014)

Season in a nutshell: Newcomers Brentford are pretty on the eye and courageous on the ball. If they end up in the top flight, it will be without their manager.

Manager: The banker...

Mark Warburton

Mark Warburton cashed in his high-pressure job as a city trader for a stab at football management. It paid dividends, having taken the Bees up from League One last season. Whatever happens this term, he will step down in the summer after a difference of opinion with the board about how the club should move forward.

Form: Brentford suffered a slight dip in early February while Warburton's future was being decided, but they have steadied the ship since then and only have Derby left to play from the current top eight.

Jon Toral

Wolves (Eighth, 65 points)

Last time in Premier League: 2011-12 Ground capacity: 30,852 Record signing: Kevin Doyle (£6.5m from Reading, 2009) and Steven Fletcher (£6.5m from Burnley, 2010)

Season in a nutshell: You know that team that always sneaks into the play-offs at the death? After a November dip, Wolves are finding form at the right time.

Manager: The man making Molineux smile again...

Kenny Jackett

Wolves were in a mess when Kenny Jackett took charge in June 2013 but they stormed to the League One title last season and have continued the momentum this term. He has encouraged cautious optimism, without piling too much pressure on his players to achieve a second successive promotion.

Form: Wolves have lost only one of their last eight games and they carry a genuine goal threat, but they have the trickiest run-in, with Nottingham Forest, Middlesbrough and Ipswich all to play before the end of the season.

Colin Cameron

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