Hignett: Championship contenders analysis

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Craig Hignett offers an insight on who he believes will come out on top out of the Championship contenders.

As the Championship nears the conclusion of one of the closest races in history for automatic promotion, Craig Hignett casts his eye over this year’s contenders.

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Hignett was first-team coach at Championship leaders Middlesbrough up until December of this year and experienced the joy of promotion with the side back in 1995.

MIDDLESBROUGH

I said from very early in the season that [Boro would go up]. I had seen the quality of the squad in pre-season and when I left in December we were second in the league and you could tell there was no game that we went into where we didn’t think we could dominate.

Because the squad was so strong and we were able to rotate and bring in lads of equal quality, I think we are now seeing the best of Boro. They rotated the squad all the way through the season and Karanka can now use his best team. They should all be fresh having been rotated.

Key man – Patrick Bamford

He’s hitting form at the right time and scoring goals but Boro also don’t let a lot of goals in. They’ve got the best defensive record in the league by a mile so if they can nick a goal at the other end, they will usually win games.

BOURNEMOUTH

Eddie Howe’s side have been there all season and showed last year that they would be a threat. And now they’ve put together a really dangerous side. They’re the top scorers in the Championship so far. They’ve had a fantastic season and recovered from their little blip last month.

Key man – Callum Wilson  

He’s come in this season and added goals, he’s been great. They’ve got goals all over and are a great footballing side. Wilson is a key part of that.

NORWICH

Norwich are another one like Watford. They had a terrible start to the season but since their new manager came in they’ve been on this fantastic run. They’re another team which scores plenty of goals and are hitting form at the right time.

Key man – Cameron Jerome

Cameron Jerome has been their main man for goals and they’re a really solid team. Jerome seems to be enjoying it at Norwich and he is their biggest threat going forward.

WATFORD

Watford have been a strange one really but they’re building momentum at just the right time. They had a sticky start to their season but recently have been very good and scoring lots of goals, winning football matches and climbing the table. For me, they’re hitting form at the perfect time.

Key man – Troy Deeney

He’s started banging them in regularly and has almost 20 for the season again already. He’s an important player for them but they’ve also got Forestieri who’s a very good player and if you score goals you’ve always got a chance of winning games and they’ve certainly got that in their side.

BRENTFORD

Brentford are the surprise package and, despite all the hassles going on behind the scenes at the club, Mark Warburton has done a fantastic job. When they came up everyone thought they would struggle but they’ve sniffing around the playoff spots since the start of the season. I don’t think they’ve got enough to trouble the top two but they could sneak a playoff place. It will be tough though.

Key man – Jonathan Douglas

The central midfielder is probably their best player. They have a number of good footballers but the captain Jonathan Douglas is the one who leads by example. He’s a great lad as well. I was at Blackburn with Jonathan and he’s found his home at Brentford where he’s really settled and is playing some really good stuff. He’s a great player to have in your side.

DERBY

Derby have surprised me. I thought early on that Derby would be the ones to break away and run away with the league. They have a very strong squad but have had a few injuries like the ones to Chris Martin and Darren Bent. To miss their main strikers was a big blow to Derby and it has shown in recent matches.

Key man – Chris Martin

They’ve got some really good players and you look at their midfield and they have some top players but Chris Martin, for me, has been their main man for the past couple of seasons.

So who goes up?

It could be one from five who win the league but I think Boro will go up automatically. You can then pick one from Watford, Derby, Bournemouth or Norwich. It’s been the tightest Championship in years and I think it will go right down to the wire. If I had to stick my neck on the line I’d say it would be Boro and either Watford or Bournemouth that go up automatically. It could go either way, it’s so close.

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