With just a quarter of the Championship season remaining, Lewis Norman takes a look at the state of play at the top of the table as the race to reach the Premier League hots up...
"Fulham are likely to be the favourite to emerge form the play-offs should they fail to catch either of the top two, which explains why they are still trading at around the 2.68/5 mark in the Promotion market."
Early pre-season title favourites Leeds United sit second in the Championship table having not been outside of the automatic promotion places since 26 November. Marcelo Bielsa's Whites - who are now 2.526/4 second favourites in the Championship Winner market - have been made notorious for their late season slip-ups, after leading the way at the close of the January transfer window last season but missing out on a top two spot.
Back on track after slow start to 2020
This time around Leeds fans may be feeling a sense of déjà vu, having been close to squandering their once, 11 point gap, over third on numerous occasions. But this season's January window brought some renewed optimism to Elland Road, and the team are upwardly mobile again despite being two points worse off than at the same stage last year.
The loan signing of highly-rated Frenchman Jean-Kévin Augustin has recaptured the early season positivity amongst Leeds fans, after a tough start to 2020. Biesla's men won just one of their first seven league fixtures after seeing in the New Year, but they've since won three on the bounce to open up a five point gap over third place Fulham.
Augustin is likely to provide stern competition for Patrick Bamford as the business end of the season approaches, while the continuing rise of defender Ben White, alongside midfielders Kalvin Phillips and Pablo Hernandez, means Leeds are likely to be better-equipped for promotion this time around and should be strong enough to beat off past season slip-ups.
Firepower the key behind Baggies' promotion push
West Bromwich Albion lead the way at the top of the table, four points ahead of Leeds, having been present amongst the automatic promotion places since 19 October.
Under Slaven Bilic, the Baggies have proven to be a dominant attacking force, being the league's top scorers. Matt Phillips is enjoying his best goal-scoring season, with fellow attackers Grady Diangana, Matheus Pereira, Hal Robson-Kanu and Charlie Austin sharing the spoils. Bilic has added forwards Kamil Grosicki and Callum Robinson to an already firing frontline to provide extra competition for their push to return to the Premier League, with the latter already getting off the mark for the Baggies.
That additional firepower should be enough to ensure that Bilic marks his return to management in England with promotion, with West Brom now as short as 1.061/18 to be playing Premier League football next season and 1.748/11 to win the Championship title.
Inconsistency likely to cost the Cottagers
Hot on the tails of West Brom and Leeds are Fulham, Nottingham Forest and Brentford.
Fulham continue their pursuit of an instant return to the Premier League, having narrowed the gap to the top two from 10 points to just five following Wednesday night's last-gasp victory over Swansea. However, a recent shock 3-0 home defeat to struggling Barnsley shows that Scott Parker's men continue to be inconsistent and their inability to capitalise on the results of teams around them could be their downfall.
The Cottagers will be counting on the likes of 23-goal striker Aleksander Mitrovic, alongside Tom Cairney, Ivan Cavaleiro and Anthony Knockaert to ensure their Premier League exile is for no more than one season. The addition of Michael Hector in January had brought some defensive stability to the West London outfit prior to their Barnsley drubbing, keeping three clean sheets in the first four games with the Jamaican defender.
Fulham are likely to be the favourite to emerge form the play-offs should they fail to catch either of the top two, which explains why they are still trading at around the 2.68/5 mark in the Promotion market.
Home form a concern for Tricky Trees
Sabri Lamouchi's Nottingham Forest sit fourth in the table following Tuesday night's win at Cardiff. Wing back Matty Cash, who secured a vital point against promotion rivals West Brom recently, was close to a move away in January with AC Milan one of a number of linked clubs. The Nottingham-born defender has been the Reds' star man this season, alongside top scorer Lewis Grabban and highly-rated winger Joe Lolley.
If Forest are to continue with their push for automatic promotion - they can be backed at 8.07/1 in the Top 2 Finish market - Lamouchi will need to ensure his men turn around their inconsistent home form.
Bees look well-equipped for play-offs
Free-scoring Brentford continue to hope they begin life at their new stadium with their first ever Premier League season, and their first top flight appearance since 1947.
Thomas Frank had seen his team climb to third thanks to their uncontainable attack of Bryan Mbeumo, Ollie Watkins and Said Benrahma, who have so far combined to score 44 goals, though three draws and a defeat in their last four matches has seen then fall back down to fifth in the table, nine points off an automatic promotion place.
The Bees have one of the best defensive records in the league with just 31 goals conceded from 35 games, and last month they completed a double deadline day swoop for Oxford United pair Tariqe Fosu and Shandon Baptiste, so they certainly aren't short of quality at both ends of the pitch, though promotion from the play-offs - 2.68/5 to be promoted - is now likely to be their best avenue to the top flight.
Sinclair key to Preston's promotion hopes
Making up the top six is Alex Neil's Preston. Despite a small blip recently - two defeats from their last three games - North End remain one of the form teams in the division having previously taken 13 points from a possible 15. Winter marquee signing Scott Sinclair has scored once so far, but Neil will be hoping the much-travelled winger can help maintain the club's form and mount a fairytale push towards a top flight return.