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Thursday, 13 December, 2018

Preston could make a late push for the playoffs

Plenty still to play for in all three divisions

Callum Robinson of Preston celebrates with teammates
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After a sedate international break a frantic sprint to the finish of the English Football League season starts with a packed Easter schedule, and there are plenty of issues to be decided in all three divisions including an almighty scrap for playoff places in the Sky Bet Championship.

A desperate relegation battle is unfolding in League One with the bottom ten at risk and the race at the top end of League Two is going to be fascinating with at least ten clubs eyeing up promotion.

Sky Bet Championship 
Top-six finish
Four points separate the six teams positioned between fifth and tenth in the Championship but there is plenty of scope for twists and turns with eight rounds of fixtures to squeeze in between now and May 6.

Third-placed Fulham and fourth-placed Aston Villa have an eight-point cushion to the teams outside the top six and are long odds-on to finish in the playoffs.

But two of the playoff places are definitely up for grabs and one of them could go to eighth-placed Preston, who look value 7-2 shots for a top-six finish.

Preston have not been in the playoff zone since a four-match losing sequence spanning late-October and early November.

But they have been consistent since the November international break, losing three of 22 league games, and their eight-match run-in includes six games against bottom half teams.

Fifth-placed Derby and sixth-placed Middlesbrough are odds-on to finish in the top six but still have plenty of work to do.

Derby have a game in hand over their rival playoff contenders but have not won in their last seven matches and still have to play five of the top nine.

Boro are on a good run, taking 14 points from the last six games, but 15 of their 18 league wins this season have come against teams outside the top half and they have only two more of those sides to face this season.

Of the other contenders, Bristol City and Sheffield United are on poor runs – amassing three and five league victories since turn of the year – while tenth-placed Millwall may have left their charge a little too late.

Preston to finish in top six
2pts 7-2 Coral, Ladbrokes

Sky Bet Championship standings

Sky Bet League One
Karl Robinson swapped a promotion tussle for a relegation scrap when quitting the Charlton hotseat for Oxford last week and may find it tricky to steer his new charges to survival.

Oxford are five points clear of the drop zone but they have a losing habit having tasted defeat in eight of their last 11 games and could be dragged into trouble.

Of the teams inside the drop zone basement boys Bury – ten points adrift of safety – look dead and buried.

But second-bottom Rochdale (one loss in six games) and third-bottom MK Dons (seven points from the last nine available) are improving and fourth-bottom Northampton are in the drop zone only on goal difference.

There is the potential for all three to get out of trouble, putting the teams above them under threat.

Oxford would have to drop five places in the last six weeks of the season to go down but they face two of the top six over Easter (hosting Scunthorpe and visiting Shrewsbury) and still have to travel to title-chasing Wigan and Blackburn.

They look far from safe and are overpriced for the drop at 10-1.

Oxford to be relegated
1pt 10-1 bet365

Sky Bet League One standings

Sky Bet League Two
Coventry fans have gone through a tough few years but could be celebrating a promotion by the end of the season.

The Sky Blues are sixth in Sky Bet League Two but have a favourable run-in and will be looking to bridge the six-point gap between themselves and third-placed Wycombe, who have played one game more.

Only two of Coventry's remaining eight games are against top-ten teams and they approach their Easter schedule (away to mid-table Newport and at home to lowly Yeovil) in good heart having won four of their last five matches.

They look far more likely to finish inside the top three than drop out of the playoff places and are decent value to go up.

Coventry to be promoted
3pts 21-10 Betfair

Sky Bet League Two standings

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Derby have a game in hand over their rival playoff contenders but have not won in their last seven matches and still have to play five of the top nine
E.W. Terms
Sky bet