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Fight for play-off places

Sunderland and Birmingham will go into the last round of the season on Sunday knowing that for them it's a question of who takes the Championship title for 2007 but their places are already assured in the premiership next season.

I wish the same could be said for the six teams that lie from fourth to ninth position who still have to fight for a play-off place and for some of them a loss or a draw in that final match will just bring the season to an end.

Birmingham only needs a win against Preston North End to secure the Championship title at Deepdale and that win if it happens would end Preston's season. Preston is one of six teams that include West Bromwich Albion, Wolverhampton Wanderers, Southampton, Stoke City and Colchester who could end up in the play-off positions if results go their way.

To win the title Sunderland would need to beat relegated Luton and hope that Birmingham does not win against Preston. I don't think the Black Cats fans will care that much because they are now back in the premiership and winning the title would just be an icing on the cake.

Derby have already qualified for the playoffs in third place and their position is guaranteed. Derby has had a wonderful season but getting only seven points from a possible eighteen from their last six away matches has cost them dearly. They know that the playoffs are a bit of a lottery but playing the second leg at home should at least give them some comfort.

My team West Brom currently lie fourth and a win against Barnsley will secure that fourth position. There must be jitters among the Baggies fans because this is a team that lately has only managed one win at home from the last six matches although it has managed to pick up wins away from home and crucially last week's win away to Coventry City. At the start of the season I thought they would be promoted but I am afraid it doesn't look that way at the moment.

Wolves play Leicester away at Walkers Stadium and a win would secure them a playoff place but a draw may not be enough depending on other results. Leicester having failed to win any of their last six home games, don't seem able to win at home at the moment and that should give Wolves some confidence.

Now for the interesting bit. Southampton and Stoke have exactly the same number of points and goal difference and whilst Southampton host relegated Southend, Stoke are away to QPR. While both teams have what I think are winnable games, it could come down to goal difference to determine who reaches the play-off and I am expecting these two teams to try and score as many goals as they can.

For Preston and Colchester a draw will not be enough. Colchester's chances are slim because of their inferior goal difference. They would need to win their match against Crystal Palace by at least five goals and hope that Southampton, Stoke and Preston all lose.

Its unfortunate that the none of the teams vying for the play-off places are playing each other but it should be interesting all the same. There is also a possibility that all the teams involved in the play-offs could all be from the Midlands which would give two promoted sides from that region.

The play-off route is hard but it also produces some very exciting football to wrap up the Championship season and lets see which team will deliver the goods come Sunday.

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