It’s almost a legal obligation amongst our types to put our heads way above the parapet and sagely predict just what will transpire over the course of the next four games.
Like we know…
So what follows is best read with a large pinch of salt; and, in many senses, is more about what could happen, rather than what will.
I guess if there’s anyone out there who is desperate to know just what might unfold between now and the end of May is South Wales Police, for whom all Bank Holiday leave may yet be cancelled if it ends up a Swansea-Cardiff play-off final at Wembley.
A two-legged play-off semi-final affair if one finishes fourth and the other fifth could also prove a lively affair as those two tribes go to war.
In fact, under certain scenarios that prospect might be gathering momentum with every passing game.
For me, the team to watch right now – over and above the obvious, aka Reading – is Burnley, who play host to Middlesbrough tomorrow night having just thrown a large spanner into Swansea’s works at the weekend.
Three points from their game in hand will leave the Clarets bang on the edge of that play-off pack and on the back of two, successive home wins, the wind might be firmly in their sails going into the final round of matches.
They travel to Derby on the Saturday; play host to Portsmouth on Easter Monday.
If any team appears to have long ago packed up their old kit bags for the season, it is Pompey.
It is why the trip to Fratton Park shouldn’t hold too many fears for Paul Lambert’s men.
Back to Burnley. On Saturday, April 30, they travel to Leeds United for what may well prove the sixth-place decider.
For the winner of that game will then be firmly in the box seat going into the final day of the season. Particularly if your final game of the season is at home. And not away to the league leaders who will be in full, title party mode that afternoon.
So if Leeds really fancy being in the top six, they need to bury Burnley that Saturday. Away at QPR isn’t one Simon Grayson would have asked for on that final day.
Nor, I strongly suspect, would Dave Jones have thanked the Football League fixture computer for where the Bluebirds will be heading come May 7.
To Turf Moor. To Burnley (a).
Which, for me, is why Burnley are the key to unlocking this. Win tomorrow night against a careless Boro side and they will sniff sixth spot. Derby aren’t up to much, Portsmouth struggle to give a toss and that just leaves Leeds (a) and Cardiff (h). Which will, in turn, do so much to determine the fortune of those two clubs.
All of which just leaves us to ponder the fates of Swansea, Reading and, of course, the Canaries.
Swansea don’t travel well, but I can’t see them slipping up at Fratton Park. Just as I can’t Norwich.
They then have to play host to Ipswich who – in fairness – do travel well. And then travel to Millwall. If the Lions are anywhere near the mix, that’s a nasty little one to throw in at the end. Even if Sheffield United at home on the final afternoon is something of a gimmee.
So within that mix – and given they dropped a clanger at the weekend – I think that second spot will just elude the Swans. Put them down for fifth.
And so to the runaway train that is Reading. If it is all about timing your run to the line to perfection, then the Royals record of 27 points from the last 27 is something else entirely.
The question, therefore, is whether anyone left in their path can stop them in their tracks. The best bet would be Leeds on Friday night. After that Sheffield United (h), Coventry City (a) and Derby (h) wouldn’t appear to pose too many problems to a side in such a rich vein of form.
The Law of Averages is probably the one thing that is not in their favour. Nine wins from nine is a fabulous run at any time of the season – let alone at the business end. But do the footballing gods extend their favour to 13 out of 13? Really?
Maybe. But it would be wholly extraordinary if they did. And, in fairness, if Reading do win the last 13 games of the season, then it would be hard to begrudge them their success.
If Norwich slip in a draw in their final four games, then goal difference could see the Royals nick it.
I don’t see Norwich dropping points at home; nor would I fear Portsmouth (a). Town away is a different matter; it – as ever – remains in the lap of the derby gods.
But my money would see a busy week for South Wales’ finest as those two face each other in the play-off semis. Burnley could yet nick sixth and there’s little more than a wafer between Norwich and Reading for that second automatic spot.
But, heh, what do I know…