Saturday 12 April ~
Just about any fixture in today's Championship is likely to have a bearing on promotion and relegation. QPR and Preston in 14th and 15th place respectively are probably the only teams who can be fully confident of being in the same division next season. Despite having won only once in the last eight games, Stoke are third and could go top if they win at Coventry. The latter, meanwhile, are one of seven clubs who could take the final relegation place, with Colchester already doomed and Scunthorpe about to join them.
Manager Iain Dowie was sacked in February after a run of seven defeats in ten games had put paid to promotion plans for another year – last summer the club's then board having unwisely declared this season to be Operation Premiership. Despite the poor run Dowie had some cause for being surprised by his dismissal. After all, he had been allowed to spend during the transfer window by Coventry's new chairman, Ray Ranson, who arrived in December when the club were in danger of going into administration.
Dowie's successor Chris Coleman is the club's eighth manager in less than seven years, though it would be fair to assume that he will be in charge for at least another season whatever happens in the last four games. As a former player himself Ranson will surely be aware that no club that keeps axing managers has any hope of making significant progress. Although Ranson's regime can't take any blame for the club's steep decline over the past five years, some Coventry fans have aired misgivings about his heavy-handed insistence on acquiring all the club's shares.
In contrast, all is calm at Stoke. In his second spell in charge, Tony Pulis has put together their most effective side in over 20 years. Stoke dropped out of the top division in ignominious fashion in 1984-85, with what was then a record low number of points. Last season they finished in the club's highest position since their top level days, just missing the play-offs. Pulis's team play in a very direct style which has been consistently criticised but they have at least provided entertainment, with the second best goalscoring records in the division – and a porous defence, which can be partly excused by the fact that all of last season's first choice back four have moved on. Pulis's methods aren't to everyone's taste but he has clear tactical ideas that he expects to be carried out. That may sound like a bare minimum but it's more than some famous-name managers in the same division have proved capable of.