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Three doesn't go into two: Why Burnley, Boro and Brighton will and won't go up


Why they'll go up automatically

At the moment, Burnley look like something of a juggernaut. A fairly lumbering, workmanlike juggernaut, but they do seem to have forgotten how to lose a game.

Going into this weekend, they're on a 21-game unbeaten run, a sequence that admittedly has contained a fair few draws, but when Sean Dyche told fans that Burnley have a 'strong jaw' after a recent game, he wasn't kidding.

Their last two games are against QPR (mid-table, nothing to play for) and Charlton (already relegated, nothing to play for) so it's very easy to see them winning both. Plus, they know at least one of the other two will definitely drop points, as they play each other on the last day.

Why they won't

Despite that long unbeaten run, their performances haven't been massively convincing of late. They required a deflected Joey Barton free-kick to beat Preston last week, and a scrambled injury-time equaliser to draw with Middlesbrough.

They've only won by more than a single goal once since the end of February and their points haven't been collected through glorious, sweeping football

They've only won by more than a single goal once since the end of February and while they haven't exactly been relying on luck, their points haven't been collected through glorious, sweeping football either. The chances of them slipping up are relatively slim, but nonetheless real.

Who they're relying on

Andre Gray has been responsible for nearly a third of their league goals, with Sam Vokes the only other player to have reached double figures for the season.

Barton pulls the strings from midfield and generally barks at everyone else in exactly the manner you'd expect from him, seemingly fuelled this season by an indignation that a Premier League team didn't try to sign him last summer.

Scott Arfield and George Boyd aren't exactly the most flamboyant wide players, but they fit with the Burnley style rather nicely nonetheless.

What'll happen if they do?

It would seem rather counter-productive if they repeated the parsimonious 2014/15 season in the top flight, when they spent little and were unsurprisingly relegated straight away.

Bournemouth have showed that you can spend money but still be sensible and stay in the Premier League, and although Dyche is quite a stubborn old soul, you'd hope they show a little more ambition in the transfer market.


Why they'll go up automatically

With a squad like theirs, they really should. Whether they have the best team of the three is debatable, but Middlesbrough's options are pretty impressive – for example, in the last few games, David Nugent hasn't been able to get into the team.

Their defence is the best in the league and features one of the division's most underrated players, George Friend, while their attacking options aren't bad either. Gaston Ramirez has become key in the last few months, while Jordan Rhodes has found form (four goals in the last six) at the right time.

Why they won't

There is a faint hint of mental fragility about this Middlesbrough side, displayed most dramatically in the play-off final last season, but also on odd occasions this term too.

Aitor Karanka's passing, slow build-up style can make tensions rise if it doesn't work for a little while, and frustrations may well grow. Then there's that final-day game against Brighton, who are probably playing the best football in the division at the moment, which could spoil things for Boro right at the last.

Who they're relying on

The encouraging thing for Boro is that they don't rely on a single player for goals or inspiration. Rhodes is the man upon whom most attention is centred because of his hefty transfer fee, but there's also Nugent, Ramirez, Stewart Downing and Albert Adomah waiting if he has an off day.

Adam Clayton has probably had the best season of his career in midfield, and they might be in a little trouble if either centre-back, Dani Ayala or Ben Gibson, get injured – they have formed the best defensive partnership in the Championship.

What'll happen if they do?

Given Steve Gibson spent around £15million on the likes of Downing, Nugent and Cristhian Stuani last summer, before topping it up with another £9 million on Rhodes in January, it's a fairly safe bet that they will splash out again to stay in the Premier League should they get there.

The encouraging thing for Boro is that they don't rely on a single player for goals or inspiration

They won't need to overhaul the squad, but you can be pretty sure significant strengthening will occur in all areas.


Why they'll go up automatically

They're the form team in the division. Brighton have won seven of their last eight, and the last five in a row, and perhaps significantly after only winning one game by more than a single goal before February, their last three victories have been 5-0, 4-0 and 3-1.

Centre-forward Tomer Hemed has been one of the division's great success stories, and in wingers Anthony Knockaert and Jiri Skalak they have two players who can produce brilliance from nowhere – as they did in the recent win over QPR.

Brighton have by some way the toughest last two fixtures of the three. On Monday they host Derby, then their last game is away to Middlesbrough

Why they won't

They have by some way the toughest last two fixtures of the three contending sides. On Monday they host Derby, who have hit some sort of form after a stumbling season, then their last game is, of course, away to Middlesbrough.

Karanka's side have the best home record in the Championship, having lost just twice at the Riverside this season. It's likely to be a pretty tense affair, but one delicious prospect could present itself if both sides win this weekend and Burnley lose, meaning a draw in Middlesbrough would see both sides promoted...

Who they're relying on

Again, there's no single player upon whom all hope his placed, but there are a number of match-winners in Chris Hughton's side.

Hemed is their top scorer, Knockaert and Skalak might have been in contention for player of the season had they been around all season (both arrived in January), while Beram Kayal has been one of the better midfielders in the division. Connor Goldson was a low-key but excellent recruit from Shrewsbury last summer.

And then there's the possibility of club hero Bobby Zamora, who hasn't started a game since February with a hip problem, returning for the final push.

What'll happen if they do?

Hard to say. Brighton's transfer business has been shrewd rather than flashy, and while they have spent some money this season (Knockaert cost a little over £2m, Hemed around £1m), it hasn't been at the level of their competitors.

You can probably expect a similar approach, if on a slightly higher scale, should they be in the Premier League next term.

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