As usual the Championship seems to be the tightest league in England with one defeat separating you from the bottom half of the table and one win could see you in the playoffs. It always throws up shocks and surprises with the most unlikely sides finding themselves on the brink of the Premier League and playoff contenders last season finding themselves staring at the third tier of English football ; and this year is no different.  Here is my view on who can go up automatically and who has a chance of been in the lottery of the playoffs.

Automatic Promotion contenders

Southampton 
Currently lead the way as they have for the majority of this season. Newly promoted last season and their quest this season doesn’t seem to be avoiding relegation, but to get back to the Premier League after a seven year absence. They look certain to go up and follow in Norwich's footsteps with back to back promotions especially with Ricky Lambert's form this season. Eight points clear of sixth place Hull, its the Saints' to throw away.

West Ham
My favourites to go straight back up and at the start of the season I would've put money on them lifting the Championship title come what May. It may have been a slightly more complex task for them when Scott Parker eventually left for Spurs but with manager Sam Allardyce and the purchases of Kevin Nolan and others, they have more than enough talent to see them get back to where they belong.
 

Cardiff
Third in the Championship at the minute and will want to make into the top two at all costs this season. They have made the playoffs twice in the last two season, last year the semi's and the year before they were beaten by Blackpool in the final. Malky Mackay has done a terrfic job since he took over in the summer with the Bluebirds in the Carling Cup semi-finals. But, the main priority for Cardiff is promotion to the Premier League. Third time lucky?

Middlesbrough
I was debating whether to put them in this category or not. This has been by far their best season  since they  were relegated three seasons ago. Normally always top half and nowhere near the playoffs and the memories of the UEFA Cup final in 2007 seem to have faded fast around the Riverside. This year they are looking strong and have lost less games then Southampton and West Ham. However they have drawn 11 games this season and really need to turn them into wins in the second half of the campaign to challenge for a top two spot.

Possible Playoff teams

Reading
Have been on a great run recently of one defeat in the last five league games which has seen them climb into fifth. Based purley on their result at Cardiff at the start of the year I don't think they can emulate their unbelievable success in 2006 where they won the league with a record of 106 points, but if they perform like they did against West Ham for the rest of the season it will almost guarantee them another shot at the big time.

Hull
Since Hull were relegated from the Premier League its been hard for them to mount any fightback in the Championship. The instalment of Nicky Barmby was a right one by the Tigers as he has guided them into that dangerous but all important final playoff spot. If  Matty Fryatt leading the line and Robert Koren from the midfield keep their shooting boots on Hull maybe celebrating another playoff final win at Wembley.

Birmingham
Have had a very difficult first season back in the second tier of English football and I think thats partly down to their adventure in the Europa League. Now they are no longer travelling around Europe on a Thursday night they can focus on their primary target of returning back to the promise land. That might be made more difficult with Chris Wood no longer present at St Andrews, but Chris Hughton proved he had what it takes with Newcastle and the Blues will be hoping for more of the same.

Derby
Never looked like the Derby of old since they went down to Division One in 2002 after six years in the top flight. They had a brief comeback in 2006, but failed miserably as the broke the record of the lowest ever points total in the Premier League. Now though things seem to be on the up as Nigel Clough has seen his side rise then fall and now rise again back into the hunt for the playoffs and hopefully he and Theo Robinson and Co.  can keep the Rams around the playoff places for another four months.

Blackpool, Burnley and Leeds
All very similar teams and all on 39 points. Blackpool had a real adventure last season in the Premier League and I suspect they are hoping to back up via the route of the playoffs. Burnley have had slow progress in the Championship, but this year they have a great platform for going back up by playing in richest game in world if they keep on performing. Finally its Leeds, who are nearly almost there every single season since they were promoted back into the Championship, but always bottle it towards the business end of the season. They need to be more consistent in my view if they are going reach the playoffs but they have a squad more than capable of achieving that.

They’re just a few of the teams that have a chance of making the playoffs. The hardest thing about writing this article is that the Championship is such an unpredictable league. In fairness any one of 15 teams have a chance to get promoted this season with only six points separating 15th from 6th this season mid way through January. It won’t surprise me if we see the likes of Palace, Brighton and Leicester making a late charge for a Wembley final, but what is for certain is another exciting end to a Championship season.