There are, for all intents and purposes, five Championship teams fighting for three playoff spots. Those five teams (Nottingham Forest, Bolton Wanderers, Leicester City, Crystal Palace, and Brighton & Hove Albion) are separated by just three points and it is only goal difference that separates two pairs of those teams. With just three matches left in the campaign, the end of the 2012/2013 season will be hectic.
Four of those five teams have three matches left to play. Crystal Palace is the exception with four to go because they have to make up a match with Millwall that was postponed due to the Lions' FA Cup run. Bolton's run-in consists of a home match against Middlesbrough, an away trip to Premier League-bound Cardiff City, and a finish at home against Blackpool.
Nottingham Forest (currently behind Bolton on goal difference) have a home match against Barnsley this weekend, a trip to the Den to face Millwall next weekend, and finally a home game against Leicester city.
Leicester City (currently one point above Bolton) have a tough schedule ahead of them. They travel to Crystal Palace before returning home to face Watford, who are pushing for automatic promotion. They end the regular season in a home match against Nottingham Forest.
Crystal Palace (currently three points above Bolton) will take on Leicester City at home and then travel to Blackburn before a tough Tuesday night trip to Millwall to take on the Lions at the Den. They finish at home against Peterborough United who, as things stand, are one point above the drop zone.
Brighton & Hove Albion (currently three points above Bolton and have a goal difference advantage on Crystal Palace) will welcome Blackpool to the Amex. They then travel to Elland Road to face Leeds United who are flying high under Brian McDermott, having won both matches since his appointment. Brighton will finish at home against Wolves who are one point and one spot above the drop zone.
None of the playoff hopefuls have easy matches ahead of them. Very few teams in the Championship have nothing to play for at this stage and mid-table mediocrity hopefully will not be a factor when it comes to deciding who will occupy the playoff spots.
No matter which way you look at it, one of Bolton's playoff rivals will drop points. Leicester City take on both Crystal Palace and Nottingham Forest and if they pick up a win in each of those, that means that both the Eagles and the Foxes drop three points. Draws mean two points each for all parties and four points dropped across the board. The story is very much the same for every every team but Brighton & Hove Albion who will not play any matches against teams currently above them in the table.
Of course, the table-watching will prove fruitless if Bolton Wanderers don't do the job ahead of them. As things stand, Bolton Wanderers are out of the playoffs by a single point. When all is said and done, six points out of nine available may (and that's a cautious may) be enough for Bolton Wanderers to do the job but it'll make for tense watching. Seven points should do the job. Nine points would nail it.
Bolton Wanderers fans will have some nervy weekends ahead.