United they fall?
Leeds the ones who could miss out, warns Birtles
Last Updated: April 18, 2011 6:06pm
Leeds: feeling the pressure
Garry Birtles believes Leeds United could be the ones to miss out on a Championship play-off place.
"All the teams behind them are going to be gunning for them - and they've got to believe they have a chance of catching them and putting that pressure on Leeds United."
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Simon Grayson's side have not won for three games and are currently clinging on to sixth spot, five points adrift of Swansea City in fifth.
They play host to in-form Reading - who have won eight in a row on Good Friday - and Sky Sports commentator Birtles says the likes of Nottingham Forest, Hull City and Millwall could yet snatch the final spot away from Leeds.
"The next four, it's theirs to throw away," he told Sky Sports News about the current play-off picture.
"Then you get to sixth place and Leeds, who are four points adrift now; all the teams behind them are going to be gunning for them - and they've got to believe they have a chance of catching them and putting that pressure on Leeds United.
"Yes, the others could fall by the wayside, they've done it in previous seasons, but they should have enough with the games they've got left to cement their places in the Championship play-offs."
Of those sides chasing runaway leaders QPR, Cardiff are currently occupying the second automatic promotion spot thanks to four wins on the spin.
But Birtles believes Brian McDermott's Reading could well overhaul them and join Neil Warnock's men in the Premier League next season without having to endure the drama of the play-offs, should the Welsh side slip up.
"Cardiff have been in that position before so they'll know that and will be a little bit nervy, but the two teams with the momentum at the moment are Reading and outside the play-offs, Hull," he said.
"They're the ones winning games, so they're the ones to look out for. Reading look like the team.
"Without a doubt they can do it; they've got the confidence going into the final four games, they've got a manager who believes in them, they've taken on board what he preaches and they've passed the ball around well.
"If they all keep fit they've got a good chance of doing that."
At the other end of the table it is just as tight, although bottom club Sheffield United are four points adrift of their nearest rivals and, with four games left to play, eight shy of safety.
But with Preston North End and Scunthorpe both finding some form, Birtles says it could all change over the coming fortnight.
"You have to look at the bottom three," he said. "Sheffield United can't buy a win at the moment, Scunthorpe picked up a cracker of a win at the weekend against Crystal Palace, who have been pretty strong at home this season, and Preston, under Phil Brown, have given themselves a chance.
"The big game over the Easter period is the Doncaster-Crystal Palace game, the two teams just above the relegation. That game could tell us so much and all the teams around them will want that to be a draw.
"Derby probably need one more win to make sure they're safe, although Nigel Clough might argue otherwise, but they've got a tough one against QPR, then Burnley and another tough one against Norwich. You do feel one win will be enough for them."
"Then it's just the dogfight we've just mentioned - and it's theirs to throw away, the two teams I've just mentioned (Palace and Doncaster).
"But it's the three down there in those positions that have got to get out of those positions, so draws are no good now, they've got to go for wins."