Brighton and Leeds provide a yuletide glimpse at the Championship’s promotion contenders

’Tis the season to start thinking about the ultimate gift: promotion

(OfficialBHAFC)

Ah, Christmastime: A time for optimism. And an opportunity to turn our eyes to the Championship, the confusingly-named second division of English football, and project who might take the three open Premier League spots that relegation leaves. The Championship occasionally gives us match-ups, like today’s Brighton & Hove Albion vs. Leeds United tilt (2:45PM, BeIN), that serve as potential de facto previews of potential ‘17-’18 Premier League match-ups.

Brighton, currently second in the table, has been hovering in the top tier of the Championship in recent years, including a third place finish and a playoff loss to Sheffield Wednesday last year. They have a stable manager in Chris Hughton, a 30,000 seat stadium that wouldn’t look out of place in next year’s Premier League broadcasts, and they’re currently on a 13-match unbeaten streak that bodes well for their chances to bypass the Championship playoffs altogether.

Leeds United, currently 4th, hasn’t been in the Premier League since 2004, has had a rocky history spotted with financial challenges and, as recently as 2007, a 15-point penalty to start its League One campaign. They made the wrong kind of news (as they sometimes do) Thursday with a just-announced 18-month FA ban for not-new-to-controversy Leeds owner Massimo Cellino. Manager Garry Monk—the seventh in Cellino’s two-and-a-half-year reign— is finding the form that might allow Leeds to come back to the top flight and resume long-dormant rivalries with Manchester United and Chelsea.

There are still ample opportunities for twists and turns in the Championship race, currently led by a Newcastle team that really does need to get back to the Premier League for its sake. But certainly, plugging either Brighton or Leeds into the current mix of top-flight teams makes for good promotion conversation, when musings over relegation possibilities give way to that.