THE only major issue to be decided on the final day is which two clubs will join Wycombe Wanderers in being relegated from the Championship.
The Chairboys aren’t mathematically down yet, but they need an unlikely swing in goal difference with only one game left to survive.
If Rotherham are relegated, then only one team out of those that came down from the Premier League and those that got promoted last season from League One will be in the Championship in 2021-22.
That is Millwall’s opponents this weekend, Coventry.
That points to a major imbalance in the Championship.
Norwich and Watford, relegated last season, have already been promoted. If Bournemouth join them through the play-offs the three relegated teams will all have gone straight back up.
Clubs relegated from the Premier League receive parachute payments of almost £100million over two or three years.
That has helped Norwich keep the likes of Max Aarons and Todd Cantwell, who were both rated in the £20million bracket last summer after impressing in the 2019-20 season despite the Canaries’ relegation.
Watford were under no pressure to offload £30million Ismaila Sarr, scorer of their winner against Millwall recently.
And Bournemouth could retain another £30million signing, Jefferson Lerma.
Of course it’s not always the case that sides relegated from the top flight bounce back to get promoted or at least challenge for promotion. You only have to look at the likes of Hull City and Sunderland to see that.
But this season in particular has emphasised how much of a financial advantage clubs that come down do have, even after just one season in the top flight.
Brentford are aiming for a first promotion to the Premier League after building through a brilliant recruitment structure. But they have also splashed out transfer fees of up to £6million on players, a level Millwall are nowhere near.
Swansea were in the Premier League as recently as 2017-18, so have received another parachute payment this season.
Barnsley have done remarkably well to buck the financial trend and if Valerien Ismael leads them to promotion it will be one of the great managerial achievements in the Championship.
When you add in Cardiff, Middlesbrough, Stoke City and Huddersfield who have also benefitted from parachute payments it’s no wonder it’s such a struggle at the other end of the table for clubs such as Wycombe and Rotherham to compete.
Covid-19 and the restrictions to try to contain it, including no fans in stadiums and therefore no gate income, has also shone a light on financial disparities in the game.
Last May, EFL chairman Rick Parry told a House of Commons digital, culture, media and sport committee that parachute payments should be discontinued.
“We need a complete reset and we need to look at the redistribution of revenues,” he said. “Parachute payments are an evil that needs to be eradicated.
“We have six clubs in the Championship receiving parachute payments which means on average they get £40m per club. The other 18 get £4.5m each.
“[Parachute payments] are a prime example of the Premier League clubs [who got relegated] being protected either to help them to get back into the Premier League quickly or help them adjust to the financial chasm, whichever way you may describe it.
“But they are a symptom of the chasm, if we didn’t have the chasm in the first place you wouldn’t need the parachute payments. You could have a much fairer distribution system.”
A Premier League spokesperson defended the payments.
“Parachute payments give newly promoted clubs the confidence to invest in their squads to be competitive in the Premier League,” the spokesperson told Sky Sports.
“They are also a vital mechanism to give relegated clubs financial support while adjusting to significantly lower revenues and having a higher cost base related to their playing squads.
“The Championship is a highly competitive league with attendances, viewing figures and revenues the envy of second-tier leagues around the world.
“We see no evidence that parachute payments distort performance at that level and are an essential part of this highly competitive environment.
“We also provide solidarity payments to every other EFL club – payments without parallel elsewhere in leagues around the world.”
It underlines how well Millwall have done to secure a second consecutive top-12 finish – their third in four seasons – when eight of the other 11 teams in the top half have been in the Premier League in the last decade.
The Lions have to find a different route into the top six. You wouldn’t exactly call them cast-offs, but Mason Bennett, George Evans and Scott Malone arrived from Derby after not being regulars there.
Bart Bialkowski – one of the best goalkeepers in the league in the last two seasons – came from League One Ipswich.
Millwall took risks signing Troy Parrott and Kenneth Zohore on loan from Premier League Tottenham and West Brom and were unfortunate that injuries were the main obstacles to those gambles perhaps paying off.
But it will be a similar story in the transfer market this summer: Trying to get those players other clubs may have missed, or those players that aren’t a fit for their current clubs but could be for Millwall.
Head of recruitment Harvey Bussell also has a good knowledge of European leagues so the club could reach out that bit further in the next transfer window.
Millwall have good foundations on which to build and could almost call themselves an established Championship side.
But there is a warning from the relatively recent past of how quickly things can change.
The summer of 2005 was shaping up to be a significant one after successive top-10 finishes in the second tier and an FA Cup final under Dennis Wise.
But the club didn’t build on it as Wise left after the final game of the 2004-05 season and the Lions were relegated the following season.
Millwall are a far more stable club now, and there is no chance of Gary Rowett walking away when he has spoken recently with such enthusiasm about strengthening his squad in the summer.
The Lions need to take that next step to avoid the perception that they have hit their ceiling if next season brings similar results and a mid-table finish.
With a strong core of the squad in place, and fans returning next August – and despite the financial advantages of others – Millwall have rarely been in a better position to go to that next level.
Possible Millwall starting XI: 5-2-3: Bialkowski; McNamara, Romeo, Pearce, Cooper, Malone; Evans, Mitchell; J Wallace, Bradshaw, Bennett.
Match odds: Coventry 2/1 Draw 12/5 Millwall 5/6
Last meeting: Championship (January 2, 2021): Millwall 1-2 Coventry (J Wallace 74 pen, M Wallace 90+3 sent off; Cooper 20′ og, Hamer 26′
Image: Millwall FC