CHERRIES star Andrew Surman is predicting one of the closest promotion races in the history of the Championship and insists: “Every point is a prisoner.”

Surman, who helped Norwich reach the Premier League in 2011, has been a key figure as Cherries have sustained their challenge with a nine-match unbeaten run.

The 28-year-old has netted twice in 14 league appearances and helped Cherries into fourth place since signing permanently during the August transfer window.

Surman was on target during Cherries' 2-0 win at Sheffield Wednesday last month - a victory which saw them climb to the summit, albeit for just four days.

No fewer than five clubs - Cherries, Nottingham Forest, Norwich, Watford and Derby - have occupied pole position this season, with eight points currently separating the top 12.

The congested nature of the division was highlight on Saturday when Cherries were top with two minutes to play against Millwall, only for a late leveller to see them slip to fourth.

Since the inception of the Championship in 2004, the majority of the automatic promotion places have been settled before the final day and the title often decided with a number of games to spare.

Surman told the Daily Echo: “People always say the Championship is inconsistent and unpredictable and that can be the case with isolated results when teams at the top lose to teams at the bottom.

“But history tells you that quite often the top two open a gap and the teams behind them start falling away, especially after Christmas.

“The most important thing from the promotion perspective is that you have either got to be in the top two or you must stay very close to them throughout the season.

“I don't think it is good enough to say 'let's just try to stay in the top six' because that is when you can end up getting left behind and missing out.

“You have to keep chasing the top two and stay within a point or two of them because if you settle to aim for the top six, they can start running away with it.”

Surman added: “It is probably the tightest it has been in recent years and every point is a prisoner. When I got promoted with Norwich, we didn't lose back-to-back games all season. If we lose, we always came back with a win or a draw. If you are up there, you can't really afford to lose two in a row because that is when gaps start opening.

“You can't allow for a gap of six or more points because then you are relying on the top teams to lose and you going to have to go on a really good run to catch them.

“We were disappointed with our past two results and felt we should have had more points. But we are still in a good position. We are still only two points off the top and, as long as we can stay in the top two or close to it, the longer the season goes on, the more chance we will have.”

  • Blackburn also occupied top spot, alphabetically, following their 1-1 draw with Cardiff on August 8.