Championship Playoff Preview: Crystal Palace at Brighton

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Okay, so it is going to take a lot to top the dramatic Championship playoff semifinal between Watford and Leicester City on Sunday.

But let’s hope Brighton and Crystal Palace give it a darn good go down on the South Coast of England this afternoon.

The two huge rivals drew 0-0 on Friday at Selhurst Park with everything on the line in their playoff semifinal second leg, to decide who will face Watford in the Championship Playoff final at Wembley stadium later this month.

Who are the favorites you ask? This is a tricky one. Remarkably, after 97 meetings over 93 years; Brighton have won 37, Crystal Palace 36 with 24 drawn. So Brighton and Hove Albion have the edge… just.

Brighton have the home advantage. They have turned the Amex Stadium into a fortress this season —  just their second campaign in the Championship after winning the League One title in 2010-11 —  losing just three times and the Seaside club must fancy their chances.

Brighton have not lost since March 12, in the ten games since they have won five and drawn five.

Manager Gus Poyet’s Uruguayan roots emanate in the Seagulls play and their gritty midfield duo Liam Bridcutt and Dean Hammond are an engine-room to be reckoned with. Forwards Leonardo Ulloa and Will Buckley provide a big threat and could help Brighton move one step closer to their dream of reaching the English Premier League.

Meanwhile Crystal Palace are looking to reignite their wonderful early season form after they stumbled into the playoffs under Ian Holloway. The Eagles saw their goals dry up late in the season and have failed to score in their last three games against their arch rivals. Can they do so today? 39-year-old striker Kevin Phillips may be their best hope after the Championship’s top scorer with 30 goals, Glenn Murray, badly injured his knee in Friday’s semifinal first leg. A huge blow for the South London side.

However they do have Wilfred Zaha on the wing. The England international will be keen to spearhead the Eagles challenge to make it back to the EPL, despite the fact that Zaha has already been signed by Manchester United and will be at Old Trafford next season.

You can catch the game on BeIN Sport from 2:30pm ET.

What they’re saying…

Brighton

Gus Poyet: “There will not be a winner by many goals so let’s see if we can use our home advantage. This tie, anywhere in the world, is 50/50 but I would always want to play in front of my fans. Everything is there. I don’t need to motivate the players and we don’t need to motivate the fans either. It will be an amazing atmosphere and we’ll do everything we can to win.”

Liam Bridcutt: “The job is not done until we win and we know it will be hard at our place as well. We just have to go into the game with the same winning mentality and see if we can score the goals, and win the game. We are looking forward to it and are ready to go again.”

Crystal Palace

Ian Holloway: “We have to go there and they will have to watch us because we aren’t bad at counter-attacking. Obviously we will have to stop them at their own ground, but this is where the pressure happens, this is where it all starts building. It only takes one thing from us and that could upset everything. It’s a fantastic opportunity for us, we have to do better than we did at their ground last time.”

Prediction: This one really is too close to call. Extra-time and maybe even penalties beckons to separate these huge rivals. As you probably gathered, the fans don’t think much of one another and the atmosphere is sure to be electric inside the 30,000 capacity Amex. This game promises to be a great advert for English soccer’s second tier. The home side have the slight advantage and, at a push, I think Brighton will be competing with Watford for a place in the EPL.

Southampton pleased to nab “bonus point” vs. Spurs

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Ryan Bertrand had a fine day for Southampton in its 1-1 draw with Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday, forcing Spurs into an own goal and picking up a point for its relegation battle.

[ RECAP: Saints 1-1 Spurs ]

Saints now sit a point back of safety after Stoke City leapt over them with a Saturday win, and Bertrand says the club will be buoyed by a Sunday bonus.

“Very heavy, the rain didn’t help, just pleased to come away with the point,” Bertrand said. “We have to scrap it out. We have to analyze, look at our remaining fixtures, which games you want to win and which games we’ll be slightly be the underdogs and today was a bonus point on our journey.”

Saints host Watford in the FA Cup on Saturday before welcoming Brighton on Jan. 31 for a massive midweek six-pointer (It’s the appropriate time of year to consider matches six-pointers, yes?).

Spurs, Saints play to stalemate

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  • Bertrand forces Spurs own goal
  • Kane levels before halftime
  • Spurs stay fifth
  • Saints one point back of safety

Harry Kane made amends for a Davinson Sanchez own goal as Tottenham Hotspur drew Southampton 1-1 at St. Mary’s on Sunday.

Southampton is now winless in 11 Premier League matches, while Spurs are unbeaten in six.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Spurs entered the game with Christian Eriksen and Hugo Lloris out through sickness and several more not at 100 percent, and Sanchez was surely feeling ill when his sliding attempt to block a Ryan Bertrand cross beat his own keeper to the inside post.

It was 1-1 within moments, as Kane rose over Manolo Gabbiadini after losing mark Jack Stephens on a corner kick.

James Ward-Prowse was fortunate to avoid a card when he kicked out at Jan Vertonghen following a slide tackle from the Spurs center back.

Stephens just missed making up for his error when he zipped onto Ward-Prowse’s free kick but headed just wide of the far upper 90.

Mario Lemina forced Vorm into a save after a 41st minute set-up by Gabbiadini.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Ward-Prowse tried his luck from 25 yards to start the second half, but Vorm saw the ball the whole way into his arms.

Spurs grew into the second half, and Dele Alli lashed wide of the near post in the 65th minute. Vertonghen buzzed the tower with a left-footed shot five minutes later.

Would anything give as the match progressed, with Spurs inserting Erik Lamela and Saints opting for Sofiane Boufal and 17-year-old debutant Michael Obafemi?

Good work from Kane and Sissoko ended with an on-the-doorstep Lamela shooting off a Saints defender and out, poorly adjudged to be a goal kick.

Obafemi misjudged a chance to redirect a cross past Vorm in the 87th minute, and Cedric ventured a laser wide of the goal as Saints looked for a winner. Boufal was then blocked by Sanchez after taking a touch too much in the box.

Kane had late opportunity for Spurs, but dragged his shot or pass through the six without a receiver.

VIDEO: Ronaldo bloodied after diving header goal in Real rout

AP Photo/Francisco Seco
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This hasn’t been a good league year for Cristiano Ronaldo nor his club Real Madrid, and the reigning league winners let their frustrations out on Deportivo de la Coruna on Sunday.

[ MORE: 2 Robbies on Alexis-Mkhi ]

Ronaldo scored twice in the 7-1 rout, and the second saw his face bloodied by a boot when he went low to head home in the second half for Real’s sixth goal.

Fortunately for Ronaldo, he’s the sort of player who doesn’t care about his looks. Hilariously, cameras caught the mega star using a cell phone to assess the damage.

The goals end a three-match league dry spell for the Ballon d’Or collector, who has 17 goals in 25 matches across all competitions this season.

Real is 16 points back of Barcelona in La Liga, on pace to finish fourth in the division.

Judging the Premier League’s in-season managerial changes

Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images
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Stoke City, Swansea City, and now Watford have all made managerial changes in the last month, and await the long-term response of their players to new bosses Paul Lambert (so far, so good), Carlos Carvalhal (mixed, but a win), and probably Javi Gracia, respectively.

That means 40 percent of Premier League clubs have ditched their Opening Day bosses this season. Some were overdue, others were debatable, and the latest — Watford’s sacking of Marco Silva after denying Everton’s pursuit of the boss — is a real head scratcher.

[ MORE: Watford fires Silva, blames Everton ]

How have the moves worked so far?

Crystal Palace
Frank De Boer — 0W-4L
Roy Hodgson — 6W-7D-7L

Hodgson is actually on pace to outdo Sam Allardyce‘s 8W-2D-11L campaign to save Palace’s 2016-17 season. FDB’s short-lived campaign is difficult to judge, his lone win coming in the League Cup against Championship competition, but there’s little debate as to whether Hodgson’s discipline has worked at Selhurst Park.

Everton
Ronald Koeman — 2W-2D-5L
David Unsworth (caretaker) — 2W-2D-1L
Sam Allardyce — 3W-4D-3L

Everton’s entire season has been the same tale: beat the lower half clubs but fail to meet expectations against almost anyone of merit. That’s taken a dive in recent weeks, as Allardyce has drawn West Brom twice and lost at Bournemouth. Jury’s out, and Allardyce has a lot to prove as another team brings him in and spends dough on his behalf.

Leicester City
Craig Shakespeare — 1W-3D-4L
Michael Appleton (caretaker) — 1W
Claude Puel — 7W-4D-4L

It’s now two-straight seasons of poor starts dooming the Leicester City manager, and Shakespeare understandably did not get patience considering the Foxes fired the architect of their stored PL run in Claudio Ranieri (who has Nantes fifth place in Ligue 1). Puel got a rough ride from expectation-heavy Saints fans, who’d probably love to have him back right now. This is an unqualified success, and Leicester may just make it back to Europe.

Swansea City
Paul Clement — 3W-3D-12L
Leon Britton (player manager) — 1D-1L
Carlos Carvalhal — 1W-1D-1L

It’s hard to gauge whether Carvalhal was the right hire, but Swans’ record has improved in the five matches since he was fired and the lone losses are to Liverpool and Spurs. The firing, it seems, was the right call.

West Brom
Tony Pulis — 2W-4D-6L
Gary Megson (caretaker) — 2D
Alan Pardew — 1W-4D-4L

The wins still need to come, but West Brom do look a more promising side and Alan Pardew’s desire to play two strikers certainly makes for better entertainment than Tony Pulis’ unit. Like Everton, the jury is still out. If we had to judge, we’d say it’s the right move for a fan base which prefers a more fashionable style of play (but also prefers being in the Premier League).

West Ham
Slaven Bilic — 2W-3D-6L
David Moyes — 4W-4D-4L

So far, Moyes is doing wonders for his reputation while performing feats that Everton is still seeking from Allardyce; West Ham has spent some money, and Moyes is getting performances out of Marko Arnautovic and using his width well (Arthur Masuaku has been impressive at full back).