Promotion Watch: Burnley on the cusp of Premier League return

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The final few weeks of the English Championship have arrived, and one team have already sealed promotion from England’s second-tier.

Leicester City are already up, but they’ve yet to seal the Championship title as Burnley push them all the way. The Clarets haven’t yet sealed their automatic spot, but they’re ever so close to returning to the big-time.

That being said, it’s time to keep one eye on the Championship’s other promotion hopefuls and which two teams could be joining the Foxes in the Premier League next season. In case you’re not familiar with how this works, the bottom three from the PL at the end of this season get relegated to the Championship, and the two teams who finish first and second in the Champions gain automatic promotion to the world’s most-watched league.

(MORE: Latest Championship standings)

Then, as if that wasn’t enough excitement, teams who finish third through sixth in the Championship battle it out in the playoffs, with the winner of the final at Wembley securing a place in the PL in what’s been dubbed as ‘soccer’s richest match’ with the cash windfall for promotion exceeding $150 million. Wowza.

Each week from now until the end of the season, will check in on the Championship to see the ecstasy and agony of those teams fighting to make it to the big-time after a grueling 46 game season.

Some massive teams are on the brink of promotion, can they get themselves over the line?

They’re up!

Current position: 1 – Leicester City – Games played 42, points 90

The Foxes are in the Premier League, so they are allowed to party, right? It seems like Nigel Pearson’s men have been doing a little too much of it though. A heavy defeat to Brighton and a draw with Reading means they haven’t sealed the title, yet.

Almost automatic

Current position: 2 – Burnley – Games played 42, points 83

One more win could do it for the Clarets, as Sean Dyche’s men travel to Blackpool this weekend. If they win and Derby County don’t, the Champagne corker will be popping all the way back to Turf Moor.

Top six certainties

Current position: 3 – Derby County – Games played 42, points 75

Derby pummeled Huddersfield to stay in the hunt for automatic promotion, but it seems as though the Rams will have to settle for the playoffs. A tough trip to Doncaster awaits this weekend, will Steve McLaren’s men keep the fight going for another week?

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Will Redknapp’s men hold their nerve and clinch a playoff spot?

Current position: 4 – Queens Park Rangers – Games played 42, points 73

Rangers are finishing the season strongly, despite the obvious disappointment of missing out on the top two. Harry Redknapp’s side smashed five past Nottingham Forest last Saturday. If they beat Leicester away this weekend, and other teams below them slip up, the R’s will seal a place in the top six.

Current position: 5 – Wigan Athletic – Games played 41, points 67

Wigan’s brave fight in their FA Cup semifinal defeat to Arsenal showed what a great team they are. Now they have to pick themselves up and go again in the league to seal a playoff spot. The chasing pack are gathering behind them, just one slip up from Uwe Rosler’s side could hurt them. They play Reading on Friday as whoever wins will give themselves a lot of breathing space.

Play Off pretenders

Current position: 6 – Reading – Games played 42, points 64

Reading are hanging on in there and pulled out a great draw against already-promoted Leicester on Monday. They now face a showdown with Wigan, as Nigel Adkins remains positive but his team are without a win at home in seven.

Current position: 7 -Brighton – Games played 42, points 64

Two wins in a row for Brighton, who are now edging closer to the top six. They are level on points with Reading and if they beat Huddersfield this weekend they will make up serious ground on Wigan and Reading ahead of them.

Current position: 8 – Ipswich – Games played 42, points 64

Mick McCarthy’s team are grinding out wins as they beat Doncaster and have won two on the bounce to put themselves level with Reading and Brighton. A trip to Vicarage Road to play Watford awaits on Saturday.

Current position: 9– Bournemouth – Games played 42, points 62

The Cherries slipped up a little away at relegation threatened Yeovil, but their sensational win-streak had to come to an end at some point. Eddie Howe’s team are playing superb stuff, and they should beat Sheffield Wednesday this Friday. They could be in the top six with three games to go.

Aguero involved in clash with Wigan fan after FA Cupset

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MANCHESTER, England (AP) Sergio Aguero was involved in a confrontation with a Wigan fan as ugly scenes marred the end of the third-division side’s shock FA Cup win over Manchester City on Monday.

[ MORE: Wigan shock Man City, the world and themselves ]

Fans spilled on to the pitch at DW Stadium as the host celebrated its 1-0 fifth-round win against the runaway English Premier League leader.

Supporters from both clubs were involved in disturbances, while television pictures appeared to show a home supporter and striker Aguero involved in a physical exchange.

Aguero appeared to hit the supporter after the fan said something to the player, and Aguero had to be held back by his City teammates.

[ MORE: Money from Wembley replay “will support Rochdale for 2 or 3 years” ]

Advertising hoardings were also ripped out and thrown as a pitch invasion by Wigan fans got out of hand while the defeated City players were being escorted off the pitch.

Footage also appeared to show objects, including an advertising board, being thrown at police officers by fans in the City end.

Wigan shock themselves: “Not sure how it feels, hasn’t sunk in yet”

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Wigan Athletic didn’t just shock Manchester City with their FA Cup fifth-round slaying of the runaway Premier League leaders; nor did they merely shock the rest of the footballing world; they also shocked themselves into disbelief, according to defender Dan Burn.

[ MORE: Goodbye, quadruple! Wigan bounce 10-man City from FA Cup ]

Speaking following Monday’s triumph over Pep Guardiola‘s quadruple-chasing side at the DW Stadium, Burn admitted he himself didn’t know what to make of the night that would undoubtedly highlight and change his own professional career — quotes from the BBC:

“Not sure how it feels, hasn’t sunk in yet. It was a really tough game. The belief was always there. We’ve got Will Grigg, who does what he keeps doing.

“We pride ourselves on our clean sheets. We had a couple bad results before, so we wanted to prove ourselves, so a clean sheet against the best team in England is great.

“Once we scored, the fans really got behind us, just knew we needed to hang on. It was the longest 10 minutes of my life.”

[ MORE: Money from Wembley replay “will support Rochdale for 2 or 3 years” ]

Manager Paul Cook was able to articulate his happiness and pride only slightly better — “It feels great” — but offered the highest of praises to his players, whom “had to ride [their] luck at times” during the game, and gave everything they had to the cause, because that’s the only way you beat a team like Man City:

“It feels great. It’s such a severe test. They’re such a strong side and move the ball so well. We had to ride our luck at times and the sending off is always a big incident.

“Our lads deserve credit for their work and some of the blocks they made were outstanding, and to beat Man City you have to do that.”

Goodbye, quadruple! Wigan bounce 10-man City from FA Cup

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Manchester City’s quest for the historic quadruple is over after Pep Guardiola‘s 10-man side was shocked by League One side Wigan Athletic in the fifth round of the FA Cup at the DW Stadium on Monday.

[ MORE: Money from Wembley replay “will support Rochdale for 2 or 3 years” ]

Will Grigg scored the game’s only goal, a late winner after the home side had been thoroughly outplayed and out-possessed for 78 minutes. With 45 places currently standing between them in the English football pyramid — and Man City garnering “best of all time” consideration — “upset” doesn’t even begin to describe Monday’s result.

On the other hand, City represent the third Premier League side knocked out of this season’s FA Cup at the hands of Wigan: Bournemouth, in the third round; followed by West Ham United, in the fourth.

City were reduced to 10 men during first-half stoppage time, when Fabian Delph went flying in on Max Power as the two contested a 50-50 ball inside Wigan’s defensive third. Referee Anthony Taylor initially withdrew his yellow card from his pocket, but protests from the aggrieved party appeared to change Taylor’s mind, and Delph was off.

Prior to Deplh’s dismissal, Wigan had done well  enoughto hold their own against the runaway PL leaders. The Latics had a pair of half-chances, most notably through Grigg in the 12th minute, that could have easily gone their way. Much of the play, though, as is to be expected, was controlled by City (first-half possession: 82 percent), though Guardiola’s men were unable to break through before going a man down.

Still, the share of possession remain unchanged throughout the entirety of the second half, as City patiently probed and used possession as their best means of defense… until the 79th minute arrived.

[ MORE: Man Utd draw Brighton in FA Cup QF; Chelsea get Leicester ]

The ball was played back to Kyle Walker, into space; rather than receiving the ball at first opportunity, Walker let it run on as he prepared to play it back to Claudio Bravo; Grigg saw his opening and pounced quickly; his first touch used his body to shield Walker from the ball, and his second set up the shot; Grigg went for the far post, curling the ball around Bravo and nestling it just inside the post.

Wigan will now host another PL side, Southampton, in the quarterfinals.

Barry Bennell jailed 30 years for abusing young players

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LIVERPOOL, England (AP) A former English youth soccer coach was jailed Monday for 30 years for abusing 12 young footballers after the judge called him the “devil incarnate.”

Barry Bennell, a former coach at Crewe and scout for Manchester City, was convicted at Liverpool Crown Court of 50 child sexual offenses committed between 1979 and 1991.

“Your behavior towards these boys in grooming and seducing them before subjecting them to, in some cases, the most most serious, degrading and humiliating abuse was sheer evil,” Judge Clement Goldstone told the 64-year-old Bennell.

Bennell looked at the floor and nodded as the judge sentenced him. Some members of the public began to applaud as he was sent down, but were stopped by the judge.

Goldstone said Bennell had appeared to his victims as a God.

“In reality, you were the devil incarnate,” the judge added. “You stole their childhoods and their innocence to satisfy your own perversion.”

Goldstone said Bennell’s abuse had destroyed the enthusiasm his victims had for playing football and had led to them suffering problems including suicidal thoughts, alcoholism and depression.

Bennell has already served three jail terms, totaling 15 years, for similar offenses involving 16 other victims in England and the United States.