Championship focus

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Championship Focus: Bluebirds flying, Villa second-last

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The wild 46-game slate that is the Football League Championship is already howling, with all 24 teams three matches deep into their campaigns toward Premier League promotion (or avoiding relegation to League One).

The three clubs relegated from the Premier League last season all sit within the Top 8 after three match days. Sunderland is unbeaten with a win and two draws, while Hull City is 1-1-1.

[ MORE: Barcelona falls to Real… again ]

Middlesbrough has two wins from three matches, three points behind three sides who’ve started a perfect 3-0.

Wolves and Ipswich Town are two of the three, and Cardiff City leads the way. Owner Vincent Tan has seen his club score six goals without conceding once in defeats of Burton Albion, Aston Villa, and Sheffield United.

Burton is 0-3, while Steve Bruce‘s Villa is just one point better and sits 23rd.

As for individual superlatives, Bristol City’s Bobby Reid has four goals to lead the league while familiar names Lewis Grabban (Sunderland) and Abel Hernandez (Hull City) are among a quartet of players to score thrice.

Meanwhile, PL transfer target Jota of Brentford continues to impress with three assists through three matches. Will he remain in the second tier by the close of the transfer window?

Championship Focus: It’s all about the playoff places now

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With Brighton & Hove Albion and Newcastle United having already clinched the Championship’s two automatic promotion places, all eyes turn to the four teams behind them still jockeying for playoff positioning…

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3rd — Reading — 82 points, +2 GD
4th — Sheffield Wednesday — 81 points, +16 GD
5th — Huddersfield Town — 81 points, +1 GD
6th — Fulham — 77 points, +27 GD

First of all, the Championship remains the least sensible league in the world. Disagree? Just try to explain the above wildly varying points totals and the corresponding goal differentials. Go ahead, I’ll wait

As for the weekend’s results, Reading and Wednesday did themselves major favors in the race for third with victories over Wigan Athletic (1-0) and Ipswich Town (1-0), respectively, while Huddersfield, who entered the weekend in that top playoff place, played 67 minutes with a man advantage against Birmingham City, and lost 2-0. All three of Reading, Wednesday and Huddersfield have clinched their place in the promotion playoffs, which begin two weeks from Saturday, on May 13.

[ MORE: PL Sunday preview — North London derby, plus 6 of the top 7 play ]

Given Leeds United’s 3-3 draw with Norwich City, a win would have clinched the fourth and final playoff place for Fulham, but the Cottagers dropped a pair of points themselves in a 1-1 draw with Brentford at Craven Cottage. Still, Fulham are all but into the playoffs with a three-point lead on Leeds, and a goal differential that’s 13 goals better.

Championship Focus: 3 teams separated by 1 point; Fulham go 6th

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Brighton are promoted already, and Newcastle United should still be joining them, but beyond those two, the Championship is a disorganized, jumbled mess.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s coverage of the Championship ]

Norwich City 2-0 Brighton & Hove Albion

Let’s call it the promotion celebration hangover, shall we? After five straight wins secured their place in the Premier League next season, Brighton never really turned up against Norwich on Friday. Scoring one own goal is never an enjoyable experience. Scoring a brace of own goals is an absolute nightmare, which Brighton goalkeeper David Stockdale lived during a disastrous 21-minute period, and will never forget.

Nottingham Forest 3-2 Reading

Having climbed all the way up to third in recent weeks, Reading lost away to relegation threatened Forest on Saturday, and saw their lead in the race for the first playoff spot to be cut from four points to one. Britt Assombalonga put Forest 2-0 up two minutes into the second half, and Mustapha Carayol made it 3-0 before Reading came to life. Yann Kermorgant bagged a second-half brace and brought the visitors back to 3-2 with 15 minutes left to play, but that’s as close as they’d get.

[ MORE: Chelsea beat Tottenham to reach FA Cup final ]

Sheffield Wednesday 2-1 Derby County

Officially the Championship’s most in-form side (five wins and one draw in their last six games), Wednesday have raced past a whole host of sides and moved into fourth place with a comeback victory over Derby. Darren Bent put the visitors ahead three minutes into the second half, but Steven Fletcher and Gary Hooper responded to pull the Owls level and ahead over the the next 16 minutes.

Huddersfield Town 1-4 Fulham

Heading in the opposite direction, Huddersfield have just four wins from their last 11 league games (five losses), and have slipped from third to fifth, where they sit just two points ahead of sixth-place Fulham after a 4-1 home thrashing at the hands of the Cottagers. Scott Malone canceled out Chris Lowe’s early opener, Tom Cairney scored the eventual winner from the penalty spot in the 20th minute, and Stefan Johansen made it 3-1 and 4-1 in the final nine first-half minutes.

Elsewhere in the Championship

(18th) Burton 2-1 (7th) Leeds United

Monday’s Championship schedule

Newcastle United vs. Preston North End — 2:45 p.m. ET

Championship Focus: Gulls win again, on verge of Premier League

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Brighton and Hove Albion has all but clinched its Premier League status, thanks to another knockout performance from Anthony Knockaert.

Newcastle United isn’t far behind despite more dropped points, while the race for the playoff places remains four teams going for three places behind Huddersfield Town.

[ MORE: Handicapping the PL Player of the Year ]

Here’s what happened as the Championship staged the majority of its matches a day early.

Wolverhampton Wanderers 0-2 Brighton & Hove Albion

Knockaert scored twice to move the Gulls to within a breath of the Premier League. With a four-point advantage on Newcastle and a 12-point edge on third-place Huddersfield, which has a match in hand, it’s almost academic.

Newcastle United 1-1 Leeds United

Jamaal Lascelles scored to give Newcastle United a lead in a match it dominated… right up until Killer Kiwi striker Chris Wood buried his 25th goal of the season in stoppage time to move Leeds three points clear of seventh.

Norwich City 1-3 Fulham

That seventh place spot is occupied by the Cottagers of Fulham, who boast the third-best goal differential in the division but sit two points back of Sheffield Wednesday for sixth. Fulham was up 1-0 when it went down to 10 men, but still managed to outscore the Canaries the rest of the way.

If the season ended today, the playoffs would see Huddersfield versus Wednesday and Reading against Leeds in the first round of the playoffs.

Elsewhere
Wigan Athletic 3-2 Barnsley — Friday
Brentford 4-0 Derby County
Bristol City 2-1 QPR
Huddersfield Town 3-2 Preston North End
Rotherham United 1-1 Birmingham City
Sheffield Wednesday 1-0 Cardiff City
Burton Albion 1-2 Ipswich Town
Nottingham Forest 0-1 Blackburn Rovers
Aston Villa vs. Reading — 10 a.m. ET Saturday

Championship Focus: Newcastle continue slide, fall from top spot

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Oh, Newcastle United, what are you doing? The title was yours, just waiting to be snatched up. Now, with five games to go, you no longer control your own destiny.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s coverage of the Championship ]

Queens Park Rangers 1-2 Brighton & Hove Albion

Fewer than a dozen games to go, only a handful of points off the top spot — there’s no better time to hit your best form of the season, and that’s exactly what Brighton have done over their last half-dozen games, winning five of the six at the same time Newcastle have gone into something of a tailspin (2W-2D-2L).

Glenn Murray bagged his 21st goal of the season (joint-3rd in the Championship) in the 58th minute on Friday, followed six minutes later by Brighton’s second, courtesy of Sebastien Pocognoli. QPR would pull a goal back through Matt Smith in the 74th minute, but the visitors would see out their 10th away win of the season (2nd most, behind Newcastle — 13).

[ MORE: Saturday’s PL roundup — Spurs apply pressure, Chelsea unfazed ]

Sheffield Wednesday 2-1 Newcastle United

All the possession in the world, all the shots and shots on target, don’t mean a thing if you can’t hit the back of the net. 52 percent possession, 16 shots (8 on target), to 11 (and 3) — and yet, the Magpies found themselves 2-0 down after 87 minutes.

Tom Lees and Steven Fletcher fired Wednesday, who needed the win to hold onto sixth place (fourth and final playoff spot), into a comfortable lead before Jonjo Shelvey pulled one back in the 88th minute.

Elsewhere in the Championship

(19th) Nottingham Forest 2-0 (3rd) Huddersfield Town
(10th) Norwich City 7-1 (4th) Reading
(5th) Leeds United 3-0 (9th) Preston North End
(7th) Fulham 3-1 (17th) Ipswich Town
(18th) Birmingham City 1-2 (8th) Derby County