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EFL Cup Tuesday preview: Seven Premier League sides enter

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Seven of the 13 Premier League teams to enter the 2017-18 EFL Cup second round will open tournament play Tuesday, while the remaining six wait until Wednesday.

West Bromwich Albion, Bournemouth, Brighton and Hove Albion, Crystal Palace, Swansea City, Leicester City, and Watford all begin their campaigns Tuesday.

[ MORE: Man City 1-1 Everton | 3 things ]

West Brom is one of two sides facing fourth-tier competition, and Tony Pulis‘ Baggies head to the Crown Ground for a match with Accrington Stanley.

Recently promoted Brighton and Hove Albion hosts its first Cup match as a Premier League side when Barnet comes to town. Ex-New York Red Bulls and New York Cosmos winger Ruben Bover is on the visitors side of the pitch.

Frank De Boer‘s Crystal Palace gets a tricky test from in-form Ipswich Town, as Mick McCarthy’s Tractor Boys are one of two Championship teams to start the season 4-0.

The seven PL sides competing in the Champions League or Europa League don’t join the fray until the third round.

Full slate of Tuesday’s second round matches
All matches at 2:45 p.m. ET unless noted

Accrington Stanley vs. West Bromwich Albion
Aston Villa vs. Wigan Athletic
Birmingham City vs. Bournemouth
Brighton and Hove Albion vs. Barnet
Bolton Wanderers vs. Sheffield Wednesday — 3 p.m. ET
Cardiff City vs. Burton Albion
Carlisle United vs. Sunderland
Crystal Palace vs. Ipswich Town — 2:30 p.m. ET
Doncaster Rovers vs. Hull City
Fulham vs. Bristol Rovers
Leeds United vs. Newport County
Middlesbrough vs. Scunthorpe United
Milton Keynes Dons vs. Swansea City
Norwich City vs. Charlton Athletic
Queens Park Rangers vs. Brentford
Reading vs. Millwall — 3 p.m. ET
Sheffield United vs. Leicester City
Watford vs. Bristol City

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.

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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?

Checking in with the Championship’s Premier League promotion hopefuls

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With roughly one-third of the schedule to play, there are four clubs within three points of automatic promotion to the Premier League and five more in or within shouting distance of the promotion playoffs.

So while we’re tracking the race to avoid PL relegation between Aston Villa, Sunderland, Norwich City and others, let’s take a look at who’s making bids to take their places.

[ MORE: Difficulty looms for in-form, relegation-scrapping Villa ]

Only one of last season’s relegated teams is far removed from the race to rejoin the Premier League, and that’s Queens Park Rangers. The R’s are 11 points back of sixth place, the final PL playoff spot.

Top dogs

Steve Bruce has Hull City in line for an instant return to the Premier League, but it’s far from sewn up. The Tigers have the Championship’s best goal differential (26), but are tied with Middlesbrough on points and just a point ahead of Sean Dyche‘s Burnley.

Also within a win of the Top Two is Brighton and Hove Albion, led by ex-Norwich City and Newcastle United manager Chris Hughton. He guided the Magpies to promotion, and also got Birmingham City to the playoff in 2012.

BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - AUGUST 01:  Jonathan Spector of Birmingham City during the Pre-Season Friendly match between Birmingham City and Leicester City at St Andrews (stadium) on August 1, 2015 in Birmingham, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
(Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

Also in the running

Derby County and Sheffield Wednesday would be headed to the playoffs if the regular season ended today, but either could drop out of the six within a single game weekend.

Ipswich Town is in 7th with 48 points, while Birmingham is a point back. And remember Vincent Tan? Cardif City’s 45 points have them in the discussion for a PL return.

Of those teams, only one carries an American player. That’s USMNT defender Jonathan Spector (right), the former Manchester United and West Ham United man.

Championship playoff final set: Boro, Norwich with Premier League promotion on the line

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The 2015 Championship promotion playoffs final is set for May 25, when Middlesbrough and Norwich City are set to do battle at Wembley Stadium with a place in the 2015-16 Premier League on the line. Here’s a quick recap of how Boro and Norwich advanced to this year’s playoff final.

[ FOLLOW: PST’s Promotion Watch coverage ]

Middlesbrough 3-0 (5-1 agg.) Brentford

Norwich finished the regular season in fourth place, four points off the automatic promotion places. In the first leg of their playoffs semifinal against Brentford, Boro snatched a 2-1 victory in the away leg, which set them up nicely for the second leg to be played at the Riverside Stadium.

Friday afternoon saw Aitor Karanka’s side book their place in the final through three goals and a total sense of domination over Brentford. Lee Tomlin, Kike and Albert Adomah scored the goals on Friday, as the most goals-starved playoff team during the regular season advanced comfortably while allowing just a single goal over 180 minutes.

Norwich City 3-1 (4-2 agg.) Ipswich Town

Norwich, who were relegated from the Premier League last year, finished the regular season in third place, three points behind the automatic promotion places. In the first leg of their semifinal tie with Ipswich, the sides drew 1-1, setting up a winner-takes-all second leg at Carrow Road.

Ipswich’s Christophe Berra was sent off five minutes into Saturday’s second leg, leaving the Blues a man short for the remainder of the game. Wes Hoolahan converted the ensuing penalty kick, but Ipswich answered back through Tommy Smith right on the hour mark. Nathan Redmond (64th minute) and Cameron Jerome (76th) put the tie to bed with late goals.

The Monday, May 25 final between Boro and Norwich will be played at 10 am ET.

Championship playoff preview: Boro 2-1 Brentford, Norwich 1-1 Ipswich ahead of leg 2

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Over the course of the next two days, two Championship teams will book their places in what is widely referred to as “the most lucrative game in world soccer”: the Championship promotion playoff final.

[ FOLLOW: PST’s Promotion Watch coverage ]

With more than $200 million up for grabs via the Premier League’s various revenue streams, most notably its television rights deals, the Championship’s promotion playoffs offer a form of drama and tension that’s hard to come by anywhere else in the world.

Here’s how things stand ahead of Friday and Saturday’s semifinal second legs:

Middlesbrough 2-1 Brentford — Friday, 2:45 pm ET

Jelle Vossen and Fernando Amorebieta netted for Boro in the first leg, giving their side a slim lead ahead of the second leg at home. Andre Gray equalized the first leg, but the level scoreline was short-lived.

With no away-goals rule in the promotion playoffs, Boro and Brentford would find themselves heading to extra time, and perhaps penalties, with any one-goal Brentford victory.

Regular season meetings: Boro 4-0 Brentford; Brentford 0-1 Boro; Brentford 1-4 Boro (League Cup)

[MORE: 10-GOAL THRILLER sees Swindon into League 1 playoff final ]

Norwich City 1-1 Ipswich Town — Saturday, 7:15 am ET

Jonny Howson opened scoring in the first leg, before Paul Anderson equalized on the stroke of halftime. Saturday’s second leg will serve as the 99th East Anglian derby, and have more on the line than any of the 98 to come before it.

The scenarios are simple: win the game on Saturday, whether in regular time, extra time or penalties, and you’re into the playoff final, to be played at Wembley Stadium on May 25.

Regular season meetings: Ipswich 0-1 Norwich; Norwich 2-0 Ipswich