Promotion Watch: Bournemouth, Norwich, Watford, Boro separated by two points

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What if I told you there was a professional soccer league where the competition at the top of the standings was so tight that there’s a new leader practically every week, four teams who could win the league and just two points separating those four teams with four games left to play?

[ MORE: Saturday’s PL roundup ]

Oh, and the quality of soccer played in this league is pretty darn good as well — does that sound like something you might be interested in? If so, the English Championship is probably the league for you.

Top four teams win, stay bunched at the summit


Just look at that. It’s either the most beautiful league standings in the world, or, if you happen to be a fan of one of the above teams, the main source of stress and anxiety currently taking over your life. Before the weekend started, it looked exactly the same, sans three points for everybody.

Bournemouth beat Brighton, 2-0, on Friday night, then on Saturday, Norwich snuck by Bolton, 2-1; Watford won at Millwall, 2-0; and Middlesbrough took care of Rotherham United, 2-0, at the Riverside Stadium. With 42 games played, not much has changed since before the season kicked off.

[ MORE: Sunday’s Premier League preview, featuring the Manchester derby ]

This week brings another of the Championship’s draining double-game weeks, with everybody playing Tuesday or Wednesday, then again Saturday or Sunday.

Bournemouth are away to Reading and home against Sheffield Wednesday; Norwich are away to Leeds United and home against Middlesbrough (six-point promotion showdown alert); Watford are away to Nottingham Forest and home against Birmingham City; and Middlesbrough are home to Wolves before visiting Norwich on Friday.

The playoff race is even tighter


For the two unlucky losers in the race for the two automatic promotion places, it’s into the total crapshoot that is the promotion playoffs they go. As for the other two playoff places, well, there’s four teams separated by one point.

[ MORE: The 2 Robbies ponder the question, “Just how good is this Arsenal team?” ]

This week, Derby County host Blackpool and visit Huddersfield; Ipswich host Cardiff City and visit Wolves; Brentford are away to Sheffield Wednesday and host Bolton; while Wolves visit Middlesbrough and host Ipswich.

With a number of top-eight matchups being played once again this week, the Championship standings are bound to look vastly different this time next week. With well over $100 million at stake for each club gaining promotion to the Premier League next season, it’s hard to argue against the Championship being the most competitive and interesting league in the world right now.

Southgate, England players sound off on racist abuse

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England took care of business in Monday’s 6-0 thrashing of Bulgaria, but the Three Lions had to endure some horrendous racist abuse from the crowd during the game.

The match was paused on two occasions I’m the first half by the match officials after racist chanting could be heard from a section of supporters, and a large group of Bulgarian fans were ejected towards the end of the half. However, racist abuse continued during the match from small pockets of fans in the stadium.

[READ: England v. Bulgaria delayed after racist abuse from stands]

“I have to say that the officials were on to everything very quickly,” England manager Gareth Southgate told ITV after the match. “We reported everything immediately when we heard things, we had constant communication with the fourth official and the referee. I was in contact with the players, all the way through the first half in particular, and then again at halftime.

”We know it’s an unacceptable situation, and I think we’ve managed to make two statements. By winning the game, but also we’re raised the awareness of everybody to the situation. The game was stopped twice, I know for some people that won’t be enough, but we as a group were on board with that process.”

Raheem Sterling, who scored a brace in the win, also sounded off on social media, as did former England and Arsenal star Ian Wright.

Ultimately, UEFA and the match officials followed the protocol, but the sad part about this is that England and the officials had a plan for racist abuse, and it was predictable that it would happen.

In a statement after the game, the FA confirmed they would be asking UEFA to investigate what happened. However, any punishment is too little, too late for the players who endured the abuse.

Kane, Sterling star as England rout Bulgaria

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On a night where racist abuse from the stands in Bulgaria marred the overall spectacle, England’s players produced an incredible result and spectacle for the visiting fans, with all things considered.

Harry Kane scored once and assisted on three others as England rolled over Bulgaria, winning 6-0 on Monday evening in the Vasil Levski Stadium in Sofia, Bulgaria. Raheem Sterling and Ross Barkley both scored a brace for the Three Lions and Marcus Rashford’s thunderbolt from a tight angle gave England the opening goal it needed.

The blowout result was the perfect response after England had suffered its first loss in qualifying for a decade, losing on Friday, 2-1 at the Czech Republic. The six goals England put past Bulgaria was also the fourth time out of six games that England had scored at least five goals in a match. The only other time, aside from the defeat, was a 4-0 win last month at Wembley Stadium over Bulgaria.

This story will be updated.


Racist abuse delays England v. Bulgaria qualifier

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England raced out to an impressive 4-0 lead at Bulgaria by halftime, but the wonderful attacking display was marred by horrendous incidents from the crowd.

The match in the Vasil Levski Stadium in Sofia, Bulgaria was stopped on two occasions with announcements being made to ask sections of the crowd to stop their abusive language. This comes with the stadium already serving a partial stadium closure due to racist chanting from the crowd in previous qualifiers.

Below is UEFA’s protocol on how to intervene in these situations, and what transpired from lead writer Joe Prince-Wright.

Tottenham re-signs goalkeeper Vorm

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With Hugo Lloris set to miss at least another two months of action with a broken elbow, Tottenham has turned to a familiar face to provide some cover between the pipes.

Tottenham announced Monday it had re-signed goalkeeper Michel Vorm to a contract through the end of the 2019-2020 Premier League season. Vorm spent five seasons with Tottenham after signing from Swansea City in 2014. However, after playing second-fiddle to Lloris and later serving as the third backup behind current Tottenham No. 2, Paulo Gazzaniga for the past couple of seasons, Vorm was released at the end of last season.

Its certainly a boost for Tottenham that a player with a long history at the club and plenty of experience was available to help in this situation. Similar to Liverpool picking up Adrian after Alisson Becker’s injury, Tottenham know what it’s getting in Vorm and may play him a few times if Gazzaniga needs a night off in the next few months.

According to Vorm, he had been home in his native Netherlands and was watching the game when he saw Lloris get injured.

“Obviously I saw straight away that he had a bad injury and at the time I thought about how bad it was, Vorm told Tottenham’s website. “After the game I spoke with Jan (Vertonghen), he told me what was going on and I spoke also with Toni (Jimenez, our goalkeeping coach) and, yes, during the week I got the phone call to ask if I was open to come back and help out. I’ve kept in contact with a lot of the players and also with Toni. We were speaking quite regularly and on Thursday he called me, we had the conversation and from there on, it went very quickly.”

In his five seasons with Tottenham, Vorm made a total of 47 appearances in all competitions. He saw plenty of time in the League Cup, FA Cup, UEFA Europa League and Champions League during his stay at White Hart Lane.