Two games. Two measly games at the very end of a 46-game, marathon season — that’s all that remains in this year’s edition of the English Championship, perhaps the most competitive, most exciting league in the world right now.
[ MORE: Saturday’s PL roundup ]
Somewhere in the neighborhood of $200 million awaits the three teams that this year gain promotion to next year’s Premier League. Meanwhile, something resembling total and soul-crushing heartbreak awaits the side that advances to the promotion playoffs final at Wembley, only to lose and spend another season in England’s second division.
Watford go 6-for-6, jump from 3rd to 1st
Stock up: Remember last week, when Watford and Middlesbrough were third and fourth, and Bournemouth and Norwich City were first and second? Fast forward a week, and Watford find themselves on top of the league, thanks to victories over Nottingham Forest (3-1) and Birmingham City (1-0) this week. Meanwhile, Boro were busy snatching up victories over Wolves (2-1) and Norwich (1-0) this week, making them the only other side in the race for automatic promotion (top-two places) to win 6-of-6 points this week.
Stock down: Any loss is a pretty crippling blow at this point of the season, but losing to one of your direct competitors for a top-two place is far worse. That’s what Norwich did on Friday, following a mid-week victory over Leeds United (2-0). For their struggles, they tumble from second to fourth, two points and nine goals’ worth of goal differential behind Bournemouth for second. Draws at the business end of the season aren’t exactly great either, as Bournemouth found out in falling from first to second. Eddie Howe’s men beat Reading mid-week (1-0), but drew at home against Sheffield Wednesday on Saturday, via a 95th-minute Wednesday penalty.
The coming week’s schedule looks like this for the Championship’s promotion-chasing teams: Brighton vs. Watford; Bournemouth vs. Bolton (Monday, Apr. 27); Fulham vs. Middlesbrough; Rotherham vs. Norwich (all other games on Saturday). Six points would get both Watford and Bournemouth promoted, while four might just do the job for the Hornets, and anything less probably throws either side into the crapshoot that is the promotion playoffs.
Derby, Ipswich inch closer to locking up playoff places
Middlesbrough and Norwich have finally separated themselves from the pack in terms of the race for a playoff place, leaving just two up for grab as Derby County and Ipswich Town remain fifth and sixth in the league, just as they were last week, with a fair cushion ahead of Brentford and Wolves.
Derby can lock up a playoff place with three more points, beginning with Saturday’s clash away to Millwall, while, Ipswich’s magic number is four — a combined total of points won and lost by each of Brentford and Wolves. They’ll host Nottingham Forest next weekend.
Be sure to check back for next week’s installment of “As The Championship Turns.”