The second automatic Premier League promotion spot won’t be decided until the final day of the Championship, nor will the last spot in the promotion playoffs nor two relegation slots.
And the match-ups tilt heavily toward those with top-flight aspirations facing clubs fearing the drop.
Call it the haves versus the have-and-hope-to-keeps.
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So, yeah, it’s going to be tense across most of the near-dozen 7:30 a.m. ET encounters
— AUTOMATICALLY YOURS: Either Cardiff City or Fulham will gain instant promotion to the Premier League, with the Bluebirds controlling their own destiny.
Cardiff vs. Reading
Birmingham City vs. Fulham
There’s an added blow to finishing third, and that’s the slowed momentum or realizing it’s going to take a lot more work. Of the last 15 playoff winners, only five were the third place team in the regular season.
Playoff fates of No. 3 teams
2017 — Reading lost final in penalties to No. 5 Huddersfield Town)
2016 — Brighton lost in the semifinals (No. 4 Hull promoted)
2015 — Norwich City won the playoffs
2014 — Derby County lost final to No. 4 QPR
2013 — Watford lost final to No. 5 Crystal Palace
2012 — West Ham United won the playoffs
2011 — Swansea City won the playoffs
2010 — Nottingham Forest lost in semis (No. 6 Blackpool promoted)
2009 — Sheffield United lost final to No. 5 Burnley
2008 — Hull City won the playoffs
2007 — Derby County won the playoffs
2006 — Brentford lost in semifinals (No. 5 Barnsley promoted)
2005 — Ipswich Town lost in semis (No. 6 West Ham promoted)
2004 — Sunderland lost in semis (No. 6 Crystal Palace promoted)
2003 — Sheffield United lost final to No. 5 Wolves
— PLAYOFF SPOTS: The third-place team will join Aston Villa, Middlesbrough, and the sixth-place team in the playoffs, slated for May 11-26.
Derby County has 72 points, two more than Preston North End and three more than Millwall.
The Rams also have a nine-goal advantage on both in goal differential, so a home draw against 21st place Barnsley would be enough (although the visitors are playing for their Championship lives).
Preston also hosts a relegation-threatened club in Burton Albion, while Millwall entertains a very good, but fate-determined Aston Villa.
— RELEGATION ZONE: Three teams will go down to League One, and Sunderland is the only one assured of the drop.
Here’s how it all looks in the race to avoid 22nd and 23rd.
19. Reading — 43 pts, minus-22
20. Birmingham City — 43 pts, minus-32
21. Barnsley — 41 pts, minus-21
22. Burton Albion — 41 pts, minus-42
23. Bolton Wanderers — 40 pts, minus-36
Aside from Bolton, those teams have all been mentioned as opponents of clubs with plenty at stake. The Wanderers are home to Nottingham Forest.
Reading is away to Cardiff, Birmingham home to Fulham, Barnsley at Derby, and Burton away to Preston.
No club can honestly feel safe with just a point.