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Championship Focus: Playoff picture, auto promotion far from settled

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Six Football League Championship fixtures took place in the shadow of the UEFA Champions League on Tuesday, providing the smallest bit of clarity in the race for promotion.

Leeds United won to move second and put a measure of pressure on Sheffield United, which has a match-in-hand, while Bristol City increased its stock while putting a hurt on West Brom’s hopes.

[ MORE: Spurs-Man City recap | Kane hurt | 3 things ]

The Baggies had won three-straight after firing Darren Moore, but have now lost two in-a-row. Both came away from the Hawthorns, and Tuesday’s defeat at Bristol City means the Baggies can forget about anything other than promotion via the playoffs.

Bristol, meanwhile, rode their three goals in the first 19 minutes to move fifth, four points clear of seventh.

Wednesday is day Leeds will be hoping for upsets, with Reading and Sheffield United expecting to collect three points (even if the Blades’ opponents, Birmingham City, have a point total that doesn’t match their skill level due to a 10-point punishment).

Here’s the road into the playoffs, and only two teams — one almost certainly Norwich City — will avoid it via automatic promotion.

Norwich City (1st, 84 points)

Wednesday v. Reading
Sunday at Wigan
April 19 v. Sheffield Wednesday
April 22 at Stoke City
April 27 v. Blackburn
May 5 at Aston Villa

The Read: It would be stunning if Norwich City doesn’t wrap up its place in the Premier League with 2-3 weeks to spare.

Leeds United (2nd, 79 points)

Saturday v. Sheffield Wednesday
April 19 v. Wigan
April 22 at Brentford
April 27 v. Aston Villa
May 5 at Ipswich Town

The Read: At least two exceptionally tough games in terms of desperate opponents means they’ll need to be good and get help from the Blades, who have one more match to play.

Sheffield United (3rd, 77 points)

Wednesday at Birmingham City
Saturday v. Millwall
April 19 v. Nottingham Forest
April 22 at Hull City
April 27 v. Ipswich Town
May 5 at Stoke City

The Read: Birmingham City is a tricky Wednesday test, but the Blades control their own destiny.

West Bromwich Albion (4th, 70 points)

Saturday v. Preston North End
April 19 v. Hull City
April 22 at Reading
April 27 v. Rotherham United
May 5 at Derby County

The Read: The Darren Moore firing bump is gone. Three of the five matches are against clubs with eyes on promotion (although Derby could be out by May 5).

Bristol City (5th, 65 points)

Saturday at Aston Villa
April 19 v. Reading
April 22 at Sheffield Wednesday
April 27 v. Derby County
April 30 at Millwall
May 5 at Hull City

The Read: In-form, yes, but Bristol City faces four teams in the playoff picture right now and two more who could be looking for points to avoid relegation to League One.

Aston Villa (6th, 63 points)

Wednesday at Rotherham United
Saturday v. Bristol City
April 19 at Bolton
April 22 v. Millwall
April 27 at Leeds United
May 5 v. Norwich City

The Read: Winning Wednesday would set up a huge “playoff six-pointer” on Saturday. This is a rough run to the playoff.

Middlesbrough (7th, 61 points)

Saturday v. Hull City
April 19 v. Stoke City
April 22 at Nottingham Forest
April 27 v. Reading
May 5 at Rotherham United

The Read: Tony Pulis‘ men have finally won again, but used up most of their mulligans on the way. Not dead, but will need help.

Derby County (8th, 60 points)

Saturday v. Bolton
April 19 at Birmingham City
April 22 v. QPR
April 27 at Bristol City
May 1 at Swansea City
May 5 v. West Brom

The Read: Losing at Blackburn on Tuesday stings, but points should be there for Frank Lampard‘s men.

There are others who could make a charge, but these are the protagonists.

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.