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Championship wrap: Promotion race intensifies

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As always, things got weird and wild in England’s second-tier on Friday.

Leeds United lost at home to 10-man relegation battlers Wigan Athletic 2-1, despite taking the lead early and Wigan playing a man down for over 75 minutes.

Pablo Hernandez missed an early penalty kick for Marcelo Bielsa’s side who have now dropped out of the automatic promotion spots with three games of the season to go and no longer have their destiny in their own hands. This defeat marked the first time this season that Leeds have lost a game after taking the lead.

As for their main rivals for automatic promotion, Sheffield United rallied in the second half to beat Nottingham Forest on Friday and moved into second behind Norwich City as Blades boss Chris Wilder has done a magnificent job for the club he supports.

Norwich look certainties for promotion and their return to the PL after a three-year absence could be confirmed on Monday, while Sheffield United know they will be back in the Premier League for the first time since 2007 if they win their final three games of the season.

In the playoff race, West Brom, Aston Villa and Middlesbrough all won to sit in fourth, fifth and sixth respectively, while Bristol City and Derby are hanging around just outside the playoff spots with draws to set up a frantic final few weeks. There are some huge teams pushing to be in the playoffs and have a chance of playing in the richest game in soccer at Wembley on May 27, and Villa are the form team right now with nine-straight wins.

At the other end of the table, Bolton’s defeat at home to Villa means they were relegated to the third-tier and they will join Ipswich Town in League One for next season, while Rotherham and Millwall battle to stay out of the final relegation spot.

Below is a look at the standings and points in the promotion race, as the battle to get into the Premier League for the 2019-20 rages on.


As things stand – Championship table, promotion race

Automatic promotion
1st: Norwich City – Played 42, points 86
2nd: Sheffield United – Played 43, points 82

Playoff picture
3rd: Leeds United – Played 43, points 82
4th: West Brom – Played 43, points 76
5th: Aston Villa – Played 43, points 72
6th: Middlesbrough – Played 43, points 67

Pushing for playoffs
7th: Bristol City – Played 42, points 66
8th: Derby County – Played 42, points 64

Wolves on VAR review of golazo: “I was hoping to stay happy”

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Nuno Espirito Santo issued the definitive quote of the VAR era after Wolves’ equalizer withstood video review in a 1-1 draw with Manchester United on Monday at the Molineux.

“I was hoping to stay happy.”

[ RECAP: Wolves 1-1 Man Utd ]

Espirito Santo saw VAR dramatically play a role in Wolves fortunes for the second-straight week, and the manager was not too happy with it on opening weekend when Willy Boly‘s handball was found to have assisted Leander Dendoncker‘s goal.

This time, VAR held up its end of the bargain in Wolves favor, as the cross that led to Ruben Neves’ incredible goal was found to be onside. From the BBC:

“I don’t know how they will solve it – it’s the emotion, you celebrate a goal so much and then you stay in silence. Don’t take that away from the people.”

The problem, of course, is money. So much is riding on qualifying for Europe, staying in the Premier League, etc. When sports became a big business, and managers aren’t complaining about their salaries, the science overtook the spirit.

Espirito Santo is correct that the wait to confirm a goal takes away from the joy of sport. It also will deny of us of the next “Hand of God” (and England would not have won its lone World Cup had goal line technology been around).

But ultimately, it will keep the correct score on the board. And that matters.

Pogba misses 2nd half penalty in Man Utd-Wolves draw

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Ruben Neves scored an amazing goal and Rui Patricio stopped a Paul Pogba penalty as Wolves took a point from Manchester United in a 1-1 match at the Molineux on Monday.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ] 

United had two-thirds possession but could not find what would’ve been a deserved winner as Wolves flummoxed the Red Devils attack.

Anthony Martial scored for the second-straight match for United, who failed in a bid to go atop the Premier League.


Three things we learned

  1. Paul Pogba is to penalties as Shaquille O’Neal is to free throws – You just can’t understand how someone so good at his sport is so poor at what should be the easiest part of his game.
  2. Martial is a beauty, and is fully released from the shackles of Jose Mourinho. Whether he can take the next step is another story, but the Frenchman is a fitting winger for a Champions League club (even if United isn’t quite in the UCL).
  3. Patricio didn’t show the Premier League his very best last season, but has looked more like the Portugal national team goalkeeper so far in his sophomore PL campaign.

Nuno Espirito Santo‘s men were content to let the visitors have the ball and work on the counter, and United quickly moved the ball in possession over the first stages of the game.

United took a deserved lead through Martial who ran onto a Marcus Rashford through ball and belted a rocket over a flailing Rui Patricio.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

Neves brought Wolves level with a sublime bit of shooting, curling a majestic shot above and around the United back line to make it 1-1.

Watching the footage as it was being reviewed showed the margins so thin, but the goal held up and anyone hoping for some semblance of sanity was relieved.

United looked set to go back in front when Pogba drew a penalty off Conor Coady with a cutthroat move in the 18, but the Frenchman slammed his effort into the path of a diving Patricio.

WATCH: Ruben Neves spins an otherworldly ball over David De Gea

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Let us introduce you to your latest Goal of the Season contender.

Ruben Neves, who seemingly only scores beauties, struck again on Monday at the Molineux.

[ MORE: Neymar to Barca ]

The 22-year-old Portuguese playmaker loves to shoot as much as anyone, and set himself up clinically for his latest amazing marker.

Once Neves collected the ball atop the 18, he spun this magnificent effort over the flying David De Gea and off the underside of the bar to restore the deadlock in Wolverhampton.

De Gea may well have responded to this goal by quoting Ron Burgundy when Baxter ate the entire wheel of cheese.

Sensational.

AT HALF: Martial, Rashford team up for impressive opener

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Manchester United has a stylish opening goal in its quest to go a perfect 2-for-2 in Premier League play.

After quality passing in traffic ended with Marcus Rashford slipping a through ball in to both Luke Shaw and Anthony Martial, the Frenchman bolted a ball into the upper reaches of the net.

[ STREAM: Wolves – Man Utd ]

To be honest, Rui Patricio had little recourse.

The goal is Martial’s second of the season, and United is 45 minutes away from moving atop the league.