Back and forth we go at the top of the Championship table.
With Wolves already confirmed as the title winners to grab the first of three promotion spots, the second automatic bid is being hotly contested down the stretch.
Cardiff City and Fulham have gone back and forth over the last two weeks, and once again the Whites have piled on the pressure. Fulham stretched its unbeaten streak to a club record 23 games, coming from behind to top basement dwelling Sunderland 2-1 moving them back into second place, two points ahead of Cardiff.
Fulham didn’t look its usual self early on, and Sunderland capitalized to pull ahead in the first half via route one a half-hour in. Sunderland goalkeeper Jason Steele booted a long ball forward that came to 18-year-old birthday boy Joel Asoro who squeaked his effort past Marcus Bettinelli. The goal marked the first time that Fulham had trailed since a 3-1 victory over Barnsley on January 27th.
Sunderland – the last team to beat Fulham in Championship play way back on December 16th – couldn’t hang on as their misery continues. Chelsea loanee Lucas Piazon leveled things up just before halftime as Ryan Fredericks scorched one across the face of goal past Steele, and Piazon spiked it in to equalize. Aleksandar Mitrovic then bagged the winner in the 76th minute when he headed home a free-kick for his 12th goal since joining Fulham in January. The only drawback was an early injury to Southampton loanee Matt Targett, who has been spectacular since joining in January as well.
Cardiff City still controls its own destiny down by two points with a game in hand, but the Bluebirds have stumbled of late. They wasted their game in hand last time out, falling to Derby County 3-1 on Tuesday to let Fulham back in the mix. The loss was the third in their last five games for Neil Warnock’s side, and they now take on a Hull City squad that has lost just once in its last six matches, playing to a wild 5-5 draw with Bristol City its last time out.
Fulham’s final match of the regular season comes next Sunday at Birmingham City, while Cardiff City finishes things out at home against Reading.
Fulham equalled the longest unbeaten run in the English top four tiers this season as it defeated sixth-placed Millwall 3-0 on the road to increase its streak to 22 games without a loss and moving the club into position for automatic promotion.
The Whites have not lost since December 16th when they fell 1-0 to relegation-threatened Sunderland. The unbeaten streak matches Manchester City’s run of 22 games to start the Premier League campaign before a 4-3 loss to Liverpool in mid-January broke the spell.
Highlighting the match was the game’s opening goal from 17-year-old Ryan Sessegnon, the young defender’s 15th goal of the Championship season. Just a week ago, Sessegnon was named a finalist for PFA Player of the Year alongside Harry Kane, Leroy Sane, and Raheem Sterling. Also scoring in the win was Newcastle loanee Aleksandar Mitrovic who has bagged 11 goals in 15 matches since moving to Craven Cottage on Deadline Day of the winter transfer window, sparking talk of a possible permanent move should the Whites find themselves promoted at the end of the season. Fulham has not trailed a single second since he stepped on the field for his club debut.
Manager Slavisa Jokanovic has the team firing on all cylinders, outscoring opponents 49-14 during the unbeaten streak and racking up 56 out of a possible 66 points, with just five draws blemishing an otherwise perfect record. The club has scored first in 15 straight matches, and has not trailed since drawing level in the closing minutes of a 2-2 draw with Hull City on December 30th. The only teams in the top four leagues to score more goals than Fulham since Jokanovic took over are Liverpool and Manchester City.
USMNT defender Tim Ream has been arguably the club’s most valuable player during the streak, locking down a defense that has picked up 11 clean sheets during the unbeaten run. Ream has played in all but two league matches this season, completing the full 90 minutes in all 41 of his appearances thus far. He has been voted Man of the Match five times this season by the fans on the team’s official website, most recently in a 1-0 victory over Reading on April 10th. He also grabbed the award in a 2-0 win over Championship title winners Wolves on February 24th, a game that saw the Whites out-possess and out-shoot the league champions. Ream had this stunning goal-line clearance in the victory over Millwall on Friday, saving Fulham’s bacon with goalkeeper Marcus Bettinelli on the ground after an acrobatic save.
Fulham still has work to do in the Premier League promotion picture, despite the spectacular form. They sit in 2nd position as it stands, leading Cardiff City by two points, but Cardiff has yet to play this weekend, giving them a massive two games in hand. Fulham could ultimately be done in by a slow start to the season that saw them win just twice in the first nine matches of the season as the squad adjusted to a host of new additions. In addition, Fulham suffered a disappointing draw last time out against Brentford as the Bees scored in the 94th minute to deny Fulham all three points, a massive blow to their automatic promotion hopes. Still, Fulham would be considered favorites in any potential playoff run, with Aston Villa, Middlesbrough, and Millwall currently the other teams in playoff positions.
There’s plenty on the line for the club over the next few weeks. Should Fulham fail to gain promotion, it could be a massive blow to the club as Sessegnon could be lured away from Craven Cottage, with Jokanovic and playmaker Tom Cairney also likely to garner speculation of a departure over the summer if the club was to remain in the Championship.
The Championship title has all been wrapped up, but there are still two promotion spots up for grabs, and they are both being hotly contested.
Wolverhampton Wanderers sits 11 points clear at the top of the table, and its final four matches are all against teams 17th or worse in the table. They can clinch not just automatic promotion but also the title this weekend should they win and Cardiff City lose at Norwich City.
Second place in the table also earns a spot in the Premier League next year, and that’s where the true fun is. Fulham, on a club-record 20-match unbeaten streak without a loss since New Year’s Day, has steamrolled up the table. The Whites haven’t even trailed a single second since January signing Aleksandar Mitrovic stepped on the field in a Fulham kit, and the Newcastle loanee won Championship Player of the Month for March after scoring seven goals in eight league matches. Fulham finally overtook Cardiff City by a point midweek, but the Bluebirds still have a game in hand, meaning they still control their own destiny, although the margin for error is razor-thin.
The battle has brought about the media mind games, and while Fulham manager Slavisa Jokanovic has stayed the course insisting the Whites take it one game at a time, Cardiff City manager Neil Warnock hasn’t held back, claiming Fulham are favorites in an attempt to pile pressure on their foes.
“You look at the games and they’re expected to win every game, really,” the outspoken Warnock said ahead of Cardiff City’s match this weekend at Norwich, saying his squad has done well just to keep its head above water. “It’s got to be [up to] us and if we can’t then good luck to them, 20-odd games unbeaten in this league is fantastic. They’ve got great players and a great squad and we’re actually competing with them. They’ve gone 20-odd games unbeaten and it’s neck and neck. It shows how far we’ve come really.”
Aston Villa is in fourth, but has work to do trailing Fulham by five points and the two teams above them in such good form. Cardiff has each of its last two matches, but before that, Warnock and company rattled off a 13-match unbeaten streak of its own. Cardiff finishes the season with games against Norwich (13th), Nottingham Forest (18th), Derby County (5th), Hull City (16th), and Reading (19th) while Fulham has Brentford (10th) this weekend plus Millwall (6th), Sunderland (23rd), and Birmingham (20th) remaining.
The race for the playoff is also a good one. Cardiff City, Aston Villa, Derby County, and Millwall currently hold the playoff spots, but the latter two both sit on 68 points, with three clubs within three points, and another two within five. Once the playoffs are set, the margins are thin and all bets are off. Huddersfield Town finished 5th last season, earning the three-seed in the playoff format, but managed to make it through unscathed to earn a berth in the Premier League this season.
Out Dan Agyei (Blackpool) Loan
Tom Anderson (Doncaster Rovers) Loan
Jimmy Dunne (Accrington Stanley) Loan
Harry Flowers (Guiseley) Undisclosed
Josh Ginnelly (Tranmere Rovers) Loan
Luke Hendrie (Shrewsbury Town) Undisclosed
Alex Whitmore (Chesterfield) Undisclosed
In Ross Barkley (Everton) Undisclosed
Olivier Giroud (Arsenal) Undisclosed Emerson Palmieri (Roma) Undisclosed
Jack Boyle (Clyde) Loan
Dylan Cogill (Clyde) LoanFraser Horsfall (Kidderminster Harriers) Undisclosed
Danny Kane (Cork City) Undisclosed Joe Lolley (Nottingham Forest) Undisclosed
Jack Payne (Blackburn Rovers) Loan Ryan Schofield (AFC Telford) Loan
Tadhg Ryan (Released)
Cedwyn Scott (Dundee) Undisclosed
Out James Wilson (Sheffield United) Loan
Henrikh Mkhitaryan (Arsenal) Swap
Alex Tuanzebe (Aston Villa) Loan
Matty Willock (St Johnstone) Loan
Charlie Scott (Hamilton Academical) Loan
Demi Mitchell (Hearts) Loan
Martin Dubravka (Sparta Prague) Loan
Kenedy (Chelsea) Loan Islam Slimani (Leicester City) Loan
Arsenal started the day off with a bang, signing Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang from Borussia Dortmund for a record fee, and there are more deals expected to be completed today, including Olivier Giroud to Chelsea and Michy Batshuayi to Chelsea. In addition, with the World Cup six months away, some other players will be looking for a loan around Europe for more playing time.
And remember, there is a live Deadline Day show on NBCSN and online from 5 p.m. ET today which you can steam by clicking on the link below.