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The race for Premier League promotion is red hot

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With the top flight title race fading fast as Liverpool pummels the Premier League into oblivion in record fashion, an appreciation can be had for what the Reds are accomplishing. That is for another time.

For now, we are going to take a moment to appreciate the race below them. There is a red-hot battle for Premier League promotion that is tighter than we’ve seen in a while.

Y’all, the Championship is LIT.

West Brom sits atop the league with 59 points from 31 matches, and the Baggies seem a solid bet to make their way back to the Premier League after a short one-season dip. Below them, a battle rages that could even threaten the top dogs should West Brom slip even a little.

[ MORE: Chelsea closes in on Ziyech deal ]

Leeds United sits second, occupying an automatic promotion position as they have for most season. That may change today. As Leeds stands on 56 points after its draw with Brentford yesterday, Fulham lurks just a point back, and with a match today against fellow Londoners Millwall, a win for the Whites would see them knock Leeds off the top two for the first time since early November.

Behind Fulham is Brentford with 54 points, level with fifth-placed Nottingham Forest and only ahead thanks to its league-best +27 goal differential. Yes, you read that right, the league leader in goal differential is in fourth.

Preston North End in sixth and Bristol City in seventh are each level on 50, meaning the gap from second to seventh is a measly six points. Things could get truly insane down the stretch.

Of the top seven teams, five of them have lost at least once in their last five matches, with only Fulham and Preston owning pristine form of late. West Brom had lost just once all Championship season until the holidays hit and suddenly they’ve dropped three of their last seven. Leeds is facing a full-on collapse, having won just twice since mid-December and losing four of its last six, with just four points gained in that span. Fulham is in good form with four wins in its last five, but they are living on the edge having skated by via a one-goal margin in each of their last seven victories and 10 of their last 11. Brentford would be formidable if the Bees could figure out their road form, with six of their nine losses coming away from Griffin Park. Nottingham Forest can’t get out of its own way, following up a signature 2-0 win over Leeds with a 1-0 gack attack at home to 21st placed Charlton Athletic last time out.

All this mayhem makes each match critically important – and therefore tense as hell. Fulham today could move into an automatic qualifying spot with a win, but if they fail to beat Millwall, it could open them to fall as far as fifth. If this pace keeps up, theoretically a team that had a shot to finish with an automatic qualifying spot could end up out of the playoffs altogether with a few poor results late in the season. Building room for error in the next month or two will be critical for teams that wish to have a chance down the stretch.

There are some critical matches coming up as well. West Brom plays Nottingham Forest on Saturday that has a make-or-break feel to it for both sides, especially the Baggies who then have Bristol City next. Leeds plays Bristol City on Saturday hoping to put a finger in the leaky dike. Fulham has a three-game stretch through March that sees them play Bristol City, Brentford, and Leeds looking to prove they belong. As you can see, the Robins have a ton of chances to yank themselves up the table.

For some of these teams like West Brom and Fulham, they are looking to return to the Premier League after short spells down below. For many of the teams fighting for promotion, however, fans are hoping to see their beloved clubs crack the top flight for the first time in quite a while. Leeds United, a storied club that qualified for the Champions League with a third-place finish in 2000, hasn’t been back since relegation in 2003. Another storied club, Forest has not been back to the Premier League since dumped in 1999. Three clubs have never been in the Premier League: Bristol City was relegated from the First Division back in 1979, Preston hasn’t seen top-flight action since 1961, and Brentford hasn’t been in the top flight since 1947 with just five total top flight seasons in club history.

There are still battles to be won in the English top flight, with teams like Chelsea, Tottenham, and Sheffield United battling for a Champions League place while others further down the table fight for their Premier League lives. Still, the race for promotion is proving to be a wild and crazy one just a few blocks down the road.

Championship focus: Promotion-chasing Leeds, Brentford, Nottingham Forest drop points

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The suddenly congested Championship playoff picture handed big opportunities to leaders West Bromwich Albion and third-place Fulham on Tuesday.

Second-place Leeds United drew fourth-place Brentford, while fifth-place Nottingham Forest was surprised 1-0 at relegation-threatened Charlton Athletic.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Leeds entered the day having lost four of five and winning just twice in the league since Dec. 14, making Tuesday a rare chance for someone else to move into an automatic promotion spot.

Brentford made a bid to do that by opening up a 1-0 lead at home on a goal by Said Benrahma, only for Liam Cooper to level the score before halftime en route a draw.

That gave Forest a chance to climb into second just by handling its business against 21st place Charlton. Sabri Lamouchi’s men couldn’t do anything with 57 percent of the ball and a 17-11 shots advantage in a 1-0 loss.

That means Fulham can move into second with a win away to Millwall on Wednesday, while Preston North End and Bristol City further congest the race for promotion. Wins by both PNE and Bristol City would leave between 5-6 teams within three points.

Also on Wednesday, leaders West Brom can take hold of a minimum six-point lead on third with a win at Reading.

Tuesday’s results

Blackburn Rovers 3-0 Hull City
Wigan Athletic 2-2 Middlesbrough
Nottingham Forest 0-1 Charlton Athletic
Brentford 1-1 Leeds United
Swansea City 0-0 QPR
Barnsley 0-1 Birmingham City

Wednesday’s fixtures

2:45 p.m. ET
Millwall v. Fulham
Bristol City v. Derby County
Luton Town v. Sheffield Wednesday
Huddersfield Town v. Cardiff City

3 p.m. ET Wednesday
Stoke City v. Preston North End
Reading v. West Bromwich Albion

Race for Premier League promotion has very fine margins

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The race for Premier League promotion has been anything but straight-forward.

Yes, West Bromwich Albion and Leeds United have been leading the pack for much of the season, but neither has been able to pull away from the pack.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ] 

The Baggies enter a midweek matchday with a four-point lead on Leeds and third-place Fulham, which is wild considering Leeds has lost four of five and has just two wins since Dec. 14. West Brom is 3W-5D-3L since Matchweek 21.

Despite this, Leeds has not left the automatic promotion spots since Matchweek 17 and the Baggies have been top two since the 11th week of the season.

The top two could change on Tuesday, and Leeds could sit as low as fifth.

Leeds’ 55 points are level with Fulham, and fourth-place Nottingham Forest is a single point back of both. Brentford is fifth, with 53 points.

The Bees host Leeds on Tuesday, while Nottingham Forest will welcome Charlton Athletic.

Fulham and West Brom won’t play their 32nd matches of the season until Wednesday.

Championship fixtures

2:45 p.m. ET Tuesday
Blackburn Rovers v. Hull City
Wigan Athletic v. Middlesbrough
Nottingham Forest v. Charlton Athletic
Brentford v. Leeds United
Swansea City v. QPR
Barnsley v. Birmingham City

2:45 p.m. ET Wednesday
Millwall v. Fulham
Bristol City v. Derby County
Luton Town v. Sheffield Wednesday
Huddersfield Town v. Cardiff City

3 p.m. ET Wednesday
Stoke City v. Preston North End
Reading v. West Bromwich Albion

FA Cup: Leicester survive trip to Brentford, reach 5th round (video)

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Brendan Rodgers made nine changes, but Leicester City were simply too much for an equally rotated Brentford side in the fourth round of the FA Cup at Griffin Park on Saturday.

[ MORE: Report: Spurs, Inter close to deal for Christian Eriksen ]

Leicester took an early lead through Kelechi Iheanacho with just four minutes on the clock, and that was all the Premier League’s third-place side needed to see off the EFL Championship’s third-place side. Dennis Praet gets no official credit for the goal, but it was the Belgian midfielder’s seeing-eye through ball that carved the Bees up and found James Justin for the routine cross followed by Iheanacho’s tap-in finish.

It was far from easy or straightforward for the Foxes, though, as Brentford turned things around following the first-half whistle an so nearly pulled level just past the hour mark. Emiliano Marcondes whipped in a curling, in-swinging cross that needed the slightest of redirects to find the back of the net, but Halil Dervisoglu couldn’t get a toe on the ball and watched helplessly as it hit the inside of the post and settled on the ground a yard or two off the goal line.

Bryan Mbeumo came off the bench and put the ball into the back of Leicester’s goal with his first touch, but the Frenchman was correctly ruled offside when Rico Henry looped the ball over the Foxes’ defense.

The draw for the fifth round will be held on Monday at 2:20 p.m. ET, prior to kickoff of Bournemouth v. Arsenal.

FA Cup: Crystal Palace, Swansea reach quarterfinals (video)

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Crystal Palace and Swansea City reached the FA Cup quarterfinals on Sunday, as they eased to victory.

[ MORE: FA Cup scores, stats ]  

Palace travelled to third-tier Doncaster Rovers and two first half goals steered Roy Hodgson‘s men into the last eight. As for Swansea City, they trailed Brentford at half time but four goals from the Swans and a red card for the Bees swung the games in the favor of the Welsh side.

Swansea are one of just two teams from outside the Premier League to be in the last eight.

Below are the details from Sunday’s final two FA Cup fifth round games, as the two teams join Wolves, Manchester City, Brighton, Watford and Millwall in the hat for the last eight draw.

The final team in the last eight will be either Chelsea or Manchester United, who play at Stamford Bridge on Monday.


Doncaster 0-2 Crystal Palace

Jeffrey Schlupp gave Palace the lead with a fine individual effort as he was played in after a wonderful interception from Luka Milivojevic. Schlupp’s shot across goal took a slight deflection and flew into the far bottom corner to make it 1-0.

Doncaster went close on a few occasions in the first half but Palace held them at arms length and right on half time made it 2-0.

Milivojevic again created the goal as his looped ball over the top found Andros Townsend who headed the ball towards Meyer and he nodded home.

In the second half Doncaster pushed hard to get back into the game and went close on several occasions from set piece situations, with Alfie May heading their best chance just over.

Overall, Palace held on quite comfortably for the win and secured a spot in the last eight.


Swansea City 4-1 Brentford

The away side took the lead after a wonderful counter-attack was finished off emphatically by Ollie Watkins, but that was to be as good as it got for the west Londoners.

In the second half Swansea came flying out of the traps and drew level in fortunate circumstances, with a free kick from Bersant Celina bouncing off Brentford goalkeeper Luke Daniels and in. 1-1.

Moments later the Swans were 2-1 up as Dan James scored a superb goal to turn the games on its head.

The highly-touted winger surged in on goal and beat Daniels to send the home fans wild.

Brentford ended the game with 10 men as James was then cynically brought down by Ezri Konsa and shown a red card.

Celina then made it 3-1 after a lovely run, and the excellent James and Celina combined to set up George Byers to make it 4-1 in stoppage time to cap off a brilliant day for Graham Potter and his Swans.

Despite their relegation from the Premier League last season and being in midtable in the second-tier, Swansea are in the last eight of the FA Cup for the second season in a row.