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Off to a flyer? Toughest, easiest starts to Premier League schedule

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Cardiff City will be ruing its fixtures to start life in the Premier League, while champions Manchester City should be salivating.

You might’ve thought that any way, but the schedule makers certainly did favors to the champs and took a plank to back of one of the new boys.

[ MORE: Full 2018-19 PL schedule ]

Using last season’s table position and assigning the promoted sides to spaces 18-20, Man City gets the easiest first six matches in the Premier League.

Following a tricky Opening Day at Unai Emery’s Arsenal, Man City will face Huddersfield and Newcastle with all three newly-promoted sides filling out the sextet.

Burnley will have a good chance to get off to another hot start, with Southampton, Watford, and Fulham on the docket before a visit from Manchester United. Wolves, Cardiff, Huddersfield Town, and Bournemouth follow.

As for aforementioned Cardiff, the Bluebirds could be waiting a long time for a win if they cannot pick up three points versus Bournemouth, Newcastle, and Huddersfield Town; The next five opponents? Arsenal home, Chelsea away, Man City home, Burnley home, Spurs away.

Also getting a rough ride is Newcastle, who opens with Spurs before facing Cardiff. Then it’s Chelsea home, Man City away, Arsenal home.

It all comes out in the sauce by the end of the run, but clubs can find themselves in deep holes with poor starts. Newcastle and Cardiff face big challenges, while Man City and Burnley should be smiling early.

Warnock sets promotion record, revels in Cardiff City achievement

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Neil Warnock has achieved promotion more times than any manager in English history, and the Cardiff City boss can’t think of a more impressive feat than this season’s second-place finish in the Championship.

[ RECAP: Championship’s final day ]

Cardiff sealed its place in the Premier League with a 0-0 draw against Reading, coupled with Fulham’s loss to Birmingham City on Sunday’s final day of the season.

Warnock is amazed by what his side did this season, especially emotional given the commitment from himself, his staff, his players, and his family.

“It’s the biggest achievement in my 38-year career by an absolute mile,” Warnock said. “I’ve got a great bunch of lads. It’s such a fabulous achievement, because nobody gave us a chance.

“It’s amazing. I’ve had some great promotions and great squads, but because of the circumstances when I came here – second from bottom – and we’ve built it all the way up.

“I’ve never known a week longer than this. I’ve not slept for longer than about three hours. At my age, you’re not going to get many more chances. I owe [my wife] Sharon a lot. It’s an amazing feeling for a manager to know that you brought that together.”

Cardiff City is Premier League; Playoffs, relegation set

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Cardiff City is going back up to the top flight.

City sends its headline-making owner Vincent Tan back into the Premier League, where the Bluebirds would become the second Welsh team should Swansea City avoid relegation.

[ MORE: Sir Alex in intensive care ]

Cardiff City opened the door with a scoreless first half, but Fulham politely declined to put any pressure on the Bluebirds by conceding twice in the first 45 minutes against relegation-threatened Birmingham City en route to a 3-1 loss. Cardiff drew Reading 0-0.

Cardiff was relegated from the Premier League after one season, 2013-14.

Wolverhampton Wanderers have already been promoted as Championship winners, while the playoffs begin next week.

The battle for the final spot in the Premier League will feature No. 3 Fulham, who was beaten by Birmingham City, against No. 6 Derby County, and a match-up between No. 4 Aston Villa and No. 5 Middlesbrough.

As for the relegated clubs, as results for Birmingham and Bolton Wanderers avoid a final day drop.

Bolton’s survival was quite unbelievable. Adam Le Fondre put the Wanderers ahead of Nottingham Forest in the second half, but Ben Osborn and Jack Colback scored nine minutes apart to put Bolton back in the Bottom Three. Yet David Wheater and Aaron Wilbraham scored in the 87th and 88th minutes to send the Macron Stadium into elation.

Burton Albion and Barnsley join Sunderland in heading down to League One.

Where Premier League promotion hopefuls stand with one match to go

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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

Start here:

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.

PL promotion update: Fulham comes from behind to win, pile pressure on Cardiff

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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.