Championship focus

Championship Focus: Norwich, Watford set for PL return, but who joins them?

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With the 2020-21 Premier League season heading into the home stretch, three clubs are set to depart via relegation, opening the door for three EFL Championship sides to take their place via promotion.

[ MORE: Open-play goals: The stat to tell the Premier League table’s true story? ]

Between now and the end of the season, PST will have you covered on the latest goings-on in the second division of English football, as the likes of Norwich City, Watford, Swansea City, Brentford battle for automatic promotion, all the while a potential USMNT star of the future leads Barnsley to the unlikeliest of playoff pushes…

Norwich City headed for title, PL return on first try

Norwich’s Pukki Party looks all but certain to return to the Premier League at the first time of asking, thanks in very large part to the namesake himself, Teemu Pukki. Asfter scoring 29 goals in the EFL Champions two seasons ago, Pukki bagged 11 in the Premier League as the Canaries sped toward relegation and finished the season with 10 straight defeats. The 31-year-old Finnish striker was undeterred, though, as he remained at the club following the drop, and he’s once again in contention for the Golden Boot with 22 goals this season.

The real star, however — and those who watched Norwich last season won’t find this at all surprising — is Emi Buendia, whose 10 goals and 12 assists (on 3.4 key passes per game, identical to Premier League leader Jack Grealish’s average) make him a strong contender for Player of the Season. The best player on the league’s best team always has a strong claim to such awards, and Buendia has done more than his fair share to ensure his return to the Premier League.

Under the guidance of Daniel Farke, who also remained in his same position as manager, Norwich have lost just five out of 38 games and they continue to pull away from the chasing pack with their best run of results all season — 9W-1D-0L in their last 10 games.

[ MORE: Sergio Aguero to leave Manchester City at season’s end ]


Watford wasting little time getting back to PL, too

The Hornets had effectively made themselves a part of the Premier League furniture over five seasons spent in the top flight before their very sudden and somewhat surprising relegation (after finishing 11th the campaign prior) last season. Life in the Championship got off to a slightly rocky start with yet another manager Vladimir Ivic being fired not long into the new season — Ivic lasted just 20 games (9W-7D-4L) over four months.

Xisco Munoz was hired as Ivic’s replacement on Dec. 21, and all Watford have done is win a league-best 41 points to climb comfortably into 2nd place during Xisco’s 18 games in charge.

Ismaila Sarr remained at the club following the relegation, and the 23-year-old Senegalese winger has 9 goals and 4 assists in Championship action. Joao Pedro also stuck around Watford despite losing Premier League status, and the 19-year-old Brazilian forward has chipped in with 9 goals of his own this season. Troy Deeney was once again leading the Hornets in the goal-scoring charts (7 from 18 appearances) before suffering an achilles injury in early February; the 32-year-old captain has missed Watford’s last 10 league games, during which time Xisco’s side has won 9 and lost just once.

[ MORE: Ranking Man City’s best options for Sergio Aguero successor ]


Swansea, Brentford falling away down the stretch

This is season no. 3 back in the Championship for Swansea City, and it’s undeniably their best chance at a return to the top flight. Steve Cooper is 41 years old and receiving rave reviews just two years into his first appointment as a first-team manager.

The Swans sit 3rd in the table, six points behind Watford with a game in hand, ahead of the return from the international break. Andre Ayew leads the way with 14 goals, followed by 9 from summer signing Jamal Lowe.

And then there’s Brentford, who reached the promotion playoff final last season and suffered a heartbreaking defeat to west London rivals Fulham at Wembley. For the third straight season, the Bees have hit pay dirt on an under-the-radar striker signing as Ivan Toney (28 goals in Brentford’s first 37 games) smashes the recent records of Neal Maupay and Ollie Watkins, who took their talents to the Premier League in back-to-back seasons for 27 and $36 million, respectively. One way or another, the 25-year-old, who was signed from Peterborough United for $7 million (plus add-ons) last summer, looks destined for the Premier League in 2021-22.

Thomas Frank’s side got off to a roaring start to the season, including a run to the League Cup semifinals where they were knocked out by Tottenham, en route to topping the table as recently as Feb. 12. Since then, though, effectively operating with an 18-man squad has taken its toll and seen the Bees lose four of their last nine in league play as they tumbled down to 4th.

[ MORE: Transfer news: Dike to Everton, French teen back to Arsenal or Leicester ]


Dike, Barnsley soaring up the table

When Daryl Dike signed for Barnsley on Feb. 1, the Tykes sat 12th in the Championship table, six points out of the playoff places. Fast-forward nearly two months, and the USMNT forward has five goals in 11 appearances for Barnsley and the club is now 5th in the Championship with five points between themselves and 7th place. Like Toney, Dike is increasingly likely to be playing in the Premier League next season — it’s only a matter of whether he will do so by promotion or transfer.

The battle for 6th place — and the final playoff place — looks like it’ll be between Barnsley (64 points, 38 games played), 6th-place Reading (62 points, 38 games played) and last season’s other relegated side, Bournemouth (59 points, 37 games played).

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Championship focus: Playoff picture further congested; 4 Americans start

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A draw-heavy return to Championship football added to the intrigue around a cluttered playoff picture.

VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Second-place West Brom drew against Birmingham City but still holds a seven-point lead on the chasing pack thanks to dropped points by many top-half teams.

Leaders Leeds United restarts its season on Sunday.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]


Playoff picture gets even more congested

Three sides picked up big wins on day with lots of draws, as Blackburn Rovers and Swansea City rode comfortable wins to within a point of sixth-place Preston North End.

Derby County beat Millwall to join the Lions on 54 points, three points back of the top six.


Relegation watch

Charlton Athletic spent the entire coronavirus pause in the bottom three and promptly exited by sending Hull City into the bottom three with a 1-0 win at the KC Stadium.

Last-place Barnsley moved into 23rd after beating QPR while Luton Town is now last but within five points of safety after a draw with sixth-place PNE.

There are now only three points separating 17th place Wigan from 22nd place Hull City in the final relegation place.


Americans Abroad

  • Fulham’s Tim Ream went 90 minutes with four clearances, two tackles, and 90 percent passing at left center back in a 2-0 loss to Brentford.
  • Antonee Robinson was back in the lineup and went 86 minutes as the Latics moved four points clear of the drop zone with a big 6-pointer win over Huddersfield Town. He won 5-of-8 duels, made five clearances, two interceptions, three tackles, and a blocked shot.
  • Duane Holmes left Derby County’s 3-2 win after 62 minutes at right wing. He registered one key pass amongst his 82 percent completion percentage.
  • Spurs loanee Cameron Carter-Vickers was the top-rated player on both SofaScore and WhoScored as Luton Town drew Preston. CCV was credited with a monstrous 13 clearances, three tackles, a blocked shot, an interception, and 10 of 13 duels won. He also passed at 76 percent, completing 3-of-8. long balls, and even completed a dribble.
  • Chelsea loanee Matt Miazga missed Reading’s draw with Stoke City thanks to a minor hamstring injury (Berkshire Live).
  • Geoff Cameron was suspended for QPR’s home loss to Barnsley but he’ll be around; QPR recently triggered a one-year contract extension with the soon-to-be 35-year-old USMNT vet.
  • Hull City’s Eric Lichaj is no longer Hull City’s Eric Lichaj. He won’t play again for the Tigers due to being out-of-contract.


Scoreboard

Fulham 0-2 Brentford
Middlesbrough 0-3 Swansea City
Millwall 2-3 Derby County
West Brom 0-0 Birmingham City
Huddersfield Town 0-2 Wigan Athletic
Hull City 0-1 Charlton Athletic
Sheffield Wednesday 1-1 Nottingham Forest
Luton Town 1-1 Preston North End
QPR 0-1 Barnsley
Reading 1-1 Stoke City
Blackburn Rovers 3-1 Bristol City
Cardiff City v. Leeds United — 7 a.m. ET Sunday

Championship Focus: West Brom, Leeds improve promotion chances with wins

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By no means is the race for promotion within the Championship sealed and delivered, but West Brom and Leeds United continue to add to their lead on the rest of the pack.

Despite playing the final 13 minutes down a player after Romaine Sawyers saw a straight red card, the Baggies went on to earn a formidable 3-0 win over Bristol City.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Sheffield United loanee Callum Robinson opened the scoring in the 32nd minute, while Hal Robsun-Kanu sealed his brace with 11 minutes left in regular time. With the victory, Wes Brom extends their league unbeaten streak to five matches, and their total point to 66.

At Elland Road, Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds United registered their first back-to-back wins since October, following a minimal-margin victory over Reading. Leeds holds a five-point cushion on third-place Fulham.

Meanwhile, with goals quick fire goals from Paul Gallagher and Alan Browne over a four-minute stretch against an aching Hull City, Preston moved into play-off contention.

Saturday’s results

Brentford 2-2 Blackburn
Bristol City 0-3 West Brom
Swansea City 3-1 Huddersfield
Wigan Athletic 1-0 Millwall
Barnsley 1-0 Middlesbrough
Birmingham 3-3 Sheffield Wednesday
Nottingham Forest 0-0 QPR
Preston 2-1 Hull City
Charlton 3-1 Luton Town
Stoke City 2-0 Cardiff City
Leeds United 1-0 Reading

Championship Focus: Promotion favorites West Brom, Fulham drop points; Leeds earn vital win

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Despite major activity on Saturday, little change took place at the top of the Championship table, with only second-place Leeds United managing to earn three points out of all the top-seven sides.

Luke Ayling’s goal in the 16th minute was the lone goal in Leeds’ one-sided match against Bristol City.

Leaders West Brom, who are now only hold a four-point lead on Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds, gave up a leveling stoppage-time goal to fifth-place Nottingham Forest at the Hawthorns.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Matty Cash’s injury-time strike, snaps the Baggies three-match winning streak and hands them their 12th draw of the season.

No other performance caught eyes as much as bottom-dwellers Barnsley’s 3-0 thumping of third-place Fulham. It’s Fulham’s first 3-0 loss since mid-November – a 3-0 defeat to Hull City.

Barnsley midfield orchestrator Cauley Woodrow bagged a brace, while Jacob Brown added his own six minutes into the second half as the last place side earned just their sixth win of the season.

Saturday’s results

West Brom 2-2 Nottingham Forest
Leeds United 1-0 Bristol City
Cardiff City 2-2 Wigan Athletic
Birmingham 1-1 Brentford
Derby County 1-1 Huddersfield
Sheffield Wednesday 0-3 Reading
Birmingham 1-1 Brentford
Derby County 1-1 Huddersfield
Sheffield Wednesday 0-3 Reading
Charlton 0-2 Blackburn
Fulham 0-3 Barnsley
Preston 0-1 Millwall
Middlesbrough 0-1 Luton Town
QPR 4-2 Stoke City

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