Championship playoffs

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Championship playoff primer: Who’s coming up?

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The story lines for the 2017-18 Football League Championship playoffs are many.

Aston Villa is looking to return to the Premier League, where it was a mainstay for so long, while Fulham competed in the Europa League within the past decade.

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Derby County has been knocking on the door to return to the top flight on a near annual basis, while Middlesbrough is bidding to go one-and-done in the second tier.

So here’s a bit of a cheat sheet ahead of the weekend’s semifinal first legs, as only one of the quartet can joins Wolves and Cardiff City as promoted sides.

Schedule

Derby County vs. Fulham — 2:45 p.m. ET Friday

Middlesbrough vs. Aston Villa — 12:15 p.m. ET Saturday

Fulham vs. Derby County — 2:45 p.m. May 14

Aston Villa vs. Middlesbrough — 2:45 p.m. May 15

Top scorers

Derby County – Matej Vydra, 21 goals

Aston Villa – Lewis Grabban, 20

Fulham – Ryan Sessegnon, 15

Middlesbrough – Britt Assombalonga, 15

History

Last Premier League season
Middlesbrough 2016-17
Aston Villa 2015-16
Fulham 2013-14
Derby County 2007-08

American connections
Fulham has two Americans on its current roster: mainstay defender Tim Ream and young midfielder Luca de la Torre. Some of the U.S. most recognizable names have played for Fulham, including Clint Dempsey, Carlos Bocanegra, Brian McBride, and Kasey Keller. Eddie Johnson, Eddie Lewis, and Emerson Hyndman have also played for the team once nicknamed Fulhamerica.

Aston Villa was the long time home of USMNT backstop Brad Guzan, and Eric Lichaj also spent a good period of time in Birmingham. Michael Bradley and Brad Friedel also played for Villa.

Derby County‘s American alums include Benny Feilhaber, Eddie Lewis, and Ian Feuer.

Middlesbrough had Guzan on the squad for its 2016-17 relegation campaign.

Best top flight finish
Aston Villa – 7 top flight titles
Derby County – 2 top flight titles
Middlesbrough – 3rd place in 1913-14
Fulham – 7th place in 2008-09

 

Chinese duo complete Reading takeover as club nears PL return

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Reading will find out its opponent for the promotion playoffs finale on Wednesday, but the club also received some massive news as the Championship side prepares for a Premier League return in 2017/18.

[ MORE: Man United preparing extension for Michael Carrick ]

The club announced on Wednesday that Chinese duo, and brother and sister, Dai Yongge and Dai Xiu Li, have completed a majority takeover of Reading for 75% of the organization.

The English Football League released the following statement after the completed transaction:

“Following a full review of the transaction, the EFL has insisted upon – and the club/new owners have agreed – to a number of additional reporting requirements including enhanced financial monitoring, so as to ensure that their performance is consistent with the application we have considered.”

Reading’s previous majority holders, a group of three Thai investors, will still hold a minority stake in the club moving forward.

Yongge and Li had made an attempt at purchasing recently-relegated PL side Hull City in the past, but the PL reportedly wasn’t prepared to pass the pair for the FA’s fit and proper person test.

[ MORE: Newcastle buying Chelsea loanee Christian Atsu ]

The Royals will meet either Sheffield Wednesday or Huddersfield in the promotion playoffs final on May 29 after having defeated Fulham in the semifinal round on a 2-1 aggregate scoreline.

The winner will join Newcastle and Brighton & Hove Albion in the PL next season, while Hull City, Middlesbrough and Sunderland have all been relegated to the Championship.

Championship Playoffs: Reading steal 1st-leg draw away to Fulham

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After 90 minutes of the Championship Playoffs semifinal between Fulham and Reading, it’s Jaap Stam’s Royals who hold the narrowest of advantages after securing a first-leg draw at Craven Cottage on Saturday.

[ MORE: Saturday’s PL roundup — Arsenal alive and fighting for 4th ]

In Tuesday’s second leg, when no away-goals rule will be in effect, a home victory of any scoreline will see Reading through to the final; any draw would send the two sides to extra time; any Fulham victory would send Slavisa Jokanovic’s Cottagers to Wembley for the Promotion Playoff final.

The first leg was thoroughly dominated by Fulham, in terms of possession (58 to 42) and chances created (Reading took just three shots over the 90 minutes, with just one on target; Fulham, meanwhile, took 12 with two on target). It was Reading, however, who went ahead early in the first half, as Jordan Obita fired past Marcus Bettinelli from a nearly impossible angle, smashing the inside of the far post for 1-0 in the 53rd minute.

[ MORE: Full “Chelsea Champions” reaction, here ]

Fulham needed just 12 minutes to respond, though, as a wonderfully free-flowing bit of build-up forced Ali Al Habsi into a diving save in the 65th minute. Unfortunately for the Omani international, the rebound fell no further than five yards out from goal, where Tom Cairney was the man in the right place at the right time and headed home to equalize.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Reading’s earlier work was so nearly undone in the 80th minute, when Paul McShane earned himself a red card with a studs-up, knee high challenge on Kevin McDonald. The man advantage just about paid of for Fulham in the fifth minute of stoppage time, but Ryan Fredericks‘ angled effort flashed across the face of goal and just wide of the far post.

Playoff final set: Hull, Sheffield Wednesday to contest richest game in world

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There will be a club from Yorkshire in the Premier League next season.

Hull City and Sheffield Wednesday will contest the Championship Playoff final on May 28, as the winner will join Burnley and Middlesbrough in gaining promotion to the Premier League for the 2016-17 season.

MORE: All 2015-16 PL season reviews

With the new TV deal kicking in from next season, this match has once again been dubbed “the richest game in world soccer” as the winner will gain approximately $180 million for being part of the PL next season.

Due to that fact there is a lot of pressure on the line in the one-off, winner takes all encounter. Are there bigger stakes, financially, in any other single sporting game worldwide?

Hull sealed their place in the final with a nervy 2-0 home defeat against Derby County on Tuesday, with Steve Bruce‘s side hanging on and advancing to the Wembley showpiece thanks to their 3-0 away win in the first leg of the playoff semifinal.

Sheffield Wednesday, who were the final team to make the playoffs after finishing in sixth place this season, beat third-placed Brighton 3-1 on aggregate over the two legs and although they lingered in and around sixth place for most of this season they have momentum and could be deemed as the favorites to seal promotion.

Wednesday were last in the top-flight in 2000 but haven’t been back since, even suffering relegation to the third-tier. However, with billionaire owners from Thailand and a huge fanbase in the Steel City, they have the resources to stay up and establish themselves if they gain promotion.

For Hull, they were relegated from the PL last season and Bruce has kept the majority of his squad together who have bags of PL experience to handle occasions like this.

One thing we know about playoff finals in the past is that everything else goes out the window. It is a one-off game to get to the promised land and you can expect a nervous 90 minutes, or even extra time and a penalty shootout should it come to that.

The only think we do know is that Yorkshire will have a team in the PL next season.

Sheffield Wednesday 2-0 Brighton: Owls control first leg of Playoffs

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Despite finishing 15 points behind Brighton & Hove Albion, Sheffield Wednesday was by far the better side in the first leg of their Championship Playoffs semifinal, winning 2-0 in front of their home crowd at Hillsborough Stadium.

[ MORE: Championship Playoffs preview ]

Wednesday controlled play from the opening whistle, moving the ball forward and creating multiple opportunities on goal. Wednesday’s leading scorer Fernando Forestieri latched on to a long ball over the top and looked to have put the Owls ahead after 19 minutes, but his strike was controversially called back for offside.

Video shows Forestieri was clearly offside on the play, but the linesman never put up his flag and the Wednesday players were allowed a full celebration before the referee went over to discuss the play with his assistant. In the end it was the right call, but the officials handling of it all infuriated Wednesday boss Carlos Carvalhal.

Already being outplayed, Brighton was forced to make a double substitution in the 40th minute as two players went down injured. Then, just before the break, Wednesday finally found their opening goal.

Ross Wallace cut in from the right wing onto his left foot, firing a strike from nearly 30 yards out into the bottom corner as Hillsborough erupted.

Brighton’s second half started just as poorly as the first half ended, as another injury forced manager Chris Hughton to use his third and final substitution in the 50th minute. Ten minutes later, Anthony Knockaert went down and was stretchered off the pitch, forcing Brighton to play the final half hour with just ten men.

[ VIDEO: Previewing the 2015-16 Premier League finale ]

Wednesday took advantage of the situation, with Kieran Lee putting the Owls 2-0 ahead in the 73rd minute. A former Manchester United midfielder, Lee cut behind the Brighton defense and buried his shot into the side netting.

The second leg will be held at Brighton on Monday, May 16. The Seagulls face an uphill battle, but with one of the best home records in the Championship, this tie is far from over. The team that advances on aggregate will play a one match, winner-gets-promoted final at Wembley.