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Championship Focus: Top three all win; everyone else drops points

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The EFL Championship’s races for Premier League promotion and the second-division title might just go down to the final days — if not day, singular — of the season based on the recent form of three runaway clubs.

[ MORE: What did we learn on a wild PL Saturday? (video) ]

As we discussed last week, Norwich City and Leeds United have paced the league for the vast majority of the season and remain in line to return to the PL for the first time in three and 14 years, respectively. There remains, however, a threat to their duopoly: Sheffield United are unbeaten in their last eight outings (five wins) and sit just two points back of Leeds, who are two points off the pace of Norwich.

All three of the aforementioned promotion chasers won this weekend — Norwich 1-0 Swansea City; Bristol City 0-1 Leeds; Sheffield United 2-0 Rotherham.

[ MORE: PL Sunday preview: Liverpool in chase mode; Arsenal v. Man United ]

That’s all the joy and happiness there is to report from the upper reaches of the Championship this weekend, as the next five teams in the table (entering the weekend) all dropped points.

West Bromwich Albion were one of the luckier sides, able to salvage a 1-1 draw with 24th-place Ipswich Town despite coughing up an early lead. Manager Darren Moore, who took over and re-energized the club just before the Baggies were relegated from the PL last season, wasn’t so lucky: he was fired with West Brom sitting fourth in the table.

Fifth-place Middlesbrough blew an early lead of their own and gave away all three points to suddenly red-hot Brentford (four wins in their last five — up to 12th, six points out of 6th) at the Riverside Stadium. Sixth-place Bristol City fell victims to Leeds, which opened the door for Derby to leapfrog them for the fourth and final playoff place on the back of their draw with Sheffield Wednesday.

After 35.5 of 46 rounds…

Place Team Points GD
1 Norwich City 72 +27
2 Leeds United 70 +22
3 Sheffield United 68 +27
4 West Bromwich Albion 61 +20
5 Middlesbrough 58 +13
6 Derby County 55 +2
7 Bristol City 54 +7
8 Nottingham Forest 53 +10
9 Preston North End 51 +6
10 Birmingham City 50 +8
11 Hull City 50 -1
12 Brentford 49 +13

Derby County striker scores Goal of Year candidate (video)

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Puskas much?

Mason Bennett is getting Tuesday recognition for his amazing goal, one which could see him in the running for the Puskas Award as the best goal of the world’s season.

[ MORE: Kane leads Spurs ]

Bennett plays for Derby County, and gave Frank Lampard‘s men an equalizer en route to a 2-1 defeat of Wigan Athletic at Pride Park on Tuesday.

The 22-year-old scored his first Derby goal since a Sept. 2013 goal against Millwall, when he was 17.

Derby is now level on points with sixth place Bristol City in the run to a playoff spot. Bristol City has played one more match.

Bennett turns a cross into the net with the outside of his left foot, back-to-goal. It’s really wonderful stuff:

Brighton outlasts Derby despite Ashley Cole goal (video)

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Despite a late scare, dominant Brighton and Hove Albion put an end to Frank Lampard‘s run in the FA Cup with a 2-1 defeat of Derby County at the Amex Stadium on Saturday.

Anthony Knockaert and Jurgen Locadia scored in the final dozen minutes of the first half for the Seagulls, who will learn their quarterfinal foe on Monday.

[ MORE: Lingard, Martial injured ]

Substitute Ashley Cole scored in the 80th minute for the Rams, who were heavily outshot in the match.

It was Cole’s first goal in England since 2012, when he bagged a Premier League marker for Chelsea against Stoke City.

Locadia was injured just before the Seagulls conceded, and looked to be in considerable pain with an ankle injury.

American attacker Duane Holmes started up top for Derby but was subbed after 45 minutes. The 24-year-old Columbus-born man has become a regular starter under Lampard.

FA Cup, LIVE – Man City, Brighton in action

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A pair of Premier League team attempt to dodge upset bids with varying degrees of likelihood, while one of the guaranteed lower league quarterfinal berths will also be clinched during Saturday’s FA Cup action

Brighton and Hove Albion opens the day hoping to outlast Frank Lampard-led Derby County at the Amex Stadium.

[ LIVE: Follow all the FA Cup scores here ]

The other Premier League side, Man City, visits League Two side Newport County. Pep Guardiola is wary of the side’s physicality, but an upset is the longest of long shots.

Sandwiched in the middle is Millwall’s visit to AFC Wimbledon, the League One hosts hoping to continue the magic that helped them knock off the visitors’ rivals: West Ham United of the Premier League.

FA Cup Saturday
Brighton and Hove Albion v. Derby County — 7:30 am. ET
AFC Wimbledon v. Millwall — 10 a.m. ET
Newport County v. Man City — 12:30 p.m. ET

FA Cup preview: Lampard hopes for upset; Chelsea host Man Utd

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The FA Cup’s fifth round kicks off with some underdogs and finishes with a pair of giants.

That first match, QPR versus Watford at Loftus Road, kicks off at 2:45 p.m. ET Friday, with the Championship hosts hoping to overrun Abdoulaye Doucoure and the visiting Hornets.

[ LIVE: Follow all the FA Cup scores here ]

The weekend was scheduled nicely by the FA, with only one match conflicting with another via a Sunday morning 11 a.m. kickoff.

There are no signs that any of the Premier League sides are taking this lightly, including Pep Guardiola’s claims that Newport County is a more physical side than his City.

There’s a guarantee of at least two non-PL sides in the quarterfinals, and either Chelsea or Manchester United will not be alive for the FA Cup title come Monday evening.

United will have neither Anthony Martial nor Jesse Lingard against a Chelsea side capable of looking unbeatable… or flat-out terrible.

Maybe Frank Lampard will outlast his former team (well, at least the one most often associated with the English midfielder). Derby County leads his side into Brighton and Hove Albion on Sunday.

“I’m not sure how much recent form will matter.

“We are unbeaten (in six) but we’ve got room for improvement,” Lampard said of his Rams. “Brighton are a very strong team, with a really good manager, and it will be a hugely tough challenge for us.”

Full FA Cup fifth round schedule

Friday
QPR v. Watford — 2:45 p.m. ET

Saturday
Brighton and Hove Albion v. Derby County — 7:30 am. ET
AFC Wimbledon v. Millwall — 10 a.m. ET
Newport County v. Man City — 12:30 p.m. ET

Sunday
Bristol City v. Wolves — 8 a.m. ET
Doncaster Rovers v. Crystal Palace — 11 a.m. ET
Swansea City v. Brentford — 11 a.m. ET

Monday
Chelsea v. Manchester United — 2:30 p.m. ET