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Championship recaps
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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

Who will get promoted to the Premier League? Your Championship primer

Who will get promoted to the Premier League?
Photo by Rich Linley - CameraSport via Getty Images
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The Football League Championship returns on Saturday, as Leeds United and West Bromwich Albion look to keep hold of their automatic promotion places.

It won’t be easy.

[ MORE: Spurs-Man Utd recap | JPW’s 3 Things ]

Here is your guide to the final nine matchdays of the season for England’s second tier.

The top two

Marcelo Bielsa’s Peacocks and Slaven Bilic’s Baggies have 7- and 6-point cushions on third place with nine matches to go, a congested fixture list ready to tax the benches of all of the sides.

The playoff race

Third through sixth in the Championship will contest the playoffs for the third promotion spot to the Premier League.

Third-place Fulham will learn a lot about whether it’s in the race for automatic promotion or just a playoff probability within one week’s time. The Cottagers host fourth-place Brentford at 7:30 a.m. ET Saturday and go to Leeds one week later.

Fulham has 64 points, six back of second place and nine clear of seventh place. It would be very surprising if the Londoners didn’t keep hold of a playoff spot.

Brentford (60) and Nottingham Forest (60) have five-point advantages on seventh, nice but not too comfortable, while Preston North End’s one-point-above-sixth-place footing is uneven.

Six teams are within two wins of Preston’s 56 points. Seventh-place Bristol City has 55, Millwall and Cardiff City have 54, Blackburn and Swansea City have 53, Derby County has 51, and QPR’s on 50.

Who will get promoted to the Premier League?
Rooney’s Rams are six points behind the playoff places (Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images)

Americans Abroad

Speaking of QPR, USMNT veteran Geoff Cameron is a fixture for Mark Warburton’s London side. The 34-year-old has played 28 times this season.

Derby County has seen a fine season out of Duane Holmes, who has three goals and three assists. Not American, but ex-DC United man Wayne Rooney is Holmes’ teammate.

No American has played more Championship minutes than Fulham’s Tim Ream (3142). Next up are Wigan’s Antonee Robinson (2587) and Hull City’s Eric Lichaj (2546).

Matt Miazga is handling center back duties for Reading, while Cameron Carter-Vickers’ latest loan stint at Luton Town has gone well individually.

Luca De La Torre (Fulham) has seen neglible minutes this season.

English-born MLS and NCAA star Jack Harrison is with Leeds.

Manchester United academy product Jack Harrison of Leeds United went to school at Wake Forest before playing for NYCFC in Major League Soccer (Photo by George Wood/Getty Images).

The relegation scrap

Three clubs will go down to League One next season. Two of the three teams in the bottom three will need a massive change in fortunes to avoid that fate.

Barnsley is seven points back of 21st and Luton Town sits six points back of safety.

Charlton Athletic is currently in 22nd with 39 points, but it can look to a single win as chance to move ahead of any of the five sides ahead of it (depending on how goal differential goes).

Hull City, Wigan Athletic, and Middlesbrough are just two points above the drop zone, while Stoke City and Huddersfield Town have three-point distances above the drop.

Charlton can pass Hull with a win at the KC Stadium on Saturday, though it’s only other chance to affect a fellow struggler is July 18 versus Wigan.

This week’s schedule

Fulham v. Brentford — 7:30 a.m. ET Saturday
Middlesbrough v. Swansea City — 7:30 a.m. ET Saturday
Millwall v. Derby County — 8 a.m. ET Saturday
West Brom v. Birmingham City — 10 a.m. ET Saturday
Huddersfield Town v. Wigan Athletic — 10 a.m. ET Saturday
Hull City v. Charlton Athletic — 10 a.m. ET Saturday
Sheffield Wednesday v. Nottingham Forest — 10 a.m. ET Saturday
Luton Town v. Preston North End –10 a.m. ET Saturday
QPR v. Barnsley — 10 a.m. ET Saturday
Reading v. Stoke City — 10 a.m. ET Saturday
Blackburn Rovers v. Bristol City — 10 a.m. ET Saturday
Cardiff City v. Leeds United — 7 a.m. ET Sunday

Championship focus: West Brom go 6 points clear; Fulham stumble at Millwall

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A roundup of the top-of-the-table action in the EFL Championship, where nine points separate places 1 through 7, and three points is the difference between third place and seventh…

[ MORE: The race for Premier League promotion is red-hot ]

Reading 1-2 West Bromwich Albion

West Brom capitalized on Leeds United’s slip-up to go six points clear at the top of the Championship table with a dozen games left to play. The Baggies fell behind on an early penalty, but fought back into the game before halftime and went ahead for good shortly thereafter.

George Puscas put Reading ahead after 11 minutes, but Matheus Pereira put home his own rebound to make it 1-1 in the 26th and Kyle Bartley completed the comeback with a looping header to the far post four minutes into the second half.

West Brom have spent the vast majority of the season occupying either first or second place in the table, and appear headed for a return to the PL after two seasons of regrouping in the second division.

[ MORE: Report: Chelsea closing in on Hakim Ziyech deal ]

Millwall 1-1 Fulham

No side had more to gain from Leeds’ draw with fourth-place Brentford than Fulham, who entered Wednesday a point back for the second automatic promotion place. A win would have seen the Cottagers into second place ahead of a critical stretch of their schedule (five of their next seven opponents currently reside in the top-10).

Alas, it was a disappointing, largely listless display from both sides at The Den as Millwall held the promotion hopefuls to a 1-1 draw.

Aleksandar Mitrovic fired Fulham ahead after just three minutes but Millwall were level through Jon Dadi Bodvarsson just four minutes later, and that was all the scoring there would be in east London. Rather than going two points clear of third, Fulham remain third and sit two points clear of fourth.

Elsewhere in the Championship

Stoke City 0-2 (6th) Preston North End
(7th) Bristol City 3-2 Derby County
Huddersfield Town 0-3 (10th) Cardiff City
Luton Town 1-0 Sheffield Wednesday

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.

Race for Premier League promotion has very fine margins

Football League Championship
Photo by Dave Howarth - CameraSport via Getty Images
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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