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Championship Focus: Playoff picture, auto promotion far from settled

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Six Football League Championship fixtures took place in the shadow of the UEFA Champions League on Tuesday, providing the smallest bit of clarity in the race for promotion.

Leeds United won to move second and put a measure of pressure on Sheffield United, which has a match-in-hand, while Bristol City increased its stock while putting a hurt on West Brom’s hopes.

[ MORE: Spurs-Man City recap | Kane hurt | 3 things ]

The Baggies had won three-straight after firing Darren Moore, but have now lost two in-a-row. Both came away from the Hawthorns, and Tuesday’s defeat at Bristol City means the Baggies can forget about anything other than promotion via the playoffs.

Bristol, meanwhile, rode their three goals in the first 19 minutes to move fifth, four points clear of seventh.

Wednesday is day Leeds will be hoping for upsets, with Reading and Sheffield United expecting to collect three points (even if the Blades’ opponents, Birmingham City, have a point total that doesn’t match their skill level due to a 10-point punishment).

Here’s the road into the playoffs, and only two teams — one almost certainly Norwich City — will avoid it via automatic promotion.

Norwich City (1st, 84 points)

Wednesday v. Reading
Sunday at Wigan
April 19 v. Sheffield Wednesday
April 22 at Stoke City
April 27 v. Blackburn
May 5 at Aston Villa

The Read: It would be stunning if Norwich City doesn’t wrap up its place in the Premier League with 2-3 weeks to spare.

Leeds United (2nd, 79 points)

Saturday v. Sheffield Wednesday
April 19 v. Wigan
April 22 at Brentford
April 27 v. Aston Villa
May 5 at Ipswich Town

The Read: At least two exceptionally tough games in terms of desperate opponents means they’ll need to be good and get help from the Blades, who have one more match to play.

Sheffield United (3rd, 77 points)

Wednesday at Birmingham City
Saturday v. Millwall
April 19 v. Nottingham Forest
April 22 at Hull City
April 27 v. Ipswich Town
May 5 at Stoke City

The Read: Birmingham City is a tricky Wednesday test, but the Blades control their own destiny.

West Bromwich Albion (4th, 70 points)

Saturday v. Preston North End
April 19 v. Hull City
April 22 at Reading
April 27 v. Rotherham United
May 5 at Derby County

The Read: The Darren Moore firing bump is gone. Three of the five matches are against clubs with eyes on promotion (although Derby could be out by May 5).

Bristol City (5th, 65 points)

Saturday at Aston Villa
April 19 v. Reading
April 22 at Sheffield Wednesday
April 27 v. Derby County
April 30 at Millwall
May 5 at Hull City

The Read: In-form, yes, but Bristol City faces four teams in the playoff picture right now and two more who could be looking for points to avoid relegation to League One.

Aston Villa (6th, 63 points)

Wednesday at Rotherham United
Saturday v. Bristol City
April 19 at Bolton
April 22 v. Millwall
April 27 at Leeds United
May 5 v. Norwich City

The Read: Winning Wednesday would set up a huge “playoff six-pointer” on Saturday. This is a rough run to the playoff.

Middlesbrough (7th, 61 points)

Saturday v. Hull City
April 19 v. Stoke City
April 22 at Nottingham Forest
April 27 v. Reading
May 5 at Rotherham United

The Read: Tony Pulis‘ men have finally won again, but used up most of their mulligans on the way. Not dead, but will need help.

Derby County (8th, 60 points)

Saturday v. Bolton
April 19 at Birmingham City
April 22 v. QPR
April 27 at Bristol City
May 1 at Swansea City
May 5 v. West Brom

The Read: Losing at Blackburn on Tuesday stings, but points should be there for Frank Lampard‘s men.

There are others who could make a charge, but these are the protagonists.

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

FA Cup preview: Four 4th-round replays on Tuesday

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Come early February, the last thing any club wants to see on their schedule is the dreaded FA Cup fourth-round replay sandwiched between league fixtures on the weekends either side, but that’s the reality for eight clubs from England’s top four divisions on Tuesday.

[ MORE: Liverpool suffer PL title slip-up in draw at West Ham ]

Fortunately for Premier League sides, the vast majority has already advanced or been knocked out, thus they’re on hiatus until the weekend. The same can’t be said for Wolverhampton Wanders (Tuesday) or Brighton & Hove Albion (Wednesday).

League One side Shrewsbury Town had their hearts broken by Nuno Espírito Santo’s Wolves in a 2-2 draw at Montgomery Waters Meadow 10 days ago. The PL new boys found themselves a goal down deep into stoppage time, until Matt Doherty headed home Adama Traore’s cross in the 93rd minute to force Tuesday’s replay at Molineux Stadium. Wolves’ second-leading goal scorer, Diogo Jota (five goals in PL play), will miss the game after picking up a knock in Saturday’s victory over Everton.

Elsewhere on Tuesday, Championship side Brentford will host National League Premier (fifth-division) side Barnet at Griffin Park following the two side’s 3-3 draw last Monday. Brentford led 1-0 at halftime before an explosion of goals saw them fall 2-1 behind by the 53rd minute, then back in front by the 72nd, and finally level at three goals apiece following Daniel Sparkes’ sensational free kick off the underside of the crossbar.

[ MORE: Three things we learned from Liverpool’s draw with West Ham ]

FA Cup fourth-round replay schedule

Tuesday — all games at 2:45 p.m. ET

Wolverhampton Wanderers v. Shrewsbury Town
Brentford v. Barnet
Queens Park Rangers v. Portsmouth
Newport County v. Middlesbrough

Wednesday

West Bromwich Albion v. Brighton & Hove Albion — 3:05 p.m. ET

League Cup: Man City wins in PKs; Burton upsets Boro

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It took penalty kicks to separate Leicester City and Man City, while Middlesbrough was booed off the pitch after 90 minutes of an upset loss as the first two quarterfinals of the League Cup were played Tuesday in England.

[ MORE: Steffen wins USMNT award ]


Leicester City 1-1 (1-3, PKs) Man City

A bungling batch of penalties ended an entertaining quarterfinal at King Power Stadium, and the reigning champions are alive for their third League Cup in four years.

Christian Fuchs airmailed Leicester City’s second attempt of penalty kicks, but Raheem Sterling chipped his ensuing panenka over the bar for Man City.

It was three-straight misses when Man City’s Arijanet Muric saved James Maddison‘s tame low effort and then nabbed Caglar Soyuncu’s shot to cue up Oleksandar Zinchenko for the winner.

Before that, we learned that Kevin De Bruyne can ball.

Okay, that’s not news, though we haven’t been able to see it in sometime thanks to a pair of knee injuries.

De Bruyne had played just 251 minutes heading into Tuesday’s League Cup quarterfinal at Leicester City, though he’s looking plenty sharp.

Watch the Manchester City midfielder cut his mark with a clever back leg move, then sweep a shot through a defender’s legs and past the reach of Leicester backstop Danny Ward.

It’s delightful stuff. Watch it here.

No sooner had De Bruyne left the contest after 70 minutes, Leicester City restored the stalemate via Marc Albrighton. The veteran midfielder collected a Wilfred Ndidi over-the-top pass with style before lashing past Arijanet Muric.

Middlesbrough 0-1 Burton Albion

There goes Tony Pulis‘ Boro outfit thanks to a strike from Southampton loanee Jake Hesketh, as Burton Albion trumped the ol’ West Bromwich Albion coach at his own game.

The League One side is the only non-Premier League team left in the tournament, and will now face either Man City, Arsenal, Tottenham, Chelsea, or Bournemouth in the semifinals.

League Cup wrap: Final round pre-Premier League clubs rolls on

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Premier League teams know all but one of the teams they could draw in the EFL Cup following a wild Tuesday in England.

Ten ties went to penalty kicks and only one remains on the docket before the 13 PL clubs who are not in European competition join the fray.

[ MORE: Ramos takes shots at Klopp ]

The draw will take place at 2 p.m. ET Thursday before Sunderland faces Sheffield Wednesday in the final first round match.

Carlisle United 1-5 Blackburn Rovers

Adam Armstrong and Bradley Dack each scored twice, and Dack added a pair of assists in leading the Championship side to a comfortable road win. The 24-year-old Dack was last season’s League One Player of the Year.

Middlesbrough 3-3 (4-3 in PKs) Notts County

The visitors led thrice, but Ashley Fletcher equalized twice and Enes Mahmutovic also level the score in a wild affair at the Riverside Stadium. Tony Pulis played 17-year-old Stephen Walker in the match, with the teen scoring his penalty and also assisting a goal.

Oldham Athletic 0-2 Derby County

Chelsea loanee Mason Mount scored for Frank Lampard‘s Rams, who also found the scoresheet via an own goal.

Elsewhere
Nottingham Forest 1-1 (10-9 in PKs) Bury
Blackpool 3-1 Barnsley
Crewe Alexandra 1-1 (3-4 in PKs) Fleetwood Town
Grimsby Town 0-2 Rochdale
Leeds United 2-1 Bolton Wanderers
Macclesfield Town 1-1 (4-2 in PKs) Bradford City
Mansfield Town 6-1 Accrington Stanley
Port Vale 0-4 Lincoln City
Preston North End 3-1 Morecambe
Rotherham United 3-1 Wigan Athletic
Scunthorpe United 1-2 Doncaster Rovers
Sheffield United 1-1 (4-5 in PKs) Hull City
Tranmere Rovers 1-3 Walsall
Bristol City 0-1 Plymouth Argyle
Bristol Rovers 2-1 Crawley Town
Cambridge United 1-4 Newport County
Cheltenham Town 2-2 (6-5 in PKs) Colchester United
Exeter City 1-1 (4-2 in PKs) Ipswich Town
Millwall 0-0 (3-1 in PKs) Gillingham
MK Dons 3-0 Charlton Athletic
Norwich City 3-1 Stevenage
Oxford United 2-0 Coventry Citty
Portsmouth 1-2 AFC Wimbledon
QPR 2-0 Peterborough United
Southend United 2-4 Brentford
Swindon Town 0-1 Forest Green Rovers
Wycombe Wanderers 1-1 (7-6 in PKs) Northampton Town
Yeovil Town 0-1 Aston Villa
Reading 2-0 Birmingham City
West Bromwich Albion 1-0 Luton Town
Sunderland vs. Sheffield Wednesday — 2:45 p.m. ET Thursday