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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: Pukki powers Norwich, Leeds slips up

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The race for automatic promotion looks to have a spot-in-hand — don’t accuse us of jinxing you, Norwich City supporters — as Leeds and Sheffield United continue to flip-flop for the second spot.

[ MORE: Palace smashes, grabs win at Newcastle ]

The relegation and playoff spots are still very much in flux, too. Here are some big things to know about Saturday’s action.

Norwich City 4-0 Queens Park Rangers

You don’t need to be in the coal mine to see the Canaries are likely heading back to the Premier League, destroying Geoff Cameron‘s QPR despite going down a man in the 71st minute. Cameron subbed off after 59 minutes, with QPR down 3-0 and needing an attacking miracle.

Teemu Pulki scored his 25th and 26th goals of the season for the Canaries, who have an 7-point advantage over Sheffield United and 8-point cushion on third place Leeds United.

Birmingham City 1-0 Leeds United

Leeds lost for the second time in three matches and the third time in seven, as Che Adams’ goal gave more relief to a Birmingham City side recently stung by a points deduction for reckless spending during the Harry Redknapp era. Leeds have dropped into third place.

Preston North End 0-1 Sheffield United

PNE has presented some stiff challenged this season, and Saturday was no exception, but Sheffield United made a first half David McGoldrick goal hold up over 90 minutes to move back into an automatic promotion spot.

Elsewhere

— Aston Villa turned what looked to be like a scrappy away point into three with a late buzzsaw and sits fifth with six matches left on its schedule (though Bristol City and Derby County have matches-in-hand).

— Ahmed Hegazi conceded an own goal and was later sent off as West Brom lost 2-0 at Millwall.

— Rotherham United is within a point of safety after defeating Nottingham Forest, and seeing Reading lose their matches. Wigan is two points clear after drawing at Bristol City).

EFL Championship: Norwich nearing promotion; Leeds reclaim 2nd

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Norwich City stretched their winning streak to seven games on Saturday and inched three points closer to a return to the Premier League with a 1-0 win over Middlesbrough.

[ MORE: What did we learn in the Premier League? (video) ]

With seven games left to play, the Canaries are five points clear of second-place Leeds United and enjoy a seven-point gap between themselves and the dreaded promotion playoffs. Daniel Farke’s side has lost just one of their last 14 league games and look wholly worthy champions-elect of the second division.

Boro, on the other hand, have lost four straight and slipped all the way to eighth in the table after spending much of the season in the top-four, a near lock to qualify for the playoffs.

As for Leeds, Marcelo Bielsa’s side reclaimed second place with a 3-2 comeback victory over 21st-place Millwall. Leeds, who have spent much of the season just behind Norwich, fell to third following a head-to-head loss to Sheffield United last time out. Saturday saw Sheffield United collapse from 2-1 up in the 75th minute, to a 3-2 defeat at the hands of seventh-place Bristol City.

[ MORE: PL Sunday preview: Spurs at Anfield; Chelsea visit Cardiff ]

Only Norwich are currently hotter than Aston Villa, who have won five straight and are unbeaten in six. Now fifth in the table, the Villains look like strong candidates to be this year’s “got hot at the right time” team.

After 39 of 46 rounds…

Place Team Points GD
1 Norwich City 81 +30
2 Leeds United 76 +25
3 Sheffield United 74 +29
4 West Bromwich Albion 70 +25
5 Aston Villa 60 +15
6 Derby County 59 +7
7 Bristol City 58 +8
8 Middlesbrough 58 +8
9 Nottingham Forest 57 +9
10 Preston North End 57 +7
11 Sheffield Wednesday 56 -3
12 Hull City 54 0

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

Championship Focus: Promotion favorites Norwich, Leeds win again

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Norwich City and Leeds United have spent the majority of the 2018-19 EFL Championship season battling one another for the top spot, and smart money would have long since been placed on them to finish in two-two and secure automatic promotion to the Premier League.

[ MORE: Man City win, lose KDB | Man United come back, beat Southampton ]

That was before Sheffield United began their current run of six games unbeaten (four wins) and just one loss in their last 12 games (eight wins), to complicate matters. Leeds, on the other hand, have lost five of their last 11 (five wins) and have fallen off their longtime perch atop the table. Norwich’s recent form has been somewhere in the middle of the other two (6W-3D-1L in their last 10), but just good enough to create a two-point advantage over Leeds.

Sheffield United, who will face Steel derby rivals Sheffield Wednesday on Monday, entered the weekend level on points with Leeds, but have since fallen three back after Marcelo Bielsa’s side thrashed West Bromwich Albion 4-0 on Friday. For about 17 hours, Leeds were again top of the Championship.

Norwich then proceeded to win 3-1 away to Millwall on Saturday to reclaim the summit. Golden Boot leader Teemu Pukki bagged his 24th league goal of the season in the process.

The rest of the race for playoff places is, shall we say, an unmitigated disaster zone where absolutely anything can, and likely will, happen. We’ll turn our attention to that in a few weeks when the dozen teams still in the mix begin to, hopefully, sort themselves out.

[ MORE: PL Sunday preview: Merseyside, west London derbies on tap ]

After 34.5 of 46 rounds…

Place Team Points GD
1 Norwich City 69 +26
2 Leeds United 67 +21
3 Sheffield United 64 +25
4 West Bromwich Albion 60 +20
5 Middlesbrough 58 +14
6 Bristol City 54 +8
7 Derby County 51 +1
8 Birmingham City 50 +8
9 Nottingham Forest 50 +7
10 Hull City 50 +2
11 Aston Villa 48 +8
12 Preston North End 48 +5