Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images

Where Premier League promotion hopefuls stand with one match to go

1 Comment

The second automatic Premier League promotion spot won’t be decided until the final day of the Championship, nor will the last spot in the promotion playoffs nor two relegation slots.

And the match-ups tilt heavily toward those with top-flight aspirations facing clubs fearing the drop.

Call it the haves versus the have-and-hope-to-keeps.

[ MORE: Slimani charged, Salah not ]

So, yeah, it’s going to be tense across most of the near-dozen 7:30 a.m. ET encounters

Start here:

AUTOMATICALLY YOURS: Either Cardiff City or Fulham will gain instant promotion to the Premier League, with the Bluebirds controlling their own destiny.

Cardiff vs. Reading
Birmingham City vs. Fulham

There’s an added blow to finishing third, and that’s the slowed momentum or realizing it’s going to take a lot more work. Of the last 15 playoff winners, only five were the third place team in the regular season.

Playoff fates of No. 3 teams
2017 — Reading lost final in penalties to No. 5 Huddersfield Town)
2016 — Brighton lost in the semifinals (No. 4 Hull promoted)
2015 — Norwich City won the playoffs
2014 — Derby County lost final to No. 4 QPR
2013 — Watford lost final to No. 5 Crystal Palace
2012 — West Ham United won the playoffs
2011 — Swansea City won the playoffs
2010 — Nottingham Forest lost in semis (No. 6 Blackpool promoted)
2009 — Sheffield United lost final to No. 5 Burnley
2008 — Hull City won the playoffs
2007 — Derby County won the playoffs
2006 — Brentford lost in semifinals (No. 5 Barnsley promoted)
2005 — Ipswich Town lost in semis (No. 6 West Ham promoted)
2004 — Sunderland lost in semis (No. 6 Crystal Palace promoted)
2003 — Sheffield United lost final to No. 5 Wolves

— PLAYOFF SPOTS: The third-place team will join Aston Villa, Middlesbrough, and the sixth-place team in the playoffs, slated for May 11-26.

Derby County has 72 points, two more than Preston North End and three more than Millwall.

The Rams also have a nine-goal advantage on both in goal differential, so a home draw against 21st place Barnsley would be enough (although the visitors are playing for their Championship lives).

Preston also hosts a relegation-threatened club in Burton Albion, while Millwall entertains a very good, but fate-determined Aston Villa.

— RELEGATION ZONE: Three teams will go down to League One, and Sunderland is the only one assured of the drop.

Here’s how it all looks in the race to avoid 22nd and 23rd.

19. Reading — 43 pts, minus-22
20. Birmingham City — 43 pts, minus-32
21. Barnsley — 41 pts, minus-21
22. Burton Albion — 41 pts, minus-42
23. Bolton Wanderers — 40 pts, minus-36

Aside from Bolton, those teams have all been mentioned as opponents of clubs with plenty at stake. The Wanderers are home to Nottingham Forest.

Reading is away to Cardiff, Birmingham home to Fulham, Barnsley at Derby, and Burton away to Preston.

No club can honestly feel safe with just a point.

Championship Focus: Wolves go 10 clear; playoffs race logjam

Photo by Christopher Lee/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Wolverhampton Wanderers’ most likely path to not winning — and running away with — the 2017-18 Championship title required a defeat to second-place Bristol City on Saturday. Alas, in dramatic fashion, it wasn’t to be and their lead only ballooned larger.

Once again, the Championship is beginning to sound a lot like the PL.

[ PL ROUNDUP: Chelsea leapfrog Man United for 2nd ]

Wolves extended their unbeaten run to 11 games (nine wins) by winning away to Bristol, 2-1, in the two sides’ top-of-the-table clash. The victory, which sent Nuno Espirito Santo’s side 10 points clear of now-second-place Derby County, was sealed by a 93rd-minute winner scored by Ryan Bennett after Wolves erased a 1-0 deficit courtesy of Barry Douglas’s 65th-minute equalizer. It was the first time Wolves had trailed a league opponent since losing to Queens Park Rangers on Oct. 28, the game which preceded their current unbeaten run.

In the Championship, the difference between chasing the second automatic-promotion place and the logjam of the playoff battle is roughly… oh, one or two bad results. Take, for example, the last eight days for Cardiff City.

The Bluebirds were riding high — second in the league, just four points back of Wolves, and unbeaten in six league games — before three straight defeats, including a disastrous showing against 22nd-place Bolton just before Christmas, erased their four-point lead in the race for second and tossed Neil Warnock’s side two spots down the league table, now 11 points back of the runaway leaders.

Outside of the current top-two, the league’s in-form team of the moment is eighth-place Preston North End, winners of five of their last nine and unbeaten during that stretch; Brentford have climbed all the way up to 10th after spending the first two months of the season stuck in the bottom half of the table, and the Bees are suddenly just four points off the playoff places and six clear of the bottom half.

[ PL SUNDAY: Man City go for 19 straight; WBA-Arsenal ]

After 25 of 46 rounds…

Place Team Points GD
1 Wolverhampton Wanderers 58 +27
2 Derby County 48 +18
3 Bristol City 47 +14
4 Cardiff City 47 +12
5 Leeds United 42 +9
6 Sheffield United 41 +9
7 Aston Villa 41 +9
8 Preston North End 40 +5
9 Middlesbrough 38 +8
10 Brentford 37 +7
11 Ipswich Town 36 +3
12 Fulham 36 +2

Sunderland adds Premier League vets McGeady, Vaughan

Photo by Clint Hughes/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Sunderland have added two attackers in a bid to return directly to the Premier League.

One will be quite familiar to many soccer fans, as Aiden McGeady comes from Everton having spent time with Celtic and Spartak Moscow.

[ MORE: Transfer rumor roundup ]

The 31-year-old Irishman scored eight goals on loan for new Sunderland boss Simon Grayson while at Preston North End last season. He has 90 caps and five goals for the Republic of Ireland.

The other attacker is a bit more of an unknown despite having seven Premier League goals to his name, the last coming in 2011 at Everton.. James Vaughan had a career season after dropping down to League One last season, where he scored 24 times in 37 matches.

The Black Cats have now added four players, all with connections to Everton (Earlier this window Sunderland added Tyias Browning and Brendan Galloway on loan from the Merseyside set). That’s a bit ironic given that longtime Toffees boss David Moyes left Sunderland this offseason.

WATCH: Red-hot Giroud nabs late Arsenal winner at PNE

Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Olivier Giroud is, essentially, on fire.

The Frenchman scored for the fourth-straight game, giving Giroud four goals and two assists over that period.

[ MORE: FA Cup roundup ]

Arsenal has won three of those four, including Saturday’s come-from-behind win at Preston North End.

Lucas Perez backheeled a ball toward the six, and the in-form Giroud reached the ball first to poke it home and send the Gunners to the fourth round of the FA Cup.

Follow @NicholasMendola

WATCH: McGeady’s Marseille turn helps PNE lead Arsenal

Photo by Clint Hughes/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Callum Robinson scored the goal, but my, oh my, did Aiden McGeady provide the highlight as Preston North End took a seventh minute lead on Arsenal in Saturday’s FA Cup match in Deepdale.

McGeady cut back on one Arsenal man before using a 360/Marseille turn to burn a couple more en route to goal.

[ MORE: FA Cup roundup ]

He found Jordan Hugill, who poked a ball near McGeady for the finish past David Ospina.

Follow @NicholasMendola