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Championship Focus: West Brom, Leeds improve promotion chances with wins

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By no means is the race for promotion within the Championship sealed and delivered, but West Brom and Leeds United continue to add to their lead on the rest of the pack.

Despite playing the final 13 minutes down a player after Romaine Sawyers saw a straight red card, the Baggies went on to earn a formidable 3-0 win over Bristol City.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Sheffield United loanee Callum Robinson opened the scoring in the 32nd minute, while Hal Robsun-Kanu sealed his brace with 11 minutes left in regular time. With the victory, Wes Brom extends their league unbeaten streak to five matches, and their total point to 66.

At Elland Road, Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds United registered their first back-to-back wins since October, following a minimal-margin victory over Reading. Leeds holds a five-point cushion on third-place Fulham.

Meanwhile, with goals quick fire goals from Paul Gallagher and Alan Browne over a four-minute stretch against an aching Hull City, Preston moved into play-off contention.

Saturday’s results

Brentford 2-2 Blackburn
Bristol City 0-3 West Brom
Swansea City 3-1 Huddersfield
Wigan Athletic 1-0 Millwall
Barnsley 1-0 Middlesbrough
Birmingham 3-3 Sheffield Wednesday
Nottingham Forest 0-0 QPR
Preston 2-1 Hull City
Charlton 3-1 Luton Town
Stoke City 2-0 Cardiff City
Leeds United 1-0 Reading

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.

LIVE, League Cup: Pompey v. Saints headlines action

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Plenty of Premier League clubs are in League Cup third round action on Tuesday, and plenty have to avoid upsets against lower-league opponents away from home.

[ LIVE: League Cup scores ] 

The game of the round is the massive South Coast derby between Portsmouth and Southampton at Fratton Park. It has been seven years since these fierce rivals have met and although Pompey are languishing in League One, they will fancy their chances of upsetting Ralph Hasenhuttl‘s Saints.

Saints haven’t won at Portsmouth since 1984.

Elsewhere, Arsenal host Nottingham Forest and Watford host Swansea as both PL clubs will be wary of upsets against in-form Championship clubs. Holders Man City travel to in-form Preston North End, while Leicester head to Luton Town, Spurs travel to Colchester United and Everton are away at Sheffield Wednesday.,

There could be shocks galore…

Below is the schedule in full, while you can click on the link above to follow all of the action live.


Tuesday’s League Cup docket
All matches kick off at 2:45 p.m. ET

Watford v. Swansea City
Preston North End v. Manchester City
Portsmouth v. Southampton
Luton Town v. Leicester City
Sheffield Wednesday v. Everton
Crawley Town v. Stoke City
Arsenal v. Nottingham Forest
Colchester United v. Tottenham Hotspur

Where Premier League promotion hopefuls stand with one match to go

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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

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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