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Championship wrap: Promotion race intensifies

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As always, things got weird and wild in England’s second-tier on Friday.

Leeds United lost at home to 10-man relegation battlers Wigan Athletic 2-1, despite taking the lead early and Wigan playing a man down for over 75 minutes.

Pablo Hernandez missed an early penalty kick for Marcelo Bielsa’s side who have now dropped out of the automatic promotion spots with three games of the season to go and no longer have their destiny in their own hands. This defeat marked the first time this season that Leeds have lost a game after taking the lead.

As for their main rivals for automatic promotion, Sheffield United rallied in the second half to beat Nottingham Forest on Friday and moved into second behind Norwich City as Blades boss Chris Wilder has done a magnificent job for the club he supports.

Norwich look certainties for promotion and their return to the PL after a three-year absence could be confirmed on Monday, while Sheffield United know they will be back in the Premier League for the first time since 2007 if they win their final three games of the season.

In the playoff race, West Brom, Aston Villa and Middlesbrough all won to sit in fourth, fifth and sixth respectively, while Bristol City and Derby are hanging around just outside the playoff spots with draws to set up a frantic final few weeks. There are some huge teams pushing to be in the playoffs and have a chance of playing in the richest game in soccer at Wembley on May 27, and Villa are the form team right now with nine-straight wins.

At the other end of the table, Bolton’s defeat at home to Villa means they were relegated to the third-tier and they will join Ipswich Town in League One for next season, while Rotherham and Millwall battle to stay out of the final relegation spot.

Below is a look at the standings and points in the promotion race, as the battle to get into the Premier League for the 2019-20 rages on.


As things stand – Championship table, promotion race

Automatic promotion
1st: Norwich City – Played 42, points 86
2nd: Sheffield United – Played 43, points 82

Playoff picture
3rd: Leeds United – Played 43, points 82
4th: West Brom – Played 43, points 76
5th: Aston Villa – Played 43, points 72
6th: Middlesbrough – Played 43, points 67

Pushing for playoffs
7th: Bristol City – Played 42, points 66
8th: Derby County – Played 42, points 64

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.

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