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Championship Focus: Aston Villa continues surge; Leeds win again

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Leeds United moved a bit closer to automatic promotion thanks to an MLS product-inspired win and Sheffield United’s slip-up against Millwall.

[ MORE: Man Utd 2-1 West Ham ]


Aston Villa 2-1 Bristol City

The Villans cooled off red-hot Bristol City and can feel pretty good about their playoff ambitions. Chelsea loanee Tammy Abraham converted a penalty and Conor Hourihane also scored as Villa moved four points clear of sixth-placed Bristol City.

Villa has now won eight-straight league matches under Dean Smith, moving from 11th to fifth. The Villans were 15th when he took over for Steve Bruce in October.

Sheffield United 1-1 Millwall

The Blades couldn’t keep up, mostly because couldn’t nurse a 1-0 lead thanks to an 85th minute red card and stoppage time finish from Jake Cooper.

Leeds United 1-0 Sheffield Wednesday

Wake Forest and New York City FC product Jack Harrison scored a 65th minute goal that stood up as Leeds took a three-point lead on the third place Blades.

Jack Harrison of Leeds United (Photo by George Wood/Getty Images)

West Bromwich Albion 4-1 Preston North End

A Dwight Gayle hat trick joined Jay Rodriguez on the scoresheet as the Baggies built a 4-0 lead before conceding in stoppage time. West Brom is nine points clear of 7th and looks certain to partake in the playoffs.

Elsewhere
Derby County 4-0 Bolton
Middlesbrough 1-0 Hull City
Nottingham Forest 1-2 Blackburn Rovers
QPR 4-0 Swansea City
Reading 2-1 Brentford
Stoke City 2-2 Rotherham United
Ipswich Town 1-1 Birmingham City
Wigan Athletic v. Norwich City — 7 a.m. ET Sunday

WATCH: Game of Thrones star tricks Kimmel audience into Leeds support

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Forget King of the North, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau just wants his club to be promoted to the Premier League.

The Danish actor, 48, was on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” this week to preview the return of “Game of Thrones” this weekend on HBO, and was asked about fan theories for the end of the show.

[ MORE: Andy Carroll to NE Revs? ]

After discussing one option, Coster-Waldau slipped into a story about the magical hero “Bielsa.” Readers of this site will instantly make the connection with the Leeds United manager, beloved by fans of the club and soccer hipsters everywhere.

Hear how Coster-Waldau gets the audience to chant up some good karma in favor of his manager. And if you hate Leeds, at least know that the actor has done good in the name of the game for the United Nations Development Program.

It’s fitting that Coster-Waldau used a little bit of trickery to fool the audience, as Bielsa and the Lannisters don’t mind a bit of gamesmanship.

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: 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