Race for the Premier League – Down to the wire

So the penultimate week saw make and break time for those looking to reach the Premier League. Watford in the early kick off did their bit with a 2-0 win on the south coast at Brighton. Middlesbrough had to travel to struggling Fulham. In theory it should have been three points to the northerners but it seemed they were doing their best to throw it away. Fulham went 2-0 up before Boro pulled one back. Joy was short lived as the promotion chasers promptly found themselved down to ten men. This led to a penalty and the home side 3-1 up. It looked all over. Two goals in the last twenty minutes brought them level. At 3-3, a point for Middlesbrough looked enough to deny Bournemouth the chance to seal promotion. With little time remaining the visitors goalkeeper went up for a corner and a gamble that completely failed. Fulham cleared the ball and netted a win. Middlesbrough fans must have been pulling their hair out at the clubs inability to stay in the game. It confirmed though Watford’s automatic promotion to the Premier League.

On the Monday night Bournemouth had the task of hosting Bolton. The visitors had nothing really to play for, they were safe from relegation and it was mostly pride. The first half looked like heading to a goalless conclusion. Two goals in six minutes just before half time turned the game. Goals from Pugh and Ritchie sent the home fans into jubilation. They had one hand on Premier League promotion. When the third goal went in, the home fans were in raptures. With the Cherries far superior goal difference, it would mean Charlton having to win 19-0…..That is certainly not going to happen.

The title race wasnt the only thing that was still all to play for. There was the small matter of the Play off spot chase. With Middlesbrough and Norwich securing two of the play off spots, it was down to four teams battling out for the remaining two spots. Ipswich Town, Derby County, Brentford and Wolves all hoping to get the chance of a Wembley win and the third promotion spot. Ipswich Town were home to Nottingham Forest, Derby travelled to relegation threatened Millwall, Brentford travelled to Reading and Wolves also were away to a relegation threatened side in the form of Wigan.

Ipswich scored a 2-1 win with a goal in the last ten minutes to edge closer to play off security. Derby County found themselves facing a battle against relegation threatened Millwall. The Londoners playing for their Championship place found themselves pushing themselves to a 2-0 lead. Derby County reduced the deficit to 2-1 at half time, but not long into the second half, the lead was extended. Millwall fans seemed hopeful of Championship survival. Derby were in trouble it would seem a 70th minute penalty pulled it back to 3-2 but it was still looking bleak. It was game on again for Derby as they levelled with 5 minutes to go.

Brentford scored a 2-0 victory to keep the hopes of a play off place alive into the final game. A goal in each half was enough to give the London club a slim chance of a shot at Wembley. Wolves looking to make a return to the Premier League had what could have been a banana skin trip to Wigan. It took a single goal but it was enough to keep them in touch.

Notable observation is goal difference. Derby County hold the sway with a plus 32 goal difference which could equate to an extra point. In theory County only require a point at home to Reading, but the fans and the club will want to finish off the season at home with all three points. Ipswich travel to Blackburn knowing they too only require a point to take a playoff place. They will need to aim for three points as their goal difference is only three more than Brentford and seven more than Wolves. Brentford will be hoping to avoid a repeat of the game at Brentford which was a goalless draw. This would end their playoff hopes.

Whatever happens it’s going to be an interesting finish to the Championship.

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Battle to the Premier League – Championship run in

With Premier League trophy looking likely to head to London in May, less can be said about where the Championship trophy will end up. Bournemouth, Watford, Norwich City and Middlesbrough separated by just two points and with the top four all guaranteed at least a playoff place, it is just the matter of who will finish where. Extraordinarily though the final run in only sees two of the top four battle it out. Friday 17th April sees Norwich City host Middlesbrough in a game where the winner will find themselves top of the league albeit only till Saturday tea time.

Whilst Norwich who recently lost to Wigan in what seems to be a rare defeat, the same could not be said for Middlesbrough whose early season pasting of the Canaries, seems to be a long way a way. They will hope to avoid another defeat to their rivals having already lost to Bournemouth and Watford in the last ten games. Middlesbrough though despite having conceded ten in the last eleven games, still have the tightest defence in the top four but it is the scoring of goals that is the north east club’s problem. They have only bagged 64 goals compared to the likes of Watford, Norwich and Bournemouth, who are 80 plus in the scoring column.

Whilst there are few games that involve the relegation battlers, the other clubs that the top four face will still all be playing for pride, so it is going to be a tricky one to call. I believe though that one of the automatic promotion places will go to Bournemouth with their first visit to the top flight. It will certainly be a turnaround for the club who narrowly avoided relegation from the football league in 2009.

With two play off spots already guaranteed, another mini battle takes place. Derby County, Ipswich, Wolves and Brentford separated by four points, face a battle for two play off spots. Derby and Ipswich are currently in the driving seat with three games to go. In reality Derby County should have really been challenging for automatic promotion and even the title, but a run of seven games without a win including four defeats has consigned them to the playoff route hope.

Ipswich Town face a trip to playoff rivals Wolves. For the Suffolk side they are in the position that means a win or draw keeps their playoff hopes in their control. A draw might also consign Wolves to another season of Championship football. A win for Wolves and its very much game on as Wolves will move level with Ipswich.

Brentford face  a somewhat easier run in as they will play Blackburn Bolton and Wigan, but of course in football there are no easy games, especially when you have something to play for, but whilst fans of clubs involved will be twitchy, for the neutrals it will be an interesting run in and possibly one of the closest for a few seasons.