Chase for The Championship – Down to the wire?

With Brighton winning away in London on the Friday and Newcastle United losing on the Saturday, it saw the two teams swap places as they aim for glory. It was the seagulls third win in six days and looks enough to keep them in the automatic promotion spots, but as we have seen, nothing is quite guaranteed. For Friday’s game it looked like it could fizzle out in to a draw that would have quite suited their rivals Newcastle.

Glenn Murray had bagged his 21st of the season and his goals going on in the final few games will prove crucial to the South Coast outfit’s promotion chances. Chances were few and far between either of the clubs (eight out of twenty eight combined) but sometimes you just need to convert the ones you take and two out of three for Brighton was enough.

For Newcastle United, their day was the opposite. They were up against it playing Sheffield Wednesday who themselves aiming for a play off spot. It didn’t get any better after 29 minutes when they lost their star striker Dwight Gayle. Despite having the more shots and possession, Rafa Benitez’s men showed that stats don’t count for nothing. Like the game at Loftus Road, it was one of second half showing. A goal on hour and one ten minutes later had most certainly secured the points for the Owls, even though Jonjo Shelvey had netted for Newcastle close to the end.

Huddersfield who are currently third, may have a game in hand but they have a ten point deficit and it could very well be the Easter weekend fixtures that seal the automatic promotion or see oportunities still open. Huddersfield host Preston on Friday and travel to Derby County on the Monday. Two top ten teams battling for position more than anything as they seem too far back in hoping for a playoff spot but for Huddersfield automatic promotion is the feint hope they have whilst they look to cement their playoff spot. Seven points separate Huddersfield and Derby County so points will be crucial come this weekend.

Brighton face Wolves on Good Friday and host Wigan on Easter Monday whilst Newcastle host another promotion chaser in the form of Leeds United and struggling Ipswich. Brighton should be the happier of the two clubs come Tuesday morning as they should take six points, whilst Newcastle United may find themselves only picking up four, especially if they are without their top scorer Dwight Gayle.

Reading, who are a point behind Huddersfield will be hoping to reclaim third spot, which for a number of weeks was their home. Their last game was one to forget as they went crashing to a 7-1 defeat away to Norwich City. Their run in though gives them hope for securing a playoff spot, Aston Villa and Nottingham Forest break up the two games against relegation favourites Wigan and doomed Rotherham. Whilst Nottingham Forest find themselves at the wrong end of the table, they should be safe from the drop.

Having had a bad start to the season, Leeds United are doing their bit to make sure they have a playoff hope and a return to the top flight once more. They though have a marginally easier run in. Apart from the trip to Newcastle on Good Friday and a home game against promotion rivals Norwich City at the end of April, it’s a case of the strugglers. Of course though never understimate the strugglers. They will have all to play for and will no doubt not have a care in the world with regards to who is challenging for the title or chasing a play off place.

Fulham who lie just outside the playoff spots by two points will be hoping that their recent good form will keep them moving higher and into the playoff spots although for the West London club, it will be a little more trickier journey. Fulham travel to Norwich on Good Friday whilst hosting Villa on the Monday. Fellow promotion chasers Huddersfield, who will have their own place to secure host Fulham in the penultimate game whilst a game against midtable Brentford brings their season to a close.

It’s going to be quite close and exciting for fans of the top six seven although for Brighton given their position, they will be the more happier. A top two spot for them is definitely going to happen, it’s just down to whether they or Newcastle have the bottle to go the stay the course. Newcastle with the experience and leadership of Rafa Benitez should guide them to another championship trophy and return to the Premier League.

Playoffs? well that’s where the fun starts and although the current spot takers are Huddersfield, Reading Leeds and Sheffield Wednesday, I think one of the later could find themselves losing out to Fulham.

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Magpies fly,Canaries perched – Championship review

Rafa Benitez is a man who is always up for a challenge and when appointed as Newcastle manager, he was certainly going to be taking one on. Having taking on the Toon in March 2015, the Spaniard had come close to keeping the North East club up. Unforunately they were a just a win away from survival, one that could have been against Man City had Aguero’s goal not stood. Even worse for United would be seeing their northeast rivals Sunderland retaining their place in the Premier League.

Fastforward to October 2016 and all seems different. The opening two defeats seem a long way away. Having nailed Preston 6-1 in the midweek League Cup tie, I imagine Preston fans were fearing more of the same. For Preston it was alas another defeat to the Magpies but a far less defeat. In fact the goals from Newcastle came in the second half.

Hot on the tails of Newcastle are Brighton & Hove Albion. The South coast club are looking to make promotion to the Premier League having been the nearly men for the last few seasons. The Seagulls were flying high as they hosted Norwich City. The Canaries found themselves on the receiving end of  5-0 tanking, that included a Glen Murray hattrick. It was a blow for Norwich as a victory for them would have seen them go second. They have also taken a single point from nine as they look to return to the Premier League.

It was a blow for Huddersfield Town as they were beaten 5-0 at struggling Fulham. The visitors could have gone level on points with Brighton had they won, but strangely it wasnt to happen. With teams above dropping points enabled Reading to close the gap. They beat Nottingham Forest 2-0. Forest despite hitting just over 20 shots, could only get five on target but none in the back of the net.

At the other end of the table, Rotherham fans saw a second win of the season robbed from them as Ipswich scored a ninety fifth minute equaliser. A draw for Blackburn denied them a chance to pull out of the bottom three. The only teams to be happy near the bottom were Wigan who beat Cardiff to close the gap to a point and Derby County who beat Sheffield Wednesday.

The Championship may only be fifteen games in but the battles for promotion are very much taking shape.

Championship review -Boro’s title?

The Championship takes another step closer to the end of season and it appears that Middlesbrough have a good chance of taking the Championship after taking all three points with an injury time winner. The league leaders had travelled to Bolton Wanderers and it would have looked like an easy win for the visitors. The already relegated Bolton had taken a surprise lead around the hour but the lead would just over twelve minutes when Jordan Rhodes levelled with the first of two. The league leaders seemed to not be able to find away through as they failed to convert many of their chances, but in added on time Rhodes headed home the winner to keep a little space between them and Burnley, who had beaten Birmingham to claim second spot ahead of Brighton.

The Clarets had found it hard work against the home side as they looked to keep their title chances alive. Having taken the lead in the first half Burnley looked like they could get a narrow 1-0 win but Birmingham levelled when Heaton could only parry a shot which enabled Maghoma to put the ball in the back of the net. There was relieve for the visitors when Andre Gray scored his sixth in nine games.

Brighton who had scored a 5-0 win on the Friday night against Fulham, saw their brief gap of one point increased to four following Boro’s win. The hammering they gave to Fulham, boosted their goal difference to plus 24. This though still not enough with Middlesbrough and Burnley having plus 32. The victory though gives them opportunity to close the gap depending on midweek results.

Midweek sees Burnley and Middlesbrough face off at Turf Moor. Middlesbrough won the previous tie 1-0 and a repeat of that will ultimately see Boro in the driving seat and a points gap. Should Burnley win then they will have a point advantage with a chance to increase it should they later beat Preston. Brighton will host QPR hoping to avoid a repeat of the the 2-2 draw where Seagulls had lost a 2-0 lead. A defeat could certainly hinder their chances but then so could a draw depending on the result between the top two. On Saturday though Brighton travel to Charlton. With the southeast London club all but relegated a victory should be Brighton’s, but seeing that Charlton scored a 2-0 win at home to Middlesbrough the visitors will certainly not take anything for granted.

Notably if we fastfoward to the final game of the season, Charlton, depending on previous results, could once again have a say on the promotion and title direction. They host Burnley. They will be only be playing for pride and to give the fans a good send off, but even a 1-0 victory for them could see Burnley’s title hopes or automatic promotion chances blown away. Unfortunately for the hosts, those chances of causing an upset may very well be nil. The result at Turf Moor saw the Clarets post a 4-0 win.

Middlesbrough host Brighton in what could be a tasty match. Brighton will hope to avenge their 3-0 defeat in the previous tie, they know that it could mean the difference between automatic promotion or playoff. It will certainly be an interesting end to the season. Two automatically go up so someone will be disappointed.

Chasing the Championship – Road to the Premier League

As close as the chase for the Premier League title is, the chase for the Championship and promotion to the top flight is also very close. With four points separating the top four and seven between second placed Middlesbrough and sixth place, things are looking very interesting. Out of the top six, only third placed Brighton have yet to take their chance of Premier League football. Their closest opportunity to Premier League participation has been two play off place defeats. Will the play off runs put them in good stead for a Wembley visit or can they nail the automatic promotion that has eluded them for some time. Here’s how the weekend (26-28 Feb)

Hull opened the Championship’s latest round of fixtures against Sheffield Wednesday, who were looking to further secure their play off spot and brief hopes of automatic promotion. It ended goalless despite the possession and number of shots on goal. Naturally of course the stats count for nothing if you cant convert and so Hull’s chance to increase the gap between them and second place was missed.

Whilst Hull were blowing their opportunity, Burnley doing hard to overcome theirs. After 45 minutes the game was goalless but three second half goals in the space of 16 minutes saw Bolton’s hopes of victory dashed. Having gone 1-0 up in the 69th minute, the lead wasnt to last.  Two goals from Andre Gray (74,85) helped  see his tally rise to 18 and the visitors to the top of the table. The Clarets though will need to make sure they that they keep matters in their own hands having played additional games compared to rivals Hull and Middlesbrough.

Middlesbrough kept the pressure on as they increased their unbeaten run to 4 games with a win over struggling Fulham. An early goal from the promotion chasers together with a second first half goal secured the points and moved Boro level on points with Hull. With two games in hand to all but one of the other promotion chasers around them, it is surely advantage to the North Eastern club if they can take maximum points from those respective games.

As if that wasnt enough for Hull, south coast side Brighton are hanging on in the title race.As they go into their Monday night game against Leeds Utd, the Seagulls have a chance to close the gap on Burnley to 2 points as they hope to make their first visit to the Premier League and the return to the top flight for the first time since 1983.

With ten games to go the chase for the championship looks certain to be another close on.