EFL

Championship run-in: Where the top four stand in race for automatic promotion

By Sports Desk April 23, 2024

The battle for automatic promotion from the Sky Bet Championship continues to intensify as Leeds moved into the top-two with a nail-biting win over Middlesbrough on Monday.

Leaders Leicester sit just two points ahead of third-placed Ipswich and the Foxes take on Southampton tonight, where defeat for fourth-placed Saints would all but end their automatic hopes.

Here, the PA news agency takes a look at the remaining weeks of an increasingly tense Championship run-in.

Leicester (1st, played 43, 91 points, +42 goal difference)

Run-in: Southampton (h), Preston (a), Blackburn (h).

Once seemingly certain to return to the top flight after a single season in the second tier – Enzo Maresca’s side were 17 points clear of Leeds – Leicester have suffered a crisis of confidence just at the wrong time.

A 2-1 home defeat by Middlesbrough on February 17 launched a run of 10 league games culminating in a 1-0 reverse at Plymouth which saw them lose six times and collect just 10 of the 30 points available.

However, a 2-1 victory over play-off chasing West Brom took them back to the top of the table and with two of their last three fixtures at the King Power Stadium, they will hope they can make home advantage count.

Leeds (2nd, played 44, 90 points, +43 goal difference)

Run-in: QPR (a), Southampton (h).

As with Leicester, Leeds have suffered a wobble at the most inopportune moment.

A 2-1 defeat at Coventry on April 6 was their first in the league since the turn of the year and, having seen Sunderland leave Elland Road with a point three days later, Daniel Farke’s men lost on home soil for the first time this season last Saturday when Sammie Szmodics fired Blackburn to victory in West Yorkshire.

But they came out on the right end of a seven-goal thriller in Teesside on Monday, claiming a 4-3 win over Middlesbrough that Farke will hope can be a springboard for their final two fixtures.

Ipswich (3rd, played 43, 89 points, +32 goal difference)

Run-in: Hull (a), Coventry (a), Huddersfield (h).

Ipswich’s unlikely tilt at back-to-back promotions has hit the buffers in recent weeks after a remarkable run of nine wins in 10 Championship outings was brought to an end by derby rivals Norwich.

A 1-0 defeat at Carrow Road on April 6 has been followed by home draws with Watford and Middlesbrough and Town must rediscover the form which earned manager Kieran McKenna the accolade of Championship Manager of the Season on Sunday evening if they are to reach the top flight.

However, all three of their remaining opponents still have something to play for, with Hull and Coventry on the fringes of the play-off race and Huddersfield battling desperately to avoid the drop.

Southampton (played 43, 84 points, +29 goal difference)

Run-in: Leicester (a), Stoke (h), Leeds (a).

Southampton’s bad patch arrived in February, when they lost to Bristol City, Hull and Millwall either side of a 2-0 success at West Brom in the space of 12 days.

A 3-0 win over Preston a week ago was their third in succession but despite taking the lead at Cardiff on Saturday, the Bluebirds claimed a last-gasp victory and Saints are now six points adrift of the top two.

How they fare against Leicester may go a long way to deciding their fate, while a visit to Leeds on the final day of the season promises to be a must-watch.

Related items

  • Emery admits 'I have my dreams' with Villa after sealing Champions League qualification Emery admits 'I have my dreams' with Villa after sealing Champions League qualification

    Unai Emery has his sights set on winning the Premier League or Champions League with Aston Villa after securing a top-four finish earlier this week.

    Fifth-place Tottenham's defeat to title-chasing Manchester City on Tuesday meant Villa will play in Europe's premier club competition next season for the first time in 41 years.

    Emery's side conclude a memorable season – in which they also reached the Europa Conference League semi-finals – away at Crystal Palace on the final day.

    And the Spaniard is already focused on achieving bigger and better things with Villa. 

    "It really was amazing when the [Tottenham-Manchester City] match finished," he smiled. "At the beginning of the season, it was really a dream. Of course, we worked hard to try to be there.

    "I want to get better, and I have my dreams, and I believe in my dreams. Of course, my objectives are to win the Premier League or the Champions League. We are not contenders, but it is our dream to achieve something like that."

    Meanwhile, Palace have enjoyed a strong finish to the season, winning five of their last six games.

    The Eagles could seal a top-half finish with a victory – and other results going their way – and Oliver Glasner has urged his players to use that as inspiration at Selhurst Park.

    "I'm pleased with the performances we've had," he said. "We want to win. We always focus on what we can influence. If we don't do our job, we don't win, we can't be 10th. It's good motivation at home to say thank you to the fans."

    PLAYERS TO WATCH

    Crystal Palace – Jean-Philippe Mateta

    Mateta has scored in each of his last six home Premier League appearances for Palace, netting eight goals along the way. 

    He is now aiming to become only the second Frenchman after Thierry Henry to find the net in seven successive Premier League appearances on home soil.

    Aston Villa – Ollie Watkins

    Watkins has recorded the most assists in the Premier League this season with 13.

    Only Ashley Young has ever provided more during a single Premier League campaign for Villa (14 in 2007-08).

    MATCH PREDICTION: DRAW

    Palace are unbeaten on each of the previous 11 occasions they have finished a top-flight season with a home match (winning seven, drawing four).

    By contrast, Villa have only won once in the 25 occasions they have finished a league campaign with an away game (drawn seven, lost 17).

    That sole victory came against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in 2001-02.

    On a brighter note, Villa are unbeaten in their last 10 Premier League away games in London, winning five of their six this term. 

    With 16 such points this season, a win or draw here would set a new Premier League record for the most achieved during a single campaign.

    Although, you must go back to their title-winning season of 1980-81 for the last time they completed a league double over Palace.

    OPTA WIN PROBABILITY

    Crystal Palace: 31.8%
    Aston Villa: 39.5%
    Draw: 28.7

  • Leverkusen have no time to soak in 'Neverlusen' season - Alonso Leverkusen have no time to soak in 'Neverlusen' season - Alonso

    Xabi Alonso says it will take time for Bayer Leverkusen's undefeated run to their maiden Bundesliga to sink in.

    Long derided as 'Neverkusen' for their failure to win a major title for decades, Leverkusen became the first-ever team in the Bundesliga to complete a full season without a loss following a 2-1 victory over Augsburg in the season finale on Saturday.

    In fact, across the top five European leagues, only Arsenal (2003-04) and Juventus (2011-12) have achieved an invincible season since the start of the millenium. 

    The club hailed the achievement by giving themselves a new nickname on their social media channel - 'Bayer 04 Neverlusen'.

    "It is an exceptional season, not only in Germany but in Europe," Alonso said in a press conference.

    "We deserve now to be part of that history of European football. In 20 years, we will look back, and we will say 'we did that'.

    "It is an important day for the club. We have to be proud of the way we played. 90 points and undefeated. We need a bit more time to value this title. The first Bundesliga title but a big Bundesliga title victory."

    Alonso's team also stretched their European record unbeaten run across all competitions this season to 51 matches as they look to complete the treble next week. 

    Leverkusen face Atalanta on Wednesday in the Europa League final before taking on Kaiserslautern in the German Cup final on May 25.

    "I believe it [the unbeaten title win], but I need more time. But we have no time because we have the next big goal [on Wednesday]. It is unique opportunity," Alonso added.

    "We will remember this day. It is a special day to have the league trophy here and having done it undefeated. This team has now been engraved in Bundesliga history."

  • Forest 'still have to finish the job' against Burnley, says Nuno Forest 'still have to finish the job' against Burnley, says Nuno

    Nuno Espirito Santo insists Nottingham Forest “still have to finish the job” of securing their Premier League safety when they face Burnley at Turf Moor.

    Three points clear of 18th-place Luton Town in 17th, Forest are all but safe from relegation, while it would take an unlikely 12-goal swing in the Hatters’ favour to usurp them.

    Nevertheless, Nuno is not taking anything for granted and has called for focus from his players, who he saluted for their efforts throughout the campaign. 

    "We still have to finish the job," he said. "But credit to the players because it was not an easy season. We have always been able to compete really well in games. 

    "The feeling is always that we should have been better. We have never felt that someone beat us; it was just that we let games get away from us.

    "Yes, in certain games we have been punished, but we have always been a team that wants to attack and score. That is part of our identity.

    "There is still a game to go, and we know how football can go. It is best that we prepare the same way with commitment. We are clear about everything that can happen. It is up to us to achieve what we want."

    Meanwhile, Burnley are preparing for life back in the Championship, with their immediate return secured after last weekend’s defeat at Tottenham.

    And Vincent Kompany says the match marks the first step towards the Clarets' recovery from their disappointment.

    "If we're treating this as the first game of next season, in terms of preparing for next season, then this game is an important game," he said.

    "You only really fail if you fail to learn and that's not the case for us. We've absolutely learned. There is no lack of motivation, no lack of desire. 

    "It's sometimes in human nature to sit down and sulk, to feel sorry for yourself. That is not in the culture here, it's not in my nature, the nature of many people here. 

    "We try to give that to the players – that's ultimately what is going to give them a chance to achieve their goals."

    PLAYERS TO WATCH

    Burnley – Dara O'Shea

    O'Shea has been directly involved in two of the last three goals Burnley have scored at Turf Moor (one goal, one assist).

    The defender will look to build on that against a Forest side that has conceded 23 goals from set-pieces this season, with only three teams ever letting more in during a single Premier League campaign.

    Nottingham Forest – Chris Wood

    Wood is the highest scorer in Burnley’s Premier League history, having netted 49 times for the Clarets in the competition between 2017 and 2022.

    The striker will aim to become the fifth player to score a Premier League goal against Burnley having previously played for them in the division, after Andre Gray, Danny Ings, Michael Keane and Patrick Bamford.

    MATCH PREDICTION: DRAW

    Forest are without a win in each of their last six league meetings with Burnley since a 2-0 victory in December 2012, with four of those ending in a draw.

    The Tricky Trees have failed to win their final league game in each of the last four seasons, since beating Bolton Wanderers 1-0 in 2018-19.

    Meanwhile, Burnley have lost their final Premier League game in each of their last six campaigns at this level.

    The Clarets have also won only twice at home this season. Failure to win here would mean this is the fewest wins they have ever recorded in front of their fans in a single campaign.

    Kompany’s side will need to tighten up in order to avoid that, though, having conceded at least once in each of their last 19 Premier League matches.

    OPTA WIN PROBABILITY

    Burnley: 35.9%
    Nottingham Forest: 34.8%
    Draw: 29.3%

© 2023 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.