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Dublin: 16 °C Tuesday 23 April, 2019
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With three games left, who's going to win promotion to the Premier League?

AFC Bournemouth, Norwich City, Middlesbrough and Watford are the main four contenders.

Soccer - Sky Bet Championship - AFC Bournemouth v Middlesbrough - Dean Court Bournemouth's Callum Wilson and Middlesbrough's Adam Clayton in action last month at Dean Court. Source: Steve Paston

WATFORD’S 3-1 WIN last night away to Notts Forest leaves four sides still neck and neck in the Championship in England ahead of what looks like frenetic finale in the race to clinch promotion to next season’s Premier League.

With 43 games played, AFC Bournemouth are top with 83 points just ahead of Norwich City (82) who edge out Watford (82) on goal difference with Middlesbrough (81) back in fourth.

Mathematically fifth-placed Derby County (75) and sixth-placed Ipswich Town (74) can still automatically qualify but it looks like  playoff place is the best they can hope for as they seek to hold off Brentford (7th and 71 points) and Wolves (8th and 71 points).

So how do the top four shape up with just three games each left to play?

1. AFC Bournemouth

The only one of the quartet not to have ever reached the heights of the Premier League, Bournemouth won promotion to the Championship at the end of the 2012-13 season and that marked only the second time they had reached the second tier in English football.

Since losing twice in quick succession to Brentford and Notts Forest at the end of February, they’ve been unbeaten in their last ten league games and have won seven of those encounters.

Callum Wilson’s 19th league goal of the season gave them a 1-0 win away to Reading on Tuesday night. Yann Kermorgant (14) and Brett Pitman (14) have also chipped in with key goals this season while Irish soccer fans will be hoping Harry Arter (8 goals so far this season) can reach the Premier League next year.

Fixtures: (H) v Sheff Wed, 18 April; (H) v Bolton, 27 April; (A) v Charlton, 2 May.

Soccer - Sky Bet Championship - AFC Bournemouth v Wolverhampton Wanderers - Dean Court Bournemouth's Harry Arter. Source: John Walton

2. Norwich City

After being relegated last season, Norwich are bidding for a swift return to the Premier League. They’re the most in-form team in the Championship having won their last five games and have lost only once in their last 15 matches.

Goals from Jonny Howson and Graham Dorrans handed them a 2-0 victory away to Leeds on Tuesday night. Cameron Jerome (18) is their top scorer this season while Ireland international Wes Hoolahan has hit the net four times.

Their crunch match is at home to third placed Middlesbrough on Friday night while their last two matches are against Rotherham and Fulham teams battling relegation.

Fixtures: (H) v Middlesbrough, 17 April; (A) v Rotherham, 25 April; (H) v Fulham, 2 May.

Soccer - Sky Bet Championship - Norwich City v Nottingham Forest - Carrow Road Norwich City's Wes Hoolahan. Source: Matt Vincent

3. Watford

Last night’s win was Watford’s third-in-a-row and they’ve only lost once in their last ten league games. Odion Ighalo put them ahead at the City Ground before Matthew Connolly doubled their lead. Gary Gardner pulled a goal back for Notts Forest but Almen Abdi notched their third to seal Watford’s success.

Goals haven’t been a problem this season for the Vicarage Road club with Troy Deeney and Ighalo both netting 20 times in the league and Matej Vydra has 14 goals to his name. Watford last featured in the Premier League in the 2006-07 season but suffered relegation and have been trying to return to those heights ever since.

They came closest two years when they lost the playoff final against Crystal Palace. Their closing fixtures are against three clubs currently between 11th and 19th in the tabel.

Fixtures: (H) v Birmingham, 18 April; (A) v Brighton, 25 April; (H) v Sheff Wed, 2 May.

Soccer - Sky Bet Championship - Watford v Middlesbrough - Vicarage Road Watford's Troy Deeney. Source: John Walton

4. Middlesbrough

The North-East club were relegated to the Championship in May 2009 after an 11-year stay in the Premier League. They’ve been battling to reach the top tier ever since and have mounted a strong assault this year under head coach Aitor Karanka.

A 2-1 win at home to Wolves on Tuesday night maintained their push for promotion with Jelle Vossen and Patrick Bamford on target. Recent defeats to Watford and Bournemouth had represented major setbacks for Boro.

Bamford is their top scorer with 17 league goals while Grant Leadbitter has been on target 12 times. Friday night’s trip to Norwich is a huge game for them.

Fixtures: (A) v Norwich, 17 April; (A) v Fulham, 25 April; (H) v Brighton, 2 May.

Soccer - Sky Bet Championship - Middlesbrough v Rotherham United - Riverside Stadium Middlesbrough's Patrick Bamford. Source: Richard Sellers

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About the author:

Fintan O'Toole

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