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Who's coming up to the Premier League? It's a crucial weekend in the promotion battle

There’s still plenty of time for twists and turns yet.

IT’S BEEN BUBBLING away for some months now but the frenetic race for promotion from the Championship comes to a boil this weekend as those sides vying for ascension reach the penultimate furlong.

With only three points separating the top four teams and a couple of play-off berths still up for grabs, it couldn’t be any tighter as the promised land of the top-flight draws tantalisingly close for those in contention.

After eight months and 44 games of hard work and toil, the next three days will go along way to determining the final standings at both ends of the table.

screenshot.1429887435.54629 Source: The42.ie

Watford are currently in the driving seat after stealing a march on their rivals last time out as they capitalised on slip-ups from Bournemouth and Norwich. Slavisa Jokanovic’s side are on the brink of a return to the Premier League for the first time since 2007.

Before the drama unfolds, here’s the current state of play:

1. Watford (85 points)

Watford have won their last four league games and have timed their charge to perfection. The Hornets travel south to Brighton tomorrow for the weekend’s early kick-off knowing three points could, depending on other results later in the day, secure automatic promotion.

Soccer - Sky Bet Championship - Nottingham Forest v Watford - The City Ground Source: PA Archive/Press Association Images

Should they prevail at the Amex Stadium and one of Bournemouth or Middlesbrough lose, and Norwich City fail to record victory, Watford will be promoted with a game to spare.

Leading the Championship brings its own pressures, however, and Chris Hughton’s Brighton are desperately searching for points of their own as they look to secure their status for next season.

But, most significantly, Watford’s fate is in their own hands.

Fixtures: (A) v Brighton, Saturday; (H) Sheff Wed, 2 May.

2. AFC Bournemouth (84 points)

Whatever happens in the next two games, it’s been an incredible season for Bournemouth but that will be of scant consolation if they cannot finish the job and secure a place in the Premier League for the first time.

Just six seasons ago, the Cherries were in League Two but now they are on the cusp of history. Eddie Howe’s side have stuttered down the final stretch and last week’s draw with Sheffield Wednesday was a setback.

Soccer - Sky Bet Championship - AFC Bournemouth v Wolverhampton Wanderers - Dean Court Source: John Walton

They welcome Neil Lennon’s Bolton to the south coast on Monday evening and will have the benefit of knowing all the other results by the time they kick-off. Conversely, they could find themselves down in fourth should Middlesbrough and Norwich both win on Saturday.

Many expected the season’s surprise package to fade away towards the business end of proceedings but Bournemouth have maintained their fine form from start to finish and now the end line is in sight.

Fixtures: (H) v Bolton, Monday; (A) v Charlton, 2 May.

3. Middlesbrough (84 points)

Consecutive defeats to Watford and Bournemouth threatened to derail Boro’s season but last Friday’s hard-fought win at Norwich has kept Aitor Karanka’s charges in the hunt for automatic promotion.

They can put the pressure back on Bournemouth with victory over Fulham at Craven Cottage on Saturday afternoon but they still need the Cherries to slip-up in one of their final two outings given their inferior goal difference.

Soccer - Sky Bet Championship - Norwich City v Middlesbrough - Carrow Road Source: Stephen Pond

Three wins on the bounce means Boro go into the final few games with momentum and with a home game against Brighton to conclude their campaign, they’re sure to be breathing down the top two’s neck.

Fixtures: (A) v Fulham, Saturday; (H) v Brighton, 2 May.

4. Norwich (82 points)

Norwich suffered that damaging defeat to Boro last week and now find themselves in fourth, three points adrift of the leaders. Already assured of a place in the play-offs, Alex Neil’s side go into Saturday’s meeting against Rotherham with nothing to lose.

The lottery of the Play-offs is the most likely outcome but the Championship has already shown its tendency to throw up twists and turns.

Fixtures: (A) v Rotheram, Sat; (H) v Fulham, 2 May.

Race for the Play-offs

Brentford and Wolves have been in the hunt for much of the season but time is running out for the pair. Both have 72 points on the board but the gap between them and sixth-placed Ipswich is now three points.

Soccer - Sky Bet Championship - Derby County v Blackpool - iPro Stadium Source: EMPICS Sport

Brentford travel to Reading on the back of a four game winless run while Wolves go to Wigan. Both need to win and try to improve their goal difference if they are to harbour any hopes of usurping either Derby or Ispwich.

Derby can assure themselves of a Play-off berth with victory at Millwall while Mick McCarthy’s Tractor Boys can all but do the same when they host Nottingham Forest at Portman Road.

Relegation dogfight

Wigan and Millwall retain hope of pulling off a great escape but it’s not looking good for either. The Latics, who recently appointed Gary Caldwell as manager, know anything less than victory over Wolves will see them relegated to the third tier just two years after lifting the FA Cup.

The news that Rotherham have been deducted three points for fielding an ineligible player has handed those below them a lifeline but it may just be too little, too late for Wigan and Millwall.

Soccer - Sky Bet Championship - Blackburn Rovers v Millwall - Ewood Park Source: PA Wire/Press Association Images

Millwall lie four points adrift of safety with Saturday representing a last chance saloon while Blackpool’s fate has long been sealed as they lie rock bottom with just 25 points and a goal difference of -54.

This weekend’s Championship fixtures:

Saturday 3pm unless stated

  • Brighton v Watford (12.15pm)
  • Sheffield Wednesday v Leeds (12.30pm)
  • Birmingham v Charlton
  • Cardiff v Blackpool
  • Fulham v Middlesbrough
  • Huddersfield v Blackburn
  • Ispwich v Notts Forest
  • Millwall v Derby
  • Reading v Brentford
  • Rotheram v Norwich
  • Wigan v Wolves
  • Bournemouth v Bolton (Mon, 7.45pm)

Who do you want to get promoted to the Premier League? Would Watford, with four Irish players in their ranks, be your pick or how about Bournemouth and Harry Arter? 

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About the author:

Ryan Bailey

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