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Championship run-in: Southampton join top three in race for automatic promotion

SoccerNews in General Soccer News 15 Apr 2024

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The battle for automatic promotion to the Premier League took a series of fresh twists over the weekend as the contenders endured differing fortunes.

Leaders Ipswich, second-placed Leicester and Leeds in third are separated by just two points with the Foxes having played a game fewer, while Southampton, who have two matches in hand on both the Tractor Boys and United, lie six points further back.

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

Ipswich (1st, 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.

Leicester (2nd, played 42, 88 points, +41 goal difference)

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

Once seemingly certain to return to the top flight after a single season in the wilderness – 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 Friday night’s 1-0 reverse at Plymouth which has seen them lose six times and collect just 10 of the 30 points available.

Their fate, however, remains in their own hands and with three of their last four fixtures taking place at the King Power Stadium – perhaps the most significant of them Saints’ visit next week – they will hope they can make home advantage count.

Leeds (3rd, played 43, 87 points, +42 goal difference)

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

Like the two clubs immediately above them in the table, Leeds have suffered a wobble at the most inopportune moment.

The 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 on Saturday when Sammie Szmodics fired Blackburn to victory in West Yorkshire.

Monday’s trip to Middlesbrough is followed by another away fixture at QPR before Southampton head north for a final-day clash which could have a major say in the promotion race.

Southampton (played 41, 81 points, +27 goal difference)

Run-in: Preston (h), Cardiff (a), 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 run of four wins and only one defeat in their last seven games, including Saturday’s last-gasp 3-2 victory over Watford, has edged them back into the hunt, but points on the board in the latter stages of a season are precious and Saints are playing catch-up.

Russell Martin’s men face difficult trips to Leicester and Leeds, but their cause will be forlorn if they slip up in theoretically less taxing encounters with Preston, Cardiff and Stoke.

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