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Can Burnley reach 100 points & who is going down?

Burnley boss Vincent Kompany is on course to lead the Clarets back to the Premier League, while Wigan counterpart Shaun Maloney is going to need a miracle to keep the Latics in the Championship

The Championship returns for the end of season run-in on Friday as runaway league leaders Burnley host Sunderland.

It looks inevitable that the Clarets will be returning to the Premier League after a single season back in the EFL but who will be joining them in the top flight next campaign and who might be able to pull off the great escape at the bottom of the league?

Champions-elect Burnley on course for century

It has seemed like a matter of when and not if Vincent Kompany’s men will claim the Championship title for a number of months now.

The Clarets are unbeaten at home all season and last lost in the league before the break for the World Cup in November.

The Belgian has overhauled the squad that was relegated from the Premier League on the final day of last season and changed the team’s playing style from the one synonymous with the team during their time in the top flight under Sean Dyche.

They now need 17 points from their final nine games to become the first second-tier side since Leicester City in 2013-14 to break the 100-point barrier and win the league in real style.

Former Burnley winger Glen Little, who is part of BBC Lancashire’s commentary team on the Clarets, says Kompany has “transformed” the club.

“They have been unbelievable this season,” he said.

“So much has changed from the Dyche squad of last year with Kompany introducing more than 20 players, from a range of countries that they’d never been shopping in before. The impact that some of them have made has been almost instant and astute loan signings like top scorer Nathan Tella from Southampton have also helped.

“The club really has been transformed with the changes that Kompany has made and the style of play that he has introduced. Neutrals are now commenting just how good it is to watch Burnley play.

“They’ve lost only twice all season, they’ve scored more and conceded less than any other team in the Championship and the aim now will be to add to the young squad they have, to make sure that they return to the top flight and stay there.”

Nathan Tella
Southampton loanee Nathan Tella has scored five goals in his past two league appearances for Burnley and has 17 goals in 34 Championship appearances this season

No panic at Blades but Boro buoyant

Sheffield United looked to be cruising to second place behind Burnley, with a 10-point gap over third-placed Middlesbrough in February.

However, four defeats in their past seven league matches mean their advantage over in-form Boro is just three points, albeit with a game in hand on the Teessiders.

The Bramall Lane side, who face Manchester City in an FA Cup semi-final, were unable to add to their squad in January because of a transfer embargo and a proposed takeover of the club by Nigerian businessman Dozy Mmobuosi remains incomplete.

“Sheffield United players and staff don’t panic. The reason they don’t panic is that they have a squad awash with players who’ve been here before; including midfielder Oliver Norwood, who is competing for a fourth promotion to the Premier League,” BBC Radio Sheffield sport editor Andy Giddings said.

“The Blades ‘wobble’ was almost signposted, and accepted, before it happened, and clearly for experienced players it’s no surprise that the chasing pack have closed in.

“That calmness is a key reason why they retain a confidence that they’ll go up. That added to the pragmatism and focus of manager Paul Heckingbottom is the reason why the football side has progressed despite the widely reported financial issues that have affected the club.

“The cuts behind the scenes have been no reason to sulk or blame on the field. Those issues will be in sharper focus in the summer when promotion will be secured or not.

“The Blades’ financial gamble on going up is in safe hands. The rest of it is out of their control.”

Boro boss Michael Carrick has won 16 of his 23 matches in charge after they made a dreadful start to the campaign under Chris Wilder.

He’ll need to keep up or even improve on that winning ratio for their final eight matches if he’s to guide the club back up to the Premier League after six seasons in the Championship.

Play-off places up for grabs

Championship table

Fourth-placed Luton’s strong form behind Middlesbrough means it looks like just two of the play-off spots are still up for grabs.

Blackburn, beaten 3-2 by the Blades in a pulsating FA Cup quarter-final two weeks ago, have spent almost the entire campaign in the top six and are four points clear of the chasers, with a game in hand.

Sat behind them in sixth are a Millwall side who beat Sheffield United and drew with runaway leaders Burnley only to lose to lowly Huddersfield in the final game before the international break.

That will have given a timely boost to the teams behind, most of whom have had slip ups of their own in the past few weeks.

Seventh-placed Norwich have failed to win any of their previous three and could probably do without a home game against the Blades on Saturday.

Coventry are level on points with the Canaries and in 18-goal striker Viktor Gyokeres boast the league’s second-highest scorer. In the 22 years since they were relegated from the the Premier League the Sky Blues have never competed in the second-tier play-offs.

Two points further back are Carlos Corberan’s West Brom, who have a game in hand on the three teams above them and host the Lions in what could prove to be a pivotal clash on Saturday.

Watford, who are on their third manager of the season after Chris Wilder replaced Slaven Bilic this month, are level on points with the Baggies but just two wins from their past 11 games means their top six hopes seem slim.

The Hornets travel to local rivals Luton, managed by Rob Edwards who started the season in charge at Vicarage Road, on Saturday in a match they can ill-afford to lose for numerous reasons.

Sunderland and Preston are both seven points off the top six and will hope they can put together runs of form that could yet see them involved in the final season shake-up but it has to be said prospects of that happening seem far-fetched.

Stung Latics doomed?

It’s been another miserable season for Wigan and their fans.

The Latics sacked Leam Richardson, who took them up as League One champions last season, and the man they brought in to replace him, Kolo Toure, after he failed to win any of his nine games in charge.

Shaun Maloney, part of the Wigan team who won the FA Cup 10 years ago, has made them more competitive, with just three defeats from his 10 games so far but they’ve won only one of them and off-field issues have now taken centre stage once more.

“The club had a positive feel performance-wise with Maloney at the helm – the team looked more joined and there was a style of play evident, you felt an uplift was around the corner. That was until failure to pay staff and players on time led to a three-point deduction and rocked the club, and the fanbase,” BBC Radio Manchester sport reporter Mike Minay said.

“Knowing that it had already happened, social media became a toxic environment against the club’s owner – not without reason, it’s not even three years since Wigan were last in administration – a move that ripped the club apart from the inside. The points deduction was just the tip of the iceberg.

“But, in credit to the chairman and the board, they faced the fans. Wanting to be open and honest has been a welcome, refreshing thing to see from a club with its back against the wall.

“Fans who were invited to the meeting have definitely become more relaxed and more positive about the future. But in the words of the chairman the proof will be as ‘actions speak louder than words’.”

The three-point deduction means they restart the season eight points adrift of safety, having played a game more. A return to League One surely beckons.

Blackpool bolstered their survival bid with a thumping 6-1 success over lacklustre QPR but followed it with a 4-1 home reverse by Coventry and their bid to avoid the drop may require assistance from teams around them.

Huddersfield claimed a surprise 1-0 win at play-off chasing Millwall to give their survival chances a shot in the arm but, with a tricky fixture list, they’re going to have to hope veteran boss Neil Warnock still has a few more unlikely results left in his tank.

As it stands, Cardiff are three points above the Terriers, with Rotherham a further point clear. However, the Bluebirds and Millers both have a game in hand after their meeting before the break was postponed with 48 minutes played after heavy rainfall left the pitch unplayable.

The circumstances surrounding the game being called off have led to some bad blood between the two clubs and the EFL decided on Thursday that the match will be replayed in its entirety.

QPR have plummeted down the table since setting the early season pace and although boss Gareth Ainsworth has said that just two more wins will be enough to secure their survival, recent form suggests that won’t be as straightforward as it sounds.

Reading are nine points clear of the relegation zone but with a potential points deduction hanging over them they could yet be plunged right into the mire and have chosen the wrong time to go on a run of five games without a win.

Championship table