The race for Premier League promotion is red hot

Kyle Bonn
NBC Sports

With the top flight title race fading fast as Liverpool pummels the Premier League into oblivion in record fashion, an appreciation can be had for what the Reds are accomplishing. That is for another time.

For now, we are going to take a moment to appreciate the race below them. There is a red-hot battle for Premier League promotion that is tighter than we’ve seen in a while.

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Y’all, the Championship is LIT.

West Brom sits atop the league with 59 points from 31 matches, and the Baggies seem a solid bet to make their way back to the Premier League after a short one-season dip. Below them, a battle rages that could even threaten the top dogs should West Brom slip even a little.

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Leeds United sits second, occupying an automatic promotion position as they have for most season. That may change today. As Leeds stands on 56 points after its draw with Brentford yesterday, Fulham lurks just a point back, and with a match today against fellow Londoners Millwall, a win for the Whites would see them knock Leeds off the top two for the first time since early November.

Behind Fulham is Brentford with 54 points, level with fifth-placed Nottingham Forest and only ahead thanks to its league-best +27 goal differential. Yes, you read that right, the league leader in goal differential is in fourth.

Preston North End in sixth and Bristol City in seventh are each level on 50, meaning the gap from second to seventh is a measly six points. Things could get truly insane down the stretch.

Of the top seven teams, five of them have lost at least once in their last five matches, with only Fulham and Preston owning pristine form of late. West Brom had lost just once all Championship season until the holidays hit and suddenly they’ve dropped three of their last seven. Leeds is facing a full-on collapse, having won just twice since mid-December and losing four of its last six, with just four points gained in that span. Fulham is in good form with four wins in its last five, but they are living on the edge having skated by via a one-goal margin in each of their last seven victories and 10 of their last 11. Brentford would be formidable if the Bees could figure out their road form, with six of their nine losses coming away from Griffin Park. Nottingham Forest can’t get out of its own way, following up a signature 2-0 win over Leeds with a 1-0 gack attack at home to 21st placed Charlton Athletic last time out.

All this mayhem makes each match critically important – and therefore tense as hell. Fulham today could move into an automatic qualifying spot with a win, but if they fail to beat Millwall, it could open them to fall as far as fifth. If this pace keeps up, theoretically a team that had a shot to finish with an automatic qualifying spot could end up out of the playoffs altogether with a few poor results late in the season. Building room for error in the next month or two will be critical for teams that wish to have a chance down the stretch.

There are some critical matches coming up as well. West Brom plays Nottingham Forest on Saturday that has a make-or-break feel to it for both sides, especially the Baggies who then have Bristol City next. Leeds plays Bristol City on Saturday hoping to put a finger in the leaky dike. Fulham has a three-game stretch through March that sees them play Bristol City, Brentford, and Leeds looking to prove they belong. As you can see, the Robins have a ton of chances to yank themselves up the table.

For some of these teams like West Brom and Fulham, they are looking to return to the Premier League after short spells down below. For many of the teams fighting for promotion, however, fans are hoping to see their beloved clubs crack the top flight for the first time in quite a while. Leeds United, a storied club that qualified for the Champions League with a third-place finish in 2000, hasn’t been back since relegation in 2003. Another storied club, Forest has not been back to the Premier League since dumped in 1999. Three clubs have never been in the Premier League: Bristol City was relegated from the First Division back in 1979, Preston hasn’t seen top-flight action since 1961, and Brentford hasn’t been in the top flight since 1947 with just five total top flight seasons in club history.

There are still battles to be won in the English top flight, with teams like Chelsea, Tottenham, and Sheffield United battling for a Champions League place while others further down the table fight for their Premier League lives. Still, the race for promotion is proving to be a wild and crazy one just a few blocks down the road.

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