sport news Focus on race to the Premier League at top of the Championship

Another crucial weekend lies ahead in the Sky Bet Championship with those teams aiming for promotion to the Premier League entering the season's home straight.

Two of them meet at Elland Road on Friday night as Leeds United play West Bromwich Albion in a meeting of third and fourth.

On Saturday, the current leaders Norwich City face a demanding trip to Millwall, while play-off hopefuls Middlesbrough and Bristol City face trips to Wigan Athletic and Preston North End respectively.

And on Monday night, second-placed Sheffield United take on their bitter rivals Sheffield Wednesday at Hillsborough to round off the weekend.

We focus in on what is proving a fascinating Championship promotion race.

The top half of the Championship table ahead of this weekend's matches

How the top half of the Sky Bet Championship is shaping up ahead of this weekend's games 

1st NORWICH CITY

Played 34; Goal difference +24; Points 66

For a team that finished a lowly 14th last season and then saw two of their best players, James Maddison and Josh Murphy, depart for the Premier League in the summer, Norwich are enjoying an extraordinary season.

Their highly likeable German manager Daniel Farke has performed wonders in assembling a young and vibrant team on limited resources and they've been in the automatic promotion places for most of the campaign.

Farke unearthed an absolute gem in the Finnish striker Teemu Pukki, who was out of contract at Danish club Brondby yet has come in and scored 24 goals this season.

Ben Godfrey celebrates his goal in Norwich's crucial 3-2 win over Bristol City last weekend

Ben Godfrey celebrates his goal in Norwich's crucial 3-2 win over Bristol City last weekend

This weekend 

FRIDAY

Leeds United vs West Brom (7.45pm)

Live on Sky Sports Main Event and Sky Sports Football 

SATURDAY (all 3pm)

Aston Villa vs Derby County

Brentford vs Queens Park Rangers

Hull City vs Birmingham City

Ipswich Town vs Reading

Millwall vs Norwich City

Preston North End vs Bristol City

Rotherham United vs Blackburn Rovers

Stoke City vs Nottingham Forest

Swansea City vs Bolton Wanderers

Wigan Athletic vs Middlesbrough

MONDAY

Sheffield Wednesday vs Sheffield United (7.45pm) 

Live on Sky Sports Main Event and Sky Sports Football 

And at 28, Pukki is one of the older members of a side built on youthful exuberance from either academy graduates or talents picked up cheaply in the European market.

Max Aarons (19), Ben Godfrey (21), Jamal Lewis (21), Todd Cantwell (21) and Emiliano Buendia (22) are all enjoying fine campaigns.

Crucially, Norwich have acquired the knack of scoring late goals to salvage precious points and their high-intensity approach has served them well on the road, where their tally of 31 goals is a division best.

They proved their promotion credentials once again last weekend with a 3-2 win over Bristol City and their fixture run-in from here is pretty kind.

You should fully expect the Canaries to return to the Premier League for the first time since the 2015-16 campaign. The challenge will be to stay there on a limited budget.

Promotion odds: 2/7

Remaining fixtures: Saturday - Millwall (A); March 8 - Swansea City (H); March 13 - Hull City (H); March 16 - Rotherham United (A); March 30 - Middlesbrough (A); April 6 - Queens Park Rangers (H); April 10 - Reading (H); April 13 - Wigan Athletic (A); April 19 - Sheffield Wednesday (H); April 22 - Stoke City (A); April 27 - Blackburn Rovers (H); May 5 - Aston Villa (A)

Norwich's charismatic German manager Daniel Farke celebrates their win over Bristol City

Norwich's charismatic German manager Daniel Farke celebrates their win over Bristol City

2nd SHEFFIELD UNITED

Played 34; Goal difference +25; Points 64

Having established themselves in the Championship top six with a 4-1 win over Aston Villa at the beginning of September, Sheffield United haven't dropped out of the top six since.

Chris Wilder has moulded a side that doesn't want for goals - only Norwich and West Brom have scored more - but also possesses a steely resoluteness at the back.

That enables them to get results such as last Saturday's 1-0 win over West Brom at The Hawthorns that took them back above their Yorkshire rivals Leeds and into second place.

The remainder of the season could well prove a nip and tuck race between those two for the easy route into the Premier League with their March 16 meeting at Elland Road set to be crucial.

Kieran Dowell (right) celebrates scoring his winning goal for Sheffield United at West Brom

Kieran Dowell (right) celebrates scoring his winning goal for Sheffield United at West Brom

Championship top scorers chart

23 - Teemu Pukki (Norwich)

22 - Billy Sharp (Sheffield United)

21 - Che Adams (Birmingham)

20 - Tammy Abraham (Aston Villa)

19 - Neal Maupay (Brentford)

17 - Jay Rodriguez (West Brom)

16 - Jarrod Bowen (Hull), Dwight Gayle (West Brom)

15 - Oliver McBurnie (Swansea), Lewis Grabban (Nottingham Forest)

14 - Kemar Roofe (Leeds United)

The Blades' lethal strike partnership between Billy Sharp, second only to Pukki in the Championship top scorers chart on 22 goals, and David McGoldrick has proved important.

The performances of Oliver Norwood and Mark Duffy in midfield, plus Enda Stevens at left-back, have helped replace the lost creativity when David Brooks made the move to Bournemouth.

Ahead of Monday's crunch derby with Wednesday, a side who more than anyone would love to dent their promotion aspirations, Wilder's men find themselves in excellent form.

Since tossing away a three-goal lead in the final eight minutes at Aston Villa on February 8, United have beaten Middlesbrough, Reading and West Brom to underline their credentials.

March will tell us plenty about whether they can stand the head, with meetings with Wednesday, Leeds and then Bristol City to come.

Promotion odds: 3/5

Remaining fixtures: Monday - Sheffield Wednesday (A); March 9 - Rotherham United (H); March 12 - Brentford (H); March 16 - Leeds United (A); March 30 - Bristol City (H); April 6 - Preston North End (A); April 10 - Birmingham City (A); April 13 - Millwall (H); April 19 - Nottingham Forest (H); April 22 - Hull City (A); April 27 - Ipswich Town (H); May 5 - Stoke City (A)

Billy Sharp celebrates scoring in Sheffield United's 3-3 draw at Aston Villa last month

Billy Sharp celebrates scoring in Sheffield United's 3-3 draw at Aston Villa last month

3rd LEEDS UNITED

Played 34; Goal difference +17; Points 64

Has another team managed by Marcelo Bielsa run out of steam at the crucial point of the season?

The man himself scoffed at the suggestion following Tuesday night's 1-0 loss at QPR, telling the journalist who dared ask that 'your question does not have any basis... what you can say is this team has too much energy.'

But the facts, figures and form tell a different story. The setback at Loftus Road was their sixth defeat in 11 matches across all competitions since December 29. Leeds United have taken just 10 league points since Boxing Day.

Everyone knows that Bielsa is a hard taskmaster - the 'Spygate' scandal certainly uncovered his obsessive attention to detail - and in what is a highly demanding league anyway, Leeds are certainly faltering at the wrong moment.

Have Marcelo Bielsa's Leeds United run out of steam at the crucial moment of the season?

Have Marcelo Bielsa's Leeds United run out of steam at the crucial moment of the season?

The Argentine seems to be feeling the strains of a marathon campaign as well - he was photographed slumped in the tunnel after the loss in west London, with the appearance of a man distinctly short of energy and solutions.

Yet nobody is about to write Leeds off, and neither should they. As the Yorkshire side chase a return to the Premier League after 15 years away, they're only outside the top two on goal difference.

Recent home wins over Swansea and Bolton have kept them right up there but there is now a lot riding on Friday night's meeting with West Brom, who themselves will be elevated into the automatic promotion race should they win.

One of the issues is that Bielsa is without 14-goal leading scorer Kemar Roofe, who injured his knee in the Swansea game and won't be back anytime soon.

Kemar Roofe has been instrumental for Leeds this season, scoring 14 goals in the league

Kemar Roofe has been instrumental for Leeds this season, scoring 14 goals in the league

Roofe is the only Leeds player in double figures

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