As soon the final whistle blew at Loftus Road on Monday, hundreds of QPR fans invaded the pitch hoping that their would be no more goals at Carrow Road and that their team had clinched promotion to the Premier League. However, in the sixth minute of injury time Simeon Jackson scored completed his hat trick to give Norwich all three points against Derby, ensuring that the penultimate weekend of the regular season will be another nailbiter.
The first issue to be settled this season was not a huge surprise: Prestonwere relegated on Monday. Having been promoted in 1999/2000, the Lillywhites reached the playoffs four times and had six top ten finishes during their stay in the Championship, but only spent one week outside the bottom five places this season and had been in the relegation zone since mid November. Their recent mini revival (one defeat in seven games) was ended abruptly when they were hammered at Millwall and a home defeat by Cardiff confirmed their fate.
Five clubs won both games over the Easter holiday: Nottingham Forest, Millwall and Norwich all collected six points, but Sheffield United’s two wins – the first time they’ve won back to back games since November -probably came too late to save them. Middlesbrough finally seem to have found the type of form that had them installed as pre-season favourites: they’ve only lost one of their last ten games and perhaps 2011/12 might be the time to back them for promotion.
At the other end of the success scale, three teams other than Preston lost both their games. Ipswich and Bristol City haven’t exactly set the competition alight this season and although Derby were beaten by Burnley and Norwich, they are more or less safe.
Before we look at this weekend’s matches, it’s worth recapping what’s at stake. Norwich can still overtake QPR but Cardiff can only equal their points total – but for either of those scenarios to happen, the leaders would have to lose both their remaining games. The last play off place looks like a four way competition between Forest, Millwall, Burnley and Leeds, but anything could – and probably will – happen over the next couple of weeks.
The situation at the bottom is a lot clearer. If Doncaster beat Leicester on Saturday afternoon, Sheffield United and Scunthorpe are both down. If Doncaster don’t beat Leicester, the Blades and the Iron must win both of their remaining games to stand any chance of avoiding the drop, but as both of them have one game against teams that are chasing promotion this looks unlikely. Doncaster and Crystal Palace could still be relegated but there would have to be a couple of ridiculous scorelines to overturn the advantage they have in terms of both points and goal difference.
The weekend’s games kick off at 12:45pm (Sky Sports 2) on Saturday when Burnley travel to Leeds – neither team are out of contention for the playoffs but on current form the Clarets look the more likely to be battling for a place in the Premier League next month.
The games of the week are at the City Ground and the New Den, where all four sides need to win for different reasons. In another one of those surprising stats that have cropped up this season, Scunthorpe have won two of their their last three league visits to Nottingham Forest and won the game at Glanford Park in February so Forest need to be at their best.
Swansea haven’t won at Millwall since March 1930 and have lost nine of the twelve games there since since, so it’s probably just as well that the Swans have a guaranteed playoff place. The Lions have probably outperformed expectations this season and although they’ve been outside the top six since the autumn, there always seems to be one surprise team in contention for promotion at the end of the season and Millwall certainly fit the bill.
This week’s games finish on Monday, when Cardiff host Middlesbrough and Norwich travel to Portsmouth in another double header on Sky Sports 1 (5:00pm onwards). They may be playing for the automatic promotion place by then.