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Battle for place in Premier League hots up

Winger Scott Sinclair has helped fire Swansea into promotion contention
Winger Scott Sinclair has helped fire Swansea City into promotion contention

By David Dulin
BBC Sport Wales

It will take a brave person to guess who will claim the Championship's second automatic promotion place as the final push for the Premier League and a £90m jackpot hots up.

That is of course assuming leaders Queens Park Rangers go on to take top spot - Neil Warnock's side are 10 points clear of third place with nine games to go.

But they face a possible points deduction if they are found guilty of charges relating to the signing of Argentine midfielder Alejandro Faurlin in 2009 and a contract extension last October.

Putting Rangers aside, there are five teams vying for second with just six points separating them.

Norwich City, Swansea City, Cardiff City, Leeds United and Nottingham Forest are all in the hunt and Burnley could throw themselves into the mix too if they win their game in hand.

To add further spice, some of these teams have to play each other before the season ends as they seek automatic promotion and avoid the lottery that is the play-offs.

Norwich captain Grant Holt does his trademark celebration after scoring
Norwich captain Grant Holt does his trademark celebration after scoring

Cardiff and Forest know well the heartache the play-offs can bring, with Forest losing last season's semi-final to Blackpool, who went on to beat Cardiff 3-2 in the final.

Norwich and Leeds are looking for back-to-back promotions after coming up automatically from League One in first and second place respectively, while Burnley, if they can catch up, will want an instant return to the Premier League after being relegated last season.

That leaves Swansea, who missed out on the play-offs by a point last season after slipping out of the top six in the penultimate game, looking to make amends this time around.

What makes this race so compelling is that there is no stand-out team and results over the course of the season have shown how unpredictable the Championship is.

"I think the fight for second has been fantastic," said BBC' football commentator John Motson.

"Cardiff and Swansea have been pursued for a long time by three or four other clubs, and now I think Norwich, after beating Bristol City, have shown a clean pair of heels to the rest.

Jay Bothroyd's form for Cardiff City has earned him an England call-up
Jay Bothroyd's form for Cardiff City earned him an England call-up

"Whether it will stay like that... of course it could only last a matter of a few days - they could lose their next game.

"But if you look at the recent form line, Norwich are the team that haven't been getting beaten.

"The other thing about Norwich is they always score in the last five minutes, which must be galling for teams like Cardiff and Swansea."

He said he thought Swansea had been poised for second position before their "unexpected" loss at Derby.

"To be honest with you, I'm saying Norwich have shown a clean pair of heels, but I'm sure there are more twists and turns and I think this one might go right to the wire, it might go to the last day.

"I think it will be real nip and tuck. It's exciting for those who aren't directly involved."

Lewis McGugan has been Nottingham Forest's top scorer
Lewis McGugan has been Nottingham Forest's top scorer

Second-place Norwich are the form team, unbeaten in seven including a draw and two wins from their last three. They still have to play Swansea and Forest.

The Swans and Forest meet at the Liberty Stadium on Saturday and both sides have to play Burnley, who also have to play Leeds and Cardiff, who in turn both face QPR.

One team who are not in automatic promotion contention but could play a part in shaping the race is Millwall - the Lions have already beaten QPR and Burnley, as well as holding Forest, and have Cardiff, Leeds and Swansea to play.

As well as in-form Norwich, Burnley could be ones to watch as they have lost just one in seven, picking up seven points from the last nine.

Leeds have also picked up seven points from the last nine during a run of two defeats in 24 - at the hands of Cardiff and Swansea.

Striker Luciano Becchio hopes for a second successive promotion with Leeds
Striker Luciano Becchio hopes for a second promotion with Leeds

Like Forest though, who have just one win in nine, the two Welsh sides are not enjoying the best of form, with Swansea surrendering second spot with two defeats and a draw on the back of four straight wins.

Cardiff have also failed to win in three and only picked up two wins in the last seven.

And if any club needs a warning over how important a strong finish is, look no further than Cardiff or Swansea.

The Swans' poor run-in last season - three wins in their last 13 - was only topped 12 months earlier by the Bluebirds, who went from automatic promotion contenders to missing out on the play-offs by one goal by failing to win any of their last four matches.

As Motty says, this will be an exciting finish for those neutrals, but there will probably be lots of nail-biting from those fans and managers whose teams are involved.

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see also
BBC Sport's football predictor
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Football on the BBC
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How to watch Match of the Day
09 Aug 11 |  Match of the Day
BBC Sport on your mobile
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BBC Sport Wales coverage
03 Oct 11 |  Wales

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