The promotion hunt in npower League One

The so-called ‘big sides’ in npower League One have, for the most part, lived up to expectations by occupying the leading positions in the table.

And it is the likes of Charlton Athletic and the two Sheffield sides who will be looking to get out of the division as quickly as possible to try to match both Norwich City and Southampton (probably) by gaining back-to-back promotions to return to English football’s top tier.

Charlton Athletic have been the stand-out side in League One this season. Championship football beckons for Chris Powell’s side as his side top the table on 82 points, eight clear of second-placed Sheffield Wednesday. Three defeats in their last five matches show that nerves are kicking-in, but it would take a very brave person to suggest the Addicks won’t go up automatically.

Sheffield Wednesday lead the chasing pack with 74 points, one clear of fierce rivals Sheffield United having played a game more. As new manager Dave Jones is given little time to settle in, Wednesday are in good form after going unbeaten in their last seven games. Realistically, the two Sheffield sides and Huddersfield Town are all vying for the second automatic promotion place, and it really is too close to call right now.

Sheffield United lie in third place on 73 points and have just eight games remaining. Ched Evans, the division’s second best goalscorer will be vital for United in the run-in, and with the vastly experienced Danny Wilson at the helm, it could be this combination that ultimately sees them grab second spot.

Fourth-placed Huddersfield Town will no doubt be feeling a sense of deja-vu having being in this position the same time last year. Losing in the play-off final last year will have spurred them on to go that one step better this campaign, and it is still very possible. Dismissing Lee Clark was considered by many to be a bewildering decision, but it has not ultimately destabilised the side, as they lie just three points off second place and have a game in hand. And in goal machine Jordan Rhodes (33 goals), hitting the back of the net is the least of their worries.

The MK Dons and Carlisle United make up the final two play-off spots. The Dons look a near on certainty for a top-six finish, nine points ahead of 7th place and a vastly superior goal difference (+31). Carlisle in 6th are now just three points ahead of Stevenage. It looks like these two sides will battle it out with Notts County for the final play-off position. Stevenage have the best recent form, with no defeat in their last eight games. It is unlikely that any of the three sides will go up via the play-offs, as on paper they look weaker, but you just never know. As John Motson once said, ‘expect the unexpected’.

Pressure is on in the race for the Premier League

The race for a place in the Barclays’ Premier League is well and truly on.

With the season now entering its final few stages, around a dozen teams will believe they are in with a shout for promotion. It looks like the top two will come from three teams, while the teams who will end up in the play-off positions are far less certain.

Southampton currently lead the way on 78 points, five clear of second-placed Reading. Nigel Adkin’s side have not looked back since promotion from League One in the last campaign, with Rickie Lambert once again leading the line in style, with 28 goals to his name for this season. Premier League football in August now looks a near on certainty for the Saints.

Reading recently went on an eight-match winning streak which helped propel them up the table. The Royals are desperate to make amends for last season’s heartache when they lost the play-off final to Swansea City at Wembley. And Brian McDermott’s team have hit form at just the right time as they look to go that one step further. The title looks beyond their reach, but it’s a straight fight with West Ham for second place.

West Ham United lie currently in third place, four points and a game in hand over Reading. The Hammers have drawn their last five games, so no one can say they haven’t had the opportunities. There have been rumours of discontent among the fans over Sam Allardyce’s style of football at Upton Park and this negative atmosphere is arguably transmitting itself onto the players. Despite this, second place is still well within reach with 24 points still to play for.

Brighton and Hove Albion are the surprise package of this season’s Championship. Lying in 4th position on 62 points, a realistic objective following last year’s title win would have been a mid-table finish at best. But the charismatic Gus Poyet has done wonders at the new Amex Stadium. One defeat in the last 10 puts the team in a great position for a play-off place, but any kind of slip could see them drop out of the top-six. It could be just a little too far for this season.

Middlesbrough occupy fifth place on 61 points, just one behind Brighton. Patchy form of late has seen Tony Mowbray’s side slip down and become far less of a certainty for a play-off place. Just seven wins at the Riverside is where the side have fallen short and a lack of goals is also an issue. Mowbray will ensure his side fight until the very end, which is why they could well scrape over the line come the end of the season.

Birmingham City currently hold down the fourth and final play-off spot. Chris Hughton’s side are on 60 points, level with both Blackpool and Cardiff. 11 victories and just one loss at St Andrew’s all season has helped propel the side up the division, as they look to bounce back from their final-day relegation last year. Having competed in the Europa League earlier in the season, fatigue could be a factor as the Blues look to overcome the final few hurdles. One win in their last seven would suggest this, so a solid promotion push for next year could well be the more likely option.

Blackpool and Cardiff City lie in 7th and 8th position respectively. Both sides have lots of experience in the top half of the Championship, and this will be key in these final stages. On recent history, Cardiff will finish in the top six and fail, and (sorry Bluebirds fans), this is probably going to happen again. There is no doubting the quality of Malky Mackay’s side, so they are not to be completely ruled out, but poor recent form could see them fall short. Ian Holloway’s Blackpool are, like Birmingham, desperate for an immediate return to the top flight. Three defeats in their last five suggests they might struggle, but experience could see them finish in the top six.

Hull City will also feel they are still in line for a play-off finish, while Neil Warnock will insist his Leeds United side doesn’t fall short. His recent arrival may be a case of too little too late though.

London 2012 Guide to…Boxing

BOXING is one of the Olympic Games’ oldest sports, having been a part of the ancient Olympic Games in the 7th century BC, and then emerging on the modern Games programme in 1904.

  • Leave it to the pros…or not

The unusual thing about boxing in the Olympic Games is the participants are all amateur. This means they wear protective head-gear, and if the fight becomes too one-sided, the referee will step in to prevent serious injury.

  • Platform for future success

Boxers sometimes use the Olympics as a stepping stone to become professionals. And some of them have gone on to be major figures in the sport, the most notable being Muhammad Ali.

  • Essential facts

There are 10 different men’s weight categories, ranging from 46-49kg (Light Flyweight) to over 91kg (Super Heavyweight). One boxer per nation is allowed in each weight category.

  • Ladies first

For the first time in an Olympic Games, women will be taking part in the boxing events in London. They will be competing in three events – Flyweight (48-51kg), Lightweight (57-60kg) and Middleweight (69-75kg).

  • Punches mean points

Judges press buttons when they see a clear hit by a boxer, and when they do this, a point is awarded. However, three of the five judges must press the button within one second of the punch, in order for a point to be awarded.

  • How to win a fight

There are five ways a boxer can win a fight. They are a knockout, technical decision, disqualification, retirement or a points decision made by the judges’ panel.

  • British hopefuls

Team GB will be looking to collect a couple of medals at the Games. Khalid Yafai in the Flyweight category, Simon Vallily in Heavyweight and Tom Stalker in the Lightweight division.

Meanwhile, female boxers Nicola Adams (Flyweight) and Savannah Marshall (Middleweight) will be looking to become the first ever female boxing Olympic champions.

  • Boxing in London

Men will be fighting three, three-minute rounds, while women will compete over four, two-minute rounds. The fighting will take place at ExCeL in London’s Docklands, a multi-purpose venue that will also host taekwondo, wrestling and judo among other sports at the Games.

And finally…

Look out for: American boxers. They have dominated the sport in past Games (109 medal overall) and will be looking to do so again in London. No messin’.

Not to be confused with: a random fight. This is a serious sport!

Useless but informative fact: boxing has appeared at every Olympic Games since its introduction in 1904, except in 1912 when the Games were held in Stockholm. This was because Sweden forbade the sport.

Boxing in two words: brutal combat.

Boxing in London will take place between Saturday 28 July and Sunday 12 August