Manchester City eased into the fourth round of the FA Cup thanks to a Bernardo Silva-inspired 3-0 win at home to Birmingham City on Sunday.

Pep Guardiola made the somewhat surprising decision to name what was essentially his strongest possible XI, and their superior quality was telling from the start as they quickly raced into a 2-0 lead.

Silva opened the scoring with a gorgeous volley and swiftly doubled City's advantage to cap off a fine move in the 15th minute, before Phil Foden effectively killed off any hopes of a Birmingham comeback before the interval.

City were less deadly in the second period as they failed to add to their lead, but it mattered little as they had no difficulty seeing out a comfortable victory.

Aitor Karanka and Birmingham will have been braced for a difficult day after seeing the line-up chosen by Guardiola, though nothing could have prepared them for the hosts' start.

Silva displayed remarkable technique to make it 1-0 as he unleashed a stunning volley just inside the box to punish a poor clearance, picking out the top-left corner.

He soon got a second with a simple close-range finish, guiding home Kevin De Bruyne's cutback after the Belgian had been well spotted by Riyad Mahrez.

City found their stride again after something of a lull, and Foden increased the lead just past the half-hour mark, rifling into the bottom-right corner from 20 yards after being picked out by Mahrez.

The hosts withdrew De Bruyne, Joao Cancelo and Ruben Dias at half-time, with youngsters Felix Nmecha and Taylor Harwood-Bellis entering alongside John Stones.

City remained dominant and thought they had a fourth goal just past the hour, only for VAR to confirm Mahrez had strayed offside when latching on to Foden's pass.

Silva passed up the chance to complete his hat-trick as he dragged wide when the ball fell kindly for him, and that proved to be his final opportunity as City settled for a three-goal victory.

 

What does it mean? City emphatic but Guardiola learns little

It is fair to say, Guardiola may have surprised a few by naming such a strong starting XI and it seemingly yielded the desired result as City went into half-time 3-0 to the good.

Nevertheless, Guardiola will have learnt very little about that first-half performance given his line-up was full of first-team regulars and they were facing a side struggling in a Championship relegation battle.

A few of the kids were sent on in the second half and did their chances of further opportunities no harm, though the game had become little more than a training exercise by that point.

Foden runs Birmingham ragged

There were several City stars who produced classy displays, but Foden was arguably the most enjoyable to watch. His goal was a great strike, while he had already threatened beforehand with his other two shots. The England international also made three key passes – one of those was particularly clever, as he chested down a long ball to tee up Silva for an effort that hit the side-netting.

Gabriel Jesus frustrated

City's Brazilian striker was by no means poor here – with three shots and a couple of key passes, he was actually quite bright. But he will likely be frustrated by the fact he could not get his name on the scoreboard, particularly given one of his first-half opportunities was a one-one-one situation that he spurned.

What's next?

It is back to Premier League action on Wednesday for City, who host Brighton and Hove Albion. Birmingham continue their quest to get clear of the Championship's relegation zone three days later when they go to coach Karanka's former team Middlesbrough.

Pep Guardiola does not view himself as a deal maker with regards to any transfer ambitions Manchester City might have towards Lionel Messi.

Messi sought to end a career-long association with Barca in the aftermath of their humiliating 8-2 Champions League quarter-final loss to Bayern Munich, with City then widely viewed as the frontrunners for his signature.

However, Barcelona disputed Messi's assertion that a clause in his contract allowing him to leave for free at the end of the 2019-20 campaign remained valid, and the Argentina superstar stayed at Camp Nou.

Speaking to La Sexta at the end of last month, Messi pledged not to decide his future until the end of this season, while also outlining his "dream" of living in the United States.

This makes a deal involving a reunion with his old mentor Guardiola, plus an option to switch to City's MLS affiliate New York City, look theoretically attractive.

But speaking ahead of Sunday's FA Cup third-round clash against Birmingham City, the former Barca and Bayern boss refused to fan any flames of a potential transfer inferno.

"He is a player for another club, I'm sorry. Always I try to answer your questions but I'm not… he is a player from Barcelona," Guardiola said.

"About the transfer market, you know my opinion, it's about Txiki [Begiristain, City's director of football]. I don't like to talk about players who are not here or players maybe extending their contract.

"Always I believe the best way to talk about this is behind the scenes because my comments will not solve or break some deal, especially the players who are not here.

"I respect a lot all the players who play in other teams."

Guardiola did express a surprise contract wish when it came to the future of another international in his thirties.

Former England goalkeeper Scott Carson has spent the past season and a half on loan at City from Derby County, serving as an experienced third-choice option.

He is yet to play a minute of senior football for Guardiola - something that will not change this weekend after a positive coronavirus test - but the manager insists Carson's influence upon Ederson, Zack Steffen and the squad as a whole has been invaluable.

"One keeper who is so important for us is Scott Carson," he said of the 35-year-old. "He is like our captain behind the scenes.

"He is not noticed because he is the third keeper, but in the locker room he is another captain.

"It is so important and hopefully he can stay longer with us in the next years."

Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola believes a 24-hour dedication to football that includes early morning gym sessions is behind Ruben Dias' magnificent start to life at the Etihad Stadium.

Dias became City's record signing when he joined for £62million from Benfica in September, arriving in the immediate aftermath of a humbling 5-2 Premier League defeat against Leicester City.

Since then, the Portugal international has done plenty to justify his price tag, establishing a formidable partnership at centre-back alongside a rejuvenated John Stones.

Across 13 Premier League matches with Dias in the side, City have been beaten only once, conceding seven times at an average of 0.5 per game. In the two matches before his signing, City conceded six - largely as a result of the Leicester debacle, in which they gave away three penalties.

Dias leads the way among his team-mates in clearances (55) and headed clearances (27) this season. He is behind only Rodri (31) and Joao Cancelo (25) when it comes to interceptions, having made 20.

Spain holding midfielder Rodri has 50 aerials won to his name, with Dias next up on 37. City's new defensive lynchpin is also yet to make an error leading to a shot in the top flight.

Having burnished his growing reputation with fine displays in the wins at Chelsea and Manchester United over the past week, Dias is expected to sit out Sunday's FA Cup third-round tie against Championship strugglers Birmingham, but Guardiola insists he would have no problem turning out once again.

"Do you know when the player makes a big sign or an influence on the team? When he is able to play every three days. That is the best signing," he said.

"When you buy players, always you think they will help the squad but you never know what is going to happen. He is a guy who can play every three days and recover immediately.

"His ability is incredible. He understands the game, he wants to learn and all of us are impressed by how much he takes care of his body and his mind.

"The day after [the game] at 8:30 or 9:00 he is in the gym, he makes his routine perfectly. He lives 24 hours of his profession at 23 years old.

"I can assure you that we signed an incredible player for the next five, six or seven years and that is not easy to find."

City's improvement at the back has also been a collective endeavour.

Along with Stones putting form and fitness woes behind him, versatile full-back Joao Cancelo has blossomed in his second season under Guardiola, while Oleksandr Zinchenko recently returned to plug a gap at left-back amid a raft of COVID-19 cases among his team-mates.

The manager believes City's collective play was never too far away from the standards set of late, with the drive to cut out individual errors key.

"I have the feeling that always we concede few, few chances in the previous seasons," Guardiola said.

"It was more in actions that we didn't control individually, we made mistakes. For example, the three penalties against Leicester are mistakes we cannot make.

"We improved in those terms. The movements of the collective are the same as the last five years but the mistakes we have done against Leicester, conceding three penalties, we have not done it again."

A handling mistake by Ederson in October's 1-1 draw at Leeds United is the only error City have made leading directly to a goal in the Premier League this season, according to Opta. In 2019-20, they made seven across the course of the campaign and six when amassing 100 points as champions in 2017-18.

"A part of this, of course, is Ruben helps us a lot to lead the line and John doing what he is doing," Guardiola added. "When he has played, Nathan Ake has played good, Ayme [Aymeric Laporte] as well.

 "Joao has made a step forward - we knew his quality with the ball, but especially without.

"We have to continue. The margin between being solid and not being solid is so minimal. We have to be careful and continue to be consistent in the next month."

Pep Guardiola does not view himself as a deal maker with regards to any transfer ambitions Manchester City might have towards Lionel Messi.

Messi sought to end a career-long association with Barca in the aftermath of their humiliating 8-2 Champions League quarter-final loss to Bayern Munich, with City then widely viewed as the frontrunners for his signature.

However, Barcelona disputed Messi's assertion that a clause in his contract allowing him to leave for free at the end of the 2019-20 campaign remained valid, and the Argentina superstar stayed at Camp Nou.

Speaking to La Sexta at the end of last month, Messi pledged not to decide his future until the end of this season, while also outlining his "dream" of living in the United States.

This makes a deal involving a reunion with his old mentor Guardiola, plus an option to switch to City's MLS affiliate New York City, look theoretically attractive.

But speaking ahead of Sunday's FA Cup third-round clash against Birmingham City, the former Barca and Bayern boss refused to fan any flames of a potential transfer inferno.

"He is a player for another club, I'm sorry. Always I try to answer your questions but I'm not… he is a player from Barcelona," Guardiola said.

"About the transfer market, you know my opinion, it's about Txiki [Begiristain, City's director of football]. I don't like to talk about players who are not here or players maybe extending their contract.

"Always I believe the best way to talk about this is behind the scenes because my comments will not solve or break some deal, especially the players who are not here.

"I respect a lot all the players who play in other teams."

Guardiola did express a surprise contract wish when it came to the future of another international in his thirties.

Former England goalkeeper Scott Carson has spent the past season and a half on loan at City from Derby County, serving as an experienced third-choice option.

He is yet to play a minute of senior football for Guardiola - something that will not change this weekend after a positive coronavirus test - but the manager insists Carson's influence upon Ederson, Zack Steffen and the squad as a whole has been invaluable.

"One keeper who is so important for us is Scott Carson," he said of the 35-year-old. "He is like our captain behind the scenes.

"He is not noticed because he is the third keeper, but in the locker room he is another captain.

"It is so important and hopefully he can stay longer with us in the next years."

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola admitted there was uncertainty about what condition players would be in after contracting coronavirus.

The Premier League giants are set to regain Ederson, Ferran Torres and Tommy Doyle ahead of their FA Cup clash against Birmingham City on Sunday.

But Guardiola said it still remained unclear just how players would return after testing positive for COVID-19.

"The doctors don't know how the body will react, maybe one month or one and a half years, no-one knows what is going to happen," he told reporters.

"Imagine after being found positive, whether you know if you are going to play at a high level. That is why the boys are a little but concerned about this and are careful.

"Because some players react well, but Ilkay Gundogan took some time to recover after the summer and struggled a little bit. So that is why it's good news they are back in the training sessions and locker room.

"But when they will be able to play minutes, we have to talk with them and the doctors and the physios and how they react to the training session and the day after. Every player and case is different and you have to be alert."

City are unbeaten in 12 games in all competitions and sit fifth in the Premier League table.

They have played two fewer games than Liverpool and one less than Manchester United, who are four points clear of them.

Sergio Aguero's mood is "better than ever" as he tentatively nears the end of an injury nightmare, according to Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola.

Guardiola confirmed City's all-time top scorer will start Sunday's FA Cup third-round tie against Birmingham City at the Etihad Stadium as he looks to put the after-effects of meniscus surgery behind him.

Aguero underwent an operation in June and has been forced to manage ongoing discomfort in the joint since a hamstring injury at West Ham curtailed his initial return in October.

Despite being ravaged by a coronavirus outbreak among their squad, City head into the weekend buoyed by their two finest performances of the season - a swashbuckling 3-1 win over Chelsea preceding a 2-0 win against rivals Manchester United in the semi-finals of the EFL Cup.

Four minutes from the bench at Stamford Bridge was the sum of Aguero's action across the those games, as he was an unused substitute at Old Trafford.

Nevertheless, his goalscoring prowess has been an obvious miss across the course of the campaign. In their most recent title-winning season, City averaged 2.6 goals per game in the Premier League with Aguero in the side.

That has fallen to 1.6 in all matches this time around, with a win percentage of 53.9 per cent, set against 84.8 with Aguero in harness two seasons ago. Shots per 90 minutes are also down from 18.1 to 15.6 when the two data sets are compared.

"Just look at the numbers, the quality he has in the box, Sergio is unique," Guardiola told a pre-match news conference.

"He has a tough, tough injury. The important thing is his mood is exceptional, I would say better than ever.

"It's important that the feeling, the last two weeks, his knee's reaction was really good after training. This is the best news we can have.

"He’s going to start, the minutes his performance level or knee will dictate. What's important is good quality minutes, as much as possible, we start from the beginning and after we'll see what happens.

"It will be great to have Sergio fit. He’s so optimistic. He says 'I will score goals' and that is the most important thing."

Aguero is out of contract at the end of the season, as is fellow fans' favourite Fernandinho.

The 35-year-old Brazil international has returned to his customary central midfield position this season, having deputised at centre-back for much of last, and completed the scoring with a sweetly struck volley against United in midweek.

Following the departure of David Silva over the close season, Fernandinho has stepped up as club captain and impressed Guardiola greatly with his leadership skills.

"With the players in this part of the season, everything is open," Guardiola said, when discussing the prospect of the veteran earning a fresh deal.

"I am more than impressed with the first captain role of Fernandinho, he is leading in an exceptional way. In the good moments and the bad, bad moments.

"If everyone can take an example of what he has done so far, the team will be stronger."

Pressed for examples of how the quietly spoken star commands the dressing room, Guardiola replied: "How he talks with his mates, how he talks with my assistant coach, before the game, at half-time.

"Not just talking to players about football matters, in life, how to behave in training, every single day. He's the first who proves that he's able to do it.

"That's why he goes to Old Trafford, plays holding midfielder there. It was not easy for Bruno Fernandes to control him.

"At the beginning of the season he stepped forward and showed how to be a captain."

City will have Ederson, Ferran Torres and Tommy Doyle available for selection once more, provided they returned negative COVID-19 tests on Friday.

The trio tested positive ahead of the postponed Premier League match at Everton on December 28.

Papa Bouba Diop, a star of Senegal's famous World Cup campaign in 2002, has died. 

Diop, 42, had reportedly been battling a long-term illness. 

The former midfielder played for four different clubs in England, enjoying spells at Fulham, Portsmouth, West Ham and Birmingham City after impressing in France for Lens. 

In a Twitter statement on Sunday, Lens said: "It is with great sadness that Racing Club de Lens have just learned of the passing of their former player Papa Bouba Diop, at the age of 42. 

"We offer our deepest condolences to his loved ones."

Diop is best remembered for helping Senegal to reach the quarter-finals of the World Cup 18 years ago. He scored the only goal of the game as they stunned reigning champions France 1-0 in the opening match in Seoul. 

He scored twice more in a 3-3 draw with Uruguay as Senegal progressed from the group stage before beating Sweden in the last 16. 

Their remarkable run was ended by Turkey, who triumphed 1-0 to progress through to the semi-finals. 

Diop began his career in Senegal with ASC Diaraf before playing in Switzerland for Vevey, Neuchatel Xamax and Grasshoppers, winning the Super League title in 2001. 

He also spent a season in Greece with AEK Athens, where he won the Greek Cup in 2010-11, three years after lifting the FA Cup with Portsmouth. 

Diop, who won 63 senior caps for his country, was also part of the team that reached the final of the Africa Cup of Nations in 2002, where they lost to Cameroon on penalties.

Alen Halilovic is itching to get started at Birmingham City after the former Barcelona and Milan attacking midfielder penned a short-term deal with the Blues.

The now 24-year-old was once regarded as one of European football's brightest prospects and LaLiga giants Barca snapped him up from Dinamo Zagreb in 2014.

However, he spent most of his time with Barca's B side and was shipped on loan to Sporting Gijon before joining Hamburg two years after his arrival at Camp Nou.

The move to Germany did not work out particularly well for Halilovic but, after spending a season with Las Palmas on loan, he was signed by Serie A side Milan a couple of years ago.

Loan spells at Standard Liege and Heerenveen did little to convince the Rossoneri, though, and he was released in October.

Halilovic is now set to embark on a new venture with Championship side Birmingham in English football's second tier.

"Honoured and extremely happy to be here! Looking forward to getting started! Keep Right On!" Halilovic posted on Twitter.

Announcing the signing on their official website, Birmingham said: "[The] Blues have completed the signing of highly rated Croatian international, Alen Halilovic, on a short-term contract.

"The attacking midfielder joins until June 2021 having left Italian giants, AC Milan, when his contract expired last month.

"Halilovic will link up with fellow countryman Ivan Sunjic, having been touted as one of Croatia's most promising stars.

"At just 24 years old, the talented technician has already been snapped up by the likes of Barcelona and AC Milan, and will join Blues aiming to fulfil his undoubted potential."

Bournemouth will start life back in the Championship at home to Blackburn Rovers, while Watford host Middlesbrough and Norwich City travel to Huddersfield Town.

The Cherries were relegated after a five-year stay in the Premier League, while Watford and Norwich were also demoted in a top-flight campaign that was disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic.

That halt means the new Championship season starts on September 12, with beaten play-off finalists Brentford travelling to Birmingham City on the opening day, while south Wales rivals Cardiff City and Swansea City – who also made the top six – host Sheffield Wednesday and visit Preston North End respectively.

Wycombe Wanderers – playing in the second tier for the first time – welcome fellow new boys Rotherham United for their first game, while Coventry City's return to the Championship starts with a trip to Bristol City.

Derby County and Barnsley start at home against Reading and Luton Town, with Stoke City and Nottingham Forest heading to London to face Millwall and QPR.

Bournemouth host Norwich in the third round of matches, the same weekend Watford renew acquaintances with fierce rivals Luton. Watford and the Canaries face off at Vicarage Road on December 26.

The three relegated teams will hope to be in the promotion hunt come the final day on May 8, with Bournemouth and Watford at home to Stoke and Swansea, while Norwich go to Barnsley.

Aitor Karanka has been appointed as the new head coach of Championship side Birmingham City.

The Spaniard, who has signed a three-year deal, replaces compatriot Pep Clotet, who was dismissed with four games of the Championship remaining.

Karanka led Middlesbrough out of the second tier in the 2015-16 campaign and spent a year as Nottingham Forest boss before departing in January 2019.

"I'm delighted to be joining a club with the history and fanbase that Birmingham City has," Karanka told the club website.

"I share the excitement and determination of everyone here to start working together on all the challenges that lie ahead."

Birmingham finished just two places and two points above the relegation zone this season, and it would have been just one spot had Wigan Athletic not been docked points for entering administration.

As a player, Karanka won a LaLiga title and three Champions League medals with Real Madrid, for whom he was also an assistant coach under Jose Mourinho.

Birmingham City retired the number 22 shirt following Jude Bellingham's final game ahead of his move to Borussia Dortmund.

Dortmund reportedly paid an initial €23million (£21m) to sign the Bellingham, making him the most expensive 17-year-old in history.

The England youth international bid an emotional farewell to Birmingham following their 3-1 loss to Derby County on Wednesday.

Bellingham became Blues' youngest ever player when he made his debut last August and went on to make 44 appearances for the club.

In a statement published on Thursday, Birmingham said: "In such a remarkably short space of time Jude has become an iconic figure at Blues, showing what can be achieved through talent, hard work and dedication.

"His caring, humble and engaging off-the-field demeanour has also made him such an impressive role model.

"The 22 shirt has become synonymous with Jude, his rise to the first team aged just 16 years and 38 days and these qualities.

"And as such the club have decided it would be fitting to retire this number, to remember one of our own and to inspire others."

Bellingham will wear the number 22 at Dortmund and will link up with his new team-mates on July 30.

Jude Bellingham expressed his love for Birmingham City after the tearful teenage sensation played his last game for the Championship outfit ahead of his move to Borussia Dortmund.

Bellingham will play for Bundesliga giants Dortmund in 2020-21 following the completion of his €23million (£21m) transfer on Monday, prior to Birmingham's season finale on Wednesday.

The 17-year-old stepped out in a Birmingham jersey for the final time in a 3-1 Championship defeat to visiting Derby County midweek.

Bellingham was overcome with emotion post-match at St Andrew's, where he emerged from his boyhood club's youth system last year.

"I tried my best to hide it but sometimes it's difficult," Bellingham said. "I love the club, I am a massive fan of the club.

"I've been coming here since I was seven, not just playing in the academy.

"I fell in love with Birmingham City and then fell in love with football.

"So just to get a little bit of time out there on my own and with my little brother, mum and dad meant the world to us.

"We've shed a few tears and I am really devastated about how it's finished but at the same time I am optimistic for the future and looking forward to that."

Bellingham ended the 2019-20 season with four Championship goals and two assists in 41 appearances.

West Brom clinched the second automatic promotion place in the Championship on a dramatic final day of the season as Wigan Athletic's spirited survival bid failed.

After both West Brom and Brentford were beaten at the weekend, the Baggies only needed to match the third-placed side's result to seal a return to the Premier League after two seasons away in England's second tier.

A seemingly straightforward home fixture against QPR did not go entirely to plan for West Brom, but a 2-2 draw took them up as Brentford went down 2-1 to Barnsley on Wednesday.

That result saw Barnsley stay up, but Wigan could not join them as they drew 1-1 with Fulham – who could have been promoted with a win – and went down due to a looming 12-point deduction.

Charlton Athletic and Hull City were also demoted, while there was a similarly chaotic finish in the play-off race.

BAGGIES BEST BRENTFORD

Both West Brom and Brentford lost their nerve with two matches of the campaign remaining, but a return of just a single point from a pair of games proved enough for Slaven Bilic's team.

Following Friday's defeat to Huddersfield Town, West Brom were boosted by Brentford's own reverse at Stoke City yet could not beat QPR.

West Brom trailed to Ryan Manning's strike before turning the match on its head with goals either side of half-time through Grady Diangana and Callum Robinson, only for Eberechi Eze to equalise just past the hour-mark.

It mattered not, though, as Brentford failed to capitalise, instead losing again.

Josh Dasilva cancelled out Callum Styles' Barnsley opener, but as Brentford pushed for a precious winner, Clarke Oduor tapped in at the other end in the 91st minute.

BRAVE BARNSLEY, WIGAN WOE

There were contrasting scenes at full-time in the final regular league match at Griffin Park after Barnsley celebrated as Brentford collapsed.

The visitors were heading down until Oduor struck but stayed up at Charlton's expense, the Addicks going down 4-0 at champions Leeds United.

Hull propped up the table after a 3-0 defeat at Cardiff City, while Luton Town stayed up thanks to a rallying 3-2 success at home to Blackburn Rovers, aided by two own goals.

Wigan needed to win due to their deduction following administration, but one of the form teams in the division let a lead slip against Fulham, their total of 59 points bumped down to 47 to fall a painful point short.

 

It isn't just a game of football, it's absolutely everything to our players, staff and supporters.

Hold your heads high!#wafc pic.twitter.com/5oTj7eV4jV

— Wigan Athletic (@LaticsOfficial) July 22, 2020
SWANS SAVOUR GOAL SWING

With rivals Cardiff comfortable in claiming their play-off place, Swansea City needed to beat 10-man Reading while Nottingham Forest lost to Stoke City, along with a five-goal swing.

Improbably, the Swans stole sixth place from Forest after a remarkable finale.

The Welsh side won 4-1, netting their fourth in the 91st minute as Wayne Routledge headed in his second.

That scoreline left Forest – 3-1 down at home to Stoke at the time – needing to score, but instead they conceded, their promotion bid derailing in spectacular fashion as Nuno da Costa stabbed into his own net in the sixth minute of stoppage time.

The 4-1 defeat meant Forest – without a win since July 1 – finished seventh.

Elsewhere, there were wins for Derby County, Millwall and Middlesbrough, bringing the curtain down on another season in gripping fashion.

Borussia Dortmund have beaten Manchester United to the signing of another promising young player, with Jude Bellingham to arrive from Birmingham City.

Bellingham, 17, signed a long-term contract with the Bundesliga side, though the exact length was not specified, and reportedly cost an initial €23million (£21m).

He will join up with his new team-mates on July 30 and wear the number 22 shirt for Dortmund.

The England youth international had appeared likely to head to Old Trafford following his emergence as a first-team regular at Birmingham this season.

But having seen Erling Haaland head to Dortmund instead of Manchester in January, Bellingham is also en route to the Bundesliga – a shorter path to the first team convincing him to pick Signal Iduna Park.

Sporting director Michael Zorc said: "Jude Bellingham has decided with absolute confidence to pursue his career at Borussia Dortmund. The primary motivation behind his decision were the prospects on the pitch we were able to offer him.

"He has enormous potential, which we will continue to develop together with him over the coming years.

"He already boasts astonishing quality with and without the ball, and has a strong mentality to boot.

"Jude will immediately strengthen our first team squad, but we will certainly give him all the time he needs to adapt to the higher level of play."

Fulham remain in the hunt for second place in the Championship after downing Sheffield Wednesday 5-3 on Saturday.

With Brentford having lost 1-0 at Stoke City earlier, thereby crowning Leeds United champions, Fulham responded to move within a point of the top two thanks to two goals from Aleksandar Mitrovic.

Cardiff City swept aside Middlesbrough to keep their play-off ambitions in their own hands, with Preston and Millwall now unable to finish in the top six.

At the other end of the table, Stoke's victory sealed their survival, while Kazenga LuaLua struck a huge late blow for Luton Town at Hull City and Charlton Athletic snatched an important point.

FULHAM POUNCE AS BRENTFORD FALTER

Lee Gregory's first-half finish from close range gave Stoke a 1-0 win over Brentford at the bet365 Stadium that ensured their Championship survival and denied the visitors the chance to go second.

Fulham are now just a point behind Brentford in the table after beating Wednesday 5-3 and, with West Brom only two above them, the Cottagers will be ready to capitalise on any slip-ups on the final day.

Mitrovic and Neeskens Kebano scored twice at Craven Cottage before Bobby Reid's late fifth, with Jacob Murphy and Atdhe Nuhiu (2) on target for Wednesday, who cannot yet consider themselves safe given the risk of a possible EFL points deduction.

 

BONNE CHANCE FOR LUTON AND CHARLTON

In Saturday's relegation showdown between Hull and Luton, it was the visitors who left the KCOM Stadium feeling hopeful of survival after LuaLua fired home the winner in the 85th minute.

Luton are now on 48 points, level with Charlton, who were trailing 2-1 to Wigan Athletic until Macauley Bonne equalised on exactly 92 minutes.

Hull are three points behind and, given they are 16 goals worse off than Charlton, they look destined for League One barring possible points penalties for either Wednesday or Wigan. Bottom-club Barnsley, with two games left, can still stay up.

CARDIFF WIN ENDS PRESTON, MILLWALL HOPES

Two goals from Josh Murphy helped Cardiff to a 3-1 win at Middlesbrough, whose survival could now depend on getting a result on Wednesday, at Wednesday.

Cardiff stay sixth, three points ahead of Swansea City, whose 1-0 win over Bristol City keeps their play-off hopes alive ahead of the final day.

Preston cannot now make the top six, despite beating Birmingham City 2-0 - another side who are not yet guaranteed to avoid the drop - while Millwall are also out of play-off contention following Cardiff's win and their own thrilling 4-3 defeat at QPR.

That was not the day's only seven-goal game: at Ewood Park, Sam Gallagher's 87th-minute header gave Blackburn Rovers a 4-3 win over Reading that lifted them into the top 10.

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