Pulis heads for Boro exit

Middlesbrough have decided to part company with manager Tony Pulis after opting not to renew his contract at the Riverside.

Pulis took charge of Boro on Boxing Day 2017 and led the Teessiders into the Championship play-off semi-finals a few months later, where they lost out 1-0 on aggregate to Aston Villa.

This season they missed out on a top-six finish, ending up in seventh place – one point behind Derby County – with a run of six straight defeats between March and April proving decisive.

Chairman Steve Gibson told the club's official website: "Two years ago we invested heavily in the squad in terms of transfer fees and salaries in an attempt to regain our Premier League status. This happened before Tony's arrival.

"Over the past 18 months Tony has been proactive, not only in the ambition to win football matches and promotion to the Premier League, but also in addressing our financial position in order to comply and respect the Championship Fair Play criteria.

"He has ensured that the club is stable and strong for the future. He leaves us in excellent condition."

Meanwhile, Aston Villa and Derby will meet in the Championship play-off final, with a place in the Premier League at stake at Wembley on Monday 27th May.

The Villans are 8/13 to secure promotion, with the Rams available at 13/10.

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Grealish hopes to make amends

Aston Villa midfielder Jack Grealish says his side have to make the most of their return to Wembley for a second successive Championship play-off final.

Villa edged through 4-3 on penalties against neighbours West Brom after their semi-final tie had ended locked at 2-2 on aggregate, with the Baggies winning the second leg 1-0 at The Hawthorns after losing out 2-1 in the first leg at Villa Park.

That gives Grealish and his colleagues an opportunity to make amends for a 1-0 Wembley defeat at the hands of Fulham just under 12 months ago.

Grealish told the club's official website: "It's massive to get there again. I was part of it last time, we know how it feels to lose. I have the experience of it.

"It's no good going on a good run and then going to Wembley and falling at the final hurdle again. I truly believe we can get promoted."

Meanwhile, Villans boss Dean Smith admitted to be being disappointed that, although a Wembley return had been secured, his side had lost for only the second time in their last 15 games.

He added: "We deserved it, but the disappointing for me was not winning. I couldn't believe we lost the game, that's our (second) defeat since losing at Brentford in February."

Villa will play the winner of the tie between Leeds United and Derby County, with the former holding a 1-0 lead heading into their home second leg at Elland Road.

The Villans are 5/6 to be promoted to the Premier League, with Leeds available at 5/4 and Derby 12/1.

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Warnock extends Cardiff stay

Cardiff City have confirmed that Neil Warnock will stay with the club as they seek an immediate return to the Premier League.

The Bluebirds ended their single season back in the top flight at the weekend, ending with a 2-0 win at Manchester United.

City owner Vincent Tan said he wanted Warnock to remain at the club and afterwards the manager himself said that he would have another year in the Championship though he ruled out managing again in the Premier League.

Now it appears that has been confirmed with "positive" talks having taken place and chairman Mehmet Dalman said: "He is the best man for the job, there was never any doubt in my mind.

"We all share the same vision. We will give it (promotion) another go."

Warnock has a year left on his contract and had apparently sought assurances that there was money to add to the squad in an attempt to engineer an immediate return to the Premier League.

Adding to the squad is the priority now having already lost Icelandic midfielder Aaron Gunnarsson while Harry Arter and Victor Camarasa have returned to their parent clubs.

Warnock holds the record for having won promotion eight times and now looks set to aim for a ninth next season.

Norwich and Sheffield United are already promoted to the Premier League to replace relegated Cardiff, Huddersfield and Fulham while the one promotion place remains up for grabs via the playoffs.

Aston Villa and Leeds hold the upper hand after their semi-final first-leg victories over West Brom and Derby respectively and Villa are 11/8 to gain promotion at Wembley later this month with Leeds 5/4 and West Brom 7/1.

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Bielsa: We are full of hope

Leeds United head coach Marcelo Bielsa hopes his experience of high-profile matches will prove crucial as he gears his side up for the Championship play-offs.

Leeds face Derby County in the first leg of their semi-final on Saturday after finishing third in the regular season.

Bielsa's team appeared to be on course to clinch an automatic promotion place for much of the season but a poor run in the last few weeks of the campaign allowed Sheffield United to finish second behind champions Norwich City.

Leeds have already beaten the Rams twice in the regular season, recording 4-1 and 2-0 victories, and Bielsa is confident his side can come out on top against Frank Lampard's team and reach Wembley.

He said: "This event is a football episode which everyone will want to live. The team that wins at Wembley will go up and get promoted and you can't have a bigger goal than this.

"I am familiar with this situation. What I can tell you is that I have been through this many times with Copa Libertadores, the Olympic Games, with Athletic Bilbao in the Europa League and the Copa America.

"We think about the responsibility we have on our shoulders because we are bearing the hope of many people. It is a big opportunity for us to fulfil this hope, for all of the fans. We are full of hope."

Leeds are 11/8 to win Saturday's first leg and 15/8 to be promoted to the Premier League this season.

Warburton eyeing R’s upturn

Mark Warburton is excited about the challenge ahead, having signed a two-year contract to become the new head coach at Queens Park Rangers.

The former Brentford, Rangers and Nottingham Forest boss has been handed the task of trying to get the Loftus Road club back on track, following a Championship season which saw the R's finish down in 19th place in the table.

The Hoops won just three league games following the turn of the year, ending the campaign under the charge of caretaker manager John Eustace after Steve McClaren had been sacked.

And Warburton is hoping to improve greatly on that record, telling his new club's official website: "When I spoke to QPR they were very clear. They have a solid plan and know what they want.

"They have a long-term outlook and that appealed to me immediately. I am excited about the challenge that lies ahead.

"I like players being brave in possession, understanding the first thought is to play forward and be positive. You have to be fit as well. Work ethic, desire, hunger, passion – all those cliches are so important.

"Get that right and fingers crossed we will move in the right direction."

Meanwhile, Leeds United are 15/8 to be promoted via the Championship play-offs, with West Bromwich Albion 4/1 and Aston Villa 15/8.

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Shan tells Albion to buck up

West Brom caretaker boss Jimmy Shan has warned his players to buck their ideas up for their Championship play-off semi-final against neighbours Aston Villa.

Shan was speaking after seeing the Baggies round off their regular season campaign with a 3-1 defeat at Derby County, who claimed the fourth and final play-off place for themselves in the process.

The Rams move on to face Leeds United, while Shan is seeking to reignite the spark in time for the showdown with the Villans.

He told the Express & Star: "We need to make sure we prepare in training and perform a hell of a lot better than that to have some success against Villa.

"I spoke to the players and there was some honest assessments. Maybe, having cemented our place for so long and having the play-offs round the corner, sometimes that can act as a bit of a distraction.

"That distraction has gone now, there's no excuse and we know exactly who we're up against."

Albion claimed a 2-0 win at Villa Park in mid-February, when Hal Robson-Kanu and Jay Rodriguez were their goalscorers, while the meeting of the two sides at The Hawthorns ended in a 2-2 draw in early December.

The Baggies are 5/2 to gain a draw in the first leg of the play-off semi-final at Villa Park on Saturday, with the visitors 10/3 to keep a clean sheet.

Meanwhile, West Brom are 21/20 to reach the play-off final, with Villa available at 7/10.

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Lampard says Rams underdogs

Frank Lampard said his Derby County side would be underdogs when they take on Leeds United in the Championship play-off semi-final.

In his first season in management Lampard has guided the Rams to a final place of sixth in the Championship, a position they confirmed with victory over West Brom in the last day of the Championship regular season.

It means a home leg against Leeds United next Saturday followed by the return game at Elland Road on the 15th May.
 
It will be Derby's fourth play-off opportunity in the last six years, the other three ending in disappointment and Lampard said his side would be underdogs this time against a Leeds side who finished third, nine points ahead of the Rams.

Lampard said afterwards: "We're underdogs. I don't want to think about anything past Leeds. They're a fantastic team.

"They will be two massive games for us. We've got our work cut out."

The former England international said it was a great achievement to secure a play-off alongside Leeds, Aston Villa and West Brom.

West Brom were already sure of a place in the top-six ahead of their trip to Derby but the home side needed a victory to be certain and they took the lead through Martyn Waghorn after 20 minutes.

The Baggies equalised early in the second half, Stefan Johansen getting their goal but Derby went back in front through Mason Bennett and three minutes later sealed victory with a contentious penalty converted by Harry Wilson.

West Brom, who finished fourth and play local rivals Aston Villa in the semi-finals, were dealt a blow with Hal Robson-Kanu sent off meaning his participation in the semi-finals is in doubt.

Derby are 6/4 to win their home leg next weekend with Leeds 17/10 and the draw is priced at 12/5.

Leeds are 15/8 to get promotion via the play-offs while Derby can be backed at 9/2.

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Clarity key for Parker planning

Fulham caretaker boss Scott Parker says the club need a clear plan of action put in place this month if they are to bounce back from relegation.

The Cottagers were relegated in April having struggled to adapt to life back in the Premier League following their promotion last season.

Parker is the third man to take charge of the Fulham first team this term after the failuresof Slavisa Jokanovic and Claudio Ranieri, and Parker has at least brought about an up turn in results, even if he was unable to save them from the drop.

The west London outfit had won three in a row before Saturday's 1-0 loss at Wolves and the squad have backed Parker to be handed the reins on a permanent basis.

The former England international is keen on remaining in the dugout at Craven Cottage and has called on the club hierarchy to make their position clear regarding this plans for next season.

He said: "Not just for me, as a club ahead of what's going to be a massive year, we need to have a clear idea of what way we are going to go.

"We're seven days away from ending the season and a lot of planning needs to go into next year. I'm sure it'll come in due course.

"We have shown real improvement and results have suggested that as well. Our main focus is planning for next year and what will be a massive campaign for us.

"My message has always been the same. I've enjoyed every minute of it. I want to be a manager and if it's at Fulham, perfect. If it isn't I'll be a manager somewhere else. The owners will make the best decision for the club."

Fulham end their season at home to Newcastle United next week and are 9/5 for the win. The Magpies are 7/5 and the draw is 12/5.

Adkins seeks stylish finish

Nigel Adkins hopes that Hull City can end a mixed Championship campaign on a positive note by beating play-off hopefuls Bristol City on Sunday.

The Robins must win the game and then hope that results from matches involving Derby County and Middlesbrough go their way to claim a play-off place.

Adkins is focused only on his own team's display, although he will be without the services of Jon Toral for the final game of the campaign. The midfielder is currently in Mexico following the birth of his child.

"Jon is in Mexico as his wife has just had a baby, so we congratulate them on that arrival," said Adkins. "Therefore Jon won't figure at the weekend and we have one or two other little niggles so there will be decisions for me to make regarding the team for Sunday.

"It's the last game of the season, so everybody wants to be involved in it and the team that goes out there will want to win the game."

Bristol City boss Lee Johnson will be without the services of midfielder Korey Smith who has undergone foot surgery.

The Robins are 11/8 to beat the Tigers, who are 2/1 to triumph in the KC Stadium clash.

Cairney stays to aid Fulham return

Midfielder Tom Cairney is hoping to help Fulham mount a strong challenge for an immediate return to the Premier League, having signed a new long-term contract.

The 28-year-old Scotland international joined the Cottagers from Blackburn Rovers in the summer of 2015 and has since scored 28 goals in 161 appearances in all competitions, including the play-off final winner against Aston Villa just under a year ago.

And, despite Fulham suffering relegation straight back down to the Championship, Cairney says he is more than happy where he is and is delighted to sign a deal running until the summer of 2024.

He told his club's official website: "I want to stay for a long time and hopefully finish my career here. This place feels like home and I can't see myself anywhere else.

"I feel like I've got unfinished business. I want to stay here and I want to get the club back to the Premier League.

"I want to bounce straight back next season. I know how hard the Championship is, but, knowing our owners and how ambitious the club is, I'm sure we'll give it a good go."

Fulham and Cairney are back in action on Saturday afternoon, when they head to Molineux to take on Wolves, who currently stand in seventh place in the table.

The Cottagers are 16/5 to to earn a draw, with the hosts 8/15 to win the game and 7/1 to do so by a 2-0 scoreline.

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