McClaren issues Leeds claim

Steve McClaren expects Leeds United to be in the Championship promotion chase this season after they edged out his QPR side 2-1 on Saturday.

The 57-year-old former England manager thought he had engineered a successful away-day at Elland Road when Nahki Wells put the R's in front during the first half.

However, Kemar Roofe equalised on the stroke of half-time before grabbing a second from the penalty spot eight minutes after the break to seal the win for Marco Bielsa's side.

The win keeps the Whites second in the Championship behind Norwich, while they are five points clear of third-placed Sheffield United with just over half of the season remaining.

McClaren is predicting a clutch of teams breaking away to fight it out for automatic promotion and play-off places in the second half of the season and he is sure Leeds will remain firmly in contention.

He said: "It was a strange league to start with. It was very even, I think now you're starting to see six, seven, eight teams coming through, Aston Villa being one of them.

"I expect Stoke (will feature) as well. A lot of big clubs and only three can go up. There's going to be a lot of disappointed clubs at the end of the season with big expectations who won't make it. And I think we're beginning to see the pressure of that.

"You'll see as the season goes on and it'll be who handles the pressure the most and the best. Not just in terms of management but in terms of squad players, and Leeds are going to be up there, without a shadow of a doubt."

Leeds are 2/1 to win the Championship title this season, while they are priced at 4/6 to win promotion.

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Clement axed by ailing Royals

Championship strugglers Reading have sacked head coach Paul Clement, with the Royals having won just one of their last seven league games.

The 46-year-old former Derby County and Swansea City boss only took charge at the Madejski Stadium in March, helping the club avoid relegation to League One.

However, the Royals find themselves entrenched in another relegation dogfight this season, with Reading currently outside the bottom three on goal difference only.

A club statement confirmed: "Reading Football Club can announce that Paul Clement has left his position as manager of the club with immediate effect.

"CEO Nigel Howe will seek to swiftly identify and appoint a new manager who will fit the Reading mould, build a team which can deliver performances and results that will help us climb the Championship table and lead the club towards promotion in the future."

Clement had struck a positive note following a 2-2 weekend draw with Stoke City, telling reporters: "The concern is the position in the league, we are still not clear of it. My view is that if you string performances together, results will follow.

"You can't say we've played poorly in the last two games against Stoke and Leeds. Yes, we picked up one point, but we haven't played poorly.

"If you continue to play well results will follow, I'm convinced of that. That will be the objective."

Reading are priced at 1/1 to be relegated this season, with Rotherham United 11/8 and Hull City 4/1.

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Smith happy with winning habits

Aston Villa boss Dean Smith is eager to see his team maintain the standards they have set in winning their last three games in the Championship.

The Villans are back in action at home to Nottingham Forest on Wednesday evening, with a tough runs of games to follow which sees them take on Middlesbrough, West Brom, Stoke City and Leeds United.

And former Brentford manager Smith is aware of just how hard the challenge of getting back into the promotion shale-up will be for his side following a disappointing start to the season.

He told the Express & Star: "We've now won three games on the spin.

"This group knows how to win games, they did it enough last season and were unfortunate at the last hurdle. We will just have to keep the run going.

"I said it before, under Steve Bruce this team were good here. Not many teams came to Villa Park and beat Villa, so let's hope that will continue."

Smith hopes to have midfielder John McGinn available after he missed the 4-2 derby victory over Birmingham City due to a calf strain, but he has major doubts over both Albert Adomah and Henri Lansbury after they picked up knocks against the Blues.

"I'm hopeful John will be back for Wednesday. He wanted to play (against Birmingham), but I couldn't risk losing him and missing another couple of games."

Villa are available at 10/11 to defeat Forest and are 15/2 to claim a 2-1 win, with the Villa Park outfit 4/1 to secure promotion come the end of the season.

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Batth backs Pulis to get Boro up

Danny Batth is confident that Tony Pulis will guide Middlesbrough to promotion this season and that is why he joined the club on loan.

The 28-year-old central defender played a part in helping Wolves win the Championship title last term, but opted to move to the Riverside Stadium in the summer when it was clear that he would struggle to feature in the club's Premier League campaign.

Batth has also found life difficult on Teesside with Daniel Ayala, Aden Flint and Dael Fry ahead of him in the central defensive pecking order.

He made his first and only senior start to date in the Carabao Cup penalty shoot-out win at Preston in the last round, while he is set to feature on Wednesday night when Premier League Crystal Palace arrive at the Riverside in the fourth round.

Batth is aware that Boro have struggled on home soil of late with no wins in the last four league outings, while their only goal in that run was an own goal from Derby's Jayden Bogle on Saturday.

It has resulted in a section of the fans doubting Pulis has the ability to get the team back into the Premier League, but Batth is adamant that the Welsh tactician will get things right.

He said: "There's lots of different ways to win promotion. The manager has been around for years, and he knows what's required.

"He's probably played every formation that's ever been invented. He's tried this, that and the other, so he knows what he's doing. I think the fans should have the peace of mind of knowing they have a manager in charge who knows what he's doing. He's got a proven track record, and he's got a bunch of lads who will run through a brick wall for the badge.

"It's all about consistency. It's a long season, and I think the lads have shown consistently that they can be solid and resolute.

"Then, it's just about that spark, and that final pass that we've maybe wasted one or two times. But I think it will fall good in time."

Boro are 6/4 to be promoted this season, while they are priced at 23/10 to defeat Palace in the Carabao Cup on Wednesday.

The Eagles are 27/20 to book a quarter-final place and the draw at 90 minutes is priced at 12/5.

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Pulis rues a lack of firepower

Middlesbrough head coach Tony Pulis accepts that his team need to show more of a cutting edge in front of goal to maintain a promotion push this season.

The Teessiders were held to a goalless draw at home to Rotherham United on Tuesday evening, making it three games in a row at the Riverside without a goal.

Despite those struggles, Boro remain firmly in the Championship promotion picture, with Pulis unable to fault the overall effort of his players.

He told the local media after a stodgy clash with the Millers: "We had enough of the play and enough of the ball in the final third, but you need that little bit of extra quality.

"We're in very good positions to make an opportunity and then not good with that final pass or good enough to finish it – that's the difference between winning and losing and being up there and not being up there.

"You can't fault the players, they kept going, but we needed just that little bit of quality."

Boro are currently priced at 11/8 to gain promotion this season, while they are 5/1 to win the Championship title.

Meanwhile, Pulis also confirmed that Ryan Shotton missed the game due to a knee injury, with the wing-back's likely return date yet to be decided.

He added: "Ryan's got a sore knee and we'll have to see how long he's going to be out for. We're not sure how bad it is, we'll have to wait to find out."

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Smith makes Villa promotion claim

New manager Dean Smith is confident that Aston Villa can recover from their poor start to the Championship campaign and secure automatic promotion this season.

The 47-year-old has spoken for the first time since being appointed as Steve Bruce's managerial successor at Villa Park last Thursday with John Terry also drafted in as his assistant.

And, while Villa sit down in 15th position in the table, just six points above the relegation places after a run of one win in 10 matches, Smith does not believe all is lost this season.

In a tight division, Villa are just four points off the play-off places and nine behind West Brom in the final automatic promotion spot.

And the boyhood Villa fan is fully focused on getting the club back into the Premier League at the earliest opportunity.

Smith, who left Championship rivals Brentford to take on the job, said at Monday's press conference: "The statistics are not good for the club at the moment, hence why I'm sat here.

"There is a realistic aim, I believe, to go and get promoted this season. That has to be the aim.

"I've been in this league now for the last three or four seasons, and it is a tough league. For me, it's the most even league I've seen since I've been in it.

"Wolves last season were outstanding. The season before you had Newcastle and Brighton, who were very good.

"At the moment I don't see anyone who looks like they're going to run away with it. There is not an insurmountable gap between us and the top two, or top six."

Villa, who are 5/1 to be promoted this season, face Swansea at Villa Park on Saturday in Smith's first game in charge and they are 1/1 to pick up the three points. The Swans are priced at 3/1 to win and the draw is 11/5.

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Smith leaves Brentford for Villa

Aston Villa have appointed Dean Smith as their new head coach, with the former Brentford and Walsall boss being assisted by John Terry in a new-look set-up.

Forty-seven-year-old Smith takes charge after almost three years at the helm of Brentford, having begun his managerial career with Walsall in 2011.

He guided the Bees to three solid mid-table finishes in the Championship during his tenure, while this season they currently lie in seventh place, eight places and three points better off than Villa.

Smith will be joined at Villa Park by former Chelsea and England captain Terry, who recently ended his playing career, having spent last season with the Villans, helping them reach the Championship play-off final.

Also being brought in is a new sporting director, Jesus Garcia Pitarch, who has previously taken on a similar role at both Valencia and Atletico Madrid.

Villa chief executive Christian Purslow told the club's official website: "These three appointments represent the start of a new era and direction at Aston Villa and we are delighted to secure their services after an extensive search.

"Dean has a clear and successful coaching philosophy, as well as a real understanding of Aston Villa Football Club. He is also knowledgeable about the Championship.

"John is one of the most decorated players in English football, has an affinity with the club and is ready to take the next step in his career working alongside Dean."

Villa can be backed at 5/1 to gain promotion to the Premier League this season, with Nottingham Forest priced at 11/2 and Leeds United 7/5.

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Sako welcomes Albion opportunity

Versatile forward Bakary Sako is relishing an opportunity to help West Bromwich Albion challenge for an immediate return to the Premier League.

The 30-year-old was a free agent after leaving Crystal Palace at the end of last season and has opted to join the Baggies on a season-long deal after being the subject of interest from a number of top-flight clubs.

And Mali international Sako, who has also played in England with Wolves, has revealed that the influence of Albion boss Darren Moore was a major factor in him heading to The Hawthorns.

He told his new club's official website: "A lot of Premier League clubs wanted me, but as soon as I knew Darren Moore wanted to see me I went to see him straight away and we clicked.

"The way he manages players, the way he talks, he's passionate and I love that – that's why I came here."

Meanwhile, Moore himself was delighted to have landed Sako, adding: "He brings great experience and adds greatly to our goal threat across a range of positions. He brings competition to the group and a know-how of this division.

"He's been a credit while he's been training with us and I can vouch for the fact that the way he has committed to us has been exceptional."

The Baggies, who top the Championship table heading into a midweek round of games, are back in action on Wednesday evening when they head to Hillsborough to take on Sheffield Wednesday.

They are 11/10 to defeat the Owls and are 10/1 to win the game 2-0, with the visitors 9/4 to keep a clean sheet.

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Livermore issues warning to rivals

Jake Livermore has warned West Brom's rivals that "there is a lot more to come from us" after they went to the top of the Championship table.

Darren Moore's side took advantage of Leeds United's 1-1 draw at Sheffield Wednesday on Friday and Middlesbrough's inability to win at lowly Hull City to take over at the top thanks to a 3-2 win at bottom side Preston on Saturday.

Jay Rodriguez, a Ben Davies own goal and Dwight Gayle scored the goals at Deepdale as the Baggies made it three wins in succession to move them a point clear of Leeds, Boro and Sheffield United.

And, while Livermore insisted that the players were delighted with the win and to go top, he is adamant that they have yet to find their best form this season.

He told the club's website: "Most importantly it was a massive three points but we know within ourselves there's a lot more to come from us.

"This team has more to offer. Our mission today was to come out and get the three points. But we probably played better in the opening game of the season against Bolton and came away with nothing.

"It's good we're finding ways to win games now. So credit to the boys and the coaching staff and it was fantastic to get the win.

"We're under no illusions this season we're going to face teams who make it difficult for us to come and play. We may have to adapt the way we play but the most important thing is we come away with a win. By no means were we at our best but the main thing is the result and all in all it was a good day's work."

West Brom, who are 9/4 to win the Championship this season, can maintain their place at the top of the table on Wednesday when they travel to Sheffield Wednesday.

The Baggies are 1/1 to win at Hillsborough, while the Owls are priced at 13/5 to win with the draw 5/2.

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Rodwell relishes Rovers chance

Three-time England international midfielder Jack Rodwell is eager to make the most of an opportunity to reignite his faltering career with Blackburn Rovers.

The 27-year-old has agreed a deal with the Ewood Park outfit for the remainder of the season and is currently working his way towards full fitness, as he has yet to make his debut for Rovers.

And the former Everton, Manchester City and Sunderland schemer is determined not to let his latest opportunity to pass him by.

He told the Lancashire Telegraph: "The last couple of years have been hard, but hopefully it is just a blip. To win three England caps was a great experience, it would have been nice to add more and there is still time.

"It's now a case of feeling my way into it at Blackburn and picking up a good run of form. It's nice to focus on football and being in a good place at a good club and looking forward."

Meanwhile, Rovers boss Tony Mowbray has high hopes for Rodwell, with his side having made a solid start to life back in The Championship.

He added: "In training I don't really know what foot he kicks with, because he has amazing composure on both feet, pinging it 30 yards one way and then 40 yards the other direction.

"I don't think anyone should question his talent, he's played for England and Man City and we're finding out about his spirit and his character."

Blackburn are priced at 20/1 to finish in the top two in The Championship this season, while they are 4/1 to secure a top-six finish.

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