The race is on for automatic promotion to the Premier League, with Albion right in the thick of it.

Chris Hughton's Seagulls are the outsiders in a four-way fight with Burnley, Middlesbrough and Hull to finish in the top two in the Championship.

The gap between Albion and the automatic places will be two, three or five points when Reading visit the Amex on Tuesday.

Leaders Burnley go to Huddersfield today and Middlesbrough, with a game in hand, are at next-to-bottom Charlton tomorrow.

Hull will move back above Albion today into third if they win or draw one of their two matches in hand at home to struggling MK Dons, the Seagulls' next away opponents.

Hughton fears the Championship could be even harder to get out of next season, with North-East giants Newcastle and Sunderland in danger of relegation and Midlands heavyweights Aston Villa seemingly doomed.


He told The Argus: "The three teams that went up (Bournemouth, Watford and Norwich) probably started the season as favourites to go straight back down again.

"The teams coming from the Championship to the Premier League are in a better position now to compete. Ultimately that means it could be a lot tougher Championship next season."

All the more reason then for Albion to try to secure a guaranteed spot, instead of the lottery of the play-offs for a third season out of four.

Andy Naylor assesses the candidates.

BURNLEY Fixtures: (H) Wolves (12th), Cardiff (7th), Leeds (15th), Middlesbrough (2nd), QPR (11th).

(A) Huddersfield (18th), Albion (3rd), Birmingham (9th), Preston (10th), Charlton (23rd).

Average position of opponents: 11.

Points potential: Unlikely to drop many at Turf Moor. Next month's visit to the Amex stands out as an away test.

Form: Powerful. Five wins on the spin, unbeaten in nine.

Biggest strength: Strikers Andre Gray and Sam Vokes (32 goals between them).

Biggest weakness: Low possession stats can put them on the back foot, especially away.

Verdict: Booked for top two.

MIDDLESBROUGH Fixtures: (H) Hull (4th), Huddersfield (18th), Preston (10th), Reading (14th), Ipswich (8th), Albion (3rd).

(A) Charlton (23rd), QPR (11th), Bolton (24th), Burnley (1st), Birmingham (9th).

Average position of opponents: 11.4.

Points potential: Beginning to look formidable at the Riverside, but away form has deteriorated. Will be tough for them at QPR and Burnley.

Form: Suspect. Three wins in ten since leading the way mid-January.

Biggest strength: Defence, particularly at home where they have conceded only six goals.

Biggest weakness: Coping with big-spending expectations.

Verdict: Play-offs again.

ALBION Fixtures: (H) Reading (14th), Burnley (1st), Fulham (19th), QPR (11th), Derby (5th).

(A) MK Dons (21st), Birmingham (9th), Nottingham Forest (13th), Charlton (23rd), Middlesbrough (2nd).

Average position of opponents: 11.8.

Points potential: Strong record at the Amex key and opportunities to boost away wins tally.

Form: Unpredictable. Two big wins in last six games.

Biggest strength: Resilience to deal with setbacks.

Biggest weakness: Creativity if the wingers are not firing.

Verdict: Play-offs, which would represent success.

HULL Fixtures: (H) MK Dons (21st), Nottingham Forest (13th), Bristol City (20th), Wolves (12th), Leeds (15th), Brentford (17th), Rotherham (22nd) (A) Middlesbrough (2nd), Derby (5th), Huddersfield (18th), Reading (14th), Bolton (24th).

Average position of opponents: 15.25.

Points potential: Seven of 12 at the KC Stadium against sides in the bottom half. Harder on the road.

Form: Patchy. Two wins in six mixed in with two FA Cup ties against Arsenal.

Biggest strength: Best squad and defence in the division.

Biggest weakness: Goals have dried up, only one in six games in all competitions.

Verdict: Champions if they make home advantage count.

SIX-POINTERS March 18: Middlesbrough v Hull April 2: Albion v Burnley April 19: Burnley v Middlesbrough May 7: Middlesbrough v Albion