By Mike Collett
LONDON (Reuters) - Bournemouth, Watford and Middlesbrough all scored convincing wins at the top of the tightest league in Europe on Saturday but Derby County faltered in the English Championship title race by drawing at fellow promotion hopefuls Norwich City.
Bournemouth, set on their way by a first-half hat-trick from Brett Pittman, thumped bottom-of-the-table Blackpool 4-0, Watford beat Reading 4-1 and Middlesbrough defeated Ipswich Town 4-1 to take all three teams to 69 points at the top of the second tier.
Bournemouth lead with a goal difference of plus-39 while Watford are second, having scored more goals than Middlesbrough.
With the top two winning automatic promotion and the next four entering the playoffs producing the additional promoted side, Derby slipped to fourth on 67 points after drawing 1-1 at Norwich who stayed in contention on 66 points.
The day's biggest losers were Brentford, who remained sixth but lost ground after being beaten 2-1 at home by Cardiff City who had two players sent off, including match-winner Federico Macheda, the former Manchester United striker.
Wigan Athletic, who won the FA Cup and were relegated from the Premier League two years ago and are now battling to avoid dropping falling into the third tier, boosted their chances with a 2-1 win at fellow strugglers Rotherham United. Former Liverpool and Stoke City forward Jermaine Pennant scored both goals.
But Millwall, who sacked coach Ian Holloway during the week, and Blackpool, who spent the 2010-11 season in the Premier League, look like being cut adrift after losing at Bolton Wanderers and Bournemouth respectively.
Blackpool have 22 points, Millwall 31 and Wigan 34, six behind Rotherham and Fulham, who drew 1-1 at Sheffield Wednesday.
There was no stopping Bournemouth who maintained their position as the highest scorers, putting four past Blackpool and taking their tally for the season to 78 goals.
Pittman took his to 13 for the season with his 39-minute hat-trick and Callum Wilson added the fourth from a second-half penalty.
Watford also put four past Reading, who face Bradford City in an FA Cup quarter-final replay on Monday, while Patrick Bamford, on loan at Middlesbrough from Chelsea, scored twice in the 4-1 win over Ipswich.
(Editing by Ed Osmond)