Sunday saw the last day of the Championship when the final issues of promotion and relegation were to be resolved. There was high drama but this is how things panned out.
At the top of the table, the title was still up for grabs. Brighton travelled to Aston Villa and Newcastle while Newcastle hosted Barnsley. Brighton knew a win would hand them the title, regardless of Newcastle’s results. In short, Newcastle had to better Brighton’s result to claim the league title. It appeared that Aston Villa would be a challenge for Brighton and Newcastle should have an easy time against Barnsley.
This is certainly how things turned out. Newcastle did all they could by easily dispatching Barnsley 3-0 thanks to goals from Ayoze Perez, Chancel Mbemba and Dwight Gayle. All eyes were on the south coast, in the first half some false information had found its way to St James’ that Aston Villa had taken the lead, that heightened tension but in reality, Brighton would strike the first blow. Glenn Murray converted his penalty just after the hour mark to give the Seagulls the lead and in the process, Nathan Baker was sent off, leaving Villa with a tall order to come back. However, in a dramatic finish, Jack Grealish popped up in the 89th minute to poke home and level the scores. That was good enough for Newcastle as Rafa Benitez’s men ended their one season stay in the Championship as champions.
Playoffs wise, things looked relatively settled, it was still possible for Leeds to pip Fulham for the final playoff place but this would require a Leeds win, a Fulham loss and a swing of over 13 goals. In the end, Leeds couldn’t even hold up their end of the bargain as they drew 1-1 with relegated Wigan. Fulham meanwhile, defeated Sheffield Wednesday 2-1 at Hillsborough, a great sign heading into the play-off campaign. Victory for Reading at Burton coupled with Huddersfield’s loss to Cardiff ensured there were no changes in any of the playoff positions. Reading will now meet Fulham while Sheffield Wednesday will travel to Huddserfild in the opening leg.
At the wrong end of the table, there was one relegation place left (with Wigan and Rotherham already condemned to relegation to League One). Blackburn Rovers, Nottingham Forest, and Birmingham City were all fighting for their lives. It’s quite tricky at the bottom so it’ll take some time to explain. Birmingham were in the best position, being two points clear of Nottingham Forest and Blackburn. Despite being out of the relegation zone, Forest were in a tricky position due to being level on points with Blackburn and only one goal ahead on goal difference. Wins from Nottingham and Blackburn and Birmingham failing to win would send Redknapp’s team down. Blackburn needed to better Forest’s result or if they both won, beat Forest’s margin of victory by two goals.There was still everything to play for and it was full of excitement.
Things looked bleak for Forest and both Birmingham and Blackburn raced into early leads, Blackburn stretching theirs to two within the opening 16 minutes. With things looking bleak heading into half-time, Forest were given a lifeline when Ipswich goalkeeper Bartosz Bialkowski was punished for a foul clumsy challenge on Jamie Ward, Britt Assombalonga stepped up to take the spot-kick and powered it home. Heading into the break, Forest were only just staying up courtesy of goals scored. In the second half, they put it beyond all doubt by racing into a 3-0 lead over Ipswich, Blackburn could only finish up 3-1 away at Brentford, this all meant that an equaliser for Bristol City would be enough to send the Blues down but alas, Redknapp’s men held firm and Blackburn, despite their win, were consigned to playing League One football next season.