Championship drama symbolises unpredictable nature of England's second tier
Championship round-up: Automatic promotion, play-off and relegation drama all rolled into one
As far as set-ups for last day drama go, the scenario was perfect. The permutations endless. The last automatic spot, two play-off spots and two relegation spots were left tantalisingly undecided. It was the sort of obscene finish that reminds us all why the Championship is supported so fervently, a league less an understudy to the Premier League, more its nutty younger sibling.
The desperation to get out of the Championship provides an interesting paradox in itself. It is portrayed as a 46-game slog, with Tuesday night trips to Barnsley or Huddersfield part of the gruelling package. It is a notoriously difficult lead to escape, but is life really better on the other side?
Teams dream of returning to the big time, to the promised land of mid-table obscurity, a possible crack at the Europa league. But the big time can often provide a harrowing experience in equal measure. Just ask fans of the Champions in 2012, Reading, or QPR. On the other hand, it may be better not to ask them. At least they are safe in the knowledge after today that the Championship may inject much needed excitement in their life.
To the day itself, where there is simply no easy way of describing. To sum up the chaos, there were 28 goals in the nine games that mattered for something, bringing a completely different meaning to the term ‘as it stands’, throughout the afternoon. The one side who failed to provide entertainment was a sorry Wolves side who were out of contention before half-time, a snapshot of their rapid decline over the last year and a half. Not that any more entertainment was required.
It was the race for the last automatic spot that provided the most ridiculous moments of the afternoon. Watford 'keepers at Vicarage Road seemed to be tumbling like dominoes. Manuel Almunia was ruled out before kick-off, his replacement Jonathan Bond was subsequently involved in a nasty collision, leading to a lengthy delay and a stretcher on field. He was replaced by 19-year-old Jack Bonham, who had an afternoon so torrid it surely made any football fan with a heart want to weep.
His mix-up with defender Joel Ekstrand gifted Leeds their first goal, and their second came from a lob that agonisingly evaded the young stopper in the dying moments. Not only was it a moment witnessed by the whole of a frantic Watford crowd, it was also right in front of Sky’s TV audience after the conclusion at the KC stadium.
Meanwhile at the KC, a crazy afternoon ended with the Hull City support seemingly forgetting how to count. A gripping game saw Hull Lead 2-1 with four minutes to play in injury time. Two minutes in and Hull were awarded a gift of a penalty. This was the cue for a number of the Tigers’ faithful to invade the pitch, something that required police attention and must have almost put off Nick Proschwitz.
Of course, he missed and Cardiff went and scored their own penalty. Nothing unusual, just football trying to defy every script ever written once again. What followed saw Hull City players forced to watch the rest of the Watford game in the tunnel. The full-time whistle sparked crazy, relief-fuelled celebrations to a side who return to the Premier League three years after being relegated.
The play-off position chase was even more muddled. Bolton, in sixth place at the start of the day, came from two goals down against Blackpool to snatch a point, but were dumped outside after a last-minute Anthony Knockaert winner at local rivals Nottingham Forest, who also missed out.
It had seemed all along that Bolton had timed their charge under former Palace boss Dougie Freedman to perfection, but a failure to grab a winner proved all too costly. The side that Freedman so controversially left meanwhile snatched two dramatic late goals to seal their fifth place, sending Peterborough down in heart-breaking fashion.
Peterborough lost the first seven games of the season, but at 14:30 the great escape seemed sealed. But five minutes and two goals later saw survival dreams turned into the reality of a relegation nightmare. A point each was enough to seal another year of Wacky Races style football for both Huddersfield and Barnsley, who had both occupied the relegation spots at some juncture in the afternoon before a 2-2 finish.
For anyone who has no apparent interest in football, today might just be the day where you must consider your existence. Missing out on sporting theatre like this should simply not be feasible. As for the fans of Nottingham Forest, Bolton Wanderers and possibly Watford, another year in the Championship may not be as bad as it seems now.
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