West Brom urged to seize on reprieve and ‘cross that line’
Win over QPR would clinch promotion for proud Bilic Brentford coach Frank not giving up on ‘magical season’
West Bromwich Albion are 90 minutes from a Premier League return, with Slaven Bilic imploring his players to use the disappointment of losing last Friday as motivation to “finish the job”.
On a pivotal final day in the Championship season, West Brom know victory over Queens Park Rangers will secure automatic promotion just five days after it appeared their hopes of finishing second were over.
Bilic endured a nightmarish night after a surprise defeat at Huddersfield Town presented Brentford with the chance to pip them to a top-two finish.
Yet West Brom’s mood was lifted by Brentford losing at Stoke City the following day as the pressure over the chase to join Leeds United in the Premier League built.
Brentford or Fulham could still secure second place if results go their way, while Nottingham Forest, Cardiff City and Swansea City are fighting it out for the other two play-off places.
But it is West Brom who are unquestionably in the driving seat as they prepare for the visit of QPR to the Hawthorns.
“We felt on Friday night and Saturday morning the way we don’t want to feel again,” Bilic, who was appointed head coach last summer, said. “It was a roller coaster of course, but there was a good ending to part one. It is gone now and we are confident. Whatever the results on Friday and Saturday it was going to come down to this last game. We are 90 minutes away from something great and we are ready to cross that line. We are ready to give everything.
“We should be proud of what we have done so far. Now is the time to finish it off.”
Albion, who were relegated from the Premier League in 2018, have been in the Championship’s top two since September, and were six points clear of third place ahead of the restart.
Automatic promotion still remains in their hands, but performances since returning from lockdown have been patchy, with Bilic admitting the pressure is immense.
“This is the game that people are talking about. It’s a special game,” he said. “It gives you that adrenalin that every professional footballer or manager or anyone who does an important job feels – it makes you feel proud to be in that position.
“The Brentford result shows that it has not been easy for us and Leeds. One game under pressure shows that you can be a little bit uncomfortable if you’re not winning after 15 minutes. The balance of ‘burning’ and being calm, being in the zone, being locked in to the situation. We must use it as a motivation, not a burden.”
Brentford, however, could still claim automatic promotion if they
Hold your nerve: Slaven Bilic will end a ‘roller-coaster’ season with a return to the Premier League if West Brom win
The Baggies spent 10 years bouncing between the top two tiers before eight years of stability at the start of the Noughties beat 23rd-placed Barnsley and West Brom draw or lose.
Thomas Frank’s team had won eight league games in a row before their visit to Stoke on Saturday, and the Dane is still dreaming of a memorable end to the campaign.
“Let’s make this the magical season we are all trying for, and it is perfect timing moving to the new stadium,” he said. “We love stories, that is what football is about. The fantastic story of Brentford beating all the bigger clubs and going to the Premier League…
“It’s so unrealistic that it is even possible, or it is like Leeds coming back to the Premier League after 16 years of suffering. We need to realise that just to be able to be in this position is unbelievable.”
Fourth-placed Fulham are guaranteed a play-off place and could finish second in the event of winning at Wigan and West Brom losing and Brentford failing to win.
In Scott Parker’s first full campaign as manager, Fulham have built momentum at the business end of the season with five wins from six matches. Bobby Decordova-Reid, the Fulham forward, said: “We would have taken this position before lockdown, we just need to win and see what happens.”
Forest, in fifth, need just a point to cement a play-off position for the first time since 2011 under head coach Sabri Lamouchi.
They have not played in the top division for more than two decades and Lamouchi’s injury-ravaged squad face Stoke at home having won none of their past five games.
Cardiff also need only a point to secure sixth place and Swansea will miss out on the play-offs if Forest and Cardiff avoid defeat, regardless of their game at Reading.
But this is the crazy Championship, and history has proved that anything can happen on this nervejangling final day.