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’

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sport | Football - Cham­pi­onship By John Percy

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.

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