HARRY’S SO HAPPY AND IT'S GREAT BRITT AS ROVERS GO
WHILE Blackburn Rovers mourned dropping into League One last Sunday, it was pure joy for Harry Redknapp’s Birmingham City and Britt Assombalonga-inspired Nottingham Forest.
The trio went into the final day knowing one of them would join Rotherham and Wigan in suffering relegation to the third tier – and it turned into quite a nail-biter.
Blackburn started the day third bottom, but – temporarily at least – climbed out of the drop zone with a stunning start at Brentford.
Charlie Mulgrew curled home a magnificent tenth-minute freekick and Danny Guthrie doubled the lead six minutes later.
Birmingham also made early inroads at Bristol City. Che Adams – who had his red card against Huddersfield the previous week overturned – raced through, turned defender Aden Flint and coolly fired home on 16 minutes.
That put Forest in the mire, but up stepped Assombalonga. The 24-year-old striker smashed home a penalty after Jamie Ward had been fouled by Ipswich keeper Bartosz Bialkowski to give the Reds a crucial lead just before the break.
That lifted Forest above Blackburn on goals scored and suddenly things started to fall apart for Rovers. Lasse Vibe pulled one back for Brentford and then Forest put Ipswich to the sword.
Chris Cohen’s long-range effort flew into the top corner. Assombalonga saw a second penalty superbly saved by Bialkowski but atoned by powering into the box and rifling an unstoppable shot past the startled keeper to make it 3-0.
Sub Craig Conway hit a late third for Blackburn from the penalty spot, but by now things were looking desperate. Forest’s goal difference was better, meaning Rovers needed Bristol City to score an equaliser against Birmingham to send the Blues down instead of them.
The Robins piled on the pressure in the closing stages, but couldn’t find the net, allowing Redknapp’s men to celebrate survival – and Rovers to face up to life in League One. An elated Redknapp, whose two wins in three matches equalled the tally of predecessor Gianfranco Zola in 22 Championship games, said: “It was a fantastic feeling when the referee blew the whistle.”
Forest boss Warburton, who took the reins in mid-March, said: “We called the players in and congratulated them, but we must never, ever allow Forest to be in this situation again.”
Brighton and Newcastle went into the final day with promotion to the top-flight sewn up, but the title was still at stake.
Newcastle tamed Barnsley 3-0 with goals from Ayoze Perez, Chancel Mbemba and Dwight Gayle.
However, Brighton had one hand on the trophy when Glenn Murray put them ahead from the penalty spot in the 64th minute at Aston Villa after Nathan Baker had been sent off for a foul on Sam Baldock.
It looked as though the Seagulls could party, but Villa’s Jack Grealish had other ideas.
His speculative 89th-minute effort bamboozled Seagulls keeper David Stockdale to make it 1-1 and hand the title to Newcastle by a point.
Elsewhere, two of the sides in the play-off positions met at Hillsborough, with visitors
Fulham getting the better of Sheffield Wednesday. Wednesday boss Carlos CarAnd
valhal made ten changes, but it didn’t appear to be a problem when Sam Winnall gave them a ninth-minute lead.
However, Neeskens Kebano levelled for Fulham on 25 minutes and the game turned even further in the direction of the Londoners when the hosts had Marco Matias sent off on the stroke of half-time for a lunging challenge on Kebano.
And it was the Fulham man who had the last word, scoring a 79th-minute winner to put the Whites in good heart for the play-offs.
Until last Sunday, it was up in the air just who sixth-placed Fulham would meet in the semifinals, but Reading made sure of third place with an entertaining 4-2 win at already-safe
Burton Albion. Joseph Mendes, Jordan Obita, Yann Kermorgant and Lewis Grabban were on target for the Royals, while Ben Turner and Cauley Woodrow netted for the Brewers.
It wasn’t such a good day for the other side in the play-off slots, Huddersfield Town. Their poor form continued with a 3-0 home defeat at the hands of Neil Warnock’s Cardiff.
Kenneth Zohore gave the Welsh side an early lead and the Terriers were in the mire when keeper Danny Ward was dismissed on 20 minutes for handling outside the box.
Joe Bennett then scored twice as the Bluebirds finished the season in style.
Fifth-placed Huddersfield host fourth-placed Sheffield Wednesday in the play-off semifinal first leg at noon today.
Wigan hosted Leeds in a match between two sides wondering what might have been. The Latics’ relegation back to League One had already been confirmed, while Leeds knew their play-off chances had effectively been ended after a 3-3 home draw against Norwich the previous week.
Ryan Tunnicliffe gave Wigan a sixth-minute lead, but the Whites drew level when Chris Wood netted his 30th goal of the season from the penalty spot five minutes into the second half. However, the draw was overshadowed by Leeds boss Garry Monk’s claims that leftback
Charlie Taylor, 23, who is out of contract this summer, had refused to play.
“There’s no sugar-coating it,” said Monk. “Charlie refused to play. I think he’s been poorly advised all season, from outside.”
Norwich gave another glimpse of what could have been this season with a thumping 4-0 win against QPR at Carrow Road.
Wes Hoolahan led the way with a double, while Alex Pritchard and Josh Murphy also got in on the act.
It was the day when goalkeeper John Ruddy, 30, who has been released, fittingly signed off with a clean sheet.
Wolves edged out Preston 1-0 with a second-minute Danny Batth goal, while relegated Rotherham said farewell to the second tier with a 1-1 home draw against Derby County.
Lee Frecklington gave the Millers the lead midway through the second half, but Tom Ince levelled for Derby from the penalty spot with six minutes left.
HARRY’S GAME: Redknapp’s as ecstatic as ever after Che Adams, left, helped Birmingham beat the drop EMOTIONAL: Newcastle’s Ayoze Perez scores their first goal and the Magpies lift the trophy, right, while Brighton players look dejected after Jack Grealish’s late strike for Villa, left
HERO: Britt Assombalonga takes the acclaim after scoring Forest’s third, while jubilant fans invaded the pitch at the end to toast survival