The Football League Paper - - NEWS - By John Lyons

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

PICTURE: Ac­tion Im­ages

HERO: Britt As­som­ba­longa takes the ac­claim af­ter scor­ing For­est’s third, while ju­bi­lant fans in­vaded the pitch at the end to toast sur­vival

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