The climax of the footballs greatest ever underdog story from Leicester City no doubt took the gloss off the high-achievers in England’s lower leagues.
The battle for automatic promotion settled in League 2, League 1 and the Football Championship took shape this weekend.
The promotion race in the Championship is always the most eagerly anticipated battle in the lower leagues of English football and this season’s race for promotion was one of the most exciting races in recent history. Dubbed the ‘$332 million match’. North-East side Middlesbrough F.C. hosted East Sussex club Brighton and Hove Albion to the Riverside stadium, in a winner takes all match. The winner to be covered in glory earning promotion to the Premier League, whilst the loser would need to slug it out in the play-off stages. Middlesbrough only needed a win or draw whereas Brighton needed to take all three points to claim second spot and earn promotion with Burnley already promoted.
Passion and intensity was evident from both sets of players at the moment of the first kick. Middlesborough opened the scoring in the first half through Spaniard Christian Stuani, in a well-executed set-piece play. Aitor Karanka’s men would hold the lead until the 58th minute when Dale Stephens headed in from close range to level the match. Stephens was sent off just minutes later after a nasty challenge on Gaston Ramirez which saw him stretched off the pitch. The match would end in a 1-1 draw much to the pure jubilation of the Boro supporters, who have been absent from the Premier League since they were last relegated back in 2009.
Brighton on the other hand now have the strenuous task of gaining promotion through the play-off system. History shows us that most sides that finish third struggle to battle again in the play-off’s. Albion will be hoping to earn promotion to the Premier League for the first time in their history.
England’s third tier also saw some remarkable stories take place. 2013 FA Cup winners Wigan Athletic finished the season on top spot, earning a place in the Championship for next season after being relegated last season. Recent times haven’t been easy for the club, after going through all sorts of turmoil with their current owner Dave Whelan and former manager Malky Mackay; Involved in a racism and anti-semitism scandal along with the loss of key players including Ali Al-Habsi, James Mclean and Marc Antoine-Fortune. Since then, former Wigan captain Gary Caldwell was announced as manager, and they’ve been in brilliant form winning the league just two points of second Burton Albion.
Burton Albion have arguably been the second best underdog story in English football this season, as their rise up the English tiers continue. Having just won Football League Two last season under Jimmy-Floyd Hasselbaink, few expected to see Burton Albion stay in league one let alone earn promotion. Nigel Clough’s men sealed promotion with a 0-0 draw against Doncaster Rovers who narrowly escaped relegation, finishing just one point ahead of third placed Walsall. The Brewers were playing in conference just seven years ago and now under Nigel Clough, they’ll be playing in the championship next season. The highest tier the club has ever played in. What a story!