LONDON (Reuters) - England’s second-tier Championship always had a propensity for twists, turns and sub-plots but it surpassed itself on ‘Wacky Wednesday’ with a head-spinning final day that should have come with a health warning.
A night of stomach-churning drama ended with around 10,000 Leeds United fans defying calls to respect COVID-19 distancing guidelines by descending on their Elland Road stadium to celebrate the end of a 16-year absence from the top flight.
Footage showed the Leeds players in an open-top double-decker bus, surrounded by a swarming mass of chanting fans enveloped in smoke from flares and fireworks.
Leeds defended the stunt, saying it was a contingency plan in case, as expected, fans defied calls to stay away.
“The safety group believes that a brief appearance from the players with the Championship trophy would help to signal and end to proceedings, encouraging fans to head home,” the club said in a statement.
Already-promoted Leeds had earlier beaten Charlton Athletic 4-0 to send the Londoners down to the third tier — just one of the issues resolved on a night in which 45 goals were scored in 12 fixtures, all played behind closed doors.
West Bromwich Albion manager Slaven Bilic said he was “exhausted” after his side crawled across the line to join champions Leeds after an excruciating 2-2 draw at home to Queens Park Rangers. West Brom’s players only celebrated once it was confirmed that Brentford, who could have pipped them, had blown it in a 2-1 defeat by Barnsley.
“What a season and what a league,” Bilic said.
Barnsley’s unlikely win, sealed late on by substitute Clarke Oduor, meant they would have finished third from bottom, but Wigan Athletic’s 12-point deduction for entering administration meant they were saved — for now.
You could only feel for Wigan’s players who would have stayed above the drop zone, even with a 12-point hit, had any number of late chances gone in the 1-1 draw with Fulham.
Wigan can still appeal.
It was all too much for Barnsley’s Austrian boss Gerhard Struber who broke down in tears in his post-match TV interview.
Tears would have flowed at Nottingham Forest’s City Ground too. Forest began the night in the playoffs and could only slip out if they lost, Cardiff City avoided defeat and Swansea City won and made up six goals on Forest in the process.
Cardiff duly beat Hull City, to send them down to the third tier for the first time since 2005, Swansea City won 4-1 at Reading and Forest capitulated at home to Stoke City, conceding three late goals to lose 4-1.
“I don’t have words. It’s a disaster, to lose everything in the last game at home,” Forest’s shellshocked coach Sabri Lamouchi said. “It doesn’t feel real, but it is the truth.”
Brentford boss Thomas Frank, whose side lost their last two games after winning eight in a row, summed it up succinctly.
“Football is 80 percent suffering and 10 percent joy,” the Dane said.
At the bottom there were final-day escapes for Luton Town and Middlesbrough, who beat Blackburn Rovers and Sheffield Wednesday respectively, as well as Birmingham City, despite losing at home to Derby County. Incredibly, the five bottom clubs on July 2 all survived.
The drama is not done though. Brentford, for whom two untimely defeats cost them automatic promotion back to the top-flight for the first time since 1947, will now meet Swansea City in the playoffs while Cardiff City take on Fulham.
Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Toby Davis