LONDON (Reuters) - West Bromwich Albion manager Slaven Bilic wore every possible emotion on his face on a nerve-shredding night of tension at the Hawthorns as his side secured promotion to the Premier League.
Bilic knew anything other than victory over Queen’s Park Rangers could allow Brentford to sneak into the runners-up spot behind Leeds United. As it turned out, a 2-2 draw was enough as Brentford were beaten at home by Barnsley.
West Brom’s hopes of avoiding the ordeal of the playoffs, in which they fell last season, were wavering when QPR took the lead, then again when the visitors levelled it up.
At 2-2 and with Brentford drawing 1-1, they were walking a tightrope, but news of Barnsley’s winner offered respite for a frantic Bilic whose team has been in the top two virtually all season but have struggled since the restart following the three-month COVID-19 shutdown.
“What a season, what a league,” Bilic said after enjoying the celebrations on the pitch. “I was very vocal when I said I would always like to manage in the Championship because it’s especially difficult. I never imagined it would be this difficult, this demanding.
“It’s exhausting. I didn’t enjoy every minute of it, of course, but with a finish like this, the results at the bottom, the (Nottingham) Forest situation, it’s unbelievable.
“I’m proud of the whole club.”
Bilic said he was urging his side to score another goal late on, before events elsewhere changed the scenario.
“I was told it is 1-1 (at Brentford) in the 85th minute and I said: ‘I don’t believe, I can’t rely on that, we have to try and score,’ When they told me it was 2-1, then I told them to go back. I didn’t believe (Brentford) would score two.”
While there was joy for West Brom who gained a fifth promotion to the top flight, it was despair for Brentford who had closed a 10-point gap on Bilic’s team and looked like earning automatic promotion before consecutive losses.
They will meet Swansea City who incredibly crept into the playoffs on goal difference with a 4-1 win at Reading combined with a 4-1 home loss for Nottingham Forest against Stoke City.
“Football is 80% suffering and 10% joy,” Brentford manager Thomas Frank said. “We need to go again and pick ourselves up. We will have a sleep and then be ready to fight again.”
Reporting by Martyn Herman, editing by Ed Osmond