Congrats to Birmingham and Sunderland as Leeds dangle over the wire
Crystal Palace beat Derby County today 2-0 at Selhurst Park to guarantee promotion for Birmingham City and Sunderland to the EPL. Both promoted clubs were relegated last season so to bounce back the following season is tremendous, given how other clubs have gone down and still remain in the Championship. In saying that, the plight of Leeds United in particular was highlighted by a 1-1 draw at home to Ipswich Town. With one more game remaining and barring a change of results that would lead to them winning and superseding Hull City on goals difference, the Yorkshire side who won the then First Divison title in 1991-92 before the Premiership began, featured in the semi-finals of both the UEFA and Champions League competitions against Galatasaray and Valencia in 1999-2000 and 2000-01 respectively, will go down to the third tier of League One for the first time in its history. This from a side who spent fourteen years in the top flight of English football.
Mentioning Birmingham City and Sunderland is to pay respect to their managers. Steve Bruce endured a torrent of media coverage that speculated over his inevitable dismissal from Birmingham owing to relegation and then poor results from late September into mid-October. Yet the board decided to keep Bruce, and they must simply be patting themselves on the back for doing so, the kind of backing I expected Alan Pardew to have received from his board at Upton Park. The Midlands side had fought almost neck-in-neck with Cardiff City for the summit of the Championship, seemed to have gone off the boil after Xmas with two wins and two draws from their first seven, but went on to record only three losses and one draw from their following twelve games, holding now top spot to guarantee promotion.
Sunderland Athletic is another story. The talk of a consortium headed by former player Niall Quinn, practically one of those well respected for his generosity in football, ended with Quinn taking over from Mick McCarthy as manager and Bob Murray as chairman but also with Sunderland losing their first four games in the Championship, placing them perilously close to the root of the table. Quinn then appointed former Ireland international team-mate Roy Keane, and after then Sunderland lost only eight, drawing seven, from 41 games which included an unbeaten run of 17 games since the beginning of this year. Now in runner-up spot, Roy Keane and Niall Quinn have aided the North-East side back into the Premiership.
Birmingham are away to Preston North End, Sunderland are at Luton Town in their respective final games next week. I sense a Sunderland draw and a Birmingham win to crown Birmingham City Championship winners. Leeds are away to Derby County, Hull City host Plymouth in their respective final games. I feel it is inevitable Leeds will not have the fortune to avoid dropping to League One.