Sunday was a momentous day in the English Championship with the teams going up, getting in the play-offs, going down and staying up, changing constantly through ninety breathless, tension filled minutes.
As a Watford fan I was right in there. Looking for other scores as our plan to keep things tight at Blackpool went horribly awry, like so many of our plans over the past few months, going one-nil down after just two minutes.
With Crystal Palace winning comfortably it was only the last play-off place that would be available. Even though we were losing, it looked as though things were going to be OK as Ipswich, Wolves and Sheffield United all looked to be heading for draws or worse.
Watford striker Darius Henderson was then sent off and it looked as though things were going from bad to worse. Just when panic really began to set in, Tommy Smith fired in a cross shot and we were level and in the play-offs.
Then Ipswich scored and Wolves scored. We were hanging on to a 1-1 at Blackpool with ten men, knowing that conceding one goal would eliminate us from the end of season lottery. We didn’t. We hung on and claimed the sixth place. One win in the last fourteen games, just eight wins in thirty-four games since the end of October. Unbelievable but true, we’re in the play-offs.
Joining us will be Hull City who although thrilled to have had such a good season will be kicking themselves for losing two of their last three games and missing out on automatic promotion when it was there for the taking.
Bristol City were looking good for a long time, but with only one win in ten games, they are going into the play-offs in form not much better than Watford.
The final play-off contenders are Crystal Palace. One defeat in twelve and a team of hungry and talented youngsters makes them my favourites to lift the trophy at Wembley.
The automatic places go deservedly to West Brom, the best side in the Division by some distance, and Stoke City whose style of play is almost as direct as Watford’s but is backed up by having a few quality players such as Fuller, Lawrence and Shawcross.
Just missing out were Ipswich who have to look at away form that yielded just three wins all season. Sheffield United turned relegation form into promotion form after Kevin Blackwell replaced Bryan Robson, but just fell short in the end. Wolves will be disappointed to miss out by one goal on goal difference, but scoring just fifty-three goals in their forty-six games tells it’s own story.
At the other end of the table five teams were trying to avoid joining Colchester and Scunthorpe in the drop to League One. It was a roller-coaster ride particularly for Southampton, Coventry and Leicester who were all favourites for the drop at various points in the afternoon. Sheffield Wednesday won comfortably against Norwich and as already discussed, Blackpool were rarely troubled by my lot.
Coventry lost heavily at Charlton, meaning that their destiny was no longer in their own hands. Southampton meanwhile were winning an epic encounter with Sheffield United 3-2 to keep their Championship status. This meant that if Leicester could find a winner at Stoke, Coventry would go down. If they couldn’t, they would slip into the third tier of English football for the first time.
Leicester came close, but a 0-0 draw was not enough to save them.
So after a memorable day, West Brom and Stoke are celebrating and Leicester City are trying to come to terms with relegation. Southampton and Coventry are celebrating a lucky escape and Hull City, Bristol City, Crystal Palace and Watford live to fight another day.
It was an exciting day at the end of a very strange season and I’ve got at least two more nail-biters to go. I can’t wait!