Sheffield United and Luton secure Championship playoff places
Sheffield United and Luton Town have secured places in the Championship playoffs at the expense of Middlesbrough and Millwall, the two sides who maintained hope of sneaking into the top six on the final day of the regular season.
Huddersfield, meanwhile, claimed third place with a 2-0 win against Bristol City as Nottingham Forest dramatically drew 1-1 at Hull. Brennan Johnson’s stoppage-time penalty against the Tigers appeared to have snatched third place for Forest at the last, before Keane Lewis-Potter’s equaliser, two minutes later, denied Steve Cooper’s side.
Despite that late disappointment, Cooper said: “We go into the playoffs feeling really good about ourselves … We wanted to finish third, but to come from bottom of the league to fourth place is great.
“You’ve got to get excited about it. We gave automatic [promotion] a really good go and, by going for that, we secured a playoff place with maybe three or four games to go. It’s an unbelievable achievement and it shows how good these guys have been.”
Forest would have finished above Huddersfield on goal difference had they kept out Hull’s late equaliser. But goals by Harry Toffolo and Danny Ward for the Terriers in their win against Bristol City eventually proved enough to grab third.
Fulham are promoted to the Premier League as champions despite signing off with a 4-0 reverse against the Blades at Bramall Lane, while Bournemouth, having already secured the second automatic promotion place, defeated Millwall 1-0 at Vitality Stadium with a winner from Kieffer Moore.
The resulting lineup for the playoffs is Forest v Sheffield United and Huddersfield v Luton, with the two-legged semi-final ties taking place from 13-17 May. The final will take place at Wembley on Sunday 29 May.
Luton’s 1-0 victory against Reading at Kenilworth Road means they finish five points ahead of seventh-placed Boro, who were beaten 4-1 at Deepdale by Preston North End, with Emil Jakobsen netting twice and Alan Browne and Dael Fry also scoring for the hosts.
Harry Cornick’s opportunistic effort, when he caught the Reading goalkeeper Ørjan Nyland off-guard after lurking behind him as he prepared to clear downfield, proved the difference for the Hatters but with other results going their way, a draw or defeat would have seen them progress to the playoffs.
“I’m really pleased we didn’t rely on anyone else, lose the game and it be an anti-climax. We had to do it ourselves,” said the Luton manager, Nathan Jones.
“To get to 75 points which we predicted, it’s a wonderful Championship season and success for us realistically is making sure we don’t go out of the league. We might have an opportunity to go out of the league, just at a different end.”
The champions Fulham suffered a notable hangover after sealing the league title as Morgan Gibbs-White, Iliman Ndiaye and Sander Berge put Sheffield United 3-0 up by half-time, before Enda Stevens added a fourth after the break.
Blackburn’s 2-1 away win against Birmingham City secured eighth place on goal difference ahead of Millwall. John Buckley and Ben Brereton put Rovers 2-0 up at half-time before Kristian Pedersen gave Birmingham hope with 12 minutes remaining.
Elsewhere, Karlan Grant’s double helped West Bromwich Albion to thrash Barnsley 4-0. Grant opened the scoring with a penalty eight minutes before half-time before Adam Reach and Matthew Clarke added the second and third goals respectively. But Grant missed the chance of a hat-trick when Jack Walton made a fine save to keep out his second spot-kick on 69 minutes.
The relegation places were already confirmed with Derby, Peterborough and Barnsley all dropping to League One, with an eight-point gap between Derby in 22nd and Reading in 21st.