Published 5 May 2016 for Soccity. Online.
The title winner will be decided on an exciting final game of the season after Brighton failed to beat Bristol City at home on Saturday to pick up the silverware.
The trophy was at the stadium and was there for the taking for Chris Hughton’s men, but they looked uncharacteristically flat as a Josh Brownhill header was enough to pick up the 3 points at an expectant AMEX. They have failed to win since being promoted to the Premier League earlier this month, and Rafa Benitez’s Newcastle outfit will be confident that they can still beat them to the punch as the season concludes on Sunday.
Benitez’s Newcastle beat Cardiff City 2-0 in the Friday night fixture, and they’ll go into the final game of the season with a handsome goal difference over their south coast rivals too.
After relegation from the Premier League last season, anything less than automatic promotion would have been seen as an abject failure for the Geordies. Rafa Benitez has been afforded a Premier League sized wage and transfer budget, and he has duly delivered for chairman Mike Ashley. Coming top of the table will please supporters, but it’s an achievement that will ultimately be forgotten if they fail to have a strong return to football’s elite next season. Their supporters demand Premier League football and anything less is seen as an inconvenience.
The play-offs look to have taken shape now, with Fulham drawing against Brentford meaning they have almost certainly guaranteed a spot, barring an implausible swing in goal difference towards 7th placed Leeds United. Reading, Sheffield Wednesday and Huddersfield town will make up 3rd, 4th or 5th, respectively. It won’t necessarily be in that order, as the three sides are separated by just the one point.
Nottingham Forest look to be falling without a parachute and after losing 2-0 away to Queens Park Rangers, they look in real peril. It’s been another season dominated by off-field issues involving controversial chairman, Fawaz Al Hasawi, which has surely contributed to their miserable plight. Long suffering Forest fans will be praying for a positive result at home to Ipswich.
Over in West London on Sunday, Blackburn Rovers will be hoping to beat Forest’s result when they take on Brentford. Like Forest, they sit on 48 points with just one goal splitting them in the goal difference stakes. It will certainly be an afternoon of high drama on Sunday.
Of course, that’s without factoring in the plight of Harry Redknapp’s Birmingham City. They surprisingly beat promotion-chasing Huddersfield Town 2-0 at home, rallying after an early red card for striker Che Evans. Goals came from Jonathan Grounds and a Craig Gardner penalty. It gives the Blues much-needed breathing space at the bottom, but they will likely still need something from their game against Bristol City to secure another season in the league. With only 3 games as manager it’s debatable if you can give Redknapp any credit for survival, but he will be buoyed if they can avoid the drop. He’s currently working without a contract, and a good performance against Bristol will surely send the powers-that-be at the club that they are behind the 70-year-old.
The full and final round of fixtures take place this Sunday at the earlier time of 12PM (GMT)
Norwich vs. QPR
Aston Villa vs. Brighton
Bristol City vs. Birmingham
Burton Albion vs. Reading
Huddersfield Town vs. Cardiff City
Newcastle United vs. Barnsley
Brentford vs. Blackburn
Nottingham Forest vs. Ipswich
Rotherham vs. Derby County
Sheffield Wednesday vs. Fulham
Wigan Athletic vs. Leeds United
Wolves vs. Preston North End