Delirium and Devastation: The Final Day of the EFL Championship

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Championship Final Day
DERBY, ENGLAND - MAY 08: Colin Kazim-Richards of Derby County consoles Barry Bannan of Sheffield Wednesday after the Sky Bet Championship match between Derby County and Sheffield Wednesday at Pride Park Stadium on May 08, 2021 in Derby, England. Sporting stadiums around the UK remain under strict restrictions due to the Coronavirus Pandemic as Government social distancing laws prohibit fans inside venues resulting in games being played behind closed doors. (Photo by Alex Pantling/Getty Images)

The Championship is a maelstrom of interminable pandemonium and all the events on the final day simply encapsulated what it stands for.

You can’t predict nor foresee it. Results and scorelines that defy the normality of football are churned out on a routine basis, making it arguably the most enthralling league throughout the sport.

And across all the fixtures played out, there were 46 goals scored as fates and fortunes were decided in truly spellbinding fashion. Some signed off in style, others basked in ecstasy and, for an unfortunate three, tickets were booked for the League One rollercoaster.

How could you not love the Championship? Read on and relive all the action that had the nation on tenterhooks on Saturday afternoon…

Final Day of the Championship: Derby County 3-3 Sheffield Wednesday

It is fitting to begin with this match as it defined all the drama that the day contained. It was billed up as the game, the one you simply couldn’t afford to miss.

And it is fair to say that it lived up- or better still, exceeded the hype and agitation that it was presented with.

The encounter was placed on a knife edge and with good reason, too. The two teams were wrapped in the unforgiving inferno of an archetypal Championship relegation battle; Sheffield Wednesday, who had combated against a points deduction, couldn’t settle for anything less than three points, whereas Derby could get away with a draw depending on Rotherham’s result at Cardiff.

These narratives keep football going, right? Two outfits, both vying for survival, drawn up against each other on the final day. It was bound to be a spectacle.

That it was. The affair didn’t truly open up until the cusp of half time, when Sam Hutchinson fired his side into the ascendancy at Pride Park. Hutchinson’s goal made it 1-0, but we all knew it could mean something much more than a scoreline.

As well as this, the importance of the encounter underlined a lot more than divisional status. Derby and Sheffield Wednesday had both endured challenging ownership issues and relegation to the third tier would only go on to inflict more damage. One of the two had to go down.. but who would it be?

Just minutes into the second half, Derby quickly reacted as Martyn Waghorn hit a crucial equaliser, compensating for his infamous miss prior to the interval.

And then, no more than three minutes later, euphoria erupted in the East Midlands. Patrick Roberts scored Derby’s second.

If it stayed that way, Derby would remain a Championship team.

But, it is the Championship. Things here are different- they do not stay the same, they are not plain-sailing and they are never without a bundle of drama.

On the hour mark, Callum Paterson had something to say. The Scotsman- renowned for his charisma and larger-than-life presence- stamped his mark on proceedings with a nerve-racking equalizer to restore parity at Pride Park. Once again, Rams’ heart rates were surging through the roof.

It went from bad to worse when, not long after Paterson’s strike, Wednesday added a third through Julian Borner. With a return of three goals all campaign, the German defender is not exactly synomynous with the art of goalscoring. However, that could well have been the biggest goal of his career.

It could have been, I said. And that is because the drama of the day was yet to conclude.

In the 77th minute, Derby broke quick. They had burst upfield and Kamil Jozwiak found himself through on goal with the chance to seal his side’s survival hopes.

Then, Cheyenne Dunkley brought the Polish winger down- a stonewall penalty if ever there was one.

Up stepped Waghorn- a figure of controversy and divisiveness, but a man burdening the hopes of an entire city on his shoulders. Pride Park fell quiet. Nails were bitten. Nerves were in the stratosphere.

Each set of eyes rested upon the Englishman, who beckoned in an unenviable position. If he scored, he was a hero. If he missed? Well, he’d be glad that supporters were absent, that’s for sure. It was do-or-die time.

You could feel the dissipation of tension and anxiety from each and every Derby player when Waghorn confidently smashed his spot kick into the top left hand corner of the goal, leaving Kieron Westwood helpless and County supporters in bedlam.

Thankfully for the hosts, there were no more dramatic episodes as they saw out the South Yorkshire side to claim an enrapturing, action packed 3-3 draw and ensure that their Championship status remained intact for the 2021/22 campaign.

Whilst being a Derby County footballer in those gruelling, grinding 90 minutes was undesirable, the scenes that ensured post-match were a whole different entity. Supporters and players alike celebrated wildly outside Pride Park, all embracing elation and sealing the same end goal: to be a Championship team.

Now, those celebrations were celestial and the culmination of an arduous afternoon. But, was that really going to be the only facet of drama that the afternoon had to offer? No chance.

Onto the next one, a game that proposed just as much importance at the bottom end of the table.

Cardiff 1-1 Rotherham

In contrast to Derby V Sheffield Wednesday, this fixture didn’t bear untold significance for both sides, nor did they both find themselves locking horns in a similar position.

Cardiff were desperate to end the season on a high, having seen their playoff ambitions evaporate, but they didn’t have anything substantial to play for. Pride? Most definitely. But not much else.

Rotherham, on the other hand, were playing for the small matter of their divisional footing.

Following a frustrating 0-0 draw at Luton Town midweek, their mission briefing was quick, sharp and straight to the point. Simply put, they needed a win to stay in the Championship.

Their fortunes banked largely on the relegation showdown in Derbyshire, too. If Derby claimed victory, they would go down regardless of how they fared against the Bluebirds.

So, perhaps unsurprisingly, it was the Millers who took the game by the scruff of its neck and sought to dictate the rhythm in the Welsh Capital. Wasting no time, they took the lead within eight minutes courtesy of a long range effort by on-loan Middlesbrough midfielder Lewis Wing.

From there, they looked comfortable and in fact, they looked capable of widening the deficit. Matt Crooks scuppered a host of chances. Richard Wood headed wide from close range. And Angus MacDonald was left to wonder what could’ve been when Dillon Phillips kept his effort out.

Still, they were in the driving seat- and firmly, may I add. But more crucially, all the latest updates from the Midlands correlated from the sidelines and, when Sheffield Wednesday went ahead, you could just detect a wry smile on Paul Warne’s face.

They played with intensity, they played with courage and they were able to carve out a catalogue of opportunities. But, they didn’t capitalise and ultimately, they were the catalysts of their own downfall in that regard.

As the second half grew on, so did Cardiff. No longer would Mick McCarthy’s men be retreating or failing to counter Rotherham’s offensive uphaul. They too wanted something from the game and it seemed likely that, at some stage, they would ripple the back of the net.

For the visitors, that happened at the worst possible time.

In the 88th minute, an unmarked Marlon Pack reacted first to stroke the ball home and, in turn, shatter Rotherham hearts. It was done.

The dejection was evident and, right after, so was the desparation.

Warne threw everything at it in a final attempt to survive the drop; on came attackers Freddie Ladapo and Chiedozie Obegene, though it failed to come to any plausible fruition. The game finished 1-1, and, whilst a draw away to a side as robust and imposing as Cardiff City would have typically constituted as a good result, it was instead showered in disappointment and despair.

Yet, there was one moment that both sets of fans, players and coaches could unify for. It was the sight of Sol Bamba kitted up and stepping onto the field for the first time since December- the same month that he received a diagnosis for non-hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Throughout his recovery, Bamba remained his usual bubbly self, still transmitting his infectious charisma to everyone connected with Cardiff City Football Club and beyond.

Bamba is one of those players who, irrespective of your affinities, you just can’t dislike. He is one of football’s good guys; a character, a leader and a warm-hearted warrior in every possible way, and it was a truly heartening moment for all involved.

Middlesbrough 0-3 Wycombe

Though not mathematically, Wycombe’s fate already appeared sealed prior to Saturday afternoon, with a staggering 13-0 victory needed to keep them in the division.

That was not going to happen. The Championship is as unpredictable as anything, but even the division we all warm to couldn’t conjure such a result.

However, the virtual inevitability of their relegation was not going to stop them from bowing out in style, in a match which thoroughly summarised their mentality and spirit.

14 minutes after the first blow of the referee’s whistle, Fred Onyedinma put the Chairboys 1-0 up at the Riverside, and veteran Garath McClearly doubled their advantage on the half hour mark.

Evidently a more functioning outfit without the burden of pressure, Wycombe made it 3-0 through Jason McCarthy in the 56th minutes as they cruised to a resounding 3-0 win over Neil Warnock’s Middlesbrough.

It wasn’t enough- they still needed another ten goals- but it was a good way to depart the Championship, and perhaps an indication of how they may do next season in League One.

Wycombe’s effort has been admirable. They only even achieved promotion via the idiosyncratic, COVID-19-encouraged points-per-game method, and as a result, they came up hugely unfancied.

They took it until the final day, though, and claimed some impressive results too. They held second-placed Watford to a draw, defeated Cardiff and Reading, played out a 2-2 draw at Swansea and recorded a 1-0 win over Bournemouth last weekend.

No one would’ve expected that at the start of the campaign, but the Buckinghamshire outfit thrive most when combating the overriding odds. Gareth Ainsworth- best known for his flamboyant, rockstar-esque hair realises this as well, though he ensured that his side finished rocking and rolling.

Coventry 6-1 Millwall

On the topic of finishing in style, that is precisely what Coventry did against Millwall in their biggest victory of the season.

The two sides had nothing riding on the clash, so there was a school of thought that complacency could swarm the air. But- at least as far as Coventry are concerned- that was not to be the case.

Mark Robins’ side quickly proved that by going two goals ahead before the break thanks to goals from Jordan Shipley and Kyle McFadzean.

After the interval, McFadzean himself halved the deficit with an own goal, but the Sky Blues responded swiftly to make sure there was no route back into the game for Millwall.

Only five minutes later, Dominic Hyam made it 3-1. And then, a further three minutes later, tricky midfielder Callum O’Hare added a fourth at St Andrew’s.

High on momentum and certainly not short on quality, Coventry’s unforgiving rout continued to take no prisoners when Matty James and Tyler Walker both got onto the scoresheet to make it 6-1, which subsequently sent out shockwaves across the division.

Impressively, the West Midlands side acclaimed such a victory despite having two key first team players in Fankaty Dabo and Gustavo Hamer both go off during the first half injury. That simply goes to show the strength in depth that Mark Robins’ has at his disposal, and that could bode very well next term.

In their first season back in the Championship, they finished 16th- an encouraging total finish that could easily be built on should they pull off more performances of that kind. Ironically, Millwall finished much than their opponents in 11th, though you definitely wouldn’t have made that assumption from the affair.

Blackburn 5-2 Birmingham City

Again, we come to a fixture that had little riding on it, yet one that also transpired as a captivating contest.

All season long, Blackburn have earned plaudits for their attacking enterprise, which has saw them find the back of the net 65 times (only bettered by Cardiff, Bournemouth, Brentford and Norwich). Meanwhile, Birmingham have become accustomed to defensive shortcomings- and this game showed why that has been the case for both sides.

Unexpectedly, it was the visitors who drew first blood, with Kristian Pedersen opening the scoring after 22 minutes. But, with the offensive threat that Blackburn posed, it was always a matter of how long they could be constrained.

Shortly after, Adam Armstrong equalised from the spot and by half time, the hosts were 2-1 up as Ben Brereton scored his 7th league goal right before the break.

Experienced striker Lukas Jutkiewicz had been introduced as a substitute straight after the interval and he wasted no time engraving his influence, making it 2-2 within five minutes of being on the pitch.

Again though, Birmingham were only able to subsist Blackburn for so long.

With 19 minutes to go, Armstrong netted his second of the afternoon and Harvey Elliott struck gold not long after with a delightful dink over the stranded Connal Trueman.

At this point, it was 4-2 and much to Birmingham’s detriment, Tony Mowbray’s side were not willing to take their feet off the gas just yet.

Armstrong, who has been one of the Championship’s finest performers, kept up his sparkling form as his third goal was enough to earn him the matchball- the second one in his collection from the last three fixtures.

Those were his 26th, 27th and 28th goals of the campaign, and one would feel that Blackburn would be extremely lucky to keep the rocket-heeled striker at Ewood Park next term.

https://twitter.com/TalkOfEwood/status/1391046948380192768

There have been a host of Premier League sides already circling and as preparations are already beginning to be sketched up ahead of the 2021/22 season, his profile will only gather more and more interest.


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main image credit Embed from Getty Images

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