Wednesday 23 August 2017

Pain for Brighton and Irish Rovers

Newcastle United manager Rafa Benitez celebrates with the Sky Bet Championship trophy after the final whistle. Photo: Owen Humphreys/PA Wire
Newcastle United manager Rafa Benitez celebrates with the Sky Bet Championship trophy after the final whistle. Photo: Owen Humphreys/PA Wire
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

Jack Grealish gave another Irish manager a headache yesterday as his last-minute goal for 10-man Aston Villa denied Brighton the Championship title.

But, at the other end of the table, there was heartache for the Irish contingent at Blackburn as they lost out in a three-way battle to avoid the drop despite winning their final game at Brentford.

The fight to avoid League One was the main talking point heading into the conclusion of the 46-game campaign, but it was the title battle that provided the late twist.

Brighton have lost their focus since gaining the golden ticket, yet they looked to be on the way to the victory they needed to win the division when Glenn Murray converted a 64th-minute penalty at Villa Park after an incident where home defender Nathan Baker was sent off for a professional foul.

Therefore, Newcastle's routine St James's Park success over Barnsley appeared to be in vain.

However, the picture changed in the last minute when second-half sub Grealish (right), whose star has fallen considerably since the tug-of-war over his international future, unleashed a weak shot that was completely misjudged by Brighton stopper David Stockdale, who might have been distracted by a player in his path.

Aston Villa's Jack Grealish suffers bleeding to his kidneys. Photo: Alex Pantling/Getty Images
Aston Villa's Jack Grealish suffers bleeding to his kidneys. Photo: Alex Pantling/Getty Images

Either way, the net result was a hollow end to a historic Brighton campaign and pandemonium at Newcastle where Rob Elliot played another game for the unlikely champions.

Hughton looked on the bright side in the aftermath and defended his out-of-contract netminder.

"David has been excellent for us all season and he had made two very good saves from free-kicks before. There's never any portion of blame. We have to accept it as a team," he said.

"Today is a negative day, it's difficult, but there are far more pluses. What these lads have achieved this season has been magnificent.

"I'd like to congratulate Newcastle for just pipping us. I think the two best teams have gone up automatically. It was very close."

And it was tight at the bottom, where three well-sized clubs that have suffered from questionable decision-making from the boardroom took full points from their final game.

That was bad news for a Blackburn side that included Darragh Lenihan and Derrick Williams - with Tommie Hoban on the bench.

Their 3-1 triumph at Brentford was rendered irrelevant as Nottingham Forest beat Ipswich 3-0 at home and Harry Redknapp's Birmingham eked out a 1-0 success at Bristol City. In the dying stages, Birmingham were hanging on at Bristol City knowing that a concession would send them down on goal difference.

Stephen Gleeson came off the bench for that final push, with Bristol City's Irish sub Callum O'Dowda sending in a variety of crosses that ultimately came to nothing as the visitors held on to ensure a £200,000 reward for Redknapp who was coy on his next move.

"I've got a good situation in my life," he said, "I don't need to be chasing work, but I'll have a chat and see what the club's ambitions are. If they're ambitious and want to have a go next year, I'd be interested."

Blackburn were in trouble all season and attempted a late rally under Tony Mowbray, their eighth boss in seven turbulent years, after he replaced the unpopular Owen Coyle.

Removal

At full-time, Rovers fans again called for the removal of Indian owners Venky's as the 1995 Premier League champions face up to life in the third tier.

Mowbray's future is uncertain; he said afterwards that he'd spoken only twice with his absentee employers, long-distance phone calls that he described as "not easy".

Forest fans have double reason to celebrate with their controversial owner Fawaz Al Hasawi on the way out and Greek shipping magnate Evangelos Marinakis poised to complete his takeover.

The last-day escape gave their boss Mark Warburton relief following a fraught campaign that he kicked off as manager of Rangers. Ipswich supremo Mick McCarthy faces talks with owner Marcus Evans next week.

Elsewhere, the shape of the play-offs was confirmed with Reading wrapping up third by winning at Burton to ensure they play sixth-placed Fulham. Sheffield Wednesday and Huddersfield will meet in the other fixture after home losses to Fulham and Cardiff respectively.

Wes Hoolahan scored a brace and assisted the others as Norwich brought down the curtain on an underwhelming season with a 4-0 dismissal of QPR.

The Irish legion at Preston tasted a 1-0 defeat at Wolves with their season running out of steam. Simon Grayson's charges finished up in 11th spot.

Irish Independent

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