Sunday 18 November 2018

Full Irish in play-offs despite pain for Preston

Drama at both ends of Championship table as Warnock secures his eighth promotion

Neil Warnock joins his Cardiff City players as they celebrate after clinching promotion. Photo credit: Simon Galloway/PA Wire.
Neil Warnock joins his Cardiff City players as they celebrate after clinching promotion. Photo credit: Simon Galloway/PA Wire.
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

There will be Irish joy in the Championship play-offs after the final field was confirmed yesterday with members of Martin O'Neill's squad at all four competing clubs.

On the day that Neil Warnock's Cardiff booked automatic promotion courtesy of a draw with Reading, there was disappointment for the Irish contingent at Preston who missed out despite finishing their campaign with a home win over Burton Albion.

That game was part of a dramatic conclusion in the English second tier, but it was Burton's plight that was of more interest as they were relegated following a stunning late turnaround in Bolton's game with Nottingham Forest.

Bolton scored two goals in the space of two minutes to turn around a 2-1 scoreline and beat Forest 3-2 to stay in the division.

There was a pitch invasion in the minutes after a goal from 38-year-old Aaron Wilbraham saved the club who started the day second from bottom.

In doing so, they overtook both Burton and Barnsley - the latter were comfortably brushed aside by a Derby side who secured a play-off place at Preston's expense.

Richard Keogh started for Derby with Alex Pearce on the bench and sixth place sets up a two-legged tie with a Fulham squad featuring ex-Ram Cyrus Christie, although he remains a substitute for the Londoners.

Fulham went into the day with a chance of automatic promotion but they lost 3-1 at Birmingham. It meant a scoreless draw was enough for Neil Warnock's Cardiff with the veteran boss securing the eighth promotion of his career.

"I know we're not easy on the eye, but I'm really proud of building a team capable of ruffling a few feathers," he said.

"It's going to be hard. We'll be odds-on to go down. Hey ho. Why worry, we've got there. I'm looking forward to it. And if it goes pear-shaped I'll just leave."

Middlesbrough and Aston Villa will contest the other semi-final.

Boro finished up their campaign with a 2-2 away to manager-less Ipswich with Darren Randolph between the sticks as usual. Ireland-eligible Patrick Bamford nabbed the equaliser for Tony Pulis' visitors.

Ipswich handed a league debut off the bench to Kerryman Shane McLoughlin, an Irish underage international who grew up in Castleisland.

Meanwhile, Villa finished their regular season with a 1-0 defeat at Millwall. Malahide man Shaun Williams scored the only goal from the penalty spot with the Londoners, again providing Martin O'Neill with another reminder of his ability.

Conor Hourihane and Scott Hogan were selected for Villa and are seeking to get to the Premier League for the first time in their career. Veteran Glenn Whelan was an unused sub.

Villa travel to Middlesbrough next Saturday evening, with the decider at Villa Park three days later. Derby host Fulham on Friday, with the second leg in London next Monday.

The outcome of those matches will determine availability for O'Neill's end-of-season gathering which consists of the Scott Brown testimonial in Scotland on May 20, and friendlies with France (May 28) and the USA (June 2).

Darragh Lenihan and Derrick Williams will arrive in good spirits if they get another call with Blackburn on the way back to the Championship.

O'Neill broke from his usual strategy to call up the League One pair for the March trip to Turkey. Their cause will be helped by second-tier status and, while Paul Cook's Wigan sealed the title on Saturday, it was a landmark day for Lenihan as he got his first goal for the club at home to Oxford.

There was disaster for the Irish contingent at Oldham, however, as they fell through the trap door to League Two following a 2-2 draw away at Northampton.

Jack Byrne faces a decision over his future with a stint in the fourth tier unlikely to benefit the promising Dubliner, who was tipped for big things when he starred on loan with Cambuur in the Dutch Eredivisie just two years ago.

He's found it hard since leaving Manchester City and suffered relegation with Wigan 12 months ago, although he was barely involved.

Byrne made a full-time move to Oldham in January following a loan stint, but manager Richie Wellens suggested that he might not see out his two-and-a-half-year contract as he was a valuable asset.

The 22-year-old will have to wait to see if any offers come his way over the summer months with his dream of an Irish call-up miles off at this stage.

Patrick McEleney also faces up to a difficult summer after failing to make any real impact since moving from Dundalk. Injury prevented McEleney from getting a look-in initially but he was available in recent weeks and was given a run in the side before dropping out. He was an unused sub as they chased the goal that would have kept them up.

Return

Eoin Doyle will return to loan club Preston, but it's likely that the Dubliner will end up back in League One next term wearing different colours.

Oldham's dropped points allowed Rochdale to complete a great escape with ex-Cork City defender Ryan Delaney part of the defensive effort in a single-goal win over play-off-bound Charlton.

The 21-year-old has become an important player for the club that he joined permanently from Burton Albion in January.

It was a happier weekend for McEleney's former Dundalk colleague David McMillan who got off the mark for St Johnstone in the Scottish Premier League.

McMillan damaged his hamstring after winning a penalty on his St Johnstone bow in January and it's taken him a while to get back and make an impact in his new surroundings.

The 29-year-old was given the nod for a second appearance off the bench away to Motherwell on Saturday and made a quick impact to strike in a 5-1 success.

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