Birmingham win automatic promotion to the Premier League

Birmingham clinched  second place, and with it automatic promotion to the Premier League by beating Reading 2-1 at the Madejski Stadium on Sunday in a fantastic last day of the 2008/09 Championship League season.

There was plenty to play for as all games kicked off simultaneously. Birmingham’s fate was in their own hands as they withheld attempts from Reading and Sheffield United to join Wolves in gaining automatic promotion to the Premiership.  Sheffield United could only draw 0-0 away to Crystal Palace, while inform Burnley (beat Bristol City 4-0) and Preston (beat QPR 2-1) both won their games to join the Reading and Sheff Utd in the Championship Play-off matches.

Cardiff City lost to Sheffield Wednesday 1-0 and as a result missed out on a place in the play-offs on goal difference.

After guiding Birmingham back to the Premier League at the first attempt, manager Alex McLeish attempted to quosh rumours that he would be leaving St. Andrews.  Though less convincingly he said

“As far as I know I’ll be here but you’ll have to ask the board.”

Birmingham chairman David Gold suggested that following promotion, Birmingham will not overspend in an attempt to stay in the Premier League next season. “We won’t bankrupt the club, whilst we are in charge. We won’t be a Leeds, Southampton, Leicester etc,” said Gold.

Last season Birmingham were the subject of a failed takeover bid by Hong Kong businessman Carson Yeung.  The disruption of the attempted takeover was partly to blame for thie relegation, and played a big part in losing manager Steve Bruce to Wigan.

The Championship Play-offs:

Friday, 8 May 2009
Preston v Sheff Utd – kick-off 19:45 (1st Leg)
Saturday, 9 May 2009
Burnley v Reading, kick-off 17:20  (1st Leg)

Monday, 11 May 2009
Sheff Utd v Preston – kick-off 19:45 (2nd Leg)
Tuesday, 12 May 2009
Reading v Burnley – kick-off 19:45 (2nd Leg)

My money will be going on Burnley as it seems they have peaked just at the right moment.

Who Will Join Wolves in the Premier League?

At the start of the season I tipped Birmingham to win the Coca-Cola Championship.  But last week Wolves were crowned Championship Champions.  Now the race for the other automatic promotion place is between Birmingham (80 points), Sheffield United (79 points) and Reading (77 points), with Cardiff City and Burnley only strong enough to hold on to their current play-off spots at best.

Throughout much of the season, Birmingham and Reading have been jostling for the second place automatic promotion place to the Premier League, but a run of good results sees Kevin Blackwell’s Sheff Utd now separating two teams looking to automatically bounce back to the top flight of English football at the first attempt.

Reading beat Norwich 2-0 last night at Carrow Road.  A result that has all but sealed The Canaries fate to play League One football next season. And with all clubs playing their final fixtures simultaneously next Sunday 3rd May at 3PM, the fixture list could not be more exciting.

Reading v Birmingham

Sheffield United v Cardiff City

Reading will need to beat Birmingham and hope Sheffield United can only draw against fith place Cardiff City, to finish in second place on goal difference.

Cardiff (74 points) will be fighting for at least a point or they may miss out on a play-off place, altogether. Burnley (73 points) have a home tie with Bristol City, while Preston play at home to QPR.

Preston (71 points) are the only team that can move into the play-off positions but will need to displace either Cardiff or Burnley in the process.  Again, this one could be decided on goal difference.

Once again we head towards the final weekend of the Championship without knowing who is being promoted or relegated.  The 2008/09 Championship season has been another hugely entertaining season and one that has helped to promote the very best in English football.

Who will be promoted to the Premier League

Before the start of the season Wolves were 7/1 to win the Coca-Cola Championship.  Now they are six points clear at the top of the table on 53 points and looking favourite for promotion to the Premier League as this season’s champions.

I had a football bet on Birmingham as I felt they had a stronger squad and more money to spend in the transfer market.

Birmingham had the chance to narrow the gap when they recently played Wolves at Molineux but were unable to hold on to a lead and the game ended in a 1-1 draw.

One of the other teams relegated along with Birmingham and Derby last season, Reading are currently in third position with a six point gap of their own between themselves and fourth place League Cup semi-finalists Burnley who have 40 points.

Crystal Palace (5th) and Preston (6th) are on 37 points and currently occupy the remaining play-off places.  But I personally think automatic promotion will be between Wolves, Birmingham & Reading as we head into the Christmas fixture list.

Burnley & Derby beat Premiership teams in League Cup

For the past few seasons Arsene Wenger has used the League Cup to showcase and blood his young players, giving them a chance of glory and also to prove themselves worthy of a sought after first team place.  A couple of seasons ago they made it to the final, only to be beaten by a full strength Chelsea team.  But last night Arsenal were outgunned by Coca-Cola Championship Burnley, and in particular one of Burnley‘s own young guns – Kevin McDonald.

The young Scottish striker scored two goals, one at the beginning of each half; and though Burnley also have their young Danish goalkeeper Brian Jensen to thank, they deserved to beat Arsenal 2-0 and go through to the League Cup semi-finals.

Burnley have now beaten three Premier League teams in this season’s League Cup – Fulham, Chelsea & Arsenal and must be confident of a trip to Wembley. Football league betting also expects them to be there or there abouts in the league, so it could be two trips!

Unfortunately, as always, Arsene Wenger missed the chance to praise Burnley’s plucky performance and simply stated that Arsenal didn’t deserve to lose, in his post match interview.  A shame because all too often Arsene Wenger complains in defeat that teams kick Arsenal off the park and stop them from playing the beautiful game.  But last night at Turf Moor is sub-zero temperature, Burnley turned up the heat and simply out-played Arsenal’s young team, something Wenger should have admired in defeat.

Burnley are currently fourth in the Championship and very much in contention for Premiership promotion this season.  But after last night’s performance, 20-year-old Kevin McDonald has put himself well and truly in the shop window marked ‘January Sale’.

The other League Cup quarter-final played last night between Stoke and Derby also resulted in a Championship team beating a Premier League side; but this game was decided by a striker at the other end of his career – Nathan Ellington.

Both Stoke and Derby had several chances to win the game, none came closer than Ricardo Fuller’s shot that was saved by Derby‘s veteran goalkeeper Roy Carroll in injury time, just before Derby were awarded a penalty in the 94 minute after Andy Griffin was alleged to handle the ball by referee Rob Styles.

After the game Stoke City manager Tony Pulis disputed the penalty while Derby manager Paul Jewell simply said, ‘if it wasn’t a penalty we deserve a bit of luck’.

Derby make it into the League Cup semi-finals for the first time in 40 years, whie for Burnley it was 1983.

Another Championship team will attempt to book their place in the last four tonight when Watford take on the League Cup holders Tottenham.  The other quarter-final sees Manchester United play struggling Blackburn Rovers.

Andy Cole scores hat-trick for Burnley

Andy ColeFormer Manchester United, Newcastle and England striker, Andy Cole still has an appetiite for scoring goals. Last night he scored a hat-trick for Burnley against Queens Park Rangers.

Cole has now scored four goals in two games while on loan from Premiership Sunderland and was the difference between the two Championship teams yesterday. QPR fans gave Cole a standing ovation as he left the pitch and several called BBC Radio Five Live to compliment Cole’s classy performance.

QPR went into a two goal lead before Andy Cole helped Burnley win the match 4-2.

He told Radio Lancashire:

“It felt as good as it did on Saturday when I got my first [against Colchester]. It’s the same as when I was a kid – nothing changes.”

The three points helps Burnley climbed to seventh in the Coca-Cola League Championship table, one place and one point behind Ipswich Town and the play-off places.