Blackburn Rovers became the first Premier League champions to drop into the third tier of English football on Sunday whilst Newcastle claimed the Championship title on a nerve-racking final day.
Newcastle win the Championship title Wins for another historic club, two-time European champions Nottingham Forest — 3-0 over Ipswich — and Chinese-owned Birmingham City, who beat Bristol City 1-0, condemned Rovers.
Blackburn were Premier League champions in 1995, but their fortunes have dived under the ownership of the Indian poultry firm Venky’s. Rafael Benitez and his Newcastle side did what they had to do in beating Barnsley 3-0 but it took a howler from Brighton goalkeeper David Stockdale to ensure they returned to the Premier League as champions.
Brighton, who started the day a point ahead of Newcastle, looked to be heading to a 1-0 win over Aston Villa until Stockdale somehow failed to prevent Jack Grealish’s long-range effort going into the net and the Seagulls were held 1-1. “The thing to be proud of is all the hard work done during the season has earned its reward today,” said Benitez, whose name was chanted in raucous fashion by the home fans.
Blackburn departed with a 3-1 win over Brentford but that was little consolation as they contemplate League One and third-tier football for the first time since 1980. “There’s a bit of talking to be had,” Rovers manager Tony Mowbray told Sky Sports. “Ideally we’ll start this journey with it being as low as this club gets and move forward.”
Things had looked rosy for Rovers early on as they stormed into a 2-0 lead at Brentford, Scottish international midfielder Charlie Mulgrew’s goal, a delightful freekick, the pick of the two. However, by the time Craig Conway converted a late penalty to make it 3-1 the game was up for Rovers because Forest and Birmingham were winning.
Forest’s hero was Congolese striker Britt Assombalonga who set them on their way with a first-half penalty — shortly after a superb save by their keeper Jordan Smith kept the scores level — and added his second and the hosts’ third with an excellent solo effort in the second half.
That had Forest manager Mark Warburton, who took the job after an acrimonious departure from Scottish giants Rangers earlier this season, charging down the touchline and fist-pumping in celebration. “When you heard the early goals elsewhere you could hear the nerves around the ground, but the boys stuck to their task,”
Warburton told the BBC. “I’m delighted with the work ethic they showed. It’s great for the club and supporters and we have to build from here.”
Birmingham, whose wounds were largely self-inflicted with a disastrous run under Gianfranco Zola after the owners removed Gary Rowett despite being just outside the play-offs, scraped the win they needed. A first-half goal by Che Adams, in front of Bristol City’s biggest crowd for 37 years of more than 25,000, raised a smile from veteran caretaker manager Harry Redknapp and sighs of relief from the away fans.
“It’s fantastic. Three games. I looked at the fixtures and thought, ‘Oh, they’re not great fixtures!’” Redknapp told Sky Sports.
“The two wins we’ve had have shown great character.”