Middlesbrough struck it rich as they were promoted to the Premier League after a 1-1 draw in their £170 million ($246 million) shoot-out with Brighton and Hove Albion yesterday.
Aitor Karanka’s side survived a nervous encounter at the Riverside Stadium to end their seven-year exile from the top flight and bank the huge cash windfall due to Premier League clubs as a result of the new television contracts that kick in next season. Needing just one point from their last game of the Championship season to guarantee they would finish above third-placed Brighton on goal difference, second-placed Middlesbrough took the lead through Christian Stuani’s first-half strike.
Dale Stephens equalised for Brighton after the break, but the midfielder was sent off moments later and Middlesbrough held on to spark wild celebrations on Teesside.
Middlesbrough started the day with a chance of lifting the Championship title as well as securing a place among the elite, but had to settle for second after already promoted leaders Burnley swept to a 3-0 victory at relegated Charlton Athletic.
It was still a glorious end to a turbulent 12 months for Middlesbrough and a region recently blighted by redundancies in the steel industry. This time last year, Karanka’s team were heading into a play-off campaign that would end with a final defeat against Norwich City.
When Middlesbrough endured a miserable run in March this year, it briefly seemed Karanka would quit after the Spaniard stormed away from showdown talks with his under-performing squad. Karanka, a former Real Madrid assistant to Jose Mourinho, missed the next match before returning to the club and rebuilding his relationship with his players well enough to lead them to promotion. “I’ve been coach for two and a half years. I can’t be more proud of this group of players, this crowd and this chairman. It’s amazing,” Karanka said.
“When I arrived here, some people said I was crazy when I said my aim was to take this club back to the Premier League. Two and a half years later, we are in the Premier League.”
After the misery of failing to clinch promotion at the first attempt, Brighton have to pick themselves up in time for their play-off semi-final against Sheffield Wednesday.
Hull City and Derby County will meet in the other last-four tie, with the two winners to face off at Wembley for the third promotion berth.
Karanka’s men drew first blood in the 19th minute when Gaston Ramirez lofted a free-kick towards David Nugent, who cushioned the ball back across goal for Stuani to tap in from close range for his first goal since December.
With a draw no use to Brighton, the visitors would have to become the first team to score twice at the Riverside this season if they were to return to the top flight after a 33-year absence.
Stuani had surprisingly been selected ahead of former Liverpool and England winger Stewart Downing and Karanka’s bold gamble was paying rich dividends. The Uruguay international threatened a second goal with a powerful volley which was cleared off the line by Brighton defender Connor Goldson.
Despite their disappointing first half, Brighton had no intention of surrendering without a fight and they hauled themselves level 10 minutes after the interval. Anthony Knockaert delivered a perfect free-kick and midfielder Stephens rose highest at the far post to loop a header over Middlesbrough goalkeeper Dimi Konstantopoulos. But Brighton’s joy was short-lived as Stephens was sent off three minutes later for a crude studs-up challenge on Ramirez that caught the Middlesbrough star on the shin and forced him to come off with a terrible gash.
Middlesbrough couldn’t turn their numerical advantage into further goals and that set the stage for a frantic finale, including eight minutes of stoppage time, before the home fans finally poured onto the pitch in celebration.
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