After 16 years of frustration, heartbreak and turmoil, Leeds United will finally make their long-awaited Premier League return in 2020-21.
Huddersfield Town boosted their survival hopes while also doing them a welcome favour to kick off the weekend in style, with a 2-1 win over second-placed West Brom.
Goals from Chris Willock and second-half substitute Emile Smith-Rowe were enough for Huddersfield to spring an unwelcome surprise at home against Slaven Bilic’s Baggies.
It seems fitting that two Arsenal youngsters (Willock has since left) – narrow 2-1 FA Cup winners at Leeds’ expense in January – helped clinch automatic promotion for them.
That comes after a very public dispute over Edward Nketiah’s minutes at Elland Road saw the talented forward’s loan spell cut short by the Gunners in January.
Nketiah, who scored five goals (all comps) under Bielsa’s watch earlier this season, made sure to congratulate his former teammates. He’ll be eligible for a promotion medal, too.
The result means an in-form Brentford side can overtake them into the second and final automatic promotion place, when they travel to face strugglers Stoke City tomorrow.
How did Leeds get to this memorable moment?
It eliminates any pressure on Marcelo Bielsa’s side, who can end Derby’s faint promotion hopes with a result this Sunday.
The Whites have won their last four matches, including a gritty 1-0 win over relegation-threatened Barnsley on Thursday.
There were times during this arduous campaign where critics and fans alike suggested Leeds would fall apart again, as they’ve struggled under pressure in previous seasons.
I was at their 1-0 away defeat by mid-table QPR in mid-January, a disappointing defeat which extended poor form at the time – only one win in eight games (all competitions).
Since then, they’ve suffered a few stumbles along the way but importantly never lost faith in the process under Bielsa.
The charismatic Argentine has provided both stability and a refreshing approach to football in Yorkshire, two years after eyebrows were raised by his appointment.
At this stage of the season last year, they ultimately fell short despite a strong season in the play-off semi-finals against Derby, who were then managed by Frank Lampard.
Club captain Liam Cooper felt this day was a long time coming, when he spoke to BBC Radio Leeds.
“Our club, our fans and players have sacrificed so much – we’ve been in the doldrums for 16 years.
To be part of this team, to lead them to promotion back to where we know we’ve always belonged is unbelievable.”
What about the Premier League sides in relegation trouble?
Norwich have already been mathematically relegated from this season’s Premier League, while there will be a frantic finish to England’s top-flight as far as the drop zone.
First-half goals from Michail Antonio, Tomas Soucek and Declan Rice helped West Ham earn a big 3-1 win over fellow strugglers Watford tonight.
The result means they’re now six points clear of the bottom three, with two games to play. Bournemouth and Aston Villa (level on 31 pts), occupy 18th and 19th respectively.