West Brom clinched the second automatic promotion place in the Championship on a dramatic final day of the season as Wigan Athletic's spirited survival bid failed.

After both West Brom and Brentford were beaten at the weekend, the Baggies only needed to match the third-placed side's result to seal a return to the Premier League after two seasons away in England's second tier.

A seemingly straightforward home fixture against QPR did not go entirely to plan for West Brom, but a 2-2 draw took them up as Brentford went down 2-1 to Barnsley on Wednesday.

That result saw Barnsley stay up, but Wigan could not join them as they drew 1-1 with Fulham – who could have been promoted with a win – and went down due to a looming 12-point deduction.

Charlton Athletic and Hull City were also demoted, while there was a similarly chaotic finish in the play-off race.

BAGGIES BEST BRENTFORD

Both West Brom and Brentford lost their nerve with two matches of the campaign remaining, but a return of just a single point from a pair of games proved enough for Slaven Bilic's team.

Following Friday's defeat to Huddersfield Town, West Brom were boosted by Brentford's own reverse at Stoke City yet could not beat QPR.

West Brom trailed to Ryan Manning's strike before turning the match on its head with goals either side of half-time through Grady Diangana and Callum Robinson, only for Eberechi Eze to equalise just past the hour-mark.

It mattered not, though, as Brentford failed to capitalise, instead losing again.

Josh Dasilva cancelled out Callum Styles' Barnsley opener, but as Brentford pushed for a precious winner, Clarke Oduor tapped in at the other end in the 91st minute.

BRAVE BARNSLEY, WIGAN WOE

There were contrasting scenes at full-time in the final regular league match at Griffin Park after Barnsley celebrated as Brentford collapsed.

The visitors were heading down until Oduor struck but stayed up at Charlton's expense, the Addicks going down 4-0 at champions Leeds United.

Hull propped up the table after a 3-0 defeat at Cardiff City, while Luton Town stayed up thanks to a rallying 3-2 success at home to Blackburn Rovers, aided by two own goals.

Wigan needed to win due to their deduction following administration, but one of the form teams in the division let a lead slip against Fulham, their total of 59 points bumped down to 47 to fall a painful point short.

 

It isn't just a game of football, it's absolutely everything to our players, staff and supporters.

Hold your heads high!#wafc pic.twitter.com/5oTj7eV4jV

— Wigan Athletic (@LaticsOfficial) July 22, 2020
SWANS SAVOUR GOAL SWING

With rivals Cardiff comfortable in claiming their play-off place, Swansea City needed to beat 10-man Reading while Nottingham Forest lost to Stoke City, along with a five-goal swing.

Improbably, the Swans stole sixth place from Forest after a remarkable finale.

The Welsh side won 4-1, netting their fourth in the 91st minute as Wayne Routledge headed in his second.

That scoreline left Forest – 3-1 down at home to Stoke at the time – needing to score, but instead they conceded, their promotion bid derailing in spectacular fashion as Nuno da Costa stabbed into his own net in the sixth minute of stoppage time.

The 4-1 defeat meant Forest – without a win since July 1 – finished seventh.

Elsewhere, there were wins for Derby County, Millwall and Middlesbrough, bringing the curtain down on another season in gripping fashion.

Fulham remain in the hunt for second place in the Championship after downing Sheffield Wednesday 5-3 on Saturday.

With Brentford having lost 1-0 at Stoke City earlier, thereby crowning Leeds United champions, Fulham responded to move within a point of the top two thanks to two goals from Aleksandar Mitrovic.

Cardiff City swept aside Middlesbrough to keep their play-off ambitions in their own hands, with Preston and Millwall now unable to finish in the top six.

At the other end of the table, Stoke's victory sealed their survival, while Kazenga LuaLua struck a huge late blow for Luton Town at Hull City and Charlton Athletic snatched an important point.

FULHAM POUNCE AS BRENTFORD FALTER

Lee Gregory's first-half finish from close range gave Stoke a 1-0 win over Brentford at the bet365 Stadium that ensured their Championship survival and denied the visitors the chance to go second.

Fulham are now just a point behind Brentford in the table after beating Wednesday 5-3 and, with West Brom only two above them, the Cottagers will be ready to capitalise on any slip-ups on the final day.

Mitrovic and Neeskens Kebano scored twice at Craven Cottage before Bobby Reid's late fifth, with Jacob Murphy and Atdhe Nuhiu (2) on target for Wednesday, who cannot yet consider themselves safe given the risk of a possible EFL points deduction.

 

BONNE CHANCE FOR LUTON AND CHARLTON

In Saturday's relegation showdown between Hull and Luton, it was the visitors who left the KCOM Stadium feeling hopeful of survival after LuaLua fired home the winner in the 85th minute.

Luton are now on 48 points, level with Charlton, who were trailing 2-1 to Wigan Athletic until Macauley Bonne equalised on exactly 92 minutes.

Hull are three points behind and, given they are 16 goals worse off than Charlton, they look destined for League One barring possible points penalties for either Wednesday or Wigan. Bottom-club Barnsley, with two games left, can still stay up.

CARDIFF WIN ENDS PRESTON, MILLWALL HOPES

Two goals from Josh Murphy helped Cardiff to a 3-1 win at Middlesbrough, whose survival could now depend on getting a result on Wednesday, at Wednesday.

Cardiff stay sixth, three points ahead of Swansea City, whose 1-0 win over Bristol City keeps their play-off hopes alive ahead of the final day.

Preston cannot now make the top six, despite beating Birmingham City 2-0 - another side who are not yet guaranteed to avoid the drop - while Millwall are also out of play-off contention following Cardiff's win and their own thrilling 4-3 defeat at QPR.

That was not the day's only seven-goal game: at Ewood Park, Sam Gallagher's 87th-minute header gave Blackburn Rovers a 4-3 win over Reading that lifted them into the top 10.

Wigan Athletic humiliated Hull City 8-0 as the Championship relegation battle took an extraordinary twist - while West Brom might be wobbling near the top.

Kieran Dowell hit a hat-trick for Wigan, who remarkably led Hull 7-0 at half-time. Wigan sit in mid-table but are fighting for survival in the second tier because of an administration penalty hanging over the club, and this result was a huge step towards safety.

West Brom have looked on track for automatic promotion for weeks, but a slip in form from Slaven Bilic's men could see Brentford pip them at the post.

Second-placed West Brom could only draw 0-0 at home against fourth-placed Fulham, meaning Brentford can close to within a point of the Baggies with two rounds of games remaining should they beat Preston North End on Wednesday.

WONDER AT WIGAN

Wigan were the talk of English football after their first-half seven-goal show.

The only saving grace for Hull, and frustration for Wigan, was that no supporters were present to witness one of the most eye-catching results in English football all season.

Wigan savagely picked apart the free-falling Tigers and climbed to 13th place in the division.

They became the first team to score seven or more goals in one half of a match in either the Premier League or the three tiers of the EFL since Watford came from 2-0 down to beat Blackpool 7-2 with a second-half flurry in January 2015.

Aside from Dowell's treble, Kieffer Moore netted twice and there were goals for Kal Naismith, who set the ball rolling in the first minute, Jamal Lowe and Joe Williams.

Wigan stand to receive a 12-point punishment for entering administration, a troubling development that followed a recent takeover of the club, but they are fighting to avoid that meaning relegation.

The win neatly moved them 12 points clear of Hull, who sit 22nd and are a point adrift of safety, with the Tigers having a suddenly vastly inferior goal difference to Wigan.

BAGGIES BLOWING IT?

West Brom and Leeds have been trading first place in the Championship, but there could be a surprise in the promotion shake-up.

By failing to find a way through Fulham's defence, West Brom's hold on second place has become increasingly tenuous, given fast-finishing Brentford are on a seven-game winning streak.

Fulham's Anthony Knockaert hit the bar in the second half at the Hawthorns, where the outcome could have been even worse for West Brom.

Cardiff City kept a grip on sixth place as goals from Junior Hoilett and Lee Tomlin earned a 2-1 home win over Derby County.

Just outside the play-offs, Millwall sit seventh after a 1-0 home win over Blackburn Rovers, Mason Bennett with the only goal.

WARNOCK DELIVERS

Ashley Fletcher and Patrick Roberts scored for Middlesbrough in a 2-1 win at Reading that carried Neil Warnock's side five points clear of the bottom three.

Liam Moore had put the hosts ahead before Boro, who appointed veteran manager Warnock as Jonathan Woodgate's replacement last month, turned it around.

Among those worse off than Boro, Huddersfield Town picked up a useful point in a 0-0 draw at Sheffield Wednesday, while second-bottom Luton Town were held 1-1 at home by QPR.

West Brom went top of the Championship on Wednesday, while Wigan Athletic and Middlesbrough gained key wins at the other end of the table.

The Baggies moved above Leeds United, and went five points clear of third-placed Brentford, with a 2-0 victory over Derby County, who saw their play-off hopes dented by the loss.

Grady Diangana and Dara O'Shea scored in either half for West Brom before Rams youngster Louie Sibley was harshly sent off in stoppage time for violent conduct.

Derby slipped below Swansea City, who went up to seventh courtesy of a 3-1 win at Birmingham City, with Liverpool loanee Rhian Brewster taking his tally to eight goals in 16 Championship games.

Middlesbrough won for the second time in four games since Neil Warnock was appointed as manager, Britt Assombalonga and Ashley Fletcher on target in a 2-0 success at Millwall.

Wigan, who could yet incur a 12-point penalty having gone into administration last week, climbed eight points away clear of danger for now thanks to Kieffer Moore's first-half strike in a 1-0 victory over QPR.

Elsewhere, Bristol City beat Hull City - who are in the relegation zone - 2-1 and Preston North End came from behind to defeat Sheffield Wednesday 3-1.

West Brom boosted their bid for automatic promotion as relegation-threatened Hull City and Middlesbrough both lost in Sunday's Championship action.

After table-topping Leeds United and in-form Brentford both won 24 hours earlier, the Baggies followed suit as they eventually overcame Hull 4-2 in an eventful encounter at the Hawthorns.

Twice West Brom took the lead only to concede, Mallik Wilks making it 2-2 early in the second half. However, Kamil Grosicki crucially edged the hosts back in front just over a minute later.

Grady Diangana wrapped up victory for Slaven Bilic's side, though they finished the game down to 10 men following the late dismissal of Ahmed Hegazi. Still, West Brom are once again a point behind Leeds, while they are five clear of third-place Brentford.

Hull remain outside the bottom three as fellow strugglers Middlesbrough were beaten at home, going down 1-0 to QPR.

Jordan Hugill grabbed the only goal of the contest just after the half-hour mark against a club where he spent the 2018-19 season on loan.

Meanwhile, Swansea City moved up to eighth – four points adrift of the final play-off berth occupied by rivals Cardiff City – courtesy of a 2-1 victory over Sheffield Wednesday.

Rhian Brewster, who is on loan from Liverpool, opened the scoring and Andre Ayew doubled the Swans' lead from the penalty spot. Atdhe Nuhiu did half the deficit, though his stoppage-time effort was no more than a consolation for the Owls.

West Brom nudged ahead of Leeds United at the top of the Championship but a 0-0 draw with Birmingham City appeared to be a blow to the title hopes of Slaven Bilic's team.

Yet the top two in England's second tier look increasingly likely to be the pair promoted to the Premier League, with third-placed Fulham suffering a damaging home defeat against Brentford.

In the first matches following the league's three-month coronavirus suspension, a new hero emerged for mid-table Derby County as 18-year-old Louie Sibley scored a hat-trick in their win at Millwall.

And Rhian Brewster, a striker on loan from Liverpool, gave Swansea City's play-off hopes a boost by netting twice at Middlesbrough, as well as making a powerful political statement.

POINT A MIXED BLESSING FOR BAGGIES

With Leeds in action at Cardiff City on Sunday, West Brom had an opportunity to go two points clear of Marcelo Bielsa's team as the league resumed.

Bilic's players dominated the derby clash and had a host of chances but could not find a breakthrough, and a stalemate at the Hawthorns potentially plays into the hands of Leeds.

The top two are now level on points, with West Brom top on goal difference, but Leeds will have the chance to go three clear before the next round of games.

BEES STING NEIGHBOURS

Said Benrahma and Emiliano Marcondes scored late for Brentford in a 2-0 win at promotion rivals Fulham, a result that leaves West Brom and Leeds seven points clear with eight games remaining for the play-off pack.

Nottingham Forest were heading for victory at Sheffield Wednesday after Joe Lolley gave the visitors a 69th-minute lead, only for Connor Wickham to grab a stoppage-time leveller for the Owls.

Forest sit fifth, four points clear of a Preston North End side who were held 1-1 at Luton Town, Callum McManaman firing a late equaliser for the hosts, who nevertheless fell to the foot of the table.

KING LOUIE

Blackburn Rovers beat Bristol City 3-1 in a battle between teams fighting with Preston for sixth place, but the individual performance of the day came from Sibley, whose heroics guided Derby to their 3-2 win at Millwall.

"I'm absolutely buzzing," Sibley told Rams TV. "To get that hat-trick was just unbelievable. When the third goal went in, I couldn't stop smiling."

Brewster was not far behind, his double steering Swansea to a 3-0 victory at lowly Middlesbrough.

Brewster held up a shirt that read "our colour is not a crime" after his first goal, expressing support for the Black Lives Matter movement.

TIGERS ON THE SLIDE

Wigan Athletic were 2-0 winners at fellow strugglers Huddersfield Town, while Hull City slipped into the bottom three after losing 1-0 at home against Charlton Athletic.

Barnsley climbed off the bottom by winning 1-0 at QPR, and Stoke City drew 1-1 at Reading.

Chelsea thrashed QPR 7-1 in a friendly match on Sunday, with midfielders Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Billy Gilmour each scoring twice.

Further goals from Mason Mount, Willian and Olivier Giroud helped Frank Lampard's side to an emphatic win at Stamford Bridge as preparations for the Premier League's return continue.

Loftus-Cheek has not made a senior competitive appearance for Chelsea since last season due to a ruptured Achilles sustained last May.

N'Golo Kante started the match against the Championship side, the France star having only resumed team training this week.

Chelsea's win came after a 1-0 defeat of Reading at their Cobham training base in a previous behind-closed-doors friendly.

The Blues are due to resume their league campaign next Sunday against Aston Villa at Villa Park.

Lampard's men were fourth in the table when the competition was suspended in March due to the coronavirus pandemic.

QPR are "vehemently opposed" to the Championship returning on June 20, with CEO Lee Hoos saying the club are "appalled" by the decision.

The English Football League (EFL) announced on Sunday that the Championship is set to return on the weekend of June 20, following in the footsteps of the Premier League, which will be back three days earlier.

In both divisions, all matches will be played behind closed doors as the threat of coronavirus remains and the EFL stressed that fixtures could only resume on the hoped-for date if "all safety requirements and government guidance is met". 

But Hoos has suggested multiple teams, including QPR – who sit 13th in the table - are unsatisfied with the development, citing the lack of consultation ahead of the announcement and insufficient time for players to get themselves ready.

"I am absolutely stunned by this announcement, as is our Director of Football Les Ferdinand and our manager Mark Warburton," Hoos said to his club’s website.

"Incredibly, there has been absolutely no consultation with individual clubs nor with the Championship doctors' working group by the divisional representatives - or anyone else in the Football League – regarding this matter.

"On top of that, we were only made aware of the statement 40 minutes before it was made public."

Hoos added: "Having spoken with Les and Mark, they share my views. We are vehemently opposed to this schedule.

"The players haven't even returned to full-contact training at this moment and yet they are now expected to be in a position to play at a competitive level in just three weeks' time.

"I have made our feelings known to the EFL and, having spoken with a number of CEOs at other Championship clubs, I am not a lone voice on this matter.

"We are absolutely appalled."

A little over two minutes before the moment that will forever define his career, Manchester City hero Sergio Aguero showed sharpness in the Queens Park Rangers goalmouth that would not have been out of place at Old Trafford.

Old Trafford cricket ground that is, just down the road from City's bitter rivals and their home of the same name.

As Edin Dzeko's equaliser from David Silva's right-wing corner bounced back off the netting, Aguero pounced, snaffling it like a quicksilver short-leg fielder and darting back to the centre circle for City's final tilt at the improbable.

There was certainly nothing wrong with the striker's movement after Joey Barton brazenly tried to dead leg him – one of many surreal and key incidents that fed into a frenzied and famous race against the clock on May 13, 2012.

                                                                *********************

The whole story is now as well worn as any in football history.

On the cusp of a first top-flight title for 44 years, Robert Mancini's Manchester City faced relegation-threatened QPR on the final day of the season. In their previous 18 Premier League home matches that season, they had won 17 and drawn the other – the most recent of those a 1-0 win over United that tipped a titanic Mancunian tussle back towards the blue side of town.

City simply needed to match United's result at Sunderland and led 1-0 at the interval thanks to Pablo Zabaleta, only for second-half goals from Djibril Cisse and Jamie Mackie to turn the contest on its head.

It remained 2-1 heading into stoppage time despite QPR operating with 10 men. City youth product Barton was dismissed for tussling with Carlos Tevez and responded to Mike Dean's red card by thumping his knee into Aguero's thigh before aiming a headbutt at Vincent Kompany. Fireworks enthusiast Mario Balotelli poured some petrol on this particular bonfire by confronting the combustible Scouser as he stomped towards the tunnel.

Aside from that significant blemish, QPR's discipline was otherwise impeccable. Despite ceding 81.3 possession overall and 84.1 per cent during the second half, they only made seven fouls. Stoppages were infrequent as City thrashed and flailed with increasing desperation and diminishing artistry around the opposition penalty area.

Without Barton's meltdown, there is little chance five minutes of stoppage time - or the three minutes and 20 seconds they ultimately required - would have been signalled. It was time City desperately needed and time they could put to good use with their top scorer's fast-twitch fibres bristling.

                                                                *********************

Barton was not the only QPR man with City connections. His team-mates Shaun Wright-Phillips and Nedum Onuoha had also graduated through Jim Cassell's Platt Lane youth system, while Rangers boss Mark Hughes was Mancini's immediate predecessor, having been axed shortly before Christmas in 2009.

Hughes, of course, also played for United with distinction across two spells, and those loyalties struck a chord as news came through Bolton Wanderers had failed to beat Stoke City, meaning the Londoners were safe irrespective of the outcome at the Etihad Stadium.

"[City] got back on level terms and I always remember, at that point, I knew we were safe because the other result came in," he told the Coaches Voice earlier this year.

"I'm thinking, 'I wouldn't mind United winning, if I'm honest'. It's 2-2 and Jay Bothroyd looked over, asking what we wanted them to do [from the restart]. The players understood the [Bolton] game was over and we'd stayed up. We just said kick it as far as you can, right in the corner and the game's over."

Hughes' recollections from that point credit City with a poise they absolutely lacked. Rarely can a team have scored twice in this space of two minutes and – save for a crucial few seconds – played so shambolically.

Bothroyd's hoof found touch and scampering Joe Hart ran out of his goal to take the throw-in. The England goalkeeper almost missed the pitch.

Gael Clichy carried the ball down the flank, only for his attempted cross to turn into a block tackle with Mackie. Samir Nasri's aimless, floated effort that followed did little more than give Clint Hill a ninth successful clearance of the afternoon.

Nasri then excelled himself by shepherding the ball out for a QPR throw-in. Just 40 seconds before that explosion of ecstasy there was fury and anguish in the stands. Aguero watched it all from roughly the QPR penalty spot. Apparently he'd seen quite enough.

                                                                *********************

Now 31 and City's all-time top scorer, Aguero honed his lethal skills playing against bigger boys in Buenos Aires on the neighbourhood potrero – the hard gravel and mud neighbourhood pitches that football purists in Argentina bemoan are a diminishing presence.

"When you play you have to think fast. Who to take on, who not," Aguero said when recalling those days in a 2018 documentary for City's in-house television channel. "You know who is going to play dirty, who isn't.

"You start to realise what you can do on the pitch and what you can't."

Reflecting further in the 2019 book 'Pep's City' by Pol Ballus and Lu Martin, he further explained the proving ground that readied him for Barton and others.

"Getting kicked black and blue was all part of the game," he said. "You held on to the ball any way you could.

"Running with the ball was a whole different concept for us. I'd be up against big, tough boys and I was always the smallest. But I learned how to survive."

Aguero remembered those matches were played for the prize of a peso, which would garner one of his favourite sweet treats, an alfajor or dulce de leche.

As United's players took in full-time and three points at the Stadium of Light, and Nigel de Jong brought the ball forward in Manchester to the soundtrack of QPR celebrations – their fans aware of Bolton's fate – the stakes were somewhat higher.

Vacating his spot in a penalty area already crowded by substitutes Dzeko and Balotelli, along with a marauding Kompany, Aguero took possession from De Jong 30 yards from goal.

He faced up to a compact QPR back four, with the visitors' four midfielders all in his immediate vicinity.

"You start to realise what you can do on the pitch and what you can't."

A shuffling touch to his left engineered space outside Shaun Derry, but Aguero needed help. Ideally from someone reliable, given the complete lack of any margin for error.

                                                                *********************

Balotelli was on the pitch in a Manchester City shirt for the first time in over a month.

Mancini had not trusted his wayward protege since a brainless red card in a 1-0 Easter Sunday defeat at Arsenal left City eight points behind United with six games to play. Tevez, who had spent the bulk of the campaign AWOL playing golf in Argentina, represented a far more dependable option.

But with nowhere left to turn, he dared and prayed for Mario to be super. However briefly.

Introduced in the 76th minute, Balotelli gave the impression he had not just been banished from Premier League arenas, but football pitches altogether since his previous game.

The Italy striker managed to run through seven attempts – two on target, five blocked – during a frenzied cameo. It was probably as well Aguero found him with his back to goal, inside the D and grappling with Anton Ferdinand.

"I tried to control the ball and I had a contact from the defender and the ball went a little bit far from my foot," Balotelli told City TV five years on. "I thought in that half second there is maybe going to be a little bit of space for Sergio."

If Balotelli had stayed upright, the likelihood is QPR would have seen through their final piece of dogged tireless defending. In being forced on to his backside for the only assist of his Premier League career, he created opportunity and chaos.

Facing his own goal, Derry had to hurdle a prone Balotelli, while Wright-Phillips' route back to defend was also compromised. With his centre-back partner grounded, Hill held his position square on, while Kompany's haring towards the six-yard box dragged left-back Taye Taiwo with him.

A pocket of space opened up. A spot of turf Balotelli was able to locate from his sedentary position. As limbs flailed around him and a tight defence scattered, Aguero was thinking fast. The law of the porteno.

                                                                *********************

Argentina's aforementioned tradition of tough, uncompromising neighbourhood football goes hand in hand with the mystique and mythology that cloaks the country's national sport.

A playing style grounded in skill and improvisation - La Nuestra, which translates as "our way" – was locked into the collective consciousness during the first half of the 20th century. The preeminent football magazine El Grafico, served to deepen this romantic attachment, with depictions of the pibe – literally a kid or urchin, whose rough and ready footballing techinique combined street smarts and skill and was something of an archetype. Typically they would dribble in the gambeta style, a description that implies close control, cunning and deceit of opponents.

The idea that the likes of Diego Maradona, Ariel Ortega, Lionel Messi and all those other squat, explosive and technically brilliant attackers from Argentina immersed themselves in the yellowed pages of El Grafico archive is far-fetched, but the style is unquestionably embedded. Think of the amount of barrelling, dribbling goals such players have produced – close control, small pauses and faints as thighs piston their way through defences.

As the walls were closing in on City's title bid, Aguero showed himself to be a proud product of this lineage. When Balotelli began his battle against gravity, he deftly checked his run behind and around Wright-Phillips to open up a path to the penalty area.

Letting the pass roll, he shaped to shoot, drawing a scampering Taiwo, who left his Kompany decoy a little too late to remain in control. Aguero did not actually touch Balotelli's return pass until his body position persuaded a rash slide tackle that he nudged beyond with the outside of his right boot.

With Taiwo suitably gambeta'd, there came one last stroke of fortune.

                                                                *********************

"I touched it again and saw I was close to the goal, so I said 'I'll shoot'. The worst thing was that I wanted to shoot hard across goal and it went to the near post, I don't know what happened" Aguero told TyC Sports last month – the latter sentiment at least aligning him with every soul inside the Etihad Stadium that day.

"After watching it back, I realised that if I had shot across goal a defender could have blocked it. I celebrated the goal and told everybody, 'I hit it so well!'."

Goal 23 of a personal Premier League tally that now reads 180, one of 127 with Aguero's ferocious right boot, understandably left an indelible impression on the suddenly defeated Hughes.

"Of all the games I've been involved in, that noise at that moment when that goal went in is different to anything I've ever heard before or since.

"It was just unbelievable sound – different sound to a football crowd. It was a mixture of screaming and noise. It was just an unbelievable moment."

That racket has since been replayed thousands of times across the world. A goal on a tightrope that altered the course of English football, which began with gifting the opposition a 92nd-minute throw-in and ended thanks to a miscue after the main protagonist's strike partner fell over.

It is the Premier League's most famous goal - a moment as synonymous with Manchester as cotton mills and the Hacienda, and yet Argentinian to its very bones.

English football chiefs have been backed to give any necessary assurances to Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) players that they will be safe to return to action.

Former England striker Les Ferdinand, who is director of football at Championship side QPR, expects the English Football League (EFL) to leave no stone unturned with its health guidance.

Figures released last week by the United Kingdom's Office for National Statistics showed black people are almost twice as likely as white people to die with coronavirus.

Ferdinand is aware of the concerning numbers but is confident football will provide "a safe environment", with regular testing to be implemented within any leagues that are allowed to resume during the COVID-19 crisis.

He told Stats Perform: "I know the statistics out there at the moment suggest it's worse for people of ethnicity, but at the moment I would expect our [club] doctor to have those things in hand and conversations to be had around that.

"Because sometimes when you just listen at what's put out there, it's a little bit of scaremongering and people can get scared off the back of it.

"The EFL have to still give us guidelines, and if they're giving us guidelines they have to give us guidelines about that as well if it's a problem."

Speaking on Tuesday, Ferdinand proudly detailed the efforts being taken on the medical side at QPR and said it was important to listen to government instructions.

Football in the United Kingdom could resume in June, with the Premier League keen to start up again and a possibility clubs from the EFL will get back to playing games too.

"In young, healthy people, I think we have to look at the guidelines the government have set us... because they're not saying to ethnic minority, BAME representatives that you can't go to work," Ferdinand said.

"If they're still going to work in the National Health [Service] or whatever jobs they're in, I think it's pretty safe to say that it's a safe environment for footballers to go back into, their environment.

"We have to keep an eye on it, but the advice my doctor is giving to the football club is holistic and it's based around everybody. It's about everybody going back to work in a safe environment."

Championship leaders West Brom extended their advantage over Leeds United to seven points on Tuesday but Brentford's winless run goes on after they slipped up on their travels.

With their nearest rivals in the table not in action until Wednesday, the Baggies recorded a fifth win in six league outings as they overcame a Preston North End side who had Darnell Fisher sent off in the second half.

While Nottingham Forest moved up to third place thanks to a narrow triumph away to Cardiff City, fellow promotion hopefuls Bristol City slumped to a 2-1 loss at Huddersfield Town.

QPR prevailed by a 2-1 score at home to Derby County, too, with Ilias Chair grabbing the winner for the hosts in the 75th minute.

 

HAL JUST HEAVENLY FOR BAGGIES

Preston are still searching for their first away win over West Brom since 1992 after going down 2-0 at a snowy Hawthorns.

Hal Robson-Kanu opened the scoring in the sixth minute and Jake Livermore doubled the advantage for Slaven Bilic's side in first-half stoppage time, with the visitors' hopes of a comeback curtailed when Fisher was shown a straight red for a challenge on Callum Robinson.

Leeds will hope to cut the gap when they visit Middlesbrough, but Forest are now only three points behind the Yorkshire club after Tiago Silva's 49th-minute goal was enough to beat Cardiff.

 

BEES BUZZED IN PROMOTION FIGHT

Brentford have now gone four league games without a victory after they were beaten 2-1 at struggling Luton Town.

The Bees were stung by an own goal by Shandon Baptiste in the ninth minute, with Martin Cranie then putting the hosts 2-0 up before the break.

Ollie Watkins pulled one back late on, yet Luton hung on for their 10th win of the campaign, lifting them off the bottom of the table as they climbed above Barnsley.

Huddersfield, meanwhile, moved further clear of the drop zone. Chris Willock and Karlan Grant, who converted from the spot, secured them the three points at the expense of seventh-placed Bristol City.

Leeds United beat Reading 1-0 at Elland Road to move five points clear of the chasing pack in the race for automatic promotion from the Championship.

Third-placed Fulham were held 1-1 by Derby County on Friday and Brentford in fourth played out a 2-2 draw with Blackburn Rovers.

Nottingham Forest and Bristol City also dropped points, drawing 0-0 with QPR and losing 3-0 to leaders West Brom respectively, with the Baggies maintaining their four-point gap on Leeds.

Elsewhere, Wigan Athletic and Barnsley picked up wins to boost their survival hopes.

LEEDS, WEST BROM PULLING AWAY

Pablo Hernandez's 57th-minute strike earned Leeds back-to-back 1-0 home wins.

West Brom appear over their mid-season wobble after making it four wins in five matches with a comfortable victory.

Callum Robinson put Slaven Bilic's side on course for an 11th away win of the campaign with a fortuitous opener and Hal Robson-Kanu netted twice, either side of Romaine Sawyers' straight red for grabbing Jamie Paterson by the throat.

CHASING PACK FALTER

Brentford fought from two goals down to draw 2-2 with Blackburn as they joined west London rivals Fulham in dropping points.

Ollie Watkins scored an impressive volley and Said Benrahma netted from the penalty spot to cancel out Adam Armstrong's double.

Forest missed out on the chance to move up to third after failing to break down QPR in a stalemate at City Ground, while Preston North End recovered from a goal down to beat Hull City 2-1.

HOPE FOR WIGAN, BARNSLEY

Shaun Hutchinson's own goal was enough for Wigan to earn just an eighth league win of the campaign at home to Millwall, while Barnsley built on their shock 3-0 win at Fulham last weekend with a 1-0 victory over Middlesbrough.

Wigan and Barnsley are now two and five points adrift of 21st-placed Huddersfield respectively following the Terriers' 3-1 defeat at Swansea City.

Luton Town are now occupying bottom place, with Lyle Taylor's double earning Charlton Athletic a 3-1 win.

Elsewhere, a Callum Paterson own goal and a scrambled finish from Joe Allen saw Stoke City earn a 2-0 home win against Cardiff City that leaves them three points clear of the drop-zone.

SIX-GOAL THRILLER AT ST ANDREW'S

Birmingham City and Sheffield Wednesday remain locked on 45 points following a 3-3 draw.

Garry Monk was denied a winning return to one of his former clubs by Scott Hogan's equaliser in added time, the Aston Villa loanee's fourth goal in five matches.

Wednesday had twice battled back from a goal down before Jacob Murphy put them in front, but they are now winless in six outings.

Leeds United ended a three-match winless run in the Championship as Luke Ayling's early strike earned Marcelo Bielsa's side a 1-0 victory over Bristol City.

That moved Leeds back to just four points behind leaders West Brom, who were held 2-2 at home by Nottingham Forest after Matty Cash's late leveller for the visitors at the Hawthorns.

Third-placed Fulham were thumped 3-0 at home by bottom-of-the-table Barnsley, while Brentford nudged above Forest and into fourth place thanks to a 1-1 draw at Birmingham.

Preston, who sit sixth, suffered a 1-0 defeat at home to Millwall, further muddying the play-off picture in the English second tier.

Leeds emerge from a storm

With their promotion hopes hurt by recent defeats to Forest and Wigan, a midweek draw with Brentford offered Leeds some encouragement. They have made slumping after strong starts a familiar trait, yet Saturday's narrow success put their promotion push back on track.

Ayling, a former Bristol City player, drove home from eight yards in the 16th minute, his left-footed strike coming after the ball pinged around the penalty area.

In blustery conditions, Helder Costa should have scored a second for Leeds when he went around Daniel Bentley but allowed the City goalkeeper to get back to make a desperate save.

The conditions were far from helpful, with litter from the stands blowing across the pitch, but Leeds held strong to reignite their promotion push.

Baggies blow

West Brom and Forest played out an entertaining four-goal game in the early kick-off, but the Baggies' three-match winning run is over and that will give the likes of Leeds encouragement.

Callum Robinson fired West Brom ahead after 37 minutes, before Kyle Bartley's own goal levelled up the game by half-time. A second own goal, this time from Tobias Figueiredo, restored West Brom's lead and looked set to bring the hosts maximum points.

Yet a twist in the narrative arrived in the first minute of stoppage time, with Cash driving forward and cracking in a sublime leveller, a ferocious finish that arrowed across Sam Johnstone and into the far left corner.

 

Chasing pack step off the pace

Scott Parker saw his Fulham side flop against Barnsley, with Cauley Woodrow's double - the first a penalty - and Jacob Brown's fine strike giving the Tykes a stunning Craven Cottage win and a glimmer of hope in their attempt to beat the drop.

The goals came early at St Andrew's where Birmingham took a 13th-minute lead against Brentford through Lukas Jutkiewicz, with Ethan Pinnock grabbing an equaliser four minutes later.

Stoke led QPR 2-0 after 31 minutes at Loftus Road but crumbled to a 4-2 defeat, Bright Osayi-Samuel and Ilias Chair grabbing late goals for the London side. Ryan Tunnicliffe's strike gave Luton a 1-0 win at Middlesbrough, and Shaun Hutchinson headed Millwall to their victory at Preston.

Ten-man Owls humbled

Cardiff CIty drew 2-2 at home against Wigan, while Yakou Meite, George Puscas and Sam Baldock, with a stoppage-time penalty, netted as Reading romped home 3-0 at Sheffield Wednesday, who had Osaze Urhoghide sent off early in the second half.

John Buckley and Tosin Adarabioyo cracked in first-half goals at The Valley as Blackburn were 2-0 winners against Charlton, nudging Rovers closer to the play-off picture.

A 25-yard strike from Tom Lawrence gave Derby County the lead at home against Huddersfield, but it finished 1-1 at Pride Park after a surging run and smart finish from Harry Toffolo.

Kiko Casilla made another alarming blunder in the Leeds United goal on Tuesday, but Marcelo Bielsa's men nevertheless managed to avoid a fifth Championship defeat in six matches as they drew 1-1 at Brentford.

Out-of-form Leeds were always expecting a tough tussle with fellow promotion hopefuls Brentford, but in the end the home side failed to live up to expectations having won each of their previous two games.

Nottingham Forest would have moved level on 56 points with Leeds had they beaten Charlton Athletic, but the struggling Addicks came away from the City Ground with a shock 1-0 win to boost their survival hopes.

Swansea City will feel they missed an opportunity to close in on the play-off places, as they were held to a disappointing 0-0 draw at home to QPR.

CASILLA CULPABLE BUT LEEDS SHOW SPIRIT

Although they remain second in the Championship, Leeds' form of late has been utterly wretched, with a 3-2 win over Millwall their solitary victory in any competition this year.

Casilla has been a regular problem, with the experienced Spanish goalkeeper making several high-profile errors and he was at it again at Griffin Park in the first half, allowing a routine back-pass to slide under his foot and the in-form Said Benrahma pounced to open the scoring.

But generally, Leeds performed well and equalised late in the first half, Liam Cooper netting from close range following a corner.

A second half of few chances resulted in the two sides cancelling each other out, with Brentford unable to really get their much-vaunted attack into the match.

CHARLTON SPRING A SURPRISE

Heading into Tuesday's fixtures, Forest knew a victory could potentially put them up to second – as it was, they dropped down a place into fifth.

Charlton claimed only their second league win since Boxing Day, and the decisive goal was worthy of winning any match.

Naby Sarr made a wonderful challenge on the halfway line, ran on to the loose ball and then delivered a delightful cross towards the back post – Lyle Taylor turning it in on the volley.

Forest piled the pressure on at times in the second half, but they failed to find a way through, seemingly paying the price for significant rotation from the team that beat Leeds 2-0 on Saturday.

BLACKBURN CRUISE WITH LATE FLURRY

Rovers appeared to be heading for a third successive Championship match without a win, but three goals in the final 17 minutes ultimately secured them a straightforward 3-0 victory against Hull City.

Darragh Lenihan finally broke the deadlock, prodding home from close range after George Long failed to hold on to a corner, and Adam Armstrong made it 2-0 six minutes later with a ferocious strike.

Dominic Samuel wrapped up the three points soon after, moving Blackburn to within three points of the play-off spots.

Birmingham City were also victorious, beating Barnsley 1-0 in Yorkshire thanks to Scott Hogan's fine effort, while Wigan Athletic and Middlesbrough played out an entertaining 2-2 draw.

Leeds United soared back to the top of the Championship as Patrick Bamford's double inspired a 3-2 victory over Millwall.

Marcelo Bielsa's side had trailed 2-0 early in the game at Elland Road but came roaring back to take the three points, while rivals West Brom tripped up 2-1 at Cardiff City.

Third-placed Nottingham Forest sit just two points adrift of struggling West Brom now, after edging out Brentford.

Wayne Rooney's first goal for Derby County, helped by a big deflection, gave Phillip Cocu's side the lead at Luton Town, but the former England captain finished on the losing side as the Hatters came back to score a 3-2 victory.

Blackburn were 2-1 victors against QPR, Huddersfield Town won 2-1 at Hull City, Bristol City recorded an away-day success at Reading, and lowly Wigan saw Jamal Lowe grab a stoppage-time winner to record a 2-1 triumph over Sheffield Wednesday.

 

BAMFORD THE HERO AS LEEDS RISE AGAIN

It would have been reasonable to ask if the wheels were coming off the Leeds bandwagon when they fell 2-0 behind against Millwall inside 23 minutes, as Shaun Hutchinson and Jed Wallace gave the visitors a dream start.

There have been worrying signs for Bielsa's Leeds in recent weeks but just as thoughts turned to their previous failures to capitalise on strong starts to league campaigns, the West Yorkshire side roused themselves.

Bamford began the recovery by striking from close range in the 48th minute, Pablo Hernandez cracked an equaliser just after the hour, and Bamford had Elland Road rocking when he stooped to head home Luke Ayling's cross to put the hosts ahead.

A 3-2 win, a long-standing rival sunk, a first win of 2020 secured. Crisis? What crisis?

NOW THIS IS A CRISIS: WEST BROM IN TURMOIL

Seven games without a win in the Championship for West Brom spells trouble - and the only saving grace is that they are still in the automatic promotion places.

Any hopes that the weekend win over West Ham in the FA Cup would prove a turning point were soon shattered at Cardiff.

Callum Paterson fired the Bluebirds ahead in the first minute of the second half, and despite Charlie Austin's penalty levelling up the match, Cardiff had the final say.

Lee Tomlin's free-kick was a sublime goal, curled over the West Brom wall and into the top left corner to clinch the points. Luton are next for West Brom, visiting the Hawthorns on Saturday.

 

FOREST EYE RETURN TO PROMISED LAND

It is worth remembering Nottingham Forest have not played Premier League football this century, having been relegated in 1999. Truth is, they have rarely looked like getting back, but maybe their time is approaching.

With the top two having looked suddenly vulnerable over recent weeks, Brentford and Forest have been among the teams making up ground at a rapid rate, which added spice to Tuesday's clash between the clubs.

Joe Lolley's strike made all the difference for Sabri Lamouchi's side, with the former Huddersfield player firing home with the help of a deflection in the 14th minute.

Forest last lost in the league at Huddersfield on December 21, their seven-game unbeaten run raising real hope in Nottingham of a return to the top flight for the former European Cup winners.

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