Football Features

From Nyland’s clanger to Cooper’s miraculous turnaround — stats and reaction from the Championship final day

By Ben Green

Published: 15:16, 7 May 2022 | Updated: 13:33, 9 May 2022

The Championship final day threatened to be a drab affair with relegation and automatic promotion already decided, but the play-off race offered a kaleidoscope of emotions, drama and entertainment. 

In what was ostensibly a four-horse race for two positions in the top six, Sheffield United, Middlesbrough, Luton Town and Millwall all entered their respective games with a glimmer of hope and a collective sense of anticipation.

It all boiled down to this final day, with heartache and ecstasy dished out in equal measure across the country. On the South Coast, Millwall failed to win their game against already-promoted Bournemouth, ending their faint hopes, while in Lancashire, Middlesbrough capitulated against Preston.

So, that meant Sheffield United and Luton confirmed the coveted places, the former thumping champions Fulham, while the latter edged Reading. It was frantic, barmy and spine-tingling at times. Here’s some of the best reaction as the curtain came down on another thrilling Championship campaign.

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1. Orjan Nyland is a magnet for drama

Sheffield United entered their final match against champions Fulham knowing a win would have confirmed their place in the play-offs. Paul Heckingbottom’s Blades duly delivered on consolidating their spot, thrashing Marco Silva’s free-scoring outfit 4-0. It was a stress-free afternoon at Bramall Lane as it turned out.

Indeed a point would have been enough if Luton or Middlesbrough failed to win. The latter felt the heat and collapsed against Preston, while Luton got the job done after a familiar face contrived to make it another awkward afternoon for the South Yorkshire. Orjan Nyland was once again in the spotlight where the Blades were concerned.

The Norwegian goalkeeper was famously, or infamously, involved in an incident at Villa Park against Sheff Utd back in the Premier League in 2019/20. Having collected the ball from an Oliver Norwood free-kick against Aston Villa, he inadvertently carried the ball over the line, leading to widespread celebrations from the Sheff Utd players. However, the goal was not awarded as the Hawk-Eye goal line technology failed to recognised that the ball had crossed the line — and play ultimately continued, with the game finishing 0-0.

There would be another incident this afternoon as Nyland placed the ball down at Kenilworth Road and failed to notice Harry Cornick lurking behind him, with the Luton man collecting the ball and slotting into an empty net, which proved to be the winner as Nathan Jones’ men confirmed sixth. Fortunately for the Blades, they were not robbed of another result going against them, getting the business done against Fulham as they romped to a 4-0 win.

2. Cooper’s miraculous season

Steve Cooper has produced a miracle for Nottingham Forest this season, finishing fourth in the Championship table having taken over from the club in a perilous state back in September. Chris Hughton started the season winless in seven, which culminated in his dismissal, and Cooper has now hoisted them up from the murk.

The Reds had the chance to put themselves in a strong position to secure automatic promotion in midweek, but they just came up short to Bournemouth on the South Coast. So, little rested on this final day, except for pride and momentum heading into the play-offs. They concluded their 46-game Championship campaign with a respectable 1-1 draw with Hull City.

This will now be Nottingham Forest’s first Championship play-off campaign for 11 years. What a turnaround from Cooper, a man who twice secured a top-six finish for Swansea City and carries a famous reputation as the manager who won the FIFA U-17 World Cup with England in 2017, leading a team consisting of Phil Foden and Jadon Sancho to international glory.

His CV continues to blossom.

3. Boro collapse in dramatic fashion

It was a high-scoring final day in the Championship, and if you told Boro fans before their game against Preston that there would have been five goals at the Deepdale Stadium, they probably would have fancied their chances that more than a handful of those would have been in their favour, given the circumstances.

However, it was Ryan Lowe’s Lilywhites who concluded their campaign in emphatic style, battering Chris Wilder’s men 4-1 to wipe out their hopes and dreams of sneaking into the play-offs. It would have mattered not had Boro won, with Sheff Utd and Luton doing the business, but the manner of their defeat would have left a bitter taste in their mouths.

A Paddy McNair sending off really rubbed salt in the wounds.

4. One for the future

Iliman Ndiaye played like a man possessed this afternoon for the Blades. The former Marseille and Boreham Wood academy graduate both scored and assisted to hand Sheffield United a resounding and comprehensive thrashing of the champions, sending Fulham back to the capital with their egos bruised.

Usually it’s been the Cottagers dishing out the high-scoring routs. This time they were given a taste of their own medicine. Fresh from a 7-0 title-clinching win over Luton, Fulham were brought down to earth here against a side they could be meeting next season in the Premier League.

And 22-year-old Ndiaye would love to test himself in the big time. The Frenchman’s goal this afternoon ensured that he became the youngest player to net in three successive Championship games for Sheff Utd since a certain Billy Sharp in 2008 (also 22). A supreme showing from the fledging forward.

5. Ben Brereton Diaz finishes on a high

Ben Brereton Diaz has been one of the Championship’s success stories this season. Aleksandar Mitrovic has naturally stolen the headlines with his ridiculous 43-goal tally, but the English-born Chilean international has certainly been no laggard in the scoring department, finishing third in the Championship’s ‘Golden Boot’ equivalent.

In fact, no South American player has previously notched over 20 goals in the Championship, with Abel Hernandez managing bang on 20 for Hull City in 2015/16, while Luciano Becchio came close in 2010/11 for Leeds United with 19. Brereton Diaz has now found the back of the net 22 times this season adding one final finish against Birmingham, and talk of a move to the Premier League will only intensify this summer with Blackburn failing to secure a play-off spot.

READ MORE:

2021/22 Championship stats leaders

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