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Three talking points from the final day of the Sky Bet Championship

Jake Jackman

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The last day of the Championship always provides thrills and spills, with this year being no different.

It has been an excellent division this season, especially after the addition of Newcastle United and Aston Villa, two huge clubs in this country.

The injection of money in the Premier League has resulted in the lower divisions improving as well and the Championship is easily the best second tier in the world.

Here are three talking points from the final day of Championship action…

Newcastle United are champions

They were huge favourites to win the division at the beginning of the season and they managed to do that on the final day, but it was much more difficult than many predicted. It took a last minute goal from Aston Villa to hand the title to the Magpies, as a Jack Grealish effort was deflected past David Stockdale.

It looked like the trophy would be going to the Amex Stadium after Glenn Murray scored from the spot to give the Seagulls a lead, but ten-man Villa fought back and provided one more twist in the battle for first place.

Newcastle did their bit with a convincing 3-0 win over Barnsley and have turned around a seven-point deficit during the last three matches of the season.

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The two clubs have been by far the best teams in the division and won promotion with relative comfort, but it took the full 46 matches to split them at the top. They have switched the top two places all season long and Brighton will feel desperately unlucky after dropping eight points during the last three matches.

However, after leading the league for 137 days, the Magpies will feel that they deserve to win the title and returned to their rampant best after promotion was secured. They scored nine goals and conceded only once in their last three matches, which gives them a lot of momentum to take into the Premier League.

Blackburn Rovers were relegated

There were three teams that could have taken the final relegation spot on the final day, but it was Blackburn Rovers that dropped to the third tier, despite an excellent away performance at Brentford.

After moving into a two-goal lead after just 16 minutes, the mood was jubilant in the away end. However, Birmingham City and Nottingham Forest both picked up three points, which meant that Rovers remained in the bottom three.

They become the first former Premier League champions to drop to the third tier and their nightmare under the Venkys continues.

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Tony Mowbray has done a good job at Ewood Park and his team didn’t lose during the last five matches, but the damage had been done earlier in the campaign. Rovers have only spent 35 days outside of the relegation zone this season and that underlines why they will be playing in League One next season.

If the owners had dismissed Owen Coyle sooner, they may have stayed up. That said, credit should be given to both Nottingham Forest and Birmingham City. Both clubs had no margin for error on Sunday and they delivered the performances required to retain their Championship status.

The play-off semi-finals were confirmed

There four play-off spots were taken before the final day, with Reading, Sheffield Wednesday, Huddersfield and Fulham set to battle it out for the last Premier League place on offer. However, the actual finishing positions weren’t confirmed and for that reason, there was still something to play for on the final day.

The first semi-final will be Reading versus Fulham, after both teams secured victories on the final day, while the second semi-final will be Sheffield Wednesday against Huddersfield. Both ties should be great to watch for the neutral and all four teams will feel confident that they can go up.

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Fulham are the team taking real momentum into the play-offs as they have spent the least time in the top six, but they have secured wins in crucial matches and play some of the best football in the division.  On the final day, they beat play-off rivals Sheffield Wednesday and that should give them a lot of confidence to take into the following weeks.

It is Huddersfield that have lost momentum, as they have won only one of their last five matches and lost convincingly on the final day to Cardiff. Also, their goalkeeper Danny Ward was sent off for handling the ball outside of the box and will, therefore, be suspended for the tie against Sheffield Wednesday.

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Jake is a journalist based in the South East. He is a Newcastle United fan and has a keen interest in Dutch football. Jake can be found on Twitter here - @jakejackmann.

Birmingham City

Leeds United can’t afford to lose Pablo Hernandez to Championship rivals

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Rumours are circulating that Leeds United could face a battle to retain midfielder Pablo Hernandez as interest hots up in his services, with his contract at Elland Road set to expire in the summer.

Birmingham City are believed to be one of the club’s monitoring the situation, with former club Gary Monk keen to reunite with the Spaniard, say Birmingham Live.

The news comes following Paul Heckingbottom’s quotes on his future as he told Leeds Live, “I’ve had chats with Pablo in terms of football, him himself, us as a club and everything was positive.”

“Pablo’s driven by football rather than money and things like that, he’s driven by his heart. He likes it here, his family’s settled here. So things like that are positive, always.

(Photo by Stephen Pond/Getty Images)

“But there could be other people turning his head, speaking in those terms with him, trying to capture his heart at other clubs and that’s the position we find ourselves in because of his contract situation.

“So we’ll try as hard as we can. He knows where I stand on it and that’s it, that’s all we can do.”

Granted, at 33 years of age he may not be the most profitable player for the club to return with any resale value likely to be very low, but for Leeds he has been a pivotal player this season.

Only Kemar Roofe and Pierre-Michel Lasogga have scored more goals this term, with Hernandez’s tally on nine, and no player has been involved in more goals when you take assists into account.

His creativity has been crucial, even as the team have struggled under Heckingbottom, and he is clearly a key piece of the puzzle as the club consider how to improve next season.

Hernandez may not be the man to build a team around long-term, but he does possess the kind of quality that cannot be lost, nor easily or cheaply replaced, with a rebuilding project looking inevitable this summer.

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Birmingham City

Garry Monk should target Kenji Gorre reunion at Birmingham City

The Dutchman has been in fine form for Swansea’s under-23s this season.

Mathew Coull

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Swansea City have struggled this season, but their under-23s have been in great form. The South Wales youngsters are into the semi-finals of the Premier League 2 Cup and challenging for the PL Division 1 title.

One of the key reasons for that success is Dutch winger Kenji Gorre. The former Manchester United youngster has been in fine form for the Swans this season – scoring 11 goals from 22 appearances and also pitching in with four assists.

However, his contract in South Wales expires in the summer and plenty of teams will be looking at making his services permanent in the summer.

(Photo by Harry Trump/Getty Images)

Surely Birmingham City should be one of those teams. The Championship side are currently battling against relegation from the second-tier, with Garry Monk as their manager.

The former Swansea captain and manager will know Gorre well. The Dutch talent has played just one senior game for the Swansea first-team and it was Monk who gave him that opportunity.

Birmingham could be the perfect move for the 23-year-old, who now needs to be playing regular first-team football.

Monk has demonstrated in the past a preference for signing former players. For example, at Leeds, he signed Kyle Bartley, Matt Grimes and Pablo Hernandez – all former players of his at Swansea City.

(Photo credit should read PAUL ELLIS/AFP/Getty Images)

Based on his form with the under-23s he could certainly be an important member of the squad at St Andrew’s should Birmingham decide to make a move for his services.

Of course, there is the threat that relegation looms. But, given Gorre’s situation, heading to League One with the Blues would also be preferable to most other situations that could be presented to him this summer. Add in the extra bonus of playing under his former boss Monk and Gorre would surely jump at the chance of a Birmingham switch. He could be the bargain buy that Birmingham need to help them back to the Championship or get them moving up the table.

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Birmingham City

Birmingham fans have plenty of reason for optimism under Garry Monk

The Blues have won their last three matches under Garry Monk and look set for safety.

Greg Whitaker

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Birmingham
Photo: Getty Images

A few months is a very long time in football.

At the beginning of February, Birmingham City were rooted in the Championship’s bottom three and, along with fellow strugglers Sunderland, appeared certainties for relegation.

However, as has become almost tradition at St Andrew’s in recent years, a late change of manager looks to have set in motion yet another miraculous great escape.

But the question is, can Garry Monk buck the trend set by Messrs Redknapp and Clark and prove a successful long-term appointment, rather than the usual firefighting magician?

As Bluenoses will tell you, the early signs are looking very good.

If wins against Ipswich and Hull City last month kick-started Monk’s tenure at St Andrew’s and bolstered the fans’ belief that Championship survival was possible, Tuesday evening’s 1-0 victory away at relegation rivals Bolton must have had the 5,000 strong travelling support brimming with optimism for future.

(Photo by Harry Trump/Getty Images)

While the win was scrappy, with Monk’s side holding on for a large portion of the second half following Che Adams’ 67th-minute red card, the nature of Birmingham’s last three performances are night and day from the brief and ill-fated Cotterill and Redknapp eras.

Ironically perhaps, comparisons have already been made between Monk’s immediate impact and that of former Blues manager Gary Rowett.

The current Derby boss had been far and away Birmingham City’s most promising young manager of recent years when he was controversially sacked and replaced by Gianfranco Zola, with the team just outside the playoffs, in 2016.

Owners who swear to have learnt from this mistake can go some way to repairing their reputation by backing their new man in the transfer window this summer, should Birmingham stay up.

While the Blues’ current squad, on paper at least, looks a decent one at this level – one that certainly shouldn’t be struggling at the wrong end of the division – Monk will need to bolster his squad should a promotion charge be launched next season.

However, perhaps that’s looking just a bit too far in the future for now.

(Photo by Harry Trump/Getty Images)

Garry Monk, once again aided by his trusted backroom support of James Beattie and Pep Clotet, will be squarely focused on finishing the job and securing another year of second-tier football before thoughts can be turned to next season.

With the likes of David Stockdale, Che Adams and Jota, arguably Birmingham’s most important trio, seemingly given a new lease of life under Monk, Championship survival could be all but confirmed over the next fortnight, should Birmingham’s unbeaten run continue.

Fans will tell you, then and only then can they turn their attention to next season. But with new found confidence and hope visible oozing from the club at the minute, this seems hard to believe.

The former Swansea and Leeds boss is the shot in the arm a club like Birmingham so desperately needed. Monk represents a breath of fresh air, cleansing a club that has recently stagnated under the rule of the mediocre usual suspects, fresh off the cliche managerial roundabout.

Birmingham supporters were robbed of their optimism when fans’ favourite Gary Rowett was sacked 18 months ago. Now, with Monk at the helm, they have every reason to be optimistic once again.

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