Championship Analysis - Southampton defeat at Middlesbrough leaves door ajar for West Ham
Southampton missed the chance to clinch automatic promotion to the Premier League after a 2-1 defeat to Middlesbrough at the Riverside Stadium on Saturday, a result which also allowed Reading to crown themselves champions with a 2-2 draw at home to Crystal Palace, and Boro to keep their play-off hopes alive.
The Saints currently have a five-point advantage over West Ham, but a win for the Hammers at Leicester City in Monday’s fixture would reduce that gap to two, and the deficit in goal difference to, at worst, three goals going into the final weekend of the regular season.
It would all be academic, of course, if Sam Allardyce’s side fail to beat the Foxes, but Saturday’s defeat means the Saints’ faithful will be keeping a semi-nervous eye on proceedings at the King Power Stadium. Adkins, his usual upbeat self after the game, suggested he wouldn’t be joining them.
"What we've got to do now is make sure we get promoted. We can do that next Saturday, our destiny is in our hands and we go to St Mary's next week. Everybody's going to get behind the team and we've got to go and win the game,” the Southampton boss told the club’s official website.
The Saints remain the overwhelming favourites to join Reading, not least because their opposition on the final day is Coventry City, who were officially relegated on Saturday after a 2-0 defeat to their fellow victims, Doncaster Rovers. As it happened, a win wouldn’t have been enough anyway after Bristol City leapt to safety with a win over Barnsley.
It was the same scenario for cash-strapped Portsmouth, who were put out of their misery by Derby County at Fratton Park and will be joining the Sky Blues and Donny in League One next season, assuming the club attracts a buyer before then. Michael Appleton has admitted the summer could be chaotic in terms of replacing what is expected to be a mass exodus of players.
"We need to re-group and have a think about what needs to be done for next season. It's frustrating because from my point of view I can't offer someone a new contract or tell them if they will be here next season because we don't have owners,” the Pompey manager told BBC Radio Solent in his post-match interview.
"If players are out of contract at other clubs, likewise I can't offer them contracts, but what I can do is make it personal. I'll be driving up and down the country doing that over the next few weeks. That's the only way I'm going to get players to play for Portsmouth,” he added.
After rush hour-esque congestion in and around the top six for the vast majority of the season, it’s somewhat surprising that only one of the four play-off slots is still up for grabs, which makes Middlesbrough’s victory on Saturday all the more vital. Blackpool joined West Ham after hammering Burnley 4-0, and Birmingham’s 23-goal superior goal difference over Boro all but guarantees Chris Hughton’s side a spot.
Boro will take on Cardiff City for the remaining place, but are very much the underdogs as the Bluebirds hold a two-point advantage. The Welshmen travel to Crystal Palace knowing a point should be enough, though a win could yet secure them fourth place and a possible advantage in the play-off semi-finals. Should they lose, Boro will gatecrash the top six if they beat Watford at Vicarage Road.