Slaven Bilic said his burning desire to manage in the Championship was vindicated after steering West Bromwich Albion into the Premier League on an extraordinary final day of drama.
Bilic’s side drew 2-2 at home to QPR but Brentford’s failure to beat Barnsley ensured a return to the top flight after two years away. Meanwhile, Luton avoided relegation and Swansea squeezed into the play-offs at the expense of Nottingham Forest.
“What a season, what a league,” said Bilic, who was appointed last summer. “I was very vocal when I said I would always like to manage in the Championship because it’s especially difficult. I never imagined it would be this difficult, this demanding. It’s exhausting. I didn’t enjoy every minute of it, of course, but with a finish like this, the results at the bottom, the Forest situation, it’s unbelievable. I’m proud of the whole club.”
Bilic and his players paused their celebrations at full-time before confirmation of Brentford’s defeat at Griffin Park. Goals by Grady Diangana and Callum Robinson earned a point against QPR, who opened the scoring through Ryan Manning before Eberechi Eze equalised on what could prove his final appearance for the club.
“I was told it is 1-1 in the 85th minute and I said: ‘I don’t believe, I can’t rely on that, we have to try and score,’” Bilic said. “If we concede we concede but I had a feeling we wouldn’t concede. When they told me it was 2-1, then I told them to go back. I didn’t believe they would score two. It happened and we are very happy.”
The Brentford manager, Thomas Frank, admitted his side must now lift themselves for the play-offs.
“Football is 80% suffering and 10% joy,” he said. “When you have that opportunity to go direct to the Premier League, that is the emotional part of it – but Barnsley did a good job. We can’t sit down and cry too long because that will never help anything. We need to go again and pick ourselves up. We will have a sleep and then be ready to fight again.”
Elsewhere, Swansea sensationally snatched the final play-off position after a 4-1 victory over Reading allowed Steve Cooper’s side to overturn a goal-difference deficit of five at kick-off to Nottingham Forest, who were beaten 4-1 at home by Stoke.
Hull were also relegated after losing 3-0 to Cardiff, while Wigan drew 1-1 with play-off-bound Fulham and must now await the results of their appeal against a 12-point deduction imposed automatically for falling into insolvency to see if they will join them in League One next season.