Ipswich Town saved themselves after drawing 1-1 in the East Anglian derby against Norwich City. But it's the Canaries who are the real winners after grabbing a priceless away goal in their playoff semi-final first leg.
Middlesbrough left it late to grab a 2-1 win over Brentford in the first leg of their Championship play-off semi-final on Friday, as Fernando Amorebieta struck deep in injury-time to give the visitors a one-goal advantage.
In the other tie, Norwich City will visit Ipswich Town on Saturday looking to carry their late-season form into the play-offs.
The winner of the Championship play-offs will join Bournemouth and Watford in next year's Premier League and, with the latter's new TV deal breaking just about every record on the planet, per ESPN FC's Vivek Chaudhary, promotion will literally mean millions upon millions of extra revenue for whichever team accomplishes the feat.
Here's how the schedule for the semi-finals looks:
|Championship Play-offs Schedule|
|Friday, May 8||7:45 p.m.||Brentford||1-2||Middlesbrough|
|Saturday, May 9||12:15 p.m.||Ipswich||1-1||Norwich|
|Friday, May 15||7:45 p.m.||Middlesbrough||tbd||Brentford|
|Saturday, May 16||12:15 p.m.||Norwich||tbd||Ipswich|
Norwich played a smart and cagey game early on. The Canaries initially bossed possession as they bid to quiet a hostile crowd.
Manager Alex Neil's team was particularly strong in midfield. Alexander Tettey offered typical power and aggression in the middle. His physicality was nicely complemented by the guile of Graham Dorrans.
The Scot was assured in possession, tidily and smartly distributing the ball. The chief beneficiary of Dorrans' delivery and range was crafty forward Jonny Howson.
He bagged the game's first goal deep into a highly intense first half. It continued a fine run away from Carrow Road for the former Leeds United man, per Squawka Football:
Ipswich countered with a more direct approach. Manager Mick McCarthy's team pressed high and quickly got at a shaky looking Norwich back four. Their approach was rewarded when substitute Paul Anderson equalised deep into first-half stoppage time.
The away goal favours Neil's squad in the return leg. But those type of advantages generally don't count in a derby atmosphere.
Middlesbrough dominated during the first half against Brentford and ultimately came away with a 2-1 win, with Amorebieta scoring very deep in injury time. Jelle Vossen and Andre Gray had both scored on either side of half-time and the match appeared destined to end in a draw, but the visitors managed to come away with a win and a one-goal advantage.
Brentford looked very nervous from the opening kickoff and allowed Middlesbrough far too much space. Vossen and Albert Adomah looked particularly threatening throughout the opening 15 minutes, pushing the tempo ever higher.
Cards started flying as the intensity of the match increased, before Alan Judge's booming shot hit the cross-bar out of nowhere. Replays confirmed Dimi Konstantopoulos' fingertips stopped the ball from going in.
Minutes later, Vossen opened the score for the visitors with a powerful header. According to OptaJoe, that was great news for more than one reason:
Vossen thought he had doubled his tally when a scuffed shot appeared to go over the line, but the official wouldn't budge and instead marked the chance as an excellent defensive intervention.
Scott Wilson of the Northern Echo couldn't say whether the ball did actually cross the line or not:
Copa90 approached the chance with a bit of humour:
The score remained 1-0 in favour of Middlesbrough going into half-time, the perfect situation for the visitors. Brentford showed a lot more willingness to attack in the second half, however, and equalised through Gray after a blunder from Konstantopoulos.
The stopper should have just smashed the ball into the stands but took his time with Gray applying pressure, and the striker eventually stole the ball and put it into the gaping net.
Wilson couldn't believe it:
David Button then denied Adomah with a fantastic save you'll see on highlight reels for the rest of the season, denying Middlesbrough the chance to grab the lead again. Konstantopoulos did the same to deny Jonathan Douglas, redeeming himself as Friday's match was turning into a fantastic, back-and-forth affair.
It looked as if a barrage of chances wouldn't lead to another goal, but Amorebieta struck on the counter-attack deep in extra time to give Middlesbrough a one-goal advantage heading into the second leg of this tie.
Speaking to Sky Sports (via BBC Sport), captain Grant Leadbitter was more than happy with the win:
Brentford are a really good side but we've got the advantage now. We know it's going to be tough and we have to come out the blocks as quickly as today when we start the second leg.
It was a good game and Brentford were very good in possession, but Fernando produced a great strike and we'll take the win.
We know it's going to be tight. We'll be full of confidence but we know we have to be wary because Brentford are a good team.
Brentford struggled with the Middlesbrough high press throughout the match and can expect more of the same next week, when Vossen and Patrick Bamford will have plenty of space to use their athleticism on the counter-attack and put this tie to bed.