Burnley secured promotion to the Premier League on Monday as they beat Queens Park Rangers 1-0 at Turf Moor.
Sam Vokes scored the only goal of the game on the hour mark in Week 45 of the Championship to move the Clarets two points clear at the summit.
With one match still to play, nearest rivals Brighton and Hove Albion and Middlesbrough trail by two points. With the two closest challengers set to meet on the final day, Sean Dyche's side have now secured an automatic promotion place at their first attempt in the second-tier.
The Clarets were held at bay for long periods before finding the breakthrough on 59 minutes through Vokes' smart header. The Welshman met David Jones' in-swinging free-kick and climbed highest to divert the ball into the far corner.
They have now earned promotion to the Premier League for the third time in their history.
Earlier in the day, Brighton's title chances were dented as they missed an opportunity to move into the top two, salvaging a 1-1 draw with Derby County. James Wilson came off the bench to net a 95th-minute equaliser after Lewis Dunk was shown a red card.
The Rams opened the scoring away from home in the 71st minute. Andreas Weimann—brought on for Tom Ince moments earlier—was put through on goal and found the back of the net at the second attempt after seeing his first effort kept out by David Stockdale.
However, Brighton were not to be denied a point, as Manchester United loanee Wilson netted in added time. Following a goalmouth scramble from a corner, the youngster fired his shot into the ground and over Derby goalkeeper Scott Carson as a sigh of relief was heard around the American Express Community Stadium.
The Seagulls will now travel to the Riverside on the final day knowing a draw will not suffice to secure promotion due to Boro's superior goal difference.
In Friday's action, Birmingham City held then-leaders Middlesbrough to a 2-2 draw, while on Saturday, Sheffield Wednesday beat Cardiff City 3-0 to secure a play-off spot ahead of the Bluebirds.
Stephen Gleeson gave Birmingham the lead, but Boro struck back via Jordan Rhodes before half-time. Gaston Ramirez added a second goal for the visitors after the break, but Middlesbrough became too defensive after taking the lead, and David Davis tied things up again.
Boro had their chances to grab a winner and found themselves on the wrong end of some poor officiating, but despite a late push, the Blues held on for one point.
Relegated Bolton Wanderers upset Hull City 1-0, but with the Tigers already assured a play-off place and with no chance of automatic promotion, the result means relatively little.
Elsewhere, there were wins for Brentford, Bristol City, Ipswich Town, Charlton Athletic, Preston North End and Blackburn Rovers.
Here’s a look at all the results and the latest Championship standings:
|13||Queens Park Rangers||45||13||18||14||53||54||-1||57|
|23||Milton Keynes Dons||45||9||12||24||38||67||-29||39|
|Championship Week 45 Results|
|Ipswich Town||3-2||MK Dons|
|Sheffield Wednesday||3-0||Cardiff City|
BBC 5 live Sport explained the situation at the top of the standings going into Friday’s match, and Steve Claridge backed Boro to take care of business and earn automatic promotion to the Premier League:
As shared by Sky Sports Statto, the visitors entered the match with a fantastic defensive record:
The hosts had little to play for, as qualification for the play-offs was no longer mathematically possible, but they attacked Middlesbrough early and gave the fans at St. Andrew’s a good show. The first real chance fell to Boro, however, with Stewart Downing scuffing his shot.
Paul Caddis did well to clear the ball just ahead of Downing, while Boro goalkeeper Dimitrios Konstantopoulos was forced to make a handful of stops, including a great save on Maikel Kieftenbeld. His Birmingham colleague Adam Legzdins also kept busy, although Rhodes should have done better when he had an open shooting chance from inside the box.
Both teams moved the ball at pace, and a goal seemed inevitable. David Cotterill went close after 30 minutes, and his team-mate Gleeson finally broke the deadlock a few minutes later with a superb strike from 20 yards out. Konstantopoulos could have done a lot better, although replays showed he caught sight of the ball late.
Per BBC Sport, Burnley and Brighton & Hove Albion likely enjoyed that goal as much as the Blues did:
Legzdins again did well, this time keeping out a shot from Albert Adomah, and Ramirez had a few good looks on goal as well. Middlesbrough increased the tempo toward the end of the first half and found an equaliser with five minutes left to play.
The unfortunate Legzdins dropped a routine save from a high free-kick, and Rhodes was there to tap home from close range. Nick Mashiter of the Press Association felt for the goalkeeper:
Birmingham nearly took the lead again early in the second half, as Ryan Shotton headed a great chance over the crossbar from close range. Shotton went even closer minutes later, but his header went just wide.
On the other side of the pitch, Boro comically missed three open looks on goal in the space of seconds. Rhodes found the post from close range and got in the way of Adomah, who was ready to tap home the rebound into the empty net. The ball then fell to Ramirez, who couldn't keep his composure and blasted over.
But the goal came just a few minutes later, and the same three were involved. Adomah picked out Rhodes with a cross, the striker laid it back to Ramirez, and the Uruguayan easily nodded the ball home.
Boro immediately dropped deep to defend the lead and put no pressure whatsoever on Birmingham's creative players, and they paid dearly. Davis had far too much space around the box, and he fired a rocket into the bottom corner to tie things up once again.
The visitors responded well, and Daniel Ayala appeared to hand his team the lead once again, but the linesman ruled the goal out for offside. Replays showed that was the wrong decision, via Sky Sports Football League:
Boro were lucky to escape when Diego Fabbrini was left open in the box and just headed over. The pouring rain, which kept getting worse as the match went on, saw even more space become available for the attackers, as defenders started to slide all over the pitch.
The visitors came agonisingly close to a late winner, but Grant Leadbitter's fantastic effort smashed off the crossbar.
Per Boro's official website, manager Aitor Karanka said his team is still in a good position, as they control their own destiny:
Birmingham are a good team. We have to wait, we have to rest, and then we prepare for the next game. We have to be calm.
We have had an amazing season. We have it in our hands. Last season the final was at Wembley, this season it's at home. We are in a better position than last season and we are more mature.
The only match of consequence on Saturday came at Hillsborough, with Wednesday knowing a win would seal their place in the play-offs.
Gary Hooper rebounded in Daniel Pudil's effort for the opener after a tense first half, before Lee Peltier turned the ball into his own net after a mistake from goalkeeper David Marshall, and Hooper rounded out the scoring in injury time with a calm finish.
ESPN's Dale Johnson added further significance to the result:
Stephen Dobbie's close-range goal proved decisive as Bolton faced Hull, with the Tigers twice hitting the woodwork through Robert Snodgrass and Chuba Akpom. Though it is of little consequence, Steve Bruce will need his side to be more clinical when they feature in the play-offs if they're to emerge triumphant.
Brentford were comprehensive in their defeat of Fulham thanks to Sam Saunders' impudent lob and Scott Hogan's excellent brace, with the first goal putting the Bees 2-0 up after seven minutes. Bristol were even more impressive, bagging four against Huddersfield Town, with two goals from Jonathan Kodjia and strikes from Joe Bryan and Lee Tomlin.
There was further misery for the relegated MK Dons, as they lost despite Alex Revell's brace. Revell twice equalised after David McGoldrick and Brett Pitman scored for Ipswich, but a late header from Luke Varney sealed the Tractor Boys' win.
Charlton enjoyed a rare win, though, with Johann Berg Gudmundsson and Ademola Lookman netting for the Addicks before Leeds United pulled one back through Sol Bamba. Blackburn also ended their run of six winless games, with Shane Duffy heading in Matt Grimes' corner to decide an open contest between themselves and Rotherham United.
Daniel Johnson was the hero for Preston thanks to his last-minute winner, after Reading's Steven Quinn cancelled out Jermaine Beckford's opener, and Wolverhampton Wanderers held Nottingham Forest to a draw.
Joe Mason's sublime strike from distance put Wolves ahead in the 58th minute, but 10 minutes later, Gary Gardner replied with a free-kick.
Following Monday's action, the final automatic promotion place will come down to a vital head-to-head matchup between Brighton and Middlesbrough. Both teams will be eager to avoid the unpredictability of the play-offs when they meet on the final day.
Burnley, meanwhile, will face relegated Charlton Athletic at the Valley in their last fixture, aiming to secure the Championship crown.