The last step is always the hardest. Just ask Chris Hughton. Two weeks ago he saw his Brighton side secure promotion to the Premier League after a 2-1 win over Wigan.
The following Friday, the Seagulls had the chance to secure the Championship title, but missed the opportunity due to freakish circumstances, as goalkeeper David Stockdale scored two own goals in a 2-0 defeat at Norwich.
Fast forward to last Saturday and Hughton’s men had the chance to secure the title in front of their own fans. The opportunity was spurned, Brighton losing 1-0 to Bristol City.
Brighton remain top, but Newcastle are now just a point behind them heading into next Sunday’s final round of games. Only a victory at Aston Villa will guarantee the title.
Following Saturday’s defeat, Hughton reflected on a second missed opportunity after the players enjoyed a lap of honour.
He said: “What we have to do is separate the two [lap of honour and losing]. What we saw with the lap of honour was about the season, the supporters and club thanking the players, and vice versa.
“There is disappointment, because we’ve had two opportunities to clinch the title, and now we’ve got a very tough game away to Aston Villa.”
The primary aim for the season — promotion — may have been achieved, but successive defeats still sting.
“Generally, when we’ve had a disappointing result, we’ve bounced back from it. The last couple of games we haven’t been able to do that,” Hughton said.
That said, despite their recent wobbles, Brighton remain in the box seat.
“It’s still very much in our hands, and it’s a big one for us. Having gained promotion, the big feeling that’s very close to that is winning the title. That would mean everything to this group of lads and this football club.”
Mick McCarthy had another difficult weekend, as Ipswich lost 1-0 at home to a Sheffield Wednesday side who confirmed their place in the play-offs.
“We haven’t been good enough at home and we haven’t entertained our fans enough,” McCarthy conceded. “It is a shame we didn’t go out on a high, but I think they had the edge on us and just had that bit more quality.”
Meanwhile, Aiden McGeady was yesterday named Preston’s player of the year in recognition of an outstanding season which has seen the winger rediscover some of his best form.
McGeady, on loan at the Deepdale outfit from Everton, has featured in 33 of the 45 league outings this season, scoring eight goals.
In League One yesterday, Stephen McLaughlin scored the only goal as Southend beat Bury 1-0.
Sadly for McLaughlin and Southend they missed out on a play-off spot by a single point.
On Saturday, Liam McAlinden was among the goals as Exeter won 3-1 at Doncaster Rovers to secure a place in the League Two play-offs.
In the Scottish Premiership, Conor Sammon was on the mark, as Kilmarnock ensured they are safe from automatic relegation with a 2-0 victory away to Hamilton.
Elsewhere, Daniel Devine was sent off, as Partick Thistle drew 2-2 at Hearts.
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