Ipswich eye Premier League return as Leeds hope for promotion miracle

Ipswich eye Premier League return as Leeds hope for promotion miracle

May 3, 2024 at 8:20 AM
Ipswich have their sights set on returning to the Premier League after 22 years
Ipswich have their sights set on returning to the Premier League after 22 years. Photo: Ben Stansall / AFP
Source: AFP

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Ipswich are on the verge of completing a remarkable rise by returning to the Premier League after 22 years, while Leeds hope for a slip from their rivals in Saturday's dramatic conclusion to the Championship promotion race.

Heading into the final round of fixtures, Ipswich are second, with a three-point lead over Leeds.

Kieran McKenna's Ipswich need just a draw against Huddersfield, who are almost certainly relegated, to clinch a second successive promotion following last season's climb out of League One.

A defeat or draw for Leeds against Southampton would also send Ipswich back to the top-flight.

However, Leeds have a superior goal difference, so a defeat for the Suffolk club combined with a victory for Daniel Farke's men would earn promotion for the Elland Road outfit instead.

It is an appropriately tense denouement to a fascinating Championship promotion battle, with Leicester already securing their return to the Premier League as title winners 12 months after relegation.

As the promotion race heated up in April, McKenna told his players: "It's not our job to dream, it's our job to do."

But dreams will come true at Portman Road if Ipswich seal a lucrative place among the Premier League elite after over two decades in the wilderness.

Four games without a win looked to have consigned Ipswich to a play-off place, but Leeds also stumbled with one victory in five matches, opening the way for the Tractor Boys to move to second place when they beat Coventry on Tuesday.

"Anything can happen. I don't expect it to be smooth sailing," McKenna said of the promotion finale.

"There's going to be tension in the game for sure, but it'll be about doing enough of the right things to help us keep on top of that."

Ipswich would be only the fourth side in the Premier League era to secure consecutive promotions from the third tier after Watford, Norwich and Southampton.

Defied the doubters

They last played in the Premier League in 2001-02, when they suffered a shock relegation just a year after qualifying for the UEFA Cup via a fifth place finish in the top-flight.

Ipswich's decline hit a low in 2019 as they plunged into the third tier for the first time since 1957.

Consecutive seasons of finishing in mid-table left Ipswich in purgatory, a bleak period that finally brightened on December 16, 2021 with the bold decision to hire McKenna.

The Northern Irishman was seen as a gamble in his first managerial role, but had earned rave reviews with Manchester United's youth academy before being promoted to assist with first-team coaching by Jose Mourinho.

The 37-year-old has defied the doubters, ending Ipswich's four-year stay in the third tier and taking them to the brink of the promised land.

Leeds, relegated from the top tier last season, will feel a bitter sting if they are consigned to the play-off lottery after spending much of the season around the top two.

"It's not in our hands any more but the race is not over," Farke said.

West Bromwich Albion will secure a play-off place if they beat Preston, although a draw is likely to be enough given their goal difference advantage over seventh-placed Hull.

Norwich can also guarantee a play-off berth if they avoid defeat at third-bottom Birmingham, who are fighting to avoid relegation to the third tier for the first time since 1995.

Birmingham are one point behind Plymouth and need Argyle to lose to Hull to have a survival chance.

Second-bottom Huddersfield's hugely inferior goal difference compared to Plymouth's means they are realistically down no matter what they do against Ipswich.


Saturday (all 1130 GMT)

Birmingham v Norwich, Coventry v QPR, Ipswich v Huddersfield, Leeds v Southampton, Leicester v Blackburn, Middlesbrough v Watford, Plymouth v Hull, Rotherham v Cardiff, Stoke v Bristol City, Sunderland v Sheffield Wednesday, Swansea v Millwall, West Brom v Preston

AFP photo