West Bromwich Albion head coach Slaven Bilic saw his side claim a gold-plated place in the Premier League with a draw against Queens Park Rangers and declared: I am the proudest man alive. The Baggies, whose fans have adopted the stirring hymn “The Lord’s my Shepherd, I’ll not want” as their anthem, will go to the Promised Land thanks to the 2-2 draw against the Londoners in a nervy affair at an empty Hawthorns.
The point meant that they claimed second place in the Championship league standings behind champions Leeds United and in the same process denied Brentford their last chance of securing automatic promotion to the top flight. They now go into the lottery that is the play-offs. Albion fans have been put through various states of mental exhaustion as the season unfolded and especially since the Championship season resumed, after the lockdown imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic, in the middle of June.
Before the halt in proceedings, WBA were at one point seven points ahead of Leeds at the top of the table and a whopping 13 points in front of challengers Brentford. The Londoners’ eight-game triumphant spell, including a win over Albion, piled the pressure on and they secured victories in only three of their last 11 encounters — nine of those came after the term had restarted.
But Brentford’s back-to-back losses in their final two matches helped the Baggies get back to the top flight a little over a year after being knocked out of last term’s play-offs by bitter rivals Aston Villa. Yes, WBA are back and the achievement isn’t lost on boss Bilic. He said that the promotion is at the top of his achievements in the game and added:
“You don’t know how exhausting it was this season. You can’t imagine how proud and happy I am.”
He explained that he had managed his country Croatia for six years and that nothing will compare to being manager of a national team:
“I can’t say it’s the same but I feel as proud as I felt then. We’ve got work to do but I haven’t thought about it because of this crazy situation. We did a bit of work during the lockdown. Now, not today, not tomorrow or the day after and we’ll see next week.”
And Baggies skipper Jake Livermore says the players know what it meant to the fans and the club in general, as well as staff who have helped lift morale as the season edged towards a triumphant conclusion. He added:
“It’s just relief. It’s been a long ride, for the fans, for everyone. Throughout the lockdown we’ve loved to interact with as many as we could and it was a real eye-opener of what it means at this football club and to this area.”
Now take a break, Jake. You’ll be needed when the action starts in the Premier League in a couple of months!