Royals seal title as Saints suffer

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READING won the Championship title after Southampton failed to seal their own return to the Barclays Premier League.

The Royals, promoted in midweek, could only draw 2-2 at home to Crystal Palace but a memorable week was completed when Saints lost the late kick-off 2-1 at Middlesbrough.

Southampton’s defeat came despite Billy Sharp opening the scoring after just 46 seconds but after Nicky Bailey levelled, Boro midfielder Merouane Zemmama won it with a splendid 77th-minute free-kick.

Boro’s success, which kept alive their play-off bid, meant Saints would be left sweating on West Ham’s trip to Leicester tonight.

Anything but a Hammers win will send the Saints to the Premier League for the first time in seven years, but should Sam Allardyce’s side triumph they will move two points behind heading into the final weekend.

Should it go down to the wire, however, Saints boss Nigel Adkins is confident they will beat relegated Coventry at St Mary’s next Saturday.

“It would have been nice to seal it today, especially for all those fans who have come such a long way to support us,” he said. But we will have to make sure we do it at home now. We know what we have to do next week when we play Coventry at our place in front of 32,000 people. We have to make sure.”

Saints will meet a dispirited Coventry after they were consigned to the third tier following a 2-0 home defeat to Doncaster.

Administration-hit Portsmouth joined them, almost two years to the day since they reached the FA Cup final as a Premier League club, as they lost 2-1 to Derby at Fratton Park. Despite their defeats both sides would have gone down in any case after Bristol City beat Barnsley 2-0.

Blackpool confirmed their place in the top six, and a tilt at an immediate return to the Premier League, with a 4-0 hammering over neighbours Burnley.

“I am delighted for the club, the fans and the players but whether we can beat the other teams in the play-offs is on an absolute knife-edge because it is really tight,” Seasiders boss Ian Holloway said.

Fifth-placed Birmingham are three points clear of Boro, but with a vastly better goal difference, after they drew 1-1 at Brighton leaving Cardiff as the only fragile club inside the play-offs. The Bluebirds looked on course to seal their place when Joe Mason put them ahead on 41 minutes but Luciano Becchio levelled 17 minutes from the end.

Millwall won 3-0 at Ipswich, Hull were 2-1 winners at home to Nottingham Forest while Peterborough and Watford drew 2-2.