Fourteen months after hopes of bouncing straight back to the Premier League were wrecked by Aston Villa in the play-off semi-finals, West Bromwich Albion have put things right.
For the fifth time since the formation of the Premier League in 1992, the Baggies have gone up from the second tier to the top flight.
Albion went into Wednesday’s final Championship game against QPR needing to match Brentford’s result to be sure of second spot and a 2-2 draw at The Hawthorns proved to be enough, with the third-placed Bees losing at home to Barnsley.
“It’s been an emotional rollercoaster,” defender Kyle Bartley told BBC Radio WM. “This league has been crazy from start to finish but we’ve managed to get over the line.
“But nothing worth having in life is going to come easy. And the gaffer (Slaven Bilic) coming in has been a breath of fresh air.
“As a professional footballer, the money is great, the lifestyle is great but the most important thing is to play at the highest level you can, and it means so much to get this club back in the top flight.
“The only disappointment is that the fans weren’t here to see it. I think back to the Villa semi-final with the way the fans were that night and I just wish they could have been here.
“Hopefully that will be sooner rather than later.”
The former Leeds centre-back added: “I couldn’t be happier that both of us have managed to do it. I have a lot of mates still there.”
Albion head coach Bilic added: “There has been big pressure on West Brom and Leeds now for the last seven or eight months, but we have shown that we could handle that pressure.
“You have your ups and downs, and especially after the way coronavirus has lengthened the season.
“But, over the whole season, the players have been fantastic. Against difficult opponents in difficult circumstances, I’m extremely proud of the way my team played tonight.
“At the end of the day, no matter what we do and feel for ourselves, it is always about the club and it’s about the fans. I am so proud to have pleased them.”
Albion’s record fifth trip to the Premier League
West Brom have now won promotion five times since the Premier League was formed in 1992, a new record.
Until this season, six teams had all gone up four times; Albion, Middlesbrough, Crystal Palace, Leicester City, Sunderland and Norwich City.
Bilic has joined Gary Megson (2001-02 and 2003-04), Tony Mowbray (2007-08) and Roberto Di Matteo (2009-10) as the men who have got Albion up to the top flight.
From relegation in 2018…
After their most recent promotion in 2010, Albion had eight successive seasons in the Premier League but went through seven different head coaches; Di Matteo, Roy Hodgson, Steve Clarke, Pepe Mel, Alan Irvine, Tony Pulis and Alan Pardew.
Darren Moore was caretaker boss when Albion went down two years ago. They had long since been consigned to relegation by an awful run of just one league win in 29, although Moore almost kept the Baggies up with an unbeaten five-game run of 11 points from a possible 15.
For the first half of the 2018-19 season, it looked as if Albion would go straight back up under Moore, who had been rewarded with the job full-time, only for a disastrous run of home form in the new year, when they did not win at The Hawthorns for two months, to cost them.
It was still a surprise when Moore was sacked in mid-March. And, although Albion did hold things together sufficiently under interim boss Jimmy Shan to make the play-offs, Dwight Gayle’s first-leg red card proved crucial as they lost their semi-final on penalties to Villa.
Albion lost just seven of their 46 matches in 2019-20, and were not outside the automatic promotion spots after September.
On-loan Matheus Pereira has been the undoubted star turn and will remain at The Hawthorns next season having joined for £9m for Sporting Lisbon. As well as his eight goals, he has chipped in with 16 assists, comfortably the highest total in the Championship.
Despite a long injury absence, West Ham United loanee Grady Diangana has also had a big impact with eight goals and six assists, and twice showed his class when it mattered most on the final night.
And, although only Charlie Austin (11) and Hal Robson-Kanu (10) have reached double figures, only Brentford (80) have surpassed Albion’s tally of 77 goals in the Championship.
“I want to play good football, make the fans happy and get the club back to the Premier League,” Bilic told BBC Radio WM when he was appointed last June. He has succeeded on all three fronts.
They were never being boring
Bilic promised at his unveiling that “it isn’t going to be boring” and it certainly has not been for the Baggies, who have had as many downward ‘boings’ as upwards ‘boings’ in the closing weeks of the season.
Prior to a tricky spell at turn of the year, promotion looked a formality for Albion.
Then came a 2-1 defeat at Cardiff City on 28 January, which left them just two points clear of third-placed Nottingham Forest.
Three successive wins at the start of February re-established their cushion and, with just 11 games left, Albion were clear of Leeds by seven points and Brentford, then fifth, by 13.
But in their last two games before the season was suspended because of the coronavirus pandemic, the Baggies picked up just one point. That was how they restarted too, drawing with Birmingham City and then losing by a single goal at Brentford.
A much-needed run of three straight wins seemed to have steadied the ship, but successive draws at Blackburn and at home to Fulham, followed by Friday’s late defeat at Huddersfield, left automatic promotion out of their own hands.
But Brentford, needing only a point to go second, lost at Stoke the following day and that allowed Albion to finish the job.