Seven seasons after sinking out of the top flight on the final day of the season, Aitor Karanka’s impressive, if occasionally unbridled revolution at Middlesbrough was complete as some of the biggest clubs in England will be back at the Riverside Stadium next season.
Cristhian Stuani’s early strike paved the way for Middlesbrough to win the so-called richest match in football and confirm their return to the Premier League after a seven-year absence.
Needing just a draw against promotion rivals Brighton by virtue of their better goal difference, Boro were pegged back by a second-half equalizer from Dale Stephens, who was later sent off.
But despite eight minutes of stoppage time, the push for a second goal by the Seagulls never came, Aitor Karanka’s side exorcising the memory of last season’s play-off final defeat to seal their place back in the big time.
Talk of a £170m jackpot might seem obscene in a region recently blighted by steel redundancies, and the celebrations at the final whistle intimated Boro’s joyous supporters are more interested in a prize that money could not buy.
Brighton, who travelled north in search of their own fairy tale, 19 years after Robbie Reinelt’s goal at Hereford prevented them dropping out of the Football League, must now prepare themselves to seek promotion through the play-offs – Sheffield Wednesday their opponents.
Chris Hughton’s Seagulls, who had soared back into automatic promotion contention on the back of a 13-match unbeaten run, knew only a win would be good enough to join Burnley back in the top fight for the first time since 1983.