Fingernails are being bitten to the quick by fans of Burnley, Middlesbrough and Brighton and Hove Albion as a three-way fight for promotion to the Premier League reaches its climax.
With two rounds of Championship (second tier) fixtures remaining, all three clubs are locked on 87 points but only two of them will gain automatic promotion to the top flight and a guaranteed 100-million-pound ($145.73 million) windfall, thanks to the Premier League’s new three-year TV right deal.
The unlucky one will be plunged into the playoffs with Hull City, Derby County and probably Sheffield on Wednesday.
Burnley, who are leaders on goal difference and were relegated last season, could be promoted on Monday if they beat Queens Park Rangers and Middlesbrough and Brighton both drop points in their penultimate fixtures.
Middlesbrough face Birmingham City away on Friday while Brighton, outside the top flight since 1983, host a Derby side with one eye already on the playoffs on Monday.
Intriguingly, Middlesbrough and Brighton clash on Teeside on the final day of the season for a possible “winner takes all” decider when the top three clubs could all have 90 points.
Middlesbrough have shaken off uncertainty over manager Aitor Karanka’s future to put together an eight-match unbeaten run but are jittery after two costly draws.
They were seconds away from beating Burnley on April 19 only to concede a last-gasp equaliser.
Then they drew 0-0 at home to Ipswich.
Having missed out in the playoff final last season against Norwich City, Middlesbrough would be loathed to go down that route again.
“Last season we lost the final in Wembley but if we win tomorrow we have another final in our own stadium against a direct rival,” Karanka said on Thursday.
“Everyone would have been happy at the beginning of this season to be in this position.”
Burnley, enjoying a 21-match unbeaten run since Christmas, appear to have the easiest task as their final game of the season is at relegated Charlton Athletic.
“I’ve said all along, we focus on our own business. Everyone else can worry about everyone else’s business, we just focus on our own,” manager Sean Dyche said.
Brighton were the early-season pace-setters, going 21 matches unbeaten from the start, then suffered a mid-season wobble, but have timed their return to form to perfection.
Chris Hughton’s side have won five in a row, scoring 16 goals in the process. “It would be fantastic for the club if we can get promoted. What a story it would be,” defender Liam Rosenior said. ($1 = 0.6862 pounds)