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Apr 28, 2012

Southampton go up as play-offs are set

Southampton confirmed their return to the Premier League with a thumping victory over Coventry on Saturday, as the lineup for the Championship play-offs was also confirmed.

The Saints knew a draw against the relegated Sky Blues would almost certainly guarantee their promotion, but won 4-0 to confirm their ascension in spectacular fashion.

With West Ham thus denied in their slim hopes of stealing second, they will now bid to return to the top flight through the play-offs - along with Birmingham, Blackpool and Cardiff.

Southampton secured their return to the Premier League after a seven-year absence with a comfortable 4-0 win against already relegated Coventry.

Goals from Billy Sharp and Jose Fonte in the first half and Jos Hooiveld and Adam Lallana after the break gave a record St Mary's crowd the result they had been eagerly hoping for.

The home side dominated from start to finish, rarely allowing their lowly guests a sight of goal. And Southampton could well have won by more, but Rickie Lambert and Guly Do Prado both wasted golden opportunities in front of goal.

For manager Nigel Adkins and the players and coaching staff at the south coast club those misses will not have mattered.

As, almost three years to the day after a 10-point deduction effectively consigned them to relegation to League One, the Saints are marching back into the top flight.

That meant West Ham missed out on automatic promotion back despite a 2-1 victory over Hull City.

Two goals from Carlton Cole were not enough to overhaul Southampton; Instead, the play-offs beckon for Sam Allardyce and his side, who will face Cardiff in the first leg on Thursday.

Cardiff secured their place in the Championship play-offs for the third year running with a 2-1 victory over Crystal Palace.

The Bluebirds had to fight back from a goal down following Wilfried Zaha's early opener - which briefly looked like handing Middlesbrough an opening - but two stunning goals from Peter Whittingham and Don Cowie got the job done.

The result means Malky Mackay's side will face West Ham in a two-legged play-off semi-final as they look to return to the top flight after a 50-year absence.

Champions Reading saw their promotion party tainted somewhat as they fell to only a second defeat in 19 at the hands of a Birmingham side who go into the play-offs full of confidence after a 2-0 win.

The loss, however, will be the last thing on the minds of Reading's players and staff when they deservedly lift the Championship trophy back in Berkshire on Sunday after a superb season on the back of last May's play-off agony at Wembley.

But Birmingham, unbeaten in nine, will take great heart from the triumph, which crucially moves them up into fourth place and with home advantage in the second leg of the play-offs against Blackpool - with the first leg at Bloomfield Road next Friday.

Substitute Adam Rooney grabbed the opener in the 24th minute before Pablo Ibanez, having twice cleared off the line, headed against a post.

Harry Kane's late equaliser preserved Millwall's unbeaten end to the season to salvage a well-earned 2-2 draw with Blackpool.

After going behind, Blackpool bounced back and looked to have won it, but Kane's goal means they go into the play-offs playing the crucial second leg away from home. Andrew Keogh opened the scoring for the Lions, but Ian Evatt and Nouha Dicko notched either side of half-time to set the stage for Kane's intervention.

Middlesbrough failed to make the play-offs as they finished the season with a 2-1 defeat at Watford.

Tony Mowbray's side needed to beat the Hornets and hope sixth-placed Cardiff lost to Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park in order to finish in the top six.

Initially, Boro had hope of leapfrogging Cardiff when Wilfried Zaha put Palace ahead, but they themselves could never get in front against Watford and instead heard news of Cardiff coming from behind to claim a 2-1 victory.

Chris Iwelumo's first strike at Vicarage Road and Troy Deeney's 12th goal of the campaign helped Watford, tipped by many to be relegation candidates, end an encouraging first season under manager Sean Dyche in 11th place.

Top-scorer Marvin Emnes had looked to have sealed a point for Boro, who finished the season five points behind the Bluebirds in seventh position.

Teenage debutant Harry Panayiotou scored a last-second winner as Leicester ended the season on a high with a 2-1 win and condemned Leeds to an unwanted club record.

Martyn Waghorn's first-half goal had looked to have sent United to an 11th home defeat of the season, only for Danny Webber to equalise with eight minutes remaining.

But, with seconds left on the clock, Panayiotou touched in Ben Marshall's effort, leaving home manager Neil Warnock and his players to confront the linesman about an alleged offside.

David Ball came off the bench to score a late equaliser as Peterborough denied Derby a deserved final-day victory in the following a 1-1 draw at Pride Park.

Ball produced a neat finish nine minutes from time as the Rams were once again left to rue the lack of a cutting edge that has frustrated them on so many occasions this season.

Theo Robinson's 12th goal of the season in the first half had put the Rams on course for their 12th home win of the season and they had several chances to extend their lead. But they were caught on the break as Ball secured a point for Posh and it could have been even better for Darren Ferguson's side as George Boyd was denied by the post two minutes from time.

Bristol City survived having to play the final half-hour with defender Liam Fontaine in goal as they earned a 1-1 draw with Burnley in the curtain-closer at Turf Moor.

The centre-half was forced to take the gloves after David James suffered an injury on the hour mark, with Robins boss Derek McInnes opting not to name a goalkeeper among his substitutes.

It looked as if they would be punished as 13 minutes later Fontaine was picking the ball out of the net after being beaten by a superb 30-yard strike from Danny Ings, but the visitors rescued a surprise point through Ryan Taylor.

Elsewhere, Dexter Blackstock's second-half brace secured victory for Nottingham Forest as Portsmouth bid farewell to the Championship with a 2-0 defeat, while Ipswich brought a five-match winless run to an end as Doncaster also dropped down a tier with a sixth consecutive home defeat as they went down 3-2.

Town defender Tommy Smith opened the scoring with a free header and hit the crossbar shortly afterwards as Rovers turned out a catalogue of errors during the opening exchanges. On-loan Hearts midfielder Ryan Stevenson doubled the advantage in the 29th minute when the referee's assistant correctly ruled his stinging 30-yarder to have crossed the line via the underside of the bar.

Doncaster forward Fabien Robert joined Stevenson is scoring a first goal for his club when he reduced the arrears before the interval. A 79th-minute penalty from substitute Jason Scotland appeared to have Ipswich home and dry before Habib Beye's injury-time strike set up a grandstand finish.

Finally, neither Keith Hill's Barnsley nor Gus Poyet's Brighton were able to finish the season on a high in a goalless stalemate.

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