West Brom boss Slaven Bilic was at a loss to explain why his team “crumbled under the pressure” as defeat at Huddersfield took automatic promotion out of their hands and sent Leeds up to the Premier League.
Emile Smith Rowe’s 86th-minute goal secured a 2-1 win for the Terriers, who are now essentially safe from the drop, but, while Leeds celebrated promotion a little further up the M62, West Brom could find themselves in third place by Saturday afternoon when hard-charging Brentford travel to Stoke.
The Baggies found themselves on the back foot as early as the fourth minute when Chris Willock poked Huddersfield in front, and West Brom were lucky to be awarded a controversial equaliser when Dara O’Shea headed home from a free-kick when several players appeared offside.
“It is hard to find the words to describe it,” a dejected Bilic said. “I didn’t see it coming. We simply weren’t good enough. We were poor in everything.
“We can give credit to them also because they felt the pressure, it was big pressure for them, they were fighting for their lives so from the outside it looked like they wanted it more, which isn’t the case.
“We crumbled under the pressure. Why we’ve done it, I really don’t know. I tried to ease the pressure, to make them cope with the pressure but it obviously wasn’t good enough.”
There could be twists and turns yet to come, but Bilic said he was mentally preparing for the play-offs.
“At the end of the day we have two options: one is to pack up and feel sorry for ourselves and cry,” he said. “Or we can have another route, a more difficult route, to use this second chance and thank God we have it.
“There are only a few games now but we have to fight, to show we are proper men, a proper team and proper characters. Or are we only good in a good time?”
While Bilic searched for answers, opposite number Danny Cowley stopped himself short of cracking open the champagne with safety assured barring a calamity.
“I don’t know if this is a celebration, just relief,” he said. “For me, I don’t think we should be celebrating not getting relegated, but I’m proud of the efforts of the players.
“A week is a long, long time in football. This time last week we let ourselves down unfortunately, and it’s definitely kept me up nights this week, but we had to respond to that.
“No one really knows how hard it’s been and where it was when we picked it up. Without doubt it’s been the toughest job that I’ve ever done. It was our aim to get 50 points and we’ve been able to do that and I’m very proud we’ve been able to deliver that.”
Cowley may not have wanted to celebrate, but Huddersfield’s victory sparked jubilation for Leeds as their 16-year absence from the top flight came to an end.
“Credit to Leeds,” Cowley said. “They’re a top, top team. Them, West Brom and Brentford for me are the stand-out teams in this division.
“It’s not easy for us as Huddersfield Town to give credit to our local rivals but they’ve been the best team in the division. As a football person, I’ll be looking to see how they cope in the Premier League, and I expect them to do well.”