Sunday 4 May ~
Either Stoke or Hull will have joined West Brom in going up to the Premier League by the end of this afternoon. Whichever of the two misses out on automatic promotion will be favourites to go up through the playoffs, although the disappointment of missing out today might weigh heavily. In recent times Watford and West Ham have both gone up after grabbing a playoff place on the final day. Today fifth and sixth place will be contested by five clubs, including Sheffield United whose results have improved dramatically since the departure of Bryan Robson - and whoever would have expected that.
Until the recent spate of clubs doing exceptionally badly in the Premier League - Sunderland twice and now Derby - the worst top level team in most people's memory were Stoke City, who finished with 17 points in 1984-85. That side's decline was all the more spectacular as they had spent the five preceding years at that level and had got nearly three times as many points, 50, in the previous season.
Now, however the gulf between the two division is such that the manager of a promoted club will expect to have to bring in at least half a dozen new first teamers. Clubs coming up from the Championship have a stark decision to make. Should they spend heavily in a bid to stay up, which will mean inflating their wage bill on some of the many experienced but unexceptional players who flit around clubs in the bottom half of the Premier League. Or do they save some of the money made in 2008-09, accept relegation and try to bounce back with a stronger squad.
There is our course the possibility that they will try to a combination of the two, and mess up emphatically. Derby represent a stark warning in this respect, having spent next season's 'parachute payment' during 2007-08 on players who weren't remotely capable of keeping the team up.
Derby surprised themselves in getting promoted in the second year of what manager Billy Davies had grandly described as his three-year plan. But Davies's professional standing has been damaged by what happened subsequently. And despite what is always said about supporters of promoted teams delighting in seeing their team play at Old Trafford and Anfield, it's fair to assume that no Derby fan will have enjoyed this season.
Both clubs will have a plan already for how to steer their way around the Premier League. The hard thing will be to stick to it when every defeat is scrutinised in minute detail. Supporters of Stoke or Hull will have every right to celebrate wildly tonight and even bigger cause if their teams are still at the same level a year from now.