Philippines Azkals goalkeeper Neil Etheridge and the Bluebirds of Cardiff City Football Club have earned themselves an automatic promotion from the English Championship to the world-renowned English Premier League after securing a second place finish on the final day of England’s second-tier league.
Following a goalless stalemate at home against Reading Football Club and Fulham’s 3-1 defeat at Birmingham, the Bluebirds ensured that they will return to the English top flight after a four-season absence from the English football elite.
As one of veteran manager and promotion specialist Neil Warnock’s early summer signings, Etheridge truly made a mark in the team not tipped by many to achieve automatic promotion this season. The Philippine international made the goalkeeping position his own by featuring in 45 out of the 46 league games played by the Bluebirds, conceding only 37 goals and keeping 19 clean sheets in the process.
For context, only the top two teams in the Championship are awarded automatic promotion to the Premier League, while the next four best teams battle for one spot in the promotion playoffs. The Wolverhampton Wanderers had already secured not only one of the automatic spots, but also the Championship title, leaving the Bluebirds and the Cottagers to fight for easier passage to the Premier League.
Drama was set to unfold as the two clubs entered the final day of the season neck-and-neck. Cardiff held a one-point lead over the Cottagers prior to kickoff, meaning that the West London team needed the Welsh side to drop points in order to overtake them to second place.
While Cardiff failed to beat the relegation-threatened Reading at the Municipality Stadium, Cardiff’s promotion to the Premier League was never in peril, as Fulham’s opponents Birmingham City scored twice in the first half to cue celebrations heard in both Birmingham and Cardiff.
Fulham tried to salvage the situation by pulling one back, but their efforts to rescue their automatic promotion bid were in tatters when the hosts restored a two-goal lead almost immediately, late in the second half. It proved to be more than enough for Etheridge and Cardiff City, who merely held onto the clean sheet against an already-safe Reading side, as results elsewhere also favored their fortunes.
Now the best in the business await what Neil Etheridge and his Cardiff City teammates can bring to what many consider as the best league in the world. We shall all find out in a year’s time. Nonetheless, come what may, the headlines for now belong to the Welsh capital club. Not reckoned to succeed by many, Cardiff – and Etheridge – have just shown this season that they are very well capable of achieving great things.