Burton Albion midfielder, Hope Akpan’s goal yesterday failed to lift his side out of the English Championship relegation zone, as ten-man Preston North End struck in stoppage time to kill off his faint hopes of survival for a second season.
Akpan’s goal had given The Brewers a lifeline, but Bolton Wanderers also came from 2-1 down to beat Nottingham Forest 3-1, meaning Albion had to chase another goal, but they got relegated after a see-saw battle left them in the bottom three.
Burton were surely prepared for how tough relegation would feel – but nothing will have got them ready for the feelings of this final-day drama at Deepdale as Akpan’s team were relegated for the first time since 1977.
The Brewers were five minutes from pulling off their greatest ever miracle, with Akpan’s stunning equaliser against 10-man Preston North End nudging them above the drop zone and to the brink of survival.
Barnsley were already beaten at Derby County, so much relied on Bolton’s home clash with Nottingham.
Burton had no control over that part of the equation, and how Bolton capitalised, dragging themselves back from 2-1 down to win 3-2 late on and secure that final safety spot, relegating Nigel Clough’s side in the process.
Preston then rubbed wound into that oh so painful Albion wound by making sure of things in injury time, with Louis Moult capitalising as the visitors pushed everyone up in search of their own last-gasp reprieve.
Nearly 2,000 Brewers fans gave an incredible ovation to their players on the final whistle, recognition for a performance full of bravery and desire, and the efforts that have gone into the recent, against-the-odds revival.
The Brewers’ fate was not sealed here, of course, with the mountainous task of the last month resulting from struggles earlier in the campaign.
While relegation is never easy to accept, the circumstances on this sun-drenched Lancashire afternoon really did stick the knife in.
Consistency in selection has been a factor of Albion’s late-season revival, and Nigel Clough’s one change at Deepdale was an enforced one.