Middlesbrough’s hopes of automatic promotion to the Premier League suffered a setback when they were held to a 2-2 draw at Birmingham City in a thrilling Championship clash on Friday.
‘Boro moved top of the table on 88 points from 45 games before Burnley and Brighton & Hove Albion, both on 87, host Queens Park Rangers and Derby County respectively on Monday.
They came from behind to lead with goals from Jordan Rhodes and Gaston Ramirez but were pegged back by a superb David Davis strike before Grant Leadbitter hit the bar for the visitors.
Middlesbrough were also denied a goal when Spanish defender Daniel Ayala was ruled offside as he drove a low shot into the net after 69 minutes though television replays showed he was onside.
“I thought it was a goal. I haven’t seen the replay. But if we win the last game we’re still up,” Ayala told Sky Sports.
‘Boro, who lost to Norwich City in the playoff final last year, welcome Brighton on the last day of the season on May 7 when Burnley visit already-relegated Charlton Athletic.
A home win for Middlesbrough over Brighton would see them finish in the top two and win promotion to the Premier League, which is estimated to be worth a minimum of 100 million pounds ($146.06 million). The next four teams go into the playoffs.
“We are ready for it (Brighton). We are one win away from going to the Premier League,” said former Liverpool defender Ayala. Leadbitter added: “We know what we’ve got to do from now, it’s up to us. We were unlucky not to win the game (tonight).”
Birmingham stunned ‘Boro at St Andrews by taking the lead after 33 minutes through Stephen Gleeson’s long-range drive that Dimitrios Konstantopoulos got a hand to but could not keep out.
Middlesbrough were gifted an equaliser five minutes before halftime when Rhodes bundled the ball over the line after keeper Adam Legzdins dropped it at his feet after a free kick.
Ramirez put ‘Boro in front with a close-range header in the 57th after being set up by Rhodes, who had earlier hit the post after a free kick, with Ramirez blasting the rebound over.
Birmingham levelled through Davis 11 minutes later before Ayala thought he had put the visitors back in front only for the defender to be harshly flagged offside by the linesman.
‘Boro have spent seven seasons in the second tier of English football after finishing 19th in the Premier League in 2009.