MIDDLESBROUGH are back in the Premier League after a seven-year absence after a thoroughly dramatic afternoon on Teesside following a 1-1 draw with Brighton in the £170m winner takes all showpiece.
Boro, as is their wont, did it the hard way after Albion’s Dale Stephens headed home a leveller ten minutes after the interval following Cristhian Stuani’s opener on 19 minutes.
Stephens quickly turned from hero to villain after being controversially dismissed following a high challenge on Gaston Ramirez, who was subsequently stretchered off.
A lengthy delay ensured there were eight minutes of stoppage time in a thoroughly tense finale, but Boro held on - just - despite Brighton being dominant on the restart, even accounting for their man disadvantage for most of the half,.
Aitor Karanka sprang a couple of selection surprises, with Stuani and David Nugent coming in for Stewart Downing and Jordan Rhodes, with the Spainard’s moves vindicated by virtue of a relieving 19th-minute opener when the pair combined.
A brilliant free-kick from Ramirez was played back across goal by Nugent and Stuani bundled home, despite replays revealing that the Uruguayan strayed offside in the build-up to the goal.
The hosts’ had chances on the counter-attack to add a second, but couldn’t with Gordon Greer denying them a second on 25 minutes when he made a superb clearance close to the goalline to thwart Stuani.
An incredible atmosphere greeted both sets of players in a sell-out crowd ahead of kick-off and both sides contributed in a high-octane opening.
Dale Stephens saw an early free-kick deflected wide as Brighton knocked the ball around with confidence, but it was Boro who forged the breakthrough.
The dangerous Anthony Knockaert was then yellow-carded for a foul on the lively Ramirez before Boro went desperately close to a second following a searing counter.
Ramirez was then within inches of making it 2-0 following a weak defensive header by the visitors, with the Uruguayan’s lob landing agonisingly on the roof of the net with David Stockdale stranded out of goal.
Albert Adomah then found himself in space on the right with Nugent waiting in the middle for a tap-in, but the winger’s cross was blocked.
Adam Clayton then dragged a long-ranger not too far wide as Boro sought a second before the break and Emilio Nsue then shot straight at Stockdale after another break from the hosts led by Stuani, with Brighton entitled to be grateful that they were just 1-0 down at the interval.
But on the restart, Albion proceeded to dominate and stunned the majority of the 33,806 sell-out crowd by levelling after Knockaert’s freekick was headed home at the back post by Stephens.
But minutes later, Stephens, in a major twist of fate, was dismissed after felling Ramirez with a high challenge in midfield, with the Boro playmaker stretchered off after lengthy treatment.
Despite having a man advantage, Boro, flustered in the second half, could not claim a stranglehold on proceedings with Brighton dominating the final half hour.
Adomah had a late chance to seal it for Boro, but Stockdale saved brilliantly and despite plenty of the ball, Brighton couldn’t create the chance they craved and Boro survived. Just.
Middlesbrough: Konstantopoulos, Nsue, Ayala, Gibson, Friend, Clayton, Leadbitter, Stuani, Ramirez, Adomah, Nugent. Subs: De Laet, Rhodes, De Sart, Downing, Agazzi, Kalas, Forshaw.
Brighton: Stockdale, Saltor, Greer, Goldson, Rosenior, Knockaert, Stephens, Kayal, Murphy, Hemed, Baldock. Subs: Maenpaa, Bong, Calderon, Wilson, LuaLua, Sidwell, Skalak.
Referee: Mike Dean (Wirral)
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