Football: Birmingham stage great escape, Brighton in play-offs

LONDON (AFP) - Birmingham City staged an astonishing great escape as they fought back to preserve their Championship (English second division) status at Doncaster's expense, while Brighton also left it late to snatch the last play-off spot.

On a dramatic final day in the second tier, there were incredible scenes at Bolton's Reebok Stadium, where Birmingham looked dead and buried after falling 0-2 behind, only to snatch a stoppage-time equaliser to earn the 2-2 draw which lifted them out of the relegation zone on goal difference.

With 14 minutes remaining, second-half strikes from Bolton's Lee Chung Yong and Lukas Jutkiewicz had left Lee Clark's men on the verge of falling into the third tier for the first time in 20 years.

But the Blues, who were playing in the Premier League just three years ago, were given a lifeline when Nikola Zigic headed home in the 78th minute and Paul Caddis then nodded in from close range in the final moments to spark scenes of wild celebration from Clark and his players.

"It was unbelievable. I felt for my players, two down and staring down the barrel, because we were excellent all game, but they kept going," said Clark, whose club is reportedly up for sale after former owner Carson Yeung was sentenced to six years in prison for money laundering.

"We have diced with death in sporting teams. I am delighted for my players first and foremost, the senior pros have been terrific with the youngsters.

"It has been a tough old season but thankfully we have kept them in the division.

"It has been a tough last six or seven weeks for me personally and I have to thank my family too. They have been unbelievable.

"This is my biggest achievement in my career. Birmingham is an unbelievable football club."

Doncaster had gone into the final round of matches one point and one place above the bottom three, but their 1-0 defeat at champions Leicester, sealed by David Nugent's 75th-minute penalty, meant Paul Dickov's side will return to League One just 12 months after they secured promotion with virtually the last kick of the campaign.

Millwall also had pre-match concerns about their safety, but Lions' boss Ian Holloway, who stared the season in charge of Crystal Palace, avoided falling two tiers in one year thanks to a 1-0 win over Bournemouth at The Den.

There was an equally dramatic finale at the other end of the table as Brighton leapfrogged Reading into the end of season play-offs.

To make the top six, the Seagulls needed a win at Nottingham Forest as well as a draw or loss for Reading against already-promoted Burnley.

Reading went ahead early on when Kieran Trippier diverted a Jobi McAnuff cross into his own net, but Burnley struck twice in eight minutes through Scott Arfield and Danny Ings.

Garath McCleary fired in a superb equaliser in the second half and that would have been enough for Nigel Adkins' side to reach the play-offs if Brighton had not staged a second-half revival at Forest.

Forest had taken the lead in the 22nd minute through Matt Derbyshire, but saw Stephen Ward equalised in the 53rd minute before Leonardo Ulloa delighted the 2,000 travelling fans with a stoppage-time winner which put Brighton one point above Reading.

That completed the line-up for the play-offs, with Brighton facing third-placed Derby, who finished with a 1-1 draw at Leeds.

In the other tie, fourth-placed QPR, 3-2 winners at already-relegated Barnsley, take on fifth-placed Wigan, who lost 3-4 at Blackburn.

The first legs are Brighton v Derby on Thursday and Wigan v QPR on Friday.

Elsewhere, Yeovil finished bottom after losing 1-4 to Middlesbrough, Ipswich beat Sheffield Wednesday 2-1, Charlton won 3-0 at Blackpool and Huddersfield thrashed Watford 4-1.