Cardiff sealed its return to the Premier League after a four-year absence by claiming the final automatic promotion spot in the second-tier League Championship at the expense of Fulham on Sunday.
With a 0-0 draw at home to Reading, Cardiff joined champion Wolverhampton Wanderers in going up to the world’s most lucrative league as its 69-year-old manager, Neil Warnock, earned a record eighth promotion in English football.
Warnock, one of the most charismatic managers in the English game, gets a fourth shot in charge of a Premier League club after stints with Sheffield United, Queens Park Rangers and Crystal Palace.
“It’s the biggest achievement in my 38-year career by an absolute mile,” Warnock said. “At my age, you’re not going to get many more chances.”
The Welsh club finished two points ahead of Fulham, which lost 3-1 at Birmingham to end its 23-game unbeaten run in the league. A win would have lifted the London club above Cardiff.
“I’ve never known a week longer than this,” Warnock said. “I’ve not slept for longer than about three hours.”
Instead, Fulham heads into the playoffs with Aston Villa, Middlesbrough and Derby, with one more promotion berth up for grabs. Fulham takes on Derby and Villa will be up against Middlesbrough over two games. The playoff final is at Wembley Stadium on May 26.
The final whistle was delayed at Cardiff City Stadium because of a pitch invasion in the final minute of injury time. There was another one after full time, when Cardiff’s Malaysian owner, Vincent Tan, was carried on the shoulders of fans.
Cardiff was in a mess when Warnock took over in October 2016. Next-to-last in the League Championship, the club was on its third manager in six months and Tan was reining in the rash spending from Cardiff’s time in the Premier League in the 2013-14 season.
Warnock proved to be a perfect fit for Cardiff, which plays in the image of its gritty and no-nonsense manager. He guided the team to a midtable finish at the end of his first season and has been the driving force behind an improbable promotion campaign this season despite spending a fraction of the outlay of rival clubs like Villa, Derby and Middlesbrough.
“I’ve got a great bunch of lads,” Warnock said. “It’s such a fabulous achievement, because nobody gave us a chance.”
There will be two Welsh clubs in England’s top division next season if Swansea manages to stay in the Premier League. Currently, Swansea is in the relegation zone, tied for points with Southampton with each having two games left.