Burnley have sealed promotion back to the Premier League at the first time of asking, beating Middlesbrough to move 11 points clear at the top of the table and 19 above third-place Luton with six matches to play.
The Clarets were relegated last year, under the management of first Sean Dyche and later Michael Jackson, finishing three points behind Leeds in 18th place. But their stay in the second tier this time around has been a short one, with the summer appointment of Vincent Kompany as boss proving an inspired one.
Kompany has guided his team to 25 wins in 39 Championship matches, streaking clear of the competition to seal an immediate bounce back to the elite end of English football.
Their last defeat in the league came back in November and Burnley have lost just twice all season in the Championship, while also reaching the FA Cup quarter-finals where their run was halted by Kompany’s former club during his playing days, Manchester City.
Now, following a 2-1 victory over Middlesbrough on Good Friday, Burnley will be back in the same league as City next term.
Their return after just a single season away will give fans hope that they can again mount a sustained run in the Premier League, having previously spent six years there before relegation in May. Prior to that it took Burnley from 1976 until 2009 to recapture top-flight status, with that promotion and another in 14/15 each lasting only a year.
There will also be interest in how Kompany fares as a head coach in the top flight, with his only other managerial experience so far coming with Anderlecht in his native Belgium.
Meanwhile, the result also leaves Middlesbrough needing to rediscover form to seal a play-off place.
They sit fourth in the Championship with six games remaining, but have only won once in four and have a seven-point cushion down to seventh
following Norwich’s win over Blackburn earlier
in the day.
Burnley started the evening knowing only a victory would be sufficient to guarantee a return to the top-flight at the first time of asking, and while Cameron Archer threatened for Boro in the opening 10 minutes with a volley that flew over, the Clarets calmed any jitters by opening the scoring in the 12th minute.
Josh Brownhill’s 20-yard strike would probably have been saved by Zack Steffen, but an alert Ashley Barnes stuck out a foot in the penalty area to divert the ball past the Middlesbrough goalkeeper and into the net.
Chuba Akpom blazed over from outside the area as Middlesbrough tried to haul themselves back into the game, but Burnley should really have extended their advantage just before the half-hour mark.
Nathan Tella stole in behind Darragh Lenihan as he raced onto a headed ball forward, but despite being clean through on goal, the Southampton loanee dragged a wasteful effort wide of the left-hand post.
The intensity of Burnley’s midfield pressing enabled them to remain on the front foot for much of the evening, with the visitors’ willingness to take risks in possession, no matter where they were on the field, clearly a key part of the tactical DNA that Kompany has inherited from his playing days with Manchester City.
Boro are also hoping to get back to the top-flight this season, of course, and having refused to cave in during the first half, the hosts got themselves back onto level terms within the opening two minutes of the second.
A blocked shot rebounded towards Archer, who was bundled over by a clumsy challenge from Josh Cullen as he prepared to take control of the ball inside the area. Akpom stepped up and calmly drilled home his 27th league goal of a remarkable season from the penalty spot.
Barnes headed Johann Berg Gudmundsson’s cross over as Burnley attempted to restore their advantage, and the visitors claimed the lead for a second time in the 66th minute.
Tella broke clear to slide over a low cross from the right, and having broken into the area, Connor Roberts was left with the simple task of turning the ball home from the edge of the six-yard box.
Burnley’s celebrations were soured when Gudmundsson appeared to be struck by something that had been thrown from the crowd, but the Clarets celebrated enthusiastically when the final whistle confirmed their success.