LEICESTER City have been promoted to the Premier League for the first time in 10 years with six games left to play.
The SkyBet Championship leaders needed Derby to draw and Queens Park Rangers to lose in order to guarantee their top-flight return after Friday’s 2-1 win over Sheffield Wednesday.
The Rams were beaten 1-0 by Middlesbrough while QPR lost 2-1 at 10-man Bournemouth on Harry Redknapp’s first return to Dean Court.
Nigel Pearson’s side are now 19 points clear of third-placed Rangers as automatic promotion is safely assured, without kicking a ball on Saturday.
But with the Foxes only nine points ahead of second-placed Burnley, the title is not yet secure.
They are now unbeaten in 21 league outings stretching back to December and have accumulated 89 points – two more than Cardiff won the division with last season.
The target is to overhaul the record for the most number of points, held by Reading, who claimed 106 when promoted during the 2005-06 season under Steve Coppell.
The East Midlands outfit have lost just five times this term, boast the best away record and defence in the division and are the leading Championship scorers with 76 goals.
Leicester beat mid-table Wednesday at the King Power Stadium in game number 40 with Anthony Knockaert’s free-kick proving the winner after Michail Antonio cancelled out an early opener from Riyad Mahrez.
Asked afterwards whether he would be checking out Saturday’s results, Pearson replied: “No. My job is to get this club promoted.
“Whether it’s tomorrow, whether it’s Tuesday, the next week, the week after it’s irrelevant really. It’s about getting promotion.”
Leicester’s last game in the Premier League was a 2-1 defeat by Arsenal in May 2004 as Micky Adams’ side were demoted.
Since then, the club have gone through 17 managers or caretaker bosses, two changes of ownership – with Thai businessman Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha now at the helm – and one lowly season in the third tier.
Promotion to the Premier League brings vast financial rewards, with a 2013 report by the Sports Business Group at Deloitte saying it could be worth up to 120 million pounds, much of that from broadcast rights.
Even immediate relegation triggers parachute payments of around 60 million pounds over four years.
Last term, the Foxes missed out on automatic promotion after two wins in their final 13 matches before agonisingly lost out to Watford in the play-off semi-finals after an extraordinary end to the second leg at Vicarage Road.
Knockaert had a penalty saved by Manuel Almunia and 20 seconds later, Troy Deeney struck the decisive goal for the Hornets.
Goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel is desperate to refocus the efforts on securing the title before looking ahead to next term.
“Achieving promotion was our aim this season but we want to win the league now, no question of that. We’ve got six games left and we want to win the Championship,” the Dane told Sky Sports.
“Tonight we celebrate but everyone who knows the mentality of the team or the staff knows as soon as tonight’s over we get back to work.
“We want to keep pushing on and we’ll be back working hard ahead of Tuesday’s game [at home to Brighton]. Then the real hard work starts to stay in the Premier League.”
Schmeichel said the players had never doubted they would succeed despite the unpredictability of the Championship.
“We’ve had belief all the way through the season. I think we can look back and see when we scored late goals and had that never-say-die attitude. That helped us immensely and it’s testimony to the players and staff that everyone’s worked really well together.
“We never panicked. We stuck at our game and knew we were playing good football. Every team has results which aren’t going to go their way but we won nine games in a row and that really propelled us to the top of the league.
“It’s a great day and I’m really really delighted – but it’s by no means over.”
Schmeichel – son of former Manchester United shotstopper Peter – said he was particularly looking forward to next season’s trip to Old Trafford, and to discussing it with his father.
He said: “My phone’s been jammed ever since but no doubt I’ll be speaking to him. To go to Old Trafford is the ultimate one, having grown up watching lot of games there. It’s been my dream for as long as I can remember.
“That’s a great one but in the Premier League every game is great to be involved in, so I’m just looking forward to it.”
Captain Wes Morgan reacted to the news: “It feels fantastic. We did our job on Friday night and we still have six games to go so we just want to concentrate on becoming champions now.
“It is definitely the greatest achievement of my career so far to achieve promotion. It is amazing and something I haven’t done before. To captain Leicester and do it is even more special.”
More of the current squad and former players took to Twitter to express their delight on clinching promotion: