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Championship 2018/19 Review

Norwich, Sheffield United and Aston Villa all return to the Premier League after another unpredictable season.

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Another year of Championship football has been completed with Norwich being crowned champions and returning to the top flight for the first time since 2016. In another year full of twists and turns, we review each team to see how they did.

1st – Norwich City – 94 pts
Who saw this coming at the start of the season? Norwich seemed uninspiring when they finished 14th last year, losing James Maddison to Leicester gave even more doubt to the Norwich faithful. By the end of August, their away dressing rooms were pink, they had just lost convincingly to Leeds and Farke was reportedly on the verge of losing his job. Then, the Norwich engine started, free signing Teemu Pukki was easily the player of the year, Christoph Zimmerman led a great defence and Onel Hernandez was one of the more unpredictable and interesting players in the Championship. Norwich were deservedly the champions this season and with a few signings, could be a great team in the Premier League.

2nd – Sheffield United – 89 pts
This was a team of contrasts, at the boardroom level, they were out of control, in court and working against each other. The team on the pitch were well organised, defensively smart and tactically apt. Chris Wilder has to be manager of the year for working through the issues above him and getting this team back into the top-flight. He made the right moves at the right time, especially with the signings of Kieran Dowell, Gary Madine and Oliver Norwood in the January transfer window, which pushed the team over the edge. This team might be a surprise for promotion this year and will need more key investing to stay in the top flight next year.

3rd – Leeds United – 83 pts
Let’s get one thing clear, this wasn’t bottling, this wasn’t a choke. Leeds finishing third was surprisingly high given the quality of the squad and most fans would have snapped your hand off for a play-off finish before the season. But if you want to see where it went ‘wrong’, you don’t need to be a football genius. Leeds had twice as many shots this season as Norwich and over 2.5 times as many as Sheffield United. In an April game against a 10-man Wigan, with promotion on the line, they had 35 shots and lost 2-1. They failed to invest in January, only bringing in Kiko Casilla and that is what cost them. The second leg of the Derby game also showed that this team gets in their way far too often. Unless they spend and spend big next year, then both seasons 100 and 101 of Leeds United football club will be spent in the second tier.

4th – West Bromwich Albion – 80 pts
The only thing to note is the sacking of Darren Moore, something that still doesn’t quite make sense. I get that being in the play-offs might have been disappointing for a team that was the strongest on paper going into the season, but the loss of Harvey Barnes was a big blow for them in January and there were few points in the season in which the team seemed really poor. By the time the play-offs came, their lack of a permanent manager, combined with the red-hot Villa made their chances of getting to the final slim. There’s a lot of Premier League talent and Premier League wages still in this team, the right manager and a reduction in wages are essential if the boing boing Baggies are going to bounce back to the top-flight.

5th – Aston Villa – 76 pts (promoted via Play-Offs)
By the time Dean Smith took over at the beginning of October, this side was 15th in the league, had just lost in very weak fashion to Millwall and looked weak all over the field. This did not look like the year their exile from the Premier League would end. However, Dean Smith revitalised this club and whilst they did not look convincing at the start of the Smith reign (they were 11th after 34 games), they caught fire at the end of the season, winning 10 straight and getting into the play-offs. At that point they were clear favourites, they finished their season with a 2-1 win at Wembley, promotion was well deserved. For next year, keeping the top young talent like Abraham (on loan from Chelsea) and Grealish is vital if they want to not have a straight return to the second tier, dodging that points deduction would also be useful.

6th – Derby County – 74 pts
This is why you don’t celebrate your semi-final win like you’ve just won the Champions League. Frank Lampard’s first season in football management was fine, given the squad, they didn’t over or underachieve, it was acceptable. It blows my mind that he can be linked with Chelsea after one year of acceptable Championship performances (if that’s their standard, I know one Steve Evans who would be interested as well). Of course, a win in the last game of the season and I might have been singing a different tune, but there’s a lot to build on at Derby, a few good signings in the right places, and this club could be one of the favourites for the title next season. Oh, and STOP CRYING FRANK LAMPARD!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 😉

7th – Middlesbrough – 73 pts
One word, underwhelming. A team with their final year of parachute payments were about as unnoticeable as they come. Pulis has been on the ropes all year and fans will be happy that he is not returning for another season that would feel like an eternity. Only three teams scored fewer goals than Middlesbrough, relegated Rotherham scored more. Their defence might not be able to bail them out again, and with no parachute payments from next year on, the future for Middlesbrough is murky at best.

8th – Bristol City – 70 pts
One word, progress. Despite losing Joe Bryan and Bobby Reid to Fulham and Cardiff respectively, the Robins kept marching up the table. Weimann, Hunt and Webster were all impressive signings. Last years players like Brownhill, Paterson and Diedhou kept performing, and if they can resign loanee Kasey Palmer, then they’ll be looking good for a strong play-off run next year.

9th – Nottingham Forest – 66 pts
I had big hopes for this team at the start of the season, they had just brought in agent Jorge Mendes, who helped Wolves to the title the year before. They had made the right signings in Costel Pantillimon, Michael Hefele and Joao Carvalho and Aitor Karanka had done this before. The first half of the season was fine, close to or in the Play-Offs most of the way, they lost two times in 20 fixtures. And then January came, they started to wobble and Karanka then left, requesting a contract termination. O’Neill came in and struggled throughout the second half of the season and missed the play-offs comfortably. However, if O’Neill can get used to the league and a few more signings can be made, there is no reason to think this team cannot push for promotion.

10th – Swansea City – 65 pts
This was interesting, Swansea have been struggling with the financial implications of dropping out of the top flight and the board does not seem to be all pushing in the same direction (note the Dan James transfer farce). Graham Potter did a great job under the circumstances and is up there with Chris Wilder in terms of dealing with problems at the top of the club, losing him to Brighton is a big blow and replacing him with a manager of his calibre is as essential as it is difficult. If Swansea can pull their finances together, then this young squad could push up the table. If not, then the future will resemble the early and mid-2000s for Swansea.

11th – Brentford – 64 pts
A real Jekyll and Hyde season. Brentford won 14 of their home games and finished 3rd overall in team home performances. Away, they won just three games and finished 18th. Losing Dean Smith did not help, though Thomas Frank has improved since getting the job in October. Neal Maupay might have a good shout for being player of the season (if we were to introduce the wins above replacement stat used in baseball, he would probably have the highest), Ollie Watkins and Segie Canos will also be attracting much bigger teams in the coming months. If they can keep hold of their key players, then they could be a big threat next year. However, if their summer is like any of their previous, then that’s highly doubtful.

12th – Sheffield Wednesday – 64 pts
Steve Bruce is great, isn’t he? Jos Lukhay, not so much. Sheffield Wednesday didn’t do much over the preseason and didn’t look like they were going anywhere (except for down) over the first half of the season. Then, when Bruce took the helm, more impressive performances came and even talk of a play-off push (which was a bit optimistic). This season was very unremarkable but with Steve Bruce (and hopefully a rise in the transfer kitty), then Sheffield Wednesday could eventually join their younger brother in the top-flight.

13th – Hull City – 62pts
It’s been a topsy-turvy season for Hull, they started off incredibly poor and looked doomed for the drop, then Nigel Adkins got the team going, winning eight and drawing four in a thirteen-game period. Jared Bowen and Kamil Grosiki were playing at a level that should attract Premier League buyers. They petered out again towards the end of the season but there are a lot of positives. Hull have been on a shoestring budget for the last few years, as the Allams look to sell. Getting a new owner and keeping Grosicki and Bowen is vital if they want to push up the table.

14th – Preston North End – 61 pts
Preston will have good reason to be disappointed with this season, this is a team that shot below their station. A lot of the reason for that will be due to the constant injuries. Alex Neil has a good foundation at the club and reportedly rejected a move to West Brom in the latter half of the season, with the right moves next year to compliment Callum Robinson, Alan Browne and Ben Davies. The Deepdale faithful will be hoping for and expecting play-offs next season.

15th – Blackburn Rovers – 60 pts
The best of the teams to get promoted from League One last season. There’s a lot to be impressed about with this years Blackburn side, Bradley Dack has shown himself to be one of the best players in the league, David Raya was a force between the sticks and Danny Graham was brilliant up front. At no point did they seem close to the drop, in fact, they looked like a legitimate play-off contender for most of the season. Tony Mowbray has something good going at Ewood Park, let’s hope
Blackburn don’t get in their own way.

16th – Stoke City – 55 pts
I did not expect this; at the start of the season, the squad was just as good on paper as West Brom’s and Gary Rowatt had been in and impressed in the Championship before with both Birmingham and Derby. For that reason, Stoke were the clear
pre-season favourites. A 3-1 loss to Leeds was surprising on the first day but that was surely just small issues that could be ironed out, shame they never were. None of the players brought in really lived up to expectations and the ones who came down from the Premier League clearly were not expecting the Championship as hard as they found it to be. At no point did the players on the pitch look like an actual team, Rowatt clearly had issues getting through to them, and by the time they lost to Shrewsbury in the FA Cup, it was all over. The signing of Nathan Jones as manager looks like it could pay dividends, but it was never going to be this year. The issues that dogged Stoke in the Premier League in the last few years have remained and it’s going to take a lot of changes to get this club back fighting near the top.

17th – Birmingham City – 52 pts
Even without the points deduction, this team were not going to be close to the play-offs. Credit to Gary Monk though who seems to be steadying the ship at St. Andrews after a few tumultuous seasons. There are some gems in this squad, Che Adams and Lukas Jutkiewicz were great up front and keeping hold of them is vital. It’s hard to say where Birmingham will go from here, the sooner they can get their finances under control though, the better.

18th – Wigan Athletic – 52 pts
This year will be mostly remembered for Dave Whelan finishing his 23-year ownership of the club. He will mostly be remembered for getting the club into the top-flight for the first time and winning the FA Cup in 2013. The season itself was
largely unremarkable, though big compliments to Nick Powell and Chelsea loanee Reece James, who got a standing ovation on his last game.

19th – Queens Park Rangers – 51 pts
Apart from the four weeks or so when they were in the Play-Off hunt, this was unremarkable. Steve McLaren won manager of the month in October but deserved the sack after 1 win in 15 games. Mark Warbuton is a great hire for this team and project but will have to sell before he can sign. The future is still uncertain for QPR.

20th - Reading – 47 pts
Yet again, the Royals were in a relegation battle and yet again, they have avoided the drop by the skin of the teeth. Neither Paul Clements nor Jose Gomes did anything of note and no player really stood out, potentially except for Yakou Meite (who
might be on his way out). As bad as losing him would be, what’s worse for Reading is the reported loss of £21 million. Unless the finances turn around fast, Reading will be struggling to stay up yet again.

21st – Millwall – 44 pts
Everyone was surprised when Millwall finished 8th last year, no one was surprised when they finished 21st this year. It was always going to be a much harder campaign this time around, especially with George Saville going to Middlesbrough. The squad are still struggling in terms of getting Championship level talent. Some big transfers are needed over the summer for
Millwall to stay in the second tier.

22nd – Rotherham United – 40 pts
Now to look at the first of our relegated clubs. For Rotherham, it’s a case of close but not close enough. The only objective was to stave off relegation and the millers weren’t far off that target. Paul Warne is still doing a great job and the players did what they could. With a stronger away record, winning more than once on the road, this side would have easily avoided the drop. Doing more in January could have helped but Rotherham can easily bounce back yet again.

23rd – Bolton Wanderers – 32 pts
The fit and proper persons test works its wonders again. By the end of week five, Bolton were third in the table, never has such as false dawn been seen in the Championship. Just sixteen days later, owner Ken Anderson announced Bolton were
going into administration, it’s been downhill since. Five wins in the next 41 games, the Christian Doidge transfer fiasco, players and staff not being paid for months on end, which resulted in the players refusing to play and the penultimate game of the season being forfeited. A food bank has been started for workers and the club will be starting the new season on -12 points. Unfortunately, the issues don’t seem to be coming to an end for Bolton any time soon.

24th – Ipswich Town – 31 pts
Well, thank god Mick McCarthy has gone. Ipswich only invested in players from the lower leagues and then unsurprisingly looked like a team that was not fit for the Championship. Paul Lambert looks like he could do a job in League One, but with
ownership not wanting to invest, it could be a while until we see them back in the Championship.

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