Npowered? A year in the Championship

Once again the Npower Championship has not failed to deliver on action, excitement and intrigue. From the very first day of the season, teams throughout the league have been jostling for positions, be it doggedly pushing for promotion or desperately clinging on to avoid being sucked into the relegation dogfight. It has witnessed the birth of new stars, the managerial revolving door revolving more than ever before, and its fair share of controversies both on and off the pitch. However, the dust has now settled and the time has come to pass judgement on the division’s 24 teams.

 

Queens Park Rangers – 1st position, 88 points

A Cut Above the Rest: Dominant at the back with goalkeeper Paddy Kenny in terrific form, dangerous going forward with the mercurial Adel Taarabt and Heider Helguson excelling this season and Neil Warnock’s experienced head and guile in the transfer market have made the Hoops formidable opponents all season long.

 

Norwich City – 2nd position, 84 points

Surprise Package of the Season: Relegated to Npower Football League One two years ago, Paul Lambert has turned the Canaries’ fortunes around. Messers Surman, Crofts and Jackson have been magnificent buys and talisman Grant Holt has carried on from where he left off last year, scoring 20 goals this season.

 

Swansea City – 3rd position, 80 points

Rodgers That: After a disastrous spell at Reading, Brendan Rodgers has rebuilt his reputation at the Liberty Stadium with The Swans playing the most attractive football in the league. Scott Sinclair from former club Chelsea may well be the signing of the season. Expect them to be tough play-off opponents.

 

Cardiff City – 4th position, 80 points

So Near and Yet So Far: Dave Jones must be tired of looking at the same script every year. The Bluebirds boast one of the strongest squads in the league; however they have fallen short again. Craig Bellamy’s experience and Jay Bothroyd’s goalscoring prowess will be vital in the playoffs.

 

Reading – 5th position, 77 points

Playoff Crashers: What a final third of the season it has been for Brian McDermott’s team. Six wins in their last eight matches have propelled the Royals into the playoffs. Left-back Ian Harte was a steal from Carlisle United and striker Shane Long has really come of age this season.  

 

Nottingham Forest – 6th position, 75 points

Davies Does It Again: Seasoned Scotsman Billy Davies knows what it takes to get promotion having achieved the same feat with Derby County. Beaten in the playoffs last season by Blackpool, fans will be praying that history doesn’t repeat itself. Midfielder Lewis McGugan and striker Robert Earnshaw will be key.

 

Leeds United – 7th position, 72 points

The Damned Good United: Expectations at Elland Road are always high given the club’s illustrious past; however Simon Grayson has again done an excellent job. Midfielder Johnny Howson has imposed himself, winger Max Gradel has excelled and striker Luciano Becchio has more than filled the mantle left by Jermaine Beckford.

 

Burnley – 8th position, 68 points

A Season of Two Halves: Promotion contenders at the beginning of this season, the Clarets have underperformed. Brian Laws was unable to gel the team together, but his replacement, talented manager Eddie Howe, has started off well and it’ll be interesting to keep abreast of his dealings in the summer transfer window.

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Millwall – 9th position, 67 points

The Lion-s Kings: Like Norwich City, Millwall have taken many people by surprise this season. Kenny Jackett, linked with the Wales national team position earlier this season, has built a strong, combative yet attacking side. Midfielder James Henry and striker Steve Morrison have caught the eye with some outstanding performances.

 

Leicester City – 10th position, 67 points

On the Prowl: One team to definitely look out for next season. With a reported £10,000,000 transfer budget and Sven’s global contacts, expect significant action in the summer. If they can strengthen at the back and build around midfielder Andy King then they’ll be a force to be reckoned with.

 

Hull City – 11th position, 65 points

Easy Tigers: Following last year’s relegation from the Barclays Premier League, the club witnessed a huge turnover of players in the summer but Nigel Pearson has built an accomplished side. Andy Dawson has led at the back and Matty Fryatt and Aaron McLean’s partnership up front bodes well for next season.

 

Middlesbrough – 12th position, 62 points

The Unconvinceables: Despite a significant outlay on players, Boro have again disappointed, with striker Scott McDonald the only one even slightly to impress. Chairman Steve Gibson is always supportive of his managers so expect him to back Tony Mowbray as he attempts to steer his boyhood club back into the top flight.

 

Ipswich Town – 13th position, 62 points

Jewell in the Crown: Like Burnley, it has been a mixed season for The Tractor Boys. Since replacing Roy Keane with Paul Jewell, their form has improved dramatically with the team rapidly moving away from the relegation zone. Keeping the hottest property in the league, Connor Wickham, will prove difficult.

 

Watford – 14th position, 61 points

Sting in the Tail: Malkay Mackay’s team have been good value this season, especially away from home. He has done a wonderful job in nurturing young talent at the club, with some players becoming integral members of the first team. Keeping the League’s top scorer, Danny Graham, is top priority.

 

Bristol City – 15th position, 60 points

Steady Eddies: Despite the pre-season optimism, the Robins got off to the worst possible start with the resignation of Steve Coppell. Keith Millen has steadied the ship at Ashton Gate with striker Brett Pitman having an impressive first season with the club, deputizing for the City’s injured marksman, Nicky Maynard.

 

Portsmouth – 16th position, 58 points

The Chimes Keep Ringing: After a poor start to the season, Steve Cotterill has done well with a small squad at his disposal and the constant shenanigans in the boardroom. Defender Joel Ward looks an exciting prospect – however they may lose top scorer David Nugent at the end of the season.

 

Barnsley – 17th position, 56 points

All’s well at Oakwell: Survival was the aim of the game for Mark Robin’s side and they have comfortably achieved that feet this season. Goals have been at a premium for The Tykes and losing impressive winger Adam Hammill in the January transfer window certainly did not help their cause.

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Coventry City – 18th position, 55 points

Singin’ the Sky Blues: In November The Sky Blues were fourth but a slump in form saw them slide down the table – where would they be without Marlon King’s goals? They start from scratch with the first priority being to appoint a backroom who can transform the club’s fortunes around.

 

Derby County – 19th position, 49 points

Rebuilding, Rebuilding, Rebuilding: Like Nigel Pearson, Nigel Clough has had to deal with a large turnover of players at Pride Park. Captain Robbie Savage has been as influential as ever but as with Barnsley, goals have been difficult to come by, especially following top scorer Kris Commons’s move to Celtic in January.

 

Crystal Palace – 20th position, 48 points

Where Eagles Dare: Unlike last season, Palace secured their Championship status with games in hand. Dougie Freedman was thrust into the deep end but his team have gradually turned Selhurst Park into a fortress. Will they be able to keep hold of their young stars such as full back Nathaniel Clyne?

 

Doncaster Rovers – 21st position, 48 points

Ding-dong Donny: What a strange season for Sean O’Driscoll’s team. Seemingly comfortable in mid-table, latterly a run of poor results dragged them into the relegation fight. In the end they pulled through and once again the plaudits go to in-form striker Billy Sharp who has had another fine season up front.

 

Preston North End – 22nd position, 42 points

The Wrong End: After an eleven year stay in the Championship, The Lilywhites are down and out. Gone are the glory days of Sir Tom Finney, and North End will have to regroup under the bullish Phil Brown. Expect to see Sean St Ledger and talented youngster Adam Barton depart Deepdale.

 

Sheffield United – 23rd position, 42 points

The Blades are Blunted: Instability on and off the pitch and with Micky Adams collecting a paltry 20 points from a possible 75 since taking the reins, it’s little surprise to see the Blades relegated. Who’d have thought it, a Steel City derby in the third tier of English football!

 

Scunthorpe United – 24th position, 42 points

Brittle Iron: Having defied the odds season after season, Scunny have finally succumbed to the drop. Losing striker Gary Hooper early in the season was a huge blow but recently appointed Alan Knill has a proven track record with lower-league teams and will meet former employers Bury next season.

 

 

Team of the Season: Norwich City

Player of the Season: Adel Taarabt (Queens Park Rangers)

Manager of the Season: Paul Lambert (Norwich City)

 

With the Npower Championship playoffs – the final being the most expensive game in English football – still to be decided and eagerly anticipated as usual, this rollercoaster season still has some legs left in it and undoubtedly some more twists and turns along the way to Wembley so much so that some fans will be inevitably be asking themselves can it get any better than this? Surely not.