Paul Newman: Stars and hypes – who shone and who blew out this season

The Football League Column

As the season comes to a close with today's Championship play-off final, it is time to give this column's end-of-campaign verdict. The Championship table here is split into three divisions: those who overachieved, those who lived up to expectations and those who underachieved.



OVERACHIEVERS

1 Norwich City Achieved second successive promotions playing enterprising football and without star names. Manager Paul Lambert looks to have great career ahead of him.

2 Queen's Park Rangers Sensational turnaround in the club's fortunes by Neil Warnock, who spent wisely last summer. Comfortable front-runners and deserved champions.

3 Millwall Many observers' pre-season favourites for relegation but ended up on the fringe of play-offs. A triumph for manager Kenny Jackett on limited resources.

4 Reading Whatever today's result, it has been an excellent first full season in charge for Brian McDermott – proof that success can come to those who wait.

5 Swansea City Similar verdict to Reading's. Brendan Rodgers built on solid foundations in his first season and signing of Scott Sinclair was a masterstroke.

6 Hull City Nigel Pearson steadied the ship following relegation and has forged a useful team while slashing costs. Would have been promotion candidates but for woeful home form.

7 Watford Malky Mackay worked on a shoestring to build an entertaining young team who briefly challenged for promotion. Only side to win away at Norwich and QPR.

8 Leeds United Despite the disappointment at failing to reach play-offs, Simon Grayson's team outperformed many big-spending rivals. A more than respectable first season back in the Championship.



LIVED UP TO EXPECTATIONS

1 Cardiff City In such a competitive division reaching the play-offs is a major achievement – a fact that frustrated Cardiff fans should bear in mind.

2 Nottingham Forest One of the division's big spenders, despite criticism over lack of investment. Another good season for Billy Davies and his team despite the disappointing end.

3 Portsmouth Considering the financial meltdown at Fratton Park last year, a mid-table finish was a highly creditable achievement for Steve Cotterill.

4 Bristol City Expectations plummeted after the early departure of Steve Coppell, but Keith Millen steered the team away from the relegation zone to mid-table security.

5 Burnley The first season following relegation from the top flight is never easy and Burnley performed fitfully. Eddie Howe replaced Brian Laws as manager in January.

6 Barnsley Mark Robins resigned as manager after a respectable mid-table finish. Major question will be how much his successor has to spend on players next season.

7 Crystal Palace After the club spent most of summer in administration, survival was always going to be the priority. Promising start in management for Dougie Freedman.

8 Leicester City More might have been expected of Sven Goran Eriksson, but arriving in mid-season can be tough. Will need to do better next year, given the resources available.



UNDERACHIEVERS

1 Scunthorpe United The Championship's smallest club defied gravity a year ago but contributed to their own downfall by replacing manager Nigel Adkins with Ian Barraclough and then sacking him.

2 Doncaster Rovers Sean O'Driscoll's team failed to build on early promise and one win in their last 19 matches does not bode well for next season.

3 Preston North End A difficult year was always likely. Darren Ferguson failed to turn fortunes around and Phil Brown arrived too late to make a difference.

4 Coventry City Early promise of Aidy Boothroyd's reign quickly faded. Successor Andy Thorn stopped the slide but faces a tough challenge next season.

5 Derby County Nigel Clough's team could play entertaining football one week and look like amateurs the next. Given talent available should have done better.

6 Ipswich Town Roy Keane's reign ended in ignominy. Paul Jewell steadied the ship but Ipswich will expect more for their investment in future.

7 Middlesbrough Mid-table finish under Tony Mowbray was a welcome end, but Boro expected much more after Gordon Strachan's heavy investment made them promotion favourites.

8 Sheffield United A dreadful season marked by too many managerial changes and serious underperformance on the pitch. Fans had the right to expect much more.

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