Another pulsating Championship campaign has reached the final curtain in spectacular fashion, culminating in QPR being crowned as champions; once again proving the division’s ferocity with another blockbuster season.
There have been several outstanding contributions that have given a certain gleam to the nation’s second tier, some more surprising than others. Scott Sinclair of Swansea City, Adel Taarabt of QPR and Lewis McGugan of Nottingham Forest gave a high level of class, tenacity and outright irrepressibility.
Norwich’s back-to-back promotions, the first achieved by any club to reach the top flight since Manchester City in 2000, saw the colourful Canaries join the Hoops in the automatic slots. The play-off roulette was finalised last weekend with Nottingham Forest joining Welsh frontrunners Cardiff and Swansea, with Reading completing the quartet.
Sheffield United took the plunge, dropping to the third tier for the first time since 1989, joining Scunthorpe and Preston, who themselves failed to find consistency. But like many others, misfortune and the inability to gain impetus caused early blowouts and the trio fell by the wayside.
So who stood out from the crowd? Who failed when more was promised?
Overachievers – Norwich
It was an outstanding campaign for Paul Lambert and his men, maintaining their prowess in League One to surprise many of the Championship’s key players. Playmaker Wes Hoolahan, goal sensation Simeon Jackson and driving influence Grant Holt have attracted significant attention from Premier League heavyweights, with Andrew Surman and the on-loan Henri Lansbury providing new dimensions for the starting eleven when going forward.
It is a tremendous transformation from the opening day of the 2009-10 campaign that saw Norwich blown away 7-1 at Carrow Road by a rampant Colchester United. When Lambert took up the reigns, the club rediscovered it’s best form and must now do all they can to hold onto one of the most sought after managers in the country.
Underperformers – Preston
Following their play-off agony at the hands of Hull just two years ago, it has been a fall from grace for Preston and they must now enforce a fierce promotion campaign if they are to make a swift return to the division. Phil Brown, the man who sent North End packing that year, must now find a way of keeping his side together, with the likes of Sean St. Ledger and Keith Treacy likely to attract the attention of several clubs over the summer.
Having failed to get any higher than 17th in the division over the entirety of the campaign, it was a disappointing season that will want to be forgotten quickly by the fans. An explosive finish that rendered five league victories, half of the Lillywhites total win count, from the same number of weeks was a sterling effort, but having languished in relegation zone for several months, it was a fruitless affair.
Best signing – Craig Bellamy (Cardiff)
One of the signings of the season, Craig Bellamy claims he joined Cardiff on a season-long loan from Manchester City last August because he wanted to “come home”. His driving influence, not to mention his local roots, have supplied the Bluebird’s with arguably the strongest attack in the division, linking up with Jay Bothroyd and Michael Chopra on the frontline to lethal effect.
Between them, the trio notched 38 league goals, half of the club’s total over the campaign, but many will question if the Welshman is too good for the Championship. Should Dave Jones side achieve promotion via the play-offs, a permanent position in the ranks could be a strong possibility for the forward.
Goal of the season – Lewis McGugan (v Ipswich)
A thunderbolt that Cristiano Ronaldo himself would be proud of. He is known for his prolific ability to strike a ball with ferocious power, and to the delight of the home fans, he fired in a 35-yard free-kick against Ipswich that dipped and swerved as if it were on curved rails.
Championship more competitive than ever?
Many of the more recent Premier League outfits that have suffered the ignominy of relegation, such as Portsmouth and Hull, have not found the going easy in the Championship. League positions of 16th and 11th respectively underlined difficult campaigns for both squads, with many of the underdogs, such as Leeds and Millwall, feeling little pressure in performing above expectations.
Much had been envisaged of Middlesbrough and Ipswich, the latter being tipped by many as one of the title favourites prior to the season kicking-off. But inconsistencies and a lack of a cutting edge rendered lowly final positions, both clubs implementing changes at the helm, resulting in strong finishes to the season.
There have been many twists and turns over the past nine months, and by no means could several results have been predicted. The erratic nature of the Championship allows for each fan to expect the unexpected every Saturday; relegated Sheffield United’s 3-2 win at play-off bound Reading on 25 April and Scunthorpe’s 4-1 victory against champions QPR on 9 April are just two results that even the bravest punter would have struggled to take a bet on.
It is clear that the clubs who make the leap from the lower divisions are not afraid to throw their weight around, and with fragility a flaw in many Championship sides at present, the division really is anyone’s for the taking.