By Paula Marcus
Sometimes in football, it’s easy to look at where your team is now and not really appreciate how far you have come, or realise quite how far you have fallen. Sometimes, you have to go back 12 months to really see where you are now. So for a review with a bit of a twist, let’s look at the sizeable improvements and biggest losers in the division, starting with those teams with nothing left to play for.
The view from the bottom
At the start of the season, almost everyone had Rotherham United down as their team for the drop, and they didn’t disappoint. This is in no way a dig at Rotherham (well at least not on my side), it’s more the fact they have been playing a dangerous game the past few seasons, and at some point they were going to fail. Ok, no one thought they would have half the number of points from April 2016, but you can’t get everything right.
Whilst Rotherham may have proved pundits right, Burton Albion have been showing they still make mistakes. On the last day of the 2015/16 season Albion secured promotion to the Championship. This time round they have the chance to secure safety, with just a single point needed in the next two games to guarantee their Championship status. All this despite being pegged as relegation certainties
Barnsley may have needed the playoffs last year to gain promotion to the Championship, but they have certainly left nothing to chance when it comes to remaining in the division, confirming their status with games to spare. Barnsley’s performances have been one of the plus points of the season, efficiently picking up points and playing some good football along the way. It will be hard to improve on this next season, but they may well surprise again.
Bristol City also just need a single point to ensure Championship football, however they will probably look back on this season as being much of the same. That said, there are signs of improvement for the Robins. They currently sit 3 places higher in the table, with a goal difference better by 14. If they want to avoid toying with the trapdoor newt year they will need to build on their ever so slight improvements or they might not be celebrating in 12 months.
That sinking feeling
Two teams that have really have had a year to forget are Ipswich Town and Wolverhampton Wanderers. Wolves had an acceptable 2015/16 season, finishing 14th, big things were expected this year and they just didn’t happen (unless you count spending most of the season fighting relegation). Despite being on course for finishing in the same position as last year, a few promising results in the last month or two will have fans hopeful for a slightly higher placing in 2018.
If Wolves had a bad year, Ipswich had an atrocious one, going from 8th at the end of April 2016 to 16th so far. What will be more troubling is that they only missed last season’s playoffs on goal difference, whilst this year they only claimed safety with four games to go. It is hard to be critical of the only team in the division that actually knows how to keep hold of their manager, but they will need an improvement soon or fans will lose all patience.
With Sheffield Wednesday one point from securing a playoff place, and Brighton sitting top of the table, it looks like there will be just one team missing from the playoff places last season, Derby County (and technically promoted Hull City). Derby have had another one of those seasons to forget, rarely looking like they were capable of replicating their form of the previous season. This time round, Derby are five places and 14 points worse off, with a goal difference that is +22 below what they achieved last season. With multiple managerial changes over the past few seasons, County are in much need of a little stability.
Not what you hoped it would be
Any team relegated from the promised land of the Premier League will have one thing on their mind; a quick return. Sadly not everyone can be successful (more on that later) and both Aston Villa and Norwich City are set for another year of Championship football. Norwich almost achieved their goal, but a poor first half of the season was too much to come back from, and they currently sit two places and ten points outside the playoff places.
It seemed strange to Championship fans that a Premier League train-wreck of a team would be installed as promotion candidates at the start of the season, but that’s just what happened for Villa. The reality was not quite as good, with a season of struggles behind them. A tweeting owner, big spending and managerial issues are finally settling down, and their form since the turn of the year has been much better.
Up, up and away
Whilst the relegation battle might not be decided yet, the promotion places certainly are. Just 12 months ago, Brighton were sat in third place on goal difference, a place they finished the season in. They might have been unlucky in the playoffs, but this time they have certainly done everything the right way, and for the 2017/18 season they will be playing Premier League football. Now they just need that win for top spot.
Joining Brighton are Newcastle United, having achieved their goal of a quick return. United gained promotion this week with a comfortable win this week. Unlike Aston Villa, Newcastle managed to change their squad without wasting excessive amounts of money. Sure, they spent big, but they raised the funds needed through selling players, and they may yet end the season breaking even.
Listen to Paula’s latest Championship podcast at Premier Punditry.