By Paula Marcus
After months of hard work we are finally in the business end of the season, where every week is more important than the last. Whilst we have already seen Rotherham United relegated, this week we also had the Football League’s first promotions. So here is a look at all that is wonderful this week in the Championship and below.
Welcome back Blades.
First up, huge congratulations to Sheffield United on their return to the Championship, I’m sure everyone in the division (with the possible exception of their near neighbours) will be glad to welcome them back next season. The Blades last featured in this division in 2011, and their fans must have been wondering what they had to do to get back up. Three playoff appearances in the last five years probably hasn’t helped the fans blood pressure, but finally they have earned promotion the easy way; automatic with games to spare.
After a slow start Sheffield United have proved themselves to be the best team in League One, not dropping outside the top two since the beginning of the year. Add that to just three losses since September and a top scorer with 26 goals, and it’s not hard to see why the Blades are now just four points from the title. If you want to make the promotion story even better, manager Chris Wilder gained promotion at Sixfields just one day shy of a year since he did the same thing for Northamption Town at the same ground. Who says lightning doesn’t strike twice?
As for who will be joining them, Bolton Wanderers are sitting pretty in second place, seven points ahead of Fleetwood Town. It would be an impressive turnaround, amassing 23 wins so far, after winning only five games in the whole of last season. Just 18 months ago Wanderers were described as being ‘in a poor state,’ but a change in ownership and a little investment and Wanderers fans are reaping the rewards.
Barnsley end first season safe.
At the start of the season Barnsley were one of a handful of teams many thought would be making a quick return back to League One. Their 2-0 win against relegation certainties Blackburn Rovers on Saturday saw them safe with five games to spare. Barnsley have actually been one of the surprise packages of the season and it’s wonderful to see them survive.
Barnsley started strongly, winning five of their first ten games, including two 4-0 wins against Wolves and Rotherham. They may have struggled a little at home the last few games, but luckily their away form, and points collected earlier in the season, has seen them safe with plenty of time to spare. Now onto building for next season.
Knockaert named player of the season.
This week Anthony Knockaert was named the Championship player of the season, yet again proving I have no ability to predict pretty much anything. Despite my assertion that Gayle and his phenomenal record would probably prevail, Knockaert is still a very worthy winner. His 13 goals is the most from any midfielder in the Championship, and he is also right up there with assists too.
Zola gets the vote of confidence.
This is either good or bad depending where you are standing, as Zola was given the vote of confidence from the Birmingham City board this week, despite just two wins in 22 games. Whilst the dreaded confidence vote usually comes pretty close to a sacking, it seems this time City might actually stick with their man in charge. It’s a little hard to see where they would go, having sacked fan favourite Gary Rowett to appoint Zola in the first place. That said, fans are probably hoping history repeats itself and Zola wont still be at the helm come August.
Reading having a very bad week.
What is a good week for one club can be a very bad one for another, as Norwich City and Reading know too well. Last weekend City inflicted a somewhat embarrassing 7-1 defeat on my poor Royals, but that was just the start of what has been a very hard few days. It may seem hard for a club who have gone from relegation battlers last season to playoff hopefuls this one to be disspointing the fans, but that is just what has happened.
Aside from the slightly one sided result Saturday, the club this week announced that provisional approval for a take over had been given by the Football League. The big problem, however, is that the Premier League have reservations that may yet see us not allowed promotion (should the impossible happen and we actually figure out how to win a playoff). This might be really wonderful news for the other playoff teams, not quite as good for our fans though. But it’s not all bad, our current owners (who can’t afford to run the club) will keep all the land around the stadium so they can still build their houses/hotel/ice rink etc. Win-win for all.
With just five games left, there is still plenty left to be decided (not least if Reading will actually be allowed up). Both Brighton and Hove Albion and Newcastle United will probably have something to celebrate in the next game or two, and Bolton Wanderers will almost certainly be making a very quick return to the Championship. Let’s see what other wonderful things happen in the coming weeks.