The Five Winners
It should come as no surprise that the Terriers are at the top of my winners list. The Yorkshire club, who finished as low as 19th last season, completed a remarkable season on Monday by beating Reading in the playoff final to secure promotion to the Premier League. David Wagner, who turned down a big money move to Wolfsburg mid season, as masterminded one of the best stories in the Championship for a number of years. Back with a relatively modest squad, he has turned the perennial strugglers into a force to be reckoned with. With the goalscoring ability of Nahki Wells and the midfield grit of Aaron Mooy, who scored a crucial penalty in the shootout, they emerged victorious in the playoff lottery despite not actually winning a match. However, if Town are to be successful they will undoubtedly need to add to this squad, possibly by luring some German players to Yorkshire with the help of Wagner. In addition, the manager will have undoubtedly acquired a range of fans over the course of this season, and should the salary be right, he may be tempted to seek pastures new. Regardless of what happens next season, I hope Huddersfield fans enjoy what will be a fantastic experience. Congratulations Huddersfield Town!
Brighton & Hove Albion
Having narrowly missed out on promotion in 3 of the last 4 seasons, Albion finally and deservedly made it into the Premier League in May. However, the reason they miss out on top spot is because of their collapse at the end of the campaign which prevented them from claiming the title. With three games to go, they led the table by 7 points , but incredibly they let the lead slip with a late conceded leveller on the last day of the season at Villa Park. In contrast, the Albion fans will be able to reflect on a very satisfactory season at the AMEX stadium. The returning Glenn Murray proved to have the goalscoring prowess that they had perhaps missed in previous seasons to add to their already excellent midfield and defence. With the expertise of Chris Hughton, the Seagulls will be confident of retaining their Premier League status, especially with a strong crowd who will be eager to see Premier League football for the first time. South coast football has been experiencing a resurgence over the past 5 years, with three teams representing the region for the first time in Premier League history, as Albion join Bournemouth and Southampton in the promised land. With a few experienced signings they can expect a midtable season next year.
Some people might be surprised to see the Yorkshire club appear on the list, but if you look at how the other two promoted clubs fared then you will understand why. Barnsley have made it no secret that they operate on a budget that most Championship clubs would sneer at, but they finished comfortably in midtable and even flirted with the playoffs before falling away in the last 10 games. The last 18 months have been a marvellous journey for Tykes fans, as in December 2015 they were sitting in the relegation places of League 1, before staging an incredible run to secure promotion via the playoffs, followed by a very solid return to the Championship this year. However, the last 10 games will give Barnsley fans a few sleepless nights over summer because they experienced something of a collapse, but with the fight that the club have shown despite the sales of Hourihane and Winnall, we can expect Barnsley to be fine again next year. Clubs like Barnsley and Preston don’t get enough credit in a league where financial riches are starting to rival the Premier League, and this sort of traditional club keep the league honest. Let’s just hope there will always be a place for clubs like Barnsley in the second tier!
Rafa Benitez is a manager I have a lot of respect for. La Liga winner, Champions League winner and 2 time Europa League winner, yet he still does not get the respect he deserves by some fans and pundits alike. Anyway other fans’ loss is Newcastle fans gain and it’s good that Geordies realise that they are lucky to have the Spaniards at the helm. This season hasn’t always been a delight but it was a case of job done, and even a bit of silverware to go with it. They may have expected to win the league more comfortably, and in all honesty they were lucky to top the league in May, but Rafa knew all along that promotion was all that mattered. Despite a very slow start, losing the first two matches, Dwight Gayle started scoring, Shelvey started assisting and all was fine again. Next year is going to be an interesting one for Newcastle as they are already being linked with some relatively big names including Pepe Reina from Napoli. Magpies fans are not known for being rational, but I hope they stay behind Benitez even if they make a slow start next year. You couldn’t wish for a better manager and I’m confident that within 2 or 3 years he will have you challenging for European places again, if you can prevent the vultures from circling. Well done Newcastle, it’s good to see you back in the Premier League.
The Royals were a side a really didn’t fancy at the start of the season. Average squad, inexperienced manager and fickle fan base. However, they proved me wrong and were within a whisker of making the Premier League. I won’t lie, I was cheering for Huddersfield on Monday as I think almost all proud northerners were, but I felt an element of pity for the Reading players as they sunk to the floor when the winning penalty went in. Jaap Stam has really installed an element of steel into a club that was in danger of drifting into mediocrity before this season. Personnel wise they are not outstanding, although I’m a big fan of Kermogant up front, and Liam Moore at the back. The former has really established himself as a regular goalscorer at this level, and he enjoyed another fruitful campaign. All in all though, I think promotion would have come too soon for Reading. Unlike Huddersfield, the club has already tasted the riches of the Premier League so there is not the same appetite for Premier League football from the fans. They know that you need to be competitive in the league if you want the season to be worthwhile, but with Stam in charge I have no doubts that they will be in and around the playoff picture again next season. However, it would not be a surprise if a big club in Holland or a struggling Premier League team want to take a gamble on him given his illustrious playing career and huge name in the world of football.
The Five Losers
Now let me start by saying that Leeds aren’t losers based on the football they played this season, but on what has happened since the end of the season. Gary Monk is an excellent manager who was without doubt going to take Leeds back into the Premier League within the next few seasons. Yet again though, disaster has struck within the Leeds hierarchy and they now find themselves without the talented young manager. Leeds fans must be wondering how many more tragedies they have to experience before they will finally get back to the club they once knew and loved. As for the season, it was a huge success until the last 8 games, when they narrowly fell away and finished in 7th place. Chris Wood was immense, finishing as top scorer in the league and barely going 2 games without scoring all season. The defence was the most solid it has been for many years and things were really looking positive going forward. I really feel for Leeds fans as this was a hugely positive season in many ways. Monk united the club and brought the fans back in huge numbers. Crowds of 30,000 plus were a regular at Elland Road last season just like in the glory days. Sadly, going forward I don’t know what to expect from Leeds now. Much depends on whether the next manager can I still the kind of team spirit that Monk did. Anyway, good luck Leeds fans. It’s about time you got back into the Premier League.
High hopes were rife in August when Wanderers kicked off the season under Walter Zenga. What followed though was something of a disaster. Zenga was fired after a less than satisfactory start and replaced with Paul Lambert. Lambert is not a manager who sets fans’ pulses racing, but he is a good Championship manager who has experience. Despite lifting them away from danger into lower midtable, Lambert also left the club this week. The managerial merry-go-round at Wolves is becoming unbearable at the moment, and if they are to match their ambitions and play in the Premier League, they need the type of solidity and consistency that Mick McCarthy provided them with in the early 2010s. There were a few positives this season, such as beating Stoke and Liverpool away in the FA cup, before being narrowly beaten by finalists Chelsea. This shows that there is potential in this Wolves squad especially with the big money signing of Hector Silva in January. Fan anger towards the hierarchy is commonplace in football nowadays but at Wolves it seems to be toxic. The supporters really need to get behind their club if they are to push on next season.
I can speak for every man in Wigan with this comment, this season was an unmitigated disaster. Boring football, awful home form and loss after loss meant that Latics were easily relegated after a woeful finish of 23rd. Fans were realistic at the start of the campaign, understanding that the standard in the Championship is much higher than in League 1. However, after the first 2 games which were respectable, the season nosedived rapidly. Before two late season wins over Barnsley and Rotherham, the club had only managed 3 home wins in their first 20 games, which is simply not good enough. Away form and performances were considerably better but you cannot rely on going to places like Leeds and Wolves to pick up wins. Home form is vital in football and Wigan simply didn’t have it this season. The loss of form of fan favourite Will Grigg was disappointing, but also the way the chairman Sharpe dealt with certain situations, including the senseless appointment of Warren Joyce after the even more senseless premature sacking of Caldwell, showed his lacked of knowledge. Moving forward, the club have appointed Paul Cook as manager, after missing out on Keith Hill from Rochdale. Cook may not look like a classy manager, but he has an old school vibe about him which might kick the club back into action. Hopefully he will have more success than the club’s last traditional gaffer, Owen Coyle.
Anticlimax. I think that’s the best word to describe Villa’s season. After an abysmal campaign last year, at least Villa fans could enjoy a few wins at home this year. Conversely, after the signings of Kodja and McCormack in summer, and Hourihane and Hogan in January, I expect that supporters will have expected more than what they saw. Di Matteo proved to be a poor appointment, and was justifiably sacked after the opening stages of the campaign, and Steve Bruce was his replacement. Form improved initially but another bad run followed, effectively ended any hope of promotion by the end of March. Many fans are said to be dissatisfied with the services that the experienced former Birmingham City manager is providing, but I would say be careful what you wish for . Bruce has a fantastic record at this level, and I fully expect that the club will be challenging at the right end of the table next year. I don’t expect them to be promoted next season, but playoffs is a minimum requirement as one of the powerhouses of the division. The club had spent every season since the inauguration of the Premier League in the top flight until last season, and fans will be expecting a return before too long. It’s difficult to look past Steve Bruce as a man who can provide that return.
I also want to say that Burton Albion had a fantastic season , as did Preston North End, but these clubs didn’t quite do enough to make it into my winners list.
See if you agree with my opinions. Comment like follow.