THE 2017/18 Championship may have come to a close, but our man Ben Levene (@BenLevene96) picks out the past season’s highlights and points out possible challengers ahead of the new campaign.
EFL Championship 2017/18: Season Review
From start to finish, champions Wolves have proved too good.
Think back to before a ball was kicked and you either thought Nuno’s side were a steal at 20/1, or Jorge Mendes’ puppet. They turned out to be the former and then some.
Diego Jota and Ruben Neves will get the plaudits, but skipper Conor Coady seamlessly transitioned into a back-three and was somewhat of an unsung hero.
Of course, they spent money, but so did the likes of Middlesbrough, Aston Villa and Birmingham. The Championship is not an easy division to emerge from, and their 99-point campaign is some achievement.
Cup games against the likes of Southampton, Man City and Swansea, even when much changed, have indicated they’re not too far off holding in their own in the top-flight.
Neil Warnock’s Cardiff were on Wolves’ tails for the bulk of the season, but any hopes of the title diminished following late drama between the two in April. Nonetheless, Cardiff ground their way over the line with Fulham hot-on-their-heels.
Warnock had some impact when taking over a struggling-side in October of 2016. The decision to back him in the summer paid dividends. Callum Paterson and Sol Bamba flourished in new roles, while wide-men Junior Hoilett and Nathaniel Mendez-Laing were persistent threats all season.
Cardiff were 10/1 for promotion ante-post, and along with Brentford were the value-grabbers pick.
With Slavisa Jokanovic seemingly unhappy over transfers, Fulham made a slow start to the season. However, when they found their feet in November, a promotion push was inevitable.
They ended the regular season with 21 wins from 30. Final day heartache was quickly atoned for with play-off success. Fulham began this season a 3/1 shot for promotion.
Last year’s play-off final losers, Reading, ran close to the drop this season. Final day heroics at the Macron saw Bolton survival at the expense of Barnsley.
Under Paul Heckingbottom, Barnsley were continuously punching above their weight in spite of losing big players on a regular basis. But when Heckingbottom left for Leeds, things began to go pear shaped.
Jose Morais, a former apprentice of Jose Mourinho, took over the aim of keeping them afloat, however that ultimately proved a step too far. The Tykes began the season at 2/1 for relegation.
With Morais since departing, perhaps a return for Heckingbottom?
Pre-season relegation favourites Burton gave their bid for successive survivals a real crack. Clough’s outfit were competitive in games, however in the end it was their home form that cost then. Just 41% of their points came at the Pirelli compared to 60% the season prior.
Given all three of last year’s relegated Championship sides bounced back at the first time of asking, it’ll be interesting to see how Burton fare in what looks a relatively weak third-tier.
Simon Grayson’s time at Sunderland never really got going and before they knew it, the Black Cats found themselves in a relegation battle.
Six-months or so under Chris Coleman were sandwiched in between Robbie Stockdale caretaker spells, but in reality any survival bid was never convincing.
Youngsters such as Joel Asoro were thrown to spark something, but it wasn’t enough to prevent a big-name casualty. Sunderland were 14/1 for relegation.
A look to next season
You’d imagine Middlesbrough will be there are there about across 46-games, while uncertainty over Aston Villa’s finances means question marks can be posed at them. Brentford will prove popular again.
Aitor Karanka’s Nottingham Forest could be worth keeping an eye on. In two full seasons in charge of Boro in this division, Karanka reached a play-off final before achieving automatic promotion the following year. His Middlesbrough side were well-drilled, consistent, and built on a solid defensive foundation.
He hasn’t been shy of demanding additions since taking charge at the City Ground with the likes of Adlene Guerdioura, Ben Watson, Joe Lolley, and most recently Michael Dawson coming in. With a pre-season and a transfer window at the helm, don’t be surprised to see a strong Forest side next season.
Given last summer’s spending, a promotion push was the aim at Birmingham back in August. The immediate impact under Garry Monk following his appointment in March was evident as he steered them clear of relegation.
Monk missed out on the play-off’s in his one-season in charge of Leeds, and although underachieving, was in a similar position when he departed Boro.
Birmingham boast a talented squad and with a few shrewd additions, they could put together a solid 2018/19 campaign.