Championship Predictions Revisited

Before the start of the season I made some predictions of how I thought the Championship season would pan out. Now is the time to look back and reflect on the predictions I got right, and the ones I didn’t…

Aston Villa

Prediction: Title contenders

Actual: 4th, 83 points

Villa were in contention for a top two until February, after which their form tailed off for the next couple of months. They made a late surge but ultimately had too much ground to make up and they were forced to settle for the play-offs. Given the calibre of players at Steve Bruce’s disposal, it’s not surprising that Villa showed a significant improvement on their first season back in the second tier and few would bet against them joining Wolves and Cardiff in next season’s Premier League. If they fail, the pressure will really be on to go up in 2018/19, considering the significant investment made by Tony Xia over the last two seasons and the ending parachute payments.

 

Barnsley

Prediction: Struggling to survive

Actual: 22nd, 41 points

The Tykes were at the wrong end of the table for most of the season and could not save themselves on the final day, losing 4-1 at play-off chasing Derby County. This is despite new owners taking over late in 2017, although they did not spend a huge amount of cash in January. Paul Heckingbottom was sacked in February after a poor run of form and was replaced by Jose Morais, but he was unable to pull them out of danger and was unsurprisingly sacked after their relegation was confirmed.

Birmingham City

Prediction: Mid-table mediocrity

Actual: 19th, 46 points

I didn’t expect Harry Redknapp to last the full campaign at Birmingham but few would have predicted such a turbulent season, particularly off the back of a difficult 2016/17 campaign. The former Spurs man had a predictably busy summer in the transfer market but the results were poor and he was quickly ousted, in favour of Steve Cotterill. The Blues continued to hover in and around the bottom three until they called on the services of Garry Monk. Four wins and a draw in their last five home matches, including a 3-1 win over Fulham on the final day, was enough to preserve their Championship status.

Bolton Wanderers

Prediction: Struggling to survive

Actual: 21st, 43 points

A transfer embargo for the first part of the season meant that Bolton’s struggle was very much expected, and it took a dramatic last day win to haul them out of trouble. Phil Parkinson has pulled off a minor miracle to keep them up, particularly when you consider they only picked up two points from their first eleven matches. Their form improved enough to lift them to 19th with eight matches remaining, but one point from their next seven put them back into trouble before their final day heroics against Forest.

Brentford

Prediction: Mid-table mediocrity

Actual: 9th, 69 points

The Bees endured a miserable start to their campaign, often dominating games without getting results, and this combined with selling Jota and captain Harlee Dean at the end of August could have led to a battle against relegation for the west London side. They failed to win any of their first eight matches but followed that up with an eight match unbeaten run, and they slowly pulled themselves away from the relegation zone. In fact, they briefly threatened to make a late run for the play-offs but ultimately they had too much ground to make up. Even so it was a good season for Dean Smith’s men and it gives them a good basis from which to push for a top six finish next season, as long as they don’t have to sell too many first team players this summer.

Bristol City

Prediction: Mid-table mediocrity

Actual: 11th, 67 points

Bristol City ended up more or less where I expected, but their route to their final finishing position was less predictable. Lee Johnson’s team got off to a flier and were third in the table at the turn of the year, having also beaten Manchester United in the League Cup. Sadly for them it was all downhill from there – 20 points in their last 21 games saw them slip away from the promotion race and down into an ultimately disappointing 11th place. Bristol have always struggled for long-term consistency under Johnson, if they could end this ‘boom or bust’ type of form there’s no reason why they couldn’t finish in the top six next season.

Burton Albion

Prediction: Struggling for survival

Actual: 23rd, 41 points

Burton’s relegation had a sad inevitability about it – Nigel Clough has been working miracles on a tiny budget, and they have been punching well above their weight just to reach the Championship in the first place. Although they’ll be disappointed to be relegated in the final few minutes of the season, I think they can be proud of what they have achieved as a club in the past two campaigns. They strung together three successive wins to give themselves a chance of staying up on the final day, but on reflection it was their run of one win in 16 matches prior to that that ultimately sent them down.

Cardiff City

Prediction: play-off hopefuls

Actual: 2nd, 90 points

Neil Warnock took over midway through the 2016/17 season and pulled Cardiff up from the foot of the table to mid-table safety, but few would have anticipated them challenging for automatic promotion this year. His side has not played the most exciting style of football but they have been effective and ruthless, giving him the eighth promotion of his career. Cardiff have been near the top of the league all season, never dropping out of the top four, and impressively withstood pressure from a charging Fulham in the final few games.

Derby County

Prediction: play-off hopefuls

Actual: 6th, 75 points

Derby’s season followed a very familiar pattern, competing for the top two for the first half of the season before suffering a slump in form in spring. However, on this occasion they were able to rally and secured their play-off spot on the final day of the season with a comfortable win over Barnsley. A run of two wins in 13 games had some fans questioning whether Gary Rowett was the right man for the job, but a win over Cardiff and a draw at Villa helped turn the tide. Derby are the outsiders this year for the play-offs, but maybe the lack of expectation this time round will work in their favour.

Fulham

Prediction: play-off hopefuls

Actual: 3rd, 88 points

Fulham’s campaign has very much been a season of two halves – they struggled until December but then went on a stunning run, going 23 games unbeaten through to the final day of the season. They still had an outside chance of automatic promotion going into that last game but were defeated 3-1 by Birmingham to gift a second place finish to Cardiff. Manager Jokanovic may look back on and regret their early season form, which has ultimately cost them a place in the top two. Their exciting brand of football has won them plaudits all over the country and starlet Ryan Sessegnon has shone once again, winning both the Championship Player of the Year and Young Player of the Year awards.

Hull City

Prediction: play-off hopefuls

Actual: 18th, 49 points

The Tigers had a bizarre first season back down in the Championship, often scoring goals for fun but struggling to keep them out at the other end. Leonid Slutsky was popular with the fans but with Hull sliding towards the bottom three, his sacking was inevitable and Nigel Adkins was brought in to steady the ship. Results in his first two months in charge were poor and they briefly slipped into the relegation zone, but they rallied in the last third of the season to comfortably stay up. The squad is a little thin but has plenty of talent, so if they have a good transfer window there’s no reason why they can’t improve next season.

Ipswich Town

Prediction: Mid-table mediocrity

Actual: 12th, 60 points

The club’s low budget and 16th place finish in 2016/17 meant expectations were low at Portman Road, but they threatened to be the surprise package in the early stages by recording four wins on the bounce at the start of the season. Their form tailed off but the frontmen were still regularly finding the back of the net before the turn of the year. Mick McCarthy’s team become more and more defensive and toothless as the season went on, and the atmosphere deteriorated to the point where his departure was inevitable. The search is now on for a manager who can handle a small budget but still play more enterprising football than McCarthy was able to offer.

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Leeds United

Prediction: play-off hopefuls

Actual: 13th, 60 points

Leeds got off to a flyer under Thomas Christiansen to sit at the top of the league after nine games, and although that initial form didn’t last they were still in the top six at the halfway stage. A six-game winless streak saw them slide to tenth and a 4-1 home defeat to Cardiff saw the end of Christiansen, who was quickly replaced by Paul Heckingbottom. He was unable to turn things around and has come in for heavy criticism from some sections of fans, but as of today he’s still in charge and looks set to be given another opportunity next season.

Middlesbrough

Prediction: title contenders

Actual: 5th, 76 points

Boro were expected to compete for the automatic promotion places but they had an indifferent start under Garry Monk, which led to his sacking in December with the team down in 9th. Tony Pulis was brought in but initially results did not improve, and it appeared that this expensively assembled squad might miss out on the top six altogether. It wasn’t until the last dozen games that they started to move up the league and an impressive run of form in April sealed their play-off position with a game to spare. Their play-off semi final with Villa is expected to be a tight affair and could easily be settled by a single goal.

Millwall

Prediction: struggling to survive

Actual: 8th, 72 points

Many expected Millwall to struggle in their first season back in the Championship, and the first half of the season suggested they would be proven right. Neil Harris’ team only took four wins from their first 19 matches to leave them dangerously close to the bottom three, but in the new year they transformed, stringing together a 17 game unbeaten run to catapult themselves into the top six. Sadly for them they ran out of steam in the final three games, but they can still be very proud of their season and there’s plenty of cause for optimism going forwards.

Norwich City

Prediction: play-off hopefuls

Actual: 14th, 60 points

The Canaries had hoped that Daniel Farke might be able to emulate David Wagner’s success at Huddersfield, but the Norfolk club never threatened to challenge for the top six and with their parachute payments ending this summer the pressure is on to get out of the Championship as quickly as possible. The new manager carried out a major overhaul of his squad in the summer and looked to implement a new style of play, but his side consistently lacked a cutting edge. They were over-reliant on James Maddison to provide an attacking spark so there’s a lot of work to do if they are to compete for promotion next season.

Nottingham Forest

Prediction: mid-table mediocrity

Actual: 17th, 53 points

Forest only avoided the drop on the final day of 2016/17 so this season was at least an improvement on that, but overall it was still a disappointing campaign for the Reds. Mark Warburton had kept them up last season but their inconsistency this season proved too much for new owner Evangelos Marinakis, who sacked him at the end of December. Former Boro boss Aitor Karanka was brought in to shore up the defence but if anything results got worse for a while, until a seven match unbeaten run in February and March. The Spaniard has a big job on his hands if he is to haul the club out of mid-table obscurity.

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Preston North End

Prediction: mid-table mediocrity

Actual: 7th, 73 points

Alex Neil has had a promising first year in charge at Preston, overachieving given their relatively small budget to finish just outside the play-off places. They may conclude that they drew too many games early in the season – 15 of their first 33 games finished all-square – but as a squad they have shown plenty of promise and didn’t suffer too much from the sale of striker Jordan Hugill at the end of January. They surprisingly picked up more points away from home than at Deepdale, so if they can improve on that home form they could compete for a play-off finish next season.

Queens Park Rangers

Prediction: struggling to survive

Actual: 16th, 56 points

Little was expected of the west London side before the start of the season and unsurprisingly they spent the whole campaign in mid-table obscurity. Ian Holloway’s side were bafflingly inconsistent, going through the whole season without ever stringing together more than two consecutive wins. Perhaps they should have expected nothing else given Holloway’s managerial record, and it wasn’t a great surprise to see him get sacked at the end of the season. The club is in danger of getting stuck in the Championship so the next appointment is a big one.

Reading

Prediction: play-off hopefuls

Actual: 20th, 44 points

The Royals were a penalty shoot-out away from promotion in 2016/17 but they were unable to repeat that success this season. Jaap Stam’s side struggled from the start and got worse as the campaign wore on, until a miserable run of one win in 18 saw Stam’s time at the club come to an end. He was replaced by Paul Clement but they continued to struggle and went into the final game of the season with an outside chance of suffering relegation. It remains to be seen whether Clement will get the opportunity to improve on what was a miserable campaign for the Berkshire side.

Sheffield United

Prediction: play-off hopefuls

Actual: 10th, 69 points

Chris Wilder’s team carried the momentum over from their promotion-winning season in 2016/17, taking the Championship by storm in the first third of the season and even briefly going to the top of the league. Sadly for them they couldn’t maintain that early season form, only winning eight of their last 29 matches to slide out of contention and into mid-table obscurity. Despite this their first season back in the second tier was still a success, although they will need to build out their squad if they want to sustain a top six push next season.

Sheffield Wednesday

Prediction: Title contenders

Actual: 15th, 57 points

The Owls had missed out in the play-offs in the previous two seasons but they never threatened to repeat that this year, enduring a very disappointing campaign. Carlos Carvalhal was sacked in December with the team in 15th, which oddly enough is exactly where they finished. Injuries to key players made things difficult for new manager Jos Luhukay but they were so poor in their first dozen games they were almost dragged into the relegation battle. The return of Fernando Forestieri contributed to a late upturn in form which can give the fans optimism that next season will be more fruitful.

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Sunderland

Prediction: play-off hopefuls

Actual: 24th, 37 points

My prediction for Sunderland turned out to be wildly optimistic. After years of narrowly avoiding relegation from the Premier League they finally succumbed in 2016/17, and the losing mentality appears to be deeply ingrained in the Wearsiders’ squad. Simon Grayson was appointed as manager in the summer but his Championship experience wasn’t enough and he was sacked early in the season, to be replaced by Chris Coleman. He was unable to fix the sinking ship and a 2-1 defeat at home to Burton was an appropriate way for their relegation to be confirmed. Surely they can’t be relegated for a third season running?

Wolverhampton Wanderers

Prediction: play-off hopefuls

Actual: 1st, 99 points

Wolves made full use of their links with Jorge Mendes to bring in a number of players that are frankly too good for the Championship, including Diogo Jota and Ruben Neves, and under the guidance of former Porto manager Nuno Espirito Santo they strolled to the Championship title. Nobody would deny that Wolves have been comfortably the best side in the league this season, in fact they went to the top of the league after 15 matches and never relinquished the lead from that point onwards. They have the financial firepower and contacts to add to the squad, so they should be able to establish themselves in the Premier League in the coming years.

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