Here Tom O’Connor looks at some of the players, managers and clubs which have been made, broken or resurrected during this year’s Championship campaign.
Manager – Slavisa Jokanovic
When Jokanovic was appointed Watford manager in October this year he was already their 4th incumbent of the season and few saw anything beyond another season of instability for the Hornets. However, fast forward to April and he has managed to become the first manager to get a team promoted to the Premier League this season.
The Vicarage Road club had a talented squad with players such as Troy Deeney, Ikechi Anya, Craig Cathcart, Huerelho Gomes and promotion expert Matt Connolly, however it took great management skills to bring them together as a team and perform as eye catching as they have done all season. The former Chelsea midfielder will be relishing a well-deserved return to Stamford Bridge next season.
Player – Kieran Westwood
Kieren Westwood’s last season in the Football League saw the ex-Manchester City player secure a move to Premier League club Sunderland following excellent performances playing at Carlisle and Coventry City.
After a turbulent period of injuries at the Stadium of Light, the Republic of Ireland international moved to Hillsborough to fight for the number one jersey with the talented Chris Kirkland.
Kirkland had a similar experience to Westwood’s at Liverpool, with injuries preventing the Anfield faithful seeing the best of him. Westwood won the battle so convincingly that he was deemed to be the best goalkeeper in the Championship this season. Surely another Premier League club will come calling this summer.
Club – Bournemouth
Bournemouth have been a revelation this season, playing a fantastically free-flowing brand of football. Much of the credit must go to their manager Eddie Howe but equally their players have performed heroics on the pitch.
Experienced campaigners such as ex-Celt Artur Boruc and club legend Brett Pitman have defied their age while club stalwarts Marc Pugh and Simon Francis have raised their stock immeasurably this year.
Add to this, the wing wizardry of Scottish international Matt Ritchie and the finishing ability of Irish capped Callum Wilson and the Cherries begin to look like they might be set to surprise a few teams in the Premier League next season.
Manager – Ian Holloway
Ian Holloway has always been seen as a great source of sound bites in interviews but scratch beneath the surface and you find a great thinker of the game. After parting company with Leicester City, ‘Olly’ didn’t play the usual, ‘it wasn’t my fault’ card and attempt to bounce straight back into another job; instead he took time out to reflect on how he could improve as a manager.
Blackpool were the main beneficiaries of the reformed Holloway as he took them to the Premier League soon after making himself available for management again, before repeating Premier League promotion while at Crystal Palace.
This season, unfortunately, things haven’t went as well at The New Den for the former QPR midfielder as The Lions have been scrapping at the foot of the Championship table all season. Irrespective of whether they survive or not, neither Holloway or Millwall will want a repeat of this season.
Club – Blackpool
Cast your mind a few years back and Blackpool FC were living the dream – promoted to the Premier League and fighting spiritedly against the financial behemoths of world football.
The Tangerines were quickly becoming everyone’s favourite underdog with an entertaining brand of football encapsulated by their excellent young wingers Tom Ince and Matt Phillips, while Charlie Adam – having been signed from Rangers for less than a million euros – ran their midfield, alongside the experienced Barry Ferguson, another ex-Ger.
Holloway was frank that the Oyston family wouldn’t be gambling large transfer fees to ensure the club’s Premier League survival and they would be prudent no matter what the outcome. Alas, such an idyllic future was not to happen with the club now in free-fall.
On the pitch, Lee Clark admitted a few months ago that he was planning for next season in League One while off the pitch the fans have become embroiled in some bitter disputes with the club’s owners and the pitch itself has had one of the worst surfaces in the Football League this season. A campaign to forget for the Tangerines.
Manager – Mick McCarthy
Mick McCarthy took over at Ipswich Town with both parties seeking a huge upturn in fortunes. McCarthy had carried out an excellent job during his time at Wolves but when the end came it wasn’t pretty, while Ipswich had become such a stagnant force in the Championship that even Roy Keane couldn’t awaken them from their slumber.
Towards the end of McCarthy’s reign at Molineux it was evident that he wasn’t full of the same vigour and verve as usual, yet fast forward to April 2015 and, alongside his trusted lieutenant Terry Connor, he is primed and ready for Ipswich Town to make a decent challenge next season. They’ve picked themselves up, dusted themselves down and are armed with confidence for the season to come.
Player – Daryl Murphy
The ex-Waterford United hit man was always seen as a target man, a foil for more goal-hungry strikers and one whose goal tally was expected to be single digits for the season. His time at Sunderland and Celtic reflect this trend (he also often played left wing for both clubs in a Jon Walters-type role).
However, this season the goals have flowed freely for him and he now finds himself on 25 league goals – almost double last season’s total. At 32 years of age, Murphy has finally established himself as one of the leading marksmen in the Championship following his outstanding 2014/15 season.
Club – Wolves
Following successive relegations the Midlands club was expected to make a quick return to the Championship and they achieved this goal last season. However, this season Wolves have managed to drag themselves back into contention in the Championship. They’re not serious challengers for promotion yet, but they’re not far away.
Under the guidance of the understated Kenny Jackett, the Molineux men have re-established themselves as one of the biggest clubs in the Championship. They’ve a solid spine with the likes of Carl Ikeme, Danny Batth and Dave Edwards while Bakary Sako and Benik Afobe provide the cutting edge. The resurrection won’t be complete for the fans until a Premier League return is achieved however.
So next season who will the Championship make, break or resurrect? As a Leeds fan, this writer’s hoping for the latter.
Tom O’Connor, Pundit Arena