Championship season review: Barnsley, Birmingham, Blackburn, Blackpool
After many seasons of narrowly avoiding the drop, Barnsley finally succumbed to relegation despite the return of former hero Danny Wilson, who became manager for the second time following the sacking of David Flitcroft.
After spending almost the whole season in and around the Championship’s bottom three, their fate was eventually sealed on the penultimate weekend of the season when they conceded two late goals to Middlesbrough, one of four straight defeats at the end of the season as they failed to capitalise on what seemed a massive win at rivals Charlton Athletic.
The most obvious reason for their return to League One after eight seasons was an overall lack of quality in relation to their rivals, but their record at both ends of the pitch left a lot to be desired. Despite the industry of big central defender Jean-Yves M’Voto, the Tykes had the worst defensive record in the second tier, leaking 77 goals and conceding five on three occasions.
In attack, Chris O’Grady proved to be a hugely effective signing from Sheffield Wednesday, netting 15 times in his debut season at Oakwell. However, nobody else in a red shirt could share the burden, with Polish midfielder Tomasz Cywka their second top scorer with just four goals.
The target next season for manager Wilson will be to add more quality to what is undoubtedly a team of battlers, and achieve promotion back to the Championship at the first attempt.
Birmingham City: 21st
Of all the clubs in the Championship, none had a more tumultuous season than Birmingham, who stayed up on the final day in the most dramatic circumstances to avoid the ignominy of being relegated to the third tier of English football just three years after winning the League Cup as a Premier League side.
The campaign was dogged with problems at boardroom level, with majority shareholder Carson Yeung jailed in March with no transfer funds having been made available. As a result, the Blues had to rely heavily on loan signings and free transfers, leading to an extremely high turnover of players at St. Andrews.
Speaking of St. Andrews, Birmingham’s record there throughout the season was pitiful, with only two home wins all season out of 23, unsurprisingly the lowest in the club’s history. Sheffield Wednesday and Millwall were the only teams to come away from the West Midlands with nothing, and the capitulations only got worse as the season went on as Bournemouth and Blackburn Rovers both hit four.
Had it not been for their away record, Birmingham would have been cast adrift, and thankfully for them it came good again on the final day. Two goals down to Bolton Wanderers, relegation looked a formality, but Nikola Zigic and then Paul Caddis three minutes into second half stoppage time ensured Doncaster Rovers went down in their place, sparking delirious celebrations from manager Lee Clark.
Blackburn Rovers: 8th
After two seasons of turmoil and multiple managers, this was the season that Blackburn needed - one of stability and to a certain degree, anonymity. They did not achieve promotion or reach the play-offs, but they ended 2013-14 with a sense of pride with manager Gary Bowyer quietly doing a fine job and building the foundations for a sustained challenge for a return to the Premier League next time around.
Rovers ended the season with an unbeaten run of 12 games, and a successful strike partnership, with Rudy Gestede coming in from Cardiff City to score his fair share of goals alongside the wonderfully consistent Jordan Rhodes, who was the club’s top scorer for the second successive season.
A defensive improvement is needed if Rovers are to take the next step, with three goals or more conceded on nine occasions, with valuable leads being thrown away against Brighton & Hove Albion and Sheffield Wednesday being thrown away in final weeks. Both of those games ended in 3-3 draws, showing that it is at the back where Blackburn’s problems lie.
Most of the season was spent in mid-table, due to their inability to win games on a consistent basis, but they recovered magnificently to go into the final day with an outside chance of making the top six. They did not quite manage it, but eighth place certainly represents progress, and Bowyer has undoubtedly been aided by the lack of interference from the club’s owners.
With a threadbare squad and a shoestring budget, nobody expected Blackpool to be among the early pacesetters. But until the end of November they completely set about upsetting the odds, grabbing results based heavily on a solid defence, with one goal at the other end often proving to be enough.
But with wins having turned into draws, the Tangerines’ results began to go downhill quickly along with their discipline, as five players saw red over the course of successive defeats away to Yeovil Town and Derby County. That began a run of just three wins in their final 29 games of the season, as it soon proved that they would be unable to follow in the footsteps of Burnley and continue an expected promotion challenge right to the very end.
By the middle of January, manager Paul Ince had left the club. At the time of his departure he was far from popular among the club’s supporters, and had served a five-match stadium ban for abusing a match official. while son Thomas was soon following him out of the exit door as he moved on loan to Crystal Palace.
One of the club’s senior players, Barry Ferguson, took over for the remainder of the season, and despite rare wins against Millwall and Huddersfield Town, Blackpool still seemed to be heading for relegation to League One. However, an amazing win at play-off chasing Wigan Athletic on the penultimate weekend came to their rescue in what seemed an irretrievable situation.
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