Championship reviews: Bolton, Bournemouth, Brighton, Burnley
Having cruelly been denied a place in the play-offs last season the feeling at Bolton would have been one of optimism for the new campaign. But this would soon turn to despair after the club mustered just a single win in their first 11 league games and just six by the end of 2013.
Dougie Freedman’s side did show steady improvement as the season progressed and hauled themselves to a 14th placed finish, a lowly outcome compared to the high hopes that Freedman would emulate his success he enjoyed at former club Crystal Palace.
What many fans will feel epitomises their season would be the 7-1 humiliation at the hands of Reading at the time Bolton were enjoying a run of just one defeat in six games, while Reading had won just once in the same period.
Wanderers became somewhat a Jekyll and Hyde team this year and any positive twist for next season may be dampened by the announcement that Freedman expects a reduced budget for the coming transfer window after losses of £50.7m for the year ending in June 2013.
No one would have envisaged a season like this for Eddie Howe and his Bournemouth side following promotion to the Championship last year. The Cherries’ fans themselves would have no doubt been happy with simple survival in the division, but a strong 10th placing will have the Dean Court faithful very satisfied with their men.
Howe made sure his side were hard for the opposition to break down whilst at the same time offering attractive football that saw his side string streaks of three, four or five games without defeat - meaning they amassed a total of 66 points and were just two wins shy of the play-off places.
While club record signing Tokelo Ranite failed to make to the scoring impact envisaged upon his arrival from Malmo, Lewis Grabban more than rose to the occasion, scoring no fewer than 22 league goals - just six goals short of league top scorer Ross McCormack.
Financial losses may represent a cause for concern alongside a large rise in season ticket prices as the club their record high finish, but the table will represent great encouragement for the future of the club on the pitch.
Having sacked popular manager Gus Poyet, Brighton started the season with former Barcelona coach Oscar Garcia at the helm in an attempt to continue to play the passing football that the club had become well known for.
Garcia did exactly that and the Seagulls continued to win admirers for their brand of football. Results on the pitch were good and the club sustained a push for the play-off places for the majority of the season. Results such as 4-1 win away at champions Leicester and four points from a possible six against runners-up Burnley showed that Brighton could cope with the upper reaches of the Championship.
It took until the final day and in dramatic fashion for Garcia’s men to seal their place in the play offs - coming from behind against Nottingham Forest for top scorer Leonardo Ulloa to head home a 90th minute winner and send the away fans into raptures.
Brighton succumbed to a stronger Derby side in the play-offs, suffering a heavy 6-2 aggregate defeat with it proving a step too far for Garcia, who has since left the club following his failure to secure promotion. However the season can still be called a success for the Seagulls and the outlook is bright at the Amex, despite not knowing who will be in charge.
Since tasting the big time when the club were promoted to the Premier League back in 2009 for first time in 33 years, the Clarets have been striving for a place amongst the country’s elite. Sean Dyche has delivered, and in impressive style too.
Having spent a transfer fee on only one player - Ashley Barnes - since taking over in October 2012 the level of Dyche’s achievement is heightened in his first full season in charge.
Losing Charlie Austin at the start of the year to Championship rivals Queens Park Rangers, not many saw Burnley realistically challenging the automatic promotion places. However, striking pair Danny Ings and Sam Vokes lit up the Championship between them, Ings scoring 26 goals in all competitions and Vokes 21.
It took until the end of March for the Clarets to taste defeat in the league at home, losing to league leaders and eventual winners Leicester 2-0 to hand the Foxes even more of a tight grip on top spot.
Dyche nevertheless guided his side to a comfortable second place finish with a tally of 93 points - higher than the totals of the teams that had won the division in the last three years, highlighting the achievements of the Turf Moore club in what has been the most competitive Championship season in years.
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