Championship season review: Millwall, Nottingham Forest, QPR, Reading
It is becoming an all too familiar feeling around The Den for Millwall fans – the battle to stave off relegation. And this season was no different as they had to wait until the final day to make sure of their Championship status.
A nail-biting 1-0 victory over Bournemouth ensured new manager Ian Holloway had guided the club to safety and give fans hope that next season under his stewardship, they might fare better.
The Lions started the campaign under Steve Lomas but during his six months in charge the club failed to make any progress, winning just five of his 22 league games in charge, losing another 11. Lomas’ side had made a habit of conceding far too many goals – 15 of his games saw them concede two of more goals.
Holloway took over at the beginning of January and managed to halt a slide of five defeats in six with his second game in charge. The side still struggled for any real consistency which saw them continue to flirt with the relegation places. It took until the end of March for any real run of results to be put together, with the club remaining unbeaten for the rest of the season to see themselves pull towards safety.
Forest will be wondering what might have been this season after a dramatic downward spiral in results cost themselves a play off place they had worked hard to be in contention for. Many hoped the Billy Davies’ arrival last year would have been the catalyst for success – and for a while it looked like it might be.
Mid February saw Billy Davies’ side unbeaten in 16 games in all competitions and just five points off of second place. What followed will not make good reading for Forest fans.
It would be a whopping 13 games before the club tasted victory again, including a crushing 5-0 defeat at the hands of Midlands rivals Derby, who themselves were enjoying a fruitful campaign.
That defeat spelt the end of Davies’ second reign at the City Ground. The club would remain managerless for the remainder of the season, winning just two more games – ultimately costing them a place in the play offs ending up seven points adrift of sixth placed Brighton, the club they lost to on the final day of the season.
Club legend Stuart Pearce was confirmed as manager at the beginning of April but only to take over before the next campaign, and fans will hope he can construct a team capable of fighting for illusive promotion spot.
Queens Park Rangers:4th (Play Off winners)
After a turbulent season that saw the club relegated from the Premier League the only acceptable return this year would be an immediate promotion back into the big time.
Harry Redknapp’s side were involved in a three way battle for top spot in the first half of the season as they jostled with Leicester and Burnley for dominance. However two poor results – a 1-0 defeat to eventual champions Leicester and a 0-0 draw with Watford gave the top two breathing room over Rangers, who never recovered from the setback. A run of three straight defeats at the end of February all but consigned the club to a play off place.
Having overcome Wigan 2-1 on aggregate in a tightly fought contest where Redknapp’s tactics were criticised by some for being too defensive, particularly in the first leg, Rangers came up against a Derby side who were earning rave reviews for their style and swagger on the pitch.
In what can only be described as a remarkable victory against the odds, QPR pulled off the ultimate smash and grab after Gary O’Neil was sent off, to snatch the win in the 90th minute thanks to Bobby Zamora – his goal was the only shot on target for QPR in the whole game. The Premier League big boys await QPR once again.
A rollercoaster ride of a season saw Reading miss out agonisingly on a play off place in the last minute of the campaign after Brighton snatched a last gasp winner at Nottingham Forest. Inconsistency was ultimately the Achilles heel of the club who were unable to put together a run of results they desperately needed all season to boost any promotion hopes.
The Royals only went undefeated for more than three games twice this term, dropping vital points and goals to the likes of Sheffield Wednesday, Middlesbrough and Bournemouth. They also only took seven points from a possible 18 against the eventual play off place teams, a record which will have to be improved if they are to finish in this berth next season.
Another key result that showed there is much room for improvement will no doubt be the shock home 3-1 defeat to Barnsley, who at the time had the worst away record in the division – just seven points form a possible 51.
What will hurt fans even more is the realisation that with just two games left to go the club held its fate in its own hands, knowing that matching Brighton’s results would have been enough to ensure a chance of promotion and Premier League football back at the Madejski Stadium.
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