It is hard to believe that the sun is soon to set on another season of domestic football bliss. The World Cup once seemed a distant prospect and yet the countdown is well and truly on for the beautiful game’s show piece occasion in South Africa.
With just a few games left to be completed before the focus truly shifts to the international scene, now seems as apt a time as any to not only take a look back on the last year and heap some praise on this campaign’s stand out sides, but to also point the finger at those who have flattered to deceive. Today we will focus on the Championship. There can only be one club to start with in England’s second tier and that would be the champions themselves, Newcastle United. Their story is one phenomenal season where much less could still have been considered a success. Following on from years of mid-table Premiership mediocrity, some were surprised to see the Magpies slip down a division. Many had seen it coming however. The last few years for the Toon have been blighted with one disaster after another and one could not help but feel that with owner Mike Ashley seemingly unable to sell the club, their troubles would soon surface again in the Football League.
This was not to be however, as Chris Hughton was able to guide Newcastle back to the promised land at the first time of asking and with an outstanding points tally of 102. Despite their success, it feels as if the club have lowered their profile to a massive extent this year, and perhaps with the players out of the limelight, they have been able to concentrate all of their efforts on a concerted promotion push. The club and city are now reaping the benefits of this. So which other clubs are now able to look back on the season and give themselves a well earned pat on the back? A quick glance at the play off positions offers some help here. Not many expected Forest to perform as well as they have done, but Billy Davies’ men have looked a solid unit all season and will be a threat in the play offs. The loan signing of Polish midfielder Radoslaw Majewski has proved a shrewd investment, and the City Ground staff have moved quickly to capture the youngster on a permanent deal. Leicester too have exceeded expectations to take their place in the top six.
Nigel Pearson has brought his squad together from League One to the brink of the Premiership, something very few would have predicted on the horizon back in August. Cardiff too have won their play off spot through a strong team which only narrowly missed out on the end of season lottery in the final match last year. The loss of Roger Johnson at the heart of their defence could have hit them hard but they have showed little sign of missing their former centre-back. This brings us nicely to Blackpool, led by the ever-popular Ian Holloway. At the start of the season, the Tangerines were dismissed as mere relegation fodder, simply in the division to make up the numbers, but Holloway has shown he knows how to get the best out of any squad, and his side can look forward to the play offs with no fear. Of course, should they miss out on promotion, they will be just as disappointed as any other side, but having exceeded so many expectations to get this far, they are undoubtedly one of the teams of the season, regardless of what division they find themselves in come August.
Of course for every positive there is at least one negative, and the Championship has thrown up it’s fair share of villains this campaign. Perhaps the obvious place to look would be the Ricoh Arena, where Coventry City ended the season with a 4-0 defeat at the hands of Watford. The Sky Blues finished 19th in the table, just seven points clear of the drop zone, and with the final defeat still fresh in the mind, the board acted swiftly and wielded the axe, leaving manager Chris Coleman looking for a new employer. Having led Coventry to survival when he arrived at the club in February 2008, the Welshman was only able to lead his side to 17th place last season. A lack of improvement over the year and a sharp decline in form towards the end of this campaign has cost the former Fulham boss his job. For a side once regulars in the top flight, steps forward on the pitch are essential if Coventry are to improve on their disappointing last few seasons.
So there we have it. Of course there are other teams we could talk about but in this writer’s opinion, these are the stand out sides. Whatever division they find themselves in, there will be much work to do if they are to maintain their strong form, or indeed improve on a season to forget. Squads will need to be strengthened and so the transfer market will soon be fully operational again. Maybe it is not just the World Cup to look forward to this summer.