Championship season review: Ipswich, Leeds, Middlesbrough, Millwall

Ipswich Town: 6th

A hardworking and industrious side, but few expected Ipswich to significantly improve on their 2014 placing of ninth, particularly as they did not make many summer signings while some of their rivals looked better equipped.

However, in Mick McCarthy they have a manager used to achieving success in the Championship, and for a number of months he raised great hopes among those in Suffolk that the Tractor Boys were in line for a return to the top-flight after some 13 years away.

After an inconsistent August, they stepped up a few gears after the first international break and four consecutive wins began a sensational run of just one defeat in 19 games, which included victories over fellow promotion hopefuls Watford, Middlesbrough and Brentford.

That had them right in the hunt for an automatic spot, but it was much more of a challenge after the turn of the year as intensity levels dropped slightly and games were lost on a more regular basis. As a result, they fell off the pace somewhat and ended up scrambling for a play-off place, which they gained in nervous fashion despite a final day defeat at Blackburn Rovers.

Local rivals Norwich City had proved a thorn in their side in the regular season, and it proved no different in the play-offs, as the sending off of defender Christophe Berra cost them dear in a 3-1 second leg defeat.

That was a sour end to an outstanding individual season for Berra, while striker Daryl Murphy had by far his best season in front of goal, finishing as the division’s top scorer with 27.

Leeds United: 15th

Even before Massimo Cellino’s takeover of Leeds went through, matters off the pitch were more than a little eventful at Elland Road, so when the Italian did eventually assume control, it was unlikely to be a long wait before the predicted fireworks arrived.

Appointing the unheralded Dave Hockaday as manager raised eyebrows across the country as well as just in West Yorkshire. All eyes were on the Forest Green Rovers boss, and as results were not ideal from the start, he only lasted five games before academy coach Neil Redfearn took caretaker charge and led the Whites on a run of only one loss from six games.

That was not enough for him to earn the job on a full-time basis, as Cellino appointed Darko Milanic in October. He too, lasted just a handful of games before being sacked as the club looked to be descending into turmoil once again as supporters held demonstrations against the owner.

Redfearn took over the reins again and held them until the end of the season, which Cellino was unable to see out as he reluctantly served a ban handed out by the Football League. The club managed to keep themselves in mid-table and clear of danger after improving following the turn of the year. Stability is what the fans want, but with Cellino now back at the helm, that seems a tall order.

Middlesbrough: 4th

Former Real Madrid assistant boss Aitor Karanka had already made steady progress on Teeside as he began his first full season in charge of Middlesbrough. They certainly had a solid defensive foundation on which to build, and the addition of strikers Kike and the on-loan Patrick Bamford gave them more of a cutting edge in attack.

Three defeats in the opening five games belied their obvious quality, and once they returned from the international break in September, Boro were hard to stop, rising into the promotion shake-up and staying in what was a highly competitive race to reach the Premier League for the remainder of the season.

By December they had hit top form, taking Millwall apart at The Den before outclassing promotion rivals Derby County in a virtuoso home performance. Despite a blip the following week at Ipswich, the run showed no signs of coming to an end and they were even winning away to Manchester City in the FA Cup in January.

In the final months they were not quite as convincing, but often saved their best for the big games as they won at Derby and Norwich. As the race for automatic promotion looked set to go down to the wire, a couple of defeats were to cost them as they fell short and had to be content with a play-off place despite having the Championship’s best defence by some distance.

And they fell at the final hurdle in their attempts to return to the Premier League. After comfortably beating Brentford in the semi-finals, they simply did not turn up as they lost Norwich in the play-off final at Wembley, conceding twice in the opening 15 minutes.

Millwall: 22nd

Ian Holloway had inspired Millwall to a dramatic escape from relegation in 2014 thanks to a long unbeaten run, and that form looked set to continue this season as they won three of their first five league matches.

But from then on, form was utterly disastrous as they plummeted down the table and within a matter weeks looked serious candidates for the dreaded drop. Single-goal wins over Cardiff City and Brighton & Hove Albion were their only three-point hauls between the end of August and the end of January; a period where they suffered drubbings at the hands of promotion chasing duo Middlesbrough and Norwich City.

The ineptitude of some of their fellow strugglers meant the Lions were not cast adrift, but defeat to Rotherham United on February 28 proved pivotal in their battle to stay up. Two more losses later and the club’s patience with Holloway had run out, and he was replaced by playing legend Neil Harris.

Club record goalscorer Harris inspired a marked improvement in performance levels, but a failure to see games out and keep clean sheets meant that their situation became irretrievable, and Millwall found themselves sliding into League One, five seasons since being promoted. Harris was eventually given the job on a permanent basis, and soon passed a damning verdict on his squad by releasing 20 players.


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