Championship season review: Sheff Wed, Watford, Wigan, Wolves

Sheffield Wednesday: 13th

This was a season that saw Sheffield Wednesday make strong progress both on and off the pitch, as they performed solidly throughout to achieve a comfortable mid-table finish, while owner Milan Mandaric handed over the reins to ambitious Thai businessman Dejphon Chansiri.

Stuart Gray had earned the manager’s job on a permanent basis after guiding the Owls clear from a precarious position in 2013-14, and they looked a force to be reckoned with early on, winning at Brighton & Hove Albion, more than playing their part in a highly entertaining draw at Derby County and then producing a magnificent display to triumph at Middlesbrough.

They continued to go well into September until finding themselves on the end of a 7-0 thrashing by Manchester City in the Capital One Cup. That seriously affected their league form as the South Yorkshire side slid away from the play-off picture, failing to win in 11 games until Wigan Athletic were beaten in late November.

From then until the end of the season it was simply a case of remaining in mid-table with the top six out of reach and the prospect of falling into a relegation battle always highly unlikely. There was the occasional outstanding performance, but too often they would disappoint when more was expected of them.

For next season, their consistency must improve as well as their goalscoring, as Wednesday were among the lowest scorers in the Championship this time around.

Watford: 2nd

Popular theory suggests that a club should not achieve promotion or experience any significant success if they change manager three times in a season, but Watford are proof that this can happen. Giuseppe Sannino had overseen a strong end to the previous season and an excellent summer recruitment drive had them among the contenders early on.

Matej Vydra returned to the club on a season-long loan, joining fellow striker Odion Ighalo, attacking right-back Juan Carlos Paredes and veteran goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes among others. They made a strong start and looked promotion material, but rumours of dressing room unrest led to Sannino’s abrupt resignation.

Former Brighton boss Oscar Garcia took his place, but illness ended his tenure within weeks, while his successor Billy McKinlay lasted even less time as former Chelsea player Slavisa Jokanovic was chosen by the Italian owners to lead the Hornets’ charge.

For all of that instability, form was never seriously affected and Jokanovic was able to get the best out of loanee Adlene Guedioura, imperious striker Troy Deeney and Ighalo, who became increasingly prolific as the season wore on.

A superb record against teams in the bottom half had a major part to play in their success as the automatic promotion race intensified towards the end, but they held it together when it mattered and secured a return to the Premier League with a week to spare. Despite that, Jokanovic looks unlikely to stay.

Wigan Athletic: 23rd

Just two years after winning the FA Cup as a Premier League club, Wigan are now back to square one after an abysmal season which saw a talented squad fail to produce week after week, and off-field controversy.

Manager Uwe Rosler looked set to build on the play-off disappointment of 2014, but for whatever reason they just never got started all season. The two home wins they achieved at the end of August were a rarity, as they laboured in all departments during a succession of performances that suggested that they were far from promotion contenders.

A puzzled Rosler held talks with every member of his squad to try and end the slump, but to little effect and the club – lying in the bottom three – was left with little option but to part company with the German in November. The big shock came with the news that Malky Mackay was appointed as his successor as the Scot was still facing discrimination charges.

Subsequent comments from owner Dave Whelan – who later handed over the reins to his grandson – added to the Latics’ problems, and Mackay was unable to turn things around on the pitch despite overhauling the squad in January.

There were some good away results, but not enough to give them a real chance of survival, and Mackay was sacked with relegation looking inevitable after failing to win a home fixture. Former player Gary Caldwell was able to end that embarrassing run after he was appointed, but could not prevent relegation after what was a year to forget.

Wolverhampton Wanderers: 7th

Having stormed to promotion from League One after a accumulating over 100 points and finishing as top scorers, Wolves appeared capable of building on that momentum and launching an assault towards reaching the Premier League again after three years away.

Many of the players were retained including star winger Bakary Sako, and he along with Nouha Dicko provided most of their attacking threat. And they made a strong start, achieving home wins over Norwich City, Cardiff City and Blackburn Rovers to occupy a play-off place; remaining in the mix until November.

Then suddenly Wolves hit the rocks. A narrow defeat at Ipswich Town was followed by a horrendous run where they conceded 12 goals without reply in losing the following three games. It harmed confidence as well as their goal difference, but the calming influence of manager Kenny Jackett helped them regain composure over the festive period.

For all of their good play, Wolves were clearly lacking a physical presence in attack, something which was resolved by Jackett in January with the signing of Benik Afobe from Arsenal, who hit the ground running in amazing fashion, continuing the blistering form of his loan spell at Milton Keynes Dons in the first half of the season.

Afobe helped to get the best out of Dicko and the goals flowed as they raced back into play-off contention with a succession of victories. It was an intense battle to reach the top six, but costly defeats at Birmingham City and Middlesbrough in April saw them just fall short. However, they will be a force to be reckoned with next term.

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