Championship Season Review – Hull, Ipswich, Leeds, Middlesbrough

Hull City: 4th (promoted via play-offs)

Manager Steve Bruce offered to resign after failing to keep Hull in the Premier League in 2015, but the club managed to convince him to stay on. That persuasion eventually paid off as the club returned to the top-flight at the first attempt by coming out on top in the play-offs.

They were in the mix all season as a strong start immediately had them among the promotion contenders. The only early blemishes came in away defeats to Charlton Athletic and fellow pace setters Brighton & Hove Albion, before a brilliant succession of five victories without conceding a goal from mid-October sent them to the top of the league.

The last of wins came convincingly at home to another one of their promotion rivals in Middlesbrough, but after the international break came a dip in form which lasted right up until the turn of year, including defeats to Derby County, Leeds United, Rotherham United and Preston North End.

As such they began 2016 in third place having played a game more than the two sides above them, but January would be a perfect month as six straight wins were recorded in all competitions; among them a 6-0 thumping of Charlton where leading scorer Abel Hernandez netted a first half hat-trick.

The following month was solid, but from the beginning of March onwards winning games became a major struggle as collectively the team lost their way. Away results were especially dire as they lost late on at Middlesbrough, were hammered by Derby and were also beaten at bottom club Bolton Wanderers. As a result they fell totally out of the race for automatic promotion and were resigned to a play-off place.

A semi-final clash with Derby was on the cards for several weeks before they met in the first leg, and the Tigers produced a timely display of excellence to win 3-0 at the iPro Stadium, and although they diced with danger and lost 2-0 in the return match, a place in the final was secured.

They faced a Sheffield Wednesday side that had ended the season in superb form, but had the better of them for long periods and deservedly found the winner through Mohamed Diame, sending them back to the Premier League.

Ipswich Town: 7th

A team that can always be relied upon to be competitive and determined to eke out results when the tide is against them, Ipswich now exist on the borderline between reaching the Championship play-offs and just narrowly missing out. This year it proved to be the latter, as they were made to pay for a poor second half to the season.

They began strongly by winning three of their first four matches including an impressive success over Burnley, but then came a run of just one victory in 11 in all competitions, with goals proving difficult to come by as striker Daryl Murphy was proving unable to replicate his goalscoring exploits of last term while David McGoldrick was sidelined by injury.

It took until November to them to rediscover their form as an excellent sequence of results which included a number of away wins meant that they entered 2016 in the top six, holding a four-point advantage over nearest challengers Sheffield Wednesday.

But the Owls were about to go full steam ahead and propel themselves into a play-off place while Ipswich stalled, stuttering through an inconsistent patch which persisted pretty much until the end of the season. After victory over Blackburn Rovers on March 15 they were only one point off the pace, but an ensuing run of no wins in seven would prove fatal to their chances.

Two straight victories to finish ensured seventh place, ensuring that the club’s spell outside the Premier League will be extended to a 15th season. There is some frustration around at that, but given the budget and resources he has to work with, Mick McCarthy has done an outstanding job to have lifted them this far up the standings. One wonders if he can take them any further.

Leeds United: 13th

One day all the talk and focus surrounding Leeds will be about the team again, rather than affairs at boardroom and management level, but with Massimo Cellino still in place as the owner and protests against him rife in the stands 2015-16 proved to be another year of torment. However, the collective effort of managers Uwe Rosler and Steve Evans helped them finish in a reasonably respectable mid-table position.

Whenever a manager is appointed by Cellino he is immediately under pressure to pick up positive results, but as it turned out Rosler only lasted 11 games. He started with a succession of draws before they achieved their first win with a late Chris Wood goal at Derby County, but a run of four defeats from five saw the German lose his job with the club in 18th place.

A divisive character throughout his career, Evans was soon appointed in recognition of the impressive job he had done at Rotherham United, and after a slow start results gradually began to pick up as they went unbeaten through a December that comprised wins over Hull City, Wolverhampton Wanderers and Preston North End.

There was never any real chance of being dragged into a relegation battle as a result, but a top half finish was the best they could hope for. February was a dismal month which culminated in an awful night at Brighton & Hove Albion, but they fought back strongly with three successive wins and they repeated the trick in mid-April as the Whites reached 11th before taking two points from the final three games.

Despite a decent record during his tenure, Evans was set to leave as Cellino had his mind set on changing the manager again. After failing in his public pursuit of two targets, he eventually opted for former Swansea City boss Garry Monk.

Middlesbrough: 2nd (promoted)

There was a steely determination about Aitor Karanka as he led his side into another season in the Championship nearly three months after watching his side flounder in the 2015 play-off final as they produced an insipid display against Norwich City.

The squad remained largely the same, but there was more of an emphasis placed on goalscoring as defensively they were already the best team in the division. Striker David Nugent was signed from Leicester City with great Championship pedigree, while Boro looked slightly further afield to bring in Uruguay international Cristhian Stuani, who from midfield would go on to be their leading scorer.

With the exception of a surprise home defeat to Bristol City, they made a near-perfect start as a run of five straight wins gave them a healthy cushion in the automatic promotion places. A short blip at the beginning of October was overcome as they powered through all the way until mid-January; a storming run that took in a four-match winning streak over fellow hopefuls Burnley, Brighton & Hove Albion, Sheffield Wednesday and Derby County, all without conceding a goal.

It seemed like they already had one foot in the Premier League as with 55 points they held a sizeable gap over third place, but a sudden slump in form allowed rivals to close the gap. Amid all of that Jordam Rhodes was signed to add even more of a goal threat, but the uncertain form continued into March where the future of Karanka was cast into considerable doubt.

A falling out with some members of the squad meant that he was not in the dugout for the defeat at Charlton Athletic, but eventually everything healed itself and Boro lifted themselves back up into a position of strength with six straight wins. With it now being a three-way battle for a place in the top two things became highly intense, as three draws meant that they went into the final day decider with Brighton level on points with their opponents but crucially with a superior goal difference.

Stuani gave them the lead to settle the nerves, but chances for a second came and went as Brighton found a second half equaliser. The Riverside Stadium was anxious but they managed to hold out to provoke a pitch invasion fuelled by relief, as Middlesbrough moved back into the top-flight for the first time since 2009.

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