Championship Season Review – Reading, Rotherham, Sheff Wed, Wolves

Reading: 17th

It was clear that Reading underachieved badly in 2014-15, so manager Steve Clarke quickly set about building a squad that would make a bid for the play-offs at the very least. Some high profile loan signings arrived including Chelsea starlet Lucas Piazon and Benfica’s Ola John, but it did not spark a flying start as results early on proved tough to come by.

That was until the end of August, when something clicked and they were suddenly unplayable, wiping the floor with both Brentford and Ipswich Town in two hugely convincing victories before responding to a setback at home to Derby County by registering four further victories on the bounce to move up to the heady heights of second place.

During this run striker Nick Blackman was in imperious form in front of goal and sat among the Championship’s leading marksmen, but the team then lost its way completely to slip away dramatically from the promotion places to mid-table. That sequence of just one win in 10 spelt the end for Clarke, who was sacked to make way for the return of former boss Brian McDermott.

He got off to reasonable start to his second spell in charge but league form from then on was always too inconsistent for the team to even threaten to return to play-off contention, and this was not helped by the January departure of Blackman. It was again left to the FA Cup to provide consolation as they reached the quarter-finals before losing to Crystal Palace.

The season ended in extremely disappointing fashion as they lost six of their last seven outings to finish a below-par 17th. Towards the end of May McDermott was dismissed, emphasising the need for the Royals to regain the stability they had for many years while John Madejski was the owner.

Rotherham United: 21st

For the second season in a row Rotherham finish fourth from bottom and narrowly avoid slipping back down in League One, and this time it was largely down to the efforts of veteran campaigner Neil Warnock, who led the team to an incredible recovery in the final weeks to see them finish an eventual nine points clear of the drop zone.

Widely tipped for relegation at the beginning of the season due to the lack of a settled side and a reliance on loan players, the Millers showed few early signs of proving those predictions wrong in the as they picked up a paltry two points from their opening seven matches to sit rock bottom of the table, although successive wins over Cardiff City and Birmingham City did give them a temporary lift.

But shortly afterwards manager Steve Evans parted company with the club, who soon replaced him with former Leeds United boss Neil Redfearn. He endured a difficult start as they lost six out of seven games including a 5-2 home hammering by Ipswich Town, and things barely improved before the festive period, where they pulled off a surprise win over Hull City before seeing off Bolton Wanderers.

But it was the return match against Bolton in early February that was to account for Redfearn after just 21 games in charge as they suffered a 2-1 defeat which left them still in the bottom three. Enter Warnock and after one point from a possible nine to start, he guided the team through an incredible run which took in several gritty away wins and spirited showings, none more so than the one which saw them come from three goals down to draw with Derby County.

It was a run which lifted them well clear of the drop zone and provided a reminder of just how strong an operator Warnock can still be in the Championship. He left after the season came to an end, but has a lasting legacy at the club. He will be replaced by Alan Stubbs.

Sheffield Wednesday: 6th

The 16 years since Sheffield Wednesday last played in the Premier League have been difficult to say the least as before this season they had never threatened to make a return to the top table; even falling into League One on two occasions. But this time around the feel-good factor returned to Hillsborough as an impressive looking squad gathered momentum and came to within a whisker of promotion.

In early 2015 the club was taken over by a Chinese consortium led by entrepreneur Dejphon Chansiri, and in the summer he controversially dismissed manager Stuart Gray and replaced him journeyman Carlos Carvalhal, putting together a two-year plan to reach the Premier League and making some ambitious signings during the transfer window.

The season began with a routine win over Bristol City, followed by a run of no win in six. But it was during that sequence and the defeat at Burnley which really helped turn things around as a strong performance that day led to better things to come as a nine-match unbeaten run lifted them up into the play-off race.

During that time they also reached the quarter-finals of the Capital One Cup by taking Arsenal apart in eye-catching fashion, before losing to Stoke City. The league form remained encouraging thanks to the goalscoring exploits of Gary Hooper and the outstanding Fernando Forestieri, while in Atdhe Nuhiu and Lucas Joao they had two very capable strikers in reserve.

They entered 2016 a point outside the top six, but soon emerged as the leading candidates for the final play-off spot as a strong January and a four-game winning run from mid-March saw them clear of Cardiff City, who they beat on the penultimate weekend to secure a play-off semi-final with Brighton & Hove Albion.

A strong first leg display saw them take to two-goal to the South and they had to defend manfully to protect it as their opponents came out all guns blazing in the second leg. A Ross Wallace goal was enough to send them to Wembley, however, where unfortunately they came up short in the richest match in football, failing to produce their best football against Hull City side despite immense vocal support from the stands.

Wolverhampton Wanderers: 14th

After narrowly failing to make the play-offs following a storming finish to 2014-15, many tipped Wolves to be among the contenders for promotion this time around, but sadly it did not materialise. The main reason for this was the loss of key attacking players as Nouha Dicko was injured for much of the season while Bakary Sako and Benik Afobe were both poached by Premier League clubs.

As a result manager Kenny Jackett often had to field a team mainly comprised of youngsters, with the defence including the likes of academy products Kortney Hause and the speedy Dominic Iorfa. Typical of players in the early stages of their career, Wolves were dogged by inconsistency for many months and rarely ventured outside the middle third of the table.

The most concerning sequence of the first half of the season came in October as they conceded nine goals in three consecutive defeats as a run of six home games without victory began. They entered Christmas in 17th place, but then won four in a row to catapult themselves up to 10th and seven points off the top six, but were unable to make further inroads as a seven match winless run ensued.

From then on it was simply a tale of a smattering of wins up until the end of the season as they battled for a place in the top half. The young defence was coping well in the main, but as a team they struggled to find much penetration at the other end, a fact epitomised by four successive goalless draws at Molineux.

They did at least end with a win at home to Sheffield Wednesday, but it was a frustrating year all round as the team rarely gave supporters much to be excited about. Attacking reinforcements are needed, as well as better luck with injuries.

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