Championship Season Review – Charlton, Derby, Fulham, Huddersfield

Charlton Athletic: 22nd (relegated)

A season which began in encouraging fashion soon became one to forget as Charlton descended into turmoil, suffering relegation to the third tier after four seasons back in the Championship. It was never in doubt once the downward spiral began, with results on the pitch eventually marred by the sheer weight of protests towards the club’s Belgian owners.

After a mid-table finish in 2015 there was optimism around in South London and that was enhanced by an opening day victory over Queens Park Rangers. Further positive results followed and the team was playing with confidence, but they were soon to go on the most alarming of slides, from which they would not recover.

The defeat at Wolverhampton Wanderers at the end of August appeared to be just a blip, but instead it set off a chain reaction which led to a run of 10 defeats in 12 games in all competitions, in the midst of which manager Guy Luzon was sacked. The goals were flying past them as they were getting beaten in an increasingly comprehensive manner and threatening to end up becoming cast adrift in the drop zone.

Karel Fraeye replaced Luzon and it did instigate a run of improved performances, but results did not improve enough as he only lasted 14 matches; sacked following a 5-0 loss at Huddersfield Town. Just days later they were hit for six, as Jose Riga returned to the club to attempt another rescue act.

Riga may have kept the club up in 2014, but this was a near impossible task and so it proved. Wins were sporadic but the prospect of relegation soon became inevitable, so much of the attention was on the protests that seemed to engulf each home outing. The supporters are caught in a serious state of disillusionment, which will only be healed by the removal of owner Rolan Duchatlet.

Derby County: 5th

After suffering a dramatic collapse out of promotion or even play-off contention during the final weeks of the 2014-15, Derby felt it was time for a fresh start. Many of the squad was retained and indeed added to by the impressive looking signings of Jacob Butterfield, Bradley Johnson and Andreas Weimann, but the new face in the dugout brought an air of mysterious anticipation.

Paul Clement had worked alongside some of the world’s top managers at a couple of leading clubs, but this was his first leading role. Initially it proved difficult to find a winning formula as a succession of draws was followed by a home reverse to Leeds United, which put him under some early pressure.

But eventually results began to arrive and the Rams soon surged up the table as victory at Preston North End after the first international break of the season sparked a run of 10 games without defeat, eight of which were wins, lifting them to a position where they were just one point off the top of the league.

The strong form continued up until the turn of the year, where defeat at fellow promotion hopefuls Middlesbrough began a dip in results which led to the sacking of Clement. Viewed as exceptionally harsh, the manager was apparently relieved of his duties due to veering away from the club’s preferred style of football.

Coach Darren Wassall took over until the end of the season and saw them comfortably finish in a play-off place with the help of four straight wins in April. They faced a Hull City side that they had already twice beaten handsomely, but a desperately poor showing in the first leg was to prove costly, as a resurgence in the return match at the KC Stadium proved in vain. Promotion thus eluded them again, so they will be extra determined next time around to regain top-flight status.

Fulham: 20th

After enduring a difficult first season after relegation from the Premier League, 2015-16 was when Fulham were meant to surge into at the very least play-off contention. Some encouraging signings were made and the side contained arguably the best strike partnership in the division, but yet again a lack of defensive cohesion sent them plunging into a battle against the drop.

No wins in the first four games set the tone as they struggled for consistency early on, but a brief upturn saw them showcase the kind of football they are capable of producing when at their best. A 4-0 thrashing of London rivals Queens Park Rangers was reward for a scintillating performance as emerging youngster Moussa Dembele and seasoned Championship finisher Ross McCormack filled their boots.

November began with eight goals conceded in two straight defeats, leaving them in 12th place. Manager Kit Symons lost his job afterwards after failing to establish the club as a serious force in the Championship, but the decision to do so did not lead to a recovery. Instead they went a further seven games without victory, plummeting down the table in the process.

It took 49 days after Symons’ departure for former Watford boss Slavisa Jokanovic to be appointed as his successor and he got off to a good start as Rotherham United were beaten 4-1 at Craven Cottage. From then on wins were hard to come by as their excellent attacking prowess was constantly undermined by failings at the other end, meaning that the club was just one point clear of danger by the end of March.

But just when they needed it most, Fulham found three successive wins at the beginning of April, averting any danger of tumbling into the third tier. They could now see out the season with reasonable comfort, but Jokanovic cut a frustrated figure as he accused his side of being a ‘soft touch’. He will make changes into the summer in order to ensure that Shahid Khan’s so-far joyless reign as owner does not continue in the same manner.

Huddersfield Town: 19th

Since being promoted from League One in 2012 each season has followed a similar pattern for Huddersfield – they part company with a manager and eventually manage to stay up despite flirting with danger. This time around it was no different as Chris Powell bit the dust before charismatic German David Wagner took over and led them to safety.

After failing to come out on top in a series of tight encounters to begin, a first win was achieved at the seventh time of asking as they got the better of Charlton Athletic. A handsome success the following weekend against Bolton Wanderers suggested that the West Yorkshire club was on the up, but an ensuing run of just one win in seven spelt the end for Powell as they lay narrowly above the drop zone.

The appointment of Wagner was a calculated risk from chairman Dean Hoyle, but after an initial struggle as it began to pay off as a reasonable December was followed by a positive start to the New Year as doubles were completed over Bolton and Charlton. Away performances were especially strong, but the Terriers lacked the consistency to really threaten to move clear of the lower reaches of the table.

The possibility of relegation was never a serious concern and they were all but safe after coming from behind to trounce local rivals Leeds United at Elland Road. From then on there was relatively little to cheer as the only three-point haul during the final eight games came at Blackburn Rovers; part of a four-game unbeaten sequence.

The season ended with two heavy defeats, but there is plenty to build on for the future as the club look to climb up the Championship pecking order. The squad that Wagner has at his disposal is relatively youthful and lacking a regular goalscorer, so there is plenty for him to address during the transfer window.

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