Championship season review – Brentford, Brighton & HA, Bristol City, Burton

Brentford: 10th

Although there were never any seriously realistic hopes of reaching the play-offs, or any concern about possibly being drawn into a relegation scrap, it was far from a dull season from Brentford. The reflection of stability, a young side full of technically gifted individuals proved as entertaining as they were inconsistent, in the process doing enough to suggest that promising times lie ahead.

One thing that was fairly constant throughout was their strong home form, only dropping two points from their first five outings at Griffin Park in a run which set the tone for a season spent largely in mid-table. Striker Scott Hogan was making up for lost time after spending the vast majority of 2015-16 sidelined by injury, establishing himself as one of the Championship’s leading marksmen.

The positive vibe that was felt during the early weeks began to ebb away during a four-match losing run from the beginning of November, culminating in a 5-0 defeat at Norwich City which left them in 19th place. However, that was as bad as things got, and Dean Smith’s side were able to regain solid, if unspectacular form in the weeks that followed.

January provided a serious test, as Hogan left to join Aston Villa. Yet if anything, the response that ensued made them a stronger team. Talented Spanish winger Jota was recalled from a loan spell, and went on to play a massive part during a fine finish to the season.

Together with youngster Sergi Canos and the hardworking Lasse Vibe, he formed a potent front three which served as the focal point for a highly attractive and free-flowing style of football which brought rich rewards and plenty of goals in the closing weeks, with five wins and two draws from the last nine games ensuring another top 10 finish.

Brighton & HA: 2nd (promoted)

After the bitter disappointment of missing out on automatic promotion with a massive 89 points and then losing out in the play-offs, 2016-17 was a major test of character for Brighton. Many wondered whether they could go again and reproduce the same high standards that saw them go so close last time around, but thanks to shrewd and level-headed guidance of Chris Hughton, they passed the test in fine style.

Much of their success was based on an imperious home record that saw them lose just three times on their own turf all season, and their uncanny knack of winning close games thanks to supremely clinical finishing. Added to that was their frightening level of consistency and strong team spirit, as well as the contribution of key individuals.

Anthony Knockaert was a constant menace to opponents on the right flank, producing a series of top-drawer performances to deservedly win the Championship’s Player of the Year award. Elsewhere, Glenn Murray cemented his reputation as a goal machine, and the understated midfield displays of Dale Stephens drove them forward.

A strong start clearly showed that the past had been laid to rest, and although defeats came at the hands of Newcastle United and Brentford, a succession of wins and clean sheets saw them move into the automatic promotion places by late October.

From then on, the Seagulls worked themselves into a very strong position, and together with Newcastle built a hefty lead over the chasing pack. Four successive victories to end 2016 sent them flying to the top, in doing so creating an eight-point cushion over third place.

A disappointing FA Cup exit to non-league Lincoln City and a tough start to February suggested that cracks may just have been beginning to appear, but as ever the response was exemplary and a 3-0 triumph over Derby County in March had them looking set to clinch automatic promotion.

Another run of four straight wins to begin April saw them move on to the brink of a return to the top-flight for the first time since 1983, and the title also seemed in their grasp. Success over relegation-bound Wigan Athletic on Easter Monday sealed their success which had seemed inevitable for many weeks, ensuring jubilation on the South coast despite eventually missing out on the Championship title.

Bristol City: 17th

A season which began with positive vibes became a roller-coaster ride after a potential play-off bid faded dramatically into a relegation battle, only for results to improve in the closing weeks, allowing Bristol City to ensure a repeat of the 17th-placed finish they managed in 2015-16.

Their strong finish to that season under promising young manager Lee Johnson, along with some exciting summer acquisitions, made the Robins appear to be dark horses this time around. The opening weeks certainly reflected that, with on-loan Chelsea striker Tammy Abraham immediately taking to life in the Championship, and Jonathan Kodjia carrying on from where he left off before the summer.

Kodjia left for Aston Villa in a £13m transfer on deadline day, but initially the squad managed to cope well as a series of solid home results and a three-match winning run going into the October international break had them in fifth place. The atmosphere around Ashton Gate was one of excitement at what could be achievement, but such heights became a distant memory during a horrific winter.

From the beginning of November, Bristol City lost 11 out of 12 Championship games, in doing so plunging from a comfortable top half position to one that left them just above the drop zone. Some of the defeats they suffered were miraculous, throwing away leads against Reading and Cardiff City as confidence drained rapidly.

Things barely improved during February as the club slipped into the bottom three, but despite severe disquiet among supporters Johnson retained the faith of chairman Steve Lansdown, and that eventually paid off. A run of four consecutive home wins came just at the right time, guiding them clear of danger, but they will hope to sustain a challenge higher up the league in 2017-18.

Burton Albion: 20th

As recently as 2009, Burton Albion won the Blue Square Premier title to obtain Football League status for the first time in their history. After six years of competing in League Two, they embarked on the tremendous foray of gaining two successive promotions to reach the Championship.

Given the size of the club, and its relatively modest finances, this was a magnificent achievement, but staying in the second tier would be something else altogether. Manager Nigel Clough embraced the challenge by opting for an attack-minded approach, and despite two narrow defeats to begin, they immediately appeared competitive and never looked out of place at the higher level.

It was also clear in the early weeks that the home form would be critical towards avoiding the drop, with wins coming against Sheffield Wednesday and Derby County before the end of August. Results over the ensuing months were patchy, but crucially the Brewers were able to keep their heads above the water without managing to string together a sequence of results that would lift them completely out of danger.

Four successive defeats in December raised the first serious concerns, but 2016 ended with the long-awaited first away victory of the season at lowly Rotherham United. Three more losses came following the turn of the year and they finally slipped into the bottom three after conceding a late goal to Cardiff City, although that was the cue for their fighting spirit to kick in.

The strong home form was rejuvenated in February, as they fought their way out of immediate danger. Although wary of resurgences from several of their rivals, wins in April over high-flying Huddersfield Town and Leeds United in April moved them on to the cusp of safety, which was sealed with a week to spare with a draw at Barnsley.

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