Championship season review – Rotherham, Sheff Wed, Wigan, Wolves

Rotherham United: 24th (relegated)

It is difficult to know where to start with Rotherham. This was simply a season to forget; one which saw the club relegated pretty much before it had even begun. Not for many a year has a side finished with so few points, as a squad packed full of journeymen and loan players found itself truly incapable of competing at Championship level.

Having pulled off a magnificent escape from the drop in 2015-16, the following summer was actually sprinkled with hints of optimism, with Alan Stubbs having been appointed as the club’s new manager. It was the former Bolton Wanderers and Everton defender’s first such role in English football, but had just led second tier Hibernian to success in the Scottish Cup.

Initially, performances in general were not catastrophic, but there were two recurring themes which undermined their progress. One was their sheer inability to collect any points on their travels, and the other was a shocking defensive record, something that remained fairly constant as the season continued the defeats continued to mount.

After just one win as six points were taken from their opening 13 league matches, Stubbs was sacked and replaced by the experienced Kenny Jackett. This looked like a steadying appointment, but his tenure lasted just a matter of weeks as he resigned in late November after just one point from his mere five games in charge.

Coach and former Millers player Paul Warne was named caretaker, and would remain so until the end of the season, where despite continued poor results, would be given the job on a permanent basis. And it was truly grim; every victory felt like gold dust as the team just appeared totally out of its depth, eventually racking up 33 losses and only five wins as they finished bottom of the pile by a massive 19 points.

Sheffield Wednesday: 4th

Having come within 90 minutes of returning to the top-flight in 2015-16, Sheffield Wednesday kicked off the new season leaving nobody in any doubt as to their ambition. Owner Delphon Chansiri pushed the boat out in his tireless bid for the top-flight by financing a flurry a big-name summer signings, including strikers Steven Fletcher and Gary Hooper, and midfielder Almen Abdi.

They also managed to convince star man Fernando Forestieri to stay after he appeared to have his sights set elsewhere, but for all of that, performances during the early weeks were inconsistent to say the least. Just one win from the first five matches cast doubt over the level of unity within the squad, but results began to improve in September, which included an astonishing comeback to beat Bristol City.

More often than not they found themselves occupying the final play-off spot, but could not match the consistency of the sides above them and so were made to look over their shoulders. It took until after the turn of the year for the Owls to establish any breathing room, with four wins in five giving them a five-point lead over seventh place.

Four wins in a row during February saw the gap increase to seven points, and a play-off place was now beginning to look like a certainty, but a sudden dip in form which comprised of one win in seven outings, left them vulnerable to being caught by resurgent Fulham, who eventually displaced them in sixth.

But by now, more than one play-off spot was up for grabs and Carlos Carvalhal’s side found the winning form they were after by stringing together six successive victories, lifting them to an impressive fourth position, ensuring a match-up with Yorkshire rivals Huddersfield Town in the play-offs.

They had done the double over the Terriers during the regular season, but both matches here were closely fought, and it was all square at 1-1 after extra time in the second leg. That meant a penalty shootout, and Wednesday came unstuck in cruel fashion to leave them still waiting to get back to the promised land.

Wigan Athletic: 23rd (relegated)

Hopes were high at Wigan after young manager Gary Caldwell had guided them solidly to the League One title in 2015-16 to secure an immediate return to the Championship, but they failed to make the most of the opportunity as a goal-shy squad went straight back down with barely a whimper despite a radical winter overhaul.

This is a completely different and more frugal club now, than the one that competed in the Premier League for eight years and went on to win the FA Cup in 2013, as significant budget cuts have left them attempting to compete with the lesser lights of the second tier, but the workmanlike squad that helped them to promotion from League One were always up against it when attempting to prove their ability in the Championship.

Will Grigg was full of goals in 2015-16, but found the going extremely tough in his first season at the higher level, as indeed did all of his teammates, as the team managed to find the net just 40 times altogether in a campaign which included numerous home blanks.

Manager Caldwell cut a frustrated figure in the early weeks as the Latics performed below expectations and constantly failed to trouble opposing defences. Just two wins had been achieved by the time he was sacked in late October with the club second bottom.

The club took a gamble by replacing him with former Manchester United academy boss Warren Joyce, but if anything, things got even worse as despite wins over Cardiff City and Huddersfield Town, a regular flow of poor results left relegation seeming an increasingly likely prospect.

A slight improvement in the New Year did give them slight hope of escaping their predicament, but defeat to fellow strugglers Bristol City on March 11 rather killed off any lingering hope of survival, and spelt the end for Joyce. Long-standing assistant manager Graham Barrow took caretaker charge for the remaining matches, but defeat at Reading on the penultimate weekend sealed their fate.

Wolverhampton Wanderers: 15th

It was a summer of change at Wolves ahead of the 2016-17 season. New owners arrived in the shape of Chinese consortium Fosun, and almost immediately they took the decision to replace manager Kenny Jackett. Their choice of successor came as a surprise, with journeyman Argentine Walter Zenga taking the reins as several players were hurriedly signed before the action began.

Among them were Portuguese attacking duo Ivan Cavaleiro and Helder Costa, both brought in with the help of leading agent Jorge Mendes. Costa was brought in initially on loan from Benfica, but made such an impression with his pace and trickery that the deal was made permanent in January for a club record £13m.

Things began fairly positively for Zenga as impressive wins were gained against Reading, Birmingham City and Newcastle United, but inconsistency prevented them from seriously troubling the leading pack, and their form was to tail off dramatically from late September after conceding a late goal to lose at Wigan Athletic.

After only one point had been taken over a five-game period, Zenga was harshly sacked after barely three months in charge, and replaced by Paul Lambert. The Scot was not able to turn things around overnight, but having fallen to a position where they were above the relegation zone on goal difference alone, victory at Queens Park Rangers began an improve sequence of results through December.

The promise continued in January as some fine away form took hold, as FA Cup triumphs at Premier League duo Stoke City and Liverpool added to the optimism that the club could just be undergoing a tremendous rise into the top half.

Instead, the opposite happened, as five defeats in a row were suffered from the beginning of February, plunging them back into relegation danger. They now needed to regain some inspiration from somewhere, and it came in the shape of four successive wins, which despite patchy form in the closing weeks, guided them to ultimately comfortable safety.

Despite that, Lambert would leave in the summer due to a supposed disagreement over transfer policy, as had been the case for him at Blackburn Rovers the previous year. He has been replaced by Portuguese former goalkeeper Nuno Santo.

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