At the beginning of the season if anybody had said that Wolves, Aston Villa, Fulham, Derby County and Middlesbrough would fill five of the top six places in the Championship in few would have been surprised.
At the beginning of the season if anybody had said that Wolves, Aston Villa, Fulham, Derby County and Middlesbrough would fill five of the top six places in the Championship in few would have been surprised. No doubt Wednesday fans would have fancied their team’s chances of infiltrating that group, and maybe Reading, Norwich, Leeds, Ipswich and QPR and Cardiff too. All of them established Championship teams backed by super-rich owners or those not long out of the Premier League bloated by parachute payments.
Of those in the margins, only Cardiff City have lasted the pace. Their super-rich owner Vincent Tan has at last seen the light, restoring the club’s colours and acknowledging that spending a lot of money on average players doesn’t always work. More importantly, he finally appointed a battle-hardened manager who knows his stuff in this division. Like him or loathe him, nobody can deny that Neil Warnock has got the knack.
Meanwhile, last season’s play-off finalists Reading have blobbed, Wednesday have imploded hilariously, and Leeds are their usual ridiculous selves, happy living under the delusion that they have a divine right to win the Championship, the Premier League and the Champions’ League in consecutive seasons. Ipswich, Norwich and QPR are uninspiring inconsistency personified.
Not many would have expected Sheffield United, Bristol City and Preston to mount a challenge and all three look as though they will just fall short but, still, each of them can look at the season as an overall success. At the other end of the table, it’s good to see perennial relegation favourites Barnsley fighting their corner, hopefully successfully. Burton too, but they will probably not quite make it. Pity, because Cloughie is a top bloke and a good manager. I hope they keep him even if they do go down. Bolton, seemingly stranded after a dozen games, also have a great chance of staying up thanks to another good manager. It’s also fun to see Sunderland, Hull and Birmingham City struggling, all clubs, like Leeds, who fantasise that they should have a permanent seat at the top table.
Finally, a word about two clubs who will go neither up nor down. Dean Smith has done a great job at Brentford, a small club that makes the most of its relatively meagre resources. Millwall have also overachieved, securing safety long before the end of the season. They are in a way a bit like United; a ‘proper’ club with mainly working-class supporters and a former player and lifelong fan as their manager. Last weekend Neil Harris made a comment that could equally apply to United. Paraphrasing, he said that there are many clubs in the Championship that need to make the play-offs. Millwall don’t, he said, and they were just having fun being here. We’ve had fun too, no matter where United finish up.