Six reasons why this Championship season has been worse than last year
The overall impression from many seasoned Championship watchers is that this has not been a vintage year for the second tier. Reading are worthy champions and their extraordinary run has been something to behold, but the remarkable has been few and far between this term in comparison with the 2010/11 campaign. Here are six reasons why.
The headline reason is the average number of goals scored per game in the Championship, which has dropped from 2.74 in 2010/11 to 2.57 this time around. With one full round of matches plus tonight’s meeting between Leicester City and West Ham United yet to come, it seems highly unlikely that this season’s total number of goals (currently 1383) will get anywhere near the final tally last time around (1510).
In truth, that was an unusually high average – the 2002/03 season is the only one to contain more goals (1512) since 1989/90’s total of 1526 – so perhaps there was a lot to live up to. There have also been half as many games with at least six goals – 19 this term as opposed to 38 during 2010/11. It probably hasn’t helped that the Premier League’s most hyperbolic games have produced an unusually high number of goals, a timely example of which came yesterday with Manchester United and Everton’s 4-4 draw.
Last season saw a number of high-profile over-30s head to the Championship – Edgar Davids, David James and Craig Bellamy all pitched up in the division but all three disappointed to differing degrees. We’ve seen the same again with less of a fanfare – Vicente has dazzled when available in an injury-hit spell at Brighton and John Carew’s impact at West Ham has been non-existent. Vicente is a player who could have ignited wider interest had he not succumbed to injury for long periods and, although fans of the Seagulls and Eagles will baulk at this comparison, the same is true of the promising Crystal Palace youngster Jonathan Williams. They are both players who could have roused the national media’s interest if they had remained fit for longer.
Meanwhile, we saw two familiar sights in the Premier League on Saturday. Loftus Road rose to acclaim a long-range goal by Adel Taarabt just hours after Scott Sinclair weaved his way infield from the left wing and drove the ball high into the net for Swansea City. All that was missing was a jinking run and assist from Wes Hoolahan at Ewood Park. Two of the key creative players of the 2010/11 Championship season were doing the business in the top flight this weekend. So who have been their successors during the current campaign in the second tier?
At Championship level, both 2009/10 and 2010/11 were dominated by central midfielders playing in advanced role behind the attack – the former in the shape of goalscorers such as Kevin Nolan, then of Newcastle, Graham Dorrans at West Bromwich Albion and Charlie Adam during his time at Blackpool; the latter through Taarabt and Hoolahan for the two automatically-promoted clubs. This role has been conspicuous by its absence at the leading Championship clubs this season. Reading have put in a team effort as part of a flat 4-4-2 and if any one player could be said to have made the difference in recent weeks, it would be the veteran striker Jason Roberts. Nolan’s much-heralded return to the Football League with West Ham hasn’t been the universal success that helped result in Newcastle’s title win.
At the foot of the table, those that were already losing have lost out if you consider the directions taken by the people in power at Portsmouth, Coventry City and Doncaster Rovers in recent times. They have contributed to what has happened on the field through overinvestment, underinvestment and the wrong kind of investment, respectively. Between them, they have additionally managed to alienate fans, fail to pay players on time and threaten the existence of their club.
There has also been an air of failure attached to a number of the bigger clubs in the division. While they hauled themselves clear of danger, Nottingham Forest’s season should never have been so perilous and they also had to make the demoralising decision to sell both their most promising youngster and their longest-serving player to enable the arrival of loanees. Further north, Leeds United ditched their Leeds United-supporting manager and replaced him with Neil Warnock without success. Leicester City spent millions last summer but failed to purchase any creativity or flair.
Big Sam’s West Ham
And then there’s West Ham United. Supporters of West Ham and other Championship clubs alike knew what they were getting with Big Sam, but plenty of both have still been left disappointed. The Hammers go into their final two games knowing that only six points will suffice to have a chance of automatic promotion. Even then, with Southampton facing relegated Coventry at home on the final day, it looks as though Allardyce’s side have left themselves with too much to do. For those who have long since grown tired of Big Sam’s arrogant bluster, the lottery of the play-offs will be as enjoyable as it will be nerve-shredding for the man in the Upton Park dugout.
In truth, West Ham haven’t offered the Championship much this season in the way of entertainment. By their own fans’ admission, the football has not been great for the majority of the campaign and the only real pleasure for neutrals has involved Allardyce’s post-match comments following poor results, particularly the series of costly home draws against lowly opposition. Like Leicester, West Ham have invested a lot of money this season and it would have been nice to see some of it go towards attractive football rather than, in the Hammers’ case, a variety of forwards who cannot all play at once.
The worst play-off chase in history
For months, it was the race no-one seemed to want to win. The form of the catalogue of sides battling it out for the play-off places below the runaway top three of Reading, Southampton and West Ham was catastrophic, with Cardiff looking set to book their place in the top six next weekend despite winning just two of the 12 league games they played in February and March. Of course, had they endured this poor run earlier in the season instead and ended up on the cusp of a play-off place, they would be hailed from all sides. And to a certain extent, the same goes for Birmingham and Blackpool. But the failure of teams like Hull, Brighton, Leeds and Leicester to put any sort of run together led many fans of sides in the top half to bemoan the overall quality of the division.
Less storied glory
What have been the most memorable moments of this Championship season? Every supporter will have their own – Derby County fans would point to the Rams’ two victories over Nottingham Forest, while City Ground dwellers would instead probably highlight an incredible 7-3 win at Elland Road. At the top, Reading’s run to the title included important away wins at both West Ham and Southampton. At the bottom, Bristol City won twice in three days over Easter to see off Forest and Coventry and lift themselves towards safety. You might also pick out that magnificent David Norris volley deep into stoppage time at St Mary’s, Crystal Palace’s 3-1 win at Brighton or Will Buckley’s opening day double to give the Amex a perfect start. The likelihood is that you know about each of these events, but you might not have seen many of them live.
When you think of the 2010/11 season from a neutral perspective, however, you might think of Taarabt providing one of the greatest assists of all time for Wayne Routledge’s goal against Coventry, Simeon Jackson’s winner at Portsmouth which sent Norwich into the top flight, Darren Pratley’s strike from the halfway line in the play-off semi-final second leg between Swansea and Nottingham Forest or Danny Graham putting QPR to the sword at Loftus Road. They all took place in televised games. We still, of course, have the play-offs to come and there will surely be plenty of drama involved in those, but the matches selected by BBC and Sky this season have failed to spark more often than not. So far, at least…