Part three of our Championship season review looks at Ipswich Town, Leeds United, Middlesbrough and Millwall. In today’s edition, we see discuss a mainstay’s farewell and El Loco’s first stint in England.
Championship Season Review Part III
Ipswich Town – 24th
It was a miserable season for the Tractor Boys as relegation condemned them to the third division for the first time since 1957. Paul Hurst was appointed in the summer to replace long-serving manager Mick McCarthy but was sacked after just one win in his first 14 games. Former Norwich City boss Paul Lambert brought steer the sinking ship, but he was unable to lift them from the basement of the league, where they have found themselves since October.
Their summer saw a mass exodus of influential players like Adam Webster and David McGoldrick to rival clubs. Their failure to adequately replace them cost them, as they opted for lower league talent. Paul Lambert has been there before; the Tractor Boys will believe that his experience could help them bounce back.
Leeds United – 3rd
Leeds pulled off what many thought a coup by appointing Marcelo Bielsa as their manager in June last year. As one of the most high-profile managers in Leeds’ history, much was expected in his first season. Doubts remained, however, over whether he or his players would last the long season; his longest tenure since 2014 had been six months, and his successes at Athletic Bilbao and Marseille were limited due to his draining philosophy.
Leeds did manage to last the whole season playing his slick, attacking football, though injuries hindered them at crucial points. Bielsa’s first season in England was not without its controversy; the ‘Spygate’ saga surrounding their win over Derby County in January garnered national interest and a remarkably heated affair against Aston Villa saw his side allow Villa to walk in an equaliser unchallenged.
With automatic promotion in their hands, they limped over the finish line in only a play-off spot. Despite looking set for their first Wembley appearance in 11 years, they capitulated against Derby in the home leg of their play-off semi-final. With ‘El Loco’ staying on for another season, Leeds fans will have hope that they can go one step further and return to the promised land. With some more squad depth to weather the inevitable storm of injuries, they can do just that.
Middlesbrough – 7th
Many tipped Middlesbrough for automatic promotion from the Championship this season, with Tony Pulis in charge for his first full season off the back of a strong finish last season. However, after leading the league in October, Pulis’ side’s failure to put the ball in the net cost them significantly. Inconsistent form around the turn of the year saw them drop into the play-off battle, cut adrift from the top three sides.
As is typical of recent Middlesbrough sides, their foundations were built off strong defensive capabilities, finishing with the joint best record in the league. Much of this was due to the inspiring performances of Darren Randolph in goal. However, their failure to replace the goals of Patrick Bamford and the creative talents of Adama Traore was their undoing. Too heavily reliant on Britt Assombalonga for their goals, their attack failed to strike the fear a promotion contender requires. If Middlesbrough develop their offensive potential whilst protecting their defensive ethos, there is no doubt they will be in the upper echelons next season. Their first step towards a return to the Premier League will be replacing Tony Pulis, with Slaviša Jokanović the current favourite.
Millwall – 21st
Everyone knew Millwall had overachieved in finishing eighth last season following their stunning performances after the New Year. Neil Harris had a huge task on his hands to repeat that feat, especially without their talisman George Saville. The Lions spent their season clawing away from the relegation zone, finishing just four points away from the drop.
One thing that changed for the worse from their past season was their away form; the Lions only won three games on the road all season (21st, compared to seven wins the previous season). Having overachieved the previous year, it was always going to be a tougher second season back in the Championship. Their squad, mostly the same as the one that came up from League One, could do with some Championship experience. With some more firepower to support Lee Gregory, the Lions could see themselves in a more secure position next year.