Part four of our Championship season review looks at Norwich City, Nottingham Forest, Preston North End and Queens Park Rangers. In this edition, mid-season manager changes and stylish football wins the day.
Championship Season Review Part IV
Norwich City – 1st (Champions)
Daniel Farke has done exceptionally well with this Norwich squad. Not only has he taken a team from mid-table mediocrity to champions in one season, he has done so with some of the most attractive football played at this level. Teemu Pukki spearheaded a team that scored 93 goals, the third most since the division’s rebranding. Pukki embodied the catalyst to Norwich’s success this year, their outstanding transfer business. Many doubted Norwich would cope with the loss of James Maddison and Josh Murphy over the summer. However, the arrivals of Tim Krul and Teemu Pukki on free transfers, as well as Emiliano Buendia for a pittance, have all been integral for their title run.
More impressive still were the new arrivals from their academy. Norwich’s full-backs, Jamal Lewis and Max Aarons, were as exceptional in the team’s attack as its defence. Making his league debut in September, Aarons’ rise to EFL Young Player of the Year has been nothing short of incredible. Their never-say-die attitude came in handy late on in many games. Whether or not they keep up their stylish football remains to be seen. In any case, the Canaries are flying high in the top flight once again.
Nottingham Forest – 9th
Much was expected of Forest this season after donning a transfer strategy not too dissimilar to Wolverhampton Wanderers’ of the past few seasons. Joao Carvalho became the club’s record transfer and fellow countrymen Gil Dias and Diogo Goncalves were brought in on loan. However, their season in the Championship never seemed to gain enough traction, riddled by inconsistency. Their two managers over the season never really seemed to unlock the potential at their disposal.
There was rumoured unrest amongst players at Aitor Karanka’s management. Martin O’Neill came in but failed to deliver the play-off place fans desired. Forest never looked like a fearsome prospect and, for that reason, were never able to break into the play-offs. They will need to improve on their travels if they are to make significant strides next year. Doing that, and finding a way to properly utilise Carvalho, could be crucial to any Forest success next year.
Preston North End – 14th
Since their promotion to the Championship in 2015, Preston have made steady improvements year-on-year. Alex Neil was tasked building on their seventh-place finish last year, however, it was not plain sailing. Preston’s good form in the mid-season was sandwiched by a poor end and beginning to the year. They had just one win from their opening 11 games, propping up the table. Neil did manage to steer them away, keeping them in the safety of mid-table.
They might have even gone one better than last season and reached the play-offs as they hit form in March. However, one win from their final eight games meant the play-offs slipped from their reach as they were finished in their lowest position since their promotion. They were one of three teams to not lose a game in which they led their opponent (Derby County and Stoke City the other two). Tighten up their defence in the summer, and Preston could finally make a push for a play-off place.
Queens Park Rangers – 19th
The season started awfully for the Hoops under new boss Steve McClaren. A 7-1 defeat to West Bromwich Albion compounded the gloom surrounding Loftus Road at the beginning of the year. However, a good run of results in September and October led to a rise up the table. Then, what became a possible play-off push sunk into another season of mediocrity. McClaren was sacked, and the board tasked John Eustace with steadying the ship.
Three wins in 2019 meant the Hoops were nearly dragged into a relegation dogfight but they had done enough already to stave off the drop. New boss Mark Warburton will likely have to sell to buy in the summer. Due to restricted finances, five first-team players are already leaving on free transfers. As such, Rangers will look to players with experience to complement their incoming youth.