Championship Season Review Part VI

Championship Season Review
WEST BROMWICH, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 01: Referee Simon Hooper awards a penalty and books Jake Livermore of West Bromwich Albion during the Sky Bet Championship match between West Bromwich Albion and Stoke City at The Hawthorns on September 1, 2018 in West Bromwich, England. (Photo by Lynne Cameron/Getty Images)

The final edition of our Championship season review focuses on Stoke City, Swansea City, West Bromwich Albion and Wigan Athletic. In today’s edition, we discuss how relegated sides fail to bounce back for a second year running.

Read part one, two, three, four and five.

2018/19 Championship Season Review Part VI

Stoke City – 16th

Oh, how it all went wrong for Stoke City. Tipped by bookmakers as the outright favourites for promotion, the Potters’ season was far from the heights many expected. Gary Rowett spent £30 million in the hope of gaining an immediate return to the Premier League.

Though, despite all the talent at their disposal, Stoke’s season never really gained traction. Rowett could not deliver, and Luton manager Nathan Jones was his replacement. One could easily pin their slow start on the need to gel so many new players together. Their performances later in the season have been just as abject, however.

Their defensive record would put them among the league’s elite. Jack Butland and Ryan Shawcross would fit into any side in the division. Their attack, though, has been their Achilles’ heel, scoring only 45 goals (22nd in the league). Four consecutive 0-0 draws in March demonstrated their problems, and it seemed they lacked the fight to mount a promotion challenge.

The Potters failed to win a single game in which they fell behind (six draws, 13 losses). They were tough to beat but found it too difficult to win. Perhaps the expectation of walking the league weighed on the players.

In any case, a club with their infrastructure will have to be challenging next year, or risk becoming another of England’s forgotten clubs. There will likely be another turnover of players this summer; this time Stoke must build a hungrier group of players.

Swansea City – 10th

Of the three relegated sides, Swansea City looked arguably the least equipped to mount a promotion charge. Financial restraints had meant rebuilding their side was a difficult task. Fortunately, with help from graduates Oliver McBurnie and Daniel James, that was no concern of theirs.

James impressive season has garnered interest from Manchester United, and his departure could be key to some improvements in the squad. Despite not challenging for promotion, the club has steadied the ship and could build upon their 10th place finish next year. Graham Potter was poached by Brighton & Hove Albion, and a new manager will need to push them up the league.

Swansea’s season has gone very much under the radar, as they neither threatened to press the promotion contenders nor did they look in danger of slipping down the table. A rebuild will be needed this summer after key players were released, like club captain Leroy Fer.

However, with the wage bill slashed considerably, they now have scope to improve the squad. Cameron Carter-Vickers has impressed on loan, and the Swans will need to replace him and further improve their defence to push higher up the table.

West Bromwich Albion – 4th

Of the three relegated sides, the Baggies came the closest to bouncing back. After their impressive run at the end of last season, Darren Moore kept some momentum for this long Championship season.

They topped the table by October, but a four-game winless run left them playing catch-up. Despite picking up form, they were consigned to trailing Leeds United and Norwich City, and later Sheffield United. Their consistency throughout the season saw them comfortably finish in a playoff berth.

Dwight Gayle and Jay Rodriguez proved the league’s deadly duo to fear, with 45 goals between them. A poor defence let them down, however. Many were left bemused by their decision to part company with Darren Moore in March, despite the side firmly in the playoffs.

Jimmy Chan, caretaker manager, oversaw the rest of the campaign but was unable to drive the Baggies through the playoffs, beaten by Midlands rivals Aston Villa. With Gayle unlikely to return to The Hawthorns, whoever the next Albion is will have a task on their hands replacing his goals.

Their defence, the worst in the top six, let them down (62 goals conceded), and with the majority ageing, it could do with some rejuvenation. The Baggies should stand in good stead ahead of next season but will need to improve, as the competition around them only grows.

Wigan Athletic – 18th

Wigan bounced back comfortably from League One last year. It was always going to be tough in their first Championship season without parachute payments. Yet, despite flirting with an immediate return, they survived relatively easily. They never occupied a relegation spot. Full-back Reece James, on loan from Chelsea, stood out as a key player.

The Latics were a formidable side at the DW Stadium, but their travels were nowhere near as fruitful (two wins, five draws, joint worst in the division). 69% of their goals were conceded on the road, and Paul Cook will need to teach his side to set up differently away from home.

Goals, or a lack thereof, were another issue, Will Grigg, their focal point in League One, was ineffective in the Championship. With eight goals their most scored by one player (Joe Garner and Nick Powell), they will need a goal-scorer proven at this level to continue climbing back up the football ladder.

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