After 46 gruelling games, the regular EFL Championship season has drawn to a close, with only the identity of the team that will be joining Norwich and Sheffield Utd in next season’s Premier League still to be settled.
Here are our snap verdicts on each Championship team after the end of the regular 2018/19 EFL Championship season…
EFL Championship 2018/19 Team-by-Team Report Card – Aston Villa to Millwall
Final position: 5th
Verdict: A season of two halves at Villa Park. As with his previous spell at Brentford, Dean Smith took some time to stamp his authority on an underperforming Villa side, but their 2019 form bodes well for the play-offs. Even if they don’t make it this time, expect them to be a force to be reckoned with if they start next August as a Championship outfit.
Final position: 17th
Verdict: Off-the-field matters ultimately derailed Birmingham’s unlikely play-off bid, but Garry Monk can still reflect on a job well done in delivering a relative season of stability on the field at St Andrews. If he can keep this spirited squad together and the club can sort themselves out behind the scenes, they have the potential to be next season’s surprise package.
Final position: 15th
Verdict: A lower mid-table berth may not appear to be exceptional on the face of it, but Tony Mowbray and Blackburn Rovers remain a perfect fit. They performed best out of all the promoted sides, and never looked in any real danger on their return to this level. A season of low-key drama at Ewood Park then – probably just what the doctor ordered.
Final position: 23rd
Verdict: Given the turmoil off the pitch, it feels harsh to cast judgement on the actual potential of this Bolton squad, who despite everything deserve credit for at least avoiding the wooden spoon in this division. Three wins from their last 22 games just shows how demoralised and ultimately out of their depth this paper-thin squad was at this level. It could be a while before they return, but all football fans will have their fingers crossed for them.
Final position: 11th
Verdict: A progressive side that you sense need to stop treading water at this level in case they start to go backwards. For a brief spell, it looked like the departure of Dean Smith would come back to haunt the Bees as they flirted with relegation, but they rallied well in the last third of the season. Much will depend on whether they can keep talisman Neal Maupay, but a play-off charge looks a realistic goal in 2019/20.
Final position: 8th
Verdict: A case of what might have been for Lee Johnson’s energetic but infuriatingly erratic Robins. Every year, one team tends to break from the chasing pack to secure a play-off berth and for long stretches City looked like being that candidate. Johnson has a reputation as a ‘streaky’ manager and ultimately that counted against him once again as patchy form in the closing weeks saw City fall agonisingly short. Still, strong signs of progress.
Final position: 6th
Verdict: The play-offs will test this theory to the maximum, but in the regular season at least, Frank Lampard successfully managed to shake off the ‘Derby curse’ as they showed some bottle to lock up the final play-off spot. Despite a few peaks and troughs this season, Lampard’s decision to put faith in a youthful Rams side full of talented loanees looks to have paid off. Now can he get a promotion on his CV within his first year in management?
Final position: 13th
Verdict: As with Tony Mowbray at Blackburn, Adkins and the Tigers look a perfect pairing for the club’s current place in the Championship food chain. It’s easy to forget how dicey things looked both pre-season and even into the autumn for Hull, with many writing off relegation as a forgone conclusion. Credit then for the board, players and fans alike for keeping faith in Adkins as they quietly motored towards a season of comfortable mid-table mediocrity.
Final position: 24th
Verdict: If you’re going to wave goodbye to your record of being this division’s longest serving member – one that stretched to 17 seasons – you might as well do it in style. Things started badly for the Tractor Boys under Paul Hurst and never truly recovered, despite Paul Lambert bringing a calm head to proceedings. Fans will be hoping their uncharted League One adventure will be more of a sabbatical than an extended stay, and with relegation having been an inevitability for months, a small crumb of comfort will be the fact they have had time to plan their next steps with the experienced Lambert at the helm and an exciting young crop of players to call on.
Final position: 3rd
Verdict: They stumbled at the last but make no mistake – this was the season Leeds Utd reminded everyone they are still a force to be reckoned with. Many pundits questioned the appointment of a maverick in Marcelo Bielsa, but his meticulous approach to training and tactics (“Spygate” notwithstanding) paid instant dividends as they marched up the table despite not being amongst the fancied front-runners pre-season. Third place will leave many fans frustrated, but this campaign has still been a massive leap forward for Leeds whatever happens in the next few weeks.
Final position: 7th
Verdict: Formidably organised but only functional upfront, for long stretches of this season Middlesbrough looked as if they could just about get away with using their defensive strength to offset their attacking flaws, but Tony Pulis’ traditional party trick ultimately fell flat as a series of off-colour displays in the final third of the season saw Boro slip out of play-off contention. A brief upturn in form in their final three games would prove too little, too late. Many fans will be hoping Boro look to the likes of Norwich and Leeds and apply some fresh-thinking next season.
Final position: 21st
Verdict: If any club encapsulates ‘difficult second season syndrome’, it’s Millwall in 2018/19. The South London side regressed back to the mean after charging to a surprise play-off challenge with an eighth-place finish in 2017/18. Lions legend and manager Neil Harris has openly admitted things need to change at the Den this summer to avoid a repeat, but Championship survival by any means remains a more than acceptable return for a club operating on one of the smallest budgets within this division.
EFL Championship Team of the Season
Part 2 later this week will look at Norwich City through to Wigan Athletic, as well as our picks for EFL Championship Team of the Season…
Do you agree with our grades?
Who would you choose as the EFL Championship Team of the Season?