The world’s best division (TM me, all rights reserved) certainly did not disappoint this season, offering all kinds of twists and turns, finally resulting in a triumphant return to the Premier League promised land for Reading, Southampton, and West Ham. So how did my end of season predictions match up to what actually happened?
Actual – Reading, Southampton, West Ham
Predicted – Leicester, West Ham, Birmingham.
After Norwich’s incredible back-to-back promotions the year before, it’s safe to say few outside of the south coast expected Southampton to repeat their feat. Sure, they had top players in Rickie Lambert and Adam Lallana, but surely they would struggle? Far from it, as they blazed an imperious route through the division, rarely falling out of the top two all season. It’s fantastic to see them back in the Premiership after so long, and great to see Marcus Liebherr’s legacy won’t be forgotten.
Once again Reading did their usual clever trick of starting quietly, making some canny signings in January, and then quickly building momentum in the new year to ultimately pip the Saints to the post. Brian McDermott is a fantastic managerial talent and he deserves a big stage to shine on.
West Ham were slightly different as they were under far more pressure and expectation to succeed following their relegation last season and the big names they retained. If they had failed to get promotion it could have spelt disaster for the club, so hopefully their return to the big time means brighter days will return.
Ultimately, it seems Leicester City, despite their star-spangled lineup, once again crumbled under the pressure and weight of expectation. However, if they can keep their big names together and sort out the internal politics at the club, next season could be their time. Birmingham sadly seemed fatigued by a marathon season taking in several voyages around Europe, falling agonisingly close at the play-off semi-final stage. If they can keep Chris Hughton next season they could be well set for another crack at promotion.
Actual – Coventry, Doncaster, Portsmouth
Predicted – Watford, Doncaster, Peterborough
Relegation from the Championship can often make or break a team. Charlton and Sheffield Wednesday have proven it can be done, but the likes of Bradford and Luton show it can be tough.
As a club with one of the smallest budgets in the Championship, Doncaster were many people’s tip to go down. However, they gained a promising manager in Dean Saunders, and signed several big names such as Pascal Chimbonda and El-Hadji Diouf. But ultimately it seems that the quality was not so present in the rest of the squad. They have bounced back before though and if they budget well, a return to the second tier could come soon, with the recent news that they will be taking ownership of the Keepmoat Stadium boding very well
A relative ever-present in the relegation zone since the beginning of the season, Coventry seem like a club in more trouble. The loss of Lukasz Jutkewicz in January was felt very dearly, with Gary McSheffrey and Alex Nimely poor substitutions. For a club with such a great stadium, it was sad to see local fans abandoning the team and the Ricoh half empty, and they may struggle next year.
Finally, Portsmouth, A sad air of inevitability surrounded the 2008 FA Cup winners relegation, crippled by administrative penalties and seemingly haemorrhaging money. Already having to jettison their best players for way below market value just to stay afloat, their restructuring could be very painful indeed, and let us hope they survive to next season.
Player of the season – Adam Lallana (Southampton)
A true midfield star, Lallana deserves to be in the Premiership, and I have no doubt at all he will graduate to the highest stages in the future.
Team of the Season
Adam Federici (Reading), James Tomkins (West Ham) Jose Fonte (Southampton), Ian Harte (Reading), Stephen Carr, (Birmingham City), Mark Hudson (Cardiff), Peter Whittingham (Cardiff), Matt Phillips (Blackpool), Kevin Nolan (West Ham), Rickie Lambert (Southampton) Billy Sharp (Doncaster/Southampton)