How Did It End? — EFL Championship 21/22
One human gestation period ago, I attempted to predict the outcome of the EFL Championship table. Now here we are with our beautiful baby to see if my attempt at playing Nostradamus was successful.
That’s quite a good name for the baby, actually.
In the past, my results have been… Mixed. My first attempt (back in the 19/20 season) saw me net a score of -140 — about halfway down the pipe.
Last season saw a vast improvement as I finished on -104.
I am certainly hoping to get down into double digits this season.
If you don’t know how the scoring works, the aim is to get as close to zero as possible with scores being added based on how far off my predictions were. For example, if I had Blackburn finishing 15th and they actually finished 8th, that would be -7 off my score. Bada bing.
For article symmetry, here is what my predicted table looked like:-
3. West Bromwich Albion
5. Cardiff City
7. Stoke City
8. Birmingham City
9. Luton Town
11. Swansea City
13. Nottingham Forest
14. Sheffield United
15. Preston North End
17. Huddersfield Town
18. Blackburn Rovers
20. Coventry City
21. Peterborough United
22. Derby County
23. Bristol City
24. Hull City
And here is where they actually finished:-
3. Huddersfield Town
4. Nottingham Forest
5. Sheffield United
6. Luton Town
8. Blackburn Rovers
10. West Bromwich Albion
12. Coventry City
13. Preston North End
14. Stoke City
15. Swansea City
17. Bristol City
18. Cardiff City
19. Hull City
20. Birmingham City
22. Peterborough United
23. Derby County
A few glaring errors certainly leap off the page, but a few savvy answers do the same… As the white whale said to the waterslide, ‘this could be a tight one’.
Let’s see if I’ve achieved my dream of being able to live with myself through the summer and getting into double-digits.
Predicted: 2nd / Actual: 2nd
Made themselves hard to beat, if not excruciating to play against. Stuck to their guns and added a vast amount of talent in January that was always likely to see them over the line despite the close attention of a resurgent Forest and some wily Terriers. The players seemed calm throughout, but focused; a quality vital in a promotion push, and when even your young players are displaying the attitudes of seasoned veterans, the hunt is always likely to be a successful one.
Cooler heads prevail.
Predicted: 12th / Actual: 24th
It’s a hard game when you don’t win, innit?
That was The Tykes issue, they just didna win, they couldn’t manage it. Coming from a season where they got playoffs to relegation, it’d be easy to say their relationship with manager Valerian Ismael was the magic touch they needed… And perhaps it was. Confidence ebbed and then took a nosedive, and there was no solidity, no backbone. Perhaps the departure of Valerian and Mowatt crippled a side that was over-reliant on them. They couldn’t make an impact, or even an imprint, on anyone, despite their slew of strikers, and a defence that stood so firm, flopped too many times this season.
It’s a simple game at the end of the day, and Barnsley’ll get back to grips with that in League One for sure.
Predicted: 8th / Actual: 20th
I was sticking with Bowyer and Brum all the way through this season. I was sure they were gonna have a late-season drive and rocket up the table to a what would then be a surprisingly high finish. And then it got later… And later… And it didn’t happen. I’m not sure if it was Bowyer reiterating that it was the fault of the players and the echo being heard for weeks that has me on his side, but, could Birmingham use an overhaul? It looks as if it’s gonna happen on the pitch, and if that doesn’t work, maybe off it as well.
Predicted: 18th / Actual: 8th
Okay, I dissed Tony Mowbray. This was the first season I really looked at Blackburn and saw the changes that he’s made, the players he’s brought through, the talents he’s nurtured in his time there. I had Mowbray pegged as a dinosaur whose time was up, and now it is, maybe it shouldn’t be…
Or perhaps this season was paramount to fully secure these players in the side under the gaze of a veteran whose brought them the rest of the way, and now, he can put his feet up from afar, his work done, as the next shift begins.
Predicted: 19th / Actual: 16th
I thought they’d have a much harder go of it. Sure, I wasn’t that far off, but I had them on a lot fewer points. With little change and little second division experience, Critchley and the boys have done a supreme job of staying solid under massive pressure and hanging with teams that many wouldn’t have given them a chance against nine months ago. They are a unit, and that’s huge at any level, just potentially more impressive at this.
Predicted: 23rd / Actual: 17th
It’s hard to say Nigel Pearson has exceeded expectations at Ashton Gate, but as evidenced above, he has.
They weren’t setting the world on fire at any point, and there were fine lines drawn between players and management, and even when they were winning 5–0, it was only the scoreline that painted them as dominant.
There weren’t a tonne of standouts for them either — there were a tonne with that potential, but so few displayed it consistently, and ultimately, many will look back on this season as the one where Andi Weimann saved their skin.
Predicted: 5th / Actual: 18th
It was McCarthy’s end to last season that had me backing him so vehemently, along with Cardiff’s tendency to get into the playoffs once every few years. After that rough start however, this one was over, and though Steve Morison came in and pushed a new agenda in the same vein as the old regime, he couldn’t push ’em too far. What he has done is introduce a host of fresh faces and instil a style that leaves nobody wanting to play ’em. The rookie manager has taken to it, and he’s made them a tricky team to predict.
Predicted: 20th / Actual: 12th
Robins deserves all the plaudits for the reserved, yet brilliant, job he has done with The Sky Blues. And it’s not often I’ll call a season reserved when they’ve done the double over the eventual champions. Their final position is actually harsh on them, as they kept their playoff hopes alive until the penultimate day, and for the first time in a long time, Coventry are playing like they should be here. They’re another unit, and a few years ahead of Blackpool in a similar plan, the members are starting to become all-stars.
Predicted: 22nd / Actual: 23rd
There was always a job on, and it just seemed to grow game-on-game. When they won a game, it was overshadowed with off-the-pitch goings-on regarding the club. When they lost a game, misery was piled on with off-the-pitch goings-on regarding the club. This side were a manager’s dream this season — they gave everything and committed themselves fully in spite of their comparative inexperience or distractions. Rooney deserves credit for keeping the team focused, and the team deserves credit for fighting until they could fight no more.
It’s just a shame this fairytale didn’t have as happy an ending as it could have.
Predicted: 1st / Actual: 1st
Yeah. No prizes here. They bullied and bashed their way to the top — with the finances at their disposal, and the facilities, and every other advantage, this became the equivalent of the professional singer going to a karaoke evening just to get a round of applause. They knew what they were doing and they went out and did it. We all know they’ll be back after next season though.
Predicted: 17th / Actual: 3rd
I don’t know why I ever doubted Carlos. Another Yorkshire club with Bielsa influence? Come on — should have seen this coming a mile off. That association does likely mean that they’ll be knocked out heart-breakingly in the playoffs, but let’s focus on the regular season here.
He did not alter the squad that much. There were a few key signings, but by and large, the academy was mined for its gems, and the free transfer list for its crystals and, surprise surprise, they sparkled. Scrap waiting a season to properly settle into the regime, O’Brien, High, Colwill, Russell, Sinani et al got not time to hang about.
Potentially a more impressive feat than Wagner’s ascension a few years back, but certainly on par.
Predicted: 24th / Actual: 19th
They were lucky about the points deductions, let’s just say that. This side weren’t good enough for this division. And then they were! For one game.
The inconsistency was wild, and therefore wildly frustrating, with them displaying the ability to dismantle a side one weekend to dropping apart a few days later. Arveladze stepped in and offered a little something extra that would eventually see them over the line, but I would have doubted this side’s resolve in a real relegation scrap.
Another side that can thank a star, but Lewis-Potter can’t protect them all the time.
Predicted: 9th / Actual: 6th
I put off all the fairytales. I had Derby going down and Luton not making the playoffs? Where’s my whimsy? Why do I wanna wait for these feel good moments?
Excellent money for their position, with a tight budget being just one disadvantage, but this is a club who know what they are, and more importantly, they know who they are. Fulham wanna sit at the table with the cool kids, Luton are just gonna be cool enough, they ain’t gonna force it — they’ve earned it.
Now, I’m not promoting schoolyard cliques, but Luton ain’t buying their way in, which is how you know they’re playing for it. Every bead of sweat, every heavy breath, every half-time Jaffa is fuelling a machine that plays football for something we can all get behind.
Predicted: 4th / Actual: 7th
Stacked it at the death really. There were a few managers who came in before Christmas but after the season had started and with Chris Wilder, he rode that wave before settling into a routine, but it still felt like Steve Cooper arrived at Forest well after. More on that later.
Wilder settled into more of the same for Middlesbrough. He got them back up in the pack, but then it seemed to be as far as they could go, like they were covered in oil when trying to mount the playoff hill. They slipped right out.
But Wilder took a defence that didn’t work on many an occasion and did what he could. If he succeeds in his mission to shore them up, then my prediction could ring true next season, or it could be off by three again in the opposite direction.
Predicted: 6th / Actual: 9th
Will this style of football continue to work for Millwall? It took them to the final day with a chance at the playoffs, but can they go one, or even two, better next time out? Anytime I think it isn’t sustainable, they show me otherwise, and with Rowett steadily evolving them, it could well be the case. Here, they lacked explosivity. If they had the main man that Bristol City or Hull had, Luton wouldn’t be in the playoffs, but they missed that, and with Jed Wallace seemingly ducking out now as well, a fresh set of Lions might be entering the colosseum next season.
Predicted: 13th / Actual: 4th
Seriously, it feels like Steve Cooper was hired in March. The new manager bounce is not a bounce here, it’s an escalator. It’s the new manager escalator. He took over when they had one point from seven games — that means he took 79 from 39. YOU CAN ONLY GET 117. The escalator just kept going and going, and then you had the cup run on top of that, plus the apparent arrival of a host of all-stars. Brennan Johnson took his chance, Zinckernagel made the most of his loan, Yates turned up the heat, Garner kept doing what he was doing, McKenna squared up and the list goes on.
He took a team of lost boys and turned them into swashbuckling pirates. The man’s the Championship whisperer. Three seasons, three sets of playoffs.
Predicted: 21st / Actual: 22nd
This was to be my fairytale, and I doubt anybody outside of Posh fans would have really cared. It was always gonna be tight, but if they could stay solid, they could consolidate. The easiest part of that? Not turning on each other. Once that had happened, disaster and demotion was always on the horizon.
A house divided against itself cannot stand; and when that house was already made out of wet tissue and matches, the only dividing they’ll be doing from now on is division three.
Predicted: 15th / Actual: 13th
Here’s that team. You got Stanley in League One, Reading in the WSL, and Preston in the Champo. Anywhere between 10th and 15th, and you have a 99.6% chance of a bingo.
But that never tells the whole story of course. Ryan Lowe continues his swift ascension up the leagues by crafting a PNE team that’s tough to beat. He’s also seemed to have found the most attacking options they have ever had at this level.
Preston has very suddenly turned into a place you could wanna be, and with a full Lowe summer to be on the books, the original invincibles could look to repeat a trick.
Predicted: 10th / Actual: 11th
I feel bad for Mark Warburton here. He made something that might have taken longer than the near-immediate results Forest achieved, but at the end of the day, he was getting there. His first season, they conceded a lot but scored a lot. Second season, they don’t concede as many, but they don’t score as many. Third season, they score more, but then they start to concede more and end up conceding only one fewer than they score.
He went up in increments. This was a half-a-season increment. Next season surely would have been the whole thing. But instead, it’s the end of a chapter, a cycle, perhaps. Warburton’s going, and so are a few players by the sounds of it, many who were brought in short-term to cover injuries.
A core might be enough to build around, but we cannae be sure right now.
Predicted: 16th / Actual: 21st
Didn’t see this coming. I even thought 16th was a bit far down. It’s bizarre to think that nearly eighteen months ago, this side topped the table. But Paunovic was unlucky, he couldn’t get it to click after a while, and with player departures as well as wild switches in on-pitch personnel, not to mention a points deduction, the team was muddled; a breath of fresh air was needed.
And it was just fresh enough.
This team, as it is, is not good enough to compete next season. Changes must be made, and it’s one of those scary ones because it’s not immediately obvious where.
Predicted: 14th / Actual: 5th
Did they need a season off? Did they feck. Right back to it with just a few fresh faces, but by and large, the same side that brought ’em to where they are.
It was after Heckingbottom came back that the wheels really started turning again and eyes lit up with desire. The defence was the one that ascended from this division three seasons ago, and though the attack was occasionally thrown together, it’s gotta give ’em confidence that they were still scoring plenty.
If they don’t go up, some players might be tempted away, but I’d say that might not be a bad thing. This is a one-season side to me at the moment. Additions are required beyond this, and it might not even be the best time to go up right now.
Predicted: 7th / Actual: 14th
It was a shame to see their drop-off, but you could see why. Stoke have a squad that is still waiting to settle — I didn’t think that would have such dire consequences, just a missing of the playoffs, but they ended up skating below a large chasing pack. But I called it a slow-build nine months ago, and I’m still about that, this wasn’t the team, but next season could be — or it could be their 7th placed season, and the season after could be the good ‘un.
Whatever happens, rotation is needed before consistency in selection is the order of the day.
Predicted: 11th / Actual: 15th
Now that the Championship whisperer has departed, Swansea are getting used to things again. They felt like they’d lost a superpower when Cooper departed, and with Martin coming in, there was a big change to get used to. But they have. Martin has them playing on flames in many a game, and the side is quickly becoming that one that went up all those seasons ago, filled with names the streets won’t forget.
While the spine needs to set firm, it’s floppy form remains dangerous.
Predicted: 3rd / Actual: 10th
Brom are getting picky now. ‘We’re in the playoffs, but we’re not in the playoffs in the right way! Let’s sack our manager!’ Listen, nobody likes to watch uninteresting, safe football, but he was six months in to a new regime that had worked elsewhere.
Fair enough, whatever, you didn’t like him, you got rid, and you bring in the immensely experienced Steve Bruce to see you over the line. Oh, what’s that? You finished five places lower?
Bruce has a proven track record of promotion, and in the long run, this’ll likely be a good appointment, but… There’s just a step-back feeling about it. I feel like big departures are coming and a period of stagnation could be hitting up The Hawthorns. And Bruce might be in the wrong place at the wrong time to take the brunt of the blame.
I do not have a good feeling about this. Maybe it was my dreadful start, or perhaps it was the dreadful middle… It could easy have been the dreadful end.
If you read the table from the top, I get off to an absolutely flying start. If you stop after second place.
But then, everybody and their dog could have predicted that, there was no bravery in it. That’s where the high comes from with something like this. Thinking you’ve noticed something with a team that no-one else has — reckoning that you know Blackburn are gonna struggle due to an unchanging approach, or that Peterborough’s solidity will see them consolidate a position in the league against the odds.
And when you’re wrong, sure, you can look back and think your decision was stupid; but it’s a prediction game — there are incredibly low stakes, and plus, you said what you thought. With that stuff, you gotta start somewhere — why not right here?
Just trying to come away from this with something.
Of course we know that six sides won’t be here next season, with Derby and Barnsley dropping out after excellent, but difficult, spells, and Peterborough heading off after a short vacation. Leaving for a trip up north are Fulham and Bournemouth as well as one of the play-off hopefuls, and while the story of hope is with Luton, it’s Forest who have the momentum, but Huddersfield who have the reality. Which means it’ll be Sheffield United who’ll go up.
We’re also gonna have Wigan and Rotherham coming back, as well as Watford and Norwich (they must love this place, they can’t stay away), plus another two yet to be determined.
Here, there’s just one more thing to be determined — my final score.
I’ll remind you that my first ever score a few seasons back was -140, so I haven’t topped my best. But with last season’s bag of -117, I’ve still yet to taste the sweet nectar of double digits in my EFL Championship predictions.
And don’t that just make it the best league about? I mean, I’m so wrong, but that don’t mean I didn’t enjoy myself.
MY BIGGEST WINNERS — Fulham, Bournemouth — 0, QPR, Peterborough, Derby — -1
MY BIGGEST LOSERS — Huddersfield — -14, Cardiff — -13, Barnsley, Birmingham — -12, Blackburn — -10
Just two sides of the dodecadocaducahedragonstar that makes the beautiful game beautiful.
Keep it streets ahead,