The regular Championship season finally reached its first phase of conclusion earlier in the week, much later than the original date that had been set for it. The unprecedented global health emergency had a determining role to play in the entire scheme of things.
However, in spite of all the uncertainties regarding the future of the competition, it had all the ingredients – action, thrill and suspense, needed to term it a potboiler.
But there were plenty more than just the Whites winning the league title though, as four sides now prepare to battle each other out for that one remaining spot in the Premier League next season, with West Brom finishing second and directly earning promotion along with Leeds.
Rarely has a final day of the season been as dramatic as it was this time around. It not only saw Nottingham Forest missing out on a play-off spot on goal difference but also witnessed Charlton Athletic being relegated and Brentford failing to ensure automatic promotion.
Another huge point of contention was Wigan Athletic entering administration and thus being penalized 12 points at a critical juncture of the season. It didn’t allow them the chance to recover, relegating them to League One and providing a new lease of life to teams such as Barnsley and Luton Town.
Sheffield Wednesday also came under the scanner for breaching the profitability and sustainability regulations following investigations by the EFL. However, in both the cases a review might still be possible as investigations carry on.
Now that the curtains have been drawn over the regular season, let us take a look at some of the highlights of the highly dramatic 2019-20 Championship campaign.
Champions: Leeds United
After narrowly missing out on promotion last season, Marcelo Bielsa’s side refused to take the risk of going through the harder route and not only secured an automatic promotion for themselves but even went on to clinch the Championship title.
They had looked cagey at times over the course of the season but following the unscheduled break, they negotiated some early jitters to build a winning momentum that was enough to see them through.
The teams below them also did them some favours by failing to do their jobs and thus allowing the Whites to finish 10 points clear at the top of the Championship table.
The celebrations at the end of it were signs enough of the pain and humiliation the club had to endure over the course of the last 16 years.
In spite of the club urging the fans to stay indoors, a large congregation just outside the ground was greeted by an open-bus celebration, drawing mixed reactions.
The club released a statement later on to clarify:
“Following consultation with the Safety Advisory Group and council, Leeds United arranged for a bus to be parked outside the East Stand reception as a contingency to assist dispersal should a crowd congregate at Elland Road, despite a month-long campaign from the club and supporter groups to encourage supporters to stay at home.
“The safety group believed that a brief appearance from the players with the Championship trophy would help to signal an end to proceedings, encouraging fans to head home safely.”
Play-offs: Who finished where?
In spite of Brentford showing great promise since resumption and their strikers giving the fans hope, the club couldn’t finish the job, losing their final two games of the season and thus allowing West Brom to go through automatically, in spite of Slaven Bilic’s side failing to win any of their last four games.
The biggest losers on the final day though were Sabri Lamouchi’s side, Nottingham Forest, who lost 4-1 to Stoke City to slip away from a promotional play-off place, allowing Swansea City to replace them in the top six.
When the game started on 22nd July though, the Tricky Trees were placed fifth on the table, leading Cardiff City by virtue of goal difference.
As things now stand, the promotional play-offs will see third-placed Brentford take on sixth-placed Swansea City over the course of a two-legged semi-final on 26th and 29th July.
On the other hand, fourth-placed Fulham will take on fifth-placed Cardiff City in the other semi-final tie played over the course of 27th and 30th July.
The final will be played at Wembley on 4th August to determine who will join Leeds United and West Brom in the Premier League next season.
Who got relegated to League One?
Charlton Athletic knew beforehand that their job was going to be tough on the final day as they were up against the champions, Leeds United.
A 4-0 loss on the day, combined with 2-1 win for Barnsley at Brentford meant that Lee Bowyer’s side were relegated to League One.
They were joined by Wigan Athletic, who had just been penalized 12 points and Hull City, a side that had managed just one win in their last 12 matches.
Surprise package of the season: Brentford
The year 2020 will be a memorable one for Thomas Frank’s side as they showed an impressive run of form to give the top two sides a run for their money.
In fact, they were hugely responsible for delaying Leeds United’s promotion party and had it not been for some late jitters, the Bees would have made it to the Premier League for the first time in the club’s history.
In spite of some greats having featured for the Griffin Park-based side over the years, the club have never played in the top flight since the first post-war season of 1946-47.
The trio of Said Benrahma, Bryan Mbeumo and Ollie Watkins were the key forces behind the club’s success. Among them, the trio managed to score as many as 57 goals of the 80 Brentford scored in the Championship.
Watkins, in fact finished, with 25 goals, one short of Fulham’s Aleksandar Mitrovic, who won the Championship Golden Boot.
Key stats from the Championship 2019-20 season:
· Fulham striker Aleksandar Mitrovic scored the highest number of goals this season, managing to just keep his head above his nearest competitor, Brentford’s Ollie Watkins.
· Brentford’s David Raya finished with as many as 16 clean sheets, the highest in the Championship – a record he shares with his Millwall counterpart, Bartosz Bialkowski.
· In spite of Leeds United winning the Championship title, it was Brentford who beat them well in the race to score the highest number of goals over the course of the season. Their tally of 80 was three more than what the Whites managed.
· Leeds United were the best defensive unit in the league, conceding just 35 goals in 46 games, proving yet again manager Marcelo Bielsa’s tactical awareness in making his team one of the most resolute sides in the Championship.