We're proud of the little Championship corner we've got going here at SB Nation and so we felt it was time for the five sites representing Reading, Bolton, Leeds, Nottingham Forest and Fulham to get together and share their views on the season so far and what's to come.
Represented were Wimb from Reading FC's The Tilehurst End (TTE), David from Nottingham Forest's In The Top One (ITTO), Andrew from Fulham site Cottagers Confidential (CC), Jamie from Bolton's Lion of Vienna Suite (LoV) and Johnny from Leeds site Through It All Together (TIAT)
We're within sight of the finishing line, what have you made in general of the Championship this season?
ITTO: We'd be more than happy to bag it up, stick it in the bin and kick it all the way to the tip. Like Brian Clough said, "Ooooh, you are a bloody disgrace...crap...bloody rubbish. RUBBISH."
CC: If I didn't live in America (where it's nearly impossible to watch matches), I'd quite like the Championship. At the beginning of the year almost the entire division thinks they have a chance of promotion. There isn't a game on the schedule that isn't winnable. That's a sea change from the Premier League.
TIAT: This year has been as frustrating as usual for Leeds United fans. Like Andrew said, every team (ours included) thinks it has a shot at promotion at the beginning of the season, and as usual, ours ends up disappointingly in the middle of the table. Inconsistency is the keyword of the Championship I guess, this year and every year... which makes it equal parts exciting and devastating.
TTE: On similar lines to both Andrew and Johnny in that I've been surprised at just how small the gap in quality has been between the best and the worst of the division this year. I've seen Reading make Middlesbrough look ordinary and the MK Dons comfortably beat us a couple of months later. I can imagine there are a good 10+ fanbases out there all lamenting the fact that a player or two could have really made the difference.
LoV: Unsurprisingly I think it's been a dreadful season. But other fans will probably disagree with me and it's been a good season for many.
Brighton have had a great season and it is nice to see a team which has not been in the Premier League before going strong at the top and prove their doubters wrong. Preston's rise up the table is also nice to see. It offers a bit of variety and shows that you can make a good fist of it coming up from League One, something we will be hoping for in a few years all being well!
Who do you think is going to make it over the line and win promotion to the Premier League?
TIAT: It looks like Burnley and Middlesbrough are going to make it, I was more impressed with Boro than Burnley on the pitch this year, but both deserve to go up. Hull City would be my pick for that third slot, and then the Tigers will come back down when Leeds takes their spot in the Premier League next season. Ha.
TTE: Yup I can't see past those two, although Brighton's recovery from a poor winter has shown how resilient they are. Even so, I don't think they'll get through the play-offs as I think Derby or Hull are stronger over one-two games.
CC: I think Burnley and Middlesbrough finish top two and like Wimb said, Hull and Derby fight it out in the playoffs. I'd love to see Boro fall out of the top two and somehow not win the playoffs, if only to see what the FA will do to punish them for their spending.
LoV: I hope that Brighton can see it through. Many people had them down to struggle before the season started and it's always nice to see a team prove people wrong. Out of all the teams they should be the most calm about this as there will be less pressure on them than say Derby.
Burnley look well set and as one of the few teams in the Championship who appear to be doing it the right way this season it is hard to begrudge them that. I can see Middlesbrough piping Brighton to the post while as for the play-offs I'd back Brighton and Hull as favourites at this point
ITTO: Clean sweep here.. Clearly Burnley and Hull look best placed to go up and have experience amongst their ranks.
Would you back any of them to stick around more than a season?
TTE: I'd like to think Burnley have learnt from their past two stints and invest but once again it looks like they've built a good Championship side rather than one that's built for the Premier League. Middlesbrough should give it a good go if they go up and I wouldn't bet against Hull or Derby sticking around either.
TIAT: Will disagree with you Wimb in that I wouldn't be surprised if Burnley stay up, it seems like they have a solid foundation, even if Leeds played them better this season than they did Middlesbrough. Boro could stay up too. You never know what sort of changes teams will make with the influx of Premier League cash. Whoever takes that third spot won't be good enough to stick around.
ITTO: If we've learned anything from this season, we've learned that anything can happen - all bets are off - what you *thought* you knew, you don't anymore.
Watford and Bournemouth have performed very creditably and Norwich look like they have it in their own hands as to whether they stay up or not - you suspect they'd take that.
The new TV deals and and the gazillions coming in to clubs will change things but it remains to be seen how promoted clubs will make the best use of such money and whether they will be able to compete long term with clubs who have accumulated piles of cash over recent years.
But in short, there's no reason not to believe that with the experience they've acquired of such rarefied air, both clubs should be able to have a right good old go at medium term Premier League status.
LoV: it will be an uphill struggle for them all as always. Second season syndrome for Bournemouth may play a part, maybe Swansea City will have another bad season or Crystal Palace may be down the wrong end again. One way or another teams there this season, even ones who look ok, may well struggle and its likely to come down to who they are and how they handle it as much as what the newly promoted sides can do.
At the other end of the table and we've already lost Bolton... Sorry LoV... Who do you think will join them?
LoV: Charlton Athletic and MK Dons appear to be down and out.
Rotherham are doing a Wigan Athletic and escaping again with some hugely impressive form. Important for them was a draw away at Bristol City and a 4-0 demolition of MK Dons. I just wish we could have brought Neil Warnock in, whatever I might think of the man there is no doubting his acumen.
ITTO: Charlton look doomed. Rotherham's spanking of MK Dons means that they are now favourites to take that 3rd spot.
However, don't rule us out. We've still got to go to Fulham and Rotherham and will visit MK Dons on the final day of the season. Our inability to score a goal, allied with our inability to prevent the opposition scoring goals means that we are still in with a shout at glorious indignity. We are well capable of eating into that nine point cushion from the dotted line.
TIAT: Yeah, it looks like the bottom three in the table are set, and it's too bad. Both Bolton and Charlton are being done in by ownership, as I guess often happens, and I hate to see that. MKD's going down too, no tears shed there. It doesn't look like Rotherham will fall apart enough to reach the bottom three. Excited to welcome Wigan, Burton Albion, and Millwall to Elland Road next year in their place.
TTE: Hate to give him praise but Neil Warnock has done a remarkable job at Rotherham in seemingly keeping them up. Charlton and Bolton both deserve the drop for financial mismanagement although I do feel for both sets of fans somewhat. It's always hard to root for the MK Dons given their history and have to say that sitting in a 30,000+ seat Stadium:MK with 10,000 odd in it was a soulless experience I'm not eager to repeat!
CC: I don't see anyway the bottom three changes between now and the end of the season. So goodbye Charlton and MK Dons.
Next season it looks like Villa, Newcastle and Sunderland will all be in the Championship, how do you think they'll get on?
TIAT: Villa, Newcastle, and Sunderland as relegation teams. So strange for me to see two of those three teams in that mix. Aston Villa getting relegated is really a shame, so for their sake, I hope it's a one year deal (though I might feel differently after they visit Elland Road). Newcastle has been borderline for years now, so they're not a surprise. But Sunderland? That's almost as surprising to me as Villa, thought they'd be a PL team for a long time. I think Norwich might still fall into Sunderland's spot... here's hoping (no love for the Canaries here). If it is Sunderland, I wouldn't be surprised if both Villa and Sunderland go up next season. Villa might fall into the Bolton abyss, but I think they'll avoid that and go back up, and Sunderland has the cash to splash around. Newcastle, who knows.
TTE: Well both Villa and Newcastle will have giant rebuilding jobs while Sunderland aren't far behind them in the shambles stakes. I certainly don't see Newcastle doing what they managed in 2009/10 again but meh who knows?! I don't see any of them dramatically dropping out of the league though and I'm sure all we be knocking around the top half simply because of the parachute money.
CC: I think Sunderland (if they hold on to Sam Allardyce) come back up right away. Newcastle has the talent to come right back up, but they need the right people around to make that happen. I'm not sure I trust them to put those people in place. Aston Villa is the wildcard. They could either come right back up, or fall out of the Championship completely.
LoV: Well I still think Sunderland can stay up with the Big Sam effect. But if they drop down I'd expect them to be competitive as it's a club used to the second tier. Yet as Bolton have found out amongst others in recent years it's a tough league to get out of with many other teams well set to reach the top flight.
Newcastle will be interesting; unlike Sunderland I do agree that they are doomed. There is clearly something fundamentally wrong with the way that the club is being run. It will be their second stint in the second tier under Mike Ashley and for a club of their size that is unforgivable.
Ashton Villa are a club in serious trouble. With limited financial support and presumably still quite large overheads next season could be a real struggle.
ITTO: Villa will struggle as they seem in a right old mess. As do Newcastle but then again, we all thought that they'd be a bit pants last time they came down. They weren't. They walked away with the damn thing.
Who's the best player you've seen this season?
TTE: He had an awful game against us but you can see why Burnley splashed out on Andre Gray, he could be the next Jamie Vardy. Ross McCormack also showed why he's so highly valued, not just with his eye for goal but with how damn hard he works in a mediocre Fulham side... Sorry Andrew!
CC: Ha! Can I also say McCormack? He's second in the league in scoring with 21, and has a good chance to finish on top. But he's not only a scorer as he's fourth in the league in assists as well. In what hasn't been a great Fulham season, he's been a big bright spot.
LoV: Like Wimb, one player who has stood out is Andre Grey of Burnley. He's scored a lot of goals, including two at the Macron, and has made a real impact since his summer move. Also his transfer saga involving Bristol City was hilarious which counts in his favour.
ITTO: When you've been as poor as we have, every opposition player looks decent. We managed to make Aaron Wilbraham look unplayable - breathe that one in for a while. Again for Bristol City, Lee Tomlin ran us ragged too. Yeah...it's been *that* kind of season.
Like I said above, it hasn't been a season for sparkling individuals - well organised and well drilled teams with the ability to nick a goal have been successful.
TIAT: Like Andrew I'll be a bit cheeky and say Sam Byram, Ha! West Ham thought so too and took him up before we could. Charlie Taylor has been a solid defender for us, so he's up there amongst the best I've seen this season, but I'll have to go off the Leeds bandwagon and say Nahki Wells for Huddersfield or Andre Gray for Burnley have been the best I've seen. They've both been pretty unstoppable.
Any younger players that have caught your eye?
ITTO: Not really. I'm sure there are but they've been dragged down to our level whenever they've come up against our lot. For us, Ben Osborn and Oliver Burke are gems.
LoV: Bolton have a team built on youngsters but unfortunately none of them have really caught my eye this season. An honourable mention to Rob Holding though who may well develop into a very good Championship player in the not too distant future.
I will go with Bristol City player Joe Bryan here. Being from Bristol I've watched them a few times this season and Bryan is the player who City fans are proud to call their own.
CC: Again this is hard, because I really only watch Fulham matches. I haven't seen anyone as young or as good as Moussa Dembele. It's a shame we won't get to see him next year.
TTE: Can I cheat here and say Walsall's Rico Henry? We played them in the FA Cup and you can see why clubs as big as Liverpool have reportedly been trailing him. Seemed very confident and mature for an 18-year-old even against Championship opposition. I'll also agree with the CC folks and say Moussa Dembele as he tortured us a fair bit this season!
TIAT: Watch for Lewis Cook. Again, Leeds, but he'll be something special as long as Steve Evans doesn't screw him up.
Any closing thoughts?
TIAT: It's been a joy/nightmare to watch the Championship with SBN this season. I think I'll be saying the same thing next year, as most of us do, but that's life in the second division I guess. Picks for next year's top six? Aston Villa, Sunderland/Norwich, Derby County, Brighton, QPR, Leeds United. Ha. And welcome Robert and our Villa blog 7500 to Holte! Going to be a fun year in the Championship in 2016/17 as we all scramble, yet again, to get out of it.
TTE: Is it over yet? I miss the good old days when Reading woz good. In all seriousness I'd like to see how the new FFP rules shake up and whether teams are actually punished, especially those who've been promoted.
ITTO: It seems that pretty much every single team in the Championship has adopted the same approach this season. A reliance on packing defences and looking to sneak a goal appears to have dominated. This has resulted in a healthy number of rather sterile games in which first goal wins and once it's scored, entertainment can pop off and do one. Teams which have tried to play football - MK Dons and Huddersfield - have really struggled. That's not to take away from those at the top - fair play to them and I'm sat here looking up at them with envy. But for the large part, it's been a bit of a dull one with few surprises.
LoV: The Championship has been a cruel mistress to us and we have to hope that the night is darkest just before the dawn. Despite that all I have to say it so long and thanks for all the fish.
CC: I think Fulham may have finally figured things out. They have a coach who's competent and not crazy. They do have a base of some very good players. With just a little bit of help, they could be a pretty tough opponent next year. At least I hope so.