After a thrilling finale to the 2012-13 Championship season, I assess the Championship compared to different big European leagues.
After Saturday lunchtime’s showing, the second tier of the English game has once again proven why it is one of the most exciting football leagues around in the current climate.
With the second automatic promotion place still at large, the threat of two relegation places overhanging over almost half of the division and two play-off places to fight for amongst four teams, the Championship season was going right down to the wire.
And let’s be honest, the two hours of football which preceded the day’s Premier League affairs could have been a bit less dramatic of the fans of the twenty-four sides. With ten out of twelve matches mattering in some way to the final Championship table product.
Of course, the main event and the matches broadcast by Sky were the two matches which would decide the 19th side to compete in the Premier League next season. The first half, at least at the KC Stadium was probably the least entertaining half of football throughout the entire league, not that the viewers were complaining, because the level of football was still very high by two future Premier League teams.
However, just one red button press away and the viewer could see multiple injuries, an hour of football and two complete pearls for goals in cracking league tie between Watford and Leeds where the visitors didn’t show any signs that their league campaign was concluded by any shout.
A pre-match injury to Manuel Almunia might have dampened the day for the Watford players and fans but it didn’t. However, minutes into the last match of the season, the replacement goalkeeper, Jonathan Bond was struck down and subsequently substituted for Jack Bonman, making his senior debut. Leeds would take the lead but Almen Abdi’s superb strike had Watford back on terms five minutes into the sixteen of allocated first half stoppage time.
The delay in the two promotion matches would shred the nerves of everybody involved with Hull City around the ground. Fraizer Campbell received a less than rapturous welcome from his former supporters and after a couple of second half minutes would fire Cardiff into a lead which would effectively promote Watford for their first campaign in the Premier League since the 2006-07 season.
However, goals from Nick Proschwitz and Paul McShane had turned the game on its head within fourteen minutes of the opener. Cardiff wouldn’t threaten for the final half-hour and would have Andrew Taylor sent off, piling everything in Hull’s favour whilst Watford’s in-form Troy Deeney was red carded for the first time in three years at the wrong time.
When Hull received a penalty in stoppage time, it was up to Proschwitz to seal Hull’s promotion. David Marshall would save the penalty and Hull fans would be in for a nervous ten minutes watching the Watford game after the penalty bore severe consequences as Nicky Maynard would convert a subsequent penalty in the fifth minute of injury time.
Meanwhile, Watford was pressing for a goal which would send them into the Premier League for the first time in seven years. However, it was rookie goalkeeper Jack Bonham who made the mistake which couldn’t keep out Ross McCormack’s lobbed effort which effectively promoted Hull.
The promotion battle was anything to go by then the relegation scrap definitely had the neutral’s mouths collectively watering in time for the Premier League schedule ahead. Sheffield Wednesday had their safety wrapped up with two early first half goals in what became a routine home win over Middlesbrough and with Brighton firing themselves into a comfortable two-goal lead over doomed Wolverhampton Wanderers who fell from beating the champions of England two years ago in Manchester United to being demoted in successive seasons.
This left Millwall, Huddersfield, Barnsley and Peterborough vying for 21st place at the lowest. All four would occupy the relegation place throughout the early throws of the afternoon, with Huddersfield relegated on 57 points at one point in the second half.
Peterborough took an unlikely away lead at Selhurst Park against Crystal Palace who needed three points to be sure of a play-off place which threw up all kinds of trouble for the teams above them. With Barnsley maintaining a lead through the first half at the Galpharm, it sent the West Yorkshire club down.
Millwall would suffer the incoming relegation danger for a few moments when they fell behind away at Pride Park to Derby. The inevitable 1-0 win didn’t affect Millwall’s fate as a Crystal Palace double would relegate their opponents Peterborough and a 81st minute equaliser from James Vaughan would keep Huddersfield up thanks to results elsewhere.
The Barnsley goalkeeper Luke Steele would keep the ball for the remaining minutes as both had sealed their fate in the division as Peterborough went down needing a record 55 points in the Football League. With Palace and Brighton having sealed their play-off places and Watford grabbing the unwanted third place in the league, it was down to Bolton and possibly the game of the day at the City Ground between play-off contenders Nottingham Forest and Leicester City.
Simon Cox gifted Forest a perfect opening goal but Leicester had overturned the advantage by half time with goals from Matt James and Andy King had the blue Midlands club occupying the final play-off berth. Bolton were sandwiched in between the two outfits after fighting back from a precarious two-goal deficit at home to Blackpool.
Chris Eagles and Craig Davies would net the goals which put Bolton on terms and after Forest’s equaliser early on in the second half meant the Lancashire club would take up sixth place if they could hold Blackpool out at the Reebok.
Anthony Knockaert would deal Bolton and Dougie Freedman a cruel blow with a 90th minute winner for Leicester which would keep both Forest and Bolton in the division for another season whilst Leicester could sneak a way to the top flight of English football through the play-off system.
Compared to the major European leagues, the majority of the excitement had fizzled out weeks ago with most of the top leagues close to being settled with a handful of matches left. PSG, Barcelona and Juventus could have titles wrapped up this weekend with the likes of Bayern Munich and Manchester United netting their respectively top flight divisions with ease a couple of weeks.
The Premier League, which is being dubbed as the best league in the world, which has faced stiff competition from La Liga and Bundesliga given the showings in the Champions League this term. Only the final relegation place and the remaining Champions League berths are up for grabs in the current season with three matches remaining in the league season.
The top table of English football has been a far cry from the relegation scrap of 2005 when West Bromwich Albion survived thanks to a Kieran Richardson goal, climbing from rock bottom on the final day above the likes of Crystal Palace, Norwich City and Southampton, dooming them all to relegation to the Championship.
The likes of Norwich City, Swansea City, Southampton and especially the likes of West Bromwich Albion and West Ham United have all proven in recent years that plenty of clubs can establish themselves at the top table coming off the back of a promotion into the ‘best league in the world’ but there’s always a handful who cannot hack the top division for whatever reason.