Championship winners & losers: Saints slip, Huddersfield doomed, Leicester *should* be going up

Lewis Oldham
Championship winners losers
Leicester City, Sheffield Wednesday shine amid Southampton, Huddersfield Town misery.

Southampton are set for the play-offs after fumbling a huge opportunity while Leicester City took a major step towards returning to the Premier League…

 

Championship winners

Leicester City
In recent weeks, it’s seemed that the four automatic promotion contenders have watched on as Sheffield United, Burnley and Luton Town have struggled since returning to the Premier League and thought: ‘Balls to that, we’ll stay in the Championship.’

Intent on one-upping each other with promotion setbacks coming with increasing regularity, Leicester City, Ipswich Town, Leeds United and Southampton have been stumbling towards the finish line.

The top four have formed a mini-league this season as they have comfortably been stronger than the rest in the Championship but all have shown signs of bottling it as they have slipped up against inferior opposition.

As good as Ipswich, Leeds and Southampton have *mostly* been, Leicester are this season’s outstanding team in the Championship.

The Foxes have built a brilliant squad for this level, albeit via breaking profit and sustainability rules. For a while, they looked primed to win the title by amassing a points tally that’s comfortably into three figures.

But the rigours of the Championship are enough to test even the best of teams and Leicester, who had been a winning machine in the early months of the season, had got into the habit of losing and were suddenly at risk of missing out on automatic promotion after being 12 points clear at the top in February.

Luckily for Leicester, the sides around them have hardly been firing themselves so the damage caused by their recent slump has been limited and Enzo Maresca’s side got back on track in the early kick-off on Saturday.

At a time of the season when results are more important than performances, Leicester survived some nervy moments to beat fifth-placed West Brom 2-1 at the King Power Stadium to return to the top of the table.

It is no secret that Leicester are facing a difficult summer and next season as they cope with their PSR issues, but this win leaves them four points clear of third-placed Leeds United with three games to go. Yes, the run-in has been way more difficult than they would have anticipated and this poses big questions ahead of their return to the Premier League, but Saturday was huge and they are now almost over the line.

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Sheffield Wednesday
Down at the bottom, Sheff Weds went into Sunday’s trip to Ewood Park against fellow strugglers Blackburn Rovers knowing that only a win would suffice.

Backed by 7000 travelling Owls, Danny Rohl’s side produced the goods amid massive pressure – with the help of a calamitous own goal by goalkeeper Aynsley Pears – to win 3-1 and move out of the relegation zone.

Unbeaten in four games, Sheff Weds are showing immense fight and survival is now more than a realistic possibility after they looked doomed before the arrival of novice head coach Rohl.

The job Rohl has done at Hillsborough really cannot be understated. Following a terrible summer which included the exit of Darren Moore, the poor appointment of Xisco Munoz and some terrible recruitment, controversial ownerDejphon Chansiri alienated himself further and set the club on track for an immediate return to League One.

Chansiri has not done too many things right at Sheff Weds, but he has stumbled on a gem in Rohl, who is clearly a star in the making in the management game.

Boosted by an impressive coaching team which includes ex-Charlton Athletic boss Chris Powell, Rohl has been at the forefront of the fixing of a broken club.

In terms of quality, Sheff Weds are not much better than Rotherham United but they have endeavour in spades and that takes you a long way in a relegation fight.

With games against West Brom and Sunderland remaining, survival is somehow in Sheff Weds’ hands and if they retain their Championship status, the Manager of the Year award should be heading Rohl’s way.

 

Losers

Southampton
As mentioned above, the top four in the Championship have not been firing on all cylinders of late. Though Southampton had been the only side showing any resemblance of consistency since returning from the international break.

Southampton had drifted to being outsiders for automatic promotion as they struggled after their 25-game unbeaten run ended in February, but three consecutive victories breathed life into their season heading into their trip to Cardiff City on Saturday.

The notion that facing teams with nothing to play for in the run-in is easier than games against sides with something riding on it has been proven to be a myth as those at the top of the Championship and Premier League have been caught out against opponents who are supposedly on the beach.

We got another example of that at the weekend as 11th-placed Cardiff City – with the help of a cruelly deflected winner deep into stoppage time – beat Southampton 2-1 to surely condemn the visitors to the play-offs.

It would be foolish to completely write off Southampton off given that the Championship promotion fight has become increasingly baffling, but they are likely to miss out with five points between them and second-placed Ipswich Town with three games remaining.

It is not the end of the world being the fourth-best team of the quartet at the top, but that’s what Southampton are and doubts remain over head coach Russell Martin and his narrow-minded preferred style of play, which has been found out in certain games this season and would again in the Premier League if they were to get promoted.

 

Huddersfield Town
It was a sad weekend for our Winty as her beloved Terriers look destined to join Rotherham United in heading to League One.

Huddersfield would have earmarked Saturday’s home match against Swansea City as a winnable game before kick-off but it ended in a damaging 4-0 defeat.

This clash exposed Huddersfield for their lack of fight as they gave in after falling behind as three of Swansea’s goals came in the final five minutes.

While QPR and Sheff Weds pulled off masterstrokes with their mid-season manager changes, Huddersfield have had a nightmare.

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Their outspoken American owner – Kevin Nagle – has been proven to be naive as he got rid of Neil Warnock in September despite the club being on track to be all but safe by Christmas had they stuck with the veteran boss for a little while longer.

Darren Moore was appointed as his successor and he was tasked with overseeing a multi-season revolution but his uninspiring reign did not justify the decision to part ways with Warnock and Huddersfield’s third permanent manager of the campaign –Andre Breitenreiter – has not fared any better.

Had it not been for Warnock, Huddersfield would have been relegated last season. Despite the Terriers’ squad leaving much to be desired in the last two seasons, the decision-makers at the top have rested on their laurels and have not adequately improved the team.

A combination of a lack of investment and awful decisions at board level means Huddersfield – barring a late miracle – are facing a deserved punishment with relegation and the subsequent re-set in League One is required before they can move forward again.