Winners & Reflectors - Championship Edition
This week saw Fulham confirmed as the third and final side to claim promotion to the Premier League in an eerie (and quite honestly, dull) Play Off Final behind closed doors.
The Cottager’s hero of extra-time was in the unlikely form of left-back Joe Bryan, who scored both goals in Fulham’s 2-1 victory.
In a clearly calculated free-kick routine, Bryan spotted David Raya's advance position expecting a cross, leaving a chasm of space at his near post and the Spainiard was all ends up as Fulham went 1-0 up.
Raya has had a magnificent season in the Brentford goal, but will likely be toiling and thinking about what might have been throughout his summer break, rather than reflecting on a successful campaign.
The Championship as a whole has been incredible entertainment as always, epitomised by last month’s final day that had more twists and turns than The Smiler at Alton Towers.
Inspired by this week’s showpiece, Sparta Spotlight will look at the ‘winners’ and ‘reflectors’ of the EFL Championship.
The 2018/19 campaign was a dismal one for Bartosz Bialkowski, as he was part of a dire Ipswich squad who were relegated from the Championship with a whimper.
Bialkowski made the move to Millwall in the summer, initially on a loan deal, and has been one of the outstanding goalkeepers in the league this season.
Gary Rowett’s men missed out on a play-off place on the final day of the season, but Bialkowski finished top of the tree when it comes to clean sheets, boasting a shut out on no fewer than sixteen occasions in the league this season.
Millwall’s impressive second half to the campaign has been built on a solid foundation a lion’s share of their victories being to-nil, with the experienced goalkeeper key to their fortunes.
Bialkowski has spent his entire senior career in England’s second and third tier and at the age of thirty-three will be desperate for a crack at the Premier League and could quite possibly achieve this with the Lions in the coming years.
Alex Smithies was one of the league’s hottest goalkeeping properties at QPR and has arguably been Cardiff’s player of the season in 2019/20, his performance in the away leg at Fulham doing his chances no harm in that regard.
Smithies was brought in by Neil Warnock as Cardiff embarked on an unsuccessful Premier League campaign, brought in as cover for Neil Etheridge and didn’t make a single league appearance.
The thirty-year-old’s chance came as rumours surrounded Etheridge, linking him to a move to West Ham and subsequently turning his head.
Smithies deputised for the seemingly outgoing Etheridge, and since claiming the number one spot at the Cardiff City Stadium, the Blue Birds enjoyed an upturn in form that eventually secured a play-off spot.
Impressing in front of millions despite Cardiff’s defeat to Fulham in the play-offs and dislodging the previously untouchable number one, Smithies can reflect on a successful campaign.
2020 has been a bad year for pretty much all of humanity, but on a footballing level, Hull City’s George Long has endured a year he would rather forget.
Long, who has played all but one game for the relegated Tigers this term, was linked with a move to Derby following an impressive start to the season.
However, the new year would spell a cataclysmic loss of form, conceding 22 goals in 8 games at the start of 2020 as Hull continued to plummet down the league after selling a number of prized assets.
The elongated break did nothing to help ease the former Sheffield United man’s woes and would pick the ball out of his net no fewer than eight times as his side suffered a humiliating 8-0 defeat away at Wigan in July.
Unsurprisingly Hull ended the season with the worst defensive record in the Championship, conceding an eye-watering eighty-seven goals.
Long as certainly went down with the ship and will have to impress in League One next term to resurrect any hopes of a move elsewhere.
The veteran Scottish goalkeeper David Marshall was in fine form in the second half of the season as Wigan were cruelly relegated by virtue of off-the-field problems.
Marshall kept ten clean sheets out of eleven before the final two games of the season as the Latics looked to defy the twelve-point deduction that ultimately sent them down to League One.
Uncertainty surrounding Paul Cook’s job, several key players’ future and well-documented troubles, the summer is a big one for the Lancashire club.
David Marshall has been linked with several clubs, notably Celtic and Wigan will almost certainly cash in with just a year left on his contract.
At the age of thirty-five Marshall is at a key point in his career and will have to weigh up all his options in a summer that will likely involve a move to a Championship side or higher.
Fraser Forster returned from Celtic to Southampton following the end of his loan deal, which has left the Scottish Champions in need of a new stopper.
Will Marshall return to Celtic Park, will we see him back in the Championship or will he remain loyal to his struggling employers?