Monday, 1 June 2015

My Championship Team of the Season 2014/15

Following on from my comprehensive review of the Championship season I have decided to do what I consider to be the team of the season.

These are often polarising and most people can make a case for at the very minimum one or two different players so this is just my opinion having watched a lot of Championship games this season for my job.

I decided to start with a 4-4-2 formation. There tends to be a mix of styles in the Championship and a lot of teams have begun to play with a lone striker but with the quality of centre forwards in the division it would have been incredibly hard to only pick one.

So on to my team....

GK - Kieren Westwood (Sheffield Wednesday)

Really can't argue with the official PFA team for this one, Westwood was outstanding in goal for Wednesday and a big part of them keeping a joint record number of clean sheets in a season. Giving confidence to his defence with his commanding presence, he is an excellent shot stopper, making several saves which really should have ended in goals for the opposition. On numerous occasions he was a one man barricade and allowed Wednesday to snatch several vital away wins.

Notable mentions - David Button (Brentford), Stephen Henderson (Charlton), Marco Silvestri (Leeds)

RB - Simon Francis (Bournemouth)

Francis has been with Bournemouth since 2012 and seems to be a late developer as he improved on an excellent first season at Championship level in 2013/14 and was one of the most deadly partnerships in the league on the right side for the Cherries. His attacking style, mixed with a great engine, pace and the ability to recover his position quickly, led to countless Bournemouth attacks going between him and Ritchie, with Francis overlapping and allowing Ritchie to come inside and effectively play as a striker at times. Francis rarely got caught out at the back and chipped in with 6 assists, also finishing as WhoScored's 2nd highest rated player over the season.

Notable mentions - Moses Odubajo (Brentford), Chris Solly (Charlton), Paul Caddis (Birmingham City)

CB - Christophe Berra (Ipswich Town)

Berra was one of the primary reasons that Ipswich got anywhere near the play offs, his contribution defensively was outstanding in a team not packed with superstars. He often played the role of the covering defender, allowing his more aggressive partner Tommy Smith to attack the ball, but his reading of the game was excellent as he constantly got back into position to cut out any danger. He is capable of stepping in to win the ball before needing to make a tackle, ending the season with an average of 2.7 interceptions per game and was the highest rated player in the Championship to make a minimum of 20 appearances. His season ended on a sour note as he was red carded as Ipswich lost to local rivals Norwich in the play offs but he can hold his head high for a successful season.

CB - Michael Morrison (Birmingham City)

This may seem a strange choice with some other notable candidates but Birmingham were in a real mess when Gary Rowett took over and he immediately moved to sign Morrison from Charlton, initially on loan but later on a permanent deal. Their upturn in form was dramatic, in no small part thanks to the introduction of Morrison in defence. They picked up points in 11 of the 13 games he played before a knee injury curtailed his season at former club Sheffield Wednesday. Birmingham started to slide and when he made his comeback picking up points in 6 of his 8 games played. Of the four teams they lost to 3 were Bournemouth, Watford and Derby - all top sides. His contribution cannot be undervalued and he was a big part of their revival.

Notable mentions - Steve Cook (Bournemouth), Tommy Elphick (Bournemouth), Russell Martin (Norwich), Danny Batth (Wolves), Matt Kilgallon (Blackburn), Tom Lees (Sheffield Wednesday), Michael Hector (Reading), Ben Gibson (Middlesbrough)

LB - George Friend (Middlesbrough)

Friend was a regular in the Middlesbrough side that came so close to promotion and after being watched by many Premier League teams could leave in the summer. He missed only 3 games all season and was a threat going forward as Middlesbrough tended to play Tomlin on the left of midfield who liked to cut in so Friend was relied on to overlap. His crossing is good and he has the ability to beat his man but he is also very strong defensively and contributed in no small part to Middlesbrough's excellent defensive record over the season, which was the meanest in the league.

Notable mentions - Charlie Daniels (Bournemouth), Craig Forsyth (Derby), Tyrone Mings (Ipswich), Jordan Obita (Reading)

RM - Matt Ritchie (Bournemouth)

Hard to argue against a player with so much contribution to his teams attacking prowess. At one point early in the season Ritchie had more goals and assists as an individual than most of the bottom half teams! He finished the season strongly, continually chipping in with goals and always a threat from the right where he could cut in with Francis overlapping. He earned a Scotland call up, a shame in a way as he had the potential to play for England if he continues his upward curve in the Premier League. He played some part of every game during the season, ending with 15 goals and 17 assists - astonishing for a winger.

Notable mentions - Tom Ince (Derby), Johnny Russell (Derby), Jota (Brentford), Johann Gudmundsson (Charlton), David Cotterill (Birmingham)

CM - Grant Leadbitter (Middlesbrough)

Leadbitter was often maligned, especially during Tony Mowbray's stint as manager, as a player who was limited. Under Aitor Karanka he has got back to his best and is a superb calming influence in a Middlesbrough team who came very close to promotion under his captaincy. Often sitting in front of the defence and breaking up the play, he isn't the most mobile so had to have a superb knack for positioning himself in the right place or it would have been easy to bypass him. Chipped in with 11 goals and 9 assists, mainly from penalties and set pieces, but to say he didn't score after early January it shows his impact in the first half of the season.

CM - Alex Pritchard (Brentford)

A tough one to call for central midfield but due to choosing a 4-4-2 he doesn't really fit anywhere else! He tended to play centrally behind the striker for Brentford in their 4-2-3-1, but continually rotated with Judge and occasionally Jota into the wide positions. Known more for his free kicks, which seemed to catch a lot of Championship goalkeepers out from range, but also with excellent movement and capable of finding space between the lines high up the pitch. His passing and fluid movement bought him time and space and for a young player his decision making and vision are both excellent. Could feature for Tottenham next season and wouldn't look out of place.

Notable mentions - Harry Arter (Bournemouth), Johnny Howson (Norwich), Bradley Johnson (Norwich), Almen Abdi (Watford), Jeff Hendrick (Derby), Cole Skuse (Ipswich), Jonathan Douglas (Brentford), Kevin McDonald (Wolves), Alex Mowatt (Leeds), Lewis Cook (Leeds), Lars Christensen (Fulham), Jamie O'Hara (Blackpool)

LM - Michail Antonio (Nottingham Forest)

This was a close run choice between Sako and Antonio. I went for Antonio mainly due to the improvement he has shown over the last year and how much Forest now rely on him. When he was at Sheffield Wednesday he took a while to settle to Championship football and was very inconsistent. He seems to have regained much of his energy and drive since moving to Nottingham, and after starting on the left of a 4-3-3, he was mainly used wide in a 4-4-2 or 4-2-3-1 for the majority of the season. Excellent at picking the ball up from deep and driving at the opposition, he uses his physique and close control to get past men and is a good finisher, ending the season with 14 goals and 12 assists during what was a disappointing campaign for Forest.

Notable mentions - Bakary Sako (Wolves), Ben Marshall (Blackburn), Demarai Gray (Birmingham), Joao Carlos (Brighton), Ben Pringle (Rotherham)

ST - Troy Deeney (Watford)

Deeney secured Watford promotion to the Premier League, firing another 20 goal haul, his 3rd successive season achieving that landmark. But it wasn't just his goals that took Watford to a top 2 finish. Playing in a team which always looked to attack but changed style somewhat from deep passing and counter attacking, to being able to be more direct when required. That meant Deeney had to play the role of both target man and also be able to run in behind. He is an excellent all round striker and if Watford hadn't gone up I'm sure he would have been snapped up by a Premier League team for big money. He is a leader and a huge influence on Watford.

ST - Darryl Murphy (Ipswich)

Murphy has been a player who has often had to play 2nd fiddle to other strikers. Generally overshadowed by the more enigmatic McGoldrick at Ipswich, this year he stepped up and it was mainly due to his contribution that Ipswich ended the season in the play offs. He scored a division high 27 goals but has improved his all round game. Ipswich's direct style requires him to be a powerhouse in the air, something he excels at, but his workrate and ability to run the channels as well, with better pace than you'd imagine, helped Ipswich keep the ball high up the pitch. Scored some stunning goals as well and will need to repeat the feet next season for Ipswich to challenge again.

*note - this was the hardest position to chose - I could have gone for any of the notable mentions below and easily justified it!

Notable mentions - Callum Wilson (Bournemouth), Yann Kermorgant (Bournemouth), Cameron Jerome (Norwich), Chris Martin (Derby), Benik Afobe (Wolves), Britt Assombalonga (Nottingham Forest), Rudy Gestede (Blackburn), Clayton Donaldson (Birmingham)


So there we have it, feel free to disagree in the comments below if you think I've not justified somebody well enough or other should have taken their place!

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