Saturday 9 August ~
That last season’s Championship was one of the most evenly balanced ever was reflected in the fact that Leicester were relegated despite having the second best defensive record in the division while Bristol City finished fourth with a goal difference of only plus one. The City contributor to the 2007-08 pre-season survey, Mo Davies, thought his team “would struggle to stay up” so he will have been among those surprised by their progress to a play-off final. Their side may have been the victors at Wembley, but Hull City contributors Craig Ellyard and Tony Farrow had forecast only that the new management team would “perform miracles” by taking the club to mid-table safety.
Of the other two promoted teams, West Brom had been predicted to be promoted but not as champions, due to the departure of some members of the squad that had gone down from the Premier League, while Andy Thorley felt that Stoke would miss out on the play-offs with a team packed with Premier League reserves acquired by a panicky Tony Pulis. In the event, only one loanee, goalkeeper Carlo Nash who was borrowed from Wigan in March, made a significant contribution to the run that took Stoke back into the top division for the first time since 1985.
Stoke clinched promotion with a final-day victory over Leicester, who were one of five sides seeking to avoid the third relegation place. Our Leicester correspondent Simon Tyers had noted that “The new shirt sponsors are tile retailers, which doesn’t bode for great things” but he nonetheless anticipated an “early spring tilt at the play-offs”. Supporters of the other late-season strugglers were equally optimistic, notably Southampton’s Tim Springett who suggested that “we should be challenging at the top again”.
Barnsley fans Richard Darn was the only contributor anticipating a relegation battle but was nonetheless “filled with optimism for a fourth from bottom finish” while bemoaning the dismissal of manager Andy Ritchie “by an increasingly trigger-happy board”. In the event, Ritchie lasted less than a year in his next job, at Huddersfield, while his replacement Simon Davey took the club on a widely acclaimed FA Cup run that ended in a semi-final defeat by Cardiff. Asked to compare his side to an item of food, Cardiff correspondent Andrew Turton suggested a trifle, which “looks great at the star but becomes a soggy shapeless mess before the end is in sight”. This proved to be half-right, as the team toyed with the play-offs around new year before slipping down to mid-table after a poor run in February. At the same time, of course, they were also advancing towards a first FA Cup appearance since 1927, a run that included a fine 2-0 win at Middlesbrough in the quarter-finals.
All but six of our Championship consultants thought that Charlton would go up while seven predicted that Hull were for the drop. So to anyone who was using the table as the basis for a set of wagers, we can only apologise.