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Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Season Review

With the 2009/10 season over, Nobes looks back over the past nine months of surprise winners and upsets.

Chris Hughton and Newcastle were comfortably promoted back to the Premier League

So there we have it. Another season over - one that has gone some way to restoring the belief that, no matter how big or how much money you have, they needn't be a barrier to success.

Inevitably, the greatest interest surrounding the Championship before a ball had even been kicked was around Newcastle United.

After the talk of how they were adapt to life outside the Premier League though, Chris Hughton's side almost walked their way to promotion.

Unbeaten at St James' Park throughout the season, they always seemed to possess the experience, strength and, ultimately, quality to see off most of their opponents.

West Brom similarly bounced back at the first attempt. Barring a challenge from a rejuvinated Nottingham Forest, the Baggies always looked comfortable in the automatic positions.

The greatest test for Roberto Di Matteo's side is whether they can break the club's yo-yoing between the top two tiers and remain in the Premier League.

It would be fair to say that both teams enjoyed a financial advantage over their rivals - benefiting greatly from parachute payments.

It will be interesting to see the impact the expansion to this controversial system has on the division in future years.

If the top two were all too predictable, then the success of Blackpool in the play-offs provided the perfect antidote to those concerned that money holds too much sway in the modern game.

Manager Ian Holloway spent a year out of the game after leaving Leicester and has reinvented his approach - adopting a positive and attractive style of play.

The Seasiders were worthy winners of a thrilling Wembley final against financially troubled Cardiff. Their success should serve as an inspiration to all smaller clubs in the second tier.

Blackpool's promotion to the top flight was the success story of the season

Holloway's change of heart on how the game should be played will, hopefully, lead to others believing that, in an increasingly negative game, positivity can still lead to achievement.

Coming down from the Premier League are the financially troubled pair of Hull and Portsmouth and, after one year amongst the big boys, Burnley return to life in the Championship.

With none of the three looking particularly strong, it could lead to an even more open division next term. It will be a Championship without Peterborough, Plymouth, and Sheffield Wednesday though.

Posh, after successive promotions, suffered a season of turmoil off the pitch and struggled to make the step up. After narrowly surviving the previous season, there was no escape this time for Plymouth either.

Sheffield Wednesday were surprise strugglers but ultimately took the plunge after a nerve shredding final day decider against a Crystal Palace side in administration.

Replacing them in the second tier are the former Premier League duo of Norwich and Leeds. It was a season to remember for the Canaries who, after suffering a humiliating 7-1 defeat on the opening day, ended up running away with the title.

Manager Paul Lambert confirmed his status as one of the rising starts in the game and expectations will be high at Carrow Road next season.

Their title success was partly aided by a stunning collapse of form by Leeds in the second half of the campaign. After looking destined for top spot, the Yorkshire side almost blew promotion altogether.

However, they sealed their escape from the third tier at the third attempt on a dramatic final day.

That forced closest challengers Millwall into the play-offs where, after losing the final to Scunthorpe 12 months earlier, the Lions made amends beating Swindon at Wembley to seal promotion.

At the bottom, it was a season of struggle for three of the promoted clubs. At the end, Wycombe dragged Gillingham back down to League Two with them on an eventful final day that confirmed Exeter's survival.

Also relegated were the financially-stricken pair of Stockport and Southend who found their off field problems too difficult to overcome as their fell into the basement division.

League One winner Norwich were instantly promoted back to the Championship

In pre-season, the League Two club on everyone's lips were Notts County. To simply say the big-spending Magpies finished the season as Champions would be to omit the drama of a campaign where they changed managers twice.

Out went their Premier League dream and Sven-Goran Eriksson with a cold dose of a reality as a club who had overspent battled to stay in business. Their progress
next season will once again be fascinating to watch .

However, their promotion was overshadowed by the exploits of Bournemouth and Rochdale. The former battled against the odds to overcome a transfer embargo and seal a place in next term's League One.

For Dale, their long wait for promotion - 41 years in total - finally came to an end. For the first time since 1974, Spotland will host league games outside the basement division.

In the play-offs, minnows Dagenham & Redbridge showed that team spirit and an uncompromising style of play still works as they edged out Rotherham 3-2 in a thrilling final.

Heading in the opposite direction are Darlington and Grimsby. Darlo's summer woes off the field impacted upon their results as they battled in vain against a demotion which looked inevitable.

Grimsby endured a miserable campaign where they went, at one point, 25 games without winning. A stirring fight at the end wasn't enough as they bowed out with ugly scenes from their supporters on the final day at Burton.

Replacing them are Stevenage. After missing out because of the condition of their ground in 1996, they overcame favourites Oxford and Luton to win the Conference and finally get their chance in the 92.

The Hatters and Oxen both went into the end of season play-offs, with the latter sealing their return to the Football League after four years out with a 3-1 win over York at Wembley.

They will take their place alongside 71 others from August as the new Football League season kicks off. After the past nine months - expect the unexpected.

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