After narrowly avoiding relegation last campaign it was expected that Barnsley would once again be battling to avoid relegation to League One. This season Barnsley have defied the odds to become one of the leagues’ surprise packages. They are currently 5th in the Championship, to the surprise of many, and chasing one of the most surprising promotions and their first to the top-flight since 1998.
Here we take a look back at some of the most surprising promotions over the last twelve years from the Championship.
Surprise Championship Promotions
Surprise Championship Promotions: Blackpool (2010)
When Ian Holloway joined Blackpool in May 2009, most pundits predicted a difficult season ahead for The Tangerines. Blackpool had been in the bottom half of the table two seasons prior. And Ian Holloway had endured a difficult spell in his last managerial stint with Leicester City- relegated in the 2007/08 campaign.
During the summer transfer window, Blackpool broke their record transfer fee to sign midfielder Charlie Adam from Rangers. This proved a key transfer and was a catalyst in helping the Tangerines rise up the Championship table. In total, Adam would go on to score 16 goals and provide nine assists as Blackpool finished 6th. Throughout the season Blackpool played a free-flowing attacking style of football which saw them score 74 goals. In defence, they struggled and conceded 58 times over the course of the season.
This cavalier style of football continued in the play-offs when they faced Nottingham Forest in the Semi-Final. In the first leg, Blackpool came from behind to win 2-1 at Bloomfield Road. In the second leg, they would travel to the City Ground where Forest had gone 20 games without a defeat. Despite going behind on two occasions, Blackpool came out 4-3 winners courtesy of a dramatic second-half hat-trick from DJ Campbell.
The result took Blackpool into a play-off final and one game away from the most surprising of Championship promotions. Ian Holloway continued to impose an aggressive attacking style against Cardiff- coming from behind to win promotion with a 3-2 victory.
Blackpool in the Premier League (2010/11)
When Blackpool prepared for the Premier League in the 2010/11 season, they were expected to finish rock bottom. They had the lowest wage budget in the division and had spent just £3 million on new recruits during the summer transfer window after the most unforeseen promotions from the Championship.
They persisted with the majority of the players that had helped him gain promotion from the last term. Many teams in the past have changed their style when promoted to the Premier League and opted for a more defensive approach. However, Ian Holloway’s team continued to play an attacking brand of football.
At times, this bold approach brought them success in games against Wigan, Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur. Their attacking style of football earned them plaudits from pundits and the media. In the first half of the season, Blackpool won eight of their first 20 games and looked on track for Premiership survival.
In the final 18 games, results deteriorated and Blackpool won just two of their final 18 games. Despite this drop in form, Ian Holloway’s side accumulated a total of 39 points over the course of the season. This points tally would normally be enough for survival in a Premier League season.
Blackpool, however, were relegated in a dramatic final game of the season against Manchester United in a 4-2 defeat at Old Trafford. This reflected Blackpool’s season in a nutshell. Holloway’s side were great on the eye but were let down by defensive frailties.
Surprise Championship Promotions: Huddersfield Town (2017)
David Wagner joined Huddersfield Town in November 2015. He became Huddersfield’s first manager from outside Britain and Ireland. He wasn’t a household name in Germany, let alone in England. His only experience in football management had been managing Borussia Dortmund’s second team where he was an understudy to Jurgen Klopp. He arrived in West Yorkshire with the Terriers 18th in the table and finished the season in 19th.
Huddersfield were largely expected to face yet another relegation battle as they prepared for the 2016/17 campaign. Ian Holloway had even tipped them for relegation in August. But, During the summer transfer window, Wagner began to assemble a new team and moulded the Terriers into promotion challengers.
In the play-off Semi-Final, Huddersfield faced Yorkshire rivals Sheffield Wednesday in what would prove to be a very tight contest. The first leg was a deadlocked 0-0 at the John Smiths Stadium. Mid-way through the second leg the deadlock was broken by Sheffield Wednesday before Huddersfield responded after an own goal by Thomas Lees. The game eventually went to penalties and the Terriers were able to keep their nerves from the penalty spot- winning 4-3 to reach the final.
In the final at Wembley Stadium, it would again prove a tight contest as Huddersfield faced Reading. Neither side was able to break the deadlock with the final score 0-0 after extra time. Wagner’s side were again forced to keep their cool from the penalty spot and repeated their heroics by winning the shoot out 4-3. Huddersfield’s miracle was complete and they would play in the top flight for the first time since 1972.
Huddersfield in the Premier League (2017/18)
Huddersfield’s first season in the Premier League was a huge success. They were the favourites for the drop and had one of the lowest budgets in the division.
Despite this, Huddersfield acclimatised to the Premier League incredibly well and began the season with back to back victories over Crystal Palace and Newcastle United. They continued to impress in the first half of the season and were able to record an incredible 2-1 victory over Manchester United in October.
In the second half of the season, Huddersfield found life much more difficult in the Premier League and struggled to score goals, finding the net on 28 occasions.
At the start of February, after a run of five straight defeat, Huddersfield fell into the bottom three for the first time. Wagner’s side showed tremendous spirit in the later stages of the season to escape the drop and finish 16th.
Relegation from the Premier League (2018/19)
Many newly promoted sides struggle from second season syndrome and few clubs have suffered a worse instance of this than Huddersfield. The 2018/19 season was a disaster for David Wagner’s men. After a horrendous start to the season, David Wagner left Huddersfield after a run of 2 wins from 22 games.
Huddersfield once again opted to bring in a young coach from Borussia Dortmund in Jan Siewert. Siewert failed to make an impact and won just one of his nineteen games in charge- finishing rock bottom with just 16 points.
Surprise Championship Promotions: Sheffield United (2019)
League One Champions
When Chris Wilder first joined his boyhood club Sheffield United in 2016, the aim was to gain promotion from League One. In the previous season, Wilder had guided Northampton to the League Two title with 99 points. He inherited a Sheffield United team that had fallen short of expectations in the previous campaign with Nigel Adkins.
In Chris Wilder’s first transfer window as Sheffield United boss, the majority of his signings were free transfers. Wilder enjoyed an incredible debut season and guided the Blades to the League One title. The South Yorkshire side steamrolled the division, picking up a staggering 100 points and scoring 92 goals over the course of the campaign.
Promotion From the Championship
The 2017/18 season marked a return to the Championship after a six-year stint in the third tier. Wilder worked with a low budget during the transfer window but was able to make a number of key recruits with the likes of John Lundstram, Enda Stevens and George Baldock all joining the club.
The newly-promoted side enjoyed a strong first season back in the second tier and occupied a top-six spot for most of the campaign. Their form dipped slightly at the end of the season but Wilder still helped the Blades to an impressive 10th place finish. Despite a strong first season in the Championship, very few pundits predicted anything but a mid-table finish.
In Wilder’s third season in charge, they were able to defy the odds to claim automatic promotion from the Championship. Billy Sharp played a key role over the course of the campaign and scored an impressive 23 goals. The most significant improvement for the Blades was their defensive record. Wilder had drilled Sheffield United into a strong defensive unit- conceding just 41 goals all season. It was one of the most surprising promotions from the Championship.
The Premier League Journey
As Sheffield United prepared for life in the top flight, they were undoubtedly the biggest underdogs.
Despite the critics, Sheffield United were hugely impressive in their maiden season in the division. They bought into the philosophy that Chris Wilder had brought to the club and their overlapping centre backs and unique brand of football made them a hugely difficult opponent- particularly at Bramall Lane where they won an impressive ten games.
During Wilder’s first season in the top flight, Sheffield United never rarely looked like relegation candidates and spent the majority of the season competing for a European position. Sheffield United ended the 2019/20 season in 9th- their highest league finish since 1992. After one of the most surprising Championship promotions, they shocked us all in the top flight.
Second Season Syndrome
Chris Wilder’s side started the season in horrendous form and picked up just one point from their opening 13 games. The Blades took 18 games to record their first victory against Newcastle United. They have since gone on to record a further three victories in the league with the most notable being a 2-1 victory against Manchester United.
With the Blades bottom of the table in March, it was announced that Chris Wilder had been sacked from his position at Sheffield United. This ended a five-year stay at the club.
Paul Heckingbottom has since taken temporary charge with the club 14 points adrift of safety and preparing for life back in the Championship next season.
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