At the start of the season, many pundits and bookmakers made their predictions on how the table would pan out. As expected in the Premier League big spenders Manchester City are flying high at the top of the table. Whereas in the Championship, the favourites for promotion in Norwich City and Watford both occupy the automatic promotion spots. Some teams have defied the bookmakers’ expectations and look set to achieve a far greater feat than previously predicted- creating some of the biggest football underdogs.
Football Underdogs in English Football This Season
Premier League: West Ham United
At the start of the season, many pundits feared for West Ham United. During the 2019/20 campaign, the Hammers finished in 16th position – it was following their worst ever season since Avram Grant’s relegation in 2010/11. Such poor form led to manager Manuel Pellegrini being sacked midway through the season.
David Moyes returned for a second spell with the club and, despite being an experienced operator, he was viewed as an uninspiring appointment at the time. Many fans worried Moyes was past his best after poor spells with Manchester United, Real Sociedad and Sunderland.
Murmurs of unrest began to unravel in the build-up to the season following a tweet from club captain Mark Noble. Noble criticised the club’s transfer policy after the sale of Grady Diangana. After such a poor campaign last year, many fans were disappointed with the lack of transfer activity.
West Ham, in contrast to predictions, have been outstanding so far this season and are currently in fifth.- just two points behind the Champions League positions. Manager David Moyes looks to have redeemed his status in football management and could potentially be a candidate for manager of the season. The Scotsman looks to have returned to his old self – the one that won LMA Manager of the Year three times in seven years.
Moyes has rejuvenated the Hammers and has built a much stronger team this season with the likes of Declan Rice, Aaron Cresswell and Tomas Soucek all starring. West Ham were further strengthened in January by the loan signing of Manchester United outcast Jesse Lingard. Lingard has proven a real coup and his incredible form for the Hammers has revived his England hopes.
West Ham’s highest finish was 5th in the 1998/99 season and Moyes’ men have an opportunity to equal that or even go a step further in the remaining nine games to create one of the biggest underdog stories in the football season,
Over the last decade, Barnsley have been a team notorious for being too strong for League One but not strong enough to survive in the Championship. Since 2014, they have been promoted twice but have also endured two relegations.
Last campaign, the South Yorkshire side escaped relegation by just one point in a tightly contested relegation fight. With two stoppage-time wins against Nottingham Forest and Brentford at the end of the season, Gerhard Struber guided Barnsley to safety. It was helped by Wigan Athletic falling into administration and getting a 12 points deduction.
At the start of the season, Gerhard Struber left Barnsley to join New York Red Bulls and it was expected to be a difficult season for his replacement Valerien Ismael.
Barnsley: The Underdogs of the Football Season
When Ismaël moved to South Yorkshire in October 2020, Barnsley were 21st in the Championship table and had managed just one win in their opening six games. Since his appointment, there has been a great change in mentality by the Tykes and they are fifth in the leagueue- chasing a place in the Premier League for the first time since 1998.
Since Ismaël took charge, he has won 21 of his 34 games in charge. Only league leaders Norwich have collected more Championship points than Barnsley since Ismael became manager of the Tykes. Players such as Alex Mowatt, Callum Styles and Cauley Woodrow have thrived under his guidance. They have created a fantastic underdog story in the football season.
League One: Lincoln City
It’s quite remarkable just how far Lincoln City have come in such a short period of time. In 2016/17, The Imps were playing National League football. Manager Dan Cowley led Lincoln to two promotions in three years to earn them promotion into the third tier.
At the start of the 2019/20 season, Lincoln were handed a tough blow when successful manager Dan Cowley departed to join Championship side Huddersfield Town. They have since replaced him with Michael Appleton who enjoyed a steady start to life at Sincil Park before Covid-19 put the season to a standstill. Lincoln finished 16th based on points per game.
Will Lincoln Continue to Climb up the Football League as Underdogs?
Michael Appleton’s side began the season in contention to push for yet a surprise promotion to the Championship. They began the season with four consecutive victories and continued to occupy the automatic promotion places until February. The form of Jorge Grant has been imperative to The Imps’ season with the midfielder scoring 13 goals and also making ten assists.
A recent dip in form with one win from the last eight has pushed Lincoln down to fifth in the table. However, Lincoln remain real contenders for promotion and manager Michael Appleton deserves great credit for continuing the good work of previous manager Dan Cowley.
League Two: Cambridge United
Cambridge United struggled last campaign- losing 16 of their 37 games prior to to the pandemic. They eventually ended the season in 16th. Some pundits tipped The U’s to face a relegation battle this campaign.
Underdog Season So Far
Cambridge are looking for a surprise promotion from League Two this season as one of the true football underdogs. They are currently the league leaders and are chasing a place in England’s third tier for the first time since 2002. This season, Mark Bonner’s side have won 20 of their 38 games and are the second-highest scorers in the division with 57 goals. Such form in the league has largely been down to the prolific form of Paul Mullin. He is the top scorer of the division with an impressive 25 goals.
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