The Standard Of The nPower Championship

The nPower Championship is certainly the most exciting league in the world. There will quite obviously be some opposition to that statement, but there are facts to back it up.

On their day, anyone can literally beat anyone. The side at the bottom of the table can go to the side at the top, win 2-0, yet not a lot of people would consider it as a surprise result, it is that competitive. Usually, until around April time, the middle of the table is so congested that two or three wins or losses could see you chasing the play-offs or automatic promotion or staring down the barrel of life in League One next season.

When it comes to the Premier League, ok, it may be the most star-studded and expensive division on Planet Earth, but 99% of the time, when Wigan travel to Chelsea or Aston Villa go to Manchester United, who wins? You know the score. The Championship is not like that at all.

But, the standard of the Championship is what I’d like to go into detail about here. Is it slipping or is it getting ever so stronger?

This season (2012/13), there was just thirteen points separating Barnsley in 21st place and Leicester City in 6th place in the final standings after forty-six games. Now, thirteen points is thirteen points, but if you consider that Barnsley, who had been fighting relegation for most of the season, had put together a run of just four straight wins, they could have found themselves on the cusp of the play-offs. Mad, isn’t it?

Try and do that in the Premiership. Be one above the bottom three and win four straight games. Will it take you into the top four and a chance of Champions League football the following term? Not a chance.

Cardiff City and Bristol City aside, the nPower Championship was unbelievably congested this season. Going into game 46, there was still an incredible seven sides that could have been mathematically relegated or escaped the drop. Blackburn Rovers, Huddersfield Town, Sheffield Wednesday, Millwall, Peterborough United, Barnsley and Wolverhampton Wanderers all started the day in the mix, with eventually Wolves and Peterborough dropping into League One. Meanwhile at the other end, Watford and Hull City were battling it out for second place and Crystal Palace, Nottingham Forest, Bolton Wanderers and Leicester City all stood a chance of making the end of season play-offs. For so many places to be undecided on the last day of the season in one division is unusual to say the least, but is that due to the standard of the nPower Championship getting stronger or weaker?

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Let’s take a look at the league table, for example. As stated, Hull City and Watford started game 46 both in with a chance of making the second spot, automatic promotion and a shot at the Premier League next season. You would think that being in the top three would mean that you hadn’t lost a lot of games. Wrong, as both teams ended the season having lost a whopping fifteen games each. Compare that with Brentford, third place in League One, who only lost nine and Gillingham and Port Vale who secured promotion from League Two, who lost nine and ten respectively, it is lucky for the Hornets and the Tigers that the rest of the division could not take advantage of their inability to win games.

Middlesbrough finished 16th in this season’s nPower Championship. Tony Mowbray’s men started the season in fantastic style, topping the table as early as September. Even as recent as January, the Teesiders remained in touch with the top six – so they should with the quality in their squad. But, a disastrous 2013 saw Boro slip down the table and end up in the bottom half. The crucial fact in backing up my point is that Middlesbrough lost a huge twenty-three games this season. For those of you who are good at maths, you will realise that that’s 50% of Boro’s games this season that ended in defeat. Now, you would think a team that lost half their games would go down with ease, right? Wrong. Mowbray’s men still finished comfortably in mid-table even with their appalling win/loss record in 2012/2013. Only one side suffered more defeats than Middlesbrough this season, that being bottom of the table Bristol City.

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Sean O Driscoll’s men fell away in the last few months of the season, leaving everyone else to slug it out to try and avoid the drop. Wolves were all but down after defeat at home to Burnley in the penultimate game of the season, leaving the teams stated earlier in this article to fight amongst each other on the 4th May.

Peterborough scored sixty-six goals this season, five more than second-placed Hull City. 20th placed Millwall conceded the same amount of goals as 5th placed Crystal Palace, sixty-two. Even teams like Derby County who finished in 10th place still conceded over sixty goals this season. Is that due to attackers becoming more prolific or defenders getting worse? Is it getting easier to race up the scoring charts in the Championship, or are your clubs’ defenders’ surrendering before the ball has even started its journey to hitting the net?

Results such as Burnley’s 5-2 win over Peterborough United in September, Nottingham Forest’s 6-1 demolition of Huddersfield Town in February and Charlton Athletic’s 5-4 win over Cardiff City earlier in the season are becoming commonplace now; these sorts of score-lines in previous times would be considered an anomaly on the record, but now games full of goals are becoming the norm. Again, is this because the standard of teams in the nPower Championship are getting stronger and are able to break defences down more easily, or is it because teams are getting weaker and the opposition are able to exploit their opponents with more ease?

Personally, I believe that the standard of the nPower Championship is slightly weaker than in recent years. Teams such as Reading, Norwich City and QPR have left for pastures new in the Barclays Premier League, whilst the likes of Sheffield United have dropped into League One. These have been replaced by sides such as Huddersfield Town, Peterborough United and Blackburn Rovers, sides that are in turmoil, such as Blackburn, or teams that do not have the financial clout like the Posh to compete in the division.

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I would imagine that this incredible season is just a one-off – no way will we ever see so many crucial positions in the table undecided going in to the last day of the season, let alone the last ten minutes of the campaign as this season showed. The likes of QPR and Reading are returning to the Championship next time round and up and coming teams such as Bournemouth will provide an unknown factor. The huge financial abilities of clubs like Leicester City and Nottingham Forest will also contribute towards what could be the most competitive Championship season in years.

One thing is for sure – England’s second tier is the best league in the world. Try and argue against it, I dare you.

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There’s Only One Kenny Jackett

Tuesday 7th May 2013 saw Kenny Jackett hand in his resignation as manager of Millwall Football Club. For five and a half years, Jackett was at the forefront of Millwall’s rise from League One relegation candidates to Championship regulars and FA Cup Semi Finalists. But, all good things come to an end and for the Lions (and Kenny), the show must go on.

Joining in 2007 after spells at Swansea and Manchester City, the 51 year-old took charge of the South London club for the first time in a tricky FA Cup First Round tie away to then Conference side Altrincham. That was negotiated with a hard-fought 2-1 win, the first of one hundred and thirty wins as Millwall manager. Having lost just one hundred and three of three hundred and seven games as the gaffer, Kenny will statistically go down in history as one of the Lions’ most successful managers.

Kenny Jackett

Kenny Jackett

In his first season, with the men from SE16 dangling perilously close to the League One relegation zone, a 3-0 win over Carlisle earned Jackett and his men their status in the third tier for another season. The following year, David Forde and Nadjim Abdou – still at the club to this day – were brought in as the Lions made an assault on the League One play-offs, eventually losing out to Scunthorpe in a classic final on a searing hot day at Wembley. If any Millwall fan hadn’t warmed to Jackett after steering them from near relegation to the play-off final, the following season ensured his place in the hearts of every ‘’Wall’ fan for certain.

The £130,000 capture of striker Steve Morison from Stevenage Borough proved to be one of, if not the biggest masterstroke of Kenny’s Millwall tenure. After a slow start to his career – only two goals in his first eighteen matches – Morison exploded into life with a last minute winner at home to MK Dons on December 1st and never looked back. The frontman hit twenty-one goals in the second half of the season, most crucially the opener in the Play-Off Semi Final second leg at home to Huddersfield, a goal that coupled with Paul Robinson’s second half header sent the Lions to Wembley for the second season running to contest the Play-Off Final.

Whilst all the credit went to the squad for bouncing back after the heart-breaking defeat of the previous season, Kenny Jackett quietly went about his business. Rarely outspoken yet always complimentary of everyone around him, the real reason that Millwall reached a second successive Play-Off Final and ultimately promotion to the nPower Championship was down to the managers’ nous and ability to pick out a bargain, along with his determination to better himself season upon season.

Michael Calvin’s book ‘Family: Life, Death & Football’ perfectly encapsulates that particular season at The Den and makes you truly appreciate the man that Kenny Jackett is, on and off the pitch. If you haven’t read it, where have you been?

Family: Life, Death & Football

Family: Life, Death & Football

Most Millwall fans would have been content with securing safety in their first season back in the second tier, but with the permanent additions of Liam Trotter, James Henry and Tamika Mkandawire coupled with Kenny’s shrewd usage of the loan market, something he majorly favoured in his time as boss, the Lions finished a respectable 9th place, still in touch with the Play-Offs with only two games to go.

‘Second season syndrome’ is a phrase used for a team who has won promotion and had a good debut season in the division above. The 2011/12 season opened with what could be considered as

Kenny Jackett’s first major mistake as Millwall manager – offering Dany N’Guessan a three year contract on the basis of a goal against Plymouth Argyle in the Carling Cup and a brief cameo in a home game against Nottingham Forest. The Lions slid down the table and only escaped relegation by going the last seven games of the season unbeaten, a feat which saw them finish in 16th place, one above Crystal Palace. Emergency loan signings such as Jay Simpson and Patrick Agyemang added to Jackett’s ever-growing pile of useless strikers, whilst the signing of Shane Lowry on loan contributed towards Millwall’s defence becoming more solid. The January capture of Andy Keogh from Wolves proved however to be another Jackett masterstroke as the Irishman fired on numerous occasions along with loan signing Harry Kane to catapult the Lions to safety.

The 2012/13 campaign, Jackett’s last as manager, started in good fashion as summer signings Chris Taylor and Danny Shittu bedded in and fast became key members of the squad. On September 17th, a young Chris Wood joined on loan from West Bromwich Albion. Little did everyone know, the Kiwi would pretty much define Millwall’s season and depending on how you look at it, the managerial career of one Kenny Jackett.

Wood banged in eleven goals during his highly successful spell with the Lions, propelling Jackett’s men up into the top six and towards a genuine shot at the glory of the Premier League. However, over Christmas it emerged that Leicester City were interested in the frontman. Wood joined the Foxes on New Years’ Day, leaving Millwall with Darius Henderson and Andy Keogh as their only recognised first-team strikers. After what seemed to be an apparent difference of opinions between Henderson and the management, Darius was shipped out to Nottingham Forest, leaving Millwall devoid of their two top goalscorers with transfer window slamming shut.

Rob Hulse - Kenny's Worst Signing?

Rob Hulse – Kenny’s Worst Signing?

Desperate signings such as Nathan Tyson and Rob Hulse did Jackett no favours as the goals dried up and murmurs of discontent started to appear around The Den. Benik Afobe offered a tiny ray of light with a man-of-the-match performance at Middlesbrough, however his Millwall career was cut short, suffering a cruciate ligament injury in the home defeat to Wolves. Speaking of home defeats, eleven was the number of times that the Lions surrendered all three points on their own patch last season. As a side that pride themselves on fearsome home form, loss after loss began to ruffle the feathers of the Millwall faithful.

Last Saturday’s 1-0 defeat at Derby County, a defeat that kept the Lions in the Championship due to other sides slipping up, was Jackett’s 307th and last game in charge of Millwall.

He leaves The Den having changed the face of the club. However, ironically, you have to think that the very thing Kenny and the board have tried so hard and ultimately very nearly succeeded in stamping out has been a contributory factor towards his resignation. You could see his disappointment after the trouble at Wembley – in his post-match press conference he received no questions about the game, instead he spent the entire time talking about the trouble. All the work he had done to steer the Millwall ship to Wembley and the FA Cup Semi Finals, the cup run he so dearly wanted, all forgotten about because of a few idiots.

It had all gotten a bit stale – Rob Hulse being booed off by the entire ground in the home defeat against Blackburn Rovers probably made Kenny’s mind up with regards to his future. Wrong decisions and a failure to capture the man/men capable of taking Millwall to the next level have made many think change is needed. Now, change is essential.

As far as the summer goes, there will be a lot of ins and outs at The Den. Players, managers and I would assume coaching staff will vacate and arrive in SE16.

Thanks For The Memories, Ken...

Thanks For The Memories, Ken…

One thing, however, will remain. The most honest, true gentlemen ever seen at Millwall Football Club will live long in the memory with all Lions fans. Kenny Jackett will go down as one of, if not the greatest manager to ever take their place in the dugout of ‘The Biggest Small Club In The World.’

As far as I’m concerned, Ken, you’re welcome back any time you like, mate.

There’s Only One Kenny Jackett.

 

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