ChampionshipFootball

The stats that show why the Championship really is the most exciting league in the world

May 24, 2019

THE Championship play off final on Bank Holiday Monday will see two sides trying to return to a league that they both left in performative disarray. Derby County’s 2007-08 season remains unchallenged as the worst top-flight campaign of all time, their total of one win, two fewer than any other team has recorded in a full season England’s highest division. Aston Villa meanwhile, were the most recent side to record just three wins in a Premier League season, until Huddersfield joined the movement in 2018-19. Villa’s demotion in 2016 marked the culmination of five terms in a row where they averaged 34 points. Relegation slowly spread over five seasons like a HBO series.

Not every club can use the second tier like Newcastle do, popping their head in for a season every now and again for the footballing equivalent of a spa break, but whether it’s Derby or Villa who join Norwich and Sheffield United in going up, they face a difficult task in establishing themselves in the higher division. Of the teams to win the Championship playoffs in the 2010s, only West Ham (2012) and Crystal Palace (2013) have maintained unbroken spells in the Premier League, and the fact they are both London clubs is not insignificant; attracting new players for the yearly battle is easier if you are in the capital.

A £10 bet on Derby to win the Playoff final returns £23.00

No side wants to lose at Wembley and squander the chance of seeing The Assorted Superstars Of The Big Six at their home ground the following year, but in a footballing world where top divisions are getting more stretched, the Championship offers a relentless unpredictability largely absent elsewhere. 340 points were claimed from losing positions in 2018-19 which works out at 0.62 per game, putting the division considerably ahead of the big five leagues. As a shorthand for unpredictability, this is a compelling one, as is the fact that only two teams this century have managed to negotiate a hefty 46 games and lose fewer than five times (Newcastle, inevitably, are one of them). Conversely, since 2000, 27 Championship teams have reached double figures for defeats and still gone up; Huddersfield even managed it with a negative goal difference.

2018-19

Points gained from losing positions

 

Per/game

Championship

340

0.62

La Liga

222

0.58

Serie A

212

0.57

Ligue 1

206

0.56

Bundesliga

150

0.49

Premier League

185

0.49

 

The marathon nature of a season in the Championship means that squad depth and/or quality is extremely important. Since 2006, Championship sides have used 32 players per season, on average, with Norwich’s total of 24 this season a remarkably low figure. Much has been made of the importance of loan players at Derby and Aston Villa in 2018-19, and the likes of Tyrone Mings, Tammy Abraham, Mason Mount, Harry Wilson and Fikayo Tomori have all been key figures at their respective temporary homes. Second tier teams drafting in quality on a rapid basis is nothing new, though. In 1991-92 Blackburn signed Alan Wright, Gordon Cowans, David Speedie and Mike Newell mid-season, the latter scoring the winning penalty for Rovers in the playoff final. That modern-day lower division clubs rely on loans is partly due to the strength and size of Premier League squads but also because the window of opportunity to reconstruct teams mid-season was all but ended by the introduction of the modern transfer window. Barry Fry averaging three signings a month as Birmingham manager in the mid-1990s was extreme then, but impossible now. A year’s loan is a more enduring outcome than many of the ‘permanent’ transfers of yesteryear.

The celebrations from the winners on Monday will be intense, and rightly so, but it is a shame that escaping the second tier dominates the narrative so strongly, when the entertainment in the Championship is so reliable. Villa are responsible for the biggest share of all those comeback points in the division this season, as well as that 5-5 draw with Nottingham Forest, while Derby have knocked Manchester United out of the League Cup and become the first team to ever lose a playoff semi-final first leg at home and still go through. Whatever happens at Wembley it’s been a good season for both; don’t dismiss the present for a future that may never come.

A £10 bet on Aston Villa to win the Playoff final returns £16.00