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SEASONS CHANGE 

The 2020/21 football season has been a largely torrid campaign for most of the clubs in South Yorkshire/North East Derbyshire.

Both Sheffield clubs found themselves relegated in the same season for the first time ever and to add insult to injury, both have ended propping up their respective leagues. Relegated Rotherham United added to the South Yorkshire misery.

Only Barnsley and Chesterfield still offer any hope of end of season glory, the former enjoying a fantastic turn around in fortunes since last summer.

Some of the region’s clubs have had a very different season to last to say the least and whilst all have bemoaned their missing fans at games, those dropping through the Championship trapdoor will surely feel that having their supporters behind them all season would have seen them gain those precious few extra points needed to retain their second tier status.

As with most seasons these days, the managerial revolving door also had it’s fair share of spins.


SHEFFIELD UNITED


Ironically the Blades haven’t suffered such contrasting back to back seasons since the mid 1970’s when the circumstances very much mirrored those of the last year.

They missed out on a European place at the end of the 1974/75 season finishing sixth and one point short of the last qualifying place. The following season saw them finish bottom after being relegated with six games to go.

Fast forward and after a superb first season back in the Premier League last term with a European place still up for grabs until the last handful of games, the Blades this time capitulated to what was looking like being the worst season in their history relatively speaking, with relegation again coming with six games remaining and a bottom place finish assured with a solitary game left.

Not achieving your first league win of the season until the second week of January tells it’s own story but the dark winter months were shrouded in rumours of Chris Wilder contemplating leaving the club he’s represented as a fan, ballboy, player, and manager.

News broke on the morning of Friday 12 March that Wilder was leaving his role, but it wasn’t until late on the Saturday night that the club confirmed his departure with the team playing away at Leicester the following afternoon.

Apparently, the players only became aware of the circumstances when the rest of us did and so maybe unsurprisingly, their shell-shocked performance at the King Power resulted in the club’s worst defeat for many a year.

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Paul Heckingbottom, put in charge until the end of season, has presided over some disappointing performances but also a couple of impressive wins. If the Blades can muster a goal or two in their final game, then they will have managed to avoid most of the embarrassing league records that they looked to be troubling for much of the campaign, although a last day defeat to Burnley will see them out on their own with the most losses in a Premier League season.

Thoughts now turn to the new manager employed to attempt to make the most of the parachute payments and bring the club back at the first attempt. A seemingly failed attempt to bring in Alexander Blessin from KV Oostende in Belgium, as a result of new Brexit work permit rules, has led to strong rumours this week that Slavisa Jokanovic has agreed to take the role.

The Serb has a track record of playing attractive football and getting teams promoted from the Championship, so if appointed, the United fans will be hoping he continues in the same vein.


SHEFFIELD WEDNESDAY


Starting a season on minus 12 points is hardly going to inspire feelings of a successful campaign but most connected with the Owls felt they would have no worries about avoiding the drop.

A promising start of 8 points from five games was followed by four straight defeats.

However, when the points deduction for breaking Profitability and Sustainability rules was reduced by 6 on appeal in early November, the gloom of the disappointing start lifted slightly.

Garry Monk was then swiftly replaced by Tony Pulis, who lasted little more than a month himself. Coach Neil Thompson was left in caretaker charge until Darren Moore was given the managerial reins full time at the beginning of March.

Moore then contracted Covid in April and worryingly went on to develop pneumonia forcing him to be missing from the dugout until returning for the last match.

If events on the pitch and in the dressing room were hardly inspiring, fans were left arguably even more concerned with the financial circumstances at the club. In early October it was announced that owner, Dejphon Chansiri was securing the club’s debt against the stadium and on more than one occasion during the season it has been reported that players and staff haven’t been paid on time.

A season where you start with a notable points deduction, have four different managers, and encounter cashflow concerns isn’t ever likely to be a backdrop to a successful campaign.

However, as the season edged to a climax, the fact the Owls were still in there with a fighting chance of survival buoyed many. Each time they looked doomed results elsewhere went in their favour, and when on the penultimate weekend Forest missed a penalty at Hillsborough and their arch rivals Derby threw away a lead at Swansea, fans and players alike started to believe the football Gods were pulling for them.

Ultimately it wasn’t to be but with the wage bill reduced due to contracts expiring, Wednesdayites will hope relegation turns out to be a blessing in disguise and the club gets a chance to rebuild in the summer and come back stronger. Thoughts of emulating their city neighbour’s six year stay in League 1 won’t be tolerated. 


BARNSLEY


After Barnsley’s last gasp escape from relegation last season under the guidance of Gerhard Struber, few could have predicted their fifth place finish this time around.

When Struber left for the New York Red Bulls in October, he was replaced by Valerien Ismael. Ismael, a French former centre half who counts Crystal Palace amongst his former clubs as a player, joined from LASK in Austria.

Whilst not always winning plaudits from opposition managers for their playing style, it’s been a tremendous achievement to lead the Tykes to such a lofty final placing after last season.

The loan signing of Daryl Dike in February from Orlando City has been instrumental in maintaining the form and results.

Up against it after a 1-0 defeat in the play off semi final first leg at home to Swansea City, whatever the outcome, nothing should take away from the excellent strides made this season.


ROTHERHAM UNITED


The Millers endured a heart-breaking final game of the season after conceding late at Cardiff to be subjected to an instant return to League 1.

After leading for so long and squandering opportunities in the first half to extend their lead, the equalisers at Derby and then likewise later in South Wales, almost had a feeling of inevitability.

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Rotherham had been faced with a fatiguing pile up of fixtures to end the season following earlier Covid postponements. Unfortunate refereeing decisions at home to Middlesbrough and away at Barnsley hardly helped their cause either.

However, a spirited last day looked for so long to have rescued the Millers from relegation.

The task ahead now is to maintain the yo-yo between League 1 and the Championship of recent years with Paul Warne looking to repeat his previous feat. 

With around ten players having already left the club due to expiring contracts and loan spells, it’s bound to be a busy summer of recruitment at the New York Stadium.


DONCASTER ROVERS


No matter what anyone’s realistic expectations were of Rovers this season, to finish 14th after being one win from the summit in early February, will be a source of disappointment to many fans.

Although Darren Moore’s tenure ended with five winless matches, the team still occupied the final play off spot with two games in hand when he left to take over the Hillsborough hotseat on 1 March. 

After Andy Butler took temporary charge, it’s now old Rovers favourite, Richie Wellens, who will lead the team into next season as permanent boss.

Wellens, who had two spells at the club as a player contributing to one of the best Rovers sides in living memory, should be a popular choice with many and will be looking to prepare a squad this summer to break into the top six next term.

One player he will have to cope without is Rovers legend James Coppinger. ‘Copps’ played his final game of professional football at the age of 40 after 695 games for the club. Already a Rovers living legend, he will be missed by everyone at the Keepmoat and left the pitch in tears at the end of the final game, to be then greeted by many fans who had waited outside the stadium to show their appreciation for his service to their club. 


CHESTERFIELD


When John Pemberton left his manager’s post in November, the team we’re sat in 21st position and considering the unthinkable drop into the National League North.

A now clearly inspiring move for Gloucester City’s manager, James Rowe, turned their dismal form around and the striker he brought with him, Akwasi Asante, has returned almost a goal every other game. Consequently, the Spireites find themselves in the final play off spot with two games of the league season left.

With work still to be done and Eastleigh’s game in hand meaning their destiny isn’t in their own hands, whatever the outcome, there will be much cause for optimism at the Technique Stadium after a tough period over the last few seasons.


DAMON SLACK

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