Fulham and Bournemouth have made it back to the Premier League, while four teams will battle it out for the final promotion spot via the playoffs. Seasonal player awards have been decided across the EFL, but we’ve decided to look at some alternative awards for the best of the 2021-22 Championship crop.
The xGolden Boot
Everybody knows he topped the scoring charts with a phenomenal 43 goals in 44 Championship appearances for Fulham, but Aleksandar Mitrovic also found himself in the best positions to score across the whole competition in 2021-22.
The Serbian’s expected goals total of 35.6 was the highest among all Championship players, with his 30.1 xG from non-penalty shots also the best. To post over six goals more than his xG was an impressive feat, but he still couldn’t find the chances to post an all-time second tier scoring record of 60 goals to surpass George Camsell’s efforts for Middlesbrough in 1926-27. We’re afraid we can’t verify the ‘Boro striker’s expected goals from 95 years ago, however.
Of all players to have played 500 minutes or more in the top four tiers of English league football this season, the Serbian averaged the highest non-penalty xG per 90 (0.71)
Mitrovic’s 43 goals this season surpassed his total goal tally in the Championship across three previous campaigns (42 goals in 82 apps), so maybe he could pose more of a threat to Premier League defences next season than he has in the past.
Would Aleksandar Mitrovic have scored so many goals this season without the creativity of Harry Wilson behind him?
The former Liverpool winger assisted 19 goals for Fulham in their title-winning Championship season – a tally that no player within the top four tiers of England could match. Wilson also posted a joint-league-high 102 chances created – level with John Swift, while 80 of those came from open play situations, which was more than any other Championship player this season.
Both his overall expected assists total (10.4) and his open play expected assists total (9.1) surpassed any other player in the competition, while only two players have exceeded Wilson’s xA total across the last three Championship campaigns: Saïd Benrahma (11.9 in 2019-20) and Emiliano Buendía (12.4 in 2020-21). Both of those players have done alright in the Premier League since.
Wilson’s most creative game came in their 7-0 rout of Luton earlier this month, with seven chances created on his own (no player had more in a Championship match this season), with three of those converted to give him a hat-trick of assists – this made him one of only three players to assist three or more goals in a Championship game in 2021-22.
The Carry King
After an initial loan spell in 2020-21, Coventry City made Viktor Gyökeres a permanent signing in the summer from Premier League club Brighton. Based on his performances for the Sky Blues this season, it might not be long until he makes it back to the top flight.
The Swedish international was the most threatening player in the Championship in 2021-22 via attacking ball carries, with his constant running at opposition defenders seeing him post a league-high 83 shot involvements from these situations – 62 shots and 21 chances created for team-mates.
In the 4-1 demolition of Sheffield United in March, Gyökeres was at his very best. He scored the opening goal, while being involved in seven of Coventry’s shots following one of his ball carries (four shots, three chances created) – a league-high tally in a single Championship game in 2021-22.
Only Brentford pair Saïd Benrahma (90 in 2019-20) and Ollie Watkins (88 in 2017-18) have surpassed Gyökeres’ output from carries in a single campaign across the last seven Championship seasons – not bad company to keep.
The Any Other Season Award
Dominic Solanke can consider himself very unlucky. The Bournemouth striker scored an excellent 29 goals in the Championship during their successful promotion campaign in 2021-22, improving on his 15 goals the season before.
Across the last 22 Championship seasons, that tally would have been enough to win the Golden Boot award in the competition (we’re not including playoff goals) on 20 occasions – with his tally only beaten this season by Mitrovic and in 2020-21 by Ivan Toney (31).
Despite being outscored by Mitrovic, Solanke was the only player more active in the penalty area than the Fulham striker, with a league-high 333 touches in the opposition box – 29 more than the Serbian managed.
Solanke also topped the Championship charts for shots following a one-two, with 12 of his strikes seeing him play a pass to team-mate before receiving a return ball and shooting. Yes, this is a nice metric, but having that understanding with team-mates in attacking situations should bode well for 2022-23 in the Premier League.
It’s been five years since Solanke won the Golden Ball as the best player as England won the Under-20 World Cup. He struggled to make an impact in the Premier League following that success, with only four goals in 63 appearances across three seasons, but there’s every chance that two seasons in the second tier have given him the platform to succeed in the top-flight with his next opportunity.
The Safety Net
It wasn’t until November that Wes Foderingham managed to win the first-choice goalkeeper position at Sheffield United, but once he sealed the spot there was no looking back.
The 31-year-old kept a brilliant 18 clean sheets in just 32 Championship appearances (56%). The only other goalkeeper to play at least 20 times in the division and keep a clean sheet in a higher proportion of his matches across the last 10 seasons was Watford’s Daniel Bachmann last season (57%).
His saves have given him a league-high goals prevented value of 8.4, meaning his 22 goals conceded (excluding own goals) should have been nearer 30 based on the quality of shots on target faced (expected goals on target).
Foderingham’s performances haven’t gone unnoticed by his Sheffield United team-mates, who voted him their Players’ Player of the Year at the weekend ahead of the playoffs.
No player made more tackles and interceptions combined in the Championship across 2021-22 than Blackburn Rovers’ Lewis Travis (191). The combative midfielder topped the league ranking for tackles alone (106), while his 85 interceptions were only behind Michal Helik (96) and Kristian Pedersen (92).
Overall, Travis regained possession and started an open-play passing sequence for Blackburn on 219 occasions across the season, the third-highest value of any player in the Championship – 13 of these ended in a shot for his team (only four players had more) showing his importance to Rovers.
Harry Souttar & Tosin Adarabioyo
Harry Souttar was enjoying a strong campaign with Stoke City before disaster struck in November while on international duty with Australia – he suffered a season-ending ACL injury.
At the time, Stoke City were well placed for a promotion charge and in fifth place, with Souttar a key part of a defence that had conceded just 19 times in 17 games.
Across his 1,428 minutes on the pitch in 2021-22, Souttar won an incredible 75% of duels (109/146) and 78% of aerial duels (71/91) – both league highs of all players with a considerable number of duels contested. How impressive are these numbers? The last defender to win at least 75% of duels (with 100+ contested) and win at least 78% of aerial duels (with 80+ contested) in a single Championship season was Matt Miazga in 2018-19 for Reading.
With Souttar playing less than half the season, Fulham defender Tosin Adarabioyo also needs to get a mention for his strong duel success rate. His overall duel success stood at 69% (179/258) and in aerial battles this success rate stood at 74.1% (123/166) – both ratios were only below that of Souttar’s.
The Take-on Master
Who doesn’t love a player that takes on opponents with the ball at his feet? Blackpool fans have been able to enjoy arguably the best of these in 2021-22 via the skillset of winger Josh Bowler.
The 23-year-old was the only Championship player to beat opponents at least 100 times in the 2021-22 season (104), while he also topped the rankings for drives into the box (23) and shots following a take-on (13).
Of all players to have played at least 2000 minutes in the Championship across the season, Bowler attempted a league-high 7.4 take-ons per 90 minutes – well above the next highest in Siriki Dembélé (5.9).
Bowler’s end product could be improved, with just seven goals and three assists across his 42 appearances, but when in form he showed what he was capable of producing – between January and the start of March, he scored six goals in eight games for Blackpool.
Of non-defenders to play at least 1500 minutes in the Championship across this season, the only player to progress upfield with ball carries more than 115 metres per 90 minutes on average was Bowler (144m) – he’s an ideal player to have in a team looking to transition quickly between defence and attack, and having just signed a contract extension at Blackpool, it looks like their fans will get another season of enjoying his direct style of play.
The Keen to be Involved Award
Matt Grimes has been one of the most established midfielders at this level for a few seasons now, so it comes as no surprise to learn that he was the player to average the most successful passes (90) and touches of the ball (111) per 90 minutes in the Championship in 2021-22.
Of the 15 highest successful pass tallies in a single Championship match this season, 10 were by Grimes – admittedly something to be expected when playing for such a possession-hungry side like Swansea City. His 151 successful passes in the January meeting with Huddersfield was the highest in a Championship match by a midfielder in recorded history (since 2013-14).
He’s not just adept at passing, but more than capable to carrying the ball too. Grimes embarked on more carries (890) and progressive carries (433) than any other Championship midfielder in 2021-22, while his total progressive carry distance of 4,256m was also the highest of any central midfielder in the competition across the season.
Grimes ended the season as one of only four outfield players to play every single minute of the Championship campaign for his club (4,140 minutes). He has played a part in each of Swansea’s last 86 Championship matches, while he’s only missed 23 minutes across the last 80 games in total for the Swans – a consistent performer.
Some Special Mentions
We can’t hand out awards for everything, but we think each of the below feats deserve a mention in our end of season wrap up…
Darnell Furlong attempted the most shots (42) and had the highest expected goals total (4.33) without scoring a goal in the Championship this season. Overall, it’s now 58 shots without scoring a league goal since his December 2020 strike against Newcastle United in the Premier League.
Duane Holmes created the most chances for his team-mates in the Championship this season without assisting a goal (30). With his Huddersfield Town side in the playoffs, it’s about time one his fellow Terriers converted a chance created by the American.
The highest quality chances created by a single player (expected assists) without a single assist on the board is a record that belongs to Nottingham Forest’s Ryan Yates (2.9 xA) – the quartet of Alan Browne, Emil Riis Jakobsen, Kenneth Dougall and Cameron Jerome all notched five assists apiece despite having an xA total lower than Yates.
Uche Ikpeazu made 33 appearances in the Championship in 2021-22 but didn’t play the full 90 minutes in any of them – he was substituted on 24 times and replaced on the other nine occasions. This is the most appearances by a player in the competition this season without playing a full match.
Carlos Richards wins the award for the shortest amount of time on the pitch in the Championship this season. The 16-year-old Derby winger spent just 46 seconds on the pitch, but this also meant he did play in a win against the Champions in 2021-22. Richards did touch the ball once, though – this beats Joe Rodwell-Grant’s record of being the only player to appear in the Championship this season without touching the ball once. His appearance was 53 seconds long, in Preston’s 3-1 win over Swansea in August.
The most minutes played in a Championship match while being successful with just a single pass is a record that belongs to Luton’s Admiral Muskwe in a 1-1 draw with Fulham in December. The Zimbabwean played 78 minutes but could only complete one pass overall.
Bournemouth’s Lloyd Kelly scored an own goal both home and away against Luton Town this season – the last player to score an own goal home and away against the same side across the top four tiers of English league football in a single season was Anthony Grant versus Bristol Rovers (for Southend) in 2009-10’s League One season.
Danny Hylton only attempted four shots on target in 2021-22 for Luton Town, but he scored with every single one of them – impressively none of these were from the penalty spot, either.
The ‘Give Someone Else a Try’ award goes to Peterborough United’s Jonson Clarke-Harris, as he attempted the most shots from direct free kicks without scoring one (17). Conversely, Cardiff City’s Ruben Colwill only attempted one – and he scored from it.
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