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We Tried To Win The Championship On Football Manager With A Team Of Second Tier Legends

We simulated the 2022/23 Sky Bet Championship season with a team full of legendary players from the second-tier of English football to see if experience comes out on top.

Billy Sharp smiling while captain of Sheffield United with a screenshot of the Football Manager team for this article.
Image: Twitter / Football Manager

To some, being dubbed ‘too good for the Championship but not good enough for the Premier League’ is used as an insult.

Many players have had this phrase associated with them throughout the years. Robert Earnshaw is an excellent example when this topic is discussed. Dwight Gayle, Tom Ince and Jordan Rhodes are some other recent names that you see crop up when this conversation appears. You may have some others that immediately spring to mind.

In this corner of the web, we won’t use it as a criticism but as a badge of honour. The EFL Championship is one of the most competitive leagues in the world, where any team on their day can win no matter the opposition, with shocks and surprises every matchday.

The league is a pool of talent for the national side too, with an impressive 23 of England’s 26-man World Cup squad playing in the EFL or making their professional debut in an EFL competition. Yet, we’re talking about a different type of talent here. It’s not about going onto the top flight, or being too good for the league, it’s about being just right and getting stuck into the second tier of English football.

To be a true legend in the EFL Championship, you’re a different type of player: a defensive stalwart, a midfield dynamo, a solid striker. Not quite a ‘Streets Won’t Forget’ player but more streets-are-thankful-that-you-put-in-a-seven-out-of-ten-every-week.

So, with that in mind, we created a squad on Football Manager 2023 that is full of legends. Players who you associate with the second tier, not for their glitz or glamour but for getting the job done.

The Rules

  • Each player in our team has to have made over 250 appearances in the Championship according to Transfermarkt

  • Each player has to still be playing in the English second tier as of the 22/23 season (apart from David Marshall but he has 449 EFL Championship appearances)

  • We have replaced Huddersfield Town in the league, so the squad value has to remain in their £33.43m squad budget

  • We have a maximum squad size of 25 players

  • The team has to play in Football Manager’s most popular playing style, a 4-2-3-1 formation with Gegenpress tactics

  • This will be taking place in the 2022/23 EFL Championship season, with the entire season being simulated from the start of the season to the end of the campaign

A screenshot of The Second Tier team on Football Manager.
Image: Football Manager

The Squad - In Full (Football Manager Championship 22/23 Season)

  1. Bartosz Bialkowski

  2. David Marshall

  3. Maxime Colin

  4. Tom Lees

  5. Lee Peltier

  6. Jake Bidwell

  7. Jonathan Hogg

  8. Oliver Norwood

  9. Thomas Ince

  10. Jamie Paterson

  11. Danny Ward

  12. Jonny Howson

  13. Henri Lansbury

  14. Jordan Rhodes

  15. Scott Malone

  16. Albert Adomah

  17. Lukas Jutkiewicz

  18. Richard Wood

  19. Joe Ralls

  20. Alex Mowatt

  21. Adam Reach

  22. George Friend

  23. Chris Martin

  24. Billy Sharp

The Season Begins

We begin the season with Billy Sharp nursing a severe ankle injury in pre-season which means he won’t be fit until December, not a great start. Bristol City fans, Andreas Weimann wasn’t picked because he got a six-month injury when selecting the team.

We’ve replaced Huddersfield Town in the Championship and it’s easier to keep all the backroom staff so who’ll be leading the team while we sim the season? Ronnie Jepson, Neil Warnock’s right-hand man and a seasoned Assistant Manager veteran in the second tier. Perfect.

The media predictions are guessing that our team of veterans will finish 14th in the league. We ask ‘Rocket Ron’ to pick his suggested squad in the opening game against Burnley and he names this team: (4-2-3-1): Bialkowski; Colin, Lees, Peltier, Bidwell; Hogg, Norwood; Ince, Paterson, Ward; Martin.

That’s the last we’ll know about the team until the end of the season. Best of luck, Ronnie.

Huddersfield Town striker Danny Ward celebrating a goal while an image of the football manager championship team The Second Tier shows that he was the top goalscorer for the team with 13 goals.
Image: Instagram/Football Manager

The Results

Ronnie drew that Burnley game 1-1 and a great first half of the season saw The Second Tier 8th until January, but the side ran out of steam and finished 15th. Here are the results:

Position: 15th

Played: 46

Wins: 14

Draws 13

Losses: 19

GD: -9

Points: 55

A run of just six wins since January put to bed any chances of a playoff push, let alone winning the league. For context, Ronnie’s side were flying, only losing six times in all competitions in 2022. However, with the youngest player in the side being 29 years old, it’s no surprise that the team lost its legs as the season dragged on.

At the end of the 2022/23 season, Football Manager 2023 selected an overall Second Tier XI, based on performances, statistics and other metrics. This is our best side for the season:

Full The Second Tier best XI: (4-2-3-1): Bialkowski; Colin, Lees, Howson, Bidwell; Hogg, Ralls; Ince, Paterson, Ward; Wells.

Individual Awards

Top goalscorer: Danny Ward (13 league goals)

Top assister: Tom Ince (13 assists)

Most appearances: Bartosz Bialkowski (48 appearances)

Highest average rating: Bartosz Bialkowski and Maxime Colin (6.88)

Danny Ward notching up 14 goals and four assists in all competitions was a surprising choice as top goal scorer, with Jamie Paterson in second place scoring 12 and assisting five. Billy Sharp proved that age is no number, coming back from injury in December and scoring nine goals in 20 starts - that’s why he’s the Championship's all-time top scorer. The team were tenth in the league for goals scored, with 59 coming during the campaign.

Can we talk about the assisting machine that is Tom Ince too? He contributed 13 assists and scored five. Not only that, Ince was third in the league for chance creation which made him lock down the right side of the attack.

A photo of Tom Ince while playing for Reading FC with an image of the football manager championship team The Second Tier highlighting Tom Ince is the top assister for the club.

Where did it all go wrong? Defence. Who had the record in the league for games lost in a row? Us with four. Who had the highest expected goals against? Us with 69.53 and we actually conceded 68, the highest in the league. To quote Ronnie Jepson’s friend Neil Warnock during his stint as Sheffield United manager: ‘You blame everything, blame me, blame f***ing ref, pitch, system, tactics, you want to have a look at yourselves some of ya in the f***ng mirror.’

Interestingly though, Ronnie Jepson has alienated a couple of the players but none of them were defenders, with Albert Adomah, Chris Martin, David Marshall and Henri Lansbury all asking to leave. Chris Martin may have started the opening game but that proved to be his only start. Elsewhere, Lukas Jutkiewicz is going to join the Italian second division, Serie B, after just one start and four sub appearances.

Elsewhere in the league, Norwich City were champions, with Blackburn Rovers securing promotion and Middlesbrough are returning to the Premier League after tasting victory in the play-off final. Whereas League One will be welcoming Preston North End, Blackpool and Birmingham City after all three teams suffered relegation.

As for our team, it’s not the success we were hoping for. Yet, isn’t it fitting that a team full of Championship legends finishes the season comfortably in mid-table? No threat of relegation and no dreams of the Premier League. They’re Championship players for a reason, they know how good they’ve got it and they wouldn’t be anywhere else.

Think you can do better with that team? Try the Football Manager Championship experiment yourself and let us know your results.

Speaking of legends, let's get Neil Warnock a Knighthood. Sign the petition here and honour this true EFL legend.



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