EFL: 12 memorable moments in 2020, including Marcelo Bielsa partying and Neil Warnock's latest 'last job'

Leeds United
Leeds United briefly took to a (stationary) open top bus to mark their return to the Premier League in July

It’s been a tough year for all the clubs in the EFL, with the coronavirus pandemic causing a number of financial and logistical problems.

Despite the difficulties there have still been a number of memorable moments in the world’s oldest football league competition.

The season of goodwill

West Bromwich Albion fan Mark Whitehouse showed the kind of generosity of spirit that would come to be so important for all of this year back in January.

The Baggies season-ticket holder won tickets to an Albion home game through a raffle organised by Birmingham homeless charity Outreach Angels.

He donated the tickets back to the charity and asked that they be given to a homeless West Brom fan.

As a result, supporter Sean got to attend the match against Stoke and while the Baggies might have lost 1-0, the photo below tells you everything you need to know about how much it meant to him.

West Brom fan
Sean’s first West Bromwich Albion game did not go to plan on the pitch for the then Championship leaders, who lost 1-0 to Stoke

Stevenage swing into action

When football was brought to a halt in mid-March because of the coronavirus pandemic Stevenage were one of many EFL clubs who wasted no time in reaching out to the elderly and isolated people in their local area.

With no games on, Boro moved all of their resources into a community outreach programme for the over-70s.

“We ask our community to come and support us week in and week out and we have the opportunity to support them now,” chief executive Alex Tunbridge told BBC Radio 5 Live at the time.

“We’re going to stand up and play our part in the fight.”

The six clubs promoted at home

The coronavirus pandemic meant that the decision was taken to curtail the 2019-20 League One and Two seasons at the start of June.

As a result, Coventry and Rotherham were promoted to the Championship and Swindon, Crewe and Plymouth to League One while all the players and management were at home.

Later that month the National League season was also brought to a premature end meaning that Barrow ended their 48-year spell outside the Football League.

Neil Warnock returns… again

Neil Warnock
No wonder Neil Warnock is smiling, the veteran boss has turned Middlesbrough from relegation cadidates to promotion chasers in his six months in charge of the club

Middlesbrough’s return to action after lockdown saw them fall to a dismal 3-0 home defeat by Swansea on 20 June.

With Boro above the relegation zone on goal difference only, chairman Steve Gibson had seen enough and reached for the little hammer saying “in case of emergency break glass and appoint Neil Warnock”.

Warnock, who famously said in 2007 that he had one last job in him, had vowed that the 2019-20 season would be his last before leaving Cardiff in October.

The vastly experienced gaffer led Boro to safety and, just four games short of 1,500 games in management, unsurprisingly decided to sign on for one more season after all.

The Teessiders beat Barnsley 2-1 in Warnock’s landmark match in September and are now sixth in the second tier.

Wigan beat Hull City 8-0 but still get relegated

Wigan 8-0 Hull
Wigan ended up being relegated on the final day of the 2019-20 Championship season despite thrashing Hull during the run-in

Wigan had been in terrific form in the weeks before football was suspended because of the coronavirus pandemic and picked up where they had left off when football restarted.

Unfortunately, for reasons that still remain unclear, they were placed into administration at the end of June and deducted 12 points that put them right back into relegation danger.

Remarkably undeterred by this setback the Latics set about trying to reach safety once more.

In a must-win game against fellow strugglers Hull City, Paul Cook’s men let out all their frustration with a stunning 8-0 win.

What’s more, it was 7-0 at the break as Wigan claimed their biggest ever EFL win and became the first second-tier team to score eight goals in a home game since Manchester City beat Huddersfield 10-1 in 1987.

Sadly, they were unable to pull off the great escape, suffered relegation to League One and were forced to sell the majority of their playing squad, with boss Cook also departing. It is hoped a protracted takeover will be completed soon.

Unsurprisingly, Hull were also relegated.

Marcelo Bielsa joins the party

Marcelo Bielsa
Marcelo Bielsa joins the celebrations as Leeds end their 16-year spell outside the Premier League

There are probably a few moments we could pick out from Leeds finally ending their 16-year wait to return to the Premier League in July.

However, in terms of one stand-alone picture, few can match the joy on iconic manager Marcelo Bielsa’s face as, after quite a lot of encouragement from his players, he joined in with the title celebrations on the pitch after the final game of the season.

Barnsley pull off the great escape

Barnsley celebrate staying up
Barnsley needed to win their final two games to stand any chance of staying up – and scored injury-time winners in both

Going into injury-time of their penultimate game of the season, Barnsley were set to be relegated to League One.

Gerhard Struber’s men then grabbed a late, late winner against Nottingham Forest (more on whom later) to send their battle for survival to the final day.

Unfortunately for them, that still meant they would need to go to promotion-chasing Brentford and win and hope other results went their way.

The Reds took the lead through Callum Styles but when Josh Dasilva equalised to put the Bees within one goal of the Premier League it looked like it was all over.

Once again, as the match entered injury-time they were relegated but once more when they needed a hero they found one.

Clarke Oduor popped up with his first career league goal to secure survival and prompt a very emotional post-match interview from an overwhelmed Struber.external-link

Swans sneak into play-offs as Forest falter

James McClean Joe Lolley
Stoke’s James McClean consoles Nottingham Forest counterpart Joe Lolley at full-time

At the same time that Barnsley were pulling off their great escape, Nottingham Forest were pulling off something slightly less impressive.

The Reds had gone into the final two games of the season knowing that just a point would be enough to secure a play-off berth.

As mentioned above, they suffered a late loss at Barnsley but a place in the top six still seemed a formality with Swansea needing a final day win, Forest to lose to Stoke and a huge goal swing if they were to pinch sixth…

I think you know where this is going now.

Forest imploded as they fell to a 4-1 home defeat and the Swans soared as they won at Reading by the same scoreline. After being in the top six for 207 consecutive days in the longest of seasons, Forest had fallen at the last.

Wycombe, and Adebayo Akinfenwa, reach the Championship

It was some end to the season for Wycombe.

The Chairboys were actually eighth in the League One table when football was stopped in March. However, when the season was brought to an end they moved up to third on points-per-game because they had a match in hand on those around them.

Keen to make the most of their lifeline they cruised into a 4-1 first-leg lead in their play-off semi-final at Fleetwood before booking a place at Wembley with a 2-2 draw at Adams Park.

Joe Jacobson’s penalty gave Gareth Ainsworth’s men a 2-1 win over Oxford in the play-off final to send them into the second tier of English football for the first time in their history.

It also meant Championship football for the first time for veteran striker Adebayo Akinfenwa.

The popular frontman, 38, even got a video message from Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp to congratulate him on his team’s success.

Wimbledon complete the long road home

Twenty-nine years after leaving Plough Lane, Wimbledon finally returned to the place they longed to call home in November.

Quite a lot had changed in the the intervening three decades, with the original Wimbledon having controversially been allowed to relocate to Milton Keynes and AFC Wimbledon were formed in 2002.

Starting off in the Combined Counties League, the club has so far won six promotions and now have a new stadium of their own.

Life begins at forty…one

Kevin Ellison celebrates his late goal
Kevin Ellison joined Newport County on a one-year deal in September after being released by Morecambe

It looked like Kevin Ellison’s professional career was going to come to something of an ignominious end when he was released by Morecambe at the end of last season.

Almost resigned to his playing days being over, the 41-year-old was due to start work in a warehouse when he got a call from Newport County boss Michael Flynn.

Ellison came off the bench to score the winner against Port Vale in November to become the oldest player to score in the EFL since May 2006.

That will hopefully help him mend some bridges with Exiles fans who had nicknamed him Voldemort during his time with the Shrimps because of his record of scoring against the Welsh side.

Some fans start to return

Luton Town fans at Kenilworth Road
Luton fans celebrate a goal against Norwich at Kenilworth Road earlier this month in the first game they had been allowed to attend since February

Save for a couple of test events in October fans had been unable to attend matches since the start of March when football, along with most other things, was shut down.

For a few teams, and some lucky fans, that changed at the start of December when clubs in tier two areas of the country were permitted to allow limited numbers back into grounds.

It’s just a start of course and we know we’re a long way from full crowds being allowed back in, but after this most difficult of years it brought some much needed hope that brighter days, as well as days getting soaked in the stands as your team lose 3-0, are ahead.

Merry Christmas everyone.


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