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Michael O’Neill watching English Championship finale with interest

Michael O'Neill

With a high-profile friendly against Spain in June, before the start of the 2024/25 UEFA Nations League campaign in September, Northern Ireland head coach Michael O’Neill will already be plotting his next squads.

As such, the Portadown man will be watching the end of the English Championship season with interest – for the friendlies against Scotland and Romania in March, as many as 12 of his 28-man squad plied their trade with clubs in the division.

The likes of Conor Washington and Gavin Whyte have now been promoted to the Championship too with Derby County and Portsmouth respectively, so the second tier of English football has become a key battleground for Northern Irish stars – a fact not lost on O’Neill.

Ups and Downs

It would be fair to say that the Championship betting odds have been an accurate predictor of the campaign in the division.

Pre season favourites Leicester City have been crowned champions, while other prominent sides in the EFL Championship promotion odds – Leeds United and Southampton – find themselves now priced at 11/10 and 17/10 to ascend back to the Premier League.

The only outlier has been Ipswich Town, who could enjoy back-to-back promotions from League One to the EPL – masterminded by former Northern Ireland youth international turned head coach Kieran McKenna.

A club that was expected to be in the mix for promotion from the Championship was Middlesbrough, although they have fallen short of pre-season expectations. That’s not been for a want of trying on the part of Northern Ireland international Paddy McNair, however, who has been a regular in Michael Carrick’s starting eleven.

Jamal Lewis, meanwhile, has found himself stationed at Watford, on loan from parent club Newcastle United. The classy left-back has made 32 starts for the Hornets, although they are a side currently making the painful transition from Premier League regulars to Championship mid-table mediocrity.

Battling the Drop

Unfortunately, a number of the Northern Irish contingent playing in the Championship this season have found themselves embroiled in battles at the wrong end of the division.

Conor Hazard, who is now O’Neill’s preferred number two in goal behind Bailey Peacock-Farrell, has been in and out of a Plymouth side who could yet be relegated to League One – a scenario predicted by many, but that’s no less painful for the Pilgrims.


Millwall have ended the season like a train, winning four games in a row to dismiss any relegation fears that they were facing – George Saville has been as combative (eleven yellow cards, one red) as ever in the Lions’ midfield.

Stoke City’s survival has only been assured in the final weeks of the campaign. It’s been a long, hard season and one that Jordan Thompson has played more than 2,000 minutes of for the team from the Potteries.

And credit to QPR, whose hopes of surviving the drop looked forlorn until the arrival of Marti Cifuentes in October. Since then, the Hoops’ form has improved and they are now safe for another season – ensuring Northern Ireland international Paul Smyth will get another crack at the Championship in 2024/25.

O’Neill won’t be happy that so many of his players have endured a tough season in the English Championship, although that competitiveness should stand them in good stead ahead of the UEFA Nations League, which gets underway later this summer.

Main image license: CC BY SA 4.0

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