A Championship XI made up of vastly underrated players

Brentford's Ramallo Jota celebrates scoring their fourth goal to complete his hat trick

Newcastle, Derby, Cardiff, Preston, Nottingham Forest, Brentford, Fulham and Aston Villa players feature

Newcastle United's Karl DarlowNewcastle United's Karl Darlow

The team of the year is always a subject for debate, irrespective of what league football is being played in, and the Championship is no different, with their equivalent being released fairly recently. 

While there were some names that simply couldn't be left out, such as Anthony Knockaert and Chris Wood, there were a few players who could have considered themselves unlucky not to be included. In light of that, here's a Championship XI - in a 4-2-3-1 formation - complied of players who perhaps don't get the recognition they deserve.

Goalkeeper - Karl Darlow (Newcastle United)

After starting the season as second choice behind summer recruit Matz Sels, the 26-year-old former Nottingham Forest man has quietly gone about his business, and has established himself as a key part of Newcastle's team. Darlow came close to haunting his former side with two brilliant penalty saves in a 2-1 defeat at The City Ground, and has consistently highlighted his shot stopping ability when required. Aged just 26 as well, the Magpies could have Darlow in-between the sticks for a long time yet.

Right back - Cyrus Christie (Derby County)

Aged just 24, the Republic of Ireland international has already racked up over 200 league appearances in the Football League - and over 100 with Derby County. After arriving from Coventry City in 2014, the rampaging full back has gone from strength to strength and is a key cog in the Rams' side, providing defensive strength and a useful option on the overlap. Christie has been excellent this season for Derby, and when he doesn't feature, Rams fans certainly miss his presence.

Aston Villa’s Leandro Bacuna and Cardiff’s Bruno Ecuele Manga in actionAston Villa’s Leandro Bacuna and Cardiff’s Bruno Ecuele Manga in action

Centre back - Bruno Ecuele Manga (Cardiff City)

The Gabon international may have missed half the season, but when he has played, the Cardiff backline has certainly noticed him. The 28-year-old has been a colossus when called upon by Neil Warnock, and wins practically every aerial duel he goes up for. Incredibly strong, good in the tackle and a competent passer, it's quite surprising that Manga is still with the Bluebirds as opposed to a Premier League outfit, but with Manga now approaching his peak age, a move to the top flight would surprise very few.

Centre back - Tom Clarke (Preston North End)

'Titanic' wouldn't even come close to describing how immense Clarke has been for the Lilywhites this season, with the 29-year-old consistently playing out of his skin. Much like Manga, nothing and no-one beats Clarke in the air, and that's shown at both ends with the defender finding himself on the scoresheet four times alone this campaign. Pep Guardiola won't be signing him as he's not exactly a ball playing defender as such, when you're as strong in the tackle and solid in the air as Clarke is, maybe some of City's defenders should take note and remember that first and foremost, their job is to defend - something which Clarke has done exceptionally this campaign.

Nottingham Forest's Daniel Pinillos scores their second goalNottingham Forest's Daniel Pinillos scores their second goal

Left back - Dani Pinillos (Nottingham Forest)

There have been very few Forest players who can say they've had a good season following a disastrous campaign, but Pinillos is one of them. The 24-year-old has recovered from a serious injury magnificently and picked up where he left off following a highly promising start to English football after signing from Cordoba in 2015, and also scored his first goal in Forest colours this season - against none other than hated rivals Derby County. Out of contract in the summer, if Forest don't renew the Spaniard, then there will be plenty of other clubs who would be interested - maybe even some in the top flight.

Central midfield - Conor Hourihane (Aston Villa)

The fact Hourihane was left out of the team of the year surprised many, as the 26-year-old has lit the league up on many an occasion this season. In total, the Republic of Ireland international has racked up 14 assists so far this campaign - 11 with Barnsley and three with Aston Villa, whom he joined in January - while also scoring seven goals - six with the Tykes and one with Villa - in what has been a blistering season for Hourihane. Many expect Villa to kick on and push for automatic promotion next season, and with players like Hourihane at their disposal, it's little wonder.

Queens Park Rangers' Massimo Luongo in action with Norwich City's Alexander TetteyQueens Park Rangers' Massimo Luongo in action with Norwich City's Alexander Tettey

Central midfield - Massimo Luongo (Queens Park Rangers)

Similarly to Forest, there aren't many QPR players who can say they've performed well this season - but Luongo has been head and shoulders above everyone at Loftus Road. Frequently running the show in midfield, while Luongo doesn't necessarily score or assist many - one goal and two assists all season - his presence in the middle allows others to play their natural game, with Luongo breaking up play and keeping things ticking over. Aged just 24 as well, the Australia international has a big future ahead of him.

Right wing - Jota (Brentford)

How is this man not in the Premier League? The 25-year-old Spaniard has been truly sensational for the Bees, firing in 10 goals and five assists in just 18 Championship appearances at time of writing, and truly epitomises Brentford's counter attacking excellence. A creative, technically gifted winger with an eye for goal, Jota makes a mockery of practically every full back that has the unenviable job of trying to mark him, and if Brentford aren't promoted to the top flight soon, someone will almost certainly swoop for Jota's services.

Pablo Hernandez celebrates scoring the second goal for Leeds UnitedPablo Hernandez celebrates scoring the second goal for Leeds United

Attacking midfield - Pablo Hernandez (Leeds United)

Eyebrows were raised when the former Swansea City man linked up with his former teammate and Garry Monk at Leeds United, as Hernandez had signed from Qatari side Al Aribi, with many believing the former Spain international was over the hill and enjoying the easy life. Those who thought that have been proved spectacularly wrong, with Hernandez pulling more than just a few strings in Leeds' side. It may be Wood that gets the credit, as he's the one consistently putting the ball in the net, but Hernandez - with five goals and eight assists this season - has been a truly under-appreciated component of that side.

Left wing - Floyd Ayite (Fulham)

It's been a tremendous debut season for the Togo international at Craven Cottage, with Ayite sitting on figures of nine goals and six assists after 28 Championship appearances since arriving from Bastia in the summer. With pace to burn along with a tonne of tricks up his sleeve, Ayite has proved to be a very astute signing from Slavisa Jokanovic, and will be crucial to Fulham's hopes of a top six spot. The winger very rarely gives the ball away either, and could be one that Fulham fans fear will depart if the club don't secure promotion.

Striker - Jonathan Kodjia (Aston Villa)

Following the Ivory Coast international's incredible spell at Bristol City, where the 27-year-old scored 19 in 49, a few accused Kodjia of being a) a one-season wonder, and b) a big fish in a small pond at Bristol City. Both claims have proved unfounded following his summer switch to Aston Villa, with Kodjia almost turning Steve Bruce's side into a one-man team at times. Kodjia has scored 19 goals in 35 appearances for Villa so far this season, and while he is suspended until the final match of the campaign, you wouldn't bet against him scoring his 20th against Blackburn Rovers when he returns. 

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