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Africans in the Championship: Season in Review

Christian Atsu has impressed during a season-long loan spell with Newcastle United.
Christian Atsu has impressed during a season-long loan spell with Newcastle United.

The Championship has long been a hotbed for African talent, with the division often littered with the continent's players taking their first steps in the English game, or more established competitors who have dropped down from the Premier League and are battling to find their way back to the top table.

This season was no different, with players from across Africa to be found up and down the division.

In this feature, KweséESPN look back over the season that was, and review the performances of the continent's stars.

The title was settled on the final day, as Newcastle United's victory over Barnsley, coupled with Brighton & Hove Albion's draw at Aston Villa, ensured that Rafael Benitez's side claimed the crown.

Christian Atsu enjoyed arguably his best season in English football, finding his niche in the second tier after moving on loan from Chelsea and weighing in with five goals and three assists, and making a series of decisive contributions during the run-in.

At 25, Atsu must finally begin realising the potential that once saw him nicknamed 'the Ghanaian Messi', and a Premier League campaign with the Magpies -- either on loan or with a permanent deal -- appears to be the wisest step.

Newcastle's title-winning campaign was fuelled by other African stars, with summer signing, Mohamed Diame, Chancel Mbemba and Achraf Lazaar all featuring for the Magpies.

Newcastle will be joined in the top table next season by Brighton, with 29-year-old Cameroon full-back Gaetan Bong enjoying perhaps his best campaign in English football. Anglo-Nigerian youngster Chuba Akpom played 10 times on loan from Arsenal, but failed to find the net.

The third promotion spot is still to be settled, with Reading, Sheffield Wednesday, Huddersfield Town and Fulham all set to duke it out in the playoffs.

The Royals boast four African internationals -- Sone Aluko, Floyd Ayite, Cyriac and Neeskens Kebano -- while Huddersfield's Congolese forward Elias Kachunga has scored 12 this season after moving on loan from Ingolstadt.

Elsewhere in the division, three African hotshots have caught the eye.

Tammy Abraham in action for England U21s.
Tammy Abraham in action for England U21s.

Despite his controversies, Anglo-Nigerian wonderkid Tammy Abraham has been a revelation on loan at Bristol City from Chelsea.

The Robins ended the campaign three points above the dropzone, but it would have been a lot worse had it not been for the teenager, who scored 23 goals. Aston Villa had a mixed first season back in the second tier, with Steve Bruce replacing Roberto Di Matteo midway through the campaign.

Where would they have been were it not for the goals of Jonathan Kodjia, who moved from City in the summer and netted 19 in 36?

The Ivorian may have flopped at the Nations Cup, but his consistent goalscoring at this level will surely have caught the eye of some prospective suitors.

Credit must also go to Britt Assombalonga of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Nottingham Forest, like Bristol City, only escaped relegation at the death, but it could have been a different story had it not been for Assombalonga, who bagged 14.

When he's fit and firing, there's not doubt that the former Peterborough man is devastating at this level, and if he can keep his injury demons at bay next term, then expect Mark Warburton's side to find themselves much higher up the table.

Defensively, there aren't too many centre-backs in the division who demonstrated greater poise and power than Sol Bamba this term, quite remarkable considering just how regularly the Ivorian has been ridiculed throughout his career.

The former Leeds United man began the campaign as a free agent, but was snapped up by Neil Warnock after he took over at Cardiff City and proved to be a rock in the heart of the backline as the Welsh side pulled away from danger.

Bamba's teammate Bruno Ecuele Manga also impressed in defence, and will be sought after this summer as his contract comes to an end, while right-back Andy Yiadom of Barnsley has also caught the eye, earning himself a Ghana call-up in the process.

Creatively, another Black Star excelled, with Albert Adomah contributing 10 assists in 38 outings for Villa -- the joint-second best in the division. Double A was unfortunate to have been sold by Middlesbrough following their promotion to the Premier League, but his interplay with Kodjia and his fleet-footed wingplay for the Midlanders offer hope that the 29-year-old can yet make it in the big time.

At the other end of the spectrum, several of the continent's performers struggled this term.

Nouha Dicko, of Wolverhampton Wanderers, scored just three goals in 30 outings, and while it's a big improvement on his injury-hit campaign last term, he's still far from his best. Nigeria's Carl Ikeme and Romain Saiss of Morocco may also be disappointed with Wolves' 15th-placed finish.

Finally, there was heartbreak on the last day of the season for another Nigerian, Hope Akpan, who was relegated to the third tier with Blackburn Rovers. It's the first time a former Premier League winner has dropped into League One, although after an indifferent campaign, the Super Eagles midfielder may relish the opportunity to reassert himself at a lower level.

Wigan Athletic's Anglo-Egyptian midfielder Sam Morsy and Rotherham trio Sam Ajayi, Tom Adeyemi and Aimen Belaid all also drop down a division.

Ed Dove is the Soccer Editor for KweséESPN. Follow him on Twitter @EddyDove.

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