The Championship: Season Preview


Automatic Promotion Candidates – Blackburn, Wolves – A top flight return seems likely for two of the relegated clubs, as neither side are yet to lose many players while Blackburn’s recruitment has been excellent so far. Wolves will have serious money to spend if Steven Fletcher and Matt Jarvis are sold, so they should have a decent chance at an immediate return.

There or thereabouts – Middlesbrough, Bolton, Leicester, Birmingham, Cardiff – Middlesbrough and Leicester have been mooted as promotion candidates for a while now, but Tony Mowbray has assembled a strong squad at the Riverside, while Nigel Pearson won’t make the same lavish mistakes as Sven did last summer. Bolton have lost a fair number of players since their relegation and haven’t strengthened significantly so they’ll have to fight for their place amongst the frontrunners, while Birmingham under Lee Clark are financially restricted, though they still have some talented players though. Cardiff were strong under Malky Mackay last year and the return of Craig Bellamy can only spur them on to better things.

Pushing for playoffs – Leeds, Nottingham Forest, Brighton – The Neil Warnock effect should ensure Leeds challenge for the top six this year, while Nottingham Forest’s new owners have given their side the financial footing to compete in this division. Brighton could be the surprise package of the season as Gus Poyet has put together a quality looking team, including Spanish superstar Vicente.

Mid-table security – Ipswich, Hull, Burnley, Huddersfield, Blackpool, Millwall – Another season of mediocrity beckons for Paul Jewell and Ipswich without the resources to seriously challenge the rest, while Steve Bruce hasn’t made any eye catching signings yet at Hull. Burnley should be solid if unspectacular under Eddie Howe and Blackpool may find reaching the playoffs a little too tricky this year despite the brilliance of Ian Holloway. Huddersfield only came up via the playoffs, but Simon Grayson has been backed by the owners and that investment should see them make a decent start to Championship life. The ever-improving Millwall under Kenny Jackett should continue their development and enjoy a comfortable season.

Pushing their luck – Sheffield Wednesday, Derby, Watford, Bristol City, Crystal Palace – The Owls should be strong at Hillsborough with a massive home support behind them and Dave Jones’s Championship experience should ensure they survive. Derby under Nigel Clough are facing a make or break year, but they simply haven’t invested enough to progress again. Watford surprised everyone under Sean Dyche last season, but Zola faces a tough job introducing all his random new signings into the squad. Palace will struggle as always, but Dougie Freedman is a bright young manager and expect Wilfried Zaha to hit the heady heights this year. Bristol City endured a nightmare season last year and they may struggle to climb much up the table given the lack of quality in their squad.

Set for the trapdoor – Charlton, Peterborough, Barnsley – Chris Powell is a bright young manager, but Charlton, despite their League One title look the weakest of the promoted sides. Peterborough always struggle for quality and seem to lose their best players year in, year out and this year could be a hard slog for Darren Ferguson and his boys. Barnsley seem to survive the drop by the tiniest of margins every season and sooner rather than later, they will fall into League One.

Three eye catching signings – Danny Murphy (Blackburn), Tomasz Kuszczak (Brighton), Jonathan Woodgate (Middlesbrough) – Murphy has the Premier League know how to unlock Championship defences to aid Blackburn’s promotion challenge, Kuszczak didn’t look out of place deputising for Manchester United and should provide Brighton with a safe pair of hands while everyone knows of Jonathan Woodgate’s defensive ability, it’s the staying fit part that’s the problem. Far too good for this division on his day.

Three top youngsters – Nathan Redmond (Birmingham), Joe Ralls (Cardiff), Sean Murray (Watford) – Redmond has caught the eye of all the Premier League big boys with his electrifying displays on the wing. Joe Ralls scored a cracking goal on his debut against Hull last year and should get an opportunity to impress up front again this time around, while Sean Murray was the best of Watford’s young stars that helped them defy the odds and finish in mid table last season. Cracking box-to box midfielder with an eye for goal.

Three potential flops – Nuno Gomes (Blackburn), Mido (Barnsley), Wayne Bridge (Brighton) – At 36, Nuno Gomes is unlikely to trouble Championship defences with his limited pace and lack of English experience and no doubt he’s on a packet as well. Mido can be brilliant on his day and simply abysmal at other times. He’s already out for the first three months of the season though and may prove to be an expensive luxery Keith Hill’s men can’t afford. And Wayne Bridge might die of shock when he realises he actually has to play football again. Can’t see that one going well.

Headline Grabbers – Neil Warnock and El-Hadji Diouf – The outspoken manager and the ‘sewer rat’ team up to fire Leeds United to promotion? Seems highly unlikely, Diouf could have an argument in an empty room and Warnock can never keep his trap shut. Ever. The training ground could be an interesting place to be next season.

Inevitable happening – Steve Kean and the Venky’s come to a sticky ending, hopefully with a large brawl involving poultry and the entire of Ewood Park brandishing chicken drumsticks towards the manager and the owners. In other words, Kean will get sacked.

Most unlikely thing you’ll see all season – After Watford lose every game of the season, Sean Dyche straps on his armour and leads a Braveheart esque rebellion at Vicarage Road. He strings up the Italian owners who chopped him so cruelly and makes Gianfranco Zola clean the toilets for the rest of his life. Or he’ll probably just lie down timidly and watch the club fall into ruin under yet more clueless foreign owners.

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