Story by Robin Popley
Although the transfer window is not yet ‘officially’ open until the start of next week, it hasn’t prevented some of the Championship’s prospective biggest players, getting in new recruits at the tale end of last season. However, amid rumours of other players joining new clubs in the Championship this season, the bookmakers have already installed their favourites ahead of the new season: an aide which has helped me greatly.
According to several bookmakers – William Hill and Ladbrookes to name but two of the biggest – last season’s tilt at the title, Leicester City, have been re-installed as early favourites to win the Championship. The Foxes, to date, have only recruited three new faces in the capacity of Ritchie De Laet and Matty James from Manchester United and Jamie Vardy from newly promoted league outfit, Fleetwood Town, for a record non-league fee of £1 million. However, with several outgoings expected, it is hard to see whether or not the Foxes will live up to their pre-season billing yet again. We wait to see with tentative hope.
One of their rivals who may feel a player they are inheriting is a big loss for Leicester, are Bolton Wanderers, newly relegated last season from an eleven year stint in the Premier League. If Owen Coyle can recruit well and add to the potentially strong central defensive partnership of Matthew Mills (former captain of Leicester City) and Zat Knight, then they will have a good nucleus from which to build. It is also true that if Coyle can retain the services of Kevin Davies, they may need not look elsewhere for their 20 goal a season front-man, as like fellow veteran Kevin Philips (Blackpool) there a very few finer finishers in the league.
Another who has already caught my eye are Blackburn. I think they will be looking at a season of adjustment rather than Bolton, but, in the marque signing of Danny Murphy from Fulham they have a player who can change the game at the tilt of a hat. Hope Blackburn fans don’t expect any easy ride by buying solely big names/ex-Premier League players (the sincere advice of a Leicester fan here!)
Moving into the play-off places, and I expect a decent showing from newly-promoted Charlton Athletic. Well drilled by Chris Powell, they eased to the League 1 crown last time around, looking an outfit already worthy of a place in this year’s Championship. For the other promoted sides, a lot will depend on if they can keep their star names. For Sheffield Wednesday, the pivital cog in their engine, is Gary Madine (Goal Machine) and for Huddersfield, Jordan Rhodes. Both look likely to head to the exit doors, but, nevertheless: sometimes it is the whole that is greater than the individual. Leeds, with impending new investment, seem a good bet too. Birmingham a cert.
For Wolverhampton Wanderers fans, I expect a season of disappointment, if their recruitment policy carries on as it is shaping up at present. Their new manager, Stale Solbakken, will need to really assess the playing staff at his disposal and with Richard Johnson seemingly heading to pastures new, they may need to consolidate before they can really make an impression on this league. The same can be said of Cardiff City who, once again, lost out on a promotion push in the play-offs last year. A lot, once again hinges, on their play-maker Peter Whittingham. They don’t look quite the side they do with him in the team. My other cert for a mid-table place is Derby County. A team who continually impress me with their recruitment policy, the recent pre-contractual signing of Michael Jacobs from Northampton by Nigel Clough, is a perfect example of this scrutiny. Although I feel they still need to strengthen in certain areas, I do feel that in the next one or two years, Rams fans will certainly have something to cheer about.
Nottingham Forest have struggled in recent years and could do again. A lot for them hinges on their potential muted take-over. If Sheffield Wednesday and Huddersfield fail to keep some of their bigger names, I feel they could also have a long season of turmoil, as could Barsnley and Bristol City: both of whom only just avoided the drop last season. However, for the former, new signing Mido could have a huge bearing. For the latter, Jon Stead is now their main hope.
So, there it is. Done the best with what I have, so thanks to the bookies.
(Something I never thought I’d ever say!)