Story by Robin Popley
My championship cohort (Richard Curtis) and I have both long been fans of clubs who have proud Premier League history but now find themselves well established in England’s second tier. Renowned as the fourth most viewed league in the world, the Championship doesn’t seem to be any less competitive this year and it is true when commentators say this is the league that is truly any ones to win. Nevertheless, in our opinion, here are the main movers and shakers ahead of the new campaign.
Bolton, having only been relegated from the Barclays Premier League last year, look almost certain to mount a challenge for automatic promotion this season. Having been fortunate in the ability to retain many of their premier league stars, the recruitment of players such as Keith Andrews from Blackburn on a free and Matthew Mills from Leicester City, seem to add to the depth already in place. Owen Coyle must feel he has a team capable of challenging in the upper reaches of the league. Now it is down to his squad to deliver.
The other team likely to mount a genuine automatic promotion challenge is Leicester City. Having released (or sold) many of Sven Goran-Erikkson’s revolutionaries, Nigel Pearson has firmly placed his authority on this squad, with the summer acquisitions of Matty James and Ritchie de Laet from Manchester United for a combined sum of £1 million, Zak Whitbread from Norwich on a free transfer, Marko Futacs (another bosman signing from Portsmouth), promising French-U21 star Anthony Knockaert from Guingamp, yet it is probably the signing of Jamie Vardy from (then non-league) Fleetwood Town for a record non-league £1 million transfer fee, which is the signing that has whetted the appetite of the Foxes faithful. Like Coyle, Pearson has sought to create a team built on youth and experience and (hopefully) this will be a good year for all Leicester fans. After a nine year absence from England’s top tier, it could be argued that it is about time the fans who have visited Yeovil Town more times than Old Trafford in recent years, get their opportunity to swap the winter’s evening in Suffolk for the carpet inbuilt at the Emirates.
Other teams with proud history’s who have long deserved success are Leeds United, Cardiff, Sheffield Wednesday, Charlton, Burnley, Blackpool, Birmingham City, Derby and Nottingham Forest (even if the latter of those listed do pain me to say). It is likely that Wolves and Blackburn should also be challenging as the other recently relegated Premiership teams, so the shake up for those Play-Off positions could be very interesting come the final days of the season. My tip for this seasons shock package are Charlton.
Mid Table Mediocrity
Perhaps a rather unfair sub section title, but it is the phrase often coined for those who appear to now find themselves as clubs trying to establish themselves in one capacity or another. Peterborough United and Milwall are two clubs which, sadly for their fans, fall into this category. Despite carrying this pre-season tag, it is not to say that they won’t compete in the higher echelons of the table, yet it is more likely that a season of consolidation would be greatly received by both Darren Ferguson and Kenny Jackett. Another club to fall into this mini-league would be Huddersfield, who after promotion from League 1 (via the play-offs), would be more than content to establish themselves as a Championship club, something I feel that teams such as Brighton should also realistically aim to do this forthcoming year, before pushing on next season with a real intent of promotion. Hull City fans, too, should also expect the same with Steve Bruce needing time to put a marker on his newly knitted squad. Elsewhere, Watford, Ipswich and Middlesborough should also not be dismayed if their season ends up with another 10 – 15th place finish, as this will – yet again – show signs of improvement, on their relatively youthful sides. Non of those aforementioned clubs, though, should fear too much about the dreaded drop.
I feel somewhat hypocritical as I did intend this magazine not to be as predictable as other materials in this domain with their predictions. Alas, for clubs such as Barnsley, Bristol City and Crystal Palace this could make for difficult reading. Without having made too many additions in the close season, I would find it extremely hard not to tip these three sides for the drop. However, I am one all for reprieves and I wish them all well, truly.
So, there you have it, our Championship preview for the new season. I wish your team every success in the forthcoming year.
Tips for Promotion; 1. Bolton, 2. Leicester (Blackburn via the play-offs).
Tips for Relegation; 22. Crystal Palace, 23. Bristol City, 24. Barnsley.