Champ Corner’s Steven Woodgate assesses the runners and riders for the 2009-2010 Championship season.
Hello! Welcome back to what looks to be a very enticing Championship season.
Those that fell (Newcastle United, Middlesbrough and West Brom) all face a daunting task and a difficult struggle to earn the right for an immediate return to the top-flight.
And for those that have joined us in the Championship, Leicester City, Scunthorpe United and Peterborough, you are welcomed to a division that will look to excite and your patience fans are going to love it.
Here in the Championship we don’t have to rely on Arab money to spark talking points and we do not require the nonsense of Sven ‘keep it in your trousers mate’ Eriksson taking the riches of a poor club.
It is here that you get pure football and pure football is what you are going to get.
An unpredictable league just has become even more unpredictable and it’s practically impossible to narrow promotion contenders down to just six.
Middlesbrough, Newcastle, West Brom, Ipswich Town, Reading, Sheffield United, Nottingham Forest, Cardiff City, Preston, Leicester City, Swansea City, QPR, Crystal Palace, Bristol City, Derby County all have the opportunity to gate crash the top six, the top two get automatic and the next four will go into the crazy world of the playoffs.
Burnley showed us last year that they can defy the odds and after a long, tenuous, memorable season they deserved their rightful place amongst the elite.
Wolves and Birmingham City went up automatically last term, in case you have forgotten, and hope they can lead by example of how good Championship clubs are.
Deflated teams like Reading, Sheffield United and Preston, who all suffered play off heartbreak, look to improve their squads to see if they can repeat last season’s charge up the table.
But how knows but here are my predictions (subject to change) for the upcoming season.
Simon Davey still may be living on his FA Cup exploits but he will find it a tough ask to keep the Tykes in the Championship this term, as new signings have been rather thin on the ground. They lack the inspiration and goal power to ensure safety.
Key Man: Brian Howard Prediction: 22nd
The outspoken Ian Holloway would be thanking the high heavens for an opening day return to QPR but unfortunately the Seasiders will be struggling and they face the daunting task of a relegation struggle.
Key Man: Paul Rachubka Prediction: 20th
Gary Johnson will be victim of his overachievements in previous seasons. Following promotion with a fourth placed finish to the surprise of many but now teams can get the better of them and a season in mid-table beckons.
Key Man: Nicky Maynard Prediction: 17th
Keeping hold of top scorer Ross McCormack may prove vital for Dave Jones but if Michael Chopra recaptures pinnacle form, they may be pushing playoffs no problem. Losing Roger Johnson is big but bringing in Antony Gerrard and David Marshall is a masterstroke. They will be looking to shine at the new stadium.
Key Man: Ross McCormack Prediction: 7th
With star men Scott Dann and Danny Fox both leaving, Chris Coleman has a tough task on his hands. No huge signings and too much relied upon Freddy Eastwood scoring, will be involved in relegation dogfight.
Key Man: Keiren Westwood Prediction: 19th
You never know what you are going to get from a Neil Warnock team but this Palace is one of the poorest in recent time. Simon Jordan’s wallet seems to have gone walkabouts as Palace don’t seem to have the financial purse strings to push for promotion this term.
Key Man: Shaun Derry Prediction: 15th
Compared to last season’s transfer activity, this summer has been relatively quiet. Nigel Clough has had his hands full trying to shape a squad. They will be a good outside bet for a playoff place but they may need another season under Clough to become a dominate force again.
Key Man: Giles Barnes Prediction: 9th
Sean O’Driscoll’s astute management saw Donny pass all expectations last term and they will have a good one this year. Their home form is crucial for their season’s outcome.
Key Man: Brian Stock Prediction: 10th
Roy Keane has inspiration that others can only dream about, his tactics and contacts will do well bringing in a whole host of players that will make Ipswich title contenders. This club will be very entertaining next season.
Key Man: Richard Wright Prediction: 4th
This team will be the dark horse of the Championship. Nigel Pearson is a brilliant young manager that has ambitions to burn. Another goal scorer will see Leicester be amongst the big boys once again.
Key Man: Matt Fryatt Prediction: 6th
If, and I do mean if, boro’ can keep their current squad and sign a few ‘Championship experienced’ players they will have the best chance to win this division. Keeping faith with Gareth Southgate was vital and motivating the ‘ex-Premier League’ players to perform will be key.
Key Man: David Wheater Prediction: 1st
This club will have to go bad to worse to get better and a mass exodus of players duly looms, with no manager at the helm they are ill prepared for the fight in the Championship. The fact they have got no one in yet is quite frightening and fans must be worried.
Key Man: Steven Taylor Prediction: 14th
Big things are expected as the money has been spent. They will definitely be in the playoff picture but to force their way into the higher top half may be tough. Billy Davies knows this division well and could be a danger this season.
Key Man: Chris Gunter Prediction: 8th
Momentum is key and The Posh may find this season a bit more wary than others as struggling is something they are not used too. The way they play may surprise a few but Darren Ferguson will know what is expected of him.
Key Man: Craig Mackail-Smith Prediction: 16th
They will be struggling, and struggling bad. Summer signing Bradley Wright-Phillips won’t score enough to keep the team in the league. Paul Sturrock will do his best but after last year’s fortunate escape, they can’t rely on being as fortunate this term.
Key Man: Roman Larrieu Prediction: 24th
Preston North End
Overachieved last year and a back to reality mid-table finish is upon them. Manager Alan Irvine is a wanted man but stuck loyal to Preston in hope he can steer them up the league. Loss of captain Paul McKenna leaves any playoff chances looking remote.
Key Man: Neil Mellor Prediction: 13th
Queen’s Park Rangers
Appointing Jim Magilton was a shock for many and QPR won’t be doing much this term. Pressure will be on and the lack of signings to improve the squad indicates that.
Key Man: Damion Stewart Prediction: 11th
No one will forget Steve Coppell but the team went a bit stale at the end of last season. A new manager and a new lease of life for many of the players, a young up and coming team may take some teams by surprise. Brendan Rodgers is certainly ambitious.
Key Man: Shane Long Prediction: 5th
Two promotions in three years seem like a dream come true but Nigel Adkins will find it tough in the Championship. They will need goals and possibly another loan stint of Arsenal’s Henri Lansbury if they were to survive.
Key Man: Matt Sparrow Prediction: 23rd
Going strength to strength, unlucky to be beaten in the playoff final last season and will be looking to challenge again this term. The arrival of Ched Evans is a shrewd one as he may fire the goals to get The Blades back in to the top-flight.
Key Man: Ched Evans Prediction: 2nd
Brian Laws has kept his teambuilding quiet as he looks to sneak into the playoff picture. If they get confidence in Francis Jeffers alongside Marcus Tudgay they will score goals and may prove to be a surprise, although that is doubtful.
Key Man: Marcus Tudgay Prediction: 12th
With losing Roberto Martinez, Swansea may really struggle this term and the lost of Striker Jason Scotland may prove vital. They played some of the best football last season but they may have just lost their spark now.
Key Man: Ferrie Bodde Prediction: 18th
Malky Mackey has replaced Brendan Rodgers and he may find it a tougher job than expected. Watford aren’t the riches of clubs and he may have to rely on youth to get them out of trouble. Relegation candidates for certain.
Key Man: Jay DeMerit Prediction: 21st
A yo-yo team at best and it will be more of the same. They will be pushing for automatic and Roberto Di Matteo tactical know how will put them in god stead. Signing Simon Cox was clever as he may be the young spark to ignite a team full of Premier League players.
Key Man: Jonathan Greening Prediction: 3rd