Last season’s Championship was arguably the most hotly-contested league in Europe with just 8 games left there was just 10 points between relegation and the play-offs. We lost 6 teams with Cardiff City, Hull City and Crystal Palace being promoted and Bristol City, Wolverhampton and Peterborough United relegated to League One. With this we gained QPR, Reading and Wigan from the Premier League and Bournemouth, Doncaster and Yeovil Town from League One.
In the hunt for the Premier League will be many clubs with 12-15 teams with at least an outside chance of the play-offs, but we’ll be focusing on the teams that are sure to be up near the top. The favourites for the title in the Championship are unsurprisingly QPR – led by Harry Redknapp with the backing of rich owner Tony Fernandes, Queens Park Rangers boast many top class players from former-Marseille man Loic Remy to former-Real Madrid midfielder Estaban Granero, however it is unseen as to whether they will depart Loftus Road. Three men just arriving at the Hoops are Karl Henry, former-Wolverhampton tough-tackling midfielder, at £1m, Richard Dunne, long-serving Premier League defender at Aston Villa and Manchester City, on a free-transfer – a real coup indeed. Lastly, Danny Simpson, versatile right-backwho is signing from Newcastle United. Following this, we look to Wigan – Owen Coyle joins as manager with Roberto Martinez leaving for Everton. Departing with the Spanish coach is Kone, Alcaraz and Figueroa – two of which are teaming up with Martinez in Merseyside. New names such as Grant Holt, Scott Carson, James Perch and Chris McCann join notorious names like McCarthy, McArthur and Al Habsi. The final relegated side, Reading also have high hopes of being promoted straight back to the Premier League at the first attempt. Nigel Adkins goes into his first full season as Reading manager after joining with the Royals all-but relegated. New recruits Wayne Bridge and Royston Drenthe, once of Real Madrid, will hope to fire the club back into the top division, but more faces will be needed at the Madejski Stadium.
Dougie Freeman’s Bolton will also hope to return to the Premier League on the second time of asking after an underwhelming first season in the Championship. He’ll also be hoping controversial striker Jermaine Beckford and solid defender Alex Baptiste will be enough to secure promotion to the Premier League. The last two I believe with a serious title chance are Watford and Nottingham Forest. The first of which nearly secured promotion in the play-off final only to lose to Crystal Palace. Gianfranco Zola boasts no more than 13 signings, many of whom on-loan and returning from last season. Over to Nottingham Forest, who narrowly missed out on the play-off last years. Their most notable signing of the summer is Jamie Mackie who showed he can be a handful in the Premier League.
Others looking to sneak a spot in the lottery that is the play-offs are Blackpool, Blackburn, Brighton, Ipswich, Leeds and Middlesbrough. The Tangerines aren’t novices to the play-offs, being promoted from the system in 2010 in a memorable final to Cardiff. Adding 3 new strikers (Michael Chopra, Steve Davies and Bobby Grant) certainly gives option up top and adding experienced defender Gary Mackenzie should sure up the defence. Blackpool’s biggest task this summer is to keep hold of young winger Tom Ince who has been subject to interest from Cardiff and Celtic. Moving on to Blackburn, a club who’ve had a torrid two years since the takeover by the perplexed Venkys. But they do have talent in the squad, Dj Campbell and Kilgallon joining from last year’s Premier League sides QPR and Sunderland. Although, the play-offs will probably be too much of an ask for the Rovers this season. Last season’s play-off semi-finalists will also hope they can kick on and gain promotion this time around, Brighton haven’t added too many signings, only Matthew Upson joining permanently and young left-back Adam Chicksen arriving from Milton Keynes Dons. Ipswich are probably the most surprising choice to perhaps make the play-offs, but under Mick McCarthy and with new signings that are Championship-recognised like Cole Skuse, David McGoldrick and Paul Anderson. Unlikely, but the people’s republic of Leeds will be hoping that this will be the season they can make the step up to the Premier League, where they feel they should be. Luke Murphy and Matt Smith showed quality in League One, but can they perform in the Championship for the Whites? I think not. Middlesbrough, another team who feel they’re underperforming and the top division is where they should be playing their football but do they have the quality to gain promotion? Dean Whitehead from Stoke and Jozsef Varga from an unknown club in Hungary are the only transfers they’ve managed to bring in, which right now isn’t enough to make the top 6.
With fans near the top praying that their team are the lucky ones that are promoted, you have to look to the other end of the spectrum with clubs clinching on to Championship status. Last season we saw the relegation battle go down to the final day where Peterborough were staying up until the 89th minute, where they suffered the fate that no side wants to happen to them. This year, it could go close again as many teams could be caught up in a relegation dogfight. One of the likely candidates for relegation are Yeovil Town. The Glovers surprised most when they beat Brentford 2-1 in the play-off final. The man responsible? Gary Johnson – In his second stint now at the south west-based club, and attempting to bring back the ‘good times’ at Huish Park. To help with their survival bid, Yeovil have recruited players such as Danny Seaborne and Sam Hoskins from Southampton and long-serving Swansea defender Alan Tate, but will this be enough for them to survive? Probably not. The next team likely to be near the drop are League One winners Bournemouth, who have recently brought in two Norwich players, Elliott Ward on a free transfer and Andrew Surman on loan. The squad was the strongest
in League One but the Championship is a different kettle of the fish and it will be difficult for the Cherries to adapt to life in the second tier. You’d think after gaining promotion to the Championship, the talk of Doncaster would be about whether they can stay in the division, well something even more groundbreaking has happened: Boyband star Louis Tomlinson has joined the club! Ok, he’s 99% likely not to start a league game, but what a brilliant idea for publicity from Donny, and this will generate a lot of money for charity. Aside from this bizarre stunt, Doncaster have brought in some interesting signings – Ross Turnbull has been on the fringes of Chelsea for the last 5 years, but Harry Forrester, a skillful winger has had many heads-turning, but he’s settled for a move to the Keepmoat Stadium. I believe Doncaster have the strongest squad of all the teams promoted from League One. Last season saw Barnsley luckily stay up in the 89th minute, and this year I still think they’ll struggle. The signings of M’voto and Nyatanga could stop the goals, but at the other end they make lack firepower, even with new-boy O’Grady. Another who just beat the drop in May were Huddersfield. Securing James Vaughan permanently was easily the Terriers best deal of the summer. Hogg and Paterson will also add depth to the squad and competition in the team. Cementing their place in the Championship is the aim for Simon Grayson’s men, but survival isn’t nailed on. The last team I can see struggling this season is Sheffield Wednesday, of all the signings they’ve made (5) I can only see Jacques Maghoma, who showed fans in League Two why he was so highly sought after.
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By Cain Bennett