Out of all the top four divisions in English football; the championship is by far the toughest. Last season was by far the closet, with the race to avoid the drop intense throughout the campaign, whereas the race for the Premier League grow closer and closer between Watford and Hull city, with the Tigers gaining the second automatic promotion place with champions Cardiff. The play-offs again produced pulse raising action with Watford defeating Leicester and Crystal Palace beating bitter rivals Brighton and Hove Albion in the two semi finals, it was the Eagles and veteran striker Kevin Phillips who found themselves in dreamland and in the Premier League. So how does this season’s Championship look? Here is my prediction…
Champions: Queens Park Rangers
Under prestigious manager Harry Redknapp, a strong favourite for the England job last summer, and the quality of the squad which the hoops have managed to contain since the drop of the Premier League last season, QPR should claim the title. QPR have managed to keep hold of Julio Caesar, Brazil’s no.1 goalkeeper, although talks are ongoing about a possible move to Italy. The experience of players such as Shaun Derry and Bobby Zamora should help benefit the younger players. Last time QPR were in the championship, Adel Taarabt was voted player of the season and was instrumental in the hoops gaining promotion, he could be key this season as well. I just think the QPR squad is too strong for this division, and promotion must be the target, even making the play offs would be a disappointment.
Automatic Promotion: Bolton Wanderers
Last season Bolton seemed to have a relegation hangover and before you knew it they were just above the relegation zone, dismissing former boss Owen Coyle and replacing him with a young upcoming manger Dougie Freedman, who had done a marvellous job at previous club Crystal Palace. The team started to then play some decent football and almost made last season’s play offs with a remarkable end of season run. The team seem to have stuck together, and although the loss of long serving striker Kelvin Davies may be a hinder to their promotion campaign, I think this team has the spirit and belief they can be successful in this league and return to the Premier League after a two year absence. Freedman got the side playing again, players like Chris Eagles and David Ngog were starting to score the goals and put in man of match performances, and I wouldn’t rule them out of promotion.
Play-Offs: Reading, Wigan Athletic, Nottingham Forest, Leeds United
Two of these sides came down with QPR last season, Reading and Wigan. But both sides have good managers for this division, Nigel Atkins led Southampton to the big time a couple of seasons ago and knows what it takes to get a side up. Coyle led Bolton to an FA Cup final, a competition Wigan won last term. The fact Wigan are in Europe this season does mean I haven’t put them up automatically because usually teams struggle domestically playing continentally. But Wigan have signed quality players this summer and still hold key players from last season like Callum Mcmanaman and Shaun Maloney. Forest and Leeds are two sides which have the fan base of Premier league clubs. They too have managers capable of promotion. Billy Davies returned to Forest last season and guided them to 8 straight wins in 8 games, nearly making the play offs, with no funds though it may be tight but i think they will make it. Leeds have a championship winning manager in Brian McDermott. He can get his Leeds side playing like he had former employers Reading playing, then I think they will make the top six.
Relegation: Yeovil Town, Barnsley, Doncaster Rovers
Yes I have selected two of the promoted sides, but for Yeovil and Doncaster I just don’t see them making the cut. They haven’t got the squads to be able to stay in a division so strong. It’s a long season, and for these sides under managers that haven’t made it out as Championship managers it’s going to be a tough 10 months. Barnsley each year somehow manage to avoid the drop, it’s a matter of time before they go down. I think it will be this year, they have had to sell some more key players which helped them stay up last term, and its going to have to be another great escape for Barnsley.
Although I have mentioned a handful of sides, you can’t rule out the others, every team has a chance of making the top six, and many may have to look over their shoulders as the season progresses but that’s the Championship, 10 months of mental and physical hell, how exciting…