You’ve heard it all before, the Championship is the most competitive league in the world. But it certainly deserves that tag. With a side that was relegated able do the double over the champions, the old saying that ‘anyone can beat anyone in this division’ really is the case.
With some strong sides relegated from the Premier League, those who missed out on promotion last season strengthening well and some sleeping giants attempting to turn a few heads, England’s second tier promises to be full of excitement at the top once again.
With the relegation battle going into the final day of the season last time around, the bottom is just as tight and competitive. With Wolves going down last season, it just goes to show no one is safe in this division. A number of the sides who fought to stay up last season will be battling with a relatively weak trio of promoted clubs to stay in the division.
Sides predicted to finish mid-table will be battling for a play-off place all season, whilst sides in the lower half of the division will be nervously looking over their shoulders whilst keeping an eye on what’s going on above them. Calling both the top and the bottom of the division is tougher than ever.
All information correct as of 31/07/2013
Barnsley’s seven year stay in the Championship has produced an average league position of a touch below 19th, they’ve never finished higher than 17th and they’ve finished 21st in the previous two campaigns. The stats aren’t pleasant, but every year the Tykes are tipped to go down, and every year they survive. A mixture of good fortune and determination kept Barnsley up last season; Peterborough’s last minute defeat to Crystal Palace on the final day meant the maintained their Championship status by just a point after being four points adrift of safety when manager David Flitcroft was appointed in December. They’ll need the same qualities again if they’re going to defy the drop once more in the coming season.
With Barnsley being one of the smallest clubs in the league, holding onto players is always a difficult task. After Ricardo Vaz Te’s goals moved the Yorkshire club up the table in 2011/12, his transfer to West Ham midseason saw them rapidly fall back down the divison. Last summer they had to cope with the departures of Jason Shackell and Jacob Butterfield, whilst Craig Davies and John Stones left in January. However, this summer has seen departures kept to a minimum, with fringe players such as Stephen Foster, Matt Done and Rob Edwards moving on, in addition to some excellent additions.
The signings of the experienced Lewin Nytanga and the highly rated Jean-Yves M’Voto bolster the defence, whilst Chris O’Grady, who enjoyed a fruitful loan spell at Oakwell last season, joins permanently to replace Marlon Harewood, who could only muster two goals in over 30 appearances. 19-year-old goalkeeper Christian Dibble and former Manchester United youngster John Cofie have also been snapped up.
But the stand out name in Barnsley’s transfer dealings this summer is that of Dale Jennings. After impressing as an 18-year-old at Tranmere, the winger-cum-striker earned himself a move to German giants Bayern Munich. Jennings himself admitted the move probably came too soon for him, and the youngster will be looking to restart his career in England after two seasons playing for Bayern Munich II. With the Tykes paying just £250,000 for his services, Jennings could prove to be one of the bargains of the season
The additions build on a squad that already contains players such as Jason Scotland, Jacob Mellis and David Perkins; all excellent Championship players when at their best, as shown by the excellent run of form Flitcroft’s appointment as manager sparked. In his first full season in charge, Flitcroft will be hoping he keep Barnsley in the division once more. 21st
After a 4th place finish in 2011/12, losing out to Blackpool in the play-off semi-final, a mid-table finish for the blues last season will have been seen as a disappointment. Lee Clark’s side underperformed for much of the campaign and found themselves looking over their shoulders in the lower half of the table, with fans calling for Clark’s head. However, a spell of good form in the final few months of the season, that included a 4-0 win over Crystal Palace, pushed the Blues up to a slightly more respectable 12th and gave reason for optimism looking ahead to the season that’s just about to begin.
That optimism has been dented somewhat by the long running financial concerns that overshadow the club. With owner Carson Yeung awaiting trial for money laundering accusations and takeover rumours continuing, uncertainty remains over the future direction and ownership of Birmingham City. The club were forced to make all of their first team players available for transfer last January to help balance the books, losing Jack Butland to Stoke City, and have lost a number of key players heading into the new season.
Keith Fahey, Morgargo Gomis and Pablo Ibanez have all been released, whilst Stephen Carr has retired and captain Steven Caldwell joins Toronto after a loan spell last season; just five of the 15 departures this summer. The biggest names to move on are centre back Curtis Davies, who joins Hull for £2,250,000, and England U21 international winger Nathan Redmond, who joins Norwich for a fee that could potentially rise to £3,200,000.
Although the losses will hit Birmingham hard, the blow has been softened by the transfer fees in and wages freed up allowing for eleven additions to be made to the squad. Former Charlton goalkeeper Darren Randolph comes in to replace Butland, whilst the loan signings of defenders Dan Burn and Kyle Bartley from Fulham and Swansea respectively fill the void left by the departing heard of centre backs. Newcastle full back Shane Ferguson re-joins on loan after a spell at St. Andrews last season whilst fellow full back Near Eardly signs from Blackpool. Young midfielders Oliver Lee, Tom Adeyemi and West Brom’s Scott Allan, another loan signing, bolster the midfield alongside Andrew Shinnie, whilst Lee Novak and Matt Green will look to score the goals to lift Birmingham up the table.
With players such as Paul Robinson, Chris Burke and Marlon King retained by the club, there is some element of strength in depth to the Blues’ squad. However, many of the signings Birmingham have made are punts on young players who might struggle with the step up to the Championship, especially playing for a side with such high expectations. There’s the right mix between youth and experience within the squad, but the squad doesn’t appear to be any stronger than it was last season; it may even be weaker. The play-offs will be a tough ask. 14th
For fans of struggling clubs last season, one source of comfort was the fact they weren’t a Blackburn Rovers fan as the Former Premier League winners descended from crisis to farce. After Steve Kean was sacked in September, whilst the club were in in third place, replacement Henning Berg was relieved of his duties in December with the club in 17th. Michael Appleton was next in-line to take the manager’s hot seat, and was promptly sacked 67 days later, the second shortest spell of any Blackburn manager behind Berg’s 57 days, with the club in 18th, four points about the relegation zone with nine games to play. Caretaker Gary Bowyer took charge until the end of the season, avoiding relegation after being in the bottom three with six games left, eventually finishing 17th. Nothing short of an embarrassment for a club who were expected to win promotion straight back to the Premier League following their relegation in 2011/12.
Much criticised owners Venky’s have appointed Bowyer on a permanent basis for the coming season, whilst bringer of doom, confusion and instability Shebby Singh is rumoured to have been sacked, or at least forced out, from his Global Advisor role; could Ewood Park be about to return to some degree of normality? It’s certainly a start.
The summer transfer activity has also been positive for Rovers. Martin Olsson is the only major departure, joining Norwich City for £2,500,000, whilst David Goodwillie’s loan move back to former club Dundee may help rekindle the form that got him his move to Ewood Park. Blackburn have also made some excellent signings, bringing players that know and have previously performed well in the Championship, or have the potential to do so. Goalkeeper Simon Eastwood, one of the few mainstays of Portsmouth’s side last season, will provide completion to Jake Kean and, when fit, Paul Robinson, whilst Young defender Todd Kane joins on loan from Chelsea alongside experienced centre back Matthew Kilgallon, who joins on a free from Sunderland. A trio of midfield signings, wingers Alan Judge and Chris Taylor in addition to Alex Marrow, who plays centrally, are all impressive acquisitions, as is DJ Campbell, who will look to partner the prolific Jordan Rhodes in attack.
The new signings bolster a squad that already had strength in numbers; a squad that should have challenged for promotion last season. The key will be stability, and that will be achieved by sticking by Bowyer and giving time, in addition to keeping off-field issues to a minimum. If Bowyer is in charge for the full season, there’s every chance Blackburn will be challenging for at least a play-off spot come May. 10th
After play-off heartache in the 2011/12 season, losing late on in the final against West Ham United, the Tangerines began last season in fine form. Ian Holloway’s brand of exciting attacking football saw his side in and around the automatic promotion places for the first nine games of the season. However, a slump in form followed that saw Blackpool slide dramatically down the table. When Holloway left to join Crystal Palace in November, Blackpool were 16th and any remaining promotion hopes were starting to fade. In fact, they were only a handful of points away from the relegation zone over the course of the season as Michael Appleton and then Paul Ince were unable to push the Tangerines up the table. In the end, a 15th place finish came as a relief.
This summer has been just as tough for Blackpool fans, even if Bloomfield Road has had its comically bad pitch relayed. 14 players left the club, including defenders Alex Baptiste, Stephen Crainey and Neil Eardley, leaving the Tangerines with just three first team defenders before Gary MacKenzie joined permanently from MK Dons after a successful loan spell last season. For most of the summer, it appeared as if Blackpool would also be losing both of their Inces. Manager Paul was rumoured to be resigning, and was then linked to the vacant England U21’s managerial position, whilst winger Tom was involved in a long running transfer saga that saw him look set to move to Cardiff City. Thankfully for Pool fans, the pair have stayed put, for now at least.
The positives, along with the Inces staying, for Blackpool are their additions upfront. Bobby Grant has been plucked from League Two after scoring goals for Rochdale, Michael Chopra joins from Ipswich with a point to prove and Steve Davies, a fans’ favourite at Bristol City, joins on the back of a successful season at Ashton Gate.
The strength up top doesn’t get away from the fact the rest of the squad is very weak. Defenders especially will have to come in if Blackpool are to even compete to any extent this season. There’s still a chance that the depleted side could lose their one star player; Tom Ince may yet join Liverpool. It’s not going to be an easy season for the former Premier League team. 22nd
It was there for the taking. They’d risen from 20th after 29 games to 6th after 45; an incredible climb up the table was surely about to conclude with a shot at promotion. The final play-off place would have been secured with a win in the final game of the season at home to Blackpool. However, the visitors were 2-0 up after 35 minutes. Bolton didn’t given up and scored two goals in first half injury time to draw level, but that was that. It finished 2-2 and Bolton finished outside of the play-offs on goal difference. Heartbreak.
Whilst missing out on the play-offs was a bitter bill to swallow for Bolton fans, the incredible run of form that turned the Trotters’ attentions away from avoiding relegation to battling for promotion has given hope that, after a tough start, manager Dougie Freedman will lead his side to glory in the coming the season.
That feel good factor has only been enhanced with the summer business Bolton have conducted. Losing Marcos Alonso to Fiorentina is the only real loss, with Sam Ricketts easily replicable and club legend Kevin Davies leaving at the right time for all concerned. With the squad that ended the season so strongly, for the most part, intact, Bolton’s signings have only improved an already strong side. Marc Tierney and Alex Baptiste are two excellent defensive additions, whilst Jermaine Beckford and Robert Hall provide pace and, hopefully, goals in attack. Youngsters Hayden White and Connor Wilkinson have also joined the club with the pair likely to be on the fringes of the first team in the coming season.
The news that Stuart Holden, a player who has been unable to show the world his considerable talent due to injury, has suffered a suspected serious knee injury acts as the first bit of bad news, play-off failure aside, at the Reebok Stadium for months. But with a midfield that contains the likes of Keith Andrews, Darren Pratley and Mark Davies, who is returning to fitness, the blow from his absence can be softened. It’s not just in midfield where the squad is strong; it’s strong all over. With the club in huge debt, there will be a great deal of pressure on this impressive Bolton side to get promoted back to the Premier League this season. They’ll be right up there. 4th
Eddie Howe’s return to Bournemouth last season will forever be used to disprove the ‘never go back’ mantra. Taking the reins after eleven games with the club in 21st place, Howe proved why he’s one of the highest rated young managers in the country by leading the Cherries to an incredible promotion. Losing out on the title to Doncaster on the final day took very little gloss of such a fantastic achievement. From -17 points in League Two to the Championship in five seasons; it’s an unbelievable rise. Howe will be looking to take the club on towards the final step.
Redevelopment to Dean Court has helped to get it fit for Championship football over the summer, whilst Howe has been working hard to strengthen his squad in line with the needs of the highly competitive division. The dead wood, such as Charlie Sheringham, Warren Cummings and Michael Syms, has been cleared with no significant departures, meaning the trio of signings Howe has made only strengthen his side. Ian Harte and Elliott Ward, in addition to both being excellent defensive options, provide valuable experience of the Championship, whilst midfielder Mohamed Coulibaly joins after impressing on trial.
Possibly not the wealth of signings you would expect from a newly promoted side with money to spend, but Bournemouth’s squad contains a number of young and hungry players, such as Harry Arter, Marc Pugh and Matt Ritchie who will be looking to impress Championship audiences. There’s everything in place for Howe to push Bournemouth on even further, but that will take time. This season should be about consolidation in the division. 19th
BRIGHTON & HOVE ALBION
They say a week is a long time in football, and a week in May for Brighton last season proved exactly why that saying has some truth. After holding Crystal Palace to a 0-0 draw at Selhurst Park in the first leg of their play-off semi-final, it seemed as if Brighton had one foot into the final at Wembley; they surely couldn’t lose at home? Wilfried Zaha had other ideas, scoring twice to knock Brighton out three days later. Three further days later and manager Gus Poyet and his coaching staff were suspended following an incident quite simply dubbed as ‘Poo Gate’. I’ll let you do your own research on that one. Over a month later, Poyet’s dismissal was finally confirmed, he’d turned the club around, but it was time for a new man to take the club forward. Former Barcelona midfielder Oscar Garcia is that man.
After only being appointed in the final week of June, Garcia has been quiet in the transfer market thus far, only bringing in Matthew Upson, who spent time on loan at the AMEX last season, on a permanent transfer, young full-back Adam Chicksen from MK Dons and talented Dutch midfielder Kemy Augestien from Swansea. However, Brighton have managed to keep the bulk of their squad together. They’ve lost number of fringe players and Vicente, who spent most of the season injured, whilst hanging on to the likes of David ‘Spanish Dave’ Lopez, Liam Bridcutt and Will Buckley.
With there still being time for Brighton to build, there’s every chance their squad will have plenty more new faces before the end of August, but it’s strong in its current format. It remains to be seen how successfully Garcia will adapt to the Championship, but, on paper at least, he’s an excellent appointment and should do well. I expect another season where Brighton will battle for a play-off spot. 5th
Never challenging for the play-offs, rarely in any desperate need to look over their shoulders; Burnley spent all of last season marooned in the lower half of the table. It would seem the days of Premier League football are now a distant memory, especially after losing manager Eddie Howe, as the Clarets resemble a very ordinary Championship side.
The one bright spark for Burnley last season was Charlie Austin and his goal; 25 of them in total. You wonder where the Lancashire club would be without his predatory nature in front of goal. Well, we might me about to find out as the former non-league forward looks set to join Nottingham Forest. A huge blow for Burnley who thought they’d kept their man when a knee complaint meant he failed a medical at Hull earlier on in the summer.
When Austin departs, he’ll be the 14th player to leave Turf Moor this summer with names such as Lee Grant, Chris McCann and Martin Paterson moving on before him. The mass exodus, although the majority were on the fringes, of players has meant manager Sean Dyche has had to bring in a host of new names, but he’s done so in a rather unbalanced way. Tom Heaton, Alex Cisak, Nick Liversedge and Daniel Nizic all join the club and all play in goal. That’s four new keepers. Defender Joseph Mills joins from Reading, midfielder Scott Arfield joins from Huddersfield and striker Ryan Noble joins from Sunderland to help bolster the depleted side, but they’re very short of numbers in midfield and, with Austin leaving, in attack.
The money from Austin’s move may well help to bring in new players, but with their talismanic figure departing, it promises to be a tough season ahead for the Clarets. However, with a number of high quality players retained by the club, such as Ross Wallace, and a strong defence that includes Kieran Trippier and Jason Shackell, they should have enough to survive. 18th
If I had one word to describe Charlton’s season, it would be resilient. Three games show that to the fore. After losing 4-1 to Middlesbrough and being dragged down to 21st place with 14 games gone, the Addicks were 2-0 down at home to Cardiff City inside 20 minutes. But, on an incredible night at the Valley, the Charlton fans got behind their team and saw an incredible comeback, led by an inspired performance from skipper Johnnie Jackson, to win 5-4 and creep away from the drop zone. A poor run in December had left Charlton 18th and their first game in January was against an inform Watford side. Despite being a goal down on two occasions, the Addicks, with Jackson and Ricardo Fuller’s footwork helping to change the game, came away from Vicarage Road as 4-3 winners. With eight games remaining, Charlton were nervously looking over their shoulders at the drop zone. 2-0 goals down inside 20 minutes to Bolton, those nerves turned to panic. But, once again led by Jackson and a transformed Fuller after half time, the Addicks came from behind to win 3-2. It’s a quality that defines Chris Powell’s Charlton; a quality that saw them finish just three points off the play-offs in ninth in their first season back in the Championship.
However, this season may prove to be a little trickier for a Charlton side that has been transformed under the stewardship of Powell. Financial limitations have meant Powell has been unable to strengthen his squad to anywhere near the degree he would like to. A permanent signing for Mark Gower and centre back Richard Wood, who impressed on trial, are the only additions Powell has been able to make. Whilst the squad is largely the one that finished last season nine games unbeaten, the main issue lies upfront. Danny Haynes, Ricardo Fuller and Bradley Wright-Phillips have all departed, whilst securing the services of Jonathan Obika after a fruitful loan spell has proved difficult, leaving the Addicks with just one senior striker at the time of writing.
If Charlton are to have a season anything like last they’re going to have to bring in some strikers. With Powell confirming discussions are on-going with Ricardo Fuller in a view to bring him back to club and Simon Church currently on trial, some holes may soon be plugged. Although another left winger to provide cover to the young and talented Callum Harriott wouldn’t go amiss, the rest of the squad is in place with the likes of Chris Solly, Rhoys Wiggins and Bradley Pritchard looking to impress again.
Once the strike force is in place, concerns about anything less than a mid-table finish will quickly disappear. With Chris Powell in charge and group of players who know they can out play the very best in this league, anything could happen. However, consolidation would please everyone connected with the club. 12th
At times last season, Derby looked like one of the best teams in the division, pushing themselves up towards the play-offs. At other times, they looked dire and, although they were never in any serious trouble, were forced to keep one eye on the gap between themselves at the bottom. Inconsistency personified. However, the 10th place finish was the Rams highest since their relegation from the Premier League with a record low points tally in 2007/08, and manager Nigel Clough will be hoping his side can improve on last season’s finish once again.
Derby’s summer, for the most part, has been a very positive one. It was the right time for experienced defender Gareth Roberts to leave the club, whilst selling Frank Fielding, second choice for much of last season, to Bristol City for £200,000 can be seen as a decent bit of business. The one significant loss to Derby’s squad is John Brayford, who moves to Cardiff City for £1,500,000. The full- back was rated highly at Pride Park and, with quality right backs not easy to come by, he’ll be difficult for the Rams to replace.
However, the loan signing of Adam Smith goes somewhere to filling the void left by Brayford. The Tottenham youngster has enjoyed successful loan spells at several Football League clubs, including at Millwall last season, and is an excellent addition to Derby’s squad. Fellow full-back Craig Forsyth joins permanently after a spell on loan from Watford alongside John Eustance after he was released by the Hornets, whilst goalkeeper Lee Grant comes in from Burnley to replace the departed Fielding. Another play that spent time on loan at Pride Park last season, Chris Martin, also joins permanently from Norwich, whilst striker Johnny Russell, who moves from Dundee United, could prove to be one of the signings of the season if the goals he guarantees lift the Rams up the table.
With Derby now boasting a trio of Irish internationals, Jeff Henrick, Richard Keogh and Connor Sammon, alongside talented young players, such as Will Hughes, Mason Bennett and Kieron Freeman, there’s certainly quality in the squad. After years of hiding in the bottom half of the Championship, this season may be the one in which Derby make movements on the play-off picture. 9th
With 10 games to play last season, Doncaster got themselves to the summit of League One. In the tightest of promotion battles, Donny stayed top until the penultimate game of the season, where Bournemouth overtook them in the race for the title. A draw was needed away at Brentford to secure promotion, whilst Brentford themselves needed a win to leapfrog Donny into second place. If Bournemouth failed to win and Doncaster did, they would be champions. Brentford get a penalty in stoppage time; all seems lost. Brentford’s Trotta smashes the kick against the crossbar, Donny clear and Billy Painter breaks free down the right. Painter picks out James Coppinger who slots home the winner. Bournemouth are drawing with Tranmere; Doncaster have gone from staring disappointment in the face to champions in a matter of minutes. Now, the club must face an ever bigger challenge to stay in the Championship.
With last season’s successful manager Brian Flynn becoming director of football, new manager Paul Dickov has been given the task of maintain Rovers’ Championship status. After Dickov’s indifferent time at Oldham, it seems a risky appointment by Chairman John Ryan, but having Flynn in the background means Dickov will have an experienced head to turn to in times of need. The partnership has the potential to work, at least.
It’s been a relatively quiet start for Dickov this summer with just Jordan Ball, Lee Fowler, Patrick Mullen, Gary Wood and Martin Woods departing the club after all being released. The clear out of fringe players has led the way for a number of exciting additions to the squad. Harry Forrester has been plucked from last season’s promotion rivals Brentford, whilst fellow midfielders Mark Duffy and Marc De Val join from the footballing hotbeds of Scunthorpe and Madrid. De Val was a ‘C’ team player at Real, but never made it into the first team. Former Manchester United youngster Luke McCullough rounds off the summer signing.
Doncaster last season in the Championship was marred by short term contracts and loans for players who didn’t really want to be playing their football at the Keepmoat Stadium. This time around, Donny have a settled squad containing experienced league players such as Rob Jones, David Cotterill and James Harper. Will it be enough to see them safe? I have my doubts about Dickov and the squad lacks quality; it’s going to be a tough season. 23rd
After 16 games last season, the Terriers found themselves in 6th place. Their fans must have thought this Championship malarkey wasn’t as difficult as it’s cracked up to be. Fast forward to the final few weeks of the season and that 6th place seemed a lifetime ago. With three games left to play, Huddersfield were in the relegation zone. Thankfully, two wins from their next two games pushed them three points clear of the drop, but even that wasn’t enough for them to completely relax on the final day. In fact, for a brief period, results elsewhere, coupled with being behind at home to Barnsley, meant they were in the relegation zone once more. Although results went back in their favour, a 2-2 draw with Barnsley meant they needn’t have worried in the end; they’d done just enough to survive in 19th.
After Simon Grayson was sacked in January, Mark Robins took charge, and he’ll be looking to secure a more comfortable position in the Championship table this time around. The departures of Alan Lee, Lee Novak and Scott Arfield are disappointing rather than serious losses, and excellent replacements have only made that more of the case. Midfielder Jonathan Hogg comes in from Watford, whilst winger Adam Hammill joins permanently after a spell on loan last season, as does striker James Vaughan. The forward line has also been bolstered by the additions of Jon Stead, a crowd favourite at Bristol City, and Martin Paterson, who enjoyed a successful few season at Burnley. Young defender Jake Carroll, who joins from St Patrick’s Athletic is the only other summer signing.
Whilst there’s no denying the strength Huddersfield have going forward, they seem to be a little weak at the back, as shown by the 73 goals they conceded last season; only relegated Bristol City and Peterborough let in more. That’s something that will have to be addressed if the Terriers are going to have a stress free season. I think they’ll survive, and that must surely be seen as a successful season. 20th
It all looked pretty bleak for the Tractor Boys when Mick McCarthy took over from Paul Jewell as manager after 13 games of last season. Rooted to the bottom of the table and five points from safety, it was going to take an almighty effort to keep Ipswich in the division. Results improved, but even with 15 games left to play, the club were in 20th and just a point above the drop zone. Thankfully, a late surge up the table, including some impressive performances, saw Town end the season well away from the relegation zone in 14th. That end of season form has left many to tip Ipswich as this season’s dark horses for promotion; a far cry from Paul Jewell’s Ipswich Town.
McCarthy’s activity in the transfer market this summer has only raised expectations for a successful season. Out go underperformers such as Jay Emmanuel-Thomas, Lee Martin and Michael Chopra, whilst a host of fringe players have departed in a total of 10 players leaving Portman Road. To replace come 10 players of which almost all of them are fit for the first team. Goalkeeper Dean Gerken joins from Bristol City along with midfield team mates Paul Anderson and Cole Skuse, whilst Ryan Tunnicliffe, on loan, and Frederic Veseli come in from Manchester United. Scottish international centre back Christophe Berra joins from Wolves, whilst Jay Tabb, David McGoldrick and Daryl Murphy all make their loan moves permanent. 18-year-old Jack Doherty, a midfielder from Waterford United, may be the only signing not quite ready for the first team.
The plethora of signings bolsters a squad that already contains the likes of Aaron Cresswell, Anthony Wordsworth and Carlos Edwards. An excellent manager, an excellent squad and high morale; everything is in place for a promotion push. Even with all that, it certainly won’t be the case that achieving a play-off spot will be easy, but they won’t be too far off. 11th
Last season was another frustrating one for the fans of the club who, like no other, believe they have a divine right to be in England’s top division. Never really making any form of challenge on the play-offs, the club were marooned in mid-table for most of the season before a poor run of form left Leeds five points above the drop zone with five games left and Neil Warnock without a job. Brian McDermott came in to steady the ship and, but a disappointing 13th place was all that could be mustered. Two successive seasons in the lower half of the Championship suggests the Premier League is a long way away from returning to Elland Road. McDermott will be looking to change that in his first full season in charge.
In contrast to the doom and gloom of last season, this summer has been reasonably positive for the Whites. Ken Bates’ complete departure from the club is the main source of optimism for Leeds fans going into the new season. With the boardroom now slightly more stable and a manager that has the complete backing and support from the owners, there’s every chance results on the pitch will improve accordingly.
Another source of optimism is that the club have managed to keep a hold of their best players. Fringe players such as Paddy Kisnorbo, Davide Somma and Paul Connolly have been released whilst Steve Morison, who endured an unsuccessful spell at the club, joins Millwall on loan, but key names, especially in the case of Sam Byram, have stayed put.
A further cause for some degree of optimism is that Leeds have managed to spend £1,000,000 on a very exciting prospect. Luke Murphy joins after impressing many during his time with Crewe. Matt Smith, who was the star of Oldham’s incredible cup run, and Noel Hunt have also been snapped up to bolster the forward line.
Leeds fans will be hoping that more signings are made before the end of the transfer window, but the club is certainly in a stronger position than it was this time 12 months ago. However, this isn’t the Leeds of old; the squad isn’t full of world class players. Most of them are distinctly average Championship journeymen. Mediocrity will be considered a failure, but that’s what they’re heading for once again. 13th
Every season there’s so much hope and expectation that Leicester will be promoted to the Premier League, and every season they disappoint. After two seasons of finishing outside the play-offs, Foxes fans had grown used to their disappointment causing anger and frustration, but last season they had to deal with something much worse; heartbreak. Despite an awful second half of the season, Leicester secured a place in the top six, for the first time since a certain penalty was missed by a certain Frenchman in 2009/10, via a last minute winner over Nottingham Forest on the final day of the season. 2-1 down in the second leg of their semi-final against Watford, level 2-2 on aggregate, Leicester were given the chance to win the tie with a last minute penalty. Anthony Knockaert stepped up and saw his spot kick, and the rebound saved by Manuel Alumina in the Watford goal. The Hornets raced away down the other end, Fernando Forestieri crossed for Jonathan Hogg to knock the ball back to Troy Deeney who fired home the winner. Unspeakable heartbreak.
Nigel Pearson must now pick his Leicester side up and revitalise them for the coming season. With Jermaine Beckford, who spent most of last season out on loan, the only first team player to depart and Tranmere left back Zoumana Bakayogo the only player to come in, the squad is almost identical to last season. Financial fair play rules have prohibited the Foxes from adding further to their squad due to the size of their current wage bill, but there should be enough quality within the squad already to challenge once again for promotion.
Full seasons from Chris Wood, who joined in January and Jeff Schlupp, who spent time away on trial at Manchester United, will be beneficial, whilst the return of Sean St Ledger and Neil Danns from loan spells gives Pearson some added strength in depth. Whether they manage to sell so they can buy or not, I expect Leicester to be in the battle for promotion come May. 6th
After 16 games last season, Middlesbrough were top of the division and in fine form. They looked destined to achieve promotion back to the Premier League. After 23 games, they were 4th, just three points off second, but it went all downhill from that point onwards. A terrible second half of the season saw the Boro finish in a hugely disappointing 16th place, closer to the relegation zone than the play-offs. With pressure mounting on manager Tony Mowbray, this season may be his final chance to get the Boro back into the top flight of English football.
The difficult task of achieving promotion has been made even tougher with several key players leaving the club over the summer. Julio Arca and Andre Bikey have both been released, whilst Nicky Bailey and Scott McDonald have both left for Millwall. With the squad in dire need of some strengthening in order to make a serious push for promotion, Boro have only been able to bring in two summer signings. Hungarian international midfielder Jozsef Varga joins on loan from Debrecen alongside Dean Whitehead, who has been snapped up on a free following his release from Stoke.
The lack of signings means Boro will have to hope that youngsters Curtis Main, Cameron Park and Adam Reach continue their progression, whilst the likes of George Friend, Marvin Emnes and Rhys Williams use their experience well.
The squad is too weak, crowds are continuing to fall at the Riverside and the manager is losing control. Something is going to have to drastically change for Middlesbrough to challenge for promotion in the coming season. 15th
Reaching the semi-final of the FA Cup was a fantastic achievement for the Lions, but it seriously hampered their league form. Falling from just outside a play-off spot after 24 games to 20th after 46 will probably be seen as a sacrifice worth making for their impressive cup run, but it almost cost them their status in the Championship. They danced just above the relegation zone on the final day and only maintained their position in the second tier by two points. A cup run is no excuse for such a poor league finish.
This summer got off to the worst possible start for Millwall fans as long serving manager Kenny Jackett resigned from his position and promptly joined Wolves. There were also the departures of Chris Taylor to Blackburn and Conor Wilkinson to Bolton to deal with in the opening few weeks of the off-season. However, Steve Lomas’ appointment as manager has brought about some optimism to the New Den, not least due to a number of impressive signings made by the new boss.
Stephen Bywater comes in to replace departing ‘keepers Steve Mildenhall and Maik Taylor, whilst the forward line has been bolstered by the signings of Jermaine Easter, who spent time on loan at the New Den last season, Scott McDonald and former goal-scoring hero Steve Morison, who returns on loan from Leeds. However, the most impressive signings are in the centre of midfield with Richard Chaplow, who joins permanently after a successful loan spell, and Nicky Bailey likely to form a solid partnership. 16th
Whilst Millwall are anything but promotion contenders, they do have a balanced squad with talented players such as Liam Trotter, Liam Feeney and Shane Lowry in their ranks. Lomas will hope to lead his side to a more comfortable position of safety this season.
When Billy Davies was appointed for his second spell in charge at the City Ground, Forest were underperforming in 11th place, 6 points off the play-offs with 16 games to go. Seven games later and Forest were 6th; Davies galvanised the squad and got his side playing some incredible football. There were even some suggesting they had an outside shot at automatic promotion, such was the quality of Davies’ Forest. Unfortunately, the momentum couldn’t carry on until the end of the season and they eventually finished an agonising one point outside of the play-off places, made more agonising by the fact rivals Leicester’s victory over them on the final day prevented them from finishing inside the top six. However, Davies’ few months in charge have given many a Forest fan off the scale optimism for the coming season.
Davies’ summer transfer activity has only increased the sense in the red half of Nottingham that this is their season. David McGoldrick, who spent last season out on loan, and Lewis McGugan, who frustrated Forest fans with inconsistent displays, are the only major departures, meaning the new signings have added quality to an already quality squad. Dorus De Vries comes in to challenge youngster Karl Darlow in between the sticks, whilst the signings of Jack Hobbs, Gonzalo Jara and Eric Lichaj bolster the back four. Exciting young winger Jamie Paterson joins from Walsall for an undisclosed fee, whilst seven figure sums have been paid for Algerian international Djamel Abdoun from Olympiacos and QPR forward Jamie Mackie. With Charlie Austin believed to be close to signing, Forest’s Kuwaiti owners have pushed their financial muscle around in the transfer market to make some outstanding additions.
With a squad that contains the likes of Chris Cohen, Radoslaw Majewski and Simon Cox, along with one of the best managers in the business, you can expect Nottingham Forest to be right up there come May. 1st
QUEENS PARK RANGERS
Could last season have gone any worse for QPR? Relegation from the Premier League was just the start of it. Players arguing with fans and not wanting to play for the club, a striker accused of rape and an embarrassing defeat to MK Dons in the FA cup were just some of the depressing incident QPR fans had to endure during the course of the 2012/13 season. It was quite clearly getting to manager Harry Redknapp too, who appeared visibly stressed towards the end of the season. He must now not only pick himself up, but his players too as the club looks to move forward and regain its Premier League place.
As you would expect, QPR have endeavoured to reduce their gigantic wage bill with a summer clear out. Djibril Cisse, Tal Ben Haim, Jose Bosingwa, Jay Bothroyd, DJ Campbell Rob Hulse and Radek Cerny have all left the club on frees, whilst flop Christopher Samba re-joins former club Anzhi for £12,000,000 and Jamie Mackie joins forest For £1,000,000. With players such as Adel Taarabt, Esteban Granero and, as if anyone could forget, Joey Barton still at the club, expect some more departures in the coming weeks.
The freed up funds have allowed for a trio of experienced players to join the club. Danny Simpson, a free transfer from Newcastle, Richard Dunne, snapped up from Aston Villa and Karl Henry, a £1,000,000 addition from Wolves, join the club with a wealth of Premier League and Football League games between them. Signing British players that know the Championship is definitely the right way to go for QPR, moving away from the overpaid mercenaries that dominated last season’s shocking displays.
With an emphasis on experienced British players crucial, the likes of Jermaine Jenas, Shaun Wright-Phillips and Luke Young will be vital to any promotion push. Once the high earning ‘superstars’ are sold on, I expect Redknapp to make a number of sensible acquisitions, in the mould of the ones already signed up, to bolster his squad. If a sense of calm is restored at Loftus Road and Redknapp has the chance to jell a squad, QPR should be strong contenders for promotion. The first ‘if’ especially is a big ‘if’. 7th
It was always going to be a difficult task for Reading to stay in the Premier League last season. Winning the Championship in 2011/12 after spending most of the first half of the season in the bottom half of the table, there was a view that luck played a significant part in the Royals’ run of form that saw them gain promotion. That view is very unfair, Reading are excellent side at this level, but the top flight is a level beyond them. The goals of Adam Le Fondre from the bench almost gave the Royals a brief chance of survival in January, but it wasn’t enough. They must now regroup under manager Nigel Adkins and aim to return to the Premier League a much stronger outfit.
A post-relegation summer clear out has seen the likes of Ian Harte, Nicky Shorey and Noel Hunt leave the club; three of 13 players to make a permanent departure from the Madjeski. But it does mean Reading have, so far at least, been able to hang on to the likes of Alex Pearce, who eventually agreed a new contract after protracted negotiations over the off-season, Le Fondre and highly rated ‘keeper Alex McCarthy.
With a strong list of players maintained by the club, Adkins has made a trio of excellent signings to add to the quality at his disposal. Former England international Wayne Bridge comes in to replace Shorey and Harte at left-back, whilst current USA international Danny Williams is an impressive coup. The third signing of the trio is arguably the signing of the summer in the Championship. Former Read Madrid wonderkid Royston Drenthe has been given the chance to restart his career after attitude problems have seen it go off the rails. On his day, the winger can still show glimpses of the ability that had him tipped for the top. If Nigel Adkins can motivate and tame him, Drenthe will tear the Championship apart.
Whilst the squad is full of quality, it’s a little short in terms of numbers, especially up top. Reading fans will be hoping for some more additions before the close of the transfer. Bring in a striker or two and beef up the squad a little and there’s no reason why Reading can’t challenge for the title once again. 3rd
Wednesday’s first season back in the Championship proved to be a tough one. Fighting a relegation battle all season long, the Owls eventually stayed up by just four points. Survival would have been the objective before the season began, but to do so in such a stressful manner was agonising for the Wednesday fans. They’ll be hoping to consolidate their position in the Championship once again this season, but in a much more comfortable manner.
Manager Dave Jones hasn’t been as active as some in the transfer market, but the business he has done has been positive for Wednesday. Only talented youngster Hayden White can go down as a real loss to the club, with the likes of Nicky Weaver, Nejc Pecnik and Chris O’Grady amongst a host of fringe players to depart. In their place comes a trio of exciting signings. Jacques Maghoma, who has been one of the stars of League Two over previous seasons, joins from Burton, whilst fellow winger Jeremy Helan signs permanently after displaying his pace and skill during a spell on loan from Manchester City last season. Massive 6ft 6in Austrian striker Atdhe Nuhiu, who has scored goals in the Austrian top flight for the likes of Rapid Wein and Ried, completes the list of transfers in.
Whilst certainly needing a few new faces in attack, the rest of the Wednesday squad looks solid if unspectacular. The fans will be hoping key players such as Reda Johnson, Michail Antonio and Jermaine Johnson can perform to the best of their abilities and keep Sheffield Wednesday safe. 17th
Very little was expected of Gianfranco Zola’s side last season. So for the Hornets to end up missing out on promotion and that to be a huge disappointment is an achievement in itself. Inspired by their plethora of much talked about loan signings, acquired from Granada and Udinese, Watford still had a chance of automatic promotion going into the final day of the season. A defeat at home to Leeds meant attentions turned to the play-offs, where they overcame Leicester City in the semi-final in the most dramatic of circumstances with Troy Deeney’s last minute winner after Anthony Knockeart’s missed penalty. But a penalty, from Crystal Palace’s Kevin Phillips, saw them lose at Wembley in the final. Zola must now pick his team up and get them going for the coming season.
However, for a period during the summer, Zola didn’t have much of a team to manage. 15 players, and not all of those could be considered first team, were retained by the club as the likes of Mark Yeates, Stephen McGinn and Jack Bonham, the young ‘keeper who made an embarrassing error in the defeat to Leeds, were amongst seven f players to be released alongside by the club. 13 loanees also left, including star striker Matej Vydra, and returned to their parent clubs. With a transfer embargo over their heads, it appeared as if Watford were in for a tough summer and a tough season.
However, the conditions of the embargo meant transfers would be considered on a case-by-case basis, and the FA have deemed it fit for Watford to sign a player on eleven occasions. Joel Ekstrand, Christian Battocchio, Daniel Purdil, Ikechi Anya and Almen Abdi make their loan moves permanent, but there is no return for Vydra, who is attracting Premier League interest. Diego Fabbrini and Gabriele Angella also join from Udinese, whilst Iriney comes in from Granada. Young English duo Reece Brown and Uche Ikpeazu, from Manchester United and Reading respectively, also join the club alongside the talented Lewis McGugan, who comes in from Forest.
With Watford’s squad, already containing the likes of Deeney, Fernando Forestieri and Sean Murray, full of quality with the new additions, expect the Hornets to challenge for promotion once again this season. The start of the season will be key though; a play-off hangover must be avoided. 8th
On the Saturday, Wigan won the FA Cup and qualified for Europe. On the Tuesday, Wigan’s eight year stay in the Premier League came to an end as their relegation was confirmed following a 4-1 defeat to Arsenal. Tears of joy to tears of despair in a matter of days. The joy of wining the FA Cup outweighed the pain of relegation, but Wigan’s sole focus this season will be to return to the top flight at the first attempt.
It’s been a summer of change at the DW Stadium, with manager Roberto Martinez moving onto Everton and Owen Coyle coming in to replace the Spaniard. Coyle has experience of getting out of this division with Burnley and will be hoping to gain another promotion.
The playing staff, as you would expect following relegation, has also seen departures and additions. The likes of Franco Di Santo, Ronnie Stam and David Jones have all been shown the door, whilst Aroune Kone and Antolin Alcaraz follow Martinez to Everton and Maynor Figueroa joins Hull. With 15 players in total leaving the club, Coyle has buffed out his squad with eight exciting signings. Former England international ‘keeper Scott Carson comes into replace Joel Robles after his loan expired and was then snapped up by Everton, whilst Stephen Crainey, Thomas Rogne and Juan Carlos Garcia come in to give Coyle plenty of defensive options. Steady midfielders James Perch and Chris McCann provide cover for James McCarthy and James McArthur, whilst forward duo Grant Holt and Marc-Antione Fortune are two of the best signings of the summer.
With the likes of Shaun Maloney, Callum McManaman and Emerson Boyce still at the club, Wigan have one of the strongest squads in the division. The only factor that could adversely affect their promotion chances is having to play games in the Europa League on Thursday nights, causing a backlog of league fixtures that will see them playing twice a week for most of the season. However, there’s enough strength in depth within the squad to overcome the difficulties the European campaign will cause. 2nd
At the start of last season, Yeovil where tipped by many to go down from League One. After several seasons battling for survival, it was though that the Glovers would finally fall from the third tier. Instead of preparing for life in League Two, Yeovil find themselves in the Championship after an incredible season that saw them win promotion through the play-offs against all odds. Even after finishing 4th, Yeovil were the outsiders in play-offs, but victories over Sheffield United in the semis and Brentford in the final meant they were worthy winners. Against all odds again, Gary Johnson must now attempt to keep his side in the Championship.
A summer clear out of the deadwood at Huish Park has seen Dominic Blizzard, Richard Hinds and Keanu Marsh-Brown leave the club, amongst several others. This has paved the way for nine new additions to the squad. Young defender Joe Jones joins from Leicester City, whilst Dan Seaborne and Alan Tate, who joins on loan from Swansea, offer Championship experience at the back. The midfield has been bolstered by the signings of Liam Davis from Oxford and Billy Clifford, a loanee from Chelsea. Winger Joel Grant joins from Wycombe, whilst strikers Michael Ngoo, another loanee, and Sam Hoskins join from Premier League sides Liverpool and Southampton. A punt on Dorchester Town forward Kieffer Moore wraps up the summer signings.
Will those new names be enough to keep Yeovil up? It’s unlikely. Only Tate provides any real Championship experience with most of the additions youngsters or signing from clubs lower in the Football League. As a result, the squad is very weak despite the likes of Paddy Madden, Ed Upson and Luke Ayling apart of it. They may well defy the odds again this season and stay up, but it seems an impossible task. Good luck. 24th