The Football League gets underway this season with teams across the country hoping that this will be the year for their sides. Many eyes will be on the teams in the Championship as this campaign is set to be the most competitive for many a year.
But who are the teams who are looking strong and who may find themselves falling out of the Championships dreaded trap door?
Middlesbrough go into the season as the bookmakers favourites for the title. Manager Gordon Strachan has invested heavily this summer from north of the border with Kevin Thompson, Kris Boyd arriving from Rangers and Stephen McManus from Celtic. With 101 goals in 143 appearances for Rangers, the ability for Kris Boyd to adapt to English football could be vital if Middlesbrough are to achieve promotion the second time round after a disappointing campaign last season.
Nottingham Forest are strong contenders this season as manager Billy Davies (left) will look to build on last seasons third place finish, losing out to promoted Blackpool in the playoffs. The only significant change in the Forest lineup from last season is the loss of James Perch to newly promoted Newcastle. With the same core squad in place, Davies will be hoping his side can kick on from last season and go one better but must rely on Robert Earnshaw and Dexter Blackstock to hit the ground running.
Burnley are a side who have been ready for life in the Championship well before the end of last season. With manager Brian Laws at the helm they have a manager who knows his way around the Championship and with the squad they have they should expect to be there or there abouts come the end of the season.
The loss of Steven Fletcher was inevitable for the Clarets but replacement Chris Iwelumo has all the required attribute to get the goals needed at this level. The signings of Dean Marney and Ross Wallace, along with Chris Eagles creates a strong midfield at Turf Moor which should find its way to goal on a regular basis.
Hull are another side who could be expected to bounce back to the Premier League at the first attempt. New manager Nigel Pearson proved he is more than up to managing at this level, taking Leicester into a playoff spot last season. With Boaz Myhill and Stephen Hunt leaving the club, along with the little money available for transfers, Hull might find it difficult to achieve an automatic spot but should make the playoffs with ease.
QPR are another team who have had a lot of money to spend this season and combined with the experience which manager Neil Warnock holds, the London outfit can expect to be in the shake up come April. Warnock has brought in Clint Hill and Paddy Kenny while making Adel Taarabt’s loan from Tottenham a permanent addition to an already impressive squad which looks set for a strong campaign.
Bristol City for me are very much the surprise package of this season. In new manager Steve Coppell they have a proven man at this level that has all the tools to take the club to the Premier League. New signing David James (left) is very much the signing of the season who, along with Nicky Hunt from Bolton, will provide much needed experience and stability in defence. However, once again the expectations rest on the shoulders of striker Nicky Maynard. His 20 goals last season helped City to a 10th place finish last year but the former Crewe player might have to go even further if he is to help his side go up this year.
Leeds United are another side that could feature heavily in the promotion push this season. As the Yorkshire club go in search of regaining Premier League football, manager Simon Grayson aim this summer was to provide a replacement for Jermaine Beckford who moved to Everton on a free transfer.
New signing Billy Painter will look to replicate his 27 league goals last season for Swindon and along with fellow striker Luciano Becchio, will look to lead the attack for the Elland Road outfit as free transfer Kasper Schmeichel will look to keep as many clean sheets as possible as he arrives in goal for the club replacing Kasper Ankergren.
Right well thats the team’s I believe will figure in the promotion push towards the end of the season, but who could find themselves desperate for points as the season draws to a close?
Scunthorpe for me have to be without a doubt the favourites to go down. Gary Hooper’s £2.3 million move to Celtic, although inevitable, is a huge loss. His 19 goals last season were all that separated them from the clubs that eventually went down and if new signing Chris Dagnall can’t fill his boots then signs look very ominous for manager Nigel Adkins and his side.
Millwall are another side who may struggle to cope at the Championship level. Although winning the playoffs last season was a great testament of the work Kenny Jackett has done at the New Den, expectations rest on the shoulders of powerful striker Steve Morrison and new signing Kevin Lisbie to grab enough goals to ensure The Lions stay clear of the drop.
Crystal Palace avoided relegation by the skin of their teeth last season after a 2-2 which doomed Sheffield Wednesday to League One football. The fact that the club have managed to fight off bankruptcy and have a team at all is testament to the drive and determination by the Palace hierarchy and its fans. With new manager George Burley they have a manager of great experience but for me, holding on to Darren Ambrose (left) was absolutely pivotal to the club having any chance of staying up.
The days of Premier League football are long gone for Watford who could be facing their most difficult season for a long time. With little to no money at the club manager Malky Mackay must help build a team spirit which will give the players and fans alike the belief that it could be a good season. A lot rests on the shoulders of Danny Graham who has been an influential part of the Hornets setup since his move from Carlisle but you fear that even his goals may not be enough to keep Championship football at Vicerage Road.
Well those are the teams who I feel will be in the shake up both for promotion and relegation this season but before I bid you a farewell I would like to pay respect to Portsmouth. Having been relegated from the Premier League last season the outlook for the club and its fans looked very bleak.
Thankfully due to their victory over HMRC at the High Court yesterday, Pompey fans will actually be able to see their side in action this season but questions remain how competitive it will be. The transfer embargo has made it impossible for new manager Steve Cotterill to build a strong squad so its difficult to see how the Blue Army will perform this season.
However as a fan of football, I am happy to see another club fight off the possibility of going out of existence and hope the future is bright for the Fratton Park club.
I wish all the clubs good luck and hope this season lives up to expectations and we see the quality of football which could possibly rival that of the Premier League.
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