So the fixtures for this season’s Npower Championship have been announced, boasting 18 former Premiership sides. Every fan across the country will know how unpredictable the second tier can be, so no guarantees can be made.
As a Leeds United fan, I know first-hand, just how tough it is to get out of the Championship; as the hardship of 46 games takes its toll on the best of players. Without a biased approach, I can see Leeds United competing, if and when investment comes forward.
However, we will have to overcome some real strong contenders for promotion and play-off places. With the likes of Blackburn, Bolton and Wolves joining a whole host of decent footballing sides, it’s a daunting task picking who will prevail come the end of May.
Let’s begin with who could be up there competing for top spot. The three relegated sides are always the bookies favourites to gain promotion first time around. With all the trouble surrounding Blackburn Rovers, I struggle to fathom any serious contention of them becoming elected champions, seeing play-offs at best for the Lancashire club.
My ‘tip’ for the Championship title is Wolverhampton Wanderers; a squad full of Championship quality players, and they have been there and done it before.
Ironic as it may sound, automatic promotion is often harder than coming top, as 2nd place will have 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th vying for blood as teams try and avoid the extra added pressure of play-off dramas. At the risk of sounding boring and dull, I’m struggling to look further than Bolton Wanderers for second place.
Owen Coyle is a top manager, who did the unthinkable in getting Burnley into the Premier League back in 2009. With the likes of Kevin Davies and Martin Petrov still at the club, such key players could be instrumental in bringing Premier League status back to the humble town of Bolton.
For me, the Championship throws up more excitement than the Premiership, due to the play-off structure. Finishing 3rd is as meaningful as 6th, as many a play-off final has been won by the team who finished 6th. A whole host of clubs have a good chance of making the nostalgic play-off places.
My prediction for 3rd place is Blackpool, if they are able to keep hold of Ian Holloway.
The sarky Bristolian proved his ability to balance youth and experience, as the likes of Tom Ince (Liverpool, Loan) and Matt Phillips dazzled; whilst the likes of Kevin Phillips and Barry Ferguson showed off their vast experience and talent. Narrowly missing out last season, Blackpool will be eager to go one step further this time around.
Now it becomes slightly trickier to picture who will fill up the remaining play-off places. So, instead of predicting the exact positioning from 4th to 6th, outlining the contenders for the remaining play-off places will allow for less growth of grey hairs.
I struggle to see Birmingham City repeating last year’s effort as concerns over the club accounts surface and with the loss of Chris Hughton; it will be another blow in the possible downfall of a great club. I fully expect (despite their problems) Blackburn to finish no lower than 10th and they could sneak a 4th or 5th place.
Nottingham Forest had a strange season that left me perplexed; but with serious takeover talk at the City Ground formalising, they should be able to finish in the top 6. My final ‘risky’ pick, is in the form of Leicester City.
Having spent nearly £12 million last season, they started and finished in disappointing fashion, but a full season with Nigel Pearson could prove worthy.