Championship league ladder: Hull City up, Reading down
The Seventy Two’s Championship league ladder continues with the thoughts of Swedish football enthusiast and Football League blogger Peter Linhem.
In brief, the idea will be that the table begins in the order that the Championship finished at the end of the 2010/11 season and a series of bloggers and journalists will each re-position one team further up and one team further down based on their thoughts over the summer. By the end, we will have a predicted Championship table for which we can all take some part of the blame…
Over to Peter…
Even though my great fault was becoming a Swedish Liverpool supporter in my late teens, I have always been very fond of the huge part of English football which doesn’t involve the very best teams. Especially the Championship.
Because of Sweden, being obsessed with English football since a Sunderland-Wolves game was first broadcast on national television in the late 60’s, I was able to watch Championship football from a very early age. Because before my Dad got us the very expensive channels you need to watch Premier League football, the only football I could watch on telly in the winter – when our domestic football is on a long break – was Championship football. Though my dad (and some bloke called Owen) had already made me a Red, I started to develop a soft spot for Watford for no other reason than them being a regular feature on the aforementioned broadcasts. Since then I have to some extent been following Watford and The Championship every year with my interest rocketing in the last couple of years to such a degree that I now follow the Football League closely and (guest) blog about it once every week (“Linhem’s Football League Watch”) on a major Swedish football site.
One up – Hull City
A team who until the last few games was a play-off contender, but ended the season with four games without a win which saw them drop to eleventh. Last year they were a newcomer in the Championship after their – at times – miraculous Premier League tenure who had lost several influential players. Hull also had a new manager in Nigel Pearson with the difficult job of trying to re-encourage this team, who weren’t really expected to compete for the promotion places, even though I myself thought they would make the play-offs.
This season they might lose several big names with heavy wages such as the brilliant clown prince of football – Jimmy Bullard, Seyi Olofinjana and possibly also Kevin Kilbane. But as you might know, these players played most of their last season in other clubs. Sure, a injury-free Bullard showed in Ipswich that he’s still a amazing player but if Hull can get some money from him and replace him with someone like Neil Danns – who has been linked to the club – they still have a good set of midfielders in Robert Koren, James Harper and the very talented Tom Cairney who can fill in with ease.
They have a overall good squad with the strike duo Matty Fryatt and Aaron McLean scoring the goals with decent back-up in Jay Simpson and the young Mark Cullen. In defence there is the autumn bargain Liam Rosenior, the always reliable Andy Dawson and James Chester who impressed greatly after he arrived. There might take some time for Pearson to find someone to partner Chester as well as Anthony Gerrard did last season, but though they are looking for a new centre-half you should not forget the talented young Liam Cooper. Their biggest problem will be finding a goalkeeper after releasing the loyal servant Matt Duke but there are plenty goalkeepers on the market. Fraser Forster is a possible target.
With all that in mind Hull has in Assam Allam a owner willing to spend, which he showed in January by signing Fryatt and McLean for a combined sum of £2.5million. Since Pearson also seems to be fond of Manchester United youngsters (Corry Evans, Dudgeon and Chester) he might be able to attract some more talent from the Manchester giants.
It is a interesting mix of experienced players, talented youngsters assembled by Nigel Pearson who still has money to spend and that makes me think they will make the play-offs next season.
Hull City up to 6th
The Seventy Two verdict: I only saw Hull a couple of times last season, one of which was their only defeat in the midst of an otherwise magnificent run of form, and they also didn’t seem to be featured on television very much at all, particularly given their status as a club fresh from two seasons in the glare of the Premier League.
Pearson is clearly one of the shrewdest operators outside the top flight, but this is a big season for him. If he can get Hull into the top six, he will become a target for Premier League clubs. If not, he may be doomed to the fate of a Billy Davies or Dave Jones – seen as a nearly man but not one who guarantees success. And we all know what happened to Davies and Jones this summer…
Hull’s improvement towards the end of the season before falling away at the last is an indication that things are looking up at the KC, but I wouldn’t have put them quite this high in the table at this stage. Danns would be a great signing if they can attract him to the club, while Fryatt and McLean showed a lot of promise as a pairing. I’d stick them around 8th at the moment, which is probably splitting hairs…
One down – Reading
You may call it a bit presumptuous but I suspect Reading will suffer (like many before them) from being one of the best last season but not progressing to Premier League. Just like Cardiff has lost their entire attacking four, I think Reading will lose some of their most influential players.
Shane Long, who made the final step in to become what Kevin Doyle was a couple of years ago, will surely depart to a club such as Newcastle or Everton, though with a big fee. The commanding centre-half Matt Mills looks to leave for Wolves (just like many Royals before him) or maybe Stoke and Noel Hunt, Jimmy Kebé and Jobi McAnuff have all attracted interest from wealthier clubs with the last two on expiring contracts.
Reading will probably not lose all of them and they will get a lot of money from the transfers to strengthen, but they already have a thin squad. If the Royals lose Long, they will probably get around £4million. “The Beast”, Mathieu Manset, who is yet to impress at Reading, would have a huge task in replacing Long. And if you allow me to presume that they’ll lose Mills, you will have to replace him and find that replacement a partner because Zurab Khizanishvili who partnered Mills for the most of the last season has returned to Blackburn from which he was loaned and left for the Turkish outfit Kayserispor. Will Sean Morrison step up?
Even though with their midfield intact (which is if Kebé and McAnuff stays) they will face huge problems. Having already mentioned the possible losses of Long and Mills there is also the problem of their ageing full-backs, who this season had difficulties many times facing pacy opponents (such as Dyer and Sinclair in the play-off final). Because even though I rate Ian Harte very highly (his left foot is “the cultured left foot”), he was never a fast full-back and against opponents as pacy as Dyer he will be exposed.
Maybe I sound a bit too dystopic but I have a lot of respect for McDermott as a manager so I still think that he and Reading will make a late run for the play-off places (like the last season) after the replacements of Long and Mills have settled but I suspect that it won’t end as well as the past season.
Reading down to 9th
The Seventy Two verdict: There seems to have been quite a few teams in the recent past who have missed out in the play-off final and then struggled the following season. Leeds United’s relegation from the Championship twelve months after defeat to Watford springs to mind.
The transfer market hasn’t quite got going yet, but Reading may be enthused by the departures of Steve Morison and Danny Graham to newly-promoted Premier League sides. Shane Long is a similar kind of target, while Newcastle have brought in Demba Ba and Everton are struggling to offload in order to buy. Maybe Long will stay after all?
Brian McDermott is an excellent manager who has coped well with the loss of key players before, most notably Gylfi Sigurdsson’s exit at the end of last summer’s transfer window, but he now faces the task of reshaping an ageing defence as Peter says. Whether he can do this will be key to Reading’s hopes because McDermott’s commitment to attack suggests he will find the players to score goals at the other end one way or the other. I’d say 9th is a decent pick at the moment for Reading.
Table after Peter’s picks:
- West Ham United
- Nottingham Forest
- Leicester City
- Leeds United
- Hull City
- Cardiff City
- Birmingham City
- Ipswich Town
- Bristol City
- Derby County
- Crystal Palace
- Peterborough United
- Doncaster Rovers
- Brighton and Hove Albion
- Coventry City