Championship league ladder: Leicester City up, Cardiff City down

The Seventy Two’s Championship league ladder continues with the thoughts of Rob Nevitt.

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 Rob…

I am a Liverpool season-ticket holder, so my main focus on a Saturday afternoon is on the Reds and the scores coming in from the rest of the Premier League. But when I sit down on a Saturday evening, there is only one highlights show I am looking forward to: The Football League Show. The main reason for this is the Championship; a league full of excitement, a league where anyone can beat anyone. Despite my allegiances to the Reds, for me it is a better spectacle than the Premier League.

From watching week in, week out, I’d like to say I know a fair bit about the Championship. Below are my one up, one down predictions, so I’ll let you decide whether that is true or not!

One up: Leicester City

A poor run of only one win in the first 9 games of last season spelt the end of Paulo Sousa’s short reign as Leicester City manager. In his place came ex-England boss Sven-Goran Eriksson.

An upturn in form followed, with the Foxes flirting with the play-offs before finishing in a respectable 9th place.

The improvement in results coincided with the inspired loan signings made by Eriksson. In came Kyle Naughton, Jeffrey Bruma, Patrick van Aanholt, Diomansy Kamara, Ben Mee and striker Yakubu, with the latter scoring an impressive 11 goals in 20 games.

As well as the loan players, other players impressed. Captain Andy King netted 15 goals from midfield, meaning there are plenty of Premier League suitors for his signature, and Paul Gallagher was a regular on the scoresheet.

Now with a full summer to work his magic, Eriksson will be looking to build a squad capable of mounting a promotion challenge. Yakubu has already indicated that he would like to return to the Walkers Stadium, whilst Eriksson will also try to convince the other loanees to do the same.

With his contacts home and abroad, Eriksson will not struggle to attract players to the Walkers Stadium, making Leicester a good bet for a play-off place.

Leicester City up to: 5th

The Seventy Two verdict: On paper, Leicester look strong challengers next season with investment promised and Sven-Goran Eriksson at the helm. However, there is a major rebuilding project to be done with only the midfield set to remain settled from last season. A change in chief executive last week also appears to have delayed incoming transfers.

Efforts to secure the permanent signature of Yakubu have thus far stalled, with the Nigerian’s wage demands threatening to derail the deal amid talk of late interest from West Ham United, and none of the other loanees have shown any signs of returning.

So there is plenty of work to do. But there also remains plenty of time. At this stage, it is not unreasonable to expect Leicester to go closer to promotion than they did last season but their tag as favourites with the bookmakers will slip unless some of their targets begin to arrive at the Walkers Stadium over the next couple of weeks.

One down: Cardiff City

May Day Bank Holiday Monday. The sun was shining for Cardiff’s last home game of the season. A win against Middlesbrough would see them move above Norwich City into second place, with the Canaries travelling to Portsmouth later that night. Surely an easy 3 points… Twenty-one minutes in, Cardiff were 3-0 down. Their automatic promotion hopes were in tatters. Buoyed by the result, Norwich subsequently won at Portsmouth to seal second place.

Fifteen days later, Reading were the visitors to the Cardiff City Stadium. After a goalless first leg, a home win would set up an all-South Wales Play-off final against arch-rivals Swansea City. Another shambolic performance gave the away side a 3-0 win. The dream was over.

For the last two seasons, Cardiff have looked odds-on for automatic promotion, only to fall into the play-off places, then subsequently fail in their bid to reach the promised land. This year’s disappointment was made worse when Swansea went on to beat Reading at Wembley to become the first Welsh club to feature in the Premier League.

Bluebirds manager Dave Jones paid the price, getting the sack before the end of May. The search is on to find his replacement with Martin O’Neill, Mark Robins, Chris Hughton and even Craig Bellamy linked to the role. But the job facing the new manager will be a difficult one. Cardiff now find themselves stuck in the Championship while Swansea start their Premier league adventure. Confidence at the club is at a low.

As well as the departure of manager Jones, some of the club’s key players have followed. Top goalscorer Jay Bothroyd’s contract has not been renewed, while there has also been moves for Michael Chopra, Chris Burke and Adam Matthews. Bellamy’s year-long loan deal from Manchester City has expired, with the same applying to Arsenal’s Jay Emmanuel-Thomas. Star player Peter Whittingham is sure to attract interest from the Premier League throughout the summer months.

It all means a rebuilding job is on the cards. Combined with the disappointment engulfing the club, I feel Cardiff will struggle to replicate their form of the past couple of seasons.

Cardiff City down to: 9th

The Seventy Two verdict: This seems a fair assessment at the moment. There is so much for Cardiff’s new man to do, with an entire forward line to replace and confidence to restore among players and supporters alike.

The idea of this league ladder is to chart people’s thoughts throughout the summer, so I am fully aware that all this may change and that it is far too early to make confident predictions. Nevertheless, it is often interesting to have something like this to look back upon – for example, what would the general opinion of Newcastle’s prospects have been after their 6-1 friendly defeat at Leyton Orient before they strolled to the Championship title in 2009/10?

Cardiff are arguably a couple of steps behind Leicester in their rebuilding process at present – even more to do in terms of refreshing the squad and a new manager to be confirmed to boot. The fact that the next boss should be able to bring in players of his own choosing should probably be seen as a positive thing though.

Table after Rob’s picks:

  1. Blackpool
  2. West Ham United
  3. Reading
  4. Nottingham Forest
  5. Leicester City
  6. Leeds United
  7. Burnley
  8. Millwall
  9. Cardiff City
  10. Hull City
  11. Middlesbrough
  12. Birmingham City
  13. Ipswich Town
  14. Watford
  15. Bristol City
  16. Portsmouth
  17. Barnsley
  18. Southampton
  19. Derby County
  20. Crystal Palace
  21. Peterborough United
  22. Doncaster Rovers
  23. Brighton and Hove Albion
  24. Coventry City
The Seventy Two
The Seventy Two published an outstanding series of articles about the Football League between 2010-12 and was the brainchild of Leicester City fan, David Bevan. As well as collaborating with The Two Unfortunates on the Football League Blog Network and a mammoth 2011-12 season preview, the site featured a host of leading bloggers and David was rewarded with a nomination in the 2011 Football Supporters’ Federation awards. Latterly, he was joined as co-editor by Joe Harrison and TTU is happy to present this archive of the site’s output.

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