Championship league ladder: Middlesbrough up, Leeds United down
The Seventy Two’s Championship league ladder concludes with the thoughts of Chris Walker.
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 Chris…
One up: Middlesbrough
On the back of a European final in May 2006, it’s fair to say the last few years on Teeside have been relatively miserable. Brought in to replace Gareth Southgate — harshly sacked while only a point off the top of the Championship — Gordon Strachan was given significant backing in the transfer market after arriving in October 2009. Strachan’s strategy of signing almost every Rangers and Celtic cast-off was unsuccessful though, and despite huge outlay ‘Boro saw little return on their investment. In what would have been his first full season last year, Strachan had Middlesbrough in relegation strife early on and left the club by mutual consent with the club lying in 20th in the Championship.
It fell to the local hero to turn things around, Steve Gibson appointing former ‘Boro player Tony Mowbray, a manager with experience of winning promotion to the Premier League during his tenure at West Brom. Involved in a relegation tussle for the majority of the season, seven wins from the final 12 games of the season, including only one defeat, catapulted ‘Boro into the top half on the final day — a quite remarkable turnaround. The penultimate game of the campaign even saw them blow away promotion chasing Cardiff on their own turf, taking a 3-0 lead inside 25 minutes.
With such a strong finish in 10/11, Middlesbrough will be aiming to carry this momentum over and put a disappointing couple of years behind them. Barry Robson has been one SPL import who has performed well and ‘Boro’s youth system continues to provide players for the first team. Joe Bennett, Matthew Bates and Seb Hines are just three of the latest batch to impress and this homegrown aspect should not be underplayed.
The departures of Andrew Taylor and Leroy Lita will be keenly felt, but otherwise there has been very little turnover of players. ‘Boro should be able to cope with the loss of Kris Boyd and Willo Flood, neither of whom were greatly involved in the excellent end-of-season run. Mowbray will want some reinforcements in the striking department before the transfer window closes, but if he can bring in a quality forward or two, they could make a credible challenge for the play-offs.
Middlesbrough up to 8th
One down: Leeds United
All three promoted sides fared well in last season’s Championship, most notably Norwich who earned back-to-back promotions. Leeds and Millwall acquitted themselves very well too, both flirting with a play-off place until the last few weeks of the season. With such a large fanbase, Leeds fans are understandably a demanding lot, but most of them would probably have settled for a top half finish last season given the turmoil of the last 10 years, including three consecutive seasons in League One.
Leeds are another team who look set to benefit from continuity, with the only significant departure being that of Kasper Schmeichel to big-spending Leicester City. To fill the goalkeeping void, Simon Grayson has signed Andrew Lonergan from Preston and Paul Rachubka whom he managed while manager at Blackpool. However, Lonergan’s career has not progressed as many expected it to just a few years ago, and it was telling that PNE’s form picked up once he was replaced between the sticks by Iain Turner. Rachubka has barely played in the last 18 months through a combination of injury and falling down the pecking order, and Leeds fans will hardly be inspired by a keeper who was 3rd choice for the Seasiders behind Richard Kingson.
One quality Leeds do possess however is the uncanny ability to score a lot of goals. Indeed, while they have a habit of leaking them at one end, they managed to notch an impressive 81 goals last season — only runners-up Norwich amassed more goals with 83. If Leeds can retain the services of Becchio, Gradel, Snodgrass et al, then they’ll be sure to give Championship defences another headache this term. Still, one might have expected Leeds to invest further, which to date hasn’t happened.
Like a dozen or so other sides, Leeds have every chance of mounting a push for the top six, but I suspect they might find it harder work this time around. For my money, last season’s Championship was a little weaker than usual and it was that lack of quality which perhaps allowed all three promoted sides to do so well. With a little more money floating around the top sides this time round, Leeds fans with expectations of a return to the top flight may have their hopes dashed.
Leeds United down to: 11th
FINAL PREDICTED CHAMPIONSHIP TABLE
- Nottingham Forest
- Birmingham City
- West Ham United
- Leicester City
- Cardiff City
- Hull City
- Ipswich Town
- Leeds United
- Brighton and Hove Albion
- Derby County
- Bristol City
- Doncaster Rovers
- Crystal Palace
- Coventry City
- Peterborough United