Taking the plunge: Championship predictions
Okay, okay. Time to hold the old hands up. There are only twelve names here. A bit of a cop-out, perhaps, but nobody likes to see their team predicted to finish in or around the relegation places before the season kicks off. I’m sure Blackpool fans are already heartily sick of seeing their club’s name in the immediate vicinity of the number 20.
While, sadly, they will probably have no choice over the next few months, the Championship is less predictable. It would be easy to put the same names at the bottom of a predicted table that the BBC, Sky and everyone else has, but there seems no real value in that.
Some sides have a smaller budget or slightly lower ambitions than the majority of their rivals and surely it is better to leave it at that rather than sticking the boot in?
On a more important note, it is genuinely quite difficult to arrange the lower reaches of the table in any meaningful order. The top twelve, or thereabouts, can all reasonably expect to battle for some kind of shot at promotion – be it automatically or through the play-offs – until a very late stage of the season.
Once a team cannot achieve a play-off place, they often tumble down the table in a fit of pique. Think Coventry City last season, who were in the top six hunt until quite late on before falling away badly. 13th or 19th – much of a muchness and there are some supporters of teams that have ended up in that area over the last few years who would struggle to remember their exact placings.
So, anyway, here goes:
The relationship between the English Championship and the Scottish Premier League is an ambiguous one and the natural order of things in terms of the flow of players between England and Scotland can often appear muddled. What is clear is that Kris Boyd and Scott McDonald is a strikeforce that any bottom-half English Premiership side would consider.
Boro should benefit from the instability of Portsmouth and Hull City and the lack of progress made by Nottingham Forest and Cardiff City. The two outstanding candidates for promotion last season were streets ahead of the pack for much of the season and the same should happen this time around.
If the man who came up with the idea of parachute payments must be a West Bromwich Albion fan, then surely his mate who has recently made them even more significant is a Burnley supporter. The Clarets are two seasons into their potential new era as a yo-yo club and a hitherto cagey transfer window has ensured that Brian Laws has clung onto the majority of his key men.
Burnley have a strong combination of reliable performers, such as Graham Alexander, and more inconsistent but creative players who can make a difference. Chris Eagles remains at Turf Moor for now and fits comfortably into the latter category. The main question mark is whether Laws is the best man to extract enough wins from a capable squad.
Arguably the best team in the division around three-quarters of the way through last season. Gylfi Sigurdsson is one of the most underrated midfielders in the country – outside of Berkshire, anyway.
4. Nottingham Forest
Like most clubs, Forest have kept the nucleus of their side together after an excellent campaign and are strongly fancied to finish in the top two this time around. The awkwardness surrounding Billy Davies and the infamous acquisition committee is well-documented but Forest still have one of the best squads in the division, despite the failure to address areas of weakness.
5. Hull City
Will be relying on Nigel Pearson to maintain the winning mentality to which he became accustomed at Leicester City in two successful years. Uncertainty still surrounds the makeup of the Tigers squad but Pearson is the right man to ensure those who stay are fully focused on the task in hand.
6. Norwich City
A possible victim of high expectations in the face of a growing trend throughout the divisions for newly-promoted team to retain their momentum, Paul Lambert’s side are a popular pick for the play-offs. With good reason, too. Grant Holt, Simeon Jackson and Chris Martin will all score goals and Andrew Surman is a fine addition. Fervent home support will be a key factor.
It seems like a cliche but Neil Warnock is always a safe pair of hands at this level.
8. Cardiff City
Another club in qualified turmoil. Joe Ledley’s departure has not yet heralded the feared exodus.
9. Leicester City
Light on numbers. However, Paulo Sousa will surprise many this season with a far more attacking outlook.
10. Leeds United
Obvious concerns over attacking potential in the post-Beckford era. Grayson and home support are big positives.
11. Bristol City
Steve Coppell and David James have stolen the headlines over the summer, but it is the lightning-quick Robins attack that will win them back once the season starts.
Possibly the most unpredictable side in the entire division. Strong XI but no depth. Could trouble the top six with loanees.