Championship league ladder: Peterborough United up, Birmingham City down
The Seventy Two’s Championship league ladder continues with the thoughts of The Equaliser‘s Chris Mann.
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…
I should probably warn you all before we begin that my form when it comes to predicting things — anything — isn’t dissimilar to that of Judgement Day’s very own Harold Camping. My most infamous moment came in a preview of the last Premier League season when I tipped Liverpool to exceed expectations despite their poor form and the departure of Rafael Benitez. So, yeah, that worked out pretty well for me.
With that in mind, here’s my verdict on what we should expect from Peterborough United and Birmingham City in The Championship next season. I would strongly advise you to instantly disregard what I say and think the exact opposite.
One up: Peterborough United
I am, as some may already know, a Southampton fan at heart, but there was no League One side I enjoyed watching more last season than Peterborough United. Specialising in high-scoring, barnstorming encounters, the London Road outfit scored more goals (106) than any other team and conceded more goals (75) than all but relegated Bristol Rovers.
Indeed, The Posh’s love of free-flowing attacking football and seeming disregard for defensive discipline has endeared them to many, their play-off triumph over Huddersfield Town capping off a stunningly entertaining — and, at times, quite preposterous — campaign.
Spearheaded by the goal-scoring prowess of Craig Mackail-Smith and the creative instincts of George Boyd, Darren Ferguson’s team have the offensive weaponry to worry even the strongest of Championship sides. If they can combine their aptitude going forward with a greater defensive resilience then there is no reason why The Posh can’t bring a few big names crashing down to earth in 2011/12.
Of course, as is so often the case with newly-promoted sides, much will depend on the club’s ability to keep its star players. Mackail-Smith is coveted by several bigger clubs and, should he decide to leave, would surely prove difficult to replace given Peterborough’s limited financial muscle. If Ferguson’s team is to make an impression next season it is imperative that they keep hold of their key personnel or, at the very least, astutely re-invest any money they may receive from sales.
As much as I’ve grown to love Peterborough over the last season or so, I’m not going to move them particularly far up the Championship ladder. In fact, I think that they are likely to be involved in a relegation battle for the majority of the season, but the old romantic in me has them staying up by the skin of their teeth.
Here’s to another relentlessly captivating campaign down at London Road.
Peterborough United up to: 21st
The Seventy Two verdict: There is a sense of deja vu about Peterborough’s promotion, with the likes of Darren Ferguson, George Boyd and Joe Lewis still at the club, but Aaron MacLean is long gone and Craig Mackail-Smith seems set for the Premier League, even if his exit may wait until later in the summer.
Defensively, Posh are going to have to shape up. Both Ferguson and his chairman Darragh McAnthony appear to have admitted mistakes in their naivety that the players that won promotion from League One last time around would be competitive in the division above. It will be a struggle – even star midfielder Grant McCann’s main previous experience of the Championship was keeping his head above water with Scunthorpe United. Unless they keep Mackail-Smith and invest in a defensively-minded midfielder or two, I can’t see Posh emulating Millwall’s excellent showing following their play-off win twelve months ago.
One down: Birmingham City
There were few neutrals who were disappointed to see Birmingham City relegated from the Premier League last season. A team which lacked consistent creativity, The Blues’ football was regularly negative and uninspiring, their efficient defence often masking a serious offensive impotency.
While the likes of Cameron Jerome and James McFadden will undoubtedly find life a little easier in The Championship, whether or not Alex McLeish can change his team’s stylistic culture is another question entirely. With Lee Bowyer and Sebastian Larsson poised to leave the club on the expiration of their contracts this summer, it is difficult to see where Birmingham’s ingenuity will come from next season.
Furthermore, should the much-vaunted central defensive pairing of Scott Dann and Roger Johnson be snapped up by Premier League suitors over the next eight weeks, McLeish may find himself with a squad shorn of its finest players, bereft of the few talents he has been able to rely upon in recent times.
I don’t foresee a completely catastrophic campaign for The Blues, they should have more than enough quality to hold their own in the second tier, but it could well be a season of rebuilding and redrawing for McLeish and his staff.
The ticker-tape and resplendent silverware of Wembley seems a very distant memory.
Birmingham City down to: 12th
The Seventy Two verdict: My own memories of Birmingham City under Alex McLeish relate to their last-gasp promotion from the Championship, edging over the line with a 2-1 win at the Madejski Stadium in May 2009. It wasn’t a particularly impressive way to get out of the division, but it was achieved through sheer guts and graft. These are qualities that ran out of effectiveness in the final few weeks of the season that has just finished, but they will come in handy again in the Championship.
A lot will depend on who stays and who goes. Blues can afford to lose one of their three centre-backs and still have a solid-looking defence, but a mid-table finish looks about right at the moment with, as Chris mentioned, Bowyer and Larsson widely expected to move on. Financial problems could play a big part in their fortunes. One final thought – will McLeish adapt his side’s style? The division has altered since Birmingham last made a success of it and there were very few teams that played direct football in the last twelve months.
Table after Chris’s picks:
- West Ham United
- Cardiff City
- Nottingham Forest
- Leeds United
- Leicester City
- Hull City
- Birmingham City
- Ipswich Town
- Bristol City
- Derby County
- Crystal Palace
- Peterborough United
- Doncaster Rovers
- Brighton and Hove Albion
- Coventry City