Championship league ladder: Southampton up, Watford down
The Seventy Two’s Championship league ladder continues with the thoughts of Joe Harrison.
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 Joe…
It is always very difficult to make predictions at this stage of the year. Although pre-season is now underway for most teams, there is still plenty of transfer activity left to come and one move can change the whole mood around a club (for better or for worse). As the previous reshuffling of this table shows, the other main problem inherent in making predictions for the Championship is that it is a league that seems to delight in defying expectations and splitting opinions. Still, this is also the time when everyone and anyone has an opinion on something, so here goes with my two tips:
One up: Southampton
These days, having a new stadium seems to be the holy grail for clubs due to the extra revenues they bring in. Southampton’s descent from the Premier League to League One since the opening of the St Mary’s Stadium is testament to the fact that off-field ‘progress’ does not always correlate to success on the pitch. However, having seemingly sorted themselves out behind the scenes, Southampton have a team to match their surroundings, first winning the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy and then following Brighton to automatic promotion.
The club now appear to be set on a firmly upward curve: a talented young manager in Nigel Adkins, who stepped up from physio duties to perform miracles at Scunthorpe before dropping a division to take up the challenge at Southampton, leading them to promotion at the first attempt. They also have the players, particularly going forward, to make a big impact on the division. Even assuming the latest wonderkid from their incredible production line, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, follows previous Saints Theo Walcott and Gareth Bale in making a big move to the Premier League this summer, plenty remain to make the step up and threaten Championship defences.
The prolific Rickie Lambert finally gets a chance in a higher division and he is supported impressively by the likes of Adam Lallana, Lee Barnard and Guly do Prado. Southampton have also signed Jack Cork from Chelsea, an excellent addition with Championship experience following spending last season on loan at Burnley, producing a squad which already seems equipped to do more than just compete at Championship level.
Southampton may also benefit from the inspiration provided by the success of the three promoted teams last season. Millwall spent much of the season flirting with the play-offs, while Leeds only just missed out on the top six. Of course, both these excellent achievements were blown out of the water somewhat due to Norwich achieving their second successive promotion in superb style.
All these factors indicate the momentum of promotion and making the right additions to a settled team can be a huge positive influence. For the first time since their stadium was unveiled, Southampton appear to be ‘all set’ for an immediate crack at the Premier League and though matching Norwich may be beyond them, a serious attempt at the play-offs looks more than a decent bet.
Southampton up to: 6th
One down: Watford
As a Cardiff fan, I almost feel embarrassed and guilty to predict a hard season for Watford as most of the negative headlines surrounding them at the moment are the fault of my team! After an encouraging season last time out — Malky Mackay leading a very young Hornets team towards the play-off positions for much of the season, playing some great football along the way, before losing steam and dropping down the table in the final weeks — Watford seemed a club on the up.
However, they have been rocked this summer by Mackay leaving for pastures new at the Cardiff City Stadium whilst also losing key players from last term: winger Will Buckley (to Brighton), midfielder Don Cowie (following his manager to Cardiff) and most importantly, last season’s top-scorer Danny Graham moving to Swansea City. It is also worth noting Mackay has taken a number of his backroom staff with him to South Wales, leaving his former number two and replacement, Sean Dyche, with much work to do.
Though Dyche’s ascension to the manager’s office, inheriting a young squad, is similar in situation to the successful appointment of Mackay, it is hard not to imagine a season of struggle for Watford this term. With a thin squad, Dyche has a big job to do this summer and up to now recruitment has been minimal. Replacing the creativity of Cowie and Buckley will be difficult enough, but add the colossal loss of Graham and Watford’s attractive attacking side of last season already seems a long way away. If Watford start the season poorly, it is easy to see them being unable to reverse a slide towards League One.
On a slightly more positive note (and to at least slightly assuage my conscience), the squad is not completely shorn of quality. The likes of Marvin Sordell, Lee Hodson and Ross Jenkins have proven themselves to be impressive young talents and figures such as Martin Taylor and John Eustace do add some much needed experience. If Dyche proves himself capable of making the transition from assistant to Manager, a few good acquisitions should be enough to see Watford safe, just.
Watford down to: 20th
Table after Joe’s picks:
- Nottingham Forest
- Leicester City
- Leeds United
- West Ham United
- Hull City
- Ipswich Town
- Cardiff City
- Brighton and Hove Albion
- Birmingham City
- Derby County
- Bristol City
- Crystal Palace
- Peterborough United
- Doncaster Rovers
- Coventry City