Championship league ladder: West Ham up, Birmingham City down
The Seventy Two’s Championship league ladder continues with the thoughts of Alistair Hendrie.
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 Alistair…
One up: West Ham United
Relegated last season with estimated debts of £100m, the east London giants now enter a transition period with the vastly experienced Sam Allardyce taking the reins from Avram Grant. It seems baffling that Grant wasn’t sacked earlier, what with the Hammers propping up the table in January. The Israeli was apparently powerless to stop a downward slide — he oversaw just seven wins all season.
His signings didn’t help either. To mention two of his loan acquisitions, Wayne Bridge and Robbie Keane were hapless at best. Demba Ba impressed but the transfer market is a double edged sword. Senegal international Ba netted seven goals in 12 games since joining in January, though the Hammers downfall always signalled a quick exit for the striker who recently joined Newcastle.
The capture of forward Benni McCarthy was just as catastrophic as that of Bridge and Keane. Overweight and unenthusiastic, the South African’s contract was terminated in April. He was one of so many strikers who Grant gambled on that failed. The seven strikers he used scored just 23 goals between them.
Of course, it’s clear that the Hammers will need to fire on all cylinders in front of goal to gain promotion. Allardyce’s signing of Kevin Nolan from Newcastle could also be crucial. Nolan, one of Newcastle’s brightest sparks, netted 12 times last season. Abdoulaye Faye’s arrival also adds more Premier League experience to the Upton Park men.
With or without the likes of Scott Parker, Rob Green and Mark Noble, West Ham’s squad is too good for the Championship. Allardyce’s tactics may not be swashbuckling, enterprising football, but his reputation for ruffling feathers in the Premier League will mean a handful of big names may be arriving soon. There have been rumours that Joey Barton, a useful player even in the tier above, could be arriving.
In around a decade of labouring, Allardyce established Bolton as a top-flight mainstay and also guided them to European qualification. He’s won promotion to the Premier League before with the Lancashire club, so don’t be surprised if he repeats the feat.
West Ham United up to 2nd
One down: Birmingham City
February’s Carling Cup final win should have been a day to saviour for the Midlands club. However, after the Blues were relegated following surrender at the hands of Spurs, the Wembley triumph fails to mask what was a disastrous season. Manager Alex McLeish has understandably been replaced by Chris Hughton, who now awaits a bothersome Europa League campaign as a consequence of City’s Carling Cup win.
Last season’s failings were there for all to see. With 37 goals representing less than a goal a game, Birmingham scored fewer goals than any other Premier League side. Striker Cameron Jerome scored just three goals all season.
The team were not helped by McLeish’s horribly negative and stubborn tactics. To be fair to Jerome, time and time again he was isolated by his deep-lying colleagues. The St Andrews side were dreadfully bereft of any spark. Last season’s accumulation of four 0-0 draws and six 1-1 draws smacks of a team with a negative attitude and lightweight options.
Their new boss Hughton did a fine job in the seemingly cursed role of Newcastle manager. Newcastle coasted to the Championship title in 09-10 and began well in the Premier League before Hughton’s unwarranted sacking.
He now inherits a squad in tatters. The likes of Roger Johnson, Craig Gardner, Lee Bowyer, Seb Larsson and others have all left. In financial terms, they’ll lose £40m a year in TV money from the Premier League, and stand at an original loss of around £17m a year. It is glaringly apparent that the talismanic Liam Ridgewell will leave. Ben Foster also looks unlikely to stay. Add to that the recent troubles of club owner Carson Yeung and City find themselves on rocky waters.
Birmingham are used to stale, unadventurous football and Hughton must change this by fashioning the squad in his own image. The arrival of Marlon King and Chris Burke adds proven Championship quality, but key men trickling outwards means it could be a tricky season for the Blues. Teams such as Reading, Nottingham Forest and Leeds — teams with less upheaval — are more likely to gain promotion. Expect Birmingham to challenge for the play-offs but fall at an early stage.
Birmingham City down to: 15th
Table after Alistair’s picks:
- Nottingham Forest
- West Ham United
- Leicester City
- Leeds United
- Hull City
- Ipswich Town
- Cardiff City
- Brighton and Hove Albion
- Derby County
- Birmingham City
- Bristol City
- Crystal Palace
- Peterborough United
- Doncaster Rovers
- Coventry City