My Ultimate Championship predictions – Championship
Reminder: the deadline for Conference and Europe predictions is TONIGHT at midnight. Entries will be accepted after but will be subject to points penalties. The deadline for Ultimate Championship predictions (for the Premier and Football Leagues) is Friday 17th August at midnight.
This year promises to be one of the most open Championship seasons in recent years, and that’s saying something because every season is an open season in the Championship. I have no idea what will happen, and neither does anyone else – just look at how many tits put Leicester and Forest at the top of their tables last season (speaking as someone who did exactly that). But I’ll give it a go, wary of the likelihood of having to cower in embarrassment when the final table is revealed.
1. Bolton Wanderers – #thismortalcoyle
So, Owen Coyle: I don’t get the hype, but he’s a good manager at this level. By retaining the better players of the squad that was relegated last year (Kev Davies, Lee, Holden, Petrov), as well as retaining or signing players that have proven themselves in the Championship (Eagles, Sordell, Pratley, Mears, Andrews, Mills), surely they have the best squad in the division by a considerable margin.
2. Birmingham City – #blessedarethebluenoses
There are three main changes at St Andrew’s this season. Firstly, they’re not in Europe, which will help them concentrate on the league – they finished the season well after exiting. Secondly, Darren Ambrose is a great signing, as is Peter Lovenkrands for the level they’re at. Thirdly, Lee Clark is a great young manager. I can’t see how they won’t improve on last year.
3. Cardiff City – #redalert
Casting aside colour controversies for the time being (as I can’t see it being too much of a distraction, you would think that with all the money Vincent Tan has promised (that’s promised, not actually put in), they would be dead certs for promotion. But that is to ignore 1. the fact that Leicester spent loads last year and didn’t go up, and 2. the fact that they haven’t spent much of this money yet on proven Championship players – the emphasis has been on youth. The signing of Heidar Helguson, completed today (2nd August), is an intriguing one, and adds the prolific striker they lacked last year. But I still don’t think the squad is good enough for automatic promotion. Having said that, it’s always a risk to discount a rich team on the basis that the squad isn’t good enough, because the chances are it’ll improve through the year.
4. Leicester City – #thaiyourmotherdown
Last year I tipped Leicester to win the league and got proven wrong. While repeating something that has failed is the definition of insanity, I think they’ve got a better chance this time. Nigel Pearson is a good manager who hasn’t gone mad spending on loads of players. Stability is often a positive in the Championship, and maybe this will help them get their act together. The talent is clearly there in the squad – it is just a case of getting the players to click together.
5. Middlesbrough – #thejonathanwoodgateinjurysweepstake
At times last year Middlesbrough looked like genuine promotion contenders. Marvin Emnes look liked one of the best players in the league on his day. Problem is their campaign fizzled out towards the end of the season and they missed out on the play-offs, and with a new crop of teams coming up and down into the Championship, they could find it tough again. But Tony Mowbray is one of the best managers in the league. This all sounds incredibly like I’m fence-sitting, but that’s part of the process – finding a spot which is about right, which comes from deciding how far up or down they might finish, to limit points lost. I’m not sure Middlesbrough will definitely finish 5th but 3rd-8th seems like a solid bet.
6. Brighton and Hove Albion – #weaponofchoice
Gus Poyet hasn’t jumped into making big signings after a solid first year for Brighton in the Championship. I suspect that will prove to be a positive. Wayne Bridge is the headline signing, but he won’t win you the league title. Neither will Andrew Crofts, signed from Norwich, but he is a good addition to the midfield and proven at this level. In fact, I don’t think individual players can win you the league – even Adel Taarabt two years ago didn’t do it alone. The fact is most of the sides that have got promoted to the top flight in recent seasons have done it because they were good teams that worked well as a unit, rather than individual star quality, and Brighton clearly have that at the moment. They should do well.
7. Wolverhampton Wanderers – #thingscanonlygetberra
I see no reason why Wolves won’t be contenders, as the squad is relatively the same as last year. However, that does overlook the fact that at times they were truly dreadful last year. Additionally, Stale Solbakken has not managed in England before. Despite this, you’d be silly to not put them amongst the top teams. Promotion hopes may rest on whether or not players like Steven Fletcher stay. I think there will be quite a few departures which will weaken the squad enough for them to drop just below the main contenders.
8. Charlton Athletic – #addicktedtolove
While Charlton didn’t dominate League One in the same way as Brighton the previous year, it was still a crushing title victory in what proved to be quite a strong year towards the top of the division. With that in mind, and of course the success of promoted sides from League One in the second tier in recent years, I’m going to take a gamble on them having a decent year.
9. Sheffield Wednesday – #happydays
The top four teams in League One were in a another class from the rest last season, and it was Wednesday who just edged out United for the second automatic promotion spot. Last year, Southampton went from that same automatic spot straight into the same position in the Championship. I can’t see the Owls doing the same thing again but the side is clearly good. Upper mid-table is a good estimate at this stage.
10. Watford – #goodfellas
The Hornets have become the latest addition to the Pozzo empire, and given that their other two clubs, Udinese and Granada, have both done well, it’s hard to see Watford not following them in the future. Already three Udinese and two Granada players have arrived on loan, along with Manuel Almunia and Fitz Hall. They did surprisingly well last year. I can’t see them returning to the bottom end of the table this time. I’m just disappointed for Sean Dyche.
11. Huddersfield Town – #nononsensestadium
For the time being, Jordan Rhodes remains a Terrier. As long as that’s the case, you’d expect Huddersfield to do well. Simon Grayson took Leeds into this league and did a very good job in establishing them immediately. You’d fancy him to do the same here. Some of the League One-level players have already been released, replaced by the likes of Sean Scannell, Joel Lynch and Keith Southern. Consolidation must be the aim.
12. Nottingham Forest – #insodwetrust
I think it’ll take another year or two before the money from the Al-Hasawi family’s takeover at Forest starts taking effect – throwing money at teams in this league rarely has an immediate effect. Nonetheless, Guedioura, Collins and Halford are impressive signings for this level, though surely these are only really replacements for the good players they have lost in the interim period. I can’t see Forest having another nightmare season but I can’t see them going up either.
13. Hull City – #steviebruceisnotafraid
Steve Bruce is back in the Championship, but he shouldn’t have been, for Nick Barmby’s sacking seems very harsh. Hull had a solid season and while Bruce isn’t the best manager out there, I can’t see how he’ll do a terrible job. Rangers winger Sone Aluko and Senegalese defender Abdoulaye Faye are the headline signings so far, joining alongside German striker Nick Proschwitz who was top scorer in 2.Bundesliga last season. Mid-table.
14. Leeds United – #masterbates
On the one hand, I initially thought this would be the season where the Ken Bates Show starts to have a real effect on on-field performances. It has the feeling of turmoil being just around the corner. Added to that, key player Robert Snodgrass has moved to Norwich. Despite this, you’d always trust Neil Warnock to do what is required in this division, and the signings of a few Portsmouth exiles, Paddy Kenny and Andy Gray seem like good, solid, reliable additions to what was already a reasonably good if inconsistent squad. So I’ve revised up my initial estimations.
15. Blackpool – #royalholloway
As good a manager as Ian Holloway is, it’s difficult to keep performing miracles year after year, and I think this is the season where Blackpool will slip back into mid-table territory. Holloway keeps digging up gems, and has also retained the services of some of his better players of last year, particularly Matt Phillips and Tom Ince. Kevin Phillips gets another season too. But it doesn’t have the feel of a side going forward. I remain to be convinced they’ll be up there fighting for play-off places again.
16. Ipswich Town – #jewellinthecrown
I can’t be the only one who keeps putting Ipswich towards the top of the table, only for them to under-perform and end up closer to the relegation zone than the play-offs. Well, I’m giving up. I’m putting them where they usually finish. It seems like it doesn’t matter who they sign, who the manager is or how good the squad is – they still finish around 16th. The logical step is to put them there. So that’s what I’m going to do. I am not insane. Or at least because of this, anyway. They’ll probably win the league now.
17. Burnley – #burnbabyburn
Oh Eddie Eddie. Surely you are destined for greater things than this part of Lancashire. You’ve not exactly got much to work with here, especially having lost Jay Rodriguez to Norwich. The squad looks a bit thin now – I’m not sure Sam Vokes is an ideal replacement, but then he’s never had much stability in his career to show what he can do. It’s a young squad, with a few experienced faces here and there, but it’s not going to trouble the top teams. Sorry Eddie, not this year.
18. Derby County – #dodgeram
Derby are another Ipswich – “this is going to be their year”, and it isn’t. The romance of the Clough appointment has worn off. How much more time is he going to get? This year, the players he’s brought in are hardly going to light Championship-branded blue touch paper – Michael Jacobs from League Two Northampton, Paul Coutts of League One Preston, and two defenders from sides that were relegated (that’s never a good sign), Richard Keogh of Coventry and James O’Connor and Doncaster. 12th last season was good, I suppose (I’m surprised it was that high, to be honest), but I see this being more of a struggle again. The league has improved more than they have. Relegation wildcards?
19. Millwall – #jackettrequired
Millwall managed to climb as high as 16th by the end of last season. I’d be surprised if they finished that high this time. Having managed them a bit on Football Manager 2012, I must admit they have one of the most uninspiring squads in the Championship, relying heavily on Darius Henderson’s goals and some solid defenders. The squad hasn’t improved dramatically since then. I can see this being another struggle. Kenny Jackett is a good manager, though, and should keep them away from relegation. Just.
20. Blackburn Rovers – #stevekeansindiansummer
It seems quite a few betting sites have Blackburn at the top of their list, but for the title. I think they are far more likely to go down. This is a club in absolute turmoil, with a manager roundly judged to be inept and owners totally detached from what is going on. They’ve lost their two best players, Hoilett and Yakubu, and Morten Gamst Pedersen is on the transfer list. They’ve signed four players from Portugal, Danny Murphy and Leon Best (£45,000 a week but already out for months) On the plus side, they have Steven N’Zonzi, but probably only until someone realises that. They could conceivably go down again.
21. Crystal Palace – #destroyedbyfirein1936
Poor old Palace really are struggling here. Ambrose, the key man over the past couple of seasons, is gone. Sean Scannell has gone too. So has Anthony Gardner. So has Nathaniel Clyne. Surely Wilfried Zaha won’t stay too much longer. This won’t end well.
22. Bristol City – #rockinrobins
Derek McInnes arrived at the right time for The Robins last season, but even after rescuing them out of a severe dip in form at the start of the season, the team couldn’t sustain the initial benefit he brought, and they still only narrowly avoided the drop. I suppose the concerning thing for them now is that the squad doesn’t seem to have been improved much: three free transfer signings, including 33 year old Jody Morris of McInnes’ former club St Johnstone, and the purchase of Greg Cunningham for Manchester City. I just don’t see it being enough to avoid another season of struggle.
23. Peterborough United – #fergusontime
Peterborough surprised quite a few people by doing as well as they did, although they faded badly towards the end of the season, slumping to 18th. This is not the only reason why they are one of the favourites to go down – Grant McCann, George Boyd and top scorer Paul Taylor are among several players to be placed on the transfer list by Darren Ferguson, the latter pair for failing to agree to a new deal and entering the last year of their contract. He has brought in the likes of Tyrone Barnett and Nathaniel Mendez-Laing to replace them, but surely such a high turn-over of players in a side that has developed well as a unit over the last couple of seasons, particularly in terms of goal-scoring, is a major risk.
24. Barnsley – #runningupthathill
The Tykes were another side to end 2011-12 poorly, and Keith entered the summer with quite a bit of work to do. He has been active in the transfer market, but has he been active enough. Of the six incoming signings, five are free transfers, while the other is former Port Vale defender Lee Collins. Granted, one of the five is Mido, who Barnsley will be hoping proves to be another Ricardo Vaz Te (who was sorely missed after leaving for West Ham in January). But I don’t think they are enough in the right direction to avoid relegation. It’s still an unconvincing squad. Always a good bet for the region around the relegation zone.
Note: Originally had Charlton 5th and Boro 8th. Swapped them around when I thought about it some more