The Championship preview – part II
Part II of my look at our Championship rivals this coming season. Part I is here.
This time a year ago I tipped Derby County for promotion and they came very close, and the reason I picked them was Steve McLaren.
McLaren is still a very good club manager and he put together an exciting young team that scored plenty of goals utilizing a 4-2-3-1 formation. Craig Bryson and Chris Martin combined for 41 goals between them, Bryson from midfield and the Rams have done well to hold onto the Scot.
21-year old George Thorne was McLaren’s top summer transfer target and he signed in July only to suffer a cruciate knee ligament injury four days later and is expected to be out for 9 months, which is a huge blow. Leon Best was signed on a season-long loan from Blackburn and defender Cyrus Christie joined from Coventry.
Rams’ fans expectations are being held in check from what I can see but one would have to think that if they can get a good start then they will be up there challenging. Promotion 5/2, Relegation 40/1.
Fulham could go one of two ways. Felix Magath’s 9 new players set the league alight, Ross McCormack scores 30 goals and Magath is considered a tactical genius or the Cottagers struggle to get to grips with The Championship, Magath alienates himself from the players and owner Shahid Khan has enough and walks away.
Magath has a big squad despite a whole raft of players leaving in the summer including Kieren Richardson, David Stockdale and Iran’s Ashkan Dejagah. Scott Parker still anchors the midfield and another player to watch this season is Moussa Dembele, who at just 18 has been propelled into the first team by Magath.
As for Fulham’s fans, used to a Premier League diet for the past 13 seasons, they seem to also be in the, it’ll either be a walk in the park or a walk in a minefield camp. Promotion 10/3, Relegation 40/1.
Huddersfield Town hovered around the drop zone last season, but never appeared to be in any real danger. Are Mark Robins’ side capable of kicking on this season? That will be the question being asked by Terriers’ fans.
Robins has done a very good job of stabilising the smaller of the triumvirate of the teams that came up when we did. Lacking a little in defence, they do possess a potentially powerful strike force in James Vaughan and Nahki Wells, especially if the Bermudian can get to grips with The Championship.
Lee Peltier returns after after 3 seasons and experienced midfielder Joe Turner joins from Coventry having spent almost his entire career below the 2nd tier. No players of note left and Huddersfield could be one of this season’s surprises. Promotion 20/1, Relegation 7/2.
A Tractor Boy mate of mine said that the best signing Ipswich Town made this summer was securing the services of Mick McCarthy and Terry Connor on a new 3-year deal. McCarthy has a lot of experience of this division and has many good players at his disposal. A lot will depend on last summer’s bargain free transfer David McGoldrick, who scored 16 goals last season.
One of the best ‘keepers outside of the top two divisions, Bartosz Bialkowski signed from Notts County and Jonathan Parr was brought in from Palace to replace Aaron Cresswell. Cameron Stewart is also at Portman Road after having his pre-agreed move to Leeds derailed. Consistency may still be the problem for Ipswich as they look to get out of The Championship after 11 seasons. Promotion 8/1, Relegation 12/1.
Leeds United, without any question, the division’s biggest club, have had ownership concerns of their own. Flamboyant Italian Massimo Cellino took the club over from a disastrous consortium and the first thing he did was unsuprisingly sack Brian McDermott, who did under achieve with what on paper was a decent squad.
The next thing Cellino did was very suprising. He appointed ex-Forest Green Rovers manager David Hockaday, and judging by the Italian’s reputation at Cagliari, I’d be surprised if this relationship lasted very long. Hockaday failed miserably at an ambitious Forest Green and how Cellino came across the 56-year old is anyone’s guess.
Hockaday only being in charge of coaching may help him and he can also call on one of the best young right-backs in the country, Sam Bryam, but strangely Leeds still has kebab lover Paddy Kenny on the payroll.
The new head coach has no say in transfers but Cellini did sign perennial bench warmer Stuart Taylor as well as five players from Italy. Marco Silvestri, expected to be first choice goalkeeper, defender Gaetano Berardi, midfielder Tommaso Bianchi, striker Souleymane Doukara and young midfielder Zan Benedicic.
Steve Morison returned to Elland Road but replacing Ross McCormack’s goals won’t be easy and it will be interesting to see how Cellini uses that money. Both the owner and the head coach have a lot to prove and this could be another an ugly season for the Leeds faithful. Promotion 12/1, Relegation 7/2.
Middlesbrough are in their 7th Championship season and have only once finished in the top 10. Aitor Karanka is head coach and will be hoping to prove himself beyond his friendship with Jose Mourinho. The Spaniard has gone back to Spain to sign Enrique Garcia, aka Kike from Real Murcia (£3.5m), Tomás Mejías from Real Madrid (undisclosed) and Emilio Nsue from Real Mallorca (undisclosed), as well as stopping off in Doncaster on the way back for James Husband.
Karanka also faces a battle to hold onto the influential Grant Leadbitter, with Leicester known suitors. Kike in particular sounds like he will fair well in The Championship and Boro are also in the market for one or two other players.
Boro have become a little bit of midtable fodder, although a better start than last season will give them better chance of a Play-Off challenge. Promotion 6/1, Relegation 20/1.
Part III to follow.