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The Championship preview – part III

The 3rd and final part of my look at our Championship competition for this upcoming season. Part I is here and Part II is here.

Auld enemies Millwall like us will be looking to avoid the stress levels of last season. Ian Holloway has now had a whole summer to implement his plans and quirky style and although it looked as if he would fail in his firefighting last season a late run of form saw Millwall clear of relegation.

Fans are very much behind the ex-Palace boss after the vexing spell under Steve Lomas but, not unreasonably, I think it is fair to say after the budget Lomas was given a year ago, Holloway has shopped in a cheaper aisle.

Ricardo Fuller we know can still grab an important goal despite being 2 years older than when he was at The Valley. Lee Gregory represents a gamble, the 25-year old has been prolific at Halifax and was joint top Conference scorer with Andre Gray last season.

Less of a gamble is the permanent signing of Carlos Edwards and that of Yeovil’s Byron Webster. Among those gone are Shane Lowry and Andy Keogh but Holloway hasn’t taken a knife to the squad at all, which is a bit of a surprise and I think the Lions still look a bit light, especially up front. Promotion 25/1, Relegation 3/1.

Norwich City spent 3 years eating at the top table after their heady rise from League One in 2010. Neil Adams took charge of City’s final five games last season and gained just one point, albeit from a nightmare set of fixtures.

Adams has only lost Robert Snodgrass of note, and Ricky Van Wolfswinkel has been off loaded to St Etienne on loan. They have splashed the cash on Grabban and Kyle Lafferty, who was playing his football in Italy.

Norwich have an array of talent for this level and if Adams can get them motivated and competitive then they should be a match for everyone. It’s a slippery slope of course well driven, not least by themselves but they are a club well run with in check fan expectations and there is no reason why the Canaries can’t bounce back up. Promotion 11/4, Relegation 35/1.

Stuart Pearce is back at Nottingham Forest and has already clashed with the owner Al Hasawi, yet the next day they spent £1.5m on Michail Antonio from Sheffield Wednesday and £5.5m on Peterborough’s Britt Assombalonga. And people think Andy Delort’s fee is extortionate!

imagePearce needs to release that he also gets back wage-free Jamaal Lascelles and Karl Darlow from now parent club Newcastle. Deal? Deal.

Forest have been busy signing a further 8 players. Michael Mancienne, who cost £1m from Hamburg, Matty Fryatt from Hull, Chris Burke from Birmingham, who I have always admired and they signed their very own Polish Pete in Lars Veldwijk, who scored goals for fun last season for Excelsior in the Dutch 2nd Division. Reidy’s still there too.

In the meantime Pearce has moved on some dead word such as Darius Henderson, Matt Derbyshire, Jonathan Greening and Marcus Tudgay. Forest should certainly be strong contenders this season. Promotion 5/1, Relegation 16/1.

Reading may have blown their big opportunity last season when they missed out on the Play-Off’s on the last day of the season. The Royals’ summer has had a constant takeover cloud over it, with a Thai Consortium’s offer to buy the club yet to be ratified by the Football League.

Reading have sold players though with £1.5m being raised from the sale of Daniel Carrico to Sevilla and £1m from Adam Le Fondre’s transfer to Cardiff. Wayne Bridge, Mikele Leigertwood  and Jobi McAnuff were the more recognised players to leave on free’s.

Nigel Adkins was the last Championship manager to sign a player but Simon Cox did put pen to paper tonight and returned to the Madejski from Forest and team mate Jamie Mackie is also weighing up a season-long loan move. With Anton Ferdinand and Glenn Murray also linked the purse strings may have become loosened.

Adkins is a good manager though but his squad looks short on numbers. It has been said that the new Thai owner may also force some Thai players on Adkins, and we should watch that with interest. Promotion 7/1, Relegation 20/1.

The appearance of Rotherham United in The Championship presents a nice story, even if we also have to welcome their manager Steve Evans. The Millers were last in this division 10 years ago, but in between times they have really been through the ringer. Three times in administration and more points docked than their fans care to remember.

Steve Evans was appointed just a year ago after walking out on Crawley Town. Evans saw potential with a brand new stadium to play in after 6 years in the wilderness, and delivered promotion via the Play-Off’s.

Evans has turned over his squad quite dramatically and has turfed out many of the players that starred in their promotion season. Incoming are many players with experience at this level, some maybe cruel and say a little too much experience. Matt Derbyshire, Kirk Broadfoot, Scott Loach, Paul Green, Frazer Richardson and Richard Wood have all moved to the New York Stadium.

imageUnited’s fans are pretty confident from what I can see, and they probably have a good right to be as the majority of sides promoted in the last 6-7 years have survived, and in fact some have thrived, although, with respect, most of those teams are much bigger clubs than Rotherham. What is certain is that at some point Steve Evans will annoy you. Promotion 20/1, Relegation 3/1.

Sheffield Wednesday had a horrendous start to last season and Stuart Gray did a very good job in turning it around, although they did finish the season poorly.

Gray too has had to deal with a change in ownership. The Azerbaijani oil magnate Hafiz Mammadov, who also owns two other clubs, one being RC Lens, who have their own problems in France, and thus Gray has been unable to strengthen his team as he would like.

Kieren Westwood is probably the major addition but I think Wednesday are going to miss Michail Antonio, Reda Johnson, Jermaine Johnson and Miguel Llera. Okay, maybe not the last one.

Wednesday’s squad looks like it needs some more quality especially at the back and up front, although they are in the market for Rotherham target St Johnstone’s Stevie May. However, no doubt Wednesday’s fans expectations will be massive. Promotion 12/1, Relegation 9/2.

A team with much in common with Charlton these days, Watford begin their 8th consecutive season in The Championship with Giuseppe Sannino at the helm for his first full season. The jury is firmly out on Sannino, who inherited an inconsistent team in December and only served to make them even more inconsistent.

We talk about network signings but Watford are the poster child, and this summer another three have arrived, although one is Matej Vydra, who last time he wore Watford’s colours scored 20 goals. Heurelho Gomes has arrived from Spurs and more interestingly Lloyd Dyer joined from Leicester after turning down a new contract.

Watford offer a lot of possibilities for their fans, but a lot will depend on Sannino, who has managed 9 clubs in the last 10 years. Promotion 5/1, Relegation 14/1.

Wigan Athletic fans would have enjoyed the second half of last season under Uwe Rosler. A great cup run and an even better league run that took them to the edge of the Play-Off Final.

I have a lot of time for Rosler and to add to his obvious skills, he has one of the best squads under his control in the league. They will miss Jordi Gomez though, who was patently too good for this division, but they still have James McArthur, Callum McManaman and James McClean providing much creativity.

Rosler added Oriol Riera from Osasuna up front, and with Don Cowie and James Tavernier look to be the pick of the new signings. Wigan have to be a good bet for automatic promotion. Promotion 3/1, Relegation 33/1.

Talking of managers I admire, Kenny Jackett halted the runaway train that was Wolverhampton Wanderers by beating our points record as they swept to the League One title.

Jackett managed to build a promotion team despite being hindered by some not needed big salaried players. Roger Johnson, Kevin Doyle, Stephen Ward and Jamie O’Hara are still all knocking around. With FFP this may have prevented Jackett from being that active in the market although midfielder Rajiv van La Parra looks to have good attributes for The Championship.

Wolves fans may expect a continuation of last season’s success but Jackett is more sensible than that and will seek stability first. Promotion 13/2, Relegation 12/1.

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