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The Championship 15/16 preview – part I

Part I of my annual pre-season peak at our Championship rivals. Their signings, their manager, their hopes, their handicaps.

The Championship is one of the most competitive and unforgiving leagues in Europe, and picking winners and losers is almost impossible but the bookies have had a crack and I will use their sticking a tail on a donkey theory as my guide.

I will start at the top, and will begin with the 6 teams that the bookmakers think will have the best chance of promotion.

I picked Derby County for promotion two seasons ago, when it wasn’t trendy, I picked them again last season when it was, and they totally imploded resulting in Steve McClaren’s eventual departure. They start as the bookies favourites again even though they have a rookie manager. Where are those stats that say assistant’s make bad bosses?

The name of Paul Clement has often been mentioned in dispatches when managerial jobs have come up, but I think he has picked sensibly with Derby, who have built their foundations for promotion so high that it is a high rise.

That could be Clement’s biggest challenge in that I think Rams fans are expecting nothing else but promotion and add to this they have spent over £10m in the summer on Jason Shackell, Andreas Weimann and Tom Ince. Season with the experience of Scott Carson, Chris Baird and Darren Bent and the Rams will be quite a force. If Clement can take himself to the next level then the bookies might be onto something, but Championship mainstays don’t often get three bites at the Premier League cherry.

Derby start away at Bolton. Key player: Chris Martin. Promotion 9/5; Relegation 16/1

The league’s biggest spenders have been Middlesbrough and in Aitor Karanka Boro have finally found someone who can propel them from midtable fodder to true promotion challengers. Karanka now has another season under his belt (surely that is the way to do it) and has been afforded the cash to add real quality to his squad after failing to turn up in last season’s Play-Off Final.

Stewart Downing, who was in the England squad only last November, signed for £5.5m and Uruguayan international striker Christian Stuani cost £3.6m. Karanka has also been lent again Tomas Kalas by friend Jose Mourinho, as well as borrowed playmaker Diego Fabbrini from Watford on a season loan.

A lack of goals prevented Boro beating Bournemouth and Watford to automatic promotion and now they have no Patrick Bamford. Subsequently they pursue Jordan Rhodes and that saga will continue until the end of this month.

Boro travel to Preston for the Sky Sunday match. Key player: Stewart Downing. Promotion 13/8; Relegation 40/1

Hull City have struggled to keep hold of some of their best players following relegation. James Chester went to West Brom, Tom Ince to Derby, Robbie Brady to Norwich and high earners Dame N’Doye, Nikica Jelavic and Abel Hernandez have all talked up their intentions to move on.

However Steve Bruce is a wily trader and he is set to invest £3.5m in Brentford’s winger Moses Odubajo and took a gamble on Chesterfield midfielder Sam Clucas for a reported £1.3m. Otherwise Bruce will play the loan market.

Whilst I think Hull won’t be the next Wigan, I think they will become a more permanent feature of The Championship.

Hull host Huddersfield on Saturday. Key player: The experience of Ryan Taylor could be vital. Promotion 3/1; Relegation 33/1

I think the bookies excitement over Brentford is only because they have fallen for the Bees’ ‘moneyball’ approach. I begrudingly admire Matthew Benham’s laser focused approach, but as he watches Mark Warburton thrive at Rangers I wonder at what stage he will be big enough to re-assess what he has done to this likeable club and their fans?

However buoyed by FC Midtjylland’s success in Denmark, who Benham also owns, his statistical approach to every aspect of the club continues at full pace. It is not to everyone’s taste and Stuart Dallas, Jonathan Douglas and Moses Odubajo all want out.

As for their signings the headline name is Chelsea’s perennial loanee Josh McEachran, who signed on a four-year deal for £750,000 and money-wise they broke their transfer record on defender Andreas Bjelland from Dutch side FC Twente for £2.1m. Otherwise they are a real mixed bag from Europe’s lower league clubs, all obviously handpicked and accessed by the largest server room in football.

All this will be overseen by new head coach Marinus Dijkhuizen. I’m not convinced.

Brentford host Ipswich Saturday. Key player: Andre Gray. Promtion 7/2; Relegation 20/1

Burnley are back in The Championship after a year with a big bag of swag. Of note they have only sold Kieran Trippier to Spurs and Danny Ings to Liverpool. Excellent keeper Tom Heaton signed a new contract as did Michael Duff. Jellie Vossen should get more goals in his second season in The Championship, but that will be at Turf Moor and not Boro. Sam Vokes remains and if he can stay fit he could be good again for the 20 goals he got when Burnley were promoted two years ago.

Sean Dyche will be focused on an instant return and a top 6 place will not be beyond the Clarets.

Burnley go to the darlings of Sky Sports, Leeds lunchtime Saturday. Key player: Sam Vokes. Promotion 5/1; Relegation 22/1

I do fancy Wolves this season, and they continue to be active in the transfer market and have tonight added Adam LeFondre, who I think is good for goals in this division. Benik Afobe remains and is so often instrumental, but Jacket is resigned to losing Bakary Sako.

Jackett also has many exciting youngsters in his squad and plans a season-long loan deal for Liverpool’s Sheyi Ojo. That may release James Henry.

Wolves, for so long the poster child for knee-jerk reactions, may well get the benefit this season of allowing Kenny Jackett time to build a promotion team.

Wolves play at Blackburn on the opening day. Key player: Benik Afobe. Promotion 5/1; Relegation 22/1

Part II to follow.

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