The Championship 15/16 preview – part III
In this section I will look at the teams the bookies have bundled together in the middle of the table, and those who the bookies have flagged as likely relegation fodder.
We start with Blackburn Rovers, who are now in their fourth season in the Championship and yet to trouble the play-off’s. After a traumatic spell under the Indian chicken blokes, manager Gary Bowyer has now been at the Ewood helm 27 months, a longer tenancy than the majority of league managers.
After three seasons of nearly’s the problem Bowyer has now is keeping hold of his best players. Tom Cairney, Joshua King and Rudy Gestede have gone and the best striker in the division, Jordan Rhodes, is hanging on by a thread.
Under a transfer embargo, Rovers have also dispensed with another load of players from their burgeoning squad and only three have joined, including two Frenchmen, Sacha Petshi, a defender and Bengali-Fodé Koita, a striker, who if Rhodes goes, will have a heavy burden on his shoulders until Bowyer can find some replacements.
Blackburn at times last season were very good and they still contain players such as Craig Conway, Ben Marshall, Marcus Olsson and Grant Hanley that many other teams would cherish.
Rovers crowds continue to fall as the Lancashire men settle back into the role of a 2nd tier team after decades of unqualified success. I wonder to what ambitions the Venky’s now have and how much they will allow Bowyer to rebuild his team
Rovers host Wolves on Saturday. Key player: Grant Hanley. Promotion 10/1; Relegation 6/1
The media’s love child Leeds will be enjoying their 45th season since they were champions of Europe (well the Fairs Cup anyway). There is no argument to United’s size and history but total mismanagement has led to them to 13 seasons outside of the countries top tier.
Uwe Rosler is now the man with probably the most scrutinized job in the division, but he has made two signings that could turn out very well. Chris Wood signed from Leicester and Stuart Dallas from Brentford, who Rosler would know well. Defender Sol Bamba also joined from Simon Makienok’s Palermo and Tom Ademeyi joined on loan from Cardiff.
Plenty left Elland Road including Neil Redfearn just to prove that not everything is right at the ex-champions of Europe. Who knows what Uwe Rosler we are going get and what Massimo Cellino we going to get?
On Saturday Leeds are at home to Burnley. Key player: Chris Wood. Promotion 10/1; Relegation 9/2
The last of the teams with odds suggesting they could go one way or the other are Reading. The Royals exuded some early summer ambition and have given Steve Clarke an ability to wheel and deal in the transfer market.
Early arrivals were midfielder Stephen Quinn and striker Orlando Sá, who has had a couple of prolific seasons in Europe, although he did flop at Fulham a few years back. Paul McShane came from Hull and keeper Jonathan Bond joined from Watford as did the experienced Ali Al-Habsi, who will both compete for the no.1 spot after Adam Federici went to Bournemouth.
Reading still look a little light to make a promotion challenge and I wonder how long it will be before the Royals new Thai owners are breathing down Steve Clarke’s neck?
Reading travel to Birmingham on Saturday. Key player: Stephen Quinn. Promotion 12/1; Relegation 11/2
After this the bookies collectively put their black hankerchieves on their heads and condemn the next 6 sides to a winter of great discontent. The Addicks are the 7th team to feature in this select little group, of course, 3rd favourites for relegation in fact.
The first club in trouble will be Bolton according to the brains trust, which is the UK bookmakers.
Bolton had a dreadful start to last season’s campaign and Neil Lennon with a summer to assert his own footprint on the club, within tight parameters, will be hoping for a lot better.
All the incoming players have been on free transfers. Lawrie Wilson the most recent on a 2-year deal. Journeyman Stephen Dobbie joined on the same day. Gary Madine, still only 24, signed after leaving Wednesday and Spanish U21 international defender Derik Osede joined from Real Madrid B, but got injured in the friendly against us last Friday.
Bolton with the biggest debt in the division, and in their 4th season in the Championship let go 17 players in the summer including Matt Mills, who they are sure to miss.
I like Lennon, he talks a lot of sense, but even with the might of Emilie Heskey, Charlton have to look at Bolton as a team we can finish above.
Wanderers are at home to promotion favourites Derby on Saturday. Key Player: Zach Clough. Promotion 18/1; Relegation 9/2
Preston are back in the 2nd tier after a 4-year break. Simon Grayson managed to secure Jason Beckford and Paul Gallager’s permanent signing, as well as securing Joe Garner to a new three year contract. Those three players scored 51 goals between them last season.
The only other new signing though is left back Greg Cunningham from fellow new boys Bristol City, so PNE will like Bristol City rely on the core of the squad that brought them up. Grayson did however secure Man Utd youngster Will Keane on a season long loan.
I don’t think goals will be a problem, which should allow the Lillywhites to flourish quite nicely, however although they were defensively sound last season, they may find that more difficult against better strike forces.
Preston host Boro on the telly on Sunday. Key player: Joe Garner. Promotion 16/1; Relegation 9/2
I think the bookies have been unfair on Birmingham City’s chances of survival. Gary Rowett did a fantastic job at St Andrews last season after he came in, and the ex-Addick looks to have a good future as a top class manager.
The Blues best summer signings have been three players already on the books. Rowett convinced exciting young striker Demarai Gray and Clayton Donaldson to sign new deals as well as influential midfielder Paul Caddis. Midfielder Jacques Maghoma signed following his release by Sheffield Wednesday, free agent goalkeeper Tomasz Kuszczak joined on a two-year contract and Rowett signed Dutch midfielder Maikel Kieftenbeld from Groningen for an undisclosed fee.
No one left and Rowett’s squad looks better on paper this year and I find it hard to see the Blues struggle as they have done in past seasons.
City play Reading at home Saturday. Key player: Michael Morrison. Promotion 18/1; Relegation 4/1
MK Dons will play at the highest level since they stole Wimbledon’s identity in 2004. There is no denying that Karl Robinson has done a terrific job there though and he begins his 6th season in charge.
Unlike the other two promotees MK Dons have added significantly to their squad. Simon Church joined after his release from Charlton, left back Joe Walsh signed for a small fee from Crawley and the once next big thing, Dale Jennings, signed from Barnsley.
Two players were signed from Real Madrid’s B side, Peru international Cristian Benavente and Sergio Aguza. 36-year old Matt Upson will bring bags of experience and striker Sam Gallagher also joined from Southampton’s long production line of talent. Danny Green chose to move on and down two levels.
I am sure MK Dons will garner some media attention if they have a good start – shades of Bournemouth etc. It will also be interesting to see if they can attract more fans to their oversized stadium. They have averaged 8-9,000 the past five seasons. There isn’t much love lost for MKD, still, but it represents a good away day though and bigger clubs in this division will swell home attendances.
Robinson, who has played quite heavily on how low their budget is, needs the new signings to thrive, and weirdly after many years of finishing in high league positions, an early struggle might cause Robinson and MK Dons problems.
MK Dons begin at Rotherham. Key player: Cristian Benavente. Promotion 16/1; Relegation 4/1
Chris Powell will be looking at both Charlton and Huddersfield as favourites to go down with a wry smile. He wouldn’t expect anything else.
Powell has spent £300,000 on 19-year Kyle Dempsey who made some great headlines at Carlisle. I thought signing Boro’s Dean Whitehead was a shrewd move and ex-Addick loanee Martin Crainey joined from Barnsley. In on loan Jordy Hiwula, Town may just have picked this season’s Patrick Bamford.
Losing Conor Coady to Wolves was big though and shows that Powell still has to continue to juggle his team’s finances. Pressure will be on Bermudian Nahki Wells, who has had a good pre-season, to get amongst the goals if Town are to stay clear of trouble.
Huddersfield travel to Hull on Saturday. Key player: Nahki Wells. Promotion 25/1; Relegation 7/2
Rotherham finished a place above last season’s relegation places and probably would take that again.
The Millers have been one of the more active Championship teams this summer adding 12 new players. Striker Gary Maguire, defenders Lewis Buxton and Joe Mattock all joined from Sheffield Wednesday. Midfielder Joe Newell signed from Peterborough and I have always liked Emmanuel Ledesma, and he signed up after being released from Middlesbrough.
Plus Steve Evans has added good Championship experience with Danny Collins and Greg Halford. Add a couple of loans including Grant Ward from Spurs and Rotherham’s squad is definitely up a notch from last season.
Evans did lose Ben Pringle to Fulham but with the lowest expecations in the league and probably the lowest budget, Rotherham will want to avoid any second season syndrome and kick on.
On Saturday Rotherham are at home to MK Dons. Key player: Matt Derbyshire. Promotion: 50/1; Relegation 7/4