The Championship has developed into one of the strongest and most entertaining second-tier divisions in Europe, with the continual increase in quality resulting in exciting battles at both ends of the table that ultimately go down to the wire. Teams have begun spending big in order to challenge for a top six finish, and although money does not always guarantee success, it has created a flurry of transfer activity across the board in order to remain competitive. This summer has been no exception, with Ross McCormack’s £12 million move to Aston Villa illustrating the spending power that clubs are now able to utilise towards securing the riches that are on offer in the Premier League. It can only serve to enhance a division in which anyone can beat anyone on their day, and although Bookies.com have had their say on who they fancy for promotion, there are certain teams who have the quality to be there or thereabouts come next May.
It is difficult to look past Newcastle as the strong favourites to not only bounce straight back up at the first attempt, but also finish top of the table. Rafa Benitez’s team dropped down into the Championship for the first time since 2010, with the former Liverpool and Real Madrid manager seeing a valiant attempt to rescue the Geordies from a perilous position in the Premier League end in vain. Newcastle may have lost a number of players, such as Steven Taylor, Andros Townsend and Georginio Wijnaldum, as a result of relegation, but Benitez has spent big in order to build a team that should ensure that the club returns to the Premier League at the first time of asking. No fewer than eight players have arrived at St. James’ Park this summer, with Matt Ritchie, Dwight Gayle and Grant Hanley among those who should make Newcastle the team to beat, and although Newcastle may lose Moussa Sissoko before the transfer window shuts, there is more than enough quality at Benitez’s disposal to take up a free bets offer on them winning the title.
Carlos Carvalhal has transformed Sheffield Wednesday from a mediocre mid-table team to one that is capable of competing for promotion, with the 50-year-old, who arrived in England as an unknown quantity, making a real name for himself in his first season at Hillsborough. The Owls were one of the most attractive teams to watch in the Championship last season, with fluid, free-flowing football combining with solid defending and a strong resilience to form a team that were capable of challenging at the top. Going from finishing 13th to reaching the play-off final is testament to the impact that Carvalhal has made, and although it took a wonder goal from Mo Diame, who has recently left Hull to join fellow Championship side Newcastle, to break their hearts at Wembley, there is a strong belief that Sheffield Wednesday will learn from the experience and come back even stronger in 2016/2017.
Bookies.com may rate the Owls amongst the darkhorses for promotion this season, but the quality of signings they have currently made during the summer would suggest they represent good value. Almen Abdi and Daniel Pudil are excellent signings, while Scotland international Steven Fletcher is a proven goalscorer at Championship level and could form a formidable attacking line-up alongside Fernando Forestieri and Gary Hooper. It remains to be seen whether the team can regroup and go again after coming so close to the Premier League last season, but they have been handed a tough start to the campaign. Fans can get a free bet in time for kick-off as Sheffield Wednesday will look to prove they are promotion candidates when they travel to face recently-relegated Norwich, but the real value would be in backing the Owls for promotion to the Premier League.
Another club who enjoyed a meteoric rise to prominence last season were Brighton, with Chris Hughton’s team going from narrowly avoiding relegation to League One to the cusp of Premier League football within the space of a year. Missing out on automatic promotion on the final day of the season on goal difference, and then going on to lose in the play-off semi-finals against Sheffield Wednesday proves just how close the Seagulls got to playing top flight football, but it remains to be seen whether Brighton can turn adversity into ecstasy by going one step further this season.
A repeat of last year’s blistering start would be most welcome, with Brighton taking everyone by surprise by remaining unbeaten in their first twenty-one Championship games; they were sent crashing back down to earth by a 3-0 home defeat against Middlesbrough, and although a few subsequent slip-ups proved costly during the second half of the campaign, the Seagulls have now emerged as potential promotion candidates. Bringing in Northern Ireland star Oliver Norwood to the Amex Stadium represents excellent business, and if Hughton is able to keep hold of Lewis Dunk and Anthony Knockaert, then Brighton have the quality to mount another serious promotion challenge.