Football Friends Online – When 90 Mins Is Not EnoughChampionship Preview - Football Friends Online - When 90 Mins Is Not Enough Championship Preview - Football Friends Online - When 90 Mins Is Not Enough

Championship Preview

After relegation from the top tier of English football, Birmingham, Blackpool and West Ham will be hoping they can bounce back at the first time of asking. After being harshly axed from previous jobs all to do with dodgy ownership, Chris Hughton and Sam Allardyce want their respective clubs to be pushing for the Championship title. I reckon they would have a good chance of winning it too.

West Ham have signed some quality players like Kevin Nolan and Matty Taylor, which will propel West Ham towards the higher reaches of the table. They’ll also be boosted by the fact that Scott Parker may be staying with the Hammers after all. Ageing stars like Matthew Upson have left, but West Ham will be better off for it as they can attract the Championship’s finest players to Upton Park with their illustrious history and free squad spaces.

Birmingham have a manager who has only recently got another Premier League drop-out back into the big time. Yes, players like Ben Foster and Roger Johnson have left St. Andrews but a similar thing happened to Newcastle when they got relegated, and they came back stronger because of it. The somewhat forgotten Curtis Davies may now have his time to shine after moving from rivals Villa last season. In my opinion, Birmingham have bagged the Championship signing of the season – getting Chris Burke from play-off flops Cardiff on a bosman. The Blues have a very powerful frontline as the likes of Marlon King, Cameron Jerome and Nikola Zigic will all be vying for starting places this term.

However, there is one Premier League dropout I have so far failed to mention. They are of course the so called ‘breath of fresh air’ in the Premier League, Blackpool. However, I do not believe they are anywhere near challenging for the play-offs, let alone the title. Blackpool’s success was based upon a core centre of three midfielders: Charlie Adam, David Vaughan and Keith Southern. Now only one remains. Adam has gone off to join a resurging Liverpool side while Vaughan has joined a Sunderland side that hasn’t stopped making new signings. Even though Kevin Phillips has joined the Seasiders, the old warhorse is on his last legs and it’s only a matter of time until he hangs up his boots and makes his punditry job on Sky Sports a full-time job. Blackpool need a new Charlie Adam, and I’m looking at Blackpool and thinking, they don’t have one.

Come the end of the season, there will be some surprise packages up near the top by the end of the season. Keep a lookout for four clubs; Burnley, Leicester, Reading and Leeds. Eddie Howe is one of the brightest managerial prospects in the game, and with a decent sum of money he can work wonders for the Clarets. Leicester will be a force to be reckoned with, not because they have a great manager at the helm, but because of the sheer amount of money being pumped into the team. Names that leap off of the teamsheet include Paul Konchesky and John Pantsil, but also there are some neat signings made by Sven such as the signature of Sean St Ledger and the acquisitions of Michael Johnson on loan from Manchester City and David Nugent from Pompey. Reading had a good run of form at the end of the last campaign and will hope to build on that rich vein of form. For Reading, it’s the players staying put that has become the crucial part of Reading’s promotion push as Shane Long, who has been linked with several clubs, including Celtic, remains at the Madejski. Leeds will be up there come the end of the season. Leeds haven’t made any groundbreaking new signings but retained all the players they need to challenge up at the higher reaches of the table.

Brighton, Southampton and Peterborough have entered to Championship after being promoted from League One. Last time out, Darren Ferguson managed to get Peterborough from League Two to the Championship. When they did enter the higher reaches of the Football League, they crumbled and Fergie jr. doesn’t want that to happen again. However, Peterborough were really only scoring through Craig Mackail-Smith last season and now he’s left to join Brighton. The midfield trio of Grant McCann, Tommy Rowe and George Boyd will have to step it up a notch if they are to keep the Posh in the second flight of English football. Brighton have struck gold with the signing of Mackail-Smith, but what I worry about is that there are no quality players to supply the £2.5m man with chances. Players like the promising Liam Bridcutt and Kazenga LuaLua will have to prove their worth to the team by creating chances for Mackail-Smith to put away. In my eyes, Southampton have the best chance of staying away from the drop zone back into League One out of all the promotees. They have quality all over the pitch. Experienced defenders like Danny Butterfield and Jose Fonte will be invaluable to the team with their Championship knowledge. Young Morgan Schneiderlin wants to prove what he can do, so expect there to be long shots and mazy runs from the former Strasbourg midfielder. Of course, they also have wing wizards Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Adam Lallana ready to seize on any mistakes made by the full backs. They also know they can rely on Rickie Lambert and Lee Barnard to ship in on the goals front. The future of Jason Puncheon is currently up in the air, but if he remains with the Saints, they could possibly challenge for the play-offs.

Clubs I reckon that are in for the drop are Doncaster, Coventry and Watford. Doncaster only scraped by last season, and some wholesale investment needs to go into the club. I’m really worried about Donny because the squad at the moment looks very weak. Favoured frontman James Hayter is getting old now, and won’t be useful in the Championship for much longer. That leaves a lot of pressure on Billy Sharp’s shoulders to weigh in with the goals, but in all honesty, even if he does cope with the pressure and scores about 25 goals next season, that won’t be enough for the Rovers to survive. If Doncaster do stay up, then Sean O’Driscoll would be my pick for manager of the season.

Coventry weren’t best placed last season and losing key players like Marlon King and Kieran Westwood will hurt them. Even with a strong centreback in James McPake and a powerhouse upfront with Lukas Jutkiewicz, that won’t be enough to keep Coventry in the division. Some people might scoff at the fact that I think Watford could be relegated this season. It’s Dyche’s first managerial job and he will of course need some time adapting without Malky Mackay around. He will try to continue with what Mackay was doing, while adding his own touch to things. However, Dyche needs a strong squad in which to build upon, but a mixture of player error and a manager out of his comfort zone will lead to Watford being caught up in a relegation battle.

This then leaves all the clubs that I feel will have enough about them that they’ll stay in the division but will not have enough quality in which to battle it out for promotion. Cardiff need to adapt after Dave Jones departed at the end of the last season. They have a new manager – the first one in quite a while. Cardiff won’t be ready this season but come next campaign when Malky has time to tweak and fine tune his squad, they will be challenging for promotion once again. Hull City are taking steps, even if baby steps, in the right direction under Nigel Pearson. Give it time and Hull will be ready. Barnsley, Bristol City, Crystal Palace, Derby, Ipswich, Middlesbrough, Millwall, Nottingham Forest and Portsmouth should expect to be midtable for this season, but would all hope to see improvement in performances and results in comparison to last campaign.

Josh McGrillen

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