Championship Preview 2013/14

City will begin their first ever Premier League campaign on August 17th, I cant wait! However before that I'd watched us try and escape the Championship for 10 seasons and despite the relief at finally doing it I am finding it strange knowing we won't be competing there this season. I've long been a advocate of life below the top flight and I will still claim the Championship is Europe's most competitive league so what this year going to be like? 


Barnsley 


Manager: David Flitcroft 

Stadium: Oakwell

Last Season: 21st

Key Men: Jason Scotland, Luke Steele
Sky Bet Odds: 150/1
My Prediction: 24th

Barnsley just about survived last season, this year could be much, much tougher! Jason Scotland is their star striker and will have to be on form this year at Oakwell. Jacob Mellis, Martin Craine and club captain Luke Steele are going to be required injury free for David Flitcroft to stabilise his side’s expectations. Young attacking midfielder Tomasz Cywka is someone I think is worth watching, he’s 25 a good season for him could mean bigger and better things. Staying up isn't impossible but every season 3 sides go down and 1 team has to finish bottom, unfortunately, for me this year will be Barnsley.



Birmingham City



Manager: Lee Clark

Stadium: St Andrew’s Stadium

Last Season: 12th

Key Men: Chris Burke, Wade Elliot
Sky Bet Odds: 40/1
My Prediction: 17th 

Birmingham are a strange outfit... Lee Clark who is a top young manager but a squad that doesn’t strike you as successful or scary. Marlon King, who is arguably the worst human being to play football, was arrested (again) on 30th July in connection to an alleged hit and run. Not that he’s connected to this one but his previous means any club who support that man have my contempt. That said he got 13 in 27 last season and if he’s around this year he’ll score. Chris Burke is a mighty talent and will create and run all season long with Wade Elliot a proper solid midfielder. Peter Lovenkrands has Premier League experience and giant 6ft 7in Nikola Zigic is always trouble for the opposition. However it won’t hurt me to see Birmingham lying around 17th come the end of season, Lee Clark and Chris Burke are the only men I’ll feel for (sorry Blues fans). 



Blackburn Rovers



Manager: Gary Bowyer 
Stadium: Ewood Park

Last Season: 17th

Key Men: Jordan Rhodes, Scott Dann

Sky Bet Odds: 20/1

My Prediction: 9th



Blackburn fans haven't exactly had a stable past few seasons, the Venky’s debacle, Steve Kean, relegation, 4 different managers last term... Finally Gary Bowyer, caretaker on 2 previous occasions, has been given the full time role and has his chance to shine. For a club that signed Jordan Rhodes for £8m upon relegation you’d expect more from Blackburn but I can’t see them as challengers to those at the top. I’ve gone for 9th, maybe harsh and big seasons from Scott Dann, Josh King, Grant Hanley and new signing DJ Campbell could change things. Best of luck Blackburn fans!


Blackburn supporter Sam Harwood: "First of all it’s essential to get behind the new manager and give him a chance to bring stability to the club and team. We’ve managed to keep hold of most major players since last season and with a couple of new additions it’s time to establish a regular first team to play week in week out. I’m quietly optimistic about the younger players in the team who have worked up in the past couple of seasons (Hanley, Lowe, Henley etc) and hopefully their inclusion in the first team can set us up for many seasons to come. Top ten is a must and if pushed id back Rovers to make the play-offs. And the new Nike kit isn’t bad either – probably the most positive change since the Venkys arrived!"

Blackpool

Manager: Paul Ince
Stadium: Bloomfield Road
Last Season: 15th

Key Men: Tom Ince, Matt Phillips 
Sky Bet Odds: 80/1
My Prediction: 15th

Paul Ince has moaned about the size of his squad but if the transfer window closes and his son, Tom, is still on the books then maybe a conservative estimate of 15th is too low. Matt Phillips has bags of talent and former Cardiff striker Michael Chopra signed on a free from Ipswich, he always has goals. As said, keeping hold of Tom Ince is key with additions of loan defender Jack Robinson and striker Steven Davies. Chairman Karl Oyston is a top bloke and The Seasiders deserve another good run after their relegation from the Premier League in 2011. The Championship however is the hardest league to escape out of Europe’s second tiers, just below mid table is a fair assessment as are their odds of 80/1.


Blackpool fan Frankie Millie: "As the season kicks into life, Pool's squad is painfully light despite one or two quality signings over the summer. Most Seasiders predict a slow start as the team gels, but proven Championship players such as Chopra and Davies could see the Pool making a late push for a play-off spot."

Bolton Wanderers


Manager: Dougie Freedman
Stadium: Reebok Stadium
Last Season: 7th

Key Men: Jermaine Beckford, Chris Eagles

Sky Bet Odds: 9/1

My Predicted Finish: 3rd (Promoted through the Play Offs)


I'm tipping Bolton to better their 7th placed finish of last season under the helm of Dougie Freedman. Jermaine Beckford joined The Trotters for a believed £1m from Leicester and Chris Eagles will be dependable as always bur losing Stuart Holden to injury is a blow. Freedman has furthered the development of his squad since taking over in October 2012 and was unfortunate to miss out on the play offs last time out. Bolton fans will be desperate to return to the Premier League and it’ll be a close run thing, I reckon if Craig Davies and David N’Gog turn up too then they can make the second automatic promotion spot but I'm going for 3rd. 

Bolton supporter Hannah Thornley:One big hope is that Stuart Holden is fit for the season as he's a key player for Bolton. I'd love to see us challenge for promotion and get some more fighting spirit in the team. It should be a great season, and hopefully we'll be back in the Premiership next year!”

Bournemouth



Manager: Eddie Howe

Stadium: Dean Court

Last Season: 2nd (League 1)

Key Men: Brett Pitman, Harry Arter
Sky Bet Odds: 25/1
My Prediction: 12th

Bournemouth are a club I have a bit of affection for, trips down to Dean Court have been brilliant and when Eddie Howe left Burnley last season to drop to League 1 they won 24 of 38 games to win promotion in April. Bournemouth finished 2nd last season but I agree with the bookies in that they have the best chance of success out of the promoted clubs in The Championship. The Cherries current squad has stars like former Swindon forward Matt Richie, former Bristol City striker Brett Pitman and creative midfielder Marc Pugh. Young Harry Arter and pacy goal scorer Lewis Grabban will play big roles with the strong loan signings of Andrew Surman and Elliot Ward from Norwich. One of the teams coming up always seems to do well and I think this season it will be Bournemouth under Howe who will finish mid-table. 

Bournemouth fan Rhys Thomas: “With Eddie Howe at the helm, hope is that something greater than just survival is possible. The new addition of Andrew Surman will add Premier League quality and keep an eye out for fan favourite Brett Pitman who will hope to fire the club that made him into the Premier League.”


Brighton & Hove Albion

Manager: Oscar Garcia 
Stadium: American Express Community Stadium (AMEX)
Last Season: 4th
Key Men: Craig Mackail-Smith, Andrea Orlandi
Sky Bet Odds: 16/1
My Prediction: 10th

The Seagulls have experienced a bit of turmoil over the off season, Gus Poyet shamefully sacked live on BBC while pundit-ing led to relative unknown Oscar Garcia being appointed. I personally love a new manager on the British scene (big fan of Mauricio Pochettino at Southampton) and think Garcia has the credentials to succeed after cutting his teeth with the Barcelona youth and Maccabi Tel Aviv where he won the Israeli Premier League. The focus shouldn't just be on the Gaffer however as the likes of Craig Mackail-Smith and Andrea Orlandi will look to improve on last season’s 4th. Kemy Agustien is a solid loan signing from Swansea and Liam Bridcutt is always important but I do feel this season’s strong Championship combined with the new boss means a high finish of about 10th is all Brighton can expect.

Burnley 



Manager: Sean Dyche

Stadium: Turf Moor

Last Season: 11th

Key Men: Sam Vokes, Ross Wallace
Sky Bet Odds: 80/1
My Prediction 19th

Sean Dyche must’ve thought Burnley had hung onto Charlie Austin when he failed his medical earlier in July at Hull City but alas QPR spent and secured the 24 year old to severely hamstring Burnley this season. Goals will be an issue meaning Welshman Sam Vokes and former Bournemouth forward Danny Ings will have to step up to the plate but Charlie Austin is big shoes to fill. Midfielder Ross Wallace and captain Jason Shackell will once again be key but sorry Burnley, 11th was a good finish with Austin, without him unfortunately 19th is more realistic. 

Charlton Athletic

Manager: Chris Powell 
Stadium: The Valley
Last Season: 13th
Key Men: Marvin Sordell, Yann Kermorgant
Sky Bet Odds: 40/1
My Prediction: 13th

Chris Powell has done his best to dampen expectations ahead of the new campaign calling 9th place last time an “overachievement”. Charlton did superbly with a small squad and this has not really grown over the summer break. Marvin Sordell, the former England international and Team GB olympian is an astute signing for the likable Powell and his goals could prove very important. Yann Kermorgant has rebuilt his reputation at Charlton after his failed paneka sent Leicester City out of the play offs against Cardiff a few years back, he will be providing the assists for other new signing Simon Church. I agree with Powell though, 13th is more The Addicks level.

Derby County


Manager: Nigel Clough

Stadium: Pride Park

Last Season: 10th

Key Men: Connor Sammon, Johnny Russell
Sky Bet Odds: 28/1
My Prediction: 16th

Derby have built themselves a quality front line with the addition of £750,000 man Johnny Russell from Dundee United. Russell, 23, scored 20 goals in 38 games last season and competition with Connor Sammon and Chris Martin will only enhance things. Nigel Clough has his dad’s reputation to live up to and probably over achieved last year with a 10th placed finish. Maybe I’ve been a little harsh on this Derby outfit with predicting 16th but I’m happy for them to prove me wrong. One thing that is for certain, Pride Park will be full of hope and expectation and a good start could give them the push they need for a play off challenge!

Doncaster Rovers

Manager: Paul Dickov
Stadium: Keepmoat Stadium
Last Season: 1st (League 1)
Key Men: David Cotterill, Billy Paynter
Sky Bet Odds: 100/1
My Prediction: 23rd

Paul Dickov guided Doncaster to the League 1 title last season but The Championship is a whole other story. They’ve got a decent squad with David Cotterill and Billy Baynter the key men for them. Ross Turnbull (England’s most decorated current goalkeeper (hahaha)) joined on a free from Chelsea and has a chance to really establish himself, captain Rob Jones is important too. Sorry Doncaster fans though, Paul Dickov will have to test himself in a relegation scrap and over the course of the season it’ll be too much for them to survive, they’ll put up a good fight though!

Huddersfield Town

Manager: Mark Robbins
Stadium: John Smith’s Stadium
Last Season: 19th
Key Men: James Vaughan, Peter Clarke 
Sky Bet Odds: 100/1
My Prediction: 22nd

Having a look through Huddersfield's squad maybe saying they’ll be relegated is off the mark. A fortunate escape in 19th last season and second season syndrome though may mean its too tough for The Terriers to survive. James Vaughan had so much potential during his years at Everton and a solid year on loan meant his move from Norwich became permanent. He’ll lead the line looking to increase his 14 goals and captain Peter Clarke is always a key man. Keep your eyes on former Leeds man Adam Clayton, ex-Palace midfielder Sean Scannell and former Liverpool trainee Adam Hammill too, good seasons from these guys and they will survive. 


Ipswich Town

Manager: Mick McCarthy

Stadium: Portman Road

Last Season: 14th

Key Men: Carlos Edwards, Jay Tabb
Sky Bet Odds: 20/1
My Prediction: 14th

Ipswich fans will be hoping that McCarthy’s first season in charge will bring them some success but comparing their squad to some of the others in the League I think matching 14th will be a safe achievement. Jay Tabb is a solid signing from Reading after a successful loan spell and captain Carlos Edwards is reliable as ever. Ipswich also have a decent goal keeper in former England Under-21’s Scott Loach. Daryl Murphy has joined Tabb is making his previous loan spells permanent joining from Celtic, his goals will be important as The Tractor Boys start full of expectations.


Leeds United

Manager: Brian McDermott
Stadium: Elland Road
Last Season: 13th

Key Men: Noel Hunt, Ross McCormack

Sky Bet Odds: 22/1

My Prediction: 8th



Things are on the up for Leeds, finally owner Ken Bates has left the club and Brian McDermott is the man in charge of the football... Sounds good to me! Unfortunately like some other teams this year is a strong Championship so I think even with the likes of Noel Hunt and Ross McCormack the best they can hope for is the edge of the play offs. Keeping Sam Byram was important, Rudolph Austin had a good season last year and resident bad man El Hadji Diouf will have an impact. The fans sings “We aren’t famous anymore” but I for one want to see a strong Leeds again soon! 

Leeds supporter Anthony Lewis“The exit of Ken Bates and the presence of Brian McDermott at the helm is cause for optimism. However I am concerned a bit by pre season and think we could have done with more signings than the three we have completed so far. Prediction: just missing out on play offs.”


Leicester City

Manager: Nigel Pearson
Stadium: King Power Stadium
Last Season: 6th

Key Men: Wes Morgan, Chris Wood

Sky Bet Odds: 14/1

My Prediction: 7th



Wes Morgan will be vital to Leicester’s hopes this season, hold onto him when the window closes at the start of September and there’s every reason for my 7th place predication to be too conservative. Chris Wood had a significant impact after joining on loan in January last year and made his move permanent, i’m a big fan and he will be key along with Kasper Schmeichel’s goal keeping. Nigel Pearson’s boys will have a good season as ever but this year’s league is so strong I think they’ll miss out on the play offs.

Middlesborough

Manager: Tony Mowbray 
Stadium: Riverside Stadium
Last Season: 16th
Key Men: Rhys Williams, Marvin Emnes
Sky Bet Odds: 33/1
My Prediction: 11th

Boro have been desperate to return to the Premier League since their relegation in 2009 but unfortunately not even the play offs have been forthcoming. Tony Mowbray will be hoping to improve upon their best placed 7th of 2 seasons ago but I think just above mid-table is where they’re at. Captain Rhys Williams is a vital cog as ever with the goals of Marvin Emnes relied upon. Mowbray signed Dean Whitehead from Stoke and he’ll have an impact as will Lukas Jutkiewicz who joined in 2012. Boro fans will be more optimistic I’m sure but odds of 33/1 reflect them as outsiders.

Millwall


Manager: Steve Lomas

Stadium: The Den

Last Season: 20th

Key Men: Liam Trotter, Steve Morison
Sky Bet Odds: 66/1
My Prediction: 18th

Steve Lomas took the reigns from Kenny Jacket over the summer, the upheaval can’t have helped Millwall’s preparations but I reckon they’ll improve from 20th to 18th this term. Liam Trotter is a quality midfielder and the loan of Steve Morison from Leeds will be provide goals. Millwall, despite their checkered past, have a likable squad. I’m a big fan of Liam Feeney, ex-Bournemouth winger and hope he can make his break through this year. Look out for James Henry and new signing Nicky Bailey too, if they gel under the management of Lomas then maybe they can far outdo 18th.


Nottingham Forest

Manager: Billy Davies
Stadium: The City Ground
Last Season: 8th

Key Men: Simon Cox, Henri Lansbury

Sky Bet Odds: 11/1

My Prediction: 5th (To lose in the Play Off final)



When Nottingham Forest re-appointed Billy Davies in February 2013 I thought it was a superb decision, he guided Forest to 8th but I can see more play offs on the way this term. Nottingham Forest have ever present captain Chris Cohen to rely on along with midfield enforcer Henri Lansbury and strike sensation Simon Cox. Forest have not had it easy over the past few years, a club that has won the Champions League twice deserves more and I wouldn't be surprised with not just play offs but maybe even a play off final and dare I say it promotion!

Nottingham Forest fan Tom Rogers: "I have confidence in Billy Davies but not so much in his squad. A team with a depleted defence and no proven goalscorer worries we must make some big signings soon or I fear the worst!"

Queens Park Rangers 


Manager: Harry Redknapp
Stadium: Loftus Road
Last Season: 20th (Premier League)

Key Men: Loic Remy, Adel Taarabt 

Sky Bet Odds: 6/1

My Predicted Finish: 1st



QPR, managed by World renowned Harry Redknapp, are an obvious choice for promotion candidates and I’m pretty sure they’ll finish top of this season’s Championship. The Hoops have a star studded squad including £8m, £70,000 a week Loic Remy and resident maverick Adel Tarrabt but also have plenty of Championship experience in Shaun Derry and Clint Hill. For me their recent signing of Charlie Austin tops its all. My favourite Championship player of recent years (non Cardiff) by a mile and after failing a medical at Hull (strange situation) I reckon he’s a good bet for top goalscorer at 10/1 (falling to 8/1)! With a month left of the transfer window it will be interesting to see who Harry has left as the club try and offload players from the wage bill but a I fully expect QPR to be back in the Premier League next season. 

Reading

Manager: Nigel Adkins
Stadium: Madejski Stadium
Last Season: 19th (Premier League)
Key Men: Pavel Pogrebnyak, Alex McCarthy
Sky Bet Odds: 8/1
My Predicted Finish: 2nd

Reading have an incredibly strong squad heading into their return to the Championship, all held together by the admirable Nigel Adkins. Pavel Pogrebnyak, Hal Robson-Kanu and Adam Le Fondre are arguably of Premier League quality and with plenty of Championship experience in the likes of captain Jobi McAnuff I can see a swift return to the top flight. Ex- Real Madrid midfielder Royston Drenthe is a top notch signing for this league and Alex McCarthy found many admirers for his goalkeeping displays last season despite being in a relegated team. If The Royals can remain injury free and blend better than they did in 2012/13 then the hard slog of the Championship will be much easier to take.


Reading fan Gregor Dickie: "Reading FC look to bounce back into the Premier League at the first time of asking this season, in what will be manager Nigel Adkins’ first full season at the club. Having signed former Real Madrid midfielder Royston Drenthe, ex-Chelsea left back Wayne Bridge, and USA international Danny Williams, expectations are high and as a result Reading are second favourites to win the title according to some bookies. One man to look out for Alex McCarthy who, after a string of fine performances towards the end of last season, looks to use his experience in the England set-up over the summer as a building block for Reading’s success."



Sheffield Wednesday

Manager: Dave Jones

Stadium: Hillsborough 

Last Season: 18th 
Key Men: Michail Antonio, Anthony Gardener 
Sky Bet Odds: 66/1
My Prediction: 20th

Dave Jones’ squad is not the strongest this year, they managed 18th last season but I think that’ll drop to around 20th this term. Jones signed Jacques Maghoma from Burton Albion and it’s a big ask for him to make the step up from League 2 but he’s 25 and has got time to prove himself. Kamil Zayatte, the strong centre half, is another solid addition who has played in England before with Hull City but goals could be an issue. It’s time for Gary Madine to start scoring and make his name in a team with plenty of history. Dave Jones has a task on his hands over the next few months!




Watford



Manager: Gianfranco Zola
Stadium: Vicarage Road

Last Season: 3rd (Lost in the Play Offs final)
Key Men: Troy Deeney, Marco Cassetti 
Sky Bet Odds: 11/1
My Prediction: 4th

Watford were the unfortunate loser of the Play Off final last season, heartbreaking for the fans, players and manager Gianfranco Zola. A campaign built on multiple loan signings saw a blend that many thought not possible and with the resigning on permanent deals of the likes Marco Cassetti and Fernando Forestieri I can see another big 46 games on the way. Troy Deeney’s goals will be vital once again along with the free transfer of Lewis McGugan from Nottingham Forest. Only 4th though I’m afraid, its a tough league and even tougher coming back from a play off loss.



Watford fan Rich Fox: “The 2013/2014 season could be Watford's year. After being "nearly men" last season; they will certainly be judged as one of the favourites this year. Gianfranco Zola's side are playing an attractive brand of football that some teams in the Championship couldn't live with last season. If Watford get on a winning run; and confidence is running high, there could be no stopping them this time around.”

Wigan Athletic

Manager: Owen Coyle
Stadium: DW Stadium
Last Season: 18th (Premier League)
Key Men: Ben Watson, Grant Holt
Sky Bet Odds: 12/1
My Prediction: 6th

Wigan are the current FA Cup holders yet start this season on the back of relegation from the Premier League and with a new manager as Roberto Martinez left to join Everton. It’ll be tough for Wigan but Owen Coyle has done it before and Grant Holt is a top signing from Norwich. Ben Watson, FA Cup final goalscorer, will command the midfield and the captain Gary Caldwell is a rock at the back. I reckon they’ll sneak play offs but may not be back this season with the change in style of play from Martinez to Coyle.

Yeovil Town

Manager: Gary Johnson
Stadium: Huish Park
Last Season: 4th (League 1, Promoted via the Play Offs)
Key Men: Michael Ngoo, Alan Tate
Sky Bet Odds: 250/1
My Prediction: 21st

Gary Johnson has a massive task on his hands to keep his Yeovil Town side in The Championship. Gary, who managed in the same league as his son Lee last year, has taken Yeovil to the second tier for the first time in their history. Michael Ngoo is a solid loan signing from Liverpool but has pressure on his young shoulders to provide goals this season. Alan Tate will be solid at the back with plenty of experience with his years at Swansea City. This is going to be the toughest season of some of these players lives, I for one hope they can survive so am predicting 21st. Time for captain Jamie McAllister, centre half Byron Webster, midfielder Sam Foley and forward Paddy Madden to make names for themselves! 

Yeovil fan Katie Gillingham: Playing at the highest level in our 118-year history, I’m hopeful that although next season will be the greatest challenge for the Glovers to-date, it will also be an education for players and fans alike. We’re no strangers to defying expectations; with a strong team, unwavering support, and the steady leadership of Gary Johnson, it’s way too early to be writing off the green and whites just yet.”


So there we have it, my preview and predictions for this season's Championship, it's going to be a good one!! Best of luck to every fan as finally, football is back!!

Yours in Sport,
Gareth TFHB (Follow me on twitter @GJ_Thomas & @TFHBTop250)
A special thanks to all who contributed!

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