Written by tractordownsouth on Friday, 25th Jul 2014 07:59
Just like every season, we made our pre-season predictions last summer and just like every season we were wrong. Giants fell, minnows prospered and ten managers were axed, the pressure of returning their club to the financial utopia of the Premier League so great that the board of directors were ruthless and often reckless.
This issue is highlighted by the spending of the relegated clubs, who are favourites with the bookmakers for this reason. Fulham have splashed £11 million on Ross McCormack, a ridiculous amount despite the fact he is arguably the best forward at this level.
The Cottagers have lost a few key players and have to contend with the detrimental psychological effect a relegation often brings. Their squad looks like the weakest of the three clubs taking the plunge into this division, and may need time to adjust after so long away - it could be a struggle.
The media circus surrounding Cardiff in December with the well-documented bust-up between Malky Mackay and Vincent Tan clearly damaged morale, and they never looked like escaping the drop thereafter. They have spent modestly in comparison to other clubs with parachute payments, which at least hints at some continuity, but their shaky defence must be improved on if they are to challenge.
After watching their season unravel spectacularly, we face Norwich once again. Robert Snodgrass has already departed and with Gary Hooper, Leroy Fer and goal-shy Ricky Van Wolfswinkel expected to seek pastures new, gaps now appear in their side.
With already superior funds , plus the transfer fees if the aforementioned trio do seek their futures elsewhere, there is great optimism from fans that the squad can be rebuilt to a suitable standard. Kyle Lafferty and Lewis Grabban have arrived already, with more expected to join. Norwich will be tricky customers for any opponents.
Derby will challenge for automatic promotion. They have retained much of their team from last season, including the midfield trio of Thorne, Hughes and Bryson, and added Cyrus Christie to the defence. Alefe Santos and Ivan Calero will provide an extra dimension slightly further forward. Having a tight-knit squad and a manager determined to rebuild his reputation is a recipe for success.
Wigan are also widely tipped to regain their top flight status, with a good budget and manager who vastly improved the team before the play-off defeat. Rosler has vowed his side “will be winners” this season. Their chances will depend on how quickly the players can recover from the semi-final setback.
Big things are also expected of Bournemouth, who possess the division’s best young manager in Eddie Howe. The acquisition of Calum Wilson has more than compensated for the loss of Grabban. They are no longer the unknown quantity they were on their return to the Championship, and with an impressive year under their belt, there is a risk of complacency. This should be avoided but I expect them to fall short of their targets.
The controversial transfer dealings of Watford have attracted national attention, and the resources they have available make them contenders. Matej Vydra and Troy Deeney are a handful for any defence, and the owners are able to boost the squad in January if necessary. With so many comings and goings, it will be a tough task for Giuseppe Sannino to conjure up a team spirit. If he can do this, the Hornets will challenge for the top two.
Reading and Nottingham Forest challenged for a play-off position for much of last season, yet I feel the gap between the two clubs and the front runners is set to widen, with a lack of transfer activity at the Madjeski meaning there is no improvement to the squad. While too many new players take time to gel it is important to get the right balance, although I doubt it is his intention to keep entirely the same squad.
Despite some good signings, Forest have made a poor managerial appointment. The intent has been shown by monetary backing, though this could become a regret when FFP measures come into place in the new year. The board are notorious for their demand for success, so a few early defeats in this instance and Stuart Pearce may be searching for a new job very soon.
Blackburn benefitted from stability last season, after a tumultuous 2012/13 campaign. They have a strong squad, with a superb attack. There are question marks over the team’s defensive capabilities but with a couple of new faces, it could be an exciting season for Rovers.
Middlesbrough made a dramatic improvement under Aitor Karanka, and Teessiders are optimistic that their development can be continued into the upcoming season. Having worked under Mourinho, he has many contacts, which is a useful attribute. Still in need of a goalscorer, they must find a decent forward to fill the void left by Danny Graham. After years of frustration, Boro are heading in the right direction.
Wolves are another team who could surprise. They have momentum after promotion, and a bold manager who isn’t afraid to drop big names for the benefit of the team. He has shipped out the majority of the big earners, leaving a more sustainable club, both atmospherically and financially. They are dark horses for this year.
The intriguing regime at Charlton has slipped under the radar a little, with an influx of well-established Danes and Belgians making their way to The Valley. In a tactic not dissimilar from Watford’s, they could use the loan system to their advantage. This makes them rather impossible to predict, although most Addicks fans believe it is a positive step.
I think we will be sitting just behind the play-offs, like last season. While I believe we have a stronger squad, the standard of competition this season is much higher. The fee from Cresswell will increase our wage funds, and Parr is a good replacement but I feel our midfield needs a bit more flair and our attack needs an extra option (perhaps provided by trialist Bajner?) before we can gatecrash the promotion party.
If this is the case, I feel Mick should still stay on as the players enjoy playing for him and his impact has been positive for the duration of his time so far, although some will demand instant progress to be satisfied.
Another club with high expectations are Brighton, who have lost their manager after a play-off defeat for a second successive season. Chris O’Grady will start up front after Leonardo Ulloa’s exit to Leicester. This leaves funds available, which should at least solve the issues with the budget that Sami’s Hyppia’s two predecessors had. Their current squad is certainly not outstanding and with another managerial change, it could be a transitional season.
One club that will struggle are Blackpool. With only six players on the books, Karl Oyston must loosen his purse strings if they are to even have a team to start the season in two weeks’ time. The chairman has been the subject of many protests, and manager Jose Ria is growing more frustrated at his reluctance to release funds to buy players. With the club in their final season of parachute payments, the money is there but unless the chairman loosens his purse strings, the Tangerines are relegation certainties.
Birmingham capitulated in the final few weeks of the season, but a last minute goal from Paul Caddis preserved their Championship status. Lee Clark set about improving his squad immediately but it still looks one of the weakest on paper - Brum will be lucky to evade the drop again.
Huddersfield have regained the services of Lee Peltier and managed to prise Joe Murphy from Coventry, yet the fans still believe more players are required for the Terriers to have a comfortable season. James Vaughan and Nakhi Wells are both consistent strikers, but if the former’s knee injuries persist, the team will struggle. Mark Robins is also under pressure, after the team’s form took a turn for a worse in 2014. Work is needed to avoid a relegation scrap.
Sheffield Wednesday and Millwall both occupied bottom three berths initially but found an extra gear after managerial changes. Stuart Gray and Ian Holloway are both accomplished enough to steer their teams away from trouble, and if they can build on their upturns in form, they could both be outside shots for a top half finish.
Bolton could be surprise candidates for the bottom three this season. Tipped for promotion, it took them until October to chalk up their first win last season. Dougie Freedman kept his job and turned their fortunes around. They have since begun reducing the wage bill, with many released and a string of uninspiring signings (Liam Trotter aside) placing them among the have-nots.
The situation at Leeds is a very strange one that divides opinion. Owner Massimo Cellino incensed fans by appointing non-league boss Dave Hockaday, but has cut costs considerably, making the club more financially viable. He managed to negotiate a very good price for Ross McCormack but now replacing him is a priority.
It seems he wants to be very hands-on and almost run the club by himself and his apparent ability to compromise makes a fall-out a very likely prospect. It could either be a very good long term plan, or madness. Either way, they will not bother the top end this year.
Brentford have not held back on their return to the league they were one penalty kick away from last year, parting with £1 million in return for lower league strikers Andre Gray and Scott Hogan, adopting a transfer policy reminiscent of Peterborough’s. Their capture of Alan Judge should add to their attacking prowess, but the squad is still relatively small so they need particularly good luck with injuries. Mark Warburton is tactically competent enough to prevent a swift return to the third tier.
It will be Rotherham’s first time back in the Championship since 2005 after they secured successive promotions with a stunning comeback against Leyton Orient in May. Led by the charismatic Steve Evans, they have attracted proven Championship pedigree in an attempt to consolidate their position. Controversy follows him wherever he goes and he is not short of confidence, which should see him continue to take the club forward.
As I said last year, I know I will not be correct in my prediction, but I shall submit one anyway, leaving myself open to ridicule! There now seems to be a divide in the league, with the bottom ten only realistically hoping for mid-table, a sad state of affairs, but in the most unpredictable of leagues, anything could happen. Except Blackpool winning.
Please leave your predictions below!
14 Nottingham F
16 Sheffield W
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