|Season Preview 2015/16|
Written by tractordownsouth on Tuesday, 4th Aug 2015 23:47
This Championship season promises to be even more competitive and dramatic than ever. With all 24 clubs just one promotion away from the pot of gold available from the new Premier League TV deal, owners across the division are spending more and more money in order to benefit.
Derby are the bookies’ favourites for the title and it is not difficult to see why. The Rams narrowly missed out on the play-offs, despite being top of the table in March.
Serious money is being given to new manager Paul Clement, paving the way for Thomas Ince and Darren Bent to make their loan deals permanent. Add Andreas Weimann and Chris Martin and the former Real Madrid assistant manager has arguably the best strike force in the division to work with.
However, expectation will be high at the iPro, and with a backline which became non-existent during the crucial stages of last year (although Jason Shackell’s return will help), the unproven Clement may need to hit the ground running to satisfy Derby supporters, whose large budget is provided by the biggest gates in the Championship. A top six finish should be achievable, but it is unlikely to be the cakewalk that some are expecting.
Middlesbrough’s capitulation in the play-off final was painful to watch – a side that had been so defensively tight throughout the league campaign succumbed meekly to an early goal and never really recovered. However, Aitor Karanka has good resources at his disposal - £5.5m has been spent on securing the return of home favourite Stewart Downing – a real coup.
Loanees Jelle Vossen and Patrick Bamford will not be at the Riverside next season and Lee Tomlin has joined Bournemouth, but Christian Stuani has been lured from Espanyol after hitting 16 goals last season.
A £4.5m bid for Daryl Murphy was turned down last month and a few additions are needed. I don’t see Boro gaining automatic promotion due to the number of key players lost – although the replacements are more than adequate it may take time to mould them into a team.
Very rarely do the relegated clubs look stable, with Hull City in particular enduring a rift between the board and the fans. Four players have signed and eight have departed - and although the Tigers possess arguably the strongest first XI in the league, it will be difficult for Steve Bruce to keep big names such as Abel Hernandez at the club, and if he and Nikika Jelavic leave, there is a lack of proven talent up front.
Owner Assam Allam has vowed not to put another penny into the team until he is allowed to change the name to Hull Tigers, but the parachute payments are being invested in lower league talent such as Sam Clucas.
The sale of Thomas Ince, who is a game-changer in this division, has been criticised for a lack of ambition. Uncertainty is never a recipe for success, but with one of the better squads and an experienced boss, the Tigers are more than capable of bouncing back at the first time of asking.
Queens Park Rangers, I feel, are moving in the right direction after years of chaos, high profile mercenaries and a hell of a lot of money spent. Tony Fernandes has seemingly decided on a different approach, bringing in young and hungry players such as Massimo Luongo – a stark contrast to the days of Park Ji- Sung and Jose Bosingwa being payed tens of thousands of pounds per week.
Tjarron Chery and Jamie Mackie appear to be good signings, and will make up for the inevitable loss of Charlie Austin. The only issue is, does Chris Ramsey have the ruthlessness to manage a team effectively at this level? Fernandes will give the rookie boss the cash to spend in January, should the Rs require any additions. A top six place is very much achievable.
Burnley surprised everyone two seasons ago to achieve promotion without much monetary backing, and the Clarets raised a few eyebrows by almost surviving for a second season in the top tier. Danny Ings and Kieran Trippier have left, but Sean Dyche has replaced them with Jelle Vossen and Matt Lowton.
The Turf Moor board are notoriously tight with money, but a goalscorer is needed and they may feel the need to splash out before the transfer window shuts. Despite this, Burnley boast one of the best managers in the league, and if they can keep hold of him, should almost certainly finish in the top half, with the play offs a realistic aim.
I fancy Wolves to be in and around the top two this time around. Jed Wallace has arrived to compensate for the loss of Bakary Sako, and Conor Coady gives them more options in midfield. The only issue is the defence which looked slightly suspect at times last season. A leader at the back is a requirement for Kenny Jackett’s team to trouble the top two. The strength lies in attack - Benik Afobe, Nouha Dicko and Adam Le Fondre all enjoyed fruitful campaigns in 2014/15 and are enough to terrorise even the best rearguards in the league.
Ipswich Town just pipped Wolves to a play-off place on goal difference last year and surprised most people by doing so. Few considered the Blues to be serious contenders, especially as they began the season with a team whose total cost was a mere £10,000.
Despite top scorer Daryl Murphy signing a new deal, Tyrone Mings has been lured to Bournemouth for £8m. Wingers Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Ryan Fraser have arrived on loan, and Brett Pitman has joined to add to an impressive array of attacking talent.
The main issue for Mick McCarthy’s side is that they are now a recognised threat and will no longer be a surprise package. Although the top two may be beyond them, a second consecutive play-off campaign is a realistic aim.
Sheffield Wednesday will be expected to progress after a summer of upheaval. New owner Dejphon Chansiri has replaced Stuart Gray with Carlos Carvahal, and pulled off a coup by bringing Nacional forwards Lucas Joao and Marco Matias to the club, to address the Owls’ problems in front of goal. Added to Wednesday’s strong defence, this makes the squad capable of finishing in the top 10, but will all the change off the field have an effect on the success on it?
Brentford are also heading into unknown territory this season. Inspired by his success at FC Midtjylland, Matthew Benham has adopted a new statistics-based approach at Griffin Park. New additions to the backroom staff include a kicking coach and a logistics manager. However, the most crucial off-field loss could prove to be manager Mark Warburton, who felt unable to work under the new set-up and has joined Rangers.
Some serious money is being spent on improving the team and arrivals include Lasse Vibe, who top scored in the Swedish league last year, and Andreas Bjelland, a Danish international defender.
In contrast key performers Jonathan Douglas, Stuart Dallas, Moses Odubajo and Andre Gray have or look set to depart, so the ambitious Benham may have to accept a slight step back before further progress can be made under the new regime. The top six could be reached, but with such a huge shake-up taking place, they may lack the togetherness required.
Big things were expected of the Bees’ local rivals Fulham last term, but it was always going to be tough as the baffling Felix Magath released many of the first team players, and spent almost the entire budget on signing Ross McCormack from Leeds. With just one point from a possible 24, the eccentric German was disposed of and things began to look up.
So far this summer, the Cottagers have added Luke Garbutt and Jazz Richards to help a poor backline and Tom Cairney to bolster the midfield options. With Dwight Gayle close to arriving to ease the scoring burden on talisman McCormack, the squad looks capable of a top six finish.
Once again, the problem lies with the manager. Despite the initial lift Kit Symons gave the club, many fans were unimpressed with his impact thereafter. A bad start could be a blessing in disguise, as I feel a better manager could get this group of players competing at the higher end of the league. Depending on whether or not Symons is disposed of, Fulham could be an outside bet for the play offs, or even better.
Cardiff City also endured a torrid time of it in their first season after relegation. Money was thrown around but to no avail, and Ole Gunnar Solskjær left in September to be replaced by Russell Slade. Cost-cutting measures have been put in place by owner Vincent Tan, who has changed the kit back to blue. A lack of additions could mean the club gains some much-needed stability, but this could come at the price of competing in the top half, or even survival.
Blackburn and Nottingham Forest have also slashed their budgets in an attempt to have their FFP transfer embargoes lifted. Rovers have lost Rudy Gestede and Tom Cairney to Aston Villa and Fulham respectively, with Jordan Rhodes also linked with a move away. Gary Bowyer has been restricted to signing only free transfers and loanees and with his squad being picked apart, I cannot see an improvement on last year’s ninth-placed finish.
Forest are being forced to drastically change their philosophy, after three summers of ambitious spending has not bore any fruit. Stability and a long-term plan is what is needed, and this can be achieved if Dougie Freedman is allowed time by the board. The main worry is the Premier League interest in Michail Antonio, the talisman and focal point of the side. Mediocrity would be welcomed at the City Ground and I think this is a realistic aim.
It is difficult to make a prediction for Charlton this year. The last campaign had its fair share of ups and downs; the Addicks remained the last unbeaten team in the division but just a few months later, Bob Peeters was sacked. A string of little-known foreigners have been signed and it is anybody’s guess how they will fare. Guy Luzon seemed to have a positive impact in the latter stages of the season, and no crucial first- teamers have left so another top half finish looks on, but it is difficult to judge.
Birmingham City are finally looking forward to a brighter future after the appointment of Gary Rowett; the former player has instilled some belief into the club after financial worries and the disastrous reign of Lee Clark. The Blues will still have a relatively small budget, but are unlikely to be scrapping in and around the bottom three.
This will be Rowett’s first full season as a Championship manager, and whilst he did a marvellous job when he came in, I don’t see a top six push just yet as there is not enough quality in the squad to be up there for 46 matches.
Huddersfield Town are a club in which I see great potential. Since promotion in 2012, the Terriers have not troubled the top half, but Chris Powell made a good impact last year after taking over in September. Conor Coady has been sold to Wolves, but the money has been reinvested in highly-rated youngsters Jordan Hiwula and Kyle Dempsey. Supporters were left frustrated by the lack of consistency the team showed last year, so it may be one year too early for a shot at the top six but a solid mid-table finish could be on the cards.
Fellow Yorkshire club Leeds United are my surprise tip for a successful season. Every year, Elland Road anticipates an improvement on the previous campaign, yet after a change of manager and/or owner, a mid-table finish is all that can be mustered, much to the amusement of other fans.
However, the club boasts some great young talent in Sam Byram and Lewis Cook and have invested in some proven quality at this level – a sensible decision after last summer’s influx of Italians. Massimo Cellino’s hands-on running of the club is what could hold the Whites back; his lack of patience with managers is alarming but if Uwe Rosler gets off to a good start, a play-off charge is not out of the question.
The only other club who could rival Leeds in the ‘most-disliked club’ stakes, MK Dons, have lost their three most influential loanees and will scrap at the wrong end of the table. Dele Alli, Will Grigg and Lewis Baker have joined other teams, depriving the Dons of most of their attacking talents.
Replacements have been found in Sam Gallagher and Cristian Benavente, but neither are experienced in the Championship and the leap to the second tier could prove tough for many in the squad. Matthew Upson should prove a decent signing if he can stay fit and MK should surprise a few, but I have doubts as to whether the controversial club can progress much further than the bottom six.
Bolton are my favourites for the drop. With over £100m of debt, finances are tight at the Macron Stadium, and ex-loanee Adam Le Fondre was not affordable. Gary Madine is tasked with replacing the goals of Wolves’ new signing – a big ask for someone who has never reached double figures at this level, and with a string of criminal offences behind him.
The one bright spark is manager Neil Lennon, who carefully navigated comfortable survival on a shoestring after the disastrous start under Dougie Freedman. The former Celtic boss has reportedly caught the eye of many owners, and with his hands effectively tied budget-wise, he may be willing to jump ship.
Rotherham will also struggle, after surviving by the skin of their teeth last year. The charismatic Steve Evans has overseen consecutive promotions and survival in the second tier, in his three full seasons in charge, representing an outstanding achievement.
There seemed to be a revolving door policy at the New York Stadium, with no fewer than 19 loanees arriving throughout 2014/15, and Evans has assured supporters that this will not be the case this time around. A settled squad is key if the Millers are to kick on, and eight players have arrived on permanent contracts, which will help cohesion. Still, a relegation dogfight looks the most likely outcome.
I predict a long season for Reading. The league campaign was neglected at times towards the end of the season once relegation fears were eased, and the focus was switched to the FA Cup run. Steve Clarke has captured Hull City duo Stephen Quinn and Paul McShane but a lack of attacking power could prove to be the downfall. The Royals probably need another forward to be able to rest easy.
I think Brighton may find themselves looking down, rather than up. After successive play off defeats, Sami Hyypia’s abysmal reign ended in December and Chris Hughton managed to stave off the threat of relegation. The problem was the worrying lack of goals – their top scorer was centre-back Lewis Dunk, who is believed to be close to joining Fulham, with just seven in all competitions.
Pressure will be on Sam Baldock and new signing Tomer Hemed to deliver, and if Dunk's move is confirmed, the backline may be easier to break down, certainly not ideal with a lack of creativity. It may be Hughton’s biggest challenge of his career yet, to turn the Seagulls into a force again.
Bristol City, who steamrollered their way through League One, should make a comfortable transition into the second tier. The Robins are not over-reliant on any one player for goals, with many making decent contributions, but have signed Jonathan Kodija for £2m, top scorer in Ligue 2.
The lack of other transfer activity is a concern for many of the supporters, as the squad looks threadbare. Steve Cotterill must beef up his options very quickly - with the season quickly approaching it may be difficult for any further additions to gel. The first XI is on a par with many more established clubs at this level, and consolidation should be achieved if the manager can make a few signings.
Preston should also evade the bottom three. Simon Grayson, who was sacked harshly at Leeds, is experienced enough at this level to ensure a second season of Championship football at Deepdale. Goals shouldn’t be a problem – Joe Garner and Jermaine Beckford were arguably the best partnership in the third tier. The worrying thing is that automatic promotion was blown in the last few weeks, so Grayson must conjure up the belief in his players if the going gets tough.
I genuinely think this year has been the most difficult to predict, it is far too easy to overthink things! Leave your own estimations and comment below.
11 Sheffield W
12 Bristol C
17 Nottingham F
23 MK Dons
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