It’s approximately 48 hours until the Sky Bet Championship 2014/15 season gets underway at Ewood Park this Friday evening. After a disappointing World Cup campaign for England, football fans around the country will walk through the turnstiles full of hope and optimism for a successful season. Here, I give a run through of which Championship teams I think will be pushing towards the promise land of the Premiership, those who will be in midtable security and finally the teams which will be looking over their shoulders at the threat relegation.
As with previous Championship seasons, almost all 24 clubs will be thinking they have a chance of sneaking into the top 6 and into the lottery of the playoffs. Unlike what was seen last season with Leicester City or Cardiff before them, I do not foresee a team running away with the league this year. For the newly relegated teams, top 6 must be seen as an absolute minimum. All three clubs have overseen an overhaul in their squad and with 3 relatively new managers with no Championship experience, I predict a slow start to the season for all three, but with Cardiff and Fulham eventually securing top 6 places, with Norwich missing out. Derby County deserved to be playing in the Premiership this coming season and will be looking to avoid a hangover from their agonising Wembley defeat. The loss of George Thorne for 9 months after his permanent signing is a big blow, I do however think the Rams should still be vying for a playoff place. The return of “Psycho” has created a huge buzz around the, as now still named, City Ground, and from maybe a slightly biased point of view, I see Forest challenging for the top 2, especially now with Britt Assombalonga signing for the Reds. It may be a disservice to say I see them as my surprise package, but I see Middlesbrough mounting a serious promotion challenge. With boss Karanka able to attract Chelsea’s best under 21’s thanks to his previous job at Real with Mourinho, the Teesiders are my tip to be promoted via the playoffs. If Wigan Athletic can retain the services of Uwe Rosler, who has been linked with Premiership positions in the past, then I again expect them to be competing for a playoff place this coming season. As for other teams pushing for promotion, Mick McCarthy’s Ipswich will be around the top 8 again and I expect Bolton Wanderers and Watford to enjoy brighter seasons than they did in the last campaign. Top 6: 1) Fulham 2) Nottingham Forest 3) Middlesbrough 4) Wigan Athletic 5) Cardiff City 6) Derby County.
Wolverhampton Wanderers have returned to the Championship after one season in League 1 and with the vastly experienced Kenny Jackett at the helm, I see Wolves being in no danger of being relegated and instead pushing for a top half finish. Reading, Brighton and Blackburn Rovers battled out a final day showdown for the last remaining playoff last season, but I don’t see any of these teams pushing towards the top 6 this campaign, unless Jordan Rhodes singlehandedly can fire Rovers towards the upper reaches of the table. As they were last season, I expect Yorkshire rivals Leeds United, Huddersfield Town and Sheffield Wednesday to occupy midtable positions come the end of the season. It wouldn’t be at all surprising if Leeds owner Massimo Cellini changes his Head Coach at least once this season, with the ex-Cagliari President noted for regular coach changes during his time in Italian Football.
Up until 2 weeks ago, Blackpool had a squad of 8 professionals, with no goalkeeper on their books. Fast forward to now and they have enough players to fill a matchday squad. Despite this, it still seems ominous with the bookies that Jose Riga’s team will be relegated come the end of the season. I also predict a season of struggle again for Riga’s old team Charlton Athletic. The appointment of an unknown foreign manager has been shown to sometimes be foolish in the past and it’s hard to see where the goals are going to come from in the Charlton team. I think the other relegation place will be occupied by one of Birmingham City, Bournemouth, Brentford, Millwall and Rotherham United and although many pundits are predicting good things for Mark Warburton’s side, I’m predicting Brentford to go down, with the loss of their main goalscorers Donaldson and Trotta from last season the key attribute to this prediction. The sight of Steve Evans running alongside the Wembley pitch was possibly the funniest moment of the football league last season, and I think his obvious passion and leadership abilities will be just enough to keep Rotherham in the Sky Bet Championship come May next year. My Bottom 6: 19) Millwall 20) Bournemouth 21) Rotherham United 22) Brentford 23) Blackpool 24) Charlton Athletic.