David Flitcroft turned around Barnsley’s season last year after replacing Keith Hill. The signings of Chris O’Grady and Jason Scotland proved to be significant with both contributing a decent amount of goals. The Manager seemed to bring a new lease of life to Oakwell, and the enthusiastic 39 year-old should continue to impress this year despite not adding too much to the squad. Jean-Yves M’Voto joins from Oldham, and this man has a good head on his shoulders despite only being 24. A striker is still wanted by Flitcroft and they have been linked with Aaron McLean. Nevertheless, they should just about have enough about them to guarantee safety for another year.
Finances are even tighter this year for Lee Clark and co. No one seems to know exactly what is happening with ownership and Peter Pannu. Nathan Redmond has departed as expected, joining the Canaries in the Premiership. A few interesting additions have parked up at St Andrews. Matt Green comes in after a great season at Mansfield, but that was 3 leagues down, and I’m unsure as to whether he is cut out for the Championship. Neal Eardley is a smart solid signing, and Dan Burn too impressed for Yeovil last year and he arrives on loan. Should be around mid-table not causing any trouble at either end of the table.
Well it will be a huge success if Rovers manage to end the season with the same man in charge as at the start. A bonus too if there haven’t been 4 others in between. The chaos surrounding Ewood Park and the Venky’s has been well publicised, and it is a disgrace. A much more thorough check needs to be done on foreign owners, but that discussion is for another time. Jordan Rhodes has stayed on and he has been joined by DJ Campbell, Alan Judge, Chris Taylor, Tommy Spurr, Tom Cairney and Corry Evans. Good additions, quite a shuffled squad now and a big one at that. They still have some top players in this league though and should be towards the top end. Who knows what might happen next though in the Blackburn Rovers soap opera which has been ongoing for the last years.
Blackpool chairman Karl Oyston isn’t the most popular man on the seaside right now. This will be their 3rd year since relegation from the top flight, and the fans have still yet to see any reinvestment in the side from the TV money and parachute payments etc. Paul Ince has said how it isn’t good enough that he should be forced into playing a team full of trialists in a friendly hoping one might be a signing star. In truth this very, very rarely happens. A lot of players have moved on after being offered contracts on reduced terms; Gary Taylor-Fletcher. Luckily Tom has stayed to lend a helping hand to his Father, and as a Father. Finally Ince did have some success with transfers. A risk was taken on Michael Chopra, let’s see whether his troubles are behind him. Steven Davies should be a good signing arriving from Bristol City. It could be a long season ahead though for the Wonga sponsored side, and an early meeting with local rival Preston North End in the Capital One Cup could have a major effect on the mood for the season going forward. A defeat, and the fans will be on the backs of those involved.
Dougie Freedman took to the Reebok Stadium better than expected last year. They were unlucky not to reach the play-offs but will be aiming for automatic this year. Jermaine Beckford has been brought in, and he is more than capable of scoring 20+ goals. This coupled with quality still left from the Premiership through Lee Chung Young, and Chris Eagles makes Bolton one of the favourites for promotion. Goals should be aplenty with David N’gog, Craig Davies and perhaps Tom Eaves making an impact. I was surprised to see Marvin Sordell move to Charlton on loan though. A solid defence with new signing Alex Baptiste (Blackpool), Knight and Wheater should see Bolton comfortably in the top 6.
Eddie Howe returns to the Championship where he managed Burnley with his Bournemouth side. Howe plays an attractive style of Football, and Bournemouth are an ambitious club with chairman Eddie Mitchell stating he is targeting the Premiership. A pre-season fixture against Real Madrid gave Howe’s boys a test, and at least they’ll know nothing will compare to that in the forthcoming season. The loan signing of Surman is a good piece of business. It will be interesting to see how players Harry Arter, Matt Ritchie, and Lewis Grabban take to the Championship having impressed below. Brett Pitman has played here before and they will be looking to him as they key source of goals.
Brighton & Hove Albion
After Gus Poyet learned of his dismissal live on BBC apparently, Brighton wasted no time in appointing relatively unknown Oscar Garcia. Given the fact it has come about that Poyet asked to leave in March it is remarkable Brighton still managed to make it into the play-offs last season. Kemy Agustien has joined from Swansea to toughen up the midfield whilst Matthew Upson has signed a permanent one year contract following his loan spell. Looking at Brighton’s strikers, it is clear that goals shouldn’t be a problem. Mackail-Smith, Ulloa and Barnes all know how to find the back of the net. However there may still be things going on behind the scenes that could cause problems. Season could go either way for the Seagulls.
Charlie Austin finally left this week to join QPR not leaving Sean Dyche much time to find a replacement before Saturday’s opener against Bolton. Incredibly Dyche has recruited 4 Goalkeepers this summer, with Tom Heaton likely to start with Alex Cisak as understudy after Lee Grant returned to Derby County. David Jones arrives adding creativity to the midfield. But as things stand there will be a lot of pressure on Sam Vokes and Danny Ings to provide the goals. The defence should just about be strong enough to ensure Burnley don’t go down.
Chris Powell’s boys finished last season well, and will be looking to carry on where they left off. This week Simon Church and Marvin Sordell were brought in. Two cracking signings in my opinion. Church has the potential to bag a lot of goals in this league if given a decent run in the side. Marvin Sordell did well for Bolton last year and continues to merit a place in the England Under-21 side. A couple more signing could well be needed, or else some youngsters will have to be blooded at some stage.
Under Clough, Derby haven’t made any headlines and have always seemed rather inconsistent, never maintaining a decent promotion challenge. Johnny Russell arrives from north of the border, and the youngster will be looking to establish himself in the Championship. Although John Brayford has left (Cardiff City), Will Hughes has stayed and John Eustace and Craig Forsyth provide welcome additions to a midfield with depth now. Connor Sammon may need to score a few more if County are to break the top 6.
Paul Dickov was a surprising choice to fill the Manager’s position at the Keepmoat Stadium with Brian Flynn moving upstairs. Dickov had a tough previous job at Oldham and didn’t really set the world alight there. Doncaster have been busy in the transfer market this week, with the signings of Bongani Khumalo, Ross Turnbull, Richie Wellens and One Direction’s Louis Tomlinson!? No you haven’t clicked onto a Smash Hits! blog by mistake. Surely a ploy to raise shirt sales? Who knows? Anyway the previous three represent good experienced additions, Khumalo is a beast and will add strength to the defence. A striker is needed though, and Billy Sharp has been mooted with a return to ease the pressure on Chris Brown and Billy Paynter.
Mark Robins brought in a familiar face to Town fans in the shape of Jon Stead. Stead has had his fair share of clubs, but the 30-year-old can give Robins a different dimension to that of other strikers he has signed. James Vaughan (Norwich) and Martin Paterson (Burnley) being the other additions. Plenty of options there and Adam Hammill has signed permanently to be able to whip the balls in for the aforementioned. I’m unsure as to whether Robins is the right man to take Huddersfield too far. A season of stability is perhaps the best that can be hoped for. There are much better teams in this league though.
Mick McCarthy finds himself managing in the league above his previous employers just 18 months after parting ways. Funny old game isn’t it? After easily guiding Ipswich away from the bottom last year, Mick will be aiming for the top 6 and has recruited wisely. Christophe Berra represents a brilliant free transfer just 4 years after Wolves paid £2.3 million for him. Cole Skuse comes in from another relegated side; Bristol City is another good addition. The permanent signings of David McGoldrick, Jay Tabb, and Darryl Murphy strengthen an already experienced squad. Will be a tough team to beat this year.
It wasn’t too much of a surprise when Brian McDermott signed a contract with Leeds towards the end of last year. The pairing seemed to fit, and he enjoyed a few good performances in the matches he oversaw. Leeds will be expectant as always and anything other than the top 6 will be seen as a disappointment. Perhaps unlucky to be fired from Reading McDermott will have a point to prove against them. It makes you wonder if he hadn’t have gained promotion with Reading would he still be in the job, given there would have been less pressure and he over-achieved in his time there. Noel Hunt and Matt Smith arrive to boost the depth of strikers, but I have question marks over both. Smith’s exploits in the FA Cup seem to have got him this move, but best of luck to the former Manchester University student. Luke Murphy was signed from Crewe and could be key to Leeds’ chances this year, a talented, technical player. He required Leeds to fork out more than £1 million for the first time in 8 years!
Leicester fell short at the semi final stage of the play-offs to Watford last year, but the strength of the squad remains. If the Foxes fail to place inside the top 6 then I feel that could be the end for Nigel Pearson. Not many changes, and they have had to resist offers for Wes Morgan from Forest. Leicester have spent heavily in the past to no avail, and financial fair play rules have led to them to tighten their cloth accordingly. They still possess one of the strongest squads in this league with a solid spine of Schmeichel, Morgan, James, Nugent and Wood. If these players perform then Leicester will be there or thereabouts.
A make or break season ahead for Tony Mowbray. He’s had enough time in charge now to assemble his own squad and perhaps would have at least made the top 6 last year if it wasn’t for their disastrous form after Christmas. Dean Whitehead is a good signing at this level, and they have also brought in Varga from Debrecen. Albert Adomah, Billy Sharp and Ricardo Vaz Te continue to be linked, and if 2 of those can be signed then things will look promising for ‘Boro. Without, then I can’t see them finishing in the top 6. Goals have departed in Scott McDonald and Nicky Bailey both joining Millwall. Much will be expected from Emnes and Jutkiewicz.
Steve Lomas sets off on his first managerial job in England having had success with St Johnstone in Scotland. I have been very impressed with Millwall’s transfer dealings so far this summer. Arrivals include Scott McDonald and Nicky Bailey from Middlesbrough, both talented experienced players. Steve Morison returns to the New Den, on loan from Leeds. He will fill the gap that was left by Chris Wood in January. Further signings include Chaplow, Martin, and Bywater. All good players, and Lomas has worked the free transfer market very well. A promising season ahead for the Lions.
I expect Billy Davies to work his magic at Forest once again. The man has never failed to guide a side into the play-offs when given a full season in charge. He knows how to get results in this league, and Forest possess a talented squad. Davies hasn’t finished in the transfer window yet but has acquired Abdoun from Olympiakos for £1.55m, Jamie Mackie for over £1 million and Jack Hobbs from Hull City. Abdoun remains an unknown quantity but you would expect big things from him with that transfer fee, Hobbs and Mackie especially are good players for this league. A centre back is still on the shopping list and if Kelvin Wilson returns as rumoured then expect Nottingham Forest to enjoy a good season.
Queens Park Rangers
Around 18 months ago Harry Redknapp look like the obvious choice of everyone to take over from Fabio Capello as England Manager. Unfortunately for him, that didn’t come to fruition, Spurs Champions League dream was cruelly taken away and before you know it Harry found himself without a job. He probably did not think he would be in the Championship, and after blaming the players for not having enough fight and passion last year, Redknapp finds himself still with a lot of those underachieving players. Those players should be able to perform in the Championship but they won’t like the league as it is far from the glamour in the top flight. QPR have added experience in Richard Dunne, and Karl Henry whilst Charlie Austin arrives on the back of a great season at Burnley. Will ‘Arry ‘ang around though? He could find himself with better offers and I just don’t see QPR flying away with this league as many have predicted.
Nigel Adkins is a talented manager, again like his predecessor unlucky to find himself sacked by his previous employees. The majority of Reading’s squad have stayed from last year and should be more than acquitted to this league with many of them having won promotion from it 2 years ago. Le Fondre may have a good season ahead of him and as things stand Pogrebnyak will be a handful for Championship defences. But it is in the midfield where I think Reading will shine, Jem Karacan, Jimmy Kebe, and Jobi McAnuff will be feared. That trio will be able to win a lot of games for Reading by themselves. Wayne Bridge coming in at left back further strengthens the squad. Champions.
Survival will have been the aim last year, and this year a top half finish will be a great achievement. Not many additions but it will be interesting to see how Jacques Maghoma handles life in the Championship after shining in League 2. Leroy Lita looks set to return and he is the kind of striker most teams in this league would welcome. Former Hull defender Kamil Zayatte joins after a spell in Turkey, adding some steel to the defence. Watch out for Michail Antonio and Jeremy Helan to continue to impress. Should be safe, but there are many better teams than the Owls.
Who can forget Gianfranco Zola’s celebration in the play-offs when Troy Deeney fresh from a spell inside, scored a last minute goal to take the Hornets to Wembley? He ran onto the pitch before tripping and going flying, and he is a character that is more than welcome in this league. He will be looking to get out of it though, and many of last years loan signings have signed permanently along with Lewis McGugan from Forest, a talented goalscoring midfielder. Matej Vydra has not returned but Zola’s side should not suffer too much with their attacking, sexy style of Football. Many talented individuals at this club, and they will hope the play-off heartache is well and truly erased from their memory.
The Latics find themselves visiting Huish Park this year, but who knows where else they could end up going on their travels during the Europa League. A big squad is needed to be competitive in both as Birmingham were 2 seasons ago. Many signings have been made; Leon Barnett, Chris McCann, and Grant Holt to name a few. Good players at this level, and they will be looking to Grant Holt to lead the line with Callum McManaman after Kone’s left to join up with Martinez at Everton. 3 more M’s do remain in McArthur, McCarthy, and Maloney and if Coyle can hold onto these, then they can do some damage. A lot of games ahead for Wigan this year, and they will do extremely well to remain competitive on all fronts.
I still can’t believe Yeovil attained promotion from League 1, a league in which they were one of the smallest sides. A fantastic achievement and full credit to Gary Johnson and his team because they deserved it. Consistent throughout, and many great performances from their players most notably Paddy Madden and it will be intriguing to see how he copes with the defences at this level. Alan Tate comes in on loan, providing some much needed experience of this level. Liam Davis and Michael Ngoo are further additions that remain unknown at this level but will surely relish the opportunity. Yeovil have nothing to lose this year, and their players and fans will love every minute of it. I don’t want to sound demeaning and would love it if they managed to stave off relegation. Teams will find a trip to Huish Park quite daunting though and Yeovil will need to make the most of this.