The Championship – 2008/09
If last season’s Championship is anything to go by, this page is a complete waste of time. This time last year we talked glumly of the likelihood of all three of the recently relegated teams from the Premier League stomping straight back into the the top flight, having made good use of their parachute money. It didn’t quite work out like that, of course. Sheffield United‘s inexplicable decision to offer Bryan Robson yet another opportunity to manage meant that, by Christmas, they looked more likely to relegated than promoted. Watford‘s long-ball game won them few friends in their new division, but they were for a long time in or around the top two or three. However, they won just once in their last sixteen games and it looks difficult to see how they are going to arrest that decline.
Last year’s relegated teams look likely to have similarly mixed fortunes this season. Birmingham City are the pre-season favourites to go back up, and have retained most of the players that surprisingly failed to perform last season. Gary McSheffrey is probably their most significant player. His big money signature from Coventry City looked like a good bit of business at the time, but he failed to live up to expectations and there will be high pressure on him to perform now that he is back in a division that he is already proved to be capable of performing in. Derby County’s supporters could be forgiven for being shell-shocked after last season’s capers. Paul Jewell managed to keep his job throughout the summer, despite failing to improve on their awful start, but they have a very different squad to the one that started last season and the Premier League players that they have kept, such as Robbie Savage, seem to be their because it would be too expensive to cancel their contracts. A disastrous season such as last season is a difficult one to bounce back from, and Derby County may have to settle for a mid-table finish. Reading being relegated was one of the surprises of the season, and their form in the second half of the season was as worrying as Derby’s. Steve Coppell has stayed and, whilst they have lost the likes of Paul Kitson (whose ill-advised comments about the FA Cup meant that Reading’s relegation was cheered by more people than it would otherwise have been), they have at least managed to hold onto Marek Matejovsky, who appeared for the Czech Republuc at Euro 2008. They may have to settle for a place in the play-offs this season, though.
If we take it as read, then, then Birmingham City will be there or thereabouts at the end of the season, who will be joining them in the Premier League? Queens Park Rangers have found themselves in the money since theie take-over by Flavio Briatore, but their new signings haven’t set the world alight, and their positioning as the favourites or second favourites to go straight back up seem to be misguided, to say the least. Crystal Palace had an outstanding second half to last season, and raced up the table into the play-offs, only to run out of steam in the semi-finals against Hull City. Background rumbles over whether they can stay at Selhurst Park, however, will add to an air of instability around the place, and the play-offs might be as good as it gets for Palace. Sheffield United and Charlton Athletic have important seasons ahead, as the Premier League parachute payments run out. Andy Gray and Luke Varney will score goals for Charlton, but they are still lacking in other positions, whilst United haven’t massively improved their squad, compared to what they had last season. With so many slightly above average teams in the Championship, I’m going to go for Wolverhampton Wanderers to join Birmingham City in the Premier League. Many better analysts that myself have been tricked into thinking that Wolves are better than they actually are, but they have possibly the strongest pairing in he division up front in Michael Kightly and Sylvan Ebanks-Blake, and retain strong players in other positions. Mick McCarthy may be a laughing stock in some circles, but he is a decent manager at this level. The third promotion place is too much of a lottery to be able to accurately predict, so I’ll go for Ipswich Town. Under new ownership and looking forward with optimism for the first time in several seasons under Jim Magilton, they could come from nowhere to grab the play-off spot.
At the bottom of the table, it’s difficult to see how Blackpool will, having been unable to significantly strengthen their team, ber able to avoid the drop this time around. The fact that they survived last season was achievement enough in itself. Of the newly-promoted teams, Nottingham Forest and Swansea City both look strong enough for a mid-table finish, but Doncaster Rovers, who sneaked past Leeds United might have more of a problem in staying up. I’m also going to tip Bristol City to go back down. They performed magnificently to spend so much of last time around the promotion places last season, but they slipped towards the end of last season, and I would still question Gary Johnson’s credibility at this level, and the hang-over of losing in the play-offs might hit them hard. With few significant new signings, they could well suffer a serious slump this season.Finally, one suspects that there are further stormy waters ahead for Southampton. They were desparately fortunate to stay up on thr final day of last season. Their financial problems have caused them to have a massive clear out of players over the course of the summer, and the suspiscion is that they will be ill-equipped for another long, hard season.
Edited because of my own stupidity