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Match Previews

Championship season preview

16 August 2012


As many as 12 sides will feel they have a chance of success in what could be one of the most open npower Championship seasons in years.

Leading the charge are the three relegated sides from the Premier League; Bolton Wanderers, Blackburn Rovers and Wolverhampton Wanderers who will all be desperate for an immediate return.

Hoping to be hot on their heels are Leicester City, Neil Warnock's Leeds United, as well as the three sides who narrowly missed out in the npower Play-Offs last year.

Fifteen players have departed from the Reebok Stadium following Bolton's relegation last season, including midfielder Nigel Reo Coker and star goalkeeper Jussi Jaaskelainen. The Trotters are also reeling from Fabrice Muamba's retirement last week, the former England Under-21 midfielder forced to hang his boots following heart problems. Stuart Holden is still to return from a long-term injury, too.

Yet there is better news for boss Coyle, who has managed to hold on to players with Premier League and Championship experience, including Kevin Davies, Lee Chung Yong, Chris Eagles, Sam Ricketts and Marvin Sordell. He also managed to fend off competition to capture Irish midfielder Keith Andrews and former Leicester defender Matt Mills. On paper, Bolton's squad is capable of leading a charge.

Blackburn Rovers and Wolves could be unknown quantities for different reasons, although both squads will feel they're not only capable of a top-six finish, but winning the division.

Meanwhile, Leicester City were many people's favourites last season after a summer of spending with Sven-Goran Eriksson at the helm. Eriksson brought in a number of players, most notably goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel, who kept 17 clean sheets, and who will start for the Foxes once again.

Nigel Pearson replaced Eriksson in November and this summer he moved quickly to replace senior squad members with younger players, including Jamie Vardy from Fleetwood Town. Leicester will no doubt harbour high hopes of beating their ninth-place finish last year.

In Warnock, Leeds have a manager who knows a thing or two about promotion at this level having steered Notts County (1991), Sheffield United (2006) and QPR (2011) to the Premier League. Warnock has enjoyed seven promotions as manager and with investment a hot topic at Elland Road, he will have his eye on more celebrations this summer.

Leeds fans will be hoping Paddy Kenny can help shore up a leaky defence that conceded 41 goals in the league.


Cardiff City were forced to start last season without the services of Craig Bellamy, Michael Chopra and Jay Bothroyd, who all moved on to pastures new, but boss Malky Mackay still managed a top-six finish, where City were eventually undone by West Ham United, and a place in the League Cup final, where they beaten by Liverpool on penalties.

Peter Whittingham remains from the team that has managed three consecutive Play-Off campaigns and will be key once again while the return of Bellamy, plus further potential investment, will find the Bluebirds hopeful of ending their promotion hoodoo.

Birmingham City fans will be keeping their fingers crossed new manager Lee Clarke can build on the success of former boss Chris Hughton and take the side a step further. The Blues were beaten in the Play-Off semi-finals.

After assuming the manager's role following Hughton's move to Norwich City, Clarke added the experience of Darren Ambrose, Peter Lovenkrands and Hayden Mullins to a side already boasting a spine consisting of Curtis Davies, Steven Caldwell and Marlon King. England and Team GB representative Jack Butland is expected to be given an opportunity to star in goal.

Blackpool could consider themselves hard done by after outplaying eventual Play-Off final winners West Ham United for long periods in the final at Wembley. The Seasiders were ultimately undone, but Holloway's talented blend of youth and experience, with wingers Tom Ince and Matt Phillips supplying experienced heads Kevin Phillips and Gary Taylor-Fletcher, are charged for a new campaign. Write Ian Holloway off at your peril.

The beauty of the npower Championship is that so many teams can challenge at the top and bottom and elsewhere, Middlesbrough finished tantalisingly close to the Play-Offs last season in seventh place.

A run of just six wins in 2012 after a promising start to the season in 2011 proved their undoing. Tony Mowbray, a previous Boro captain, can call on overwhelming support from the fans, who seem quietly confident his summer spending could reap rewards. Grant Leadbitter and Jonathan Woodgate join local lads Rhys Williams, Matthew Bates and Jason Steele in the team, while striker Marvin Emnes remains despite a summer of speculation.

Brighton & Hove Albion finished 10th last season and with new signings Tomasz Kuszczak (goalkeeper), Bruno Saltor (right-back) and Wayne Bridge (left-back) joining an already talented squad, Albion fans will be hoping their Capital One Cup defeat at Swindon Town was a one-off bad day at the office.

Nottingham Forest will feel they can also be considered contenders for a Play-Off place. Sean O'Driscoll boasts a good pedigree, while Simon Cox - who joins from West Bromwich Albion for £2m - and Dexter Blackstock could be one of the strike partnerships of the division.

Like last season, Premier League old boys Hull City - now managed by Steve Bruce - Burnley, Ipswich Town and Watford will all relish a return to the top flight.


We've already examined Bolton chances of success despite a huge turnaround in players, but new Wolves boss Stale Solbakken admits his club have faced a difficult summer. Premier League sides circled Molineux and while Michael Kightly left to join Stoke City, Steve Fletcher and Matt Jarvis remain. They could be key as the Midlanders attempt to return to the Premier League at the first time of asking.

Frank Nouble and Icelandic international Bjorn Sigurdarson have also joined the Norwegian revolution. The question is whether Solbakken will hit the ground running or need time to adjust in his new surroundings?

Blackburn's Steve Kean has made pivotal moves in the transfer window he hopes will help silence his doubters. Danny Murphy raised eyebrows when he dropped out of the Premier League and swapped Craven Cottage for Ewood Park and the experienced midfielder is expected to join David Dunn in Rovers' engine room. In front of them, Leon Best, Colin Kazim-Richards and Nuno Gomes have the potential to form a potent triumvirate.

Elsewhere, Charlton Athletic, Sheffield Wednesday and Huddersfield Town will all hope the momentum of coming up from npower League 1 will help them follow in the footsteps of Norwich City and Southampton, who both enjoyed consecutive promotions.

Charlton striker Bradley Wright-Phillips has played in the npower Championship with Southampton and Plymouth Argyle before, of course, and he will be keen to replicate the form that saw him bag 20 goals last season, which would be his most successful haul at this level.

Meanwhile, Huddersfield's Scottish scoring sensation Jordan Rhodes, who notched on his international debut against Australia last week and who finished with a sensational 40 goals in 2011/12, together with Sheffield Wednesday's Gary Madine, are untested in England's second tier. Both will be keen to make a seamless transition.

Charlton romped to the league title last year but the npower Championship will be unfamiliar territory for rookie boss Chris Powell. Not so for Terriers boss Simon Grayson, who replaced Lee Clarke in February, and Dave Jones, who guided Wolves to the Premier League in 2003 before steering Cardiff to the Play-Offs in three consecutive seasons.

Grayson experienced promotion with Blackpool and Leeds from npower League 1 before guiding the Whites to a seventh-place finish in the npower Championship. Both Jones and Grayson might feel they have unfinished business.

Don't be surprised if any of the promoted clubs mount an early charge following last year's success, but Millwall, Bristol City, Crystal Palace, Barnsley, Derby County, Peterborough United and Watford will all have something to say about that.

Any of those teams could mount their own impression in the top half of the table, that's what makes the npower Championship so compelling.

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