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Match Previews

Sky Bet Championship season preview

6 August 2014

We take a look at each team in Sky Bet Championship ahead of the 2014/15 season.

Birmingham City

Last season: 21st in the Sky Bet Championship - avoided relegation on goal difference.

Never was the phrase 'surviving by the skin of your teeth' more appropriate than with Birmingham City last season, coming from 2-0 down to draw 2-2 at Bolton Wanderers in injury time on the final day to secure their Sky Bet Championship status.

That's sparked a revolution in the West Midlands, with 13 players departing and 11 joining the club.

Hero: When Birmingham play their first home game of the season, in Round 1 of the Capital One Cup on Tuesday 12th August, Paul Caddis will undoubtedly get a hero's reception at St. Andrew's. The 26-year-old scored the vital equaliser at the Reebok Stadium to keep the Blues up.

Blackburn Rovers

Last season: Eighth in the Sky Bet Championship - two points off the Play-Offs.

Blackburn Rovers mounted a late rally in the 2013/14 season to gather 70 points after 46 games - their highest points tally since coming second in the old Division One back in 2000/01.

Boss Gary Bowyer has let plenty of players leave the club - 18 in total - and has only signed Chris Brown, Luke Varney and Alex Baptiste as replacements.

Strike force: Jordan Rhodes (five) and Rudy Gestede (nine) scored 14 goals between them in the final six games of last term. Having another goal-scorer alongside Rhodes could work wonders for Rovers, who are gearing up for their third season at this level.

Blackpool

Last season: 20th in the Sky Bet Championship - two points above the drop.

The Blackpool of last season will look a lot different for this campaign. An incredible total of 27 players left Bloomfield Road over summer, with Jose Riga bringing in 12. That was arguably a needed clean-out after the club went 17 games without a win between December 2013 and March 2014.

After two seasons of scrapping towards the bottom of the division, Blackpool fans will hope their team can start to perform at the top-end of the Sky Bet Championship.

Leaving it late: The Tangerines haven't had an ideal pre-season. Until recently, Riga only had eight players and no goalkeeper in his squad. Although he now has a team of around 20, they only played two matches during the summer; against Penrith, in which five trialists were fielded, and versus Burnley.

Bolton Wanderers

Last season: 14th in the in the Sky Bet Championship.

A 14th-placed finish wouldn't have been on the cards for Bolton fans at the start of last season but, after dropping into a relegation battle early on, a mid-table slot was much desired.

With Dougie Freedman remaining at the helm, 15 players have left the Reebok Stadium to be replaced by proven players at this level; the likes of Liam Feeney, Liam Trotter, Dorian Dervite and Dean Moxey.

Connect four: This is Bolton's third successive season in the second tier. The last time they spent four years in this division was between 1973 and 1978 when contesting five campaigns at this level.

AFC Bournemouth

Last season: 10th in the Sky Bet Championship - just six points away from the Play-Offs.

Eddie Howe and Bournemouth just work. The two names are synonymous with each other, and Howe has arguably eclipsed Harry Redknapp as their greatest ever boss, leading them to a club-record finish of 10th in the second tier, beating Redknapp's 12th place in 1988/89.

The loss of star striker Lewis Grabban to Norwich City will have come as a blow, albeit not an unexpected one, but was quickly countered by the acquisition of Coventry City's Callum Wilson.

Rampant: During their pre-season fixtures, Bournemouth beat Conference South outfit Dorchester Town 11-0. Harry Arter scored after just 76 seconds, while Yann Kermorgant struck four times.

Brentford

Last season: Second in Sky Bet League 1 - promoted.

When Uwe Rosler left Brentford for Wigan Athletic in December 2013 there was concern amongst Bees fans.

In fourth at the time, former city trader Mark Warburton took over for his first managerial job in professional football and, after losing his first game in charge to Carlisle United in the FA Cup, they won 17, drew six and lost just four times to secure the runners-up spot.

They showed great spirit to bounce back from a painful 2012/13 when they lost the Play-Off Final having just missed out on automatic promotion, and although start striker Clayton Donaldson has joined Birmingham, Warburton has strengthened wisely with Moses Odubajo (Leyton Orient), Scott Hogan (Rochdale) and Andre Gray (Luton Town) all making the step up.

Relocation, relocation, relocation: As well as their on-field success during 2013/14, Brentford also moved forward with their plans to leave Griffin Park and build a new stadium at Lionel Road, aimed to be ready for the 2016/17 campaign.



Brighton & Hove Albion

Last season: Sixth in the Sky Bet Championship - lost their Sky Bet Championship Play-Off Semi-Final to Derby County.

Can the Seagulls make it third time lucky?

They've now lost in the Championship Play-Off Semi-Finals twice; following-up their 2012/13 exit at the hands of Crystal Palace with a defeat by Derby County last term.

Losing last season's top-scorer Leonardo Ulloa (16) to Premier League-bound Leicester City was a blow for boss Sami Hyypia, who has a tough test on his hands to continue to improve the Seagulls in his first season as a Football League manager.

Flocking like seagulls: Brighton had the biggest average attendance out of all 72 Football League clubs during 2013/14, with 27,110.

Cardiff City

Last season: 20th in the Premier League - relegated.

When Cardiff City sacked Malkay Mackay in December 2013 it was with the hope that a change in manager would improve their fortunes.

The Bluebirds were one point above the relegation zone at that point, hiring Ole Gunnar Solksjaer on a 12-month rolling contract from Norweigen club Molde, whom he led to two Norweigen league titles and a cup victory.

The move didn't work though, and they won just three times in 18 league matches to finish bottom of the pile.

The sales of Steven Caulker, Jordon Mutch and Frazier Campbell has generated some revenue, which has been re-invested in proven goal-scorer Adam Le Fondre and youngster Tom Adeyemi.

Last time around: Last time Cardiff were in the Championship they won the title with 87 points. That came after three campaigns of Play-Off heartache.

Charlton Athletic

Last season: 18th in the Sky Bet Championship.

Seventeen out, 10 in. Charlton Athletic were always going to be active during pre-season as new boss Bob Peeters put his own touch on the Addicks squad having arrived at the end of May.

Jose Riga successfully kept the club in the Sky Bet Championship after Chris Powell left during the season, but Riga has now joined Blackpool.

Standard: Charlton Athletic continued their links with Standard Liege, with George Tucudean, Tal Ben Haim and Yoni Buyens all arriving at The Valley from the Belgian side.

Derby County

Last season: Third in the Sky Bet Championship - lost in the Sky Bet Championship Play-Off Final.

Steve McClaren has recently signed a new contract at Derby County, testament to how much he has improved the Rams since taking over last season.

He inspired a young team to third, just eight points shy of automatic promotion. Their season ultimately ended in disappointment, losing 1-0 to Queens Park Rangers in the Play-Off Final at Wembley through a last-minute bobby Zamora strike.

George Thorne, Cyrus Christie and Omar Mascarell are just some of the names to arrive at the iPro during the summer, continuing the theme of a young squad. With their talent, flair and energy, plus the experience of last season, Derby are one of the favourites for promotion.

Back of the net: Derby scored the highest number of goals in the division last season - 84 - one more than champions Leicester City.

Fulham

Last season: 19th in the Premier League - relegated..

Fulham went through three managers last season; Martin Jol, Rene Meulensteen and Felix Magath.

The German Magath remains in charge as Fulham head into the first season in The Football League for 13 years, coming just four campaigns after reaching the final of the Europa League.

Over the summer 22 players have left Craven Cottage as Magath starts to put his own stamp on the team.

Money, money, money: Fulham have stated their intentions to get out of the Sky Bet championship at the first attempt by signing Ross McCormack from Leeds United for a sizeable transfer fee.

Huddersfield Town

Last season: 17th in the Sky Bet Championship.

Huddersfield Town went two better than their previous season in 2013/14, finishing 17th compared to the 19th of 2012/13. It's small progress but, ahead of their third season in the second tier for the first time over a decade, the Terriers are establishing themselves as a Sky Bet Championship side.

Mark Robins has prepared for his second full campaign at the club with eight first-team games in pre-season, including a 2-2 draw with Premier League Newcastle United, and clever signings in Conor Coady (Liverpool), Joe Murphy (Coventry City), Lee Peltier (Leeds United) and Radoslaw Majewski (Nottingham Forest, loan).

Points don't equal places: Although the Terriers finished higher in the table last season than in 2012/13, they actually finished with five fewer points; 53 compared to 58.

Ipswich Town

Last season: Ninth in the Sky Bet Championship

Mick McCarthy has vastly improved Ipswich Town since he took over in November 2012 and their ninth-placed finish, just four points off the top seven, was a sign of how far they've come under his tutelage.

Limited outgoings over the summer, other than the transfer of Aaron Cresswell to West Ham United, means the Tractor Boys could be in for another good campaign. The additions of Jonathan Parr and Cameron Stewart are good business, as is the retention of striker David McGoldrick, who netted 16 times last term.

McCarthy's magic: Mick McCarthy has managed Millwall, Sunderland and Wolves to the Championship Play-Offs and took the latter two up to the Premier League as champions.

Leeds United

Last season: 15th in the Sky Bet Championship

It's been a summer of change at Leeds United and Dave Hockaday is the man in charge, after being appointed as head coach by owner Massimo Cellino in June.

The goings have been frequent, and the comings not so much, and Leeds' team will have a new look to it compared to the one that finished mid-table in 2013/14 after flirting with the Play-Offs. Marco Silvestri (Chievo), Tommaso Bianchi (Sassuolo), Gaetano Berardi (Sampdoria) and Souleymane Doukara (Catania) have all come in from Italian clubs while Nicky Ajose has signed from Peterborough United.

Win or lose: Only nine of Leeds' 46 games of 2013/14 ended as draws. They won 16 and lost 21.

Middlesbrough

Last season: 12th in the Sky Bet Championship

The 2014/15 season will be Aitor Karanka's first full term in charge of Middlesbrough after being hired in November 2013, and it's fair to say he has used the close-season to make his mark on the North East team. Enrique Garcia (Real Murcia), Tomas Mejias (Real Madrid) and Emilio Nsue (Real Mallorca) have arrived from Spanish clubs while hot prospect Kenneth Omeruo has returned on loan from Chelsea.

Karanka's men looked like challenging for the Play-Offs during spells last season but they fell off the pace. That Spanish flair could be what they need to progress.

Firing blanks: Boro failed to score a single goal in six matches over January, February and March of last season.

Millwall

Last season: 19th in the Sky Bet Championship

Ian Holloway is another manager set for his first year in charge and he is well-known in the Sky Bet Championship. The 51-year-old took Blackpool to the Premier League against all the odds so Millwall fans can have confidence, despite finishing just four points above the bottom three last time around.

They've lost first-teamers Liam Feeney and Liam Trotter to Bolton Wanderers but have made some bold additions including Lee Gregory from FC Halifax Town. The striker netted 29 times in the Conference Premier in 2013/14.

Play-Off winner: Ian Holloway has twice won the Championship Play-Offs, with Blackpool in 2009/10 and with Crystal Palace in 2012/13.

Norwich City

Last season: 18th in the Premier League - relegated.

Norwich City are back in The Football League and will be aiming to put the disappointment of Premier League relegation behind them. The first task for manager Neil Adams, in his first full season in charge, is to turn around their poor 2014 form - the Canaries have won just three league games since the turn of the year.

The lack of outgoings at the club, minus Hull City-bound Robert Snodgrass, should mean they are capable of challenging. The signings of Lewis Grabban - a 22-goal front man with Bournemouth last term - and Gary O'Neil - a 2013/14 Championship promotion-winner with QPR - certainly back that up.

Norfolk Express: The Canaries made a swift exit out of the Championship when they were last in the division, in 2010/11, finishing second after promotion from League 1 the year before.



Nottingham Forest

Last season: 11th in the Sky Bet Championship

Stuart Pearce is the latest manager to be charged with lifting Nottingham Forest into the Premier League and he will make his long-awaited League debut in the dugout this season.

Forest flirted with the Play-Offs for a large part of last season before the sacking of Billy Davies in March, and on paper Pearce's new recruits look up to the challenge. As well as the captures of Michael Mancienne, Matty Fryatt and Chris Burke, Forest have also splashed out to sign front man Britt Assomablonga from Peterborough United. They have sold Karl Darlow and Jamaal Lascelles, though.

Psycho: Pearce made over 400 appearances for Forest during his playing days.

Reading

Last season: Seventh in the Sky Bet Championship - missing out on the Play-Offs by one point.

After coming so close to the Sky Bet Championship Play-Offs in 2013/14 it has been a quiet summer at the Madejski Stadium with regards to transfers. Expect some incomings, though, as they are yet to replace striker Adam Le Fondre, who joined Cardiff City after scoring 15 times last season.

Manager Nigel Adkins is well-versed with the Sky Bet Championship having won promotion with Southampton in 2011/12. One thing he will want to improve is the Royals' home record - they only won eight on their own patch last time around, compared to 11 victories on the road.

Seven heaven: The Royals thumped Bolton 7-1 in one of the stand-out results of last season.



Rotherham United

Last season: Fourth in Sky Bet League 1 - promoted via the Play-Offs.

Rotherham haven't looked back since moving into the New York Stadium two seasons ago and successive promotions have lifted them back into the Sky Bet Championship.

Along with chairman Tony Stewart, manager Steve Evans has transformed the Millers from League 2 to Championship material, culminating in a Sky Bet League 1 Play-Off Final victory in 2013/14.

Ins and outs have been frequent at Rotherham over the summer and their signings suggest they aren't looking to just consolidate. Matt Derbyshire, Kirk Broadfoot, Richard Wood, Paul Green and Febian Brandy are among their new recruits.

Longevity: Steve Evans is the longest-serving Sky Bet Championship manager having taken over at Rotherham in April 2012.

Sheffield Wednesday

Last season: 16th in the Sky Bet Championship

Sheffield Wednesday were deep in the relegation mire last term before Stuart Gray took over as caretaker manager December, prior to his permanent appointment in January. He inspired a revival including an eight-game unbeaten run at the turn of the year.

Heading into his first full season in charge, the former Northampton Town boss will want to harness that form to kick-on. Incomings include Tom Lees from Leeds and Sunderland goalkeeper Kieren Westwood. They will feel the loss of exciting attacker Michael Antonio though.

Away-day struggles: The Owls only won four away matches last season.

Watford

Last season: 13th in the Sky Bet Championship

Watford failed to bounce back from the Play-Off disappointment of 2012/13 when they lost to Crystal Palace at Wembley and ended last season down in 13th. A mid-season managerial change - Giuseppe Sannino replacing Gianfranco Zola - didn't help, but 2014/15 will provide them with a fresh start.

They had no problem scoring last season - their record of 74 was the best outside the top three - so it's no surprise to see the defence and midfield strengthened. Experienced Foottball League players Keith Andrews, Craig Cathcart and Lloyd Dyer have all signed for the Hornets.

Matej Vydra: The Czech striker scored 24 goals in his last spell at Vicarage Road in 2012/13 and that was enough for him to be named the Championship Player of the Year at The Football League Awards 2013. He's back with Watford to rekindle his prolific partnership with Troy Deeney.



Wigan Athletic

Last season: Fifth in the Sky Bet Championship - lost in the Play-Off Semi-Finals to Queens Park Rangers. FA Cup Semi-Finalists.

Despite failing to return to the Premier League at the first time of asking, 2013/14 was a relatively successful season for Wigan Athletic. It was disappointment at the Semi-Final stage in both the Play-Offs and the FA Cup, where they took the eventual-winners - QPR and Arsenal respectively - all the way. All that came after the December appointment of Uwe Rosler.

Rosler has now had a chance to shift his team around slightly and with the additions of James Tavernier, Don Cowie and Manchester City prospect Emyr Huws, the Latics look on course for a positive season.

Single figures: In the 37 games since his Wigan appointment, Uwe Rosler only tasted defeat nine times in 2013/14.

Wolverhampton Wanderers

Last season: First in Sky Bet League 1 - promoted as champions.

More of the same, lads.

That will likely be the order of the day at Molineux this season as Wolverhampton Wanderers prepare for the Sky Bet Championship after a short loan to Sky Bet League 1. Kenny Jackett's men romped to the League 1 title, amassing a record points haul of 103 - the third-best points total in Football League history - and signings have been limited so the former Millwall boss will be focusing on maintaining momentum.

The job Jackett has done so far at Molineux has to be admired after their demise following top-flight relegation in 2012.

Top-scorers: It's no surprise that Wolves netted the most goals in League 1 last term, scoring 89 times.

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