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Match Previews

Sky Bet Championship: Season Preview

6 August 2015

The wait is nearly over - the new Sky Bet Championship season is upon us!

In the next 10 months, a mammoth 552 regular season games, along with five Play-Off matches, will make up what is set to be another thrilling campaign of Championship football.

The @SkyBetChamp season is almost here! Enjoy the excitement, passion & unpredictability with @SkySports#FLKickOff

— The Football League (@football_league) August 5, 2015

The action gets under way this weekend, starting on Friday night with Brighton & Hove Albion hosting Nottingham Forest in the curtain-raiser live on Sky Sports (7.45pm).

The new boys from Sky Bet League 1

The coming season will see Milton Keynes Dons embark on their maiden voyage in the Sky Bet Championship, after they were promoted alongside Bristol City and Preston North End last term.

The Dons spent six years in Sky Bet League 1, but enjoyed last day automatic promotion by seeing off Yeovil Town 5-1.

Karl Robinson has used his worldwide contacts to sign players, bringing in Peru international Cristian Benavente and midfielder Sergio Aguza from Real Madrid's reserve team. It will be interesting to see how those two, and the rest of the Dons team, adapt to the rigours of Championship football.

.@CBBDix: "MK Dons is a really good club - I’m excited to get started."

— MK Dons FC (@MKDonsFC) July 17, 2015

Bristol City's recruitment, meanwhile, has been limited, aside from the capture of striker Jonathan Kodjia from French side Angers SCO, with boss Steve Cotterill looking to maintain the form from last time around, when the Robins rocked to the Sky Bet League 1 title.

One man who has departed Ashton Gate is defender Greg Cunningham, but he'll face Cotterill’s men this term as he has joined Preston North End, who return to the Championship after a four-season absence.

The Lilywhites' key summer acquisition has to be Jermaine Beckford, the man that scored a Play-Off Final treble to guide them back to the second tier. He will renew his strike partnership Joe Garner, and that could be a recipe for success during the coming campaign.

Bouncing back

Burnley, Hull City and Queens Park Rangers have come back into the Championship in the other direction. While Burnley and QPR return after only a single season of Premier League football, Hull are back in the division after two years away.

The Clarets remain under the guidance of Sean Dyche, who led them to the runners-up spot in 2013/14 with 93 points, and the Tigers have also opted for managerial consistency in Steve Bruce - the experienced boss guided Hull to a second-placed finish in 2012/13, amassing 79 points.

Queens Park Rangers, meanwhile, have Chris Ramsey at the helm going into 2015/16, and the well-respected Les Ferdinand as Director of Football. The R’s have captured the know-how of Paul Konchesky – a Championship winner with Leicester City in 2013/14 – as well as some of The Football League’s hottest young property in Massimo Luongo and Ben Gladwin. Look out for them.

Another promotion push, perhaps?

Aitor Karanka led Middlesbrough to the Sky Bet Championship Play-Off Final last time around, but the game against Norwich City at Wembley was all but over after 15 minutes with the Canaries 2-0 up.

Karanka has made one of the division's stand-out summer signings by bringing Stewart Downing back to Teesside, though, and the midfielder has set his sights on returning Boro to the top flight.

“It would be the biggest achievement of my career if I could help us get back into the Premier League,” he said when re-signing for the Riverside club.

Read more: Stewart Downing thrilled with return home to Middlesbrough.

CONFIRMED: Aitor Karanka delighted to capture Stewart Downing.

— Middlesbrough FC (@Boro) July 16, 2015
Keep an eye on the Bees

It's been a pre-season of change at Griffin Park and Marinus Djkhuizen is Brentford’s new head coach under a different approach to the game.

Other new staff members include Dijkhuizen's assistant Roy Hendriksen, Co-Directors of Football Rasmus Ankersen and Phil Giles, Head of Football Philosophy and Player Development Flemming Pedersen, and Head of Football Operations Robert Rowan.

On the playing side, impressive signings include that of midfielder Josh McEachran, who has joined from Chelsea, and defender Andreas Bjelland, who arrived from FC Twente for a reported club record transfer fee.

The departed Mark Warburton guided the Bees to the Play-Off semi-finals last season in what was their first Championship campaign for 21 years, and it'll be interesting to see what the new regime can deliver.

Dugout debuts in the Sky Bet Championship

Four in total. The new managers who will be making their dugout debuts at their respective clubs this season are Carlos Carvalhal (Sheffield Wednesday), Paul Clement (Derby County), Uwe Rosler (Leeds United) and the aforementioned Marinus Dijkhuizen (Brentford).

Clement's story is an interesting one. Having previously coached at high-profile clubs such as Chelsea, PSG and Real Madrid, the 43-year-old felt the time was right to go it alone, and has already set his sights on promotion this season with the Rams.

Read more: A look at the men in the dugout ahead of the 2015/16 Football League campaign.

The race for the division's golden boot

Four of the 10 top-scoring players from last season remain in the Sky Bet Championship heading into the opening weekend of the 2015/16 season.

Daryl Murphy topped the charts last time around with a career-best 27 goals and, upon signing a new deal in the summer, insisted he didn't consider departing Ipswich Town despite interest from elsewhere.

“All summer I have heard the rumours and seen the stories in the papers and I’ve had my family and friends ringing me and asking me what’s going on,” he said when signing fresh terms.

“I kept telling them I wasn’t going anywhere and not to believe everything they read in the papers.”

Read more: Daryl Murphy pleased to end speculation over Ipswich Town future.

All eyes will be on the powerful front man to see if he can replicate that form, while the likes of Jordan Rhodes (Blackburn Rovers), Chris Martin (Derby County) and Ross McCormack (Fulham) will again be aiming to be in the mix for the top-scorer accolade.

Championship young guns in The Football League emerging XI

We asked for your Football League rising stars - but did your pick make our Emerging XI? >>

— The Football League (@football_league) July 27, 2015

In the build-up to the new season, we asked supporters to suggest a squad of talented emerging players in The Football League and, unsurprisingly, a strong contingent will be strutting their stuff in the Sky Bet Championship this term.

Joe Bryan – Bristol City:

Wing-back Bryan is a pivotal part of the Bristol City team and he will be relishing the step up in division. A League 1, Johnstone's Paint Trophy and Football League Young Player of the Month winner, the 21-year-old signed a new long-term deal this summer.

Lewis Cook – Leeds United:

Midfielder Cook, 18, was a key player for Leeds last time around, alongside the likes of Sam Byram, Alex Mowatt and Charlie Taylor. With 37 Championship appearances under his belt, Cook will approach this season with high hopes.

Demarai Gray – Birmingham City:

Despite being just 19, Gray already has two seasons of Championship experience and has featured prominently in the England set-up at Under-18, 19 and 20 level. He's also recently signed a new deal, and will be a pivotal part for the Blues in 2015/16.

Jordan Cousins – Charlton Athletic:

Energetic midfielder Cousins has become vital to the Addicks' squad and was, impressively, named the club's Player of the Season last time around. When we asked for suggestions for the emerging XI, many fans felt Cousins would take it up another level in 2015/16.

Zach Clough – Bolton Wanderers:

He may have only made 10 showings last season but striker Clough hit the ground running by scoring six goals. Bolton boss Neil Lennon has described him as a 'special player' and the youngster has the experience of fellow front man Emile Heskey to help him along in the new campaign.

Read more: Football League emerging XI.

The curtain-raising fixtures

Friday 7th August

Brighton & Hove Albion v Nottingham Forest (TV)

Saturday 8th August

Cardiff City v Fulham
Leeds United v Burnley (TV)
Birmingham City v Reading
Blackburn Rovers v Wolverhampton Wanderers
Bolton Wanderers v Derby County
Brentford v Ipswich Town
Charlton Athletic v Queens Park Rangers
Hull City v Huddersfield Town
Rotherham United v Milton Keynes Dons
Sheffield Wednesday v Bristol City

Sunday 9th August

Preston North End v Middlesbrough (TV)

Don’t miss a thing!

We’ll be providing matchday content and live updates on social media throughout 2015/16 - follow The Football League and the Championship on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

Channel 5 is the new home for The Football League’s weekly highlights show, Football League Tonight. The show will be screened live in a primetime slot of 9pm on every Saturday of the new season, starting this weekend.

Read more: Channel 5's Football League Tonight to broadcast highlights at primetime.

Read more: Sky Bet League 1 preview.

Read more: Sky Bet League 2 preview.

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