Championship 2011-12 season preview
One of the favourites for relegation, but new manager Hill has bought shrewdly from the lower leagues and will encourage his side to play an attractive, attacking style of football. Plenty of encouraging signs in pre-season, and if they can gel quickly, they should steer clear of trouble.
This summer has seen them lose 15 players and a manager, and their owner charged with money laundering. Depressingly, things could yet get worse. With Carson Yeung’s assets frozen, the fire sale will continue. Even the wise head of Hughton may not be able to avert a Portsmouth-style meltdown.
One wonders if Holloway will be able to create the same siege mentality in the Championship that he did last season. Charlie Adam has gone, but the core of the squad that charmed the Premier League has remained, and Barry Ferguson is a fine, fine signing.
Brighton and Hove Albion
New division, new stadium in Falmer and new star striker in Craig Mackail-Smith equals one of the club’s most eagerly-anticipated seasons in years. Brighton will be one of the most entertaining sides in the division to watch, but probably a season too soon to be discussing them as promotion contenders.
A season of struggle awaits, especially if Leicester manage to prise away star striker Nicky Maynard. Defensive reinforcements are still being sourced, but the feeling is that this is a club standing still whilst others are moving forwards. Still just about good enough to stay up, though.
The decision to sell Tyrone Mears and Chris Eagles has spun cautious optimism into bleak pessimism. The squad looks painfully thin and has a makeshift feel to it. But in Howe, Burnley have one of the country’s best young managers, and he deserves both time and new signings.
Still a class outfit, but the suspicion lingers that they missed their best shot at promotion last season. Their chances rest not on whether they can lure the patchy Craig Bellamy back for another season, but on how quickly new strike pairing Rob Earnshaw and Kenny Miller can settle.
The prospect of Olympic events being held in a League One stadium beckons unless some quality can be injected into the squad. Eight players, including Marlon King, left in the summer without adequately being replaced. Although Thorn sounds fairly upbeat about Coventry’s chances this season, nobody else seems to be.
Finally facing in the right direction after two tumultuous seasons, but progress will be painstaking rather than spectacular. The loss of Neil Danns will be a blow, while question marks remain over the defence. But by and large the squad has remained stable and will mature over the season.
There is a sense that Clough junior is finally beginning to make his mark on the club. A summer of comings and goings has seen some real class brought in – Frankie Fielding, Nathan Tyson and Jason Shackell – and they should be well clear of the dogfight this season.
How long can Sean O’Driscoll carry on working miracles? Last season saw the closest flirtation with the drop yet, and the squad remains severely lacking in Championship quality. Only O’Driscoll’s nous has kept them up so far; this may be the season when he finally jumps ship.
There is huge pressure on Pearson to deliver promotion before the parachute payments run out. But with financial troubles continuing and Jimmy Bullard still proving impossible to shift, Hull remain a club in flux. Far too much talent in this squad to go down – you would think.
Some excellent signings – Lee Bowyer, Michael Chopra, David Stockdale – compensate for the loss of Connor Wickham to Sunderland. The board have backed Jewell with time and money, and if he can sort out Ipswich’s maddening inconsistency and shaky defence, they could well challenge for the top six.
Certainly good enough to make the play-offs at least, but Leeds’s problem will be in stringing a run of results together. Grayson has been unhappy with the team’s performances during pre-season, and in such a strong league, a slow start could prove fatal to their promotion chances.
The division’s big spenders. Matt Mills, Kasper Schmeichel, David Nugent, Paul Konchesky and Michael Johnson have all come in, and Eriksson knows that nothing less than promotion will suffice. With a good mixture of youth and experience and depth in every position, it is well within their grasp.
Could be the surprise package. Mowbray, hired to wield the hatchet and trim the wage bill, now has a far closer squad than he inherited, and with a couple of signings, as well as youngsters like Adam Reach continuing their development, they could mount a spirited challenge.
Wholesale changes in the summer, with two legendary strikers, Stevie Morison and Neil Harris, leaving the club. Darius Henderson is a passable replacement, but still Millwall look as though they may struggle for goals. With the squad having been severely pruned, they look vulnerable.
Having returned from his foreign travels, McClaren has perhaps his toughest task yet: restoring Premier League football to one of the country’s most famous clubs after a gap of 12 years. New signings George Boateng, Jonathan Greening and Andy Reid should add some much-needed experience to an exciting young squad.
Ferguson junior brings a clutch of young talent borrowed or begged from his father, but this is still resolutely a League One squad, arguably more so now Craig Mackail-Smith has moved to Brighton. Young, callow and fragile, it would be a surprise if they even threatened to stay up.
Not quite out of the woods yet, as an abject second half to last season showed. But the straight-talking Cotterill is an underrated manager, and has bought intelligently in Greg Halford and Luke Varney. Defence remains the strength, but yes, if you can believe it, Kanu is still playing.
With captain Matt Mills already gone and top scorer Shane Long poised to follow, it has been a trying summer for last season’s beaten play-off finalists. But plenty of quality remains in the squad, not least exciting young winger Hal Robson-Kanu, even though another promotion challenge is probably beyond them.
With the likes of Alex Chamberlain, Adam Lallana and Rickie Lambert, will not want for attacking options. Jack Cork is also an exciting signing from Chelsea. But they will find the Championship punishes their occasional defensive lapses more harshly. Will beat some superb teams, but also lose to some abject ones.
Grimly hanging on through financial turmoil, the loss of manager Malky Mackay to Cardiff and the division’s top scorer Danny Graham to Swansea. Their respective replacements, Dyche and Chris Iwelumo, will have to hit the ground running. But the spirit remains good, and Watford have long had a scrapping mentality.
West Ham United
It’s all or nothing. Stars have been retained at potentially ruinous cost; more, such as Kevin Nolan, have been recruited; and they start with the most talented squad in the division. But as they found last season, talent without cohesion will still struggle, and on the latter they are yet to convince.