Clichés become clichés for a very good reason; the fact that they have a solid grounding in reality and truth. Usually anyway.
Thus, the cliché that the Championship (no marketing for a well-know power supplier here) is the most hotly contested and difficult league to predict has an element of truth to it. However, certain patterns can be deduced.
For example, the last four winners of the league (QPR, Newcastle, Wolves and West Brom) all had a sense of predictability to their victorious campaigns.
On the other hand, their respective fellow promotion winners were often just as much bolt from the blues as the winners were as predictable as death and taxation. Who could have guessed Norwich would storm to second place last year, Blackpool to complete a remarkable season in 2010 with a play-off victory or Stoke and Hull to gain promotion way back in 2008?
At the other end of the spectrum, relegation has more of a pattern to it with one ‘larger’ club usually accompanying the ‘smallest’ team in the league and a financial stricken side into League One. Cases in point, last season (Sheffield United, Scunthorpe and Preston, respectively), 2009-10 (Sheffield Wednesday, Peterborough and Plymouth) and 2007-08 (Leicester, Scunthorpe and Colchester).
All of which gives us only a few guidelines to predicting how this year’s league will turn out.
Favourites for promotion, and rightly so, are West Ham and Leicester (both 11/8 for promotion), the former for keeping the bones of a decent Championship side together after relegation and the latter for their much documented spending spree. West Ham’s fate may rest on how the rest of the transfer window pans out and Leicester’s on how quick Sven Goran Eriksson can get his team to gel.
Elsewhere, other pre-season favourites include Birmingham (7/2), Nottingham Forest (4/1) and Reading (9/2) all of whom are strange choices to be such strong candidates for promotion. Birmingham are in the middle of a rebuilding programme with the added spectre of the Carson Yeung saga, Forest are also in transition but in Steve McClaren they have a drastically underrated manager in this country and Reading have arguably weakened over the Summer with the loss of Matt Mills and will be further hampered should Shane Long leave.
The real play-off challengers lay in the next batch of clubs such as Brighton, Middlesbrough, Southampton (all 9/2), Blackpool, Leeds (5/1) and Ipswich (11/2). The two South-coast clubs are riding high on promotion euphoria, a new ground (Brighton), outstanding managers and lots of financial investment and one of those two would be my choice to possibly sneak a top-two finish. Ipswich, meanwhile, have made astute purchases of veterans (Lee Bower, Ivar Ingimarsson, Michael Chopra and Nathan Ellington) and youngsters (David Stockdale and Jay Emmanuel-Thomas), Blackpool have kept together much of their squad (aside from the big names) and have an astute manager whilst Leeds will benefit from a season’s experience at this level.
At the other end of the spectrum, clubs looking over their shoulders is difficult to call. Perennial favourites for relegation Doncaster and Barnsley (15/8 and 19/10 respectively) could spring a few surprises with Doncaster’s intentions announced with today’s signing of one-time next-big-thing Giles Barnes and Barnsley investing in solid defence cover. Overall Coventry are favourites for the drop (7/4) and perhaps rightly so with just one addition (Joe Murphy) to the squad that capitulated after Christmas least season added to the loss of Marlon King, Kieron Westwood and Aron Gunnarsson over the Summer.
Elsewhere, Watford (13/5), Crystal Palace (9/4) and Peterborough (2/1) are the other teams predicted to struggle this year for financial reasons (Watford and Palace), rookie managers (Watford and Palace) and the curse of the smaller club (Peterborough). That said; don’t rule out two clubs that always seem to come out fighting when their backs are against the wall and a side that scored comfortably over 100 league goals last season.
Mid-table mediocrity is nothing to complain about and for some clubs consolidation may well be the target for the season including Cardiff, Burnley, Portsmouth, Millwall, Bristol City and Hull who are all too good to go down but probably lack the quality to mount a sustained promotion push. That said, a lot depends on who can string together a run of good results and gain confidence from that so no-one can be ruled out.
A final disclaimer, this will all be wrong in nine months time when Peterborough storm to promotion and West Ham get relegated on the final day as that is whole the Championship operates so this has been something of an exercise in futility. Like most predictions really.
Champions: West Ham
Play offs: Brighton, Southampton (winner), Birmingham, Leeds
Dark Horse: Ipswich
Underacheiver: Nottingham Forest
Relegated: Coventry, Crystal Palace and Peterborough (financially stricken club, ‘bigger’ team and ‘smallest’ club in the league pattern in operation)
Top scorer: Shane Long, if he stays at Reading or goes to Leicester and not to a Premier League club(10/1) if not, an injury-free Nicky Maynard (14/1)
Odds courtesy of SkyBet
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