The n-power Football Championship is widely regarded as the most popular and profitable second division in European football. The league’s average attendance on a match day beats many of Europe’s top division attendances. Often considered more competitive than its “Big Brother” – the Premier League, the Championship division charms its fans with its unpredictable nature every season.
10 weeks into English Football’s second division and the league table looks to have taken a definitive shape. The Welshmen from Cardiff lead the pack with 22 points with the Foxes (Leicester City) and Wolves gnawing at their heels. Surprise packages Brighton and Huddersfield find themselves in the play-off spots and the preseason favorites in mid-table. But things change quickly in this division and TheHardTackle looks at top candidates for the automatic and play-off spots after 10 games into the season.
Bolton Wanderers – Poor results see Bolton sitting in the lower half of the table with 5 loses in 10 games. Bolton will consider themselves lucky to hold on to most of their squad post relegation. Kevin Davis and Ngog will be leading the attack backed by a good midfield in Petrov, Andrews, Eagles , Lee and Holden. The defence is much the same with the additions of Warnock (loan) and Alonso. But things are going to be different at the Reebok Stadium post the Owen Coyle era after he was sacked earlier this week. The Coyle factor kept them in the Premiership 2 seasons back and one might consider them unlucky to be relegated last season. A good squad and level heads in Davis and Petrov should take Bolton immediately back into the Premier League.
Leicester City – The Foxes were unlucky not to get prompted over the last 2 seasons after strong starts. Mid-season inconsistencies cost them a play-off spot last season and Leicester will be quite keen to make up for the deficiencies. Morgan, Whitebread, St Ledger and Konchesky form a formidable back four with Kasper Schmeichel in between the sticks. New boy David Nugent has started life in the blue shirt quite well and fans will be hoping he strikes up a good understanding with Beckford when he gets back from his loan spell. The Foxes have a good core to take them to the Premiership and a big midfield signing in January can well make this dream come true. Their Achilles heel could be big spending owners getting impatient and changing things for the worse.
Blackburn Rovers – The Blue and Whites have been on a downfall ever since their take-over by Indian based franchise Venky’s. Their relegation to the Championship division ended their 11-year-old stay in the top flight. Steve Kean after many protests from the fans finally stepped down as manager a few weeks back. However, one cannot disregard the signings he’s made in an attempt to get Blackburn back into the Premiership. The capture of Danny Murphy and Dickson Etuhu in the summer is probably one of the best deals to happen in the division.
Blackburn went one better in sealing a 2-year deal for the Portuguese international striker Nuno-Gomez from Braga. The season did not start brightly which led to Kean’s resignation but recent results have seen Blackburn rise up to 9th position. The onus will be on Venky’s to find the right manager who can lead a well assembled squad into the Premiership.
Cardiff City – Simply based on their brilliant start to the season, Cardiff can be expected to maintain their challenge for the top six spots. Cardiff have been the in-form team of the Championship division for some time now. They have regularly featured in the top six and have made it to two cup finals in the last 4 years. However, luck seems to have deserted Cardiff at the business end of the seasons. In the past they have fallen down from their seemingly untouchable pole position to the play-offs where they never seem to get it right to get to the Premiership. Malky Mackay has made some clever signings in bringing Maynard, Helguson and local boy Bellamy for the striking department and in Wittingham and McPhail and Cowie, he has ample experience in midfield. Fans though will be hoping that this season is finally when they get to their promised land and that Cardiff don’t mess it up when it matters.
Wolverhampton Wanderers – Wolves in their quest to bounce back immediately have started the 2012-2013 campaign quite well sitting pretty in 3rd place. Sylvan Ebanks-Blake has lived up to his reputation as a ‘championship material’ by raking in goals and he’ll be well supported by Björn Bergmann Sigurðarson and Kevin Doyle. The loss of Fletcher, Knightly and Jarvis will hurt Wolves who have otherwise done well to hold on to rest of the squad. New signee Sako and club captain Carl Henry will play a major role in controlling the midfield assisted by Hunt and O’Hara. The defence has remained the same in Johnson, Berra and co. Wolves will be considered serious play-off contenders and can also push for the automatic spots if things do well under new manager Ståle Solbakken.
Birmingham City- English football’s favourite yo-yo club will be looking to clinch a play-off spot after a poor last season amidst high expectations. Last season’s 19th place finish showed a lack of creativity in the attacking front which Lee Clark has hoped to address with the acquisition of Darren Ambrose, Peter Løvenkrands, Leroy Lita(loan) and Hayden Mullins. Birmingham’s biggest loss after last season is their manager Chris Hughton who left for Norwich. Stephen Carr captains the side from the back and will have the company of Spaniard Pablo Ibáñez and Steven Caldwell to keep out goals. Lee Clark’s side have made a bad start to the season that sees them sitting 21st in the league table. However, with the wealth of talent and experience in the squad, expect them to pick themselves up quickly and mount a serious challenge.
Blackpool – The Seasiders’s biggest concern that could potentially dent their promotion aspirations is their ageing attack. 39-year-old Kevin Philips still scores but it will be very harsh on the veteran to handle the burden of seeing Blackpool through to the Premiership. Young loanees Nathan Delfouneso and Eccleston will be looking to gain valuable experience and prove themselves playing alongside Philips but another proven striker could make a stronger Blackpool much stronger. Club captain Barry Ferguson, alongside Tiago Gomes and French duo Grandin and Sylvestre will look to add steel and creativity to the side from middle of the park The Tangerines’s defence will also be boosted by the addition of Scottish centre-back Kirk Broadfoot. Overall, Blackpool fans will be hoping inspirational and sometimes comical manager Ian Holloway can take them back into the top flight.
Leeds United – The side from West Yorkshire underwent a complete squad makeover in the summer under the leadership of Neil Warnock. The promotion king will be expected to wave his magic wand again in getting Leeds promoted after their relegation from the Premiership in 2004. Leeds have made a good start to the campaign against all odds, but it remains to be seen if they can maintain the momentum with a brand new starting eleven.
Others – Steve Bruce’s Tigers (Hull City) and Middlesbrough will be keen to put up a much stronger performance in the Championship after just missing out on the play-off spots last season. Bruce will be hoping the partnership of Jay Simpson and Matty Fryatt continues providing goals assisted by a good midfield. Jonathan Woodgate will look to inspire Boro after rejoining the club and Tony Mowbray will hope he stays fit to do so.
THT’s Prediction for the season –
Champions – Blackburn Rovers
Runner’s up – Leicester City