With three games gone (at time of writing), there have already been a few shock results in the Championship and there will be plenty more to come. It’s a league known for it’s unpredictability and excitement, and here we take a quick look at some of the teams aiming for a lucrative place in the Premier League next year.
Relegation came as a big disappointment for Canaries fans last season. The club was aiming to become an established Premier League side but a lack of fire-power meant they could only finish a dismal 18th. In the transfer window, they have strengthened their attack by signing Kyle Lafferty and Cameron Jerome from Palermo and Stoke respectively. The pair should have enough quality to score regularly and ensure Norwich aren’t waiting long for another crack in the top flight.
This will be Neil Adams’ first venture into management, but after a baptism of fire at the end of last season, he is beginning to find his feet in his new role. Convincing wins over Watford and Blackburn should be enough to settle any nerves and Norwich should be right in the mix at the end of the season.
With the money available to Cardiff, promotion should seemingly be a foregone conclusion; especially to owner Vincent Tan. There is a lot of pressure on Ole Gunnar Solksjaer to hit the ground running and anything less than automatic promotion will be seen as a disappointment to the Welsh club. They may have let key players Gary Medel, Steven Caulker and Jordan Mutch leave during the summer but on paper should still have the quality needed to bounce straight back to the top tier.
Much will be riding on midfielder Aron Gunnarsson who has become a strong figure for the Bluebirds since joining in 2011. Performances have been steady if unspectacular so far. A scrappy point away to Blackburn and a fortuitous win over Wigan will placate the fans for now, but better is required if they are to bounce back to the Premier League.
There’s a lot of optimism around City Ground at the moment. Many fans feel they have a real chance of promotion, and with club legend Stuart Pearce in charge there is plenty of momentum in the squad. There were small causes for concern however, when it was announced that talented youngsters Karl Darlow and Jamaal Lascelles were being sold to Newcastle United, but the pair will spend this season on loan at Forest before making the move permanent next year.
On the credit side record new £5.5m signing Britt Assombalonga has scored three in three games so far, the Forrest faithful will hope he can keep this impressive strike rate up. Overall things are looking up, Stuart Pearce has them playing attractive attacking football, they are is a well balanced side, and, while there’s still a long way to go, they are shaping up to be serious promotion contenders.
It’s been a sad decline for the Cottagers in recent years. Felix Magath was unable to sort out the mess when he took over toward the end of last season, and has overseen a major rebuilding of the squad this summer. Over 15 first team players have been sold, replaced by younger, more promising players. Patrick Roberts, Moussa Dembele and Cameron Burgess made their professional debuts in the first game of the season, and have been retained in the side in the proceeding games. It’s a brave tactic that has not yet paid off for Magath.
Although they have lost each of their three games, they can at least take some solace in their strong performances which have not been reflected in their points tally. It’s going to take time for the squad to gel and for the younger players to grow. Until then, older players like Scott Parker and £11m striker Ross McCormack need to lead the way and ease the burden on the youngsters. While it looks like this season may prove too tough for Fulham, better days may lay ahead in the long term.
With a little bit more luck, we would be reading about Queens Park Rangers in this article instead of Derby. They bossed most of the Play-off Final in May only to be beaten by a last minute goal, and the Rams will be doing everything they can to prevent that happening again. They should feel pretty confident too. In Steve McLaren they have arguably the best manager in the league as well as a good mix of youth and experience in the side.
Lee Grant is underrated in goal, and with Jamie Ward and Johnny Russell up front there will be no shortage of goals. Jeff Kendrick is developing into a very good player in central midfield too, and will be key to Derby’s success. It’s been a slow start so far, tricky fixtures have seen Derby only pick up four points but they will be a very tough side to beat once they hit their stride.
With the brilliant unpredictability of the league, there are also a few other names that shouldn’t be ignored. Mick McCarthy is building a very good Ipswich side which will be aiming for the play-offs this campaign. The fitness of striker David McGoldrick will be key to their chances, his injury in February last season effectively ended their promotion hopes.
Watford will rely on keeping hold of in-demand forward Troy Deeney. He has bagged 43 goals in the past two seasons in the Championship and Premier League clubs are interested. Wigan will need to start winning games urgently if they are to be in with a shout this year. They’ve started poorly but they have a talented side, and manager Uwe Rosler is highly regarded.
We’re set for another fascinating and nail-biting year in the Championship. Every year brings it’s own drama and this year promises to be no different. In a league that always throws up some surprises, who knows what’s in store for this campaign.
Jason Coulter, Pundit Arena.