The 2012/2013 season is upon us and as ever, the Championship promises to be one of the most competitive leagues in Europe. The three sides relegated from the top flight will be among the favourites and the sides promoted from League One will look to the likes of Norwich and Southampton as inspiration for back to back promotions.
About 18 of the 24 sides in the division will have eyes on attaining a top six spot while for a select few, survival is the aim of the game from the big kick off. The Championship is the fifth most watched league in Europe, with good reason, and here Footy Matters casts an eye over how we think each team is going to do.
A disastrous 2012 for Keith Hill’s Tykes overshadowed a sterling effort in the first half of 2011/2012. Barnsley didn’t recover from the loss of Ricardo Vaz Te and the manager has also lost out on Manchester United midfielder Oliver Norwood who he was hoping to sign as a replacement for Jacob Butterfield. Hill has been active in the free transfer market, snapping up forwards Mido and Marlon Harewood as well as ‘keeper Ben Alnwick and winger Toni Silva.
Key signing: Marlon Harewood will look to spearhead the Barnsley attack in an attempt to arrest their 2012 form.
Despite a plethora of off=field problems at St Andrew’s last season, Chris Hughton managed to steer his side into the play-offs, where they lost to Blackpool. The manager has moved on, replaced by Lee Clark who has not taken long to mark his stamp on his team. Among the new signings are Darren Ambrose after three good seasons at Palace, experienced midfielder Hayden Mullins and the enigmatic Ravel Morrison on loan. Morrison, along with starlet Nathan Redmond, could provide the Blues with the X-Factor needed in a promotion push.
Key signing: Darren Ambrose; goal scoring attacking player who has netted 37 goals in three seasons with Palace.
After a calamitous 2011/2012 season in the Premier League, Rovers find themselves in the Championship and their fans wondering why manager Steve Kean, already under pressure, was not supported in the transfer market last season the way he has been so far this season. Despite the misfortune of £3 million signing Leon Best breaking a leg, they have the resources and squad to challenge at the top of the table especially with veteran Danny Murphy recruited to pull the strings and Colin Kazim-Richards signed as an attacking option. Should they look to fall short, expect the Venkys, who played a huge part in the chaos at Ewood Park last season, to act quickly with their manager.
Key signing: Danny Murphy; coming off another successful top flight season, Murphy could run games at this level.
After missing out on an immediate return to the top flight, Ian Holloway’s focus was on keeping his squad together to have another crack at promotion. While stalwart Keith Southern has left to join Huddersfield, Tiago Gomes and Isaiah Osbourne have joined to bolster the midfield ranks. Kevin Phillips, top scorer last season, remains a threat for any defence in this division and wide man Matt Phillips is still at Bloomfield Road despite speculation linking him with a move back to the Premier League. A flurry of late transfer activity has seen Holloway add some depth to his squad with a long season ahead, signing three players.
Key signing: Isaiah Osbourne; filling the gap left by Keith Southern will not be easy as Osbourne looks to establish himself in English football after a spell in Scotland.
A final day relegation for Bolton after a significant stay in the top flight, Owen Coyle will be crossing his fingers for improved luck as well as performances for his side this season. Three key players suffered broken legs and Wanderers also went into last season without the goal scoring threat of two of their three main strikers from the previous season.
Coyle, who knows this league well after achieving promotion with Burnley, has again used his close relationship with Arsenal to loan young striker Benik Afobe. The young striker could be instrumental in their quest to return to Premier League at the first time of asking, as could experienced midfielder Keith Andrews. Fabrice Muamba, who suffered cardiac arrest last season, has announced his retirement from professional football.
Key signing: Benik Afobe; pacy and tricky forward will look to follow the steps of Jack Wilshire and Daniel Sturridge in using a loan spell at Bolton as a stepping stone.
Gus Poyet’s side came close to a play-off place at the first time of asking last term, but two lean spells ultimately cost them dear. The search for a striker to add a clinical edge to the side continues, but Brighton have managed to add former England international Wayne Bridge to the ranks, as well as bring back Andrew Crofts from Norwich for his second spell at the club. Backed by Tony Bloom’s fortune, the club are expanding the Amex Stadium and the owner has ambitions of promotion in this coming campaign though a 3-0 defeat to League One Swindon in the League Cup has raised certain alarm bells.
Key signing: Lee Crofts, returning to Albion, will be looking to provide leadership in a side that lacked discipline last season.
A troubled campaign in 2011/2012 ended with City surviving the drop after a late season push. Derek McInnes inherited a side struggling and two powerful runs were key to their escape where they became hard to beat and a threat on the break. However, the Robins lacked spark at times last season and so it is hoped signings like Paul Anderson will add the quality in wide areas to supply their front men. As with a number of Championship sides, McInnes is looking to add a striker to the team before the transfer window shuts.
Key signing: Paul Anderson will be looking to recover from a frustrating season at Nottingham Forest and to reignite his career at Ashton Gate.
Despite the loss of 21 goal striker Jay Rodriguez, Eddie Howe approaches the 2012/2013 season with some optimism after an active transfer summer. Sam Vokes has been signed from Wolves to replace Rodriguez, joining midfielder Brian Stock from relegated Doncaster and Jason Shackell from Derby, who has also been appointed captain. The Clarets have not challenged for the play-offs since their relegation two years ago; a fact Howe will be determined to address this time around.
Key signing: Sam Voakes has impressed in short loan spells but now is the time for the front man to deliver after sealing a permanent move away from Wolves.
An incredibly busy season for Cardiff last time out proved ultimately frustrating as the Bluebirds missed out on promotion and were runners-up in the League Cup. The summer allowed no respite in controversy as the club’s owners changed the team home kit from blue to red as part of a rebranding exercise. On the transfer front, ‘keeper Joe Lewis has arrived as have strikers Heidar Helguson, Etien Velikonja and Craig Bellamy who is sure to lighten up the division.
Key signing: Craig Bellamy; now joined as a permanent recruit, can he be the one to finally get Cardiff over the promotion line?
The Addicks stormed to the League One title last season and given what Norwich and Southampton have accomplished in the last two seasons, will be aiming for the sky again. Chris Powell has patiently crafted an organised side that look to play good football but they may need to show greater versatility this season as they step up a level. The manager’s approach to strengthening his squad has been very much in his own mould; quietly efficient, understated but hungry players eager to prove their worth.
Key signing: Salim Kerkar, an attacking player singed on a free from Rangers, is keen to run at players and carve out opportunities for his teammates.
Palace were as high as third at one point last season, but a lack of fire power meant a 17th placed finish after a long winless run to end the season. Star player Darren Ambrose, starlets Nathanial Clyne and Sean Scannell as well as the experienced Anthony Gardner have all left the club with signings proving somewhat harder to come by.
However, Aaron Wilbraham has arrived from Norwich and Joel Ward from Portsmouth which could both prove to be astute signings to compliment a string of youngsters looking to break into the first team. Premier League clubs are watching Wilfred Zaha’s progress but Dougie Freedman will be desperate to retain the tricky winger.
Key signing: Joel Ward was signed in the face of stiff competition from other Championship clubs and the full back will need to hit the ground running as Palace rebuild around him.
The Rams have made gradual progress under Nigel Clough and some astute summer signings could see Derby inch closer to the top six. While they lost Jason Shackell, Clough has added Richard Keough, Paul Coutts and Michael Jacobs to the ranks. While they are likely to remain competitive, a lack of goals will be an on-going concern for the manager as they seek to improve upon last season’s midtable finish. Theo Robinson hit 13 goals in an injury hit season and the focus will be on him again to lead the Derby charge until Clough can add to his squad.
Key signing: Michael Jacobs, a left winger signed from Northampton Town, known for his delivery and his desire to shoot, could excite the Pride Park faithful this term.
Tags: Barnsley, Birmingham City, blackburn, Bolton Wanderers, Brighton & Hove Albion, Bristol City, Cardiff City, Championship, Charlton Athletic, Crystal Palace, Derby County, Malky Mackay