English Football Championship Preview

The Championship is notoriously difficult to forecast – did anyone really think Cardiff City would secure automatic promotion or that Reading would be involved in a relegation dogfight 12 months ago?

West Brom and Stoke City are among the favourites to bounce straight back to the Premier League but of the 30 clubs that have been relegated from the top-flight in the last decade only nine have managed it.

However, the Baggies, 4.00 to clinch a Top 2 Finish, have the look of a side that could challenge for an immediate return while Stoke, despite losing Xherdan Shaqiri, have a fine manager in Gary Rowett and a squad that is good enough to be there or thereabouts in the final reckoning.

Of the teams that were relegated from the Premier League in 2016/17, Sunderland contrived to go down to League One 12 months later and Hull City only narrowly survived the drop. Middlesbrough did at least make the play-offs but Tony Pulis’ side could not then get past Aston Villa.

Pulis’ Boro boys looking good

Boro appear to be strong again this season and with Pulis at the helm at the start of the campaign they could challenge for a top-two spot at 5.50 although it would not be a surprise to see them face another shot at the play-offs.

Villa appeared to be staring into the financial abyss when they were beaten by Fulham in the play-off final but new investors have arrived and Steve Bruce’s team should be challenging at the top of the table again. They are available at 9.00 to secure a Top 2 Finish.

Forest could be fantastic

Some of the most eye-catching summer transfers have been made by Nottingham Forest with Aitor Karanka enticing Joao Carvalho, Tobias Figueirerdo, Lewis Grabban and Jack Colback to The City Ground.

It is almost two decades since Forest slipped out of the Premier League and it will be a big ask for Karanka to turn a team that finished 17th last term into promotion contenders, with them 2.25 to finish in the top six.

Of the relegated sides Swansea City appear to be the weakest with new boss Graham Potter failing to make any big-name signings and losing Lukasz Fabianski, Ki Sung-yueng and Kyle Bartley. It could be a long season for the Swans.

Derby County, who stumbled in the closing weeks of the 2017/18 campaign and were eventually beaten by Fulham in the play-offs, have a new manager in Frank Lampard but essentially the same group of players. It could be the play-offs again for the Rams who have not tasted Premier League football since the disastrous 2007/08 season when they won only one of their 38 matches. They are 2.80 to seal a Top 6 Finish.

Can Bielsa bring glory back to Leeds?

Leeds United’s decision to appoint Marcelo Bielsa as their new manager could prove to be a masterstroke or an unmitigated disaster.

The 63-year-old was brilliant when he managed Chile and for a season at Athletic Bilbao but some of his more recent work has been less well-received. Leeds’ pre-season results have been poor and the Elland Road faithful may have to wait a while longer before being able to see top-flight football again.

Norwich City were mired in mid-table last season and that looks set to be their fate again this time, unless they can find a prolific striker – particularly as last season’s top scorer James Maddison has moved to Leicester City.

Former Canaries boss Alex Neil produced wonders at Preston during the 2017-18 campaign and a team that often goes under the radar only just missed out on the play-offs. There have been few changes at Deepdale over the summer so a top-six spot at 4.75 may not be asking too much of the Lilywhites.

Brentford have over-achieved recently despite selling many of their best players in the last couple of years and they may struggle this season with relegation a real possibility. Dean Smith’s side need to get off to a good start if they are to stay out of trouble.

Sheffield United’s 2017/18 campaign petered out after they had made a great start following their promotion from League One and they briefly led the table in the autumn before fading. Another mid-table finish appears the most likely scenario for the Blades.

Bristol City may struggle after selling Aden Flint and Bobby Reid while the lack of transfer activity at Hillsborough suggests Sheffield Wednesday are another who could face an uphill battle trying to steer clear of a relegation battle.

Be careful what you wish for Ipswich

Ipswich Town may live to regret their decision to part company with Mick McCarthy as their squad looks short on quality. There is the stench of stagnation at Portman Road and they could slip into the third tier of English football this term, with them 10.00 to finish bottom.

Of the promoted teams Wigan Athletic and Blackburn Rovers are strong enough to survive in the higher company but Rotherham United, 4.75 to finish bottom, could be heading back to League One. Paul Warne performed a miracle by reviving a pitiful Millers squad that lost 33 Championship matches in the disastrous 2016/17 season.

Promotion from League One last term was a surprise but, with few new faces this summer, it is difficult to see how Rotherham can avoid the drop.

Reading should improve on last term’s 20th-placed finish while Steve McClaren will be able to steer a young QPR squad away from trouble, despite a number of off field issues.

Millwall were expected to be relegation candidates last season but almost made into the play-offs after an excellent second half to the campaign. It may be harder to stay up this time though and they are 19.00 to finish bottom.

Splits at Hull could cause harm

Hull City continue to be a club riddled by division with fans unhappy with the Allams’ running of things at the KCOM. With the parachute money from the Premier League now drawing to an end, the Tigers may find it difficult to stay out of the bottom three.

Bolton Wanderers did brilliantly to get out of the relegation zone on the final day of last season but, with little money to spend, Phil Parkinson’s squad looks set for another nine months of battling to stay up. They may not achieve their objective.

Birmingham City have flirted with the drop for the last two years and their luck may run out this season with the Blues possibly playing in League One next year for the first time since 2002. They can be backed at 19.00 to finish bottom in what looks set to be a real scrap at the foot of the table.