Johnny Phillips: All ready for rough and tumble of Championship

When it comes to the most competitive of the four divisions in English football, the Championship usually tops the bill.

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 29: Murray Wallace of Millwall  and Jake Livermore of West Bromwich Albion during the Sky Bet Championship match between Millwall and West Bromwich Albion at The Den on January 29, 2022 in London, England. (Photo by Adam Fradgley/West Bromwich Albion FC via Getty Images).
LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 29: Murray Wallace of Millwall and Jake Livermore of West Bromwich Albion during the Sky Bet Championship match between Millwall and West Bromwich Albion at The Den on January 29, 2022 in London, England. (Photo by Adam Fradgley/West Bromwich Albion FC via Getty Images).

The quality may not always be there but there is little to choose between much of the division, which usually sees the entire top half of the table all in with a shout of promotion going into the last month of the season.

More than half the teams in the division will certainly harbour hopes of promotion this time, with the lower reaches of the play-offs within sight of so many clubs.

Starting with the teams coming down from the Premier League, one of the classic yo-yo clubs will certainly be in the mix.

Norwich City have been back and forth under Daniel Farke in recent seasons and with his replacement, Dean Smith, experienced at taking teams up from this level it is hard to look past the Canaries for another push at automatic promotion.

The stability in ownership and playing squad gives Smith an edge of his rivals.

Watford usually keep Norwich company and it is a first test at this level for Rob Edwards after his success at Forest Green Rovers.

Edwards has spent much of pre-season drilling in his possession-based system to the players and he has so much work to do in order restore a sense of purpose and togetherness at Vicarage Road following the upheaval of the dreadful 2021/22 season.

I’d love to see Edwards succeed but a promotion at the first time of asking may be one step too far. The third relegated club, Burnley, could be in a lot of trouble.

The asset-stripping of the defence and the inexperience of new manager Vincent Kompany working against the backdrop of a club laden with debt could lead to a season of real struggle despite being installed as promotion favourites in some quarters.

There is a strong case to be made for Middlesbrough.

Chris Wilder is one of the best managers in the division and he has the players to fit his style, with the arrival of Ryan Giles from Wolves strengthening the wing-back position.

Albion have recruited wisely during the summer, with proven Championship talents John Swift and Jed Wallace giving Steve Bruce more options in attack.

The veteran manager is well-experienced at this level and has a burning desire to prove wrong those who say his time has come and gone.

With Daryl Dike fit again, Bruce should be blessed with strength in attack.

As a real outside bet, I really like the work Russell Martin is putting in at Swansea City despite the results of the latter end of 2021/22.

There were times when his insistence on playing out from the back put the team in real trouble last season. Some might even say it is a naive approach in a division where kick and rush football is often a safer percentage option.

When it works, though, Martin’s side can be so pleasing on the eye.

With Joe Allen back for a Swans song to accompany Matt Grimes, who appears to be staying put in midfield, they could be a decent outside bet for a run at promotion.

Sheffield United clawed their way back from a bad start last season to claim fifth place under Paul Heckingbottom, who only arrived at Bramall Lane last November.

They will be without the considerable talent of Morgan Gibbs-White so will need to look elsewhere for inspiration in attack but there is no reason why Heckingbottom can’t continue the upward trajectory of the latter half of last season.

At the other end of the table, it is easy to look at clubs with poorer resources – such as Wigan Athletic, Rotherham United and Blackpool – and make a case for their struggles, but there will be some relatively big names in trouble that give the weaker clubs a chance.

It will be interesting to see how Jon Dahl Tomasson gets on at Blackburn Rovers but it is hard to see them improving on anything Tony Mowbray achieved.

More likely, the Lancastrians will find the going heavy from day one after a summer of high-profile departures and become embroiled in a relegation scrap under their novice head coach at this level.

Reading took time to pull clear of bother last season and will miss the creative talents of Swift.

The former Wolves promotion-winning midfield of Paul Ince and Alex Rae could find it hard work in the dugout given the lack of support in the transfer market.

Hats off to John Eustace for accepting the poisoned chalice that is the manager’s job at Birmingham City.

His predecessor, Lee Bowyer, worked wonders making Blues competitive against the disruptive backdrop of ongoing ownership issues.

So much uncertainty continues off the pitch and it has been impossible to give Eustace a decent budget to strengthen the squad.

Wolves will hope Dion Sanderson can make some progress in defence, and he will benefit from having John Ruddy in the squad to help guide his development.

With the safety issues at St Andrews which made a mockery of the club’s loyal support last season showing no signs of nearing a satisfactory conclusion, it could be a dispiriting place again this season.

However, there may be a silver lining to the dark clouds at Blues with the emergence of Jude Bellingham’s younger brother, Jobe.

He will sign a professional contract when he turns 17 in September and has been involved with the first-team preparations throughout the summer.

While it would be unfair to pin any hopes on a raw teenager, it will be fascinating to see how he develops over the coming season.

Top Stories

More from the Shropshire Star

UK & International News