Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Championship Preview


Barnsley

Keith Hill did a tremendous job in 2011/12 to keep Barnsley in the division despite working with one of the smallest budgets. Barnsley's recruitment for the coming season is a little bit more ambitious with Hill picking up players released by Premier league clubs and the signing of ex-Middlesbrough and West Ham lardarse Mido. It's hard to see anything other than another season of struggle for the Tykes especially given the loss of Jacob Butterfield to Norwich City at the end of his contract. Butterfield was the most talented kid to come through Barnsley's academy in years. Keith Hill is a really likeable guy who's worked his way up into the Championship and I'd love to see him succeed again but it's doubtful.

IN: Lee Collins (Port Vale), Kelvin Etuhu (Portsmouth), Jacob Mellis, Mido (Zamalek [EGY]), Ben Alnwick (Spurs), Toni Silva (Liverpool), Tomasz Cywka (Reading)

KEY OUTS: Jacob Butterfield (Norwich)

PREDICTION: 24th

Birmingham City

It hasn't been the summer of turmoil some feared at St. Andrews with the financial implosion either an overblown rumour or an accident still waiting to happen. Birmingham lost their talented manager Chris Hughton to Norwich which was a major blow after he worked miracles last season leading the Blues to the Championship play-off semi-finals. The appointment of Lee Clark looks a very shrewd move though. Clark was one of the free agents on the market after being fired by Huddersfield last season despite the club sitting in the top 6 in League One and having lost only a handful of games in the prior 18 months.

Goalkeeper Ben Foster, who made his loan move to West Brom permanent, and Jordan Mutch have been the only departures from Birmingham this summer so far and Clark has made several excellent signings, making good use of the loan and free market. He also picked up Darren Ambrose for a song as the goalscoring midfielder had only a year left on his contract at Crystal Palace. Birmingham are working with a relatively small squad and still have one or two players such as Curtis Davies, Jack Butland and Nathan Redmond who may attract interest from the Premier League before the end of the summer transfer window which would make repeating last season heroics unlikely.

IN: Peter Lovenkrands (Newcastle), David Lucas (Rochdale), Hayden Mullins (Portsmouth), Darren Ambrose (Palace), Ravel Morrison (West Ham loan), Ben Gordon (Chelsea loan), Alan Maybury (St. Johnstone)

KEY OUTS: Jordon Mutch (Cardiff), Ben Foster (WBA)

PREDICTION: 13th

Blackburn Rovers

Who could possibly predict Blackburn Rovers season? They were relegated from the Premier league last season after 18 months of turmoil with supporter unrest towards the clubs Indian owners and manager Steve Kean at the heart of the problem. Kean inherited a good squad from Sam Allardyce and spent a fair amount of money but barring one or two impressive results, failed to get anything out of the talented players at his disposal. In his defence, while he spent good money on first team players, the squad eroded in terms of depth of quality and so Kean was forced to blood a number of young players last season, particularly in defence.

Kean's recruitment this summer looks terrific on paper. Midfield schemer Danny Murphy is a terrific signing as is his ex-Fulham team mate Dickson Etuhu who'll bring real strength to their midfield. Signings like these and powerful striker Leon Best (who will unfortunately miss 6 months of the season) suggest that Kean knows what it will take to get out of the Championship. His other signings are a mixed bag but former Portugal international Nuno Gomes could set the division alight. He and the lesser known Portuguese signings join an eclectic squad and while the likes of Vukcevic, Formica and Rochina have talent, they struggled to cope with the physical element of the premier league so may find it impossible to impose themselves on the Championship.

IN: Danny Murphy (Fulham), Leon Best (Newcastle), Nuno Gomes (Braga [POR]), Fabio Nunes (Portimonese [POR]), Paulo Jorge (Porto [POR]), Edon "Edinho" Junior (Olhanense [POR]), Dickson Etuhu (Fulham), Colin Kazim-Richards (Galatasaray [TUR] loan)

KEY OUTS: Yakubu (Guangzhou Fuli [CHI]), Junior Hoilett (QPR), Vincenzo Grella (Released), Miguel Salgado (Released)

PREDICTION: 2nd

Blackpool

Blackpool is another side whose season is tough to predict. Ian Holloway is their wildcard. He got a very ordinary looking squad of journeymen players promoted to the Premier league, almost kept them up and then, following the departure of Charlie Adam last summer, led them to the play-off final. Their recruitment also looks ordinary and they haven't really lost anyone of real importance given that Lua Lua was used mainly as a substitute last season and Keith Southern spent most of the season fighting cancer. They have a couple of real talents in wingers Matt Phillips and Tom Ince plus the evergreen Kevin Phillips up front and a bunch of players who know how to win games at this level. When you add in Holloway's ability to get an extra 25% out of anything in an orange shirt, hence the number of tango-men going on stag do's in Blackpool at the moment, it'd take a fool to write them off.

IN: Jake Caprice (Palace), Isaiah Osbourne (Hibs), Tiago Gomes (Hercules [SPA]), Scott Robertson (Dundee U)

KEY OUTS: Lomana LuaLua (Karabukspor [TUR]), Keith Southern (Huddersfield)

PREDICTION: 7th

Bolton Wanderers

Owen Coyle's Bolton probably weren't fancied by too many people to slip out of the Premier League but they never really got going and despite the talent in the squad they never really picked up the form you thought they might be capable of. It was felt that the trauma of Fabrice Muamba's collapse at White Hart Lane might have fired up the united Bolton squad but instead they were drained of energy and emotion and after 11 years, they slid out of the "Barclays Premier League". Despite the loss of a number of big-name players, Bolton have plenty of talented players remaining such as the marvelous Chung-Yong Lee, Stuart Holden and Martin Petrov, players who know how to get out of the Championship like Sam Ricketts, Darren Pratley and Chris Eagles and plenty of physical presence from the likes of Zat Knight, David Wheater and Kevin Davies.

Their recruitment looks pretty impressive too with Matt Mills and Keith Andrews having had impressive spells in the Championship in the past (though Mills disappointed big style at Leicester last season) and promising young forwards Gregg Wylde and Benik Afobe. Bolton's weakest point appears to be in goal with the erratic Adam Bogdan backed up by their butter-fingered signing from Leeds United, Andy Lonergan.

IN: Gregg Wylde (Rangers), Keith Andrews (WBA), Matt Mills (Leicester), Joe McKee (Burnley), Andy Lonergan (Leeds), Benik Afobe (Arsenal loan)

KEY OUTS: Nigel Reo-Coker (Released), Ivan Klasnic (Released), Jussi Jaaskelainen (West Ham), Ricardo Gardner (Released), Gretar Steinsson (Released), Paul Robinson (Released), Sean Davis (Released)

PREDICTION: 1st

Brighton & Hove Albion

Brighton enjoyed a good season back in the Championship last season under the management of Gus Poyet. They play a good brand of football and press from the front when they don't have the ball. Last summer’s surprise signing Vicente has committed himself to the club for another season and has been joined by an ex-Valencia team mate in full-back Bruno (Saltor). Bruno played for Valencia in the Champions League last season and brings extensive experience with him from Spain. The signing of goalkeeper Tomasz Kuszczak from Manchester United and ex-England left-back Wayne Bridge on a season long loan from Manchester City are impressive pieces of business. Andrew Crofts has returned to the club from Norwich and he'll bring composure to the midfield.

Brighton have shown they are ambitious in the transfer market and have not courted interest in the likes of Craig Mackail-Smith and Lewis Dunk. They now have a squad that is balanced in terms of experience which may have let them down at times last season.

IN: Tomasz Kuszczak (Man Utd), Bruno Saltor (Valencia [SPA]), Wayne Bridge (Man City loan), Charlie Oatway Jr., Andrew Crofts (Norwich)

KEY OUTS: None

PREDICTION: 4th

Bristol City

Derek McInnes took over last season but failed to turnaround their poor form. They've let a lot go of a lot of fringe players in the summer but haven't excited the fans with their signings so far. They found Jody Morris working the morning shift at a little chef just outside of Perth in Scotland, rescued Greg Cunningham from his career as a full-time loanee and signed Paul Anderson whose career has gone off the boil of late. Anderson will be a fine signing if he can recapture the form he previously showed in loan spells at Swansea and Forest while Tom Heaton should be an upgrade on a well past his calamitous best David James. City struggled to score goals even before they lost Nicky Maynard to West Ham last season so unless they fill that void, they'll be in big trouble.

IN: Jody Morris (St. Johnstone), Greg Cunningham (Man City), Paul Anderson (Forest), Tom Heaton (Cardiff)

KEY OUTS: David James (Released)

PREDICTION: 23rd

Burnley

The Clarets were on of the most inconsistent teams in the division last season following clumps of good results with larger clumps of poor ones. They've trimmed a squad that wasn't particularly big to start with and have sold their prized asset, striker Jay Rodriquez, to Southampton. Eddie Howe doesn't appear to have been given a great deal of the Rodriquez money to re-invest but has made several decent signings in defender Jason Shackell, tidy midfield player Brian Stock and Wales striker Sam Vokes. Vokes is a promising young forward but may feel the pressure of having large boots to fill. Burnley will need Vokes and Charlie Austin to have exceptional seasons to make any impression on the Championship and will have to rely on good fortune unless they significantly bolster a thin squad.

IN: Luke O'Neill (Mansfield), George Porter (Orient Compensation), Jason Shackell (Derby), Joseph Mills (Reading loan), Sam Vokes (Wolves), Brian Stock (Doncaster)

KEY OUTS: Jay Rodriguez (Southampton), Andre Amougou (Released)

PREDICTION: 17th

Cardiff City

The Redbirds made one of the most controversial moves of the summer when they sold their history down the river and signed a deal with the Malaysian devil. It's a shame that the rebranding issue has over-shadowed the job that Malky Mackay did at Cardiff last season as he took over a squad shorn of talent who'd either returned to their parent clubs following loan spells or left through freedom of contract. Mackay re-built the squad without spending a lot of money and brought through several promising players from the club's youth academy. A pretty quiet summer transfer-wise exploded in the past couple of weeks with Mackay making two excellent additions in Icelandic striker Heidar Helguson, a proven Championship goalscorer, and football's angriest dwarf, Craig Bellamy. Mackay may still face his biggest challenge this summer by holding on to Peter Whittingham but if he can, they look sure to be involved in the promotion race again and should benefit from the playing staff being familiar for the first time in a while.

IN: Joe Lewis (Peterbro), Jordon Mutch (Birmingham), Etien Velikonja (Maribor [SVK]), Heidar Helguson (QPR), Craig Bellamy (Liverpool)

KEY OUTS: Kenny Miller (Vancouver Whitecaps [CAN]), Anthony Gerrard (Huddersfield), Tom Heaton (Bristol C), Lee Naylor (Released)

PREDICTION: 5th

Charlton Athletic

It's been a quiet summer for Addicks boss Chris Powell who signed nearly 20 players at the same time last year. The League One champions have a squad of talented players but don't have too many who've exceled in the Championship and will face a tough battle to stay in the division. They should have momentum early on and have a few seasoned pros like Leon Cort and Johnnie Jackson to lean on when times get tough. I think they'll survive but only just.

IN: Jordan Cook (Sunderland), Lawrie Wilson (Stevenage), Salim Kerkar (Rangers)

KEY OUTS: Gary Doherty (Wycombe)

PREDICTION: 21st

Crystal Palace

It could be a difficult season for Palace who enjoyed a stress-free ending to the 2011/12 season under Dougie Freedman. It was their first for a while. Freedman has expertly guided a young squad showing maturity far beyond his years as he did as a player. He'll have to perform above himself again this season as Palace have lost four good players in hot young right-back Nathaniel Clyne, Darren Ambrose, lanky one cap wonder Anthony Gardner and winger Sean Scannell. Scannell hasn't lived up to his promise in the game but still has all the physical attributes to make it big. Peter Ramage is a gnarly old centre half who'll do well and Joel Ward showed promise at times in a sinking Pompey outfit. It seems unlikely that Aaron Wilbraham will improve their attack though. He's a hard working guy but he's not a difference maker. Palace is another side whose squad looks small this season and may rely on "emergency" loans for depth.

IN: Joel Ward (Portsmouth), Aaron Martin (Southampton Loan), Aaron Wilbraham (Norwich), Peter Ramage (QPR)

KEY OUTS: Anthony Gardner (Sheff Weds), Sean Scannell (Huddersfield), Darren Ambrose (Birmingham), Nathaniel Clyne (Southampton)

PREDICTION: 16th

Derby County

I admire the way Derby County is run under Nigel Clough. They spend wisely, invest in young players and don’t allow older players to block the development of their own products. They’ve improved year on year and have a nice blend of youth products and shrewd acquisitions. That will be tested this season. Chris Maguire is no-loss, he failed to deliver after his signing from Aberdeen, but Jason Shackell and Paul Green could really be missed. Also worrying for the Derby fans is the seemingly imminent departure of Steven Davies. On the plus side, Clough has signed Northampton's classy young midfielder Michael Jacobs, tough tackling Preston midfielder Paul Coutts, centre-half Richard Keogh and Doncaster's attacking right-back James O'Connor. Their squad was looking a little thin but Clough has done a decent rebuilding job while staying true to his philosophy. The Rams are unlikely to mount a promotion bid but should be too good to fall into a relegation battle too.

IN: Michael Jacobs (Northampton), Paul Coutts (Preston), Richard Keogh (Coventry), James O'Connor (Doncaster), Michael Hoganson (Newcastle)

KEY OUTS: Paul Green (Leeds), Chris Maguire (Sheff Weds), Jason Shackell (Burnley), Callum Ball (Coventry loan)

PREDICTION: 14th

Huddersfield Town

Manager Simon Grayson has made a statement of intent following Huddersfield’s return to the second tier after an 11 year absence. Grayson cleared the decks following their League One play-off final win and allowed some older players such as Tommy Miller, Danny Cadamarteri and Gary Naysmith to move on. He took Crystal Palace striker Sean Scannell, once linked with multi-million pound moves to Spurs and West Ham, for just £400,000. Scannell has lost his way a little in the past couple of seasons but is still a young, dynamic player who has excellent dribbling ability and an eye for goal. He could be the steal of the summer window. They've strengthened the midfield significantly the signings of Manchester United midfielder Oliver Norwood, who impressed on loan at Coventry last season, Keith Southern and Adam Clayton from Leeds United. Grayson's defensive signings are equally impressive. Anthony Gerrard could form a formidable partnership with skipper Peter Clarke while Joel Lynch had an excellent season in a struggling Forest side last year. The difference between Huddersfield merely staying up comfortably and muscling in on the fight for a play-off place will depend on whether they hold on to Jordan Rhodes. Blackburn and Fulham are amongst his admirers.

IN: Sean Scannell (Palace), Paul Dixon (Dundee U), Oliver Norwood (Man Utd), Adam Clayton (Leeds), Joel Lynch (Forest), Keith Southern (Blackpool), Anthony Gerrard (Cardiff)

KEY OUTS: Gary Roberts (Swindon), Antony Kay (MK Dons)

PREDICTION: 11th

Hull City

The Tigers have spent July recovering from 6 weeks of self-inflicted woe. Nick Barmby’s plan to transform City into the Barcelona of Yorkshire was ripped up and replaced with the Steve Bruce plan. That seems to be a return to playing with two up front, one of whom is a big lad, and having proper wingers who supply the ammunition. This plan will appeal to the supporters who didn’t enjoy the dominant but low-scoring performances under Barmby (and originally Pearson). Bruce has recruited well and quickly identified the gaps in the Tigers squad. Perhaps most importantly though the club has held on to some of the coveted young players like Cameron Stewart and James Chester while Robert Koren rejected the overtures of his former manager to sign a two year contract.

It’s easy to forget given the upheaval that Hull City finished 8th in the Championship last season. Under Barmby, progress seemed inevitable. Under Bruce, it’s a tad more questionable. The squad is better but so are plenty of others. In a Championship that looks more competitive than ever, you have to move forward just to stand still.

IN: Ben Amos (Man Utd loan), Eldin Jakupovic (Aris [GRE]), Nick Proschwitz (Paderborn [GER]), Abdoulaye Faye (West Ham), Sone Aluko (Rangers), Alex Bruce (Leeds)

KEY OUTS: Kamel Ghilas (Reims [FRA]), Kevin Kilbane (Coventry), Dele Adebola (Rochdale), Richard Garcia (Released)

PREDICTION: 8th

Ipswich Town

Paul Jewell's side has been quiet this summer. The signing of Scott Loach from Watford was a welcome on for the Tractor Boys who'd tried and failed to sign every second string goalkeeper in the land. If Loach had turned them down, Jewell had the Mounties on standby to search for Craig Forrest. Nottingham Forest's Luke Chambers will also help turnaround an often leaky defence while the loss of Grant Leadbitter and Jimmy "the parasite" Bullard may leave them short of midfield talent but will significantly improve their team spirit. In truth, Jewell needs 4 or 5 signings to make Ipswich competitive and they require fresh young blood, especially as their once prolific academy is no longer churning out stars.

IN: Elliott Hewitt (Macclesfield), Luke Chambers (Forest), Scott Loach (Watford), Massimo Luongo (Spurs loan)

KEY OUTS: Grant Leadbitter (Boro), Jimmy Bullard (Released)

PREDICTION: 20th

Leeds United

Leeds dispensed with manager Simon Grayson last season and brought in Championship promotion specialist Neil Warnock. This one may well be one challenge too far for Warnock who is working on a tight budget. Leeds proposed takeover appears to be on hold at the moment and fans, already unimpressed with Ken Bates, will not have enjoyed seeing Adam Clayton and Robert Snodgrass join the talent exodus from Elland Road in recent seasons. Warnock has signed some good players, raiding hard-up Portsmouth for Jason Pearce and David Norris, signing experienced Norwich left-back Adam Drury and Derby's tidy Ireland international midfielder Paul Green. He's also taken his old mate Paddy "it was on prescription, honest, guv" Kenny who he's signed on 87 previous occasions.

Warnock's latest signing is El Hadji Diouf. Warnock famously labeled Diouf a "sewer rat" after he broke Jamie Mackie's leg during a Blackburn/QPR FA Cup tie. Warnock then suggested that he might have offended sewer rats. Of course, being that morality in top-level football is spelt ********, this hasn't stopped Warnock signing the player. If he thought Fred West could get 20 goals a season, Warnock would sign him too. Diouf had an excellent game for Doncaster at the KC Stadium last season. He'll probably do very well at Elland Road. It's a match made in heaven. Or hell.

IN: Jason Pearce (Portsmouth), Adam Drury (Norwich), Paul Green (Derby), Paddy Kenny (QPR), Andy Gray (Barnsley), Jamie Ashdown (Portsmouth), Luke Varney (Portsmouth), David Norris (Portsmouth), Lee Peltier (Leicester), El Hadji Diouf (Doncaster)

KEY OUTS: Adam Clayton (Huddersfield), Andy Lonergan (Bolton), Robert Snodgrass (Norwich), Andy O'Brien (Vancouver Whitecaps [CAN])

PREDICTION: 10th

Leicester City

Leicester spent last summer shopping like Posh Spice on coke. Sven Goran Eriksson brought big expectations and a massive false dawn. The clubs owners look to have learnt from those mistakes and have since appointed (stolen) Nigel Pearson as manager and he's brought a calmer approach to player recruitment and altered unrealistic expectations. Pearson has rid the club of some of the bigger names and biggest earners, presumably to comply with financial fair play rules, and has made several solid if unspectacular signings. Full-back Richie De Laet and midfielder Matty James have joined Danny Drinkwater in signing from Pearson's favourite department store: Old Trafford. Zak Whitbread is a proven Championship centre half and Pompey's Marko Futacs has been brought in to replace the "Steve Howard option". Fleetwood's Jamie Vardy is Pearson's only expensive gamble so far but knowing how meticulous his scouting team is, he could be a rough diamond. I don't think Leicester have finished shaping their side yet. Pearson has been patient all summer and will pull one or two out of the bag before August 31st I'm sure.

IN: Ritchie De Laet (Man Utd), Matty James (Man Utd), Jamie Vardy (Fleetwood), Marko Futacs (Portsmouth), Zak Whitbread (Norwich)

KEY OUTS: Sol Bamba (Trabzonspor), Matt Mills (Bolton), Lee Peltier (Leeds), John Pantsil (Released), Darius Vassell (Released), Steve Howard (Hartlepool)

PREDICTION: 6th

Middlesbrough

Boro had a good season under Tony Mowbray last time out but fell away after Easter. They have been keen to address the lack of depth in the squad this summer but have had to shop in a different market than the one they've been used too. Mowbray brought midfielder Grant Leadbitter back to the north-east from Ipswich and also rescued Jon Woodgate from the glue factory. His other signings have come from further down the leagues but appear to be well calculated gambles. Emanuel Ledesma is a creative midfield player who didn't have the best of spells at QPR but has recovered his form at Walsall. Mustapha Carayol is an exciting winger who's already trawled the lower divisions despite being only 23. They do know how to develop a winger at Middlesbrough though. In all Boro have a squad that is talented but has few experienced players. They'll hope to have less reliance on Marvin Emnes to score goals because when he went off the boil last season, so did they.

IN: Grant Leadbitter (Ipswich), Stuart Parnaby, Christian Burgess, Jon Woodgate (Stoke), Emanuel Ledesma (Walsall), George Friend (Doncaster), Mustapha Carayol (Bristol R), Jayson Leutwiler (Basle [SWI])

KEY OUTS: Barry Robson (Vancouver Whitecaps [CAN])

PREDICTION: 9th

Millwall

Kenny Jackett has done an excellent job at Millwall in the last 3 years and has kept them up quite comfortably in the last 2 seasons. His ability will be severely tested by a division that looks stronger than ever this time. There are few stars at Millwall as they rely on being a better unit than the sum of its parts. Liam Trotter and James Henry are excellent in their midfield and Darius Henderson enjoyed a career renaissance last season. It's difficult to see them competing above the bottom six though and it will be a tough ask for players to keep playing above themselves.

IN: Maik Taylor (Leeds), Scott Malone (Bournemouth), Karleigh Osborne (Brentford), Danny Shittu (QPR)

KEY OUTS: Scott Barron (Brentford)

PREDICTION: 22nd

Nottingham Forest

It took quite a while for Forest’s summer to kick into gear with the takeover by the Al-Hasawi family finally being completed in mid-July. By that time Forest had already lost McCleary, Chambers and Lynch on free transfers. The new owners wasted no time in sacking Steve Cotterill and appointing Sean O’Driscoll as manager. O’Driscoll is a good coach who was stupidly let go by Doncaster Rovers and helped revitalize Forest last season while assisting Steve Cotterill. With the owners backing, he’s dipped into the transfer market and made some decent additions. Daniel Ayala and Simon Gillet will help Forest play the brand of football O’Driscoll promotes while Simon Cox is a classy goalscorer who would have fit into any team in the division. Given the disruption and the changes in personnel, I think it’s unlikely that Forest will challenge for the play-offs but they should have a much better season than they did last time.

IN: Adlene Guedioura (Wolves), Danny Collins (Stoke), Greg Halford (Portsmouth), Dan Harding (Southampton), Simon Gillett (Doncaster), Daniel Ayala (Norwich loan), Simon Cox (WBA)

KEY OUTS: Garath McCleary (Reading), Luke Chambers (Ipswich), Joel Lynch (Huddersfield), George Boateng (Released), Paul Anderson (Bristol C)

PREDICTION: 12th

Peterborough United

The Posh are a club who seem to be permanently in transition. Darren Ferguson has spent the past 6 months scouring the lower leagues again to find the players who’ll replace Joe Lewis and Ryan Bennett and preparing to replace George Boyd and Paul Taylor when they eventually move on. They’ll always take a chance on a player who is lower down the ladder; thy trust their judgement and they are generally rewarded for doing so. Their attacking philosophy stood them in good stead last season and it should do again. It’s more worthwhile to win some and lose some in the Championship than it is to collect a lot of draws. I admire Peterborough’s bravery and I think they’ll stay up again.

IN: Tyrone Barnett (Crawley), Shaun Brisley (Macclesfield), Nat Knight-Percival (Wrexham), Danny Swanson (Dundee United), Bobby Olejnik (Torquay), Nathaniel Mendez-Laing (Wolves), Michael Bostwick (Stevenage), Jonson Clarke-Harris (Coventry)

KEY OUTS: Joe Lewis (Cardiff), Paul Jones (Crawley)

PREDICTION: 18th

Sheffield Wednesday

Wednesday are back at the level they feel they belong to at the very least. Dispensing with Gary Megson whilst sitting third in League One at the end of February seemed harsh but appointing Dave Jones was a masterstroke and he guided them to automatic promotion without losing a game. They’ve recruited two or three proven Championship players this summer as well as one or two wildcards. Neither Chris Maguire nor Michail Antonio pulled up any trees at Derby or Reading but Antonio did have a successful spell on loan at Hillsborough last season. Gary Madine had an excellent season in League One last season and with better players around him, he should adapt to the next level without any problems.

IN: Chris Kirkland (Wigan), Kieran Lee (Oldham), Joe Mattock (WBA), Anthony Gardner (Palace), Chris Maguire (Derby), Diogo Amado (Uniao Leiria [POR]), Nejc Pecnik (CD Nacional [POR]), Rhys McCabe (Rangers), Michail Antonio (Reading)

KEY OUTS: Clinton Morrison (Colchester)

PREDICTION: 15th

Watford

It’s been a strange summer at Vicarage Road. The club was (eventually) purchased by the Pozzo family who already own Udinese and the Spanish club Granada. Granada was promoted to La Liga in 2010/11 with the help of players loaned from Udinese and the Pozzo family is trying the same trick at Watford. Sean Dyche was harshly dismissed as manager to make way for Gianfranco Zola and he’s overseen the sale of two of the clubs top players. They’ve been replaced by two experienced and, most importantly, free players in Fitz Hall and Manuel Almunia. A squad lacking in depth has been replenished by SIX players signed on loan from, shockingly, Udinese and Granada. And I thought the loan rules in this country were ridiculous before. Watford won’t be helped by the fact that last season’s top goalscorer Troy Deeney will spend the first few months of the season doing porridge. It’s difficult to predict what this Watford squad will achieve but knowing the history in this country of miserly foreign owners trying to do things on the cheap, I’m going for “not very well”.

IN: Fitz Hall (QPR), Manuel Almunia (Arsenal), Almen Abdi (Udinese loan), Matej Vydra (Udinese loan), Steve Leo Beleck (Udinese loan), Daniel Pudil (Granada loan), Ikechi Anya (Granada loan), Alex Geijo (Udinese loan)

KEY OUTS: Adrian Marriapa (Reading), Scott Loach (Ipswich)

PREDICTION: 19th

Wolverhampton Wanderers

Wolves made a complete hash of the Premier League last season and suffered relegation after sacking Mick McCarthy, who’d kept them up twice before, and replacing him with a guy who had les experience of top flight management than your average Football Manager 2012 addict. They’ve corrected that this summer with the appointment of the experienced and well-travelled Stale Solbakken. Wolves have quietly gone about their business this summer and weren’t getting a lot of media attention until recently when they turned down massive bids for Steven Fletcher and Matt Jarvis. Even without those two players, Wolves have a squad of players who’ve excelled at this level before. Their additions are mainly unknown but striker Sigurdarson and midfielder Doumbia both come with good reputations from Norway and France respectively.

IN: Bjorn Sigurdarson (Lillestrom [NOR]), Frank Nouble (West Ham), Jamie Tank (Walsall), Tongo Doumbia (Rennes [FRA] loan), Slawomir Peszko (Cologne [GER] loan)

KEY OUTS: Nathaniel Mendez-Laing (Peterbro), Adlene Guedioura (Forest), Sam Vokes (Burnley), Michael Kightly (Stoke), Jody Craddock (Released)

PREDICTION: 3rd

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