Championship Corner

Saturday, 11 August 2007

Just in case you wondering that we are only bothered about the happenings in the Premiership, this is the first in a series of articles which will look at the Championship. In fact, with the Premiership season revolving largely around the big 4 (sorry Spurs fans) it may be argued that the Championship provides more entertaining viewing as so many of the teams are evenly matched, with any number of 12-15 teams fighting for the top six places in attempt to reach the Holy Grail (by that I mean the Premiership and not Mary Magdalenes fanjita)

The Championship Season 07-08 looks set to be one of the most competitive yet and with the rewards for promotion increasing in monetary value by the year it could well be one of the most enthralling.

I will start by looking at the main contenders for the Championship crown and inevitably, all eyes will be on the 3 teams which have just been relegated from the top flight. So who is likely to join the Big Guns next year?

Watford went down with a whimper as they were found out to be desperately short on quality when it mattered. Their star player, Ashley Young, was sold midway through the season and with their top striker Marlon King out for virtually the whole campaign, their relegation was as guaranteed as Tim Henman bottling it at Wimbledon or Jimmy White losing to Stephen Hendry at the Crucible. However, this season will be a different kettle of fish and in Adrian Boothroyd, they have one of the countries up and coming young managers. Whilst they may not be the prettiest team to watch this season, Boothroyd will have his team fit and organised and hard to beat, essential qualities in this league. You could say that the Hornets will be German-esque, except without the dodgy mullets and porn stars. With most of the squad in tact from last year and a return for Marlon King, the Hornets will be strong contenders, although losing Mr Bouzza to Fulham could prove to be a Hameur blow (snigger snigger). The attacking midfielder-cum striker caught the eye of a few teams in the top flight, following his starring role in Watford’s run to the F.A Cup Final last year, where they eventually succumbed to Manchester United.

After last season’s last day heartbreak, Bryan Robson has been trusted with galvanising Sheffield United into taking the Championship by storm. Robson’s appointment has divided the fans with many thinking he may not be the man to take the club forward. His reign at WBA ended in bitter disappointment with the euphoria of the Great Escape followed by relegation and a failure to convince the fans and chairman alike that he could get the Baggies back into the top flight. Although he previously gained promotion from Middlesborough, his track record has raised questions, with many believing he is simply a chequebook manager. The pressure will be on from the start, though he has signed former Scunthorpe striker Billy Sharp and if he can click with former England man James Beattie they will be a partnership which could potentially cause havoc this year. Add in to the mix Rob Hulse and Jonathan Stead and the Blades should have a real cutting edge this year (Blades….cutting edge….sigh). The sale of inspirational skipper Phil Jagielka will be a big loss although the addition of that snivelling little toe rag Lee Hendrie may provide that extra bit of quality which is essential to win the big games.

Alan Pardew’s Charlton are most people’s tip for the title, although much will hinge on their ability to replace the goals of star striker Darren Bent who has moved to Spurs in a club record deal. Pardew has also recently lost the services of skipper Luke Young. Pardew’s reign at West Ham will stand him in good stead as he attempts to build a side which is capable of getting out of arguably the toughest league in the world. Before his ill-fated departure at West Ham, Pardew’s side played with pace, power and strength and that is the sort of side he will be looking to build at the Valley. Chris Iwleumo has been drafted in along with former MK Dons hot-shot Izale Mcleod in attempt to plug the gap left by Bent. And in Jerome Thomas and Andy “I’m not fat, just big boned” Reid, Pardew has players who have the ability to take this league by storm.

Turning now to the other contenders, and I shall start with West Brom who lost in the multi million play off-final to Billy Davies’ Derby last year. Tony Mowbray’s side were one of the most exciting to watch in the country last year, with over 100 league goals in all competitions. However, their brand of football often left them to susceptible to the strong arm tactics employed by other sides and they were left to settle for a play off place. The departures of top scorer Diomansy Kamara and star midfielder Jason Koumas has left a huge void. The departures of Curtis Davies and Paul Robinson also seem inevitable and have left Mowbray with a huge rebuilding job. The additions of Leon Barnett, attacking midfielder Filipo Texeira and former Celtic front man Craig Beattie have appeased the fans and with more signings to follow, Baggies fans can look forward to another rollercoaster ride as Mowbray aims to be one of the few managers to gain promotion from the Championship playing expansive attacking football.

Mick “I got owned by Roy Keane” McCarthy’s Wolves, who were defeated in the play offs by their bitter rivals, were one of last years surprise packages. McCarthy has built a young side with most signings plucked from the lower leagues to compliment the experience he already has at his disposal. This could not be typified more than by the emergence of Michael Kightly, signed from non-league Grays, whose match-winning performances caused the top Premiership clubs to cast envious glances. The addition of Stuart Elliot and Freddy Eastwood has increased Wolves goal threat and the dog-heads will definitely be front runners this campaign as McCarthy looks to build on last season.

Southampton’s penalty shoot out defeat at the hands of eventual play off winners Derby will have left them deflated and the departure of golden boy Gareth Bale will have done little to help. However, in George Burley, they have one of the Championship’s most respected and knowledgeable managers (well, he did sell Titus Bramble) and he will be expected to produce again this term. A play off spot remains likely but further additions will be necessary in order to maintain a sustained challenge for the top two spots.

On-the-bench’s tip

Champions: Charlton

Runners Up: Wolverhampton Wanderers

Play Offs: Southampton


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