Championship reporters’ tips for new season

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The Championship season gets underway on Friday when Brighton host Nottingham Forest.

BIRMINGHAM CITY (by Brian Dick, Birmingham Mail)

Blues have enjoyed a decent summer, their recruitment has been good without nailing every one of their first choice targets.

Tomasz Kuszczak is a big upgrade in the goalkeeping department and holding on to Demarai Gray has been massive.

They’ve a smaller squad than last year, though, so the onus will be on keeping everyone fit.

If they can pick their first XI as often as possible they have a great chance of equalling or even going better than last year’s tenth. If not, it’ll be mid-table.

Key player: Demarai Gray - Premier League class in the Championship and looking much stronger physically.

Promotion: Burnley, Middlesbrough, Hull.

Relegation: MK Dons, Preston, Rotherham.

Did you know: Last season Gary Rowett oversaw the biggest improvement of league position of any of the Championship’s new managers, 13 places from 23rd to 10th.

BLACKBURN ROVERS (by Paul Wheelock, Lancashire Telegraph)

It’s difficult to answer about Blackburn’s prospects until the transfer window closes. Sell Jordan Rhodes and that’s 40 goals lost, following the departure of Rudy Gestede, but it would lead to the club’s embargo being lifted, allowing Gary Bowyer to do what he does, bringing in quality players for small fees.

Either way it is going to be a testing season. But, while I do not see Rovers becoming embroiled in a relegation fight, a top-six place may be beyond them.

Key player: Craig Conway. Vibrant and never-say-die winger is Rovers’ main creator of goals.

Promotion: Derby County, Middlesbrough, Wolves.

Relegation: MK Dons, Rotherham United, Bolton Wanderers.

Did you know: Craig Conway is a trained hairdresser who gives trims to a number of his team-mates – with his fees going to charity.

BOLTON WANDERERS (by Marc Iles, Bolton News)

Unless the much-mooted outside investment happens soon, it’s hard to imagine Wanderers having anything other than a season of struggle. If Neil Lennon is given cash to spend, however, there is a solid enough base to build on.

Key player: Ben Amos - former Manchester United keeper excelled on loan last season.

Promotion: Hull, Middlesbrough, Derby.

Relegation: Rotherham, MK Dons, Preston.

Did you know: Bolton hold the record for having played most games in the top flight without winning the league title.

BRENTFORD (by Tom Moore, getwestlondon.co.uk)

It’s been all change at Griffin Park with Mark Warburton leaving the club at the end of last season.

Marinus Dijkhuizen has come in as head coach and a raft of new players have been signed, while none of the star players from last season have left.

Under owner Matthew Benham, Brentford’s seasons have been better than the ones before so it would be no surprise to see them challenging for promotion.

Key player: Andre Gray - Big things are expected of the striker, now in his second season in the Championship.

Promotion: Derby, Middlesbrough, Brentford.

Relegation: Rotherham, MK Dons, Bristol City.

Did you know: Griffin Park no longer has a pub on each corner after the Royal Oak closed.

BRIGHTON (by Andy Naylor, The Argus)

They still have the feel of a Premier League club in waiting off the pitch, less so on it. Chris Hughton knows the division and they will be hard to beat in his first full season but need more attacking flair and goal threat before the window shuts to turn the struggle against relegation back into the top six finishes of the previous two years. Otherwise rare mid-table mediocrity beckons.

Key player: Beram Kayal, classy midfielder.

Promotion: Middlesbrough, Derby, Ipswich.

Relegation: MK Dons, Huddersfield, Bristol City.

Did you know: He doesn’t look it, but Chris Hughton comfortably became the oldest manager appointed by Brighton (56) when he took over on New Year’s Eve.

BRISTOL CITY (by Andy Stockhausen, Bristol Post)

Although a team that became accustomed to winning when claiming a League One title and Johnstone’s Paint Trophy double last season has nothing to fear from the Championship, the size of City’s squad is giving cause for concern.

French striker Jonathan Kodjia – signed from Angers for £2.1m – remains the only new addition and manager Steve Cotterill is under pressure to strengthen a number of key areas before the transfer window closes. Providing City can supplement their squad with some quality additions, they should comfortably hold their own in the English second tier.

Key player: Luke Freeman – the talented former Arsenal youngster is finally realising his potential.

Promotion: Burnley, Middlesbrough, Wolves.

Relegation: Rotherham, Huddersfield, Charlton.

Did you know: City will play in a three-sided stadium next season following the demolition of the grandstand this summer.

BURNLEY (by Chris Boden, Burnley Express)

I’d expect Burnley to be as hard to beat as they were two seasons ago at this level, well-organised, but will they have the same cutting edge without Danny Ings, and Kieran Trippier supplying the ammunition? Marney and Barnes will also be big misses after knee injuries suffered last season. I’d expect to be top six, however.

Key player: Matt Lowton. Trippier will be harder to replace than Ings in my book.

Promotion: Derby, Burnley, Wolves.

Relegation: Bolton, Huddersfield, Rotherham.

Did you know: Only Preston have played at the same ground longer than Burnley, moving to Turf Moor in 1883.

CARDIFF CITY (by Terry Phillips, Media Wales)

Manager Russell Slade is working to win over many fans who don’t see him as the right man for the job. Sammy Ameobi, loan from Newcastle, and defender Semi Ajayi, released by Arsenal, have been added, but City need more midfield quality.

Injuries to Bruno Manga (knee) and Ben Turner (ankle), probably City’s first choice centre-back pairing, are severe blows.

Key player: Peter Whittingham. Remains a class act at Championship level, but needs to find consistency which was missing last season.

Promotion: Derby, Middlesbrough, Burnley.

Relegation: Rotherham, Huddersfield, MK Dons.

Did you know: Cardiff have only one 3pm Championship kick-off in August. Their Saturday fixtures are Fulham (home, noon), QPR (away, 5.15pm), Wolves (home, 5.15pm) and Nottingham Forest (away, 3pm).

CHARLTON ATHLETIC (by Richard Cawley, South London Press)

Charlton can’t match the budgets of many of their rivals and the recruitment drive has consisted of overseas signings. They have talent in the squad – deadly Icelandic winger Johann Berg Gudmundsson is a prime example – but they are reliant on new boys bedding in quickly.

The most high-profile capture is Simon Makienok on a season-long loan from Palermo – a target for Premier League teams before his Serie A move went sour.

Key player: Jordan Cousins. Boundless energy. Drives the Addicks on when they need it most.

Promotion: Derby, Burnley, Ipswich.

Relegation: MK Dons, Rotherham, Preston.

Did you know: Makienok is Charlton’s biggest signing ever – literally. At 6ft 7ins tall he is set to become their tallest player to play a competitive game.

DERBY COUNTY (by Steve Nicholson, Derby Telegraph)

Beaten play-off finalists in 2014 and favourites to go up last season before they crumbled in the run-in, Derby County look strong enough to Challenge again. They have spent around £10m this summer and brought in seven players - Jason Shackell, Darren Bent, Alex Pearce, Scott Carson, Chris Baird, Tom Ince and Andreas Weimann. Many of them, interestingly, have experience of this division and the Premier League, and have won things.

Key player: George Thorne. He was injured virtually all last season and Derby missed his presence as a controlling/holding midfielder.

Promotion: Middlesbrough, Derby, Burnley.

Relegation: Huddersfield Town, Rotherham, MK Dons.

Did you know: New head coach Paul Clement played basketball at a higher level than he played football.

FULHAM (by Paul Warburton, getwestlondon.co.uk)

They stand a better chance than this time last year. How could they not? Felix Magath was a disaster. Kit Symons is far more practical and his signings reflect this. They look fit for purpose and pre-season, he quietly got things rolling along.

I’ll bet a Cottage Pie, they don’t flirt with relegation this time.

Key player: Ross McCormack, 19 goals for a team struggling throughout says it all.

Promotion: Derby, Middlesbrough, Hull.

Relegation: Rotherham, Blackburn, Charlton.

Did you know: There are three Geordies in the squad, Shaun Hutchinson, Ben Pringle and Dan Burn, for the first time in the club’s history. Howay, the Whites!

HUDDERSFIELD TOWN (by Doug Thomson, Huddersfield Examiner)

Town need to tighten up defensively and avoid too may injuries if they are to replicate last season’s bright phases and turn themselves into a genuine top-half team. Chris Powell has some talented players but Town haven’t been consistent enough since returning to the second tier in 2012.

Key player: James Vaughan. He’s a match-winner but he has to stay fit.

Promotion: Derby, Wolves, Burnley.

Relegation: Rotherham, MK Dons, Preston.

Did you know: Town fans still hark back to the glory days of the 1920’s through the song Smile Awhile.

HULL CITY (by Phil Buckingham, Hull Mail)

A summer overhaul has seen ten players leave since relegation from the Premier League and stripped back optimism ahead of the club’s Championship return. There’s no doubting the quality in the squad, or Steve Bruce’s record at taking teams up from this league, but only time will tell how severe the hangover will be.

Key player: Ahmed Elmohamdy, providing he sticks around. The Egyptian winger has not missed a league game for City since January 2013.

Promotion: Derby, Middlesbrough, Burnley.

Relegation: Charlton, Brentford, Rotherham.

Did you know: Hull City were the last of all 92 English clubs to make a signing this summer, recruiting Ryan Taylor and Sam Clucas just 12 days before the new season.

IPSWICH TOWN (by Stuart Watson, East Anglian Daily Times)

Finished sixth last season and, on the face of it, the squad looks slightly stronger. Daryl Murphy, David McGoldrick, Brett Pitman and Freddie Sears is as good a strike force in the division.

Ryan Fraser and Ainsley Maitland-Niles have added some much needed pace to the midfield, while the defence – albeit thin on the ground – is pretty solid. Add a couple more faces and Ipswich should be top-six contenders again. Mick McCarthy factor is key.

Key player: David McGoldrick – Talismanic pre-injuries. Could come back with a bang.

Promotion: Derby, Hull, Ipswich.

Relegation: Huddersfield, Rotherham, Charlton.

Did you know: Mick McCarthy is bidding to become the first manager to win the Championship title with three different clubs (Sunderland and Wolves). He has now lost Championship play-off semi-finals with four different clubs (Millwall, Sunderland, Wolves and Ipswich).

LEEDS UNITED (by Phil Hay, Yorkshire Evening Post)

Add an out-and-out left winger to the side and Leeds, with Chris Wood up front, should be far more dangerous than last season. The play-offs might be asking too much but in a pretty even league I quite fancy them to finish top 10.

Key player: Chris Wood. The first goalscoring centre-forward Leeds have had since selling Luciano Becchio.

Promotion: Derby, Burnley, Middlesbrough.

Relegation: Sheffield Wednesday, Huddersfield Town, Rotherham United.

Did you know: Manager Uwe Rosler was once interrogated by the East German Stasi.

MIDDLESBROUGH (by Philip Tallentire, Teesside Gazette)

Boro should be strong contenders for automatic promotion. The addition of Stewart Downing from West Ham and Espanyol’s Uruguay international Christian Stuani adds attacking nous to a rock-solid defence with the prospect of further signings to come.

Losing the play-off final at Wembley in May has only stiffened chairman Steve Gibson’s resolve to escape the Championship this time around. Aitor Karanka blamed a lack of goals for missing out on the top two and he’s addressing that weakness.

Key player: Stewart Downing. Will bring Premier League creativity and goals to a strong team.

Promotion: Middlesbrough, Derby, Wolves (play-offs).

Relegation: Rotherham, Birmingham, Huddersfield.

Did you know: Boro attract comedians – Bob Mortimer, Patrick Monahan and Roy ‘Chubby’ Brown all follow the club. Surely a coincidence and no reflection on the club?

MK DONS (by Toby Lock, Milton Keynes Citizen)

Dons still need to strengthen considerably if they are to upset the apple cart this season. Most teams are able to keep their best players when winning promotion, but Dons’ two best players in Will Grigg and Dele Alli have gone and replacements have yet to be found. Expect a relegation battle, a lot of draws at home. Staying up would be more than enough to satisfy for their first season.

Key player: Samir Carruthers. Filled in for Alli with aplomb last season.

Promotion: Burnley, Wolves, Hull.

Relegation: Dons, Rotherham, Huddersfield.

Did you know: Despite being only 11-years-old, there are just five teams in the division MK Dons have never played a competitive game against: Bolton, Derby, Fulham, Middlesbrough and Reading.

NOTTINGHAM FOREST (by Paul Taylor, Nottingham Post)

Having been regarded as one of the favourites for promotion this time last year, the expectations at the City Ground are a little more modest this time around.

A top six finish very much remains the goal, but with £5.5m record signing Britt Assombalonga ruled out until January at least and long term injury problems still hanging over Chris Cohen, Andy Reid and Matty Fryatt heading into the new campaign – as well as the limitations of a transfer embargo to work within – any optimism is of the cautious variety.

Forest also face a fight to hang on to prize asset Michail Antonio, with West Brom leading a clutch of Premier League clubs keen to sign the man who will probably be the main source of goals in Assombalonga’s absence.

Key player: Michail Antonio: The big, powerful and lightening quick winger is simply unstoppable at his best.

Promotion: Middlesbrough, Hull, Burnley.

Relegation: Rotherham, Huddersfield, Charlton.

Did you know: Forest remain the only club to have won the European Cup (twice) more times than they have won their domestic title (once). Although both will seem a long time ago now, to the frustrated fans of the Reds.

PRESTON NORTH END (by Dave Seddon, Lancashire Post)

I think Preston will be happy to finish mid-table, stay up without really being dragged into a relegation scrap at any time. The last time they were promoted to this level (2000), they went straight through to the play-off final (2001) but similar is unlikely this time. With one or two more signings, I’d expect mid-table.

Key player: Joe Garner, 51 goals in the last two seasons.

Promotion: Derby, Middlesbrough, Hull.

Relegation: Rotherham, Huddersfield, MK Dons.

Did you know: PNE mascot Deepdale Duck (well, the guy inside the costume) is related to former US presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

QUEENS PARK RANGERS (by Paul Warburton, getwestlondon.co.uk)

There is a pragmatic QPR coming to a stadium near you.

No over-the-hill foreigners looking for a last pay-day. More like the lean and hungry from either the lower leagues (Gladwin, Luongo) or the tried-and-tested (Jamie Mackie) mixed with the affordable from le continent (Polter, Chery).

Back to basics will see them top ten, at least, if not higher.

Key player: Nedum Onuoha, new captain and centre-back, and unlike Green, Fer and Austin, Onuoha will stay.

Promotion: Derby, Middlesbrough, Hull.

Relegation: Rotherham, Blackburn, Charlton.

Did you know: New hooped shirt has only two hoops on the back for first time. Apparently, it makes the number easier to read.

READING (by Charles Watts, getreading.co.uk)

After such a poor league season last time out, everyone at Madejski Stadium is hoping Steve Clarke can get the team challenging back towards the right end of the table.

He’s lost some key players this summer, but so far his signings have been good and there should be more to come, with two more strikers expected in before the end of the window.

I’m expecting a top half finish, but think a play-off place will probably just be out of reach.

Key player: Garath McCleary. The one genuine flair player in this squad.

Promotion: Middlesbrough, Derby, Wolves.

Relegation: Rotherham, Huddersfield, Preston.

Did you know: Of Reading’s 50 Championship points last season, 20 of them came against Norwich, Middlesbrough, Ipswich and Wolves.

ROTHERHAM UNITED (by Paul Davis, The Star)

Eleven summer signings have made the Millers a much stronger outfit than this time 12 months ago, and manager Steve Evans has learned plenty from last season’s survival campaign about what it takes to do well in the Championship.

The Rotherham boss is looking to establish his side in midtable, and I don’t think that’s beyond them. The club operate on one of the smallest second-tier budgets, but their recruitment looks to have been astute and they now have a squad packed with Championship experience.

Key player: Danny Collins. The former Premier League centre-half signed after his release from Nottingham Forest has been in superb form in pre-season and should hold things together at the back.

Promotion: Derby, Burnley, Middlesbrough.

Relegation: MK Dons, Bolton, Brighton.

Did you know? Rotherham United groundsman Dave Fellowes produced a playing surface voted the best in the Championship last season. But he hates his lawn at his Rotherham home because his missus keeps chickens on it!

SHEFFIELD WEDNESDAY (by Dom Howson, Sheffield Star)

Wednesday have brought in multiple players from abroad, none of whom have experienced the rough and tumble of the Championship before. If they break into the top ten following a big turnover of players over the summer, that should be regarded as progress.

Key player: Despite being deployed out wide, Marco Matias notched 17 goals in the Portuguese top tier last season, helping Nacional to a seventh-placed finish. His direct style of play should suit the English game.

Promotion: Derby, Middlesbrough, Burnley.

Relegation: MK Dons, Bolton Wanderers, Blackburn Rovers.

Did you know: Carlos Carvalhal completed his Pro-licence coaching badges with Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho. The Portuguese is very good friends with Rui Faria, Mourinho’s number two, with the duo having studied at the same university together.

Wolverhampton Wanderers (by Tim Nash, Express and Star)

After last season’s near miss when they were edged out of a play-off spot, expectations have risen again at Wolves this summer and a top six spot will be the minimum requirement.

But there is anxiety among the Molineux masses as last season’s 15-goal top scorer, left winger Bakary Sako, still hasn’t been replaced and key playmaker Kevin McDonald is stalling on a new deal and into the final year of his contract.

Key player: Benik Afobe - a Premier League player in the making - and he will surely realise his ambition either way by the end of the season.

Promotion: Derby, Middlesbrough, Wolves.

Relegation: Rotherham, Huddersfield, Preston.

Did you know: New £2m signing Connor Coady has already scored at Molineux - but for Huddersfield, a scorcher in a 3-1 win last season.