|Fortune Tellerâ€¦A Championship Preview (Pt. 2)|
Wed 03rd Aug 2011 19:29 by Paul Mortimer
I’ve already (perhaps recklessly) said that Derby could secure a top-six spot in the ever-competitive Championship - but what of their opposition for season 2011-12? Here’s the second part of my League preview (with clubs listed alphabetically L-Z) for you all to argue over!
I’m again donning the rather ill-fitting cap from my namesake, the late, great psychic cephalopod Paul the Octopus, to foretell the fortunes of the remaining Championship clubs. Here goes:
Leeds United has the support and stability to continue their recovery, after a good season straight after promotion from the third tier in 2010-11. There is, however, a feeling that they missed a good chance to go ‘straight through’ with back-to-back promotions in 2010-11; some members of that spirited team have now left Elland Road.
They’ve acquired a good ‘keeper in Preston’s Andy Lonergan but have lost their cutting edge with striker departures and injuries, too. Verdict: They will miss out on a top six place this time around.
Leicester City’s owners demand promotion and they expect Sven Goran Eriksson to deliver it ASAP. If they are faltering instead of making a charge for the top, more managerial upheaval is likely at the newly-sponsored King Power Stadium.
Leicester fell short last season but is still investing heavily in players. Whilst Rams fans can only talk about their team needing (for instance) a long-term left-back solution, Foxes fans saw their club sign a Premier League one this week as they captured Stoke’s Carl Dickinson.
Verdict: The furry Foxes could well make the top six cut in 2011-12 - but if it is ‘only’ top ten, then Sven will be long gone, back on his never-ending travels yet again!
Middlesbrough FC flopped last season when expected to be strong contenders after relegation from the Premier League. They have seemed to enjoy success or mediocrity in equal measure recently - and I remain unconvinced by the dour Tony Mowbray.
Verdict: Teeside needs some cheer but I still can’t see Boro making a charge in 2011-12; another mid-table finish is predicted.
Millwall FC, unloved but defiant, had a solid season in 2010-11 but remain a club whose potential seems ultimately limited. They don’t have sugar-daddies at the helm like QPR, do they?
They have cashed in on their highly-regarded striker Steve Morison so they aren’t paupers at the moment. However I still don’t see them attracting the players or the support to progress further. Verdict: bottom-half finish or worse.
Nothingham Forest sacked Billy Davies after another play-offs failure, which might have surprised him - but not any Derby County or Preston North End fans. The Trees cannily grabbed Steve McLaren, looking to return to club management but carelessly snubbed by Aston Villa.
McLaren may well achieve another shot at the Premier League eventually but he is struggling to recruit at the City Ground. Some ageing names have been added to replace departees but at the time of writing, McLaren has thus far failed to recruit the players he wants, and some of his main targets have gone elsewhere. Shame, that!
Verdict: 2011-12 may be a transitional season for the Trees - they will be top ten but not top six.
Peterborough United are a League One-to-Championship ‘yo-yo’ club; a big fish in the lower league but regularly struggle to last the pace when promoted. They had a good run last season to win promotion again having re-installed Darren Ferguson (who was sacked by Preston midway through 2010-11).
Verdict: I can’t see any great achievement for Posh - and Craig Makail-Smith’s 35-goal haul was the factor that propelled them to promotion. Verdict: they could be heading for the drop (again).
Portsmouth FC had a glittering FA Cup success just a couple of seasons ago but crashed spectacularly on and off the field. They failed to bounce back to the Premier League amid a flurry of ownership wrangles; it’s been revealed that Pompey’s debt is £138m with a wages bill of £40m.
Those are sobering statistics for any club to contemplate (Derby included) that is trying to chase the dream. Whilst Pompey needs Premier League status and income levels to reduce their debt, they remain in transition and I cannot see them challenging.
They have forked out a large fee for our unwanted Luke Varney but I can’t see him setting the League on fire. Verdict: Mid-table consolidation.
Reading FC invited Brian McDermott to step up to the manager’s chair to replace Brendan Rogers at the Madejski Stadium during a poor run in 2010-11. McDermott masterminded a sterling recovery to romp into the play-offs. They remain a stable, well organised and ambitious club.
Verdict: with the Royals recharged after a strong finish to the season, they will be looking for a top six place again and for one I won’t count them out.
Southampton is a club on the mend. After so long in the top flight, their descent to the third tier has been painful for their fans and there was attendant boardroom instability and financial woes.
Nigel Adkins is an astute, talented and ambitious manager and I’d expect him to consolidate at Championship level and then be able to restore the Saints’ fortunes. Verdict: Southampton will enjoy a comfortable return to the Championship.
Watford FC lost Malky Mackay to Cardiff City and Sean Dyche is now in charge. It’s a fair distance from the Hornet’s Elton John/Graham Taylor glory days but they remain ambitious and achieved far more than bigger clubs (including Derby) last time out. Mackay will be missed though, and my Verdict for Watford is a finish in the lower regions.
West Ham United seems beset by financial problems and instability and the doomed Avram Grant was belatedly removed after their unthinkable relegation became a reality. Yet, they still chased their glamour move to the Olympic Stadium, adding to what can be perceived as an over-estimation of their own status and potential.
The experienced Sam Allardyce has replaced Grant and whilst he doesn’t fit their self-regarding ‘Academy’ image, his know-how and pragmatism should get them pointing in the right direction. He’s already collected some ex-Bolton allies including Kevin Nolan, Matt Taylor and Joey O’Brien.
Verdict: As much as it would be fun to see WHU ‘doing a Leeds’ and failing to recover as quickly as expected, they will have some good players and it is difficult to disregard their prospects for a top six or top two finish.
So, there you have it! Any time someone writes up a set of football predictions like this, he or she is there to be shot down in 9 months’ time. So be it! A lot can happen in that period with player signings and departures, management changes, club finances, at Derby or elsewhere.
There’s usually a ‘surprise package’ that rockets up the table to challenge - and always a couple of dud “bookies’ favourites” that underachieve badly, too. In alphabetical order (not in their finishing position), here’s how season 2011-12 will pan out in my view.
You’ll just have to discuss (or deride) my predictions in the meantime, if you’ve nowt else better to do! Post your own thoughts, too - then await the moment of truth in May 2012, won’t you?
Are YOU bold enough to put down your own predictions in black and white? If not, why not…? Join the RamZone debate below!