Less than two weeks to go until the new Championship season. Squads are coming together. Some managers are content, others are panicking. Fans are enjoying a final fortnight of optimism before reality sets in.
With this in mind, here are five random predictions for the coming season, hung on a flimsy animal theme:
Dark Horses: Nottingham Forest
When Billy Davies took over in January, Forest looked likely to go down. In fact, even with a few weeks of the season left they were still teetering, but now they mean business.
Billy Davies has brought in Lee Camp, Dexter Blackstock, Dele Adebola, Paul McKenna, David McGoldrick, Chris Gunter and Joel Lynch. It’s reminiscent of Davies’ last full season at Derby, where he transformed a team of strugglers into promotion material in just 12 months. I’m not saying they’ll win the league, but with all their attacking options and a proven manager, this could be an enjoyable season for the Tricky Trees. Prediction: 5th.
Stinking Skunks: Newcastle United
You can see what I did here: skunks are black and white and so is Newcastle’s kit… well, the one that doesn’t contain shades of urine-yellow, anyway.
Newcastle are in serious trouble. They looked bereft of desire last season after Keegan left and this year they won’t even have the excitement of playing against Manchester United or Fulham.
Currently, they have no manager. Their owner is desperate to sell, but no one really fancies buying them for the asking price. Their squad holds enough quality to win this league with some ease, but it’s a club with more than a whiff of Leeds about it. Every game they play will be against a team desperate to knock over the largest team in the division. Every team will get a big gate against Newcastle. Fans will back their underdogs all the way. I just can’t see, at the moment, how Newcastle will be able to cope.
New owners, a strong manager and a bit of stability could change all that. After all, Sunderland were flailing around like a flock of drowning giraffe a couple of years back until Roy Keane dragged them from bottom to top. But at the moment, 23 clubs are rubbing their hands at the prospect of playing the Magpies. Prediction: 14th.
Irritating Wasps: Peterborough United
Peterborough are at the other end of the scale to Newcastle. They have a much-coveted manager. After years of worrying if they have enough money to pay for the floodlights on evening games, they are now financially stable. They have just been promoted. The club is possibly in its best shape ever.
The problem is that despite these positives, every fan of every club will look at Peterborough and say: “We have to be beating teams like this.” Peterborough are still a small club, but they possess a genuine sting and players, especially of the larger teams, are going to feel pressure to swat them aside. I can’t see that happening. They have a winning mentality and that will continue, at least for this season. Prediction: 9th.
Suicidal Lemmings: Coventry City
What is going on here? The rumour is that Cov are selling off their players so that they can buy their cavernous stadium that can make a tremendous noise when full, but echoes horribly the rest of the time. Two of their best performers last season, Scott Dann and Daniel Fox, have both gone. Michael Mifsud has been released along with Leon McKenzie. It’s not even as if they were much of a force last season and with the Championship now spitting out former Premier League clubs on an annual basis, I fear the same fate could be about to befall poor Cov. Prediction: 22nd.
Harmless Pussycats: Reading
That 100 point+ season now seems a long time ago. The player turnover since then makes alarming reading: Leroy Lita, Dave Kitson, Graeme Murty, Kevin Doyle, Marcus Hahnemann, Nicky Shorey, Steve Coppell… They still have the Hunt brothers and Shane Long, but this season smells like transition to me.
Clubs who lose long serving managers often seem to struggle for a while afterwards as the club creakily adapts to a new regime (just look at Charlton) and although Brendan Rogers has a fine reputation in the game, he’s still inexperienced and is now charged with re-building a Reading force.
The Royals were poor for much of the second half of last season, their vaunted attacking force failing to score in 50% of their last dozen games. Royals fans are going to need to show some patience. Prediction: 13th.