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The Championship 15/16 preview – part II

Part II of my look at our Championship rivals. Part I is here.

Using the bookie’s predictions, the following are the 8 teams they think will be knocking on the door of the play-off’s.

Our opening day guests QPR appeared to have brushed under the carpet their FFP issues. The Raheem Sterling sell-on helped and both Charlie Austin and Leroy Fer will realise funds into the current account before the end of the month.

Rangers have pretty much sold/moved on and brought in a whole team. Big, sorry very big, earners such as Joey Barton, Rio Ferdinand, Bobby Zamora and Shaun Wright Phillips have all left but Robert Green, Clint Hill and visa worry Sandro are all staying.

QPR did a lot of their transfer business early and signed Ben Gladwin and Massimo Luongo from Swindon. Big money also went on attacking midfielder Tjaronn Chery from Dutch side FC Groningen. Chery scored 15 goals in 34 appearances in the Eredivisie last season.

There are a lot of inherent problems at Loftus Road, but I am yet to work out if Chris Ramsey is either the fall guy or the man to restablish the club. Whatever I think Rangers would settle for a season of stability, as hard as that is to find in the fire pit of The Championship.

QPR come to The Valley on Saturday. Key player Robert Green. Promotion 11/2; Relegation 12/1

The old-timers of the Championship are Ipswich Town, this will be their 14th consecutive season in the 2nd tier. Last season’s play-off semi-finalist’s overachieved last season I felt, but that was only down to good management and an excellent morale around the team. That won’t change but the Tractor Boys probably could do with some more quality.

They will also require another stellar season from Daryl Murphy, who scored 27 goals last season. Mick McCarthy has added Brett Pitman, who scored 13 in Bournemouth’s goal-slinging run to the Championship title. Long throw-in expert and Danish international left-back Jonas Knudsen signed from Esbjerg for an undisclosed fee to replace Tyrone Mings and I have always admired Jonathan Douglas, who signed today on a free from Brentford.

Ipswich are at moneyballers Brentford on Saturday. Key player: Daryl Murphy. Promotion 7/1; Relegation 14/1

It is no surprise that the bookies have Sheffield Wednesday as promotion challengers. Their self-proffessed big club attitude has only been exaggerated by a big transfer push this summer, and are the second biggest spenders behind Middlesbrough.

Getting rid of Stuart Gray was a little bit surprising but set the tone for a summer of ambition by the new Thai owner Dejphon Chansiri. Carlos Carvalhal has been brought in, and I might check into his odds for first managerial casualty as the Portuguese hasn’t worked in three seasons and prior to that managed 11 clubs in 10 years.

One of the first thing Carvalhal did was give former Addicks skipper and fellow countryman Jose Semedo a new contract, and since Wednesday have signed 7 players including three from Portugal, the most high profile of whom is striker Marco Matias, who scored 20 goals in 36 appearances for the Portuguese top flight side Nacional last season. Nacional team mate and fellow striker Lucas João also joined for £2m plus and a lot will be rest on these two sets of shoulders.

Austrian striker Atdhe Nuhiu does remain though as does player of the year, Keiren Westwood. Watford midfielder Lewis McGugan also signed on a permanent after impressing on loan last season.

A little bit of an unknown quantity are Wednesday, but if they get a good start then the bookies might well be right.

Wednesday host promoted Bristol City on Saturday. Key player: Jose Semedo. Promoted 6/1; Relegated 10/1

Not a lot of science goes into making Nottingham Forest promotion candidates. In recent times though their seasons have followed the same pattern. Good start, fall away, sack manager, improve, end worse.

Last season Dougie Freedman rescued Forest from a relegation battle when he took over in February, but they had an awful finish to the campaign.

Freedman still has some quality players in his squad such as Henri Lansbury, Britt Assombalonga, Andy Reid and Michail Antonio, who I rate as one of the best players in the division. Ben Hamer signed on a season-long loan replacing Karl Darlow, who went back to Newcastle.

Forest have been under a transfer embargo and have relied on free transfers and loans, and Freedman is very wary of the sharks circling for some of his better players. I think this could be a tough season for Forest, although Freedman knows this league well, which could prevent another slide to League One.

We can see Forest for ourselves as they kick the season off on the telly Friday night at Brighton. Key player: Michail Antonio. Promotion 7/1; Relegation 10/1

With all respect I am not quite sure why Bristol City appear so highly in the odds. Yes, they walked the League One title last season but the Championship is a whole different challenge and City face it with pretty much the same set of players.

Jay Emmanuel-Thomas was released and just one player has come in, striker Jonathan Kodjia for a fee of about £2m from French side Angers SCO. Kodjia did score 15 goals last season as Angers won promotion from Lique 2.

I rate Steve Cotterill though and I think he is all about building a long-term plan so I think City will fare fine, but they have one of the lower budgets in this division, which will make challenging for the play-off’s a stretch. Be nice to see Scott Wagstaff back at The Valley though.

Bristol City go to Hillsborough on opening day. Key Player: Aaron Wilbraham. Promotion 7/1; Relegation 8/1

Why Fulham of course! A lesson for the big spenders in the division. That was Fulham last season, and it didn’t do them much good. The Cottagers were at times woeful and Kit Symons just did enough to keep them up after Felix Magath did his best to sink them.

Ross McCormack is still there and if he can score another 19 goals then they will always have a chance. Some more big salaries have been moved on such as Hugo Rodellega and Bryan Ruiz. Like us, they also let go their most exciting academy prospect, with
Patrick Roberts signing for Man City.

Coming in noticably was Blackburn Rovers midfielder Tom Cairney for an undisclosed fee, Ben Pringle from Rotherham, Jamie O’Hara from Blackpool, Jazz Richards from Swansea and the experienced goalkeeper Andy Lonergan from Bolton.

It is hard to see that Fulham will have a season as poor as the last one, but midtable mediocrity maybe the height of the west Londoner’s ambitions.

Fulham travel to Cardiff Saturday. Key player: Ben Pringle. Promotion 8/1; Relegation 9/1

Cardiff will be back in their home blue shirts this season and they are another team that is difficult to box. The Bluebirds have had a quiet summer with only ex-Addicks academy defender Semi Ajayi coming in along with Sammy Ameobi on loan from Newcastle. There were further cuts though as Russell Slade released another tranche of players.

Kenwyne Jones, Fabio and Frederico Macheda remain on Premier League contracts, but stalwarts David Marshall, Peter Whittingham and Aron Gunnarsson remain giving fans hope of better days. Goals might be a problem unless Ameobi and Jones hit it off and the jury is very much out on Russell Slade. Might be a tough season for the Welshmen.

Cardiff are at home to Fulham on Saturday. Key player: Joe Ralls. Promotion 8/1; Relegation 7/1

The last of a tight pack of play-off hopefuls according to the bookies is Brighton. According to my Brighton mate, Chris Hughton will be judged by what he does in the transfer market and how they begin the season. Brighton have certainly been busy in the market with £1m being spent on Israeli star striker Tomer Hemed and many others joining.

Bobby Zamora has gone back to where it began for him signing on a free after being released by QPR and Liam Rosenoir joined also from a free from Hull. There will be some interested eyes looking at young Scottish prospect Jack Harper, who came through the Real Madrid academy and had plenty of suitors.

Out go no big names so Hughton, who is a safe pair of hands, has a good base and Albion have plenty of good players for this level such as Lewis Dunk, Sam Baldcok, Gordon Greer, Bruno and Dale Stephens. I think Brighton will be featuring at the other end of the table this season after a dreadful 2014/15.

Brighton welcome the cameras on Friday night as they open the new season at home to Forest. Key player: Lewis Dunk. Promotion 9/1; Relegation 13/2

Part III to follow.

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