A particularly strong group of teams make up the Championship this year. A combination of heavyweight newly-relegated sides like West Ham, free-spending outfits such as Leicester, and a solid pair promoted from League One (Brighton and Southampton) means the scramble for those elusive Premier League berths will be tougher than normal. Do any of London’s teams have what it takes?
After two seasons of near-relegation and the very real danger of the club going out of business, Palace fans would welcome an uneventful season. There are grounds for mild optimism: new manager Dougie Freedman has brought in plenty of new faces, and Palace are finally in decent financial standing under owners CPFC2010, a consortium of local businessmen who plan to stamp their regime on the club’s history by making a new crest (fans get to vote from a shortlist). The problems last season were a lack of goals and an abysmal away record, the worst in English football. If these areas can be addressed then the Eagles should fly clear of another relegation battle. For fans, the biggest event this season will be the renewal of hostilities with arch-enemies Brighton, a rivalry grown even more tempestuous after Palace captured the south coast side’s star striker, Glenn Murray, on a free transfer last month. If the new signings gel quickly, this could be a season of mid-table anonymity, which will suit many supporters just fine.
Prediction: Anywhere from 14th – 18th.
Last year, in their first season back in the second tier, Millwall boasted one of the meanest defences in the Championship. At the other end of the pitch things weren’t so impressive, with a lack of goals stymieing what could have been a sneaky late run into the play-offs. The loss of leading striker Steve Morison to Premier League newcomers Norwich won’t help matters in the scoring department. A highlight for certain sets of fans, the two games against West Ham, was nearly scuppered by police, who wanted to ban away supporters from both fixtures; seeing as the last time they met ended in a riot, it’s not a surprising request.
Prediction: Another solid, if unspectacular, season, with a mid-table finish.
The lugubrious features of Avram Grant summed up West Ham’s woeful 2010/11 season, the malaise on the park a stark contrast to the off-field success in securing the Olympic Stadium as a future home. The challenge now is to ensure that the club has a Premier League berth once they move there in 2014. Bringing in Sam Allardyce as manager looks a shrewd move, as his uncompromising, gritty but effective style of play should help the side adapt to their new circumstances. The Hammers’ biggest problem last year was holding on to a lead: on countless occasions they would succumb to second-half jitters and let a winnable game end in draw or defeat, compounded by the game that sealed their relegation, when a 2-0 half time lead at Wigan ended in a 3-2 loss. New striker Kevin Nolan’s decision to drop down a division suggests confidence at a first-time return to the Premier League. Indeed, it may be essential for the club’s future: the finances are in a parlous state, and the ‘parachute’ payments made to relegated sides won’t last long. A total of 14 players have left close season, with only a handful brought in, so it’s an ideal occasion for the club’s crop of talented youngsters, such as Freddie Sears, to fulfill their long-rumoured potential.
Our prediction: Automatic promotion