Well, it’s mid July and although it’s a couple of weeks before the season starts, that usually means it’s time to start posting the season previews. As usual, there are four parts plus a ‘What to expect’ post that should be appearing on 7th August just before the season opener between Brighton and Nottingham Forest.
One big change this season is that the highlights package on terrestrial television has moved from BBC to Channel 5. It remains to be seen how C5 will cover the Football League, although the new show will be titled ‘Football League Tonight’ and will air at 9:00pm on Saturday evenings. Having moaned a lot about the Football League Show over the past few seasons in a way I’m sad to see it go, but mid evening slot is an immediate improvement already.
The prices were taken from Oddschecker at 4:00pm on Wednesday 1st July and I’ll be surprised if any of them are the same on 7th August. They’re a reasonably good barometer of pre-season sentiment but probably won’t reflect the situation in May 2016. Last August Bournemouth, Watford and Norwich were 8/1, 7/1 and 10/3 for promotion respectively: Nottingham Forest and Wigan were both shorter than that and Fulham were the same price as Norwich.
Manager: Garry Rowett
Fifth consecutive season in the Championship
Last ten games: 5-2-3
Relegation: 9/2 (second favourites)
The Blues recent history can be divided into before and after Lee Clark, who should have been released far earlier but who was retained due to the chaos at boardroom level. After losing 8-0 at home to Bournemouth a mid table finish looked wildly optimistic but Garry Rowett’s appointment had an immediate impact. A consistent goalscorer would help the general improvement, but Blues fans may have to wait for at least another season before their team can contend for the playoffs. However, they won’t have to worry about relegation to the third tier and could be a surprise playoff contender if they get off to a good start.
Manager: Garry Bowyer
Fourth consecutive season in the Championship.
Last ten games: 4-4-2
I’m happy to admit that I overestimated Rovers’ abilities before last season; they drew far too many away games and although they tightened up defensively that remains a priority for Gary Bowyer if Rovers are going to make it to the next level. Could be a pivotal season for a number of reasons, including being one campaign away from being an average Championship club rather than one that should be aiming for promotion. Tough to beat, but that’s not been enough to see them comfortably in the top six since relegation.
Manager: Neil Lennon
Fourth consecutive season in the Championship
Last ten games: 2-4-4
I can’t remember writing much if anything about them last season: after a terrible start the Trotters spent almost all of the season in the bottom third without ever looking as if they’d be relegated, which is almost exactly the same as what happened in 2013/14. Expect more of the same in 2015/16, but it’s worth remembering that Bolton won almost a quarter of their points from the teams that were relegated and they might find themselves in a scrap at the foot of the table, especially as they’re such a soft touch on the road. Only Blackpool lost more road trips last season.
Manager: Marinus Dijkhuizen (appointed June 1st 2015)
Second consecutive season in the Championship
Last ten games (not counting the playoff semi final): 4-4-2
The Bees’ highest league position since 1951 was definitely something to celebrate, but as we’ve seen over the past few seasons a playoff hangover combined with a change of manager isn’t exactly a recipe for success in the Championship (see immediately below for confirmation). I didn’t expect them to get anywhere near the 2015/2016 playoffs before they appointed a Dutch manager with no experience of coaching in England; I can’t see any reason why I should change my opinion but I doubt they’ll struggle either.
Brighton & Hove Albion
Manager: Chris Houghton
Fifth consecutive season in the Championship
Last ten games: 1-4-5
A classic example of team having a playoff hangover and making a vanity appointment as manager, who made a ‘big’ signing (Sam Baldock) who – not for the first time – was underwhelming at Championship level. The decision to appoint Chris Houghton was the right one, but having finished in their worst position in the second tier since they went down a decade ago, this season could the Seagulls involved in a relegation battle that looked unlikely last August. Won the fewest games of the clubs that weren’t relegated; one bright spot was their away defence, but in eight of their ten away defeats in 2014/15 were by one goal. Have never lasted more than four straight seasons at this level, so watch out: one of the teams that the bookies seem very unsure about.
Manager: Steve Cotterill
Promoted as League One Champions
Last ten games: 5-5-0 (League One)
Apart from relegations in 1924 and 1999, City’s campaigns in the second tier immediately after winning promotion have produced top half finishes including an unexpected run to the playoff final in 2008. Combine that with the average finishing position of League One champions over the last decade being eighth and one possible outcome is that the Robins might be one of the better teams in the Championship and should be competitive at the very least. The small squad that won the League One title was incredibly fortunate with injuries and needs reinforcing in key positions, but Steve Cotterill knows his way around the Championship, the board are insistent they won’t make the same mistakes as the last time they were here and momentum is in their favour.