2017/18 Preview Part I

Welcome to the first part of the previews for the 2017/18 Sky Bet Championship season. Over the next four weeks we’ll be publishing club by club previews, finishing with the traditional ‘What to expect’ post on the first weekend of August.

All prices for promotion and relegation were taken from Oddschecker.com on July 1st and in all likelihood won’t be correct when you read these posts. They’re always interesting to refer back to though: they formed the basis of the Market Reports I introduced last season and were really quite interesting in their own right.

Aston Villa

Manager: Steve Bruce (October 2016), second season in the Championship
Last 10: 5-2-3
Promotion: 15/8F, Relegation: 50/1

Villa haven’t played consecutive seasons in the second tier of English football since the early 1970s and to be honest the transition from bad Premier League team to average Championship side was one of the non-stories of last season. Villa only lost three times at home in 2016/17 but only scored 14 goals in away games and to be brutally honest, when you spend £15 million on a striker you’d expect him to score more than five goals away from Villa Park. This season: you’d expect a Steve Bruce side containing John Terry to win a lot of games 1-0 and Villa might flirt with the playoffs, but unless they stop being a damp squib on the road another mid table season is highly likely.

Fun fact: Villa won both games against just three clubs last season. Two of them – Wigan and Rotherham – were relegated. The other: QPR.

Barnsley

Manager: Paul Heckingbottom (June 2016), second season in the Championship.
Last 10: 1-5-4
Promotion 33/1, relegation 15/8

Momentum is a funny thing: although last season was their best performance at this level since the turn of the century (at the end of January the Tykes were seventh), then they’ve not won at Oakwell since the start of 2017 and conceded more goals at home last season than any other club other than Rotherham. Barnsley may have over achieved last season and could find themselves struggling in 17/18: their away record was far better – they recorded the most victories of the non-playoff sides –  but if their away success evaporates and they can’t win at Oakwell the bookies think they could be in trouble.

Fun fact: last season Barnsley failed to beat any of the sides that finished in the top six.

Birmingham City

Manager: Harry Redknapp (April 2017), seventh season in the Championship
Last 10: 2-4-4
Promotion: 6/1, relegation: 11/1

Where do you start? The new owners made a stupid decision to fire Gary Rowett before Christmas and replace him with Gianfranco Zola; if Bristol City had scored in the last game of the season this preview would have been appearing on Buzzin’ League One Football rather than on this blog. It’s not hard to see what the problem was: the Blues kept only kept eight home clean sheets last season and conceded more than twice in five games at St. Andrew’s in 2016/17. If Harry Redknapp can sort that out then a mid table place isn’t out of the question but although the price for promotion is ridiculous, the odds for relegation might not be.

Fun fact: the only other team to beat Fulham twice last season was Brighton.

Bolton Wanderers

Manager: Phil Parkinson (June 2016), promoted as League One runners up
Last 10: 6-2-2 (League One)
Promotion: 33/1, Relegation: 9/4

Back following one season in League One following a gradual but obvious decline from 2013 onwards, it’s entirely possible that Wanderers may be more prepared for the Championship than Sheffield United. The big question mark is over Phil Parkinson, who hasn’t exactly got the best managerial record at this level. Gut instinct is that they’ll be better than they were when they last played at this level – they can’t be any worse – but that might have to mean spending the entire season in the bottom half of the table.

Fun fact: last time Bolton were promoted from the third tier as runners up, it only took them two seasons to reach the Premier League.

Brentford

Manager: Dean Smith (November 2015), fourth season in the Championship
Last 10: 5-2-3
Promotion: 7/1, Relegation: 10/1

Apart from a brief appearance in the playoffs at the end of September, The Bees buzzed around mid table for most of the latter half last season and I’d be hard pressed to tell you what – if anything – I wrote about them. Two things to notice though: this is their best run in the second tier since the end of World War II and only Fulham and Newcastle scored more away goals last season. They might be dark horses for the playoffs this year, but Bees fans might have to settle for another season of mid table consistency.

Fun fact: Brentford lost all of their away games at the teams that were relegated at the end of last season.

Bristol City

Manager: Lee Johnson (February 2016), Third season in the Championship
Last 10: 6-1-3
Promotion: 12/1, Relegation: 9/2

The final day home defeat against Birmingham aside, the Robins had an impressive end to 2016/17, but if they can’t replace Tammy Abraham’s goals and their occasionally irresponsible and often disastrous defending doesn’t improve, they’ll be struggling again this season. The summer activity in the transfer market indicates that Johnson has understood both areas need improvement and although the core of the squad now has more experience at this level, mid-table is the best case scenario and even that may be beyond them.

Fun fact: only lost once at Ashton Gate against teams that eventually finished in the bottom half of the table.

Author: Mike Roberts

A football fan since the 1970s, I take my inspiration from the standard of writing that made Shoot! magazine streets ahead of anything else back in the day. I'm also a complete and utter stathead, which I blame on being exposed to American sports at the end of my teens.