Championship New Boys Face Unrealistic Expectations

Some familiar names return to the nPower Championship. There’s already pressure on two of the teams relegated from the Premier League, Ian Holloway’s post match quotes return and a new era in the history of an old club dawns in Sussex. But the big question is can Peterborough keep a clean sheet this season?

Birmingham City

Last season: relegated from the Premier League

Manager: Chris Houghton (appointed June 2011)

Current odds to win the Championship: 12/1

Blackpool

Last season: relegated from the Premier League

Manager: Ian Holloway (appointed May 2009)

Current odds to win the Championship: 18/1

Brighton & Hove Albion

Last season: promoted from League One (Champions)

Manager: Gus Poyet (November 2009)

Current odds to win the Championship: 18/1

Peterborough United

Last season: promoted from League One (Play Off Winners)

Manager: Darren Ferguson (January 2011)

Current odds to win the Championship: 100/1

Southampton

Last season: promoted from League One (Runners Up)

Manager: Nigel Adkins (appointed September 2010)

Current odds to win the Championship: 16/1

West Ham

Last season: relegated from the Premier League

Manager: Sam Allardyce (appointed June 2011)

Current odds to win the Championship: 4/1F

The first thing that stands out about the six new clubs joining the Championship is that none of them are novices in terms of second tier football. In fact, four of these clubs have played in the Championship within the last three seasons and both Brighton and West Ham have taken part in the competition within the last decade, so at least they’ll be spared the same kind of novelty status as Swansea already have in the Premier League.

West Ham have been installed as the bookies favourites to win the Championship, but recent history doesn’t necessarily support the hypothesis that the Hammers only have to turn up every week to win the title. Only seven of the last 20 Championship titles have been won by teams that had been relegated from the Premier League the previous season and only three of these titles were won in the last decade: it’s probably safer to say that there’s more chance of a team that finished in the top ten in 2010/11 winning the Championship this season than any of the teams that weren’t good enough for the Premier League.

It’s probably even safer to state that neither Brighton, Southampton nor Peterborough will win the title. You have to go back to the mid 1980s to find the last time that a team won consecutive divisional championships to reach the top tier of English football when Jim Smith’s Oxford United performed that particular feat.

Having said that, it’s well worth remembering that automatic promotion is where clubs that have either been relegated or promoted seem to find most success. Over the last two decades, only half of the automatic promotion places have been filled by teams that had competed in the Championship the previous season, compared to eight second place finishes by relegated Premier League clubs and two by teams from League 1, including last season’s runners up Norwich City.

As for promotion via the playoffs – forget it. Eighteen of the last 20 playoff winners were teams that had played at least one season in the Championship, so although a ‘first season’ playoff winner is overdue (the last club to manage it was Watford in 1999), it’s also unlikely that any of the six clubs mentioned above will be celebrating at Wembley at the end of 2011/12.

So what  – if anything – does those stats prove? Possibly that the gap between the poorest Premier League teams and the better Championship sides has narrowed, but that it normally takes at least one season to adjust to the demands of Championship football before staging a successful promotion campaign. This is where the arrivals from the Premier League may also have a unique disadvantage amongst the new arrivals: they’ll play at least eight more games than they did last season, and in West Ham’s case most opponents that will treat matches against the Hammers as their biggest game of the season.

It’s probably also true to say that while the calibre of the promoted League 1 teams has improved (only four of the last 30 clubs to be promoted from the third tier were relegated after one season), it’s difficult to tell if the collective performance of Norwich, Leeds and Millwall last season was part of a new trend or if those particular teams were overachievers. The last time more than one promoted club finished in the top ten in the second tier was a decade ago and Millwall’s ninth place finish was the best position achieved by a League 1 playoff winner since Manchester City were promoted in 1999.

Looking into my admittedly slightly rubbish crystal ball, I can see the following scenario happening:

* Birmingham and West Ham in the mix for the title, but possibly losing out to one of the established Championship teams. I’ll go for Leeds but with Burnley and Ipswich as potential dark horses.

* Brighton, Blackpool and Southampton to finish in the top half with the Saints reaching the playoffs and Blackpool having exactly the same type of season as Hull and Burnley have had over the last couple of years. I’m not sure how Brighton will cope with playing in a new stadium in a different division: the Seagulls will have played most of the main contenders by the end of October so we should have a better idea of how they’re coping by then.

* I’ll admit that it’s difficult to be positive about Peterborough at all, especially as their gung ho attacking style has been blunted with the sale of Craig Mackail-Smith to Brighton. His absence – combined with their frankly ridiculous defensive record last season (they conceded goals in 36 of their 46 league games last season) and Darren Ferguson’s less than stellar record at this level – seems to indicate that anything better than 17th will be hailed as some sort of miracle.

However, the time for speculation is almost over: Blackpool travel to Hull for the first game of the season on Friday night (Sky Sports 1, 7:45pm) and I’ll be at a game on Saturday afternoon.

It’s been a long three months. But the Championship is back.

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English nPower Football League Championship 2011/12

The new English nPower Football League Championship 2011/12 season kicks off on Friday 5th August when Hull host recently relegated Blackpool.

The following day there will be a further 10 matches with the pick of the games being a late kick-off televised match between newly promoted Southampton and one of the strong favourites for promotion, Leeds United.  The first round of fixtures will be completed when Cardiff City travel to Upton Park to play automatic promotion favourites West Ham United.
With new players and managers ready to impress, the forthcoming Championship season looks likely to be as exciting as the previous; and of the three teams relegated from the Premier League two will be starting the season afresh with new managers.

Chris Hughton steered Newcastle United to a runaway Championship title in 2009/10 but was unceremoniously sacked by maverick owner Mike Ashley last December.  Hughton returns to management as replacement for Alex McLeish at Birmingham City.  McLeish resigned from the position in May and was subsequently appointed as manager of black Country rivals Aston Villa, citing a lack of backing and available transfer money from the owners.  But Hughton is a first-class coach and his previous experience in the Championship makes me believe Birmingham will be fighting for promotion alongside West Ham next season.

West Ham are clear favourites with the bookies; and while they target more players to sign alongside the excellent acquisition of Kevin Nolan from Newcastle it is still unclear whether top players such as Scott Parker, Robert Green and Matthew Upson will be playing in claret and blue come the new season.

With or without those players I believe West Ham under the guidance and man-management skills of Big Sam Allardyce will be one of a few teams chasing promotion back to the Premier League come next May along with the likes of Leeds, Birmingham, Reading and Millwall. It will also be interesting to see how the very ambitious Brighton fair after winning the League One title and holding on to their very talented young manager, Gus Poyet.

Of the three relegated teams I expect Blackpool to struggle and would be surprised if they make the play-offs.  They have lost a few key players including Charlie Adam to Liverpool, and it will be down to Ian Holloway to pick up the pieces from a very disappointing 2011 which saw Blackpool plummet from the top 10 to be relegated in just five months.

Ahead of the new English Football League season a new Football scores website will be launched.  The site will feature not only domestic football scores but a service that extends to international football scores including the European Championships, international friendly matches, international qualifiers and, of course, the FIFA World Cup.

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Fixtures Released For 2011/12

The fixture list was released this morning and the first games in the nPower Championship are as follows –  the new teams for 2011/12 are in bold:

Brightonv Doncaster

Bristol City v Ipswich

Burnley v Watford

Coventry v Leicester

Derby v Birmingham

Hull v Blackpool

Middlesbrough v Portsmouth

Nottingham Forest v Barnsley

Peterborough v Crystal Palace

Reading v Millwall

Southampton v Leeds

West Ham v Cardiff

Currently all games have been scheduled for Saturday 6th August, but it’s possible that one or more of these games could be re-scheduled for television coverage – West Ham v Cardiff looks like a prime contender.

It’s a bit early to be making predictions, but the outcome of Peterborough v Crystal Palace might be worth keeping an eye on over the long term.

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