Who will gain automatic promotion to the Premier League?

The forthcoming nPower Championship season looks likely to be as exciting as previous seasons with several clubs in contention for the two automatic places.

Reading, Leicester, Millwall and Ipswich all finished strongly last season, while Leeds United and Nottm Forest will both be targeting a return to their former glories with a return to the top flight, next year.  Also in the mix will be Blackpool, West Ham and the League Cup winners Birmingham after they all faced relegation from the Premier League.

The fortune of the three relegated teams will no doubt rely substantially on retaining their best players and adapting to life in the Championship.  Blackpool are the only one of three to keep their manager, but it looks likely that Ian Holloway is going to lose his captain and star asset, Charlie Adam to either Spurs or Liverpool.  I think Blackpool will suffer from having such a great season in the Premiership that began so well but by January had lost its wheels.

After losing Alex McLeish to Black Country rivals Aston Villa, Birmingham have in my opinion made a fantastic appointment in Chris Hughton who was unceremoniously sacked by Newcastle after he steered them to promotion as champions in the 2009/10 season.

Hughton has said that he is knows he will lose some of his best players and he expects to revamp the squad before the new season.  Defenders Scott Dann, Roger Johnson and goalkeeper Ben Foster are among the players linked with transfer rumours.

The West Ham owners sacked Avram Grant less than one hour after they were relegated in May and in Big Sam Allardyce have appointed a manager with plenty of man-management experience and getting the most out of his squad on a shoe-string budget, but less experience of the Championship than both Holloway and Hughton.  West Ham is destined to lose some of their top players as long as other teams agree to match the big wages West Ham is currently offering the likes of England internationals Scott Parker, Robert Green and Matthew Upson.  But he has already made the signing of the summer with the acquisition of Newcastle’s Kevin Nolan who has chosen to drop down a division to link up once more with Big Sam.

Furthermore, Steve McLaren’s appointment at Nottm Forest is an interesting one.  McLaren is known for his coaching abilities and youth policy which is a great fit with what Forest wants to achieve by re-focusing on their youth academy.  That said they have allegedly made an approach for out-of-favour Sunderland midfield playmaker and former City Ground favourite Andy Reid.  McLaren is also keen to keep out-of-contract duo Rob Earnshaw and Guy Moussi.

Before the transfer merry-go-round has really started, it’s a bit premature to be betting on the teams who will be promoted just yet.  That said, I believe with Big Sam Allardyce and Sven Goran Erikson, given backing from their respective owners, will be able to entice good players to West Ham and Leicester respectively to block any holes left by outgoing players and in doing so look likely to be among the favourites to achieve automatic promotion in what promises to be another thrilling Championship season

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nPower Championship preview – Week three

Last weekend saw the second managerial casualty of the season: Kevin Blackwell parted company with Sheffield United after the Blades were soundly beaten at Bramall Lane by QPR. Blackwell had been United’s manager since February 2008 and led them to the 2009 play off final.

The club reacted quickly by giving Gary Speed the job, but his nPower Championship managerial debut will be against Middlesbrough at the Riverside on Sunday lunchtime (Sky Sports 1) and Gordon Strachan’s side will be looking for a win to kick start their season.

QPR are one of a pair of unbeaten teams with identical records – perhaps surprisingly the other is Millwall, who celebrated their first home game in the Championship since April 2006 by beating Hull City 4-0. It’ll be interesting to see if the both can maintain their promising starts this weekend: on paper, QPR shouldn’t have any problems with Scunthorpe – although the Iron won at Loftus Road last season – and Millwall’s recent record at Leeds isn’t too bad.

The first game of the week is a Saturday lunchtime start for Coventry City and Derby County (Sky Sports 2) which – along with QPR v Scunthorpe – is one of the four games between teams that won either their first home or away game. The other games in that category are Crystal Palace v. Ipswich and Watford’s trip up north to visit Hull City.

Three teams – Bristol City, Preston and Reading – are looking to pick up their first home points of the season. Preston are the only team in the Championship yet to score a goal but neither The Lillywhites nor this weekend’s opponents (Portsmouth) have enviable defensive records.

Barnsley haven’t won at Ashton Gate since October 1993 and Reading have failed to beat Nottingham Forest in their last two league games at the Madjewski Stadium. There isn’t an outstanding candidate for game of the week, but even though it’s late August Burnley v Leicester City sounds as if it could be a playoff game in May.

The transfer deadline in the Championship doesn’t close until September 1st but amongst the inevitable rumours that are currently doing the rounds (Edgar Davids to Crystal Palace?), one thing is certain: Robbie Savage now has a rival for the role of the player that opposing fans love to hate – Craig Bellamy joined Cardiff City on loan this week and will probably make his home debut against Doncaster Rovers.

Newcastle top of Championship table

Newcastle United lead the Championship title race at the end of August following last nights victory at home to Leicester 1-0. Newcastle remain unbeaten after five games and top the table with 13 points from West Bromwich Albion on 11 points.

Danny Guthrie was the Newcastle goal hero, scoring in the early part of the second half  to secure the points for his team. Leicester survived two  penalty appeals for hand ball, the first when a shot from Taylor clipped Gallaghers arm and then for a more blatant handball by Brown which went unpunished.

Newcastle started the game with a weak looking team, missing the likes of Coloccini who has joined up with the Argentinian squad, but also without Butt, Gutierrez, Ameobi and Carroll through injury.

Caretaker manager Chris Hughton was happy with the win but said after the game that Newcastle are still keen to bring ‘one or two players in’ before the transfer window closes. He added that he is totally confident that no other players will be leaving the club at this stage.

Ipswich Town miss out on Sunderland duo

Ipswich Town appear to have missed out on the signings of two players they had agreed a fee for last week, leaving the club manager Roy Keane to explain on the club website:

“We had two players in mind and were hopeful something could be sorted out last week but that has not come to fruition. We will now look elsewhere and have identified other targets.”

The two players who have turned down moves to Portman Road are widely reported as being Sunderland players Dean Whitehead and Daryl Murphy.

Ipswich are about to embark on a two match pre-season tour to the Republic of Ireland where they will play Waterford United and Cork City. Roy Keane said after his sides recent defeat in a friendly against Finn Harps. which Ipswich lost 2-1, “I learned a lot about one or two of my players. I’m taking stock very quickly of what we have and what we don’t have.”

Burnley boss Owen Coyle distances himself from Celtic talk

After winning promotion to the Premier League with Burnley, Owen Coyle appears to be a man in demand. Only a few days after watching his team defeat Sheffield United in the Championship play-off final, he was linked with the vacant manager’s position at Celtic.

Gordon Strachan resigned from the post after the last game of the season and being a boyhood Hoops fan, Owen Coyle was immediately touted as one of the favourites.

However, in some news that will please Burnley fans greatly, the Scotsman has distanced himself from the speculation. He said that everyone is ‘putting two and two together and making five’. Just because he supported Celtic as a boy, doesn’t mean that he will take the position.

There is no doubt that his long-term future is uncertain, but as for what Owen Coyle’s next step will be – he is going on holiday. He is taking a well-earned break and doing so ‘as Burnley manager’.

As for the club themselves, well they are obviously very keen to keep hold of the man who has guided them to the top flight. They have offered him a contract extension and stated on their website that they have ‘not received any official approach from Celtic’, nor would they welcome one.

In the end though, it will all come down to what Owen Coyle wants to do. If he decides that the Celtic job is too hard to turn down – he will go.

However, to manage in the Premier League is also a huge opportunity and one that doesn’t come along too often.