One of the toughest challenges in football is the race to win promotion to the Premier League from The Championship. The rewards for just one season in the top flight are reported to be worth in excess of £100 million, thus, it is understandable why each of the 23 teams in the second tier want to get out! Some teams have played in the Premier League and have been relegated and as such, will be looking for a return. Other teams will be hoping to reach the “Promised Land” and enjoy the rewards it has to offer for the first time.
One look at the betting odds for which team will win The Championship this season illustrates just how competitive the 2012/2013 campaign promises to be with no fewer than seven teams priced between 7/1 and 10/1 to win the title.
Bolton Wanderers are the favourites to win the league at a best price of 7/1 whilst Leicester, Wolves, Cardiff, Blackburn, Leeds and Nottingham Forest are all vying for the second favourites spot depending on which bookmakers odds you look at. Here, I rate the chances of the division’s leading contenders.
There will be few teams better motivated to get back into the top flight than Bolton after spending the last 11 seasons there. Manager, Owen Coyle, has all but pledged to the club that they will be in the thick of things and to that end, has brought in a few useful signings to add some backbone to the defence and midfield, including Matt Mills and Keith Andrews.
The team has plenty of talent too with Josh Vela, Lee Chung-yong, Stuart Holden, Chris Eagles and Tyrone Mears all highly regarded footballers and in Marvin Sordell they could have a striker worth his weight in gold. Coyle knows what is required to get out of the division after guiding Burnley to promotion, so expect Bolton to be a leading contender and do look the justifiable favourites at 7/1.
Leicester boss, Nigel Pearson, has had a big clear out, allowing 11 players to leave but has added some new blood to the squad, including the ambitious Ritchie De Laet and Zak Whitbread along with James Vardy whose incredible goal-scoring record from non-league football was enough to earn him a place on the payroll with a team with Premiership aspirations.
Vardy joins strikers, Jermaine Beckford and David Nugent giving the Foxes a formidable attack that will play in front of a hard-working midfield and defense.
The pressure is on Leicester to do well after they came up short last season and at 8/1 to win the league, I would be happy to let others take the risk and find out if they can justify the hype!
The Wolves Board made it abundantly clear at the end of last season that they expected to come straight back into the Premier League following relegation and have done nothing short of preparing for that eventuality.
The first thing they did was appoint Stale Solbakken as manager who will be insisting that the team play attractive football with plenty of energy and desire. New signings include strikers, Bjorn Sigurdarson and Frank Nouble and they have also brought in the talented Malian midfielder, Tongo Doumbia, from French club Rennes.
Some doubt surrounds the future of want away striker, Steven Fletcher, but Wolves are a seasoned side at this level and providing the new manager can hit the ground running, his side should be in with a great chance of making a quick return and are 9/1 to win the title or 11/4 just to get promoted.
Despite fans still calling for the sacking of manager Steve Kean, Blackburn have been busy in the pre-season bringing in a number of players whose task is to get Rovers back in the top flight.
Included amongst them is the experienced Danny Murphy and Dickson Etuhu from Fulham, striker, Leon Best, Nuno Gomes, Fabio Nunes, Edinho Junior and Paulo Jorge.
These signings appear to show that the club are trying their utmost to get back into the Premier League but the more cynical Blackburn fan will recognise that they have all been brought to Ewood Park on the cheap and there may be question marks over their motivation when the season begins to unfold. However, those uncertainties are reflected in the potentially generous 12/1 quote about winning The Championship and if off the field problems don’t escalate, Kean could silence his critics.
Having been so close for the last few years if there is one team that deserves to go up, it’s Cardiff City and perhaps this season they will get their just rewards.
Of course the club are still overcoming the furore that blew up when it was announced that the club, with a huge investment made by Malaysian investors, would change from its traditional blue shirts to red to appease the Far East markets and help to secure a stronger future and investment.
Those investments have already seen the likes of Jordon Mutch, Kim Bo-kyung and now Craig Bellamy join manager, Malky Mackay, at the club and optimism is running high that the 2012-13 is the year that can see Cardiff make it to the top flight.
Similar to Blackburn, provided unrest from some sections of the support doesn’t affect the team, the Bluebirds (or rather, “Red Dragons”) should once again be in the mix. They are 4/1 to eventually win promotion and 12/1 to do so by winning the title.
Hopes are high at the City Ground that the club, now in the ownership of the Al Hasawi family, will spend the appropriate amount of money to acquire a team that can win promotion.
Sean O’Driscoll has been named the new manager and several players have departed during the Summer and one or two replacements are beginning to arrive but as yet, there has been no real signs that the club will be going flat out for promotion this season.
This could well be a season of consolidation and the big push to the top flight will begin in earnest next season and as such, I’m happy to overlook Forest for another 12 months.
Ian Holloway usually has his Blackpool team in contention and he should do so again this season. The Seasiders have been busy rebuilding the squad although no major names have been brought in but the one thing that can be assured from a Holloway side is that he’ll get the best out of his players and they’ll always be well organised and be prepared to put in 100%.
Fans should be delighted to see both Tiago Gomes and Angel Martinez at the club, the two should prove vital components in the attacking strategy adopted by Holloway with both very adept at providing chances for the strikers.
Blackpool can be expected to improve as the season progresses and they should be there or thereabouts by the season’s end. Winning the title seems a bit optimistic but they are 11/2 to win promotion and another play-off berth is well within their capabilities.
New manager at St Andrew’s, Lee Clark, faces a huge challenge in getting Birmingham back into the top flight but he recognises that his new team is full of ability and under Chris Hughton, they played a very solid game. He knows he will not have to change that style too much but is astute enough to know that he can add to it. Once his ‘feet are firmly under the table’ then there is no reason why Birmingham should not be challenging this year.
Clark will be pleased that he will have a top class goalkeeper between the sticks, Jack Butland, won rave reviews for his performances in the Olympics and he will be an important player for the ‘Blues’ this season.
Ravel Morrison could be a threat up front on loan from West Ham whilst Darren Ambrose, Hayden Mullins and Peter Lovenkrnads are all solid additions at this level.
Clark has a lot to prove after being dismissed by Huddersfield earlier in the year and Birmingham could well be a “Dark Horse” at odds of 20/1 to win the league and they should be there or thereabouts come May.
Blackburn Rovers and Wolves to win Automatic promotion.
Leicester, Bolton, Cardiff and Blackpool to fight out the Play-Offs.