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Promotion Push - Can Reading return to the top-flight after last year's play-off final agony
Out of the twenty-four teams competing in the Championship for the 2011/2012 season, eighteen have enjoyed at least a season in the Premier League since its inception. 

These teams are striving to return to the Promised Land and many even believe it’s their divine right to be playing in the top tier of English football. The parachute payments of £12 million a year paid to clubs relegated from the Premier League over four years merely adds to the competitiveness of ‘The Championship’. Played out over 46 games, this all makes for a very tough league indeed. A tough league to get out of and, although a cliché, it really is true that any team can beat any of its rivals making predicting results a lottery.

With over a month until the season starts, plus two months before the transfer window slams shut, it makes it even more difficult to predict promotion and relegation places. Despite this, I still couldn’t resist it.

Below are the teams I believe will be involved in the promotion and relegation places;

Automatic Promotion     West Ham United, Reading

Play Off Places              Leicester, Birmingham, Nottingham Forest, Middlesbrough

Relegation Places          Peterborough, Barnsley, Coventry City


West Ham United


West Ham United are the favourites for automatic promotion and it is very hard to argue against this. Their most important signing was their manager Sam Allardyce and although it came 6 months too late, he will be able to take the Hammers back to the Premier League. It is vitally important for West Ham to be playing Premier League football when they move into the Olympic stadium. David Gold & David Sulivan are bankrolling the club personally and keeping them afloat despite the massive debts the club has racked up, so it is a gamble which has to pay off. If the appointment  of Sam Allardyce reduced the gamble of bankrolling ‘The Hammers’, then the acquisition of Kevin Nolan certainly did. I personally feel Nolan is too good for the Championship but lure of working with ‘Big Sam’ again along with being offered the contract he was looking for proved too much to turn down.  With Nolan’s quality in the most important area of the pitch and ‘Big Sam’s’ organizational skills, as well as having the knack of creating teams that win football matches, West Ham United should return to the top flight at the first time of asking.

Reading

My other ‘Top 2’ tip may come as a surprise to some but Reading finished last season as one of the form teams as they gate-crashed their way into the play offs. Brian McDermott got his team playing football the way it should be played and created a strong team spirit and if Reading had had a better first half of the season then they would be preparing for a Premier League season right now.  Shane Long was fantastic for ‘the Royals’ last season but, with only a year left to run on his contract, he could move on this summer. Despite this I am backing McDermott to find a suitable replacement for the 24 year old if required and occupy one of the 2 automatic promotion places once the final whistle of the campaign has been blown.

Leicester

Leicester under new ownership have become the ‘Man City’ of the Championship and have high ambitions of reaching the Premier League sooner rather than later. With the pulling power of Sven (excuse the pun) and seemingly unlimited resources for a club at this level, expectations around the Walkers stadium are decidedly high with many bookmakers tipping the foxes for promotion too.  Leicester have been active already in this transfer market and have snapped up Kasper Schmeichel, Ricardo and Lee Peltier from Huddersfield Town. With more imminent arrivals on their way maybe the main question mark over Leicester for the forthcoming season is whether Sven Goran Eriksson can mould and gel his players into a team that can launch a promotion assault.

Birmingham

Another relegated team from the Premiership that financially needs to be playing their football at the top level. Alex McLeish was charged with an immediate return to the top flight before controversially switching to Villa Park. Birmingham have appointed well in the likeable Chris Hughton who knows this league after taking Newcastle United up as Champions. The main difference with Birmingham is that the Carling Cup winning team will be broken up as players such as Lee Bowyer & Craig Gardner have moved on and are surely likely to be followed by Scott Dann, Ben Foster and Roger Johnson. This challenge will be Hughton’s toughest yet of his short managerial career but I still think he can galvanize his players enough with his man management skills to finish in the top 6 places. As he is on a 1 year contract, it is unlikely that he will be offered a second one unless promotion is achieved at the first attempt.

Nottingham Forest

As a Derby County fan it pained me to tip Leicester for a playoff place. It pains me even more to suggest Nottingham Forest will be in the shake up for promotion too. Having reached the playoffs in recent seasons the squad know what it takes but it is Nigel Doughty’s persuasion of Steve McClaren to take up the reins at the City Ground that makes me believe the reds will be there or thereabouts come the end of the season. As a Rams fan I know just how good a coach McClaren is and apart from his disastrous stint as England manager his CV is testament to this. Steve is a good manager who will be able to attract the calibre of player required to reach the Premier League, if not this season then over the next 2/3 seasons.

Middlesbrough

After Gordon Strachan’s unsuccessful tenure in charge of Middlesbrough, Tony Mowbray appears to of helped the Teesside club turn the corner. Middlesbrough finished the season strongly and the club seem the perfect fit for Mowbray as he tries to bring his brand of football to the Riverside. As a former fan’s favourite as a player he was a popular choice and under Steve Gibson he will be given time. If Boro can make a decent start to their campaign, I fully expect them to be challenging in the top half of the table but they will need to make a couple of quality signings to ensure they can last the 46 game distance.   



Peterborough

‘The Posh’ return to the Championship looking to erase the bitter memory of two seasons ago when they finished last with a disappointing points total. With the departure of Craig Mckail-Smith they will struggle to score enough goals at this level & although I expect them to do better than last time, survival may just be beyond Darren Ferguson’s men.

Barnsley

 I predict that Barnsley will really struggle this season. They are a club struggling like many to keep their finances in order and balancing the books is the priority. Mark Robbins did a great job last season in the circumstances before throwing in the towel after conceding he had done as much as he could. The departure of the ‘Player of the Year’, Jason Shackell, to Derby County will just add to the task that Keith Hill has on his hands. Keith Hill’s inexperience at this level and the budget restrictions he faces ensures ‘The Tykes’ fans are in for a rocky season and could suffer relegation as a result.

Coventry City    

It may be a surprise to many that I tip Coventry City to go down this season. I think a culmination of financial miss-management, the dismissal  of Aidy Boothroyd and Marlon King moving to rivals Birmingham City will lead to the unthinkable happening for Sky Blue fans. Andy Thorn faces a huge task in keeping the fans and the board happy and I would be surprised if he is in charge for the whole campaign in what I predict will be a season of turmoil at the Ricoh arena.

As I have already mentioned I am a Derby County fan and I am cautiously optimistic for the season ahead for the Rams. Nigel Clough has been busy in the transfer market with seven new signings so far with the promise of more to come. A lot depends on how these new signings will settle and a couple of them haven’t played in the championship and may take a few games to adjust to this level. This is an important season for Clough who is in year 3 of a 5 year plan and a top half finish is demanded of him by the fans and a placing of between eighth and twelfth is where I expect them to finish. Whoever you support in this league there is at least one guarantee, in that there will be plenty of excitement in the season ahead to look forward too with many surprises, twists and turns.

                                                                             Ian McCroft

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@fastmach
 


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