MARK O’Haire’s (@MarkOHaire) been studying the Championship’s relegation market and reckons he’s found three angles worth pursuing ahead of the 2015/16 campaign.
English Championship | Relegation
Sky Sports believe they own the television rights to the best league in the world and they’re right, they do. Only, they don’t realise English football’s second tier IS the best league in the world. I don’t care who you are, where you come from or what evidence you have to back up your alternative suggestion because you’re wrong. The Championship is the best league in the whole wide world.
And in 2015/16, the best has only gone and gotten better. Gotten stronger. Gotten even more competitive and even tougher to second guess. There’s no shockers like Blackpool ready to gift teams an easy six points and the six new teams to come up and down from the first and third tiers show no obvious major glitches. Make no bones about it; the Championship is going to be fierce this season. Woof.
I always hold promoted League One sides in great faith when they enter the division, normally. I was heavily pro-Rotherham last year and although the Millers stayed up, it wasn’t quite as comfortable as I’d envisaged and Steve Evans’ men are deservedly heavy favourites to flout under the second season syndrome. But at 13/8 (Bet365), they’re just not worth the effort in a long-term market.
So instead, I’m going to go against my confidence in Championship newcomers and suggest MK Dons for the drop at a very interesting 4/1 (Bet365). I’m well aware only five of the last 30 teams to win League One promotion have suffered immediate relegation but as I’ve already suggested, this year the second tier isn’t hanging around for any stragglers.
MK’s aim will be to stay up despite public suggestions that they’re eyeing a mid-table finish. Two of last season’s bedrocks Dele Alli and Will Grigg are no longer at Stadium:mk despite boss Karl Robinson outlining the latter as his number one transfer target this summer. The duo’s influence can’t be overstated and although Simon Church has slotted in nicely during pre-season, he’s yet to truly fire in a stop-start career.
Peruvian international Cristian Benavente’s arrival from Real Madrid has excited supporters but they’ve yet to replace Alli in the defensive midfield role (yes, he was a defensive midfielder despite scoring gallons of goals) and there’s little strength in depth. Another forward is high on the agenda with Robinson desperate to unearth the next Patrick Bamford, Benik Afobe or Grigg through the loan market.
Without anyone capable of doing the dirty work bar Samir Carruthers and Darren Potter, the Dons might get overrun in the more challenging environment of the Championship. MK enjoy their attractive, fast, attacking football and they’ll be an enjoyable team to follow but I have my doubts whether the current crop really can hack it when the going gets tough.
Last term was Robinson’s final shot at promotion following five years of standing still. It worked out well, chairman Pete Winkleman has now shelled out on a brand new training ground; optimism in the town is high heading into their maiden second tier season. However, they’re a weaker prospect than 12 months ago and that’s worrying. I’m happy taking a stab at that 4/1.
Jump on the M1, plough up the M6 and take a detour onto the M62 and you’ll soon find yourself in the heart of the north-west where two heavyweights of the English game could find their Championship statuses being questioned. Beginning in Bolton, the Trotters are 5/1 (Bet365) to fall into the third tier for the first time in 22 years.
Avoiding relegation is the one and only target for a club that’s hands are strapped financially and finished their 2014/15 campaign with just five league wins from January. Of course, a horrendous injury crisis contributed too – at one point Bolton were without more than half of the senior squad – leaving Neil Lennon struggling to fill the bench with available substitutes.
Lennon is most definitely the Lancashire club’s prized asset. He’s the sole reason why I won’t be going balls deep on Bolton going down and you’d assume those behind the scenes will be doing all they can to keep hold of the former Celtic gaffer. Leicester came calling in the summer and they’re unlikely to be the last.
But the Trotters stagnation has really stunk in recent years. Brief promise under Dougie Freedman soon dissipated and now in their final year of Premier League parachute payments, they’re relying on freebies such as Gary Madine and versatile Spanish U21 defender Derik from Real Madrid for a bit of buzz.
Underperforming high earners have been moved on but they were unable to hold onto Eidur Gudjohnsen nor Adam Le Fondre and both Adam Bogdan and Andy Lonergan left the side without a goalkeeper until young Ben Amos was snapped up. Keeping Mark Davis fit is a must but also a mission, they’ve been forced to play talented midfielder Josh Vela out of position at right-back and the squad looks no better than average.
The only chink of light I can find bar Lennon is perhaps the huge investment in the youth system is starting to bear fruit. Zach Clough hit six goals in 10 games before injury struck and alongside Vela, Tom Walker and Quade Taylor have made their breakthroughs whilst Max Clayton’s signing suggests there’s plenty of potential.
Last season only Blackpool and Fulham faced more shots-on-target, the club suffered 15 away defeats (only Blackpool lost more) and were kept afloat by Lennon’s steady hand and a solid return in front of their fans at the Macron Stadium. At 5/1 they look a little on the large side compared to some of their divisional rivals.
Head 15 miles further north into the Lancashire wilderness and you’ll soon come across Ewood Park. And although Blackburn don’t appear to be any immediate danger, it might be worth getting them onside before shit really does start to hit the fan. Rovers had been chalked up as big as 9/1 to take the plunge in early summer but even at 15/2 they’re worth investing in.
Plenty can change in football and the former Premier League champions may start the season with their prized pair of 20-goal-a-season strikers Jordan Rhodes and Rudy Gestede in tow. If so, expect their campaign to go swimmingly with another top-half finish well within reach.
But should, as expected, at least one (if not both) of the highly-sought forwards get snaffled away from Ewood Park, serious danger could be around the corner. Rhodes has smashed 73 goals in 134 matches across the past three terms whilst Benin hitman Gestede has struck 33 in 66 appearances for Blackburn – two outstandingly strong records.
But Gary Bowyer’s men struggled with consistency last time out as well as a creaking defence, costing the club any serious aspirations of a top-six finish. Bowyer’s been an impressively calm and steady influence since being handed the role over two years ago but with Josh King already out the exit door, excellent playmaker Tom Cairney off to Fulham and a transfer embargo in place, the team could have it’s star core ripped apart.
Until Financial Fair Play targets are hit, Rovers will not be able to spend and like Bolton and MK Dons above, the squad appears to have regressed and that’s before taking into account the expected departures of Rhodes and Gestede. Parachute payments have ended, there’s little cover to a solid first XI and they lack a central creative player to take the weight off the ever-impressive wingers Ben Marshall and Craig Conway.
Blackburn did their best business against the league’s lesser lights in 2014/15, returning W15-D11-L4 when taking on teams below them in the table. But with the league growing stronger, they might find the going much tougher this time around and so it wouldn’t be a huge surprise to see the Red Rose begin to buckle.
Championship – MK Dons to be relegated (4/1 Bet365)
Championship – Bolton to be relegated (5/1 Bet365)
Championship – Blackburn to be relegated (15/2 Bet365)
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