THE CHAMPIONSHIP season is upon us but who’ll be heading down to the third tier come May? We asked Mark O’Haire (@MarkOHaire) for his thoughts.
Championship | Relegation
Written off before a ball has been kicked, Burton head the Relegation market and odds-on to suffer immediate demotion in their debut Championship campaign.
One of the smallest clubs ever to appear in the second tier, there are parallels between the Brewers rise and that of Yeovil. But the West Country outfit consolidated for a number of years in the Football League before their fairytale promotion to the second-tier – Burton have risen the ranks from non-league in just seven years.
Albion were relatively average over the second part of last season and Nigel Clough faces a monumental task to keep the Brewers above water, relying on organisation and defensive resilience to ensure survival.
Whether their tried-and-trusted methods will cut the mustard in the Championship remains to be seen but serious question marks have to be asked about a side that notched just 57 goals in League One. Back-to-back promotions were built on defence and cohesion with spades of determination, desire, and work rate thrown into the mix.
Avoiding relegation would be a huge achievement and though it looks unlikely, I’ve no interest in backing the Brewers for the drop.
Last season MK Dons became only the sixth promoted League One club to suffer immediate relegation in 11 years and with Barnsley and Wigan well-equipped and enjoying lorryloads of momentum, I’m also happy to overlook Burton’s fellow newcomers for a better bet.
Rotherham (12/5 Marathon)
Backing Rotherham to go down won’t win prizes for originality but the masters of escapology are unlikely to repeat the trick in 2016/17.
The Millers have finished fourth from bottom in each of their last two Championship seasons but last season’s great escape still beggars belief.
Having lost eight of their previous 12 league games and rooted in the relegation zone, Neil Warnock inspired a stunning revival when losing just four of Millers’ final 16 matches. Remarkably, Rotherham eventually finished nine points above the bottom-three.
But Warnock has moved on and Alan Stubbs has since taken the reigns. Stubbs’ managerial experience is slim but failure to win promotion with Hibs from Scotland’s Championship is gazumped by guiding the capital club to their first Scottish Cup success in 114 years.
However, the ex-Everton and Celtic defender has suffered from an awful summer’s recruitment that left the club with only 14 professionals on their books in June.
Walsall’s Anthony Forde and Falkirk’s Will Vaulks arrive with potential to impress at this level but quality across the board is in short supply and with top scorer Matt Derbyshire departing and Jonson Clarke-Harris injured, the Millers have a dearth of attacking options.
Lee Camp was Rotherham’s saviour for the most part of 2015/16 and Spurs youngster Grant Ward the inspiration. The latter’s loan expired and so the reliance on a goalkeeper can only add to the worrisome nature of relegation.
I could write another four or five paragraphs reinforcing the opinion but I’m sure you get the picture; Stubbs has a very tough task reinventing the Rotherham wheel this season; League One looms.
Blackburn (9/2 Sportingbet)
Quick game? What do Tom Cairney, Markus Olsson and Grant Hanley all have in common? They were the past three winners of Blackburn’s Player of the Year award and have all since departed Ewood Park.
Chuck in the departures of Jordan Rhodes and Rudy Gestede over the past 12 months and Rovers’ squad has significantly depleted.
We highlighted Blackburn as a Relegation punt last season (along with Bolton and MK Dons) and I’m determined to get them in the bag this time around as the club seem certain to pay for years of financial mismanagement and awful managerial choices.
The chicken farmers in charge continue to overshadow Ewood Park and supporter disillusionment reached anarchy levels this summer following the appointment of Owen Coyle – Paul Lambert had quite amid a lack of communication from the board over summer transfer plans.
Rovers have signed Danny Graham and Anthony Stokes to lead the line and although Graham notched seven goals in 18 games on-loan last season, he’s not in the class of Rhodes (or Gestede).
In fact, none of the summer additions are inspiring and although there’s a smattering of midfield talent, the squad is wafer-thin and lacking quality.
With a poisonous atmosphere from the stands, owners that are unwilling to invest and a manager with a below-par track record, it’s an easy bet to place.
Nottingham Forest (9/1 10Bet)
Nottingham Forest have averaged a 14th-place finish across the past three campaigns but 2015/16 was particularly tough for City Ground followers.
Dougie Freedman was working under a transfer embargo and instructed to reduce the wage bill and reorganise the squad. The Scot succeeded but his defence-first football soon saw crowds dwindle.
Unloved owner Fawaz Al-Hasawi reacted by firing Freedman and hiring Philippe Montanier this summer, the seventh new manager to take the hot-seat during Fawaz ‘s four-year reign. Gulp.
Being a big fan of European football, I’m well versed in Montanier’s career and the Frenchman enjoyed a decent time of it at Real Sociedad and Rennes. With Pedro Pereira arriving as director of football, plenty of Forest fans are hopeful a new dawn is arriving in Robin Hood country.
But Fawaz has stated intention to sell the club within weeks and on the pitch the club will be pinning plenty of hope in fit-again Britt Assombalonga to fire the side to success with only new (and mediocre) arrival Apostolos Vellios providing support to Assombalonga and Dexter Blackstock in attack.
On paper, there’s a solid spine to the side. Dorus De Vries was last year’s Player of the Year in goal, Matt Mills is uncompromising and overrated but handy to have at centre-back with the adaptable Michael Mancienne back from another injury.
Chris Cohen and Henri Lansbury are talented but also injury-prone and the small squad looks unable to cope should the Tricky Trees suffer another medical crisis.
A font of Football League knowledge, Gabriel Sutton makes an excellent case for Relegation here and I have to agree, at the odds available.
Forest have the quality in parts to enjoy a comfortable campaign under an astute coach but under the current regime nothing is guaranteed and another season of struggle shouldn’t be ruled out.
At the current market price, Forest are simply too big to ignore.
Championship – Rotherham to be relegated (12/5 Marathon)
Championship – Blackburn to be relegated (9/2 Sportingbet)
Championship – Nottingham Forest to be relegated (9/1 10Bet)