Championship 2015/16 Preview and Final Table Prediction

Matt Clough@@MattJCloughFeatured ColumnistAugust 8, 2015

Championship 2015/16 Preview and Final Table Prediction

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    The Championship has a reputation for being extremely competitive, to the point where predicting the final table is almost impossible.

    Here, we’ll preview all 24 Championship clubs in alphabetical order and have a go at predicting where they will finish in the final league table as well as listing a player to watch.

    All predictions have been made based on last season’s form, recent transfer activity and the club’s manager.

Birmingham City

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    After years of gradual decline, Birmingham City appeared to be finally showing the green shoots of recovery under new boss Gary Rowett last season.

    City's key business in the transfer market has been to keep Demarai Gray and Clayton Donaldson at the club, while the departing Darren Randolph has been replaced with Tomasz Kuszczak, giving the Blues a solid platform to build upon.

    Don't be surprised to see Birmingham making a run for the play-offs.

    Player to watch: Clayton Donaldson

    Verdict: 10th

Blackburn Rovers

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    Like Birmingham, Blackburn Rovers were another club who experienced a resurgence under a new manager–Gary Bowyer–last season.

    However, they have endured a tough off-season, losing Rudy Gestede and Tom Cairney to Aston Villa and Fulham, respectively. There could be further bad news to come, with Rovers being forced to fend off interest in Jordan Rhodes.

    If the prolific striker leaves, Bowyer will have an extremely hard time replacing him and his goals.

    Player to watch: Shane Duffy

    Verdict: 17th

Bolton Wanderers

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     Things are beginning to look increasingly gloomy at the Macron Stadium.

    Despite Neil Lennon's best efforts, the precarious financial situation of Bolton Wanderers means that signings have been hard to come by. The club were priced out of a move for last season's loan star Adam Le Fondre, who has joined Wolves.

    A core of exciting young players are capable of springing a surprise or two—but not enough to get Bolton Wanderers near the play-offs. 

    Player to watch: Zach Clough

    Verdict: 19th

Brentford

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    Following the departure of the highly successful Mark Warburton at the end of last season, Brentford are one of this campaign’s most difficult-to-predict teams.

    New boss Marinus Dijkhuizen has relatively little experience and this season is his first in English football as either a coach or a player. How quickly he is able to make himself at home will be vital to the Bees’ success or failure. 

    Player to watch: Alan Judge

    Verdict: 11th

Brighton & Hove Albion

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    Following a tough season, Brighton appear to be finding their feet under Chris Hughton.

    The former Newcastle United boss has form in getting teams promoted from the Championship, and while that will be too big an ask this term, don’t expect the Seagulls to flirt with the relegation zone as they did last season.

    The return of Bobby Zamora will give them some added firepower up front as well as offering the team a talismanic presence on the pitch.

    Player to watch: Joao Teixeira

    Verdict: 13th

Bristol City

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    Bristol City returned to the Championship with consummate ease last season, winning League One at a canter and rarely looking troubled at that level.

    This season will undoubtedly be tougher, but with an experienced manager in Steve Cotterill, they will escape relegation. The core of last season’s squad remains, barring midfielder Jay Emmanuel-Thomas, who has joined Queens Park Rangers. His departure is a blow but one that City will be able to overcome.

    Player to watch: Luke Freeman

    Verdict: 15th

Burnley

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    Burnley and manager Sean Dyche last season ran the risk of attempting to tackle the Premier League with a largely unchanged squad from that which achieved promotion. While the gamble failed, one advantage the approach has is that it means Burnley will start this season with a lot of players used to winning promotion.

    The loss of trio Danny Ings, Kieran Trippier and Jason Shackell will be tricky to overcome, but the signings of Jelle Vossen and Matt Lowton will go some way to softening the blow.

    All eyes will be on Sam Vokes, who netted 22 times in the club’s last season in the Championship but failed to deliver in the Premier League.

    Player to watch: Sam Vokes

    Verdict: 7th

Cardiff City

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    With their time in the Premier League an increasingly distant memory, Cardiff City fans have every reason to be fearful about next season.

    The team has yet to click under Russell Slade, and although there have been no significant departures, there haven’t been any major signings to galvanise the club.

    Cardiff could be a classic case of a club that don’t entertain the possibility of relegation until it's a reality.

    Player to watch: Anthony Pilkington

    Verdict: 22nd

Charlton Athletic

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    Just as Cardiff may be the league’s surprise underachievers, so too may Charlton Athletic turn a few heads at the other end of the table.

    Few are backing the Addicks to end their Premier League exile, but they showed promise under Guy Luzon last season. If they’re able to turn draws into wins—they had 18 of the former last season—then the play-offs are a distinct possibility.

    Player to watch: Alou Diarra

    Verdict: 8th

Derby County

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    Despite last season's incredible collapse, Derby County will almost certainly be in the mix for automatic promotion come the end of this season.

    Much will depend on how new boss Paul Clement adjusts to life at the iPro Stadium in what is his first full managerial role. If the rookie manager can hit the ground running, Derby may be out of sight before the rest of the pack can react.

    Last season's form faltered in part due to the loss of striker Chris Martin, but the permanent arrivals of Darren Bent and Tom Ince will be more than capable of making up the shortfall if Martin misses any of the coming campaign.

    Player to watch: Tom Ince

    Verdict: 2nd

Fulham

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    Like Cardiff, Fulham are another recently relegated side for whom a rapid return to the top flight is looking increasingly like a pipedream.

    Kit Symons lacks experience, and despite inspiring a brief resurgence following the departure of Felix Magath, he rarely offered proof that he may be the man to take the Cottagers back to the Premier League.

    The signing of young midfielder Tom Cairney from Blackburn aside, there's been little to suggest that Fulham are willing to gamble on a promotion push.

    Player to watch: Tom Cairney

    Verdict: 18th

Huddersfield Town

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    Huddersfield Town are another team with an experienced head in charge that will be happy to simply better their position from last season–in Town’s case, a 16th-place finish.

    Chris Powell has provided Charlton with some much-needed consistency while there, but question marks remain about his ability to truly push a team on in the Championship. One of last season’s top performers, Conor Coady, has moved to Wolves, but Powell has made some intelligent signings, including Manchester City starlet Jordy Hiwula.

    Expect another season of consistency.

    Player to watch: Jordi Hiwula

    Verdict: 14th

Hull City

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    Hull City have endured what many relegated Premier League sides before them have—the ignominy of having their best assets stripped. Key departures include James Chester and Robbie Brady, as well as Tom Ince who, despite never making an impact at the KC Stadium, is capable of dominating the Championship. 

    So far, there’s been little indication of Steve Bruce moving to replace Chester and Brady, the signing of Moses Odubajo aside.

    Hull still have the remnants of a good side, and Bruce has experience in achieving promotion, so they will be nothing less than competitive, but how much so will depend on what they’re able to do in the market before it shuts.

    Player to watch: Mohamed Diame

    Verdict: 9th

Ipswich Town

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    Ipswich Town were firmly branded as overachievers last season, reaching the play-offs despite a shoestring budget. Once again they have spent nothing, despite selling full-back Tyrone Mings for £8 million.

    However, in Mick McCarthy they have one of the league's most experienced and successful managers.

    McCarthy is more than capable of mounting a similar charge this season, particularly as the sum of their new players—including Brett Pitman and Giles Coke—adds to more than than those they've lost.

    Player to watch: Brett Pitman

    Verdict: 3rd

Leeds United

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    After the bizarre goings-on at Elland Road last season, it’s easy to forget about Leeds United as a genuine footballing force. A poor finish to the campaign saw Leeds finish 15th and Neil Redfearn has been replaced with Uwe Rosler.

    Although Rosler’s stock is considerably lower than it had been prior to his sacking by Wigan Athletic, he is a manager capable of getting teams playing attractive football that gets results.

    Leeds’ league position last season suggests that with some stability and less histrionics off the pitch, they have a squad capable of mounting a play-off challenge.

    Player to watch: Stuart Dallas

    Verdict: 12th

Middlesbrough

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    Middlesbrough have endured a tough few months, losing the play-off final to Norwich City and then failing to secure the return of Patrick Bamford, who played such a vital role in getting them there.

    However, Boro still have the core of a strong Championship team, bolstered by Grant Leadbitter's talismanic presence in the centre of the park. If Aitor Karanka can galvanise them to sufficiently to right the wrongs of last season, the Teessiders will be the team to beat.

    Player to watch: Kike

    Verdict: 1st

MK Dons

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    MK Dons face the daunting task of their first-ever campaign in England's second flight since the club was moved to the town.

    Despite Karl Robinson's enthusiastic approach, it's difficult to see the Dons surviving in what looks to be one of the toughest Championship leagues in recent times.

    Robinson has bought wisely, with Matthew Upson and Simon Church bringing a wealth of experience. However, a general lack of Championship quality will count against Dons.

    Player to watch: Simon Church

    Verdict: 24th

Nottingham Forest

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    Given the dramatic nature of their collapse last season, it’s easy to forget that for the early part of the campaign, Nottingham Forest were the team to beat.

    Stuart Pearce has been replaced with Dougie Freedman, and although the former Bolton and Crystal Palace boss has yet to truly prove himself, Forest’s activity in the market has all the makings of a team that has improved considerably.

    The competition for the play-offs will be fierce, but if Forest can remain consistent, they will certainly be part of the conversation.

    Player to watch: Michail Antonio

    Verdict: 6th

Preston North End

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    Another new arrival to the Championship this season, Preston North End return to England’s second flight following a four-year absence.

    Like their fellow promoted teams, North End’s primary objective will be to avoid relegation. With a potent strike force and experienced management in the form of Simon Grayson, Preston should be able to manage that, but don’t expect them to do much more.

    It will be interesting to see how well Joe Garner, who has been prolific in League One, can adapt to a higher level.

    Player to watch: Joe Garner

    Verdict: 20th

Queens Park Rangers

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    Queens Park Rangers are familiar with the Championship despite their previous Premier League status, but the league will be less accustomed to the form that the team from Loftus Road will take this time around.

    Having been extravagant spenders until recently, the threat of a looming fine has caused them to tighten the purse strings considerably, but they have made several astute additions to the squad nonetheless.

    The likes of Jay Emmanuel-Thomas, Jamie Mackie and Paul Konchesky will offset the outgoing players, but much will depend on whether the club can keep hold of striker Charlie Austin, who has been subject to much speculation, per the Daily Mail.

    Player to watch: Junior Hoilett

    Verdict: 5th

Reading

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    Reading last season combined a superb run in the FA Cup with a weak showing in the league.

    The Madejski has been relatively quiet in terms of transfers, and with the jury still out on Steve Clark’s ability as a manager following his sacking by West Brom, expect Reading to spend more of their time looking down rather than up.

    Like Cardiff, Reading could find themselves in a relegation dogfight very easily, and a major worry is if they would have the character to see them safe.

    Player to watch: Orlando Sa

    Verdict: 23rd

Rotherham United

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    Rotherham United were the eventual victors in a titanic relegation battle last season, and although it’s hard not to see them being involved in the lower reaches of the table again, they should once again have just enough to steer clear of trouble.

    Steve Evans will be much wiser for the experiences of the last campaign, and although Ben Pringle and Craig Morgan have left the club, a savvy use of the Bosman and loan markets have bolstered United’s ranks.

    Player to watch: Chris Maguire

    Verdict: 21st

Sheffield Wednesday

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    Despite only finishing 13th last season, Sheffield Wednesday demonstrated the attributes of a team ready to build, but Stuart Gray’s sacking has threatened that progress.

    Most impressively, their defence was the fourth-best in the Championship, allowing just 49 goals past them. Gray has been replaced by Carlos Carvalhal, who is untested in England, and with him has come a surge of new players.

    With so much change taking place at Hillsborough, it’s difficult to see them improving upon last year’s performance.

    Player to watch: Sean Scannell

    Verdict: 16th

Wolverhampton Wanderers

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    Last season was one of quiet progress at Molineux, with astute additions in the form of Benik Afobe and Kenny Jackett continuing to make a name for himself as a winning manager who plays with flair.

    Expect Wolves to better their finish of seventh from last season and possibly challenge for automatic promotion if they're able to avoid the short runs of poor form that affected them last season.

    Player to watch: Benik Afobe

    Verdict: 4th

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