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May 8 2021 8.05am

2005-6 Championship preview part 2

August 4 2005

The Football League

The Football League

The second part of Simon Pophale's guide to the Championship...

Hull City

Last Season: League 2 Runners Up

In: Curtis Woodhouse (Peterborough £25,000), Stephen McPhee (Beira Mar - £220,000), Danny Coles (Bristol City £200,000), Mark Lynch (Sunderland), Sergio Leite (Charlton), Keith Andrews (Wolves)

Out: Johnathan Walters (Wrexham), Aaron Wilbraham (MK Dons), Clayton Donaldson, Richard Hinds

Manager: Peter Taylor

One to watch: Stuart Elliott

My Prediction: 16th

How will we do? – 6/6

The northern outpost of Hull experiences Championship football for the first time in a long, long time. Peter Taylor has brought Hull back from the basement of the League, slowly getting them through the League structure and now they have a chance to aim for the Premiership.

There has been a lot of investment in the club.

A new stadium has risen from the ashes of the old and Taylor has been given money to forge a team that can get into the Premiership. There has been some surprise signings but none more so than when former Everton player Nick Barmby moved to the KC Stadium. It is hard to belive that he was on the pitch when England beat Germany 5-1 back in 2002. But while Barmby has been providing the class and experience which has taken Hull to these new heights, another player has been grabbing the headlines.

Stuart Elliott last season was the top scorer in League One and he will be the main threat and the one to watch this season. He scored over 30 goals and also is now capped internationally, which shows how much he has progressed over the last couple of seasons. There is a question mark if he can perform at this level, but he is a player to be wary of.

Taylor has not been overly active in the transfer market and he has brought both fringe players from Championship sides and a couple of players who might lift the quality of the side from its former League One status to the required standard to cope with the Championship.

Stephen McPhee and Sergio Leite are those players which might lift them, Keith Andrews and Mark Lynch should. Danny Coles is an exciting player which Bristol City fought hard to keep and it is in defence where Taylor will need to make sure that Hull improves on last season.

I can see us winning at home but at the KC Stadium, again it will not be a walk in the park. Hull are going to fight tooth and nail for every point and while the top sides should have enough in the locker to beat Hull, I expect Taylor to spring a few surprises along the way.

Which is why I am backing them to stay up and they won’t be too troubled with relegation by the seasons end. They must not be overawed by the teams that they will be playing but Taylor has worked at the highest level, so he will have the players will drilled.

What could be the furthest Northern trip should be a good experience for us this season, but Tigers fans will be happy to consolidate their position in this division, it has been a long time coming.

Sheffield Wednesday

Last Season: 4th – League Two Playoff Winners

In: John Hills (Gillingham), Drissa Diallo (Ipswich), Graham Coughlan (Plymouth – undisc), Burton O’Brien (Livingstone), Chris Eagles (Manchester United – loan), Ritchie Partridge, Frankie Simek

Out: Luke Foster (Lincoln – free), Paul Smith, Liam Needham, Lewis McMahon, Matt Hamshaw, Ross Greenwood, Chris Adamson, Zigor Aranalde, James Quinn

Manager: Paul Sturrock

One to watch: Chris Eagles

My Prediction: 15th

How will we do? – 6/6

Paul Sturrock should be a happy man after Cardiff. After all , he had masterminded Sheffield Wednesday back to the big time after their shambolic relegation some seasons before, after the years of Premiership overspending finally caught up with them. Wednesday is now a team full of hungry young players, who are certainly anything but household names.

But as you look at the Championship teams this season, 3 of Sturrocks clubs are in their league. Plymouth who he masterminded, winning the League 2 and League 1 titles (despite leaving with 3 games to go to join Southampton), his current incumbent Wednesday, which he took through the playoffs last season and Southampton, who cruelly sacked him after 3 games last season and never gave him a chance to prove himself in the top division.

So no doubt there would have been a wry smile on the big Scotsmans face when Southampton got relegated.

Whether Wednesday can make a push for promotion is anyone’s guess. But I don’t believe that they will this season; simply because their players are not accusTOMed to this level and with the overhaul of the club over the last couple of years, Wednesday will have to re-adjust back to life in the 2nd tier.

Sturrock has tried to ameliorate the squad with additions from teams higher up. Former Liverpool trainee Ritchie Partridge will be looking to make a name for himself in this division, as he always looked useful and was well thought of at Anfield.

John Hills, Drissa Diallo and Graham Coughlan have all played and acquitted themselves well at this level, even if at the top end they struggled to make an impact. But they should all be able to manage with a mid-table position.

Sturrock has made 2 Premiership signings though, in Frankie Simek from Arsenal and Chris Eagles from Manchester United. Simek, who didn’t make the breakthrough at Highbury has been picked up and is a versatile defender, while Eagles is a young exciting midfielder who we saw last season play against us in the Carling Cup.

Much is expected of him and he will be my man to watch, simply because Wednesday doesn’t have that many players who will stand out.

But that is not to say that they will struggle. In fact, I think that they will do the best out of all the promoted sides this season. Yet while they don’t have the quality, they have enough to beat the sides around them and could net one or two surprising results against teams who may underestimate them.

If Eagles and Simek prove that they are good enough to take the club to the next level, then maybe they will improve on the 15th place that I have given them, however as the side is young and may take time to adjust to this division, I think that this will be where they finish. We should do well here, if we hope to even go back to the Premiership we must win at home and also go to Hillsborough, a real traditional English ground and perform well.

I can see 6 points but Wednesday will be fighting for every point so they don’t get involved in the relegation scrap. The canny Scot Sturrock will steer them away from relegation and by doing so will bring back a little respect to the fallen giant of years before.

Plymouth Argyle

Last Season: 17th

In: Akos Busacky (FC Porto – undisc), Bojan Djordic (Rangers), Anthony Barness, Rufus Brevett (West Ham), Taribo West (Al Arabi), Nuno Mendes (Santa Clara)

Out: Peter Gilbert (Leicester £200,000), Graham Coughlan (Sheff Wed – undisc), Steven Milne (St Johnstone), Matt Villis (Torquay), David Worrell (Rotherham Utd)

Manager: Bobby Williamson

One to watch: Taribo West

My Prediction: 14th

How will we do? – 4/6

It’s all gone a little bit continental, or is that mental down on the South Coast as Plymouth have not only put football back on the map in South West England, they are hoping to bring style and culture as well.

Bobby Williamson has not only scoured Europe in bringing players in, he has gone around the world, literally and managed to bring a former World Class defender to Home Park.

Taribo West, formerly of Inter Milan and he of the colourful dreadlocks, has arrived in Plymouth with a point to prove. Or is it a last pay-day? Whichever it is, he is going to put bums on seats and the excitement level will be high, as will the expectation of what he can achieve with the players around him.

He could either improve them as they will be playing with a better player technically, or he might find that life in footballs lower divisions too much to bear and walk away after a few months. He will be the one to watch simply because he is a great story. Whether he will show the kind of form that led him to play in World Cups and Serie A, is another story altogether.

He has played for Derby as well in his time and did not make headlines for the right reasons either – departing once they had been relegated to the division he is currently aspiring to play in.

Otherwise Williamson has gone from the sublime in Bojan Djordic, who was quite highly rated at Rangers, to Akos Busacky of FC Porto who would have played in Champions League matches one presumes, to the totally obscure as Nuno Mendes arrived from Santa Clara, a club I and literally most of us, have not heard of.

There were also a couple of Premiership signings too in Rufus Brevett and Anthony Barness, both of whom should provide a solid look to the defence, with West and Capaldi.

So while Plymouth has done their level best in trying not to ship goals this term, scoring them might be their biggest obstacle.

Nick Chadwick is good enough for this level in midfield, but up front they can still rely on Micky Evans. Lee Hodges and Scott Taylor will need to start scoring, if Djordic fails to shine. Hodges should, given that he has done it before at the lower levels for Barnet and he has built his career by freely scoring in the lower leagues, but whether he can do it at Championship level, remains to be seen.

To be honest, this is why I see Plymouth doing better than last season and while they wont make too many in-roads to the top half of the division, they will be a useful side who on their day, will be a handful, especially at home.

Possibly our furthest trip south might bring only a point back to London, but we will get an early chance to see how West and Co are settling in as they come to Selhurst in mid-August. I for one am interested to see if they can gel into a cohesive unit, but we should be too much for them at home.

Yet these are exciting times down at Plymouth. Let’s hope for their fans sake that it does not go the way of so many other big name signings that fail to deliver and they aren’t left short-changed. Williamson and the Home Park faithful deserve better than that.

Southampton

Last Season: 20th in the Premiership - Relegated

In: Ricardo Fuller (Portsmouth - £90,000), Darren Powell (Crystal Palace), TOMas Hajto (Nurnberg), Dennis Wise (Millwall), Kyle Critchell, Feliciano Condesso

Out: Peter Crouch (Liverpool £7,000,000), Kevin Phillips (Aston Villa £750,000), Mikeal Nillson (Panathinaikos £600,000), Paul Telfer (Celtic – undisc), Jelle Van Damme (Werder Bremen – loan), Mike Williamson (Wycombe), Jim Corbett (Southend), Aleddine Yahia (St Etienne), Andreas Jakobsen (Helsingborgs), Jo Tessem (Lyn), Anders Svennson, Olivier Bernard, Jamie Redknapp & Greame Le Saux (retired), Jason Dodd (Brighton)

Manager: Harry Redknapp

One to watch: Ricardo Fuller

My Prediction: 13th

How will we do? – 4/6

How Lowe can you go Harry! The manager, who had proudly proclaimed that he had “never” been relegated, has been. Mid table is all I foresee for Saints this season and it will get a lot worse, before it gets a lot better.

Look at Coventry, who had 28 years in the top division and have since found it very hard to come back, so too will Southampton find that Championship football is a lot harder than it looks.

The turnover of players has been high – so many have left. I haven’t included Henri Camara but when you look at who they have up front at the moment, I foresee problems as Dexter Blackstock and Brett Omerod have not scored goals at this level for a while, Blackstock got the odd one or two at Plymouth on loan but I am not worried about Saints this season.

Ricardo Fuller will be a welcome addition but I cant see him getting 20+ goals to get Saints in the frame. He is my man to watch as well, after scoring his only Portsmouth goal against, well who else? US!

It seems that Harry jumped out of the executive director frying pan at Portsmouth to into the technical director fire at Southampton, as Clive Woodward is now there sitting on his shoulder. Its Zajec all over again and without Jim Smith now to help Harry at Southampton, it will be a long road back for Southampton in getting promotion. Will Woodward help or hinder their season?

When you look at the players who have left, you cant help but think that it is going to be a long season. Phillips and Crouch were guaranteed goals, but they have both been sold. Telfer and Dodd, Redknapp Jnr and Le Saux were the experienced heads in the team, now they have gone too.

Darren Powell will help shore up the defence, which should become under less pressure than it was last season, but I cant see Antii Niemi starting the season between the sticks. He is having “personal” issues with the club at the moment and this may leave a cloud over the club. Paul Smith though is an able, if inexperienced deputy.

Southampton have a lot of rebuilding to do and I cant see them starting well. Their love affair with Scandanavia appears over as virtually all their Scandanavian players have gone, although you have to question if they were good enough anyway.

Pole TOMas Hajto should be a good buy, but Dennis Wise? A strange signing and one for the coaching staff to worry, about whose job he will take, when he finishes playing. I thought that he had.

Only time will tell if the Harry and Clive show will work out, but I fear that one of them will be out of work before the seasons end and I wouldn’t bet against Harry walking out just before Christmas, to emerge somewhere else come next year. It’s happened before, after all.

With all the upheaval, we can do well again. 4 points is realistic, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we took all 6, if Saints cannot get a grip on this division.

It is going to be a season that teams like Wolves, Leicester, Leeds and Coventry faced last season. Rupert Lowe may find that once again, he will become public enemy number 1 if the new structure doesn’t work. Mid-table at best for them this season.

Queens Park Rangers

Last Season: 11th

In: Ian Evatt (Chesterfield – undisc), Marc Nygaard (Brescia), Stefan Moore (Aston Villa), TOMmy Doherty (Bristol City – undisc), Simon Royce (Charlton), Ugo Ukah

Out: Arthur Gnohere, Tony Thorpe (Norwich), Wes Thomas, Jamie Cureton, Chris Day, Lewis Hamilton, Sonny Farr (AFC Wimbledon), Gino Padula (Notts Forest), Gennaro Rossi

Manager: Ian Holloway

One to watch: Marc Bircham

My Prediction: 13th

How will we do? – 6/6

QPR have cast their net far and wide in order to improve on last seasons mid table finish. They may have gone all continental but will it work?

After dipping their toes in the Italian market last season with Gennaro Rossi, they have done so again by signing 6 feet 5 inch Marc Nygaard from Brescia. I don’t know much about him but I can see what Ian Holloway is trying to do. Peter Crouch is a handful so why not get someone his size to cause problems?

Fact is that Peter Crouch, has great skill for someone so large and unless Nygaard has a similar touch, the Dane might find himself out of touch with the fast pace of the Championship. Otherwise the signing of Ian Evatt from Chesterfield and Ugo Ukah should shore up a defence that leaked goals at crucial times last season.

Rangers went on a run last season, which more than once took them to the edge of the playoff places. But this is the 2nd season and it is always harder as now they are no longer the new boys, so people will know what to expect of them. Kevin Gallen should still score goals at this level, so Nygaards arrival could take some pressure off him in this area, but QPR have a diamond in midfield in Marc Bircham.

So much so, they have a player for life. Bircham is a QPR fan through and through and he gives 100% everytime he goes on the pitch. There are no airs and graces about the former Millwall man, except all he offers are hard work and a will to win, which is what QPR will need this season, if they are going to improve.

Which they have tried to do on a shoe-string once again, so Ian Holloway must be given praise for continually getting success season after season without any financial backing.

But this will be the season that they plateau and we should have no trouble despatching them, either at home or away. QPR are still too reliant on Gallen for goals and unless Nygaard is the man who can be head and shoulders above the average in his division, I see another season of mid table finality for the men from West London.

Stoke City

Last Season: 12th

In: Mamady Sidibe (Gillingham), Peter Sweeney (Millwall – tribunal), Carl Hoefkens (Germinal Beerschot £265,000), Bruce Dyer (Watford), Martin Koler & Ngalula Mbuyi-Gabriel (Anderlecht – loans)

Out: Ben Foster (Manchester United £1,000,000), Clive Clarke (West Ham - £275,000), Gifton Noel-Williams (Burnley), Wayne Thomas (Burnley), Gareth Owen (Oldham – £50,000), Jermaine Palmer, Jay Denny, Chris Greenacre, Richard Keogh

Manager: Johan Boskamp

One to watch:

My Prediction: 11th

How will we do? – 6/6

A good season last season, a turbulent preseason followed. Tony Pulis was sacked for not investing enough in foreign players, so I suppose that’s what happens when you have foreign owners.

Johan Boskamp has come in and straight away used his knowledge of the Belgian game to bring in International defender Carl Hoefkens, while securing 2 loan signings from Anderlecht. I think that in time, the appointment will lead to success, but it will take time to bed down.

Pulis’ sacking was surprising at a time when more and more people are trying to develop English players, Stoke sack their manager for not having enough foreign players. This is the club that had Ed De Goey and while he no doubt played well during his time in the Potteries, there are no short-cuts to success.

Foreign players cost money and poor quality ones do as well, so while Boskamp gets to grips with the English game, Stoke could struggle in the short term.

Last seasons mid-table finish would have brought some satisfaction to the fans, reasons why they finished so high have possibly moved on. Gifton Noel-Williams can score at this level, while Ade Akinbiyi moved on last season to Burnley as well. Wayne Thomas has also gone, as has promising goalkeeper Ben Foster and Clive Clarke, a mainstay in their team last season.

This leads me to think that after a slow start, Stoke will start to get it right come the end of the season. It is going to be a new experience for Boskamp and while he has brought in quality so far, scoring goals will also pose a problem. Noel-Williams has moved on so I can see this area letting Stoke down again this season.

This is why I think that there is no danger from them and we will take 6 points from them this season. Certainly at home we can overturn them and a trip to the Britannia Stadium will be a good day out as well. I cant see Stoke troubling anyone this season, but this will be a season of transition, so it’s a case of watch this space come March, as they will start to come good.

Reading

Last Season: 7th

In: Kevin Doyle and Shane Long (Cork City – undisc), Steven Hunt (Brentford), Graham Stack (Arsenal – loan), Leroy Lita (Bristol City £1,000,000), Brynyar Gunnarson (Watford – undisc)

Out: Bas Savage, Louie SOARES, Shaun Goater, Ricky Newman, Les Ferdinand, Adam Frederici, Martin Keown, Paul Brooker (Brentford), Nicky Forster (Ipswich), Dean Morgan (Luton), Jamie Young (Rushden – loan), Thomas Lyskov (Chelsea - tribunal), Andy Hughes (Norwich – undisc)

Manager: Steve Coppell

One to watch: Steve Sidwell

My Prediction: 10th

How will we do? – 6/6

Sorry Steve, but it won’t be your year either. After flirting with the playoffs for the last 2 seasons, Readings’ main problem is not being able to perform consistently for long enough to stay in the playoff zone.

Too often chasing 6th place, Reading fall away at the business end with either a poor run of form, injuries or they cannot topple the big sides at home.

Coppell will be relying on Dave Kitson to forge a partnership with England U-21 star Leroy Lita, who has become Readings’ record signing at £1 million. While it is admirable that Coppell has the financial backing for such a transfer, it is a big risk as they have lost some guaranteed goals in the shape of Nick Forster, while they are now pinning their hopes on Lita coming good. As with Parkin at Ipswich, this could be a recipe for disaster if the player cannot come up with the goods.

Even if Lita does shine, it is still not going to be enough for Reading to get into the playoffs. The league is a lot tougher now and the amount of players that have left Reading, shows that the side needing beefing up, but also there was a lot of dead wood. Andy Hughes will have been a blow to Coppells plans, but he can still call upon Steve Sidwell, who is my man to watch.

Coppell values Sidwell at around £2 million and the former Arsenal man will need to produce the goods week in, week out if Reading are going to have a chance to make an impression in the top 6. Glenn Little is still turning performances in and Coppell has used his Palace knowledge in recruiting Steven Hunt from Brentford.

The signing of Graham Stack, who endured a tough time at Millwall last season, looks shaky and the Cork pair are unknown quantities at this level. The main problem will be keeping the goals out, as it was last season and I can’t see that Coppell has improved this area of the team, which could cost them.

We will do well and I can see a double in the offing here. Reading do not possess anything like the threat that we will have endured last season and even Forster and Lita need ammunition to score goals.

It will be a case of some you win and some you lose for the Royals this season, with there being less wins to cheer, Reading fans will be disappointed once again by the seasons end.

Ipswich Town

Last Season: 3rd – Playoff Semi-finalists

In: Jimmy Juan (Monaco – loan), Sam Parkin (Swindon £450,000), Nicky Forster (Reading), Daryll Knights

Out: Darren Bent (Charlton Athletic - £3,000,000), Kelvin Davis (Sunderland £1,250,000), Shefki Kuqi (Blackburn), TOMmy Miller (Sunderland), Pablo Counago, Drissa Diallo

Manager: Joe Royle

One to watch: Sam Parkin

My Prediction: 9th

How will we do? – 4/6

Ipswich are not the side that they were. They will struggle this season more than the last 2, where they have made the playoffs only to be denied by West Ham. There may be no Hammers this season, but I can’t see Ipswich finishing in the top two, as they have sold 3 reasons why they made it last season.

If Joe Royle is honest, his side was the one that choked last season and they should have gone up auTOMatically. Wigan were the beneficiaries of this and after a woeful semi final display for the 2nd season running, with Drissa Diallo getting the run around by Harewood, Etherington and co, he knows that last season was their last best chance to get promotion.

The failure to go up, provoked the inevitable sales and when 40 goals a season walks out of the door for £3 million, it is always going to be hard to replace them. Moreover, Kelvin Davis was one of the more accomplished stoppers and his departure will mean another 10 points or so over the season is lost.

Royle turned to Sam Parkin to replace Darren Bent and Nick Forster likewise with Kuqi. But while Forster has a pedigree at this level, former Chelsea trainee Parkin made his name in League One and may struggle to find the net at the higher level, especially against the teams at the top end.

He will be an unknown quantity to some of us, but he will have to up his game if he is going to get the 20+ goals Ipswich need to get into the playoffs.

This is the reason why I think that it won’t happen. They will still do well, but I think that they will drop points, especially against the teams around and above them.

We will beat them at home and get a draw at Portman Road, or vice versa, as we do well there traditionally. Unless Joe can get the players in to replace the ones that he has lost, which I don’t think that he has, I can’t see a playoff place this season for Town.

Keep a watchful eye on the form of Parkin though, as Ipswich are pinning their hopes on him. Whether he can fill the boots of Bent or Kuqi, will be one of the more interesting stories of the season.

Final part TOMorrow

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