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Coca-Cola Divisions: Championship Preview 2006/07 - Ups and downs!

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posted on Jul, 31 2006 @ 01:54 PM
Believe what the bookies say on The Sportinglife and fans of Sunderland, West Brom and Birmingham can again look forward to visiting Old Trafford and Stamford Bridge this time next year.

If only things were so simple.

Just ask any Leeds, Norwich, Wolves or Crystal Palace fan. Indeed, the list could go on and on. Escaping the Coca-Cola Championship has proved a tricky task for many of the Premiership's relegated sides and expect this season to be no different, with relatively unfancied teams like Coventry and Leicester - both of whom were once in a similar scenario - quietly rebuilding for the future.

Birmingham will kick off the new season on August 5 as favourites for a swift Premiership return - and look the best placed to achieve it. Manager Steve Bruce has been busy in the transfer market, adding Cardiff's England Under-21 Cameron Jerome, Tottenham's Stephen Kelly and Colchester's Neil Danns to his squad.

Head to The Hawthorns and you will find boss Bryan Robson equally satisfied. John Hartson will delight in bullying Championship defences and should Robson hold on to prized asset Curtis Davies - the subject of much Premiership interest - the Baggies could come close.

Things have not been quite so straightforward at Sunderland, where a Niall Quinn-led consortium takeover has dominated the headlines. With Andy Gray and Gary Breen departed, the Black Cats need to strengthen if they are to sustain another title challenge, but in Liam Lawrence they have a player of proven Premiership pedigree.

Leeds face their third season outside the Premiership, but will look to avenge an embarrassing 3-0 play-off defeat by Watford. United should be sniffing around the automatic spots again and have plenty of firepower with David Healy, Robbie Blake and Richard Cresswell among their ranks.

To say it has been a difficult summer for Simon Jordan would be an understatement. At least the Palace chairman has plenty of cash to burn, with Andrew Johnson and Fitz Hall's departures bringing in over 11million. Iain's Dowie's acrimonious departure rocked the boat further, though Jordan can rely on Peter Taylor to steady the ship. Young talent Tom Soares continues to impress, but Palace fans should expect play-offs at best.

Southampton fans will pray George Burley waves his magic wand over another side struggling with Championship life. The Scot has worked wonders at Ipswich, Derby and Hearts - his biggest problem being his employers, although Rupert Lowe's recent departure should quieten things down. Spurs flop Grzegorz Rasiak has arrived at St Mary's permanently and if the Pole can repeat the form enjoyed under Burley at Derby, then Southampton could be knocking on the play-off door.

Last season is best described as a transitional year for Norwich, Ipswich and Wolves, who threatened reaching the play-offs without ever making a serious fist of it. All three will again aim high, but only Nigel Worthington's side look capable, with England keeper Robert Green and Rob Earnshaw key. Wolves must somehow replace Joleon Lescott and the Tractor Boys may take time to find top gear under rookie manager Jim Magilton.

Watch out for dark horses Hull, Coventry and Leicester. All finished mid-table last season, but have solid foundations - demonstrated by three of England's newest stadiums - and showed promising signs late last season. Rob Kelly worked wonders with the Foxes, dragging them from a relegation dogfight, and midfielder Andy Johnson's Premiership experience will help. The Tigers have renewed seven players' contracts and have the financial backing of chairman Adam Pearson, who recently revealed plans to emulate Reading's success, and a bright young thing in Phil Parkinson at the helm.

Coventry boss Micky Adams, owner of one of the division's best strikers in Gary McSheffrey, has signalled his intent - spending 1million on West Ham's Elliott Ward, and will demand improvement on last season's eighth.

At the other end, a third successive promotion looks too much to ask from Southend. The Shrimpers cruised to last season's League One title, spurred by Freddy Eastwood's goals, but like fellow newcomers Colchester and Barnsley, will settle for safety this time around. Parkinson's drawn-out exit has dogged the Us and with Danns already departed, preparation for their first Championship season has been far from perfect.

Barnsley needed penalties for promotion and will only top the table before a ball is kicked. A lack of quality signings and midfield maestro Stephen McPhail's defection to Cardiff mean a long season lies ahead. If last season's late form is anything to go by, QPR are already relegated. Defeat in six of their final seven games suggests new boss Gary Waddock has his work cut out, just like predecessor Ian Holloway - sent on gardening leave by Rangers in February - and now Plymouth manager. A new striker was first on Holloway's list as he snapped up Sylvain Ebanks-Blake from Manchester United and he will hope that will help the Pilgrims survive again.


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