If you thought this season’s race for promotion was pulsating, the 2017/18 Championship season promises to be even better, with so many clubs not only craving, but expecting promotion to the top flight.
This Monday will reveal which surprise package gains promotion to the Premier League, out of Reading and Huddersfield Town. The two ‘favourites’ you could say out of the play-off sides, in Fulham and Sheffield Wednesday, had their dreams shattered in the semi-finals. Both sides next season will for sure want the desired reaction, and you get the feeling that Sheffield Wednesday in particular will settle for no less than success this time round, with Carlos Carvahal perhaps treading on thin ice now at Hillsborough. The dilemma with so many clubs having the same expectation is, of course, that there are only three spots available, and the race will be hotter than ever next season.
Sheffield Wednesday were knocked out in dramatic fashion, as their star man Fernando Forestieri missed the decisive penalty to send Huddersfield to Wembley. Owls’ boss Carlos Carvahal made some astute signings, the total fee will come close to £20 million on players once Jordan Rhodes arrives permanently in the summer. Signing top players like Rhodes comes at a cost, and once you spend that kind of money as a football club you expect improvement and success. Next season is a big one for Wednesday, with back-to-back play-off heartbreak for them in the last two seasons. They will want to be challenging for the title next season.
Fulham came to life in the 2016/17 campaign, and despite finishing 6th, were many people’s tips for promotion. A Yann Kermogant penalty denied them a date at Wembley, although Fulham had more than enough chances to go through. Unfortunately for them it was not to be. The Cottagers, without a doubt, played some of, if not, the best football in the league, with midfielder Tom Cairney at the heart of it. It will be extremely tough for Slavisa Jokanovic, but if he can keep hold of Cairney in the summer it will be massive for the club. Floyd Ayite and Neeskens Kebano were also terrific additions by Jokanovic. Few would dispute that Fulham are only two or three players off a serious promotion challenge.
Garry Monk lit up the turf at Elland Road after his arrival this season, and it was only a couple of bad results late on that saw Leeds United fall away at the final hurdle. After discussing Fulham’s key man and his influence, Leeds’ is even more crucial to their success. Chris Wood was the leading goalscorer in the league, with an astounding 27 goals. Monk gave Leeds fans something they haven’t had for a long time, but have so desperately craved – belief. He inherited a young tight knit squad that leaves everything on the pitch after those ninety-minutes, and that is the core that served them so well this season. Where Fulham are perhaps more on the look out for defensive additions, it is at the other end of the pitch Leeds will be looking to bolster. Monk has now departed, but if his successor can draft in some extra quality in the final third, you would be surprised to see Leeds fall short once again.
The three relegated clubs from the Premier League are all teams who will want an immediate bounce back. All three will know how tough it can be to get back to the top flight. Sunderland, to no surprise have lost their key man Jermaine Defoe and the way in which they respond to relegation will be key to the direction the club goes in next. Investment will be needed for sure, their bitter rivals Newcastle are actually a good model for Sunderland. Newcastle brought in proven Championship quality, and it served them perfectly.
Middlesbrough’s return to the Premier League was bitterly disappointing. Boro know what it takes to gain promotion, and they have retained a lot of the players, bar Albert Adomah and Jordan Rhodes, that sent them up in the 2015/16 season. With Aitor Karanka no longer at The Riverside, Steve Gibson will need to get someone in charge that can give the high expectant Boro faithful what they want. Ben Gibson is a name in the headlines at the moment and, should be depart for a large sum, how Middlesbrough use that money is crucial.
As well as Boro, it was an immediate return to the Championship for Hull City. Hull seem to be the ‘yo-yo’ club, seesawing between the second flight and the Premier League in recent years. The appointment of Marco Silva gave the Tigers some genuine hope that they could bridge the gap, but it wasn’t to be in the end. Hull proved towards the end of the campaign that they can do it in the Premier League, with some excellent results, but in the end they paid for their poor first six months to the season.
Then you have Gary Rowett’s Derby County. It was a case of third time lucky in terms of managers for the Rams last season, but you get the feeling the the right man is now in charge at Pride Park to take Derby forward. With a full season behind him, and his players, Rowett should be able to steer the ship in the right direction. He has an extremely talented group of players at his disposal and, being the excellent man-manager he is, you’d expect Derby to be back amongst the top six next season.
Aston Villa’s season after relegation was extremely disappointing, with a woeful first half of the season the main reason behind their mid-table finish. A corner has to be turned for sure, with a club the size of the Midlands outfit. Being the new boys last season probably didn’t play to their advantage in all honesty – not really knowing what the Championship is all about and its relentlessness. What they do have is a manager who has been there and done it with Hull City, Steve Bruce. Bruce, you feel, tried to emulate Newcastle’s transfer strategy, but it took a while for his players to gel. Look no further than their squad – Jonathan Kodjia, Conor Hourihane, Henri Lansbury, Albert Adomah, Scott Hogan. The talent is unquestionable. It will be more than interesting to see how Villa fare in their second Championship season, and to see what they have learnt.
Norwich City scored the most goals in the league last season, joint-top with champions Newcastle. The Canaries are another that have been there and gained promotion and with the nearing appointment of Borussia Dortmund II manager Daniel Farke – a man highly thought of, – they have all the ingredients there to challenge the top six. Alex Pritchard arrived for a large fee of £8 million and on his day is one of the best in the league, if Norwich can get him performing consistently to the best of his ability, he is more than capable to be the driving force being a successful season for the Canaries.
The clubs above are the names that spring to mind, but then again, who would’ve thought Huddersfield and Reading would make up this season’s play-off final. There is always one, if not two or three surprise packages. The Championship, after all, is the most unpredictable league, and you would be a fool to rule anyone out. Football has reached the stage at which it wouldn’t be a surprise if Burton Albion finished front runners. The 2017/18 season is certainly going to be a spectacle, and football fans all over the UK will be counting down the days till kick off in August…