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…
Jonathan Kodjia could become an Aston Villa hero
The Ivorian is set to return to first-team action after the international break.
Aston Villa’s automatic promotion hopes have come off the rails in recent weeks. For a while, it seemed Villa were going to upset either Wolves or Cardiff and break into the top two in the Championship. After a run of just one loss and one draw in 12 games, which ended in a 4-1 thrashing of Wolves, it was easy to see why.
Unfortunately, those hopes have come crashing down to earth. Villa have suffered two shock defeats in their last two outings. Firstly there was the 3-1 home reverse to QPR. Last weekend it was the turn of Bolton Wanderers, with Villa losing 1-0 at the Macron Stadium.
The international break could therefore not come at a better time for Aston Villa, who will hope to see some of their regulars return to action after injury.
One such player could be Jonathan Kodjia. The Ivory Coast striker has not played since the 0-0 draw with Birmingham City in October. The 28-year-old is suffering from another ankle injury and has been sorely missed up front.
But it appears he is nearing a return.
Kodjia featured for 45 minutes of a behind-closed-doors friendly against Peterborough United at Bodymoor Heath.
His return to action would be a huge boost for Villa. Whilst Kodjia can be a frustrating figure at times, he is also a top striking option.
Last season Kodjia scored 19 goals in the Championship and his firepower at this level has been sorely missed. With Scott Hogan out of form Lewis Grabban has been handed the burden of finding the net, Kodjia will hope to ease that responsibility.
If he can return to action at Villa Park and score the goals that send them back to the Premier League he will go down in Aston Villa folklore as a hero.
For a man with Kodjia’s character, that is an opportunity he will try to not let pass.
Is Oscar Borg’s Aston Villa career at an end?
The young left-back is out of contract at Aston Villa this summer.
Back in March 2016, Aston Villa snapped up promising left-back Oscar Borg from West Ham United.
According to the Daily Mail, the defender had trials with Manchester United and was highly thought of at West Ham, but he made the move to Villa and was soon making an impact in the reserves.
Recently Aston Villa found themselves short of left-back options.
Neil Taylor was out of action and Alan Hutton was also missing. With Axel Tuanzebe struggling, Villa found themselves short in the position.
But instead of calling on Borg, Steve Bruce called up James Bree, playing out of position at left-back.
It seems Borg may not have been available for Bruce, even if the 20-year-old was set for a first league call-up.
He has not featured for Villa’s under-23s since the 6-1 win v Wolves last month, with Mitchell Clark featuring at left-back instead.
Borg is undoubtedly a top talent at Aston Villa but injuries have been a major problem for him since arriving at Bodymoor Heath.
He spent most of last season on the sidelines and this year needed to be a breakout campaign for the talented full-back.
Borg has played 13 times for Villa’s under-23s this term, as they hunt for success in the Premier League 2, where they are currently second in their section behind Blackburn Rovers.
But, despite being Villa’s only other natural left-footed left-back, bar Taylor, the 20-year-old has made little impact in the first-team.
Borg only signed a two-and-half-year deal when arriving at Villa in 2016 and that contract expires in the summer.
Considering his lack of impact and history of injury problems it will not be a surprise if Borg does not remain a Villain beyond the end of the season.
If he does move on, hopefully, he can remain fit and push toward a professional career elsewhere.
Steve Bruce’s lack of confidence in Scott Hogan made evident
The striker saw Rushian Hepburn-Murphy given a chance ahead of him v Bolton Wanderers.
When Aston Villa snapped up Scott Hogan last January he looked a smart recruit. Villa paid a fee reported to be in the region of £12 million by the BBC.
Hogan had been in fine form with Brentford previous to the transfer being made.He had scored 21 goals in 34 games for the club since joining from Rochdale in July 2014.
Aston Villa were hopeful he could have a similar goalscoring impact at Villa Park. That has not exactly been the case. Hogan has managed just six goals in 44 league appearances for Aston Villa and has struggled to live up to his price-tag.
After the Bolton Wanderers game yesterday, Hogan will be wondering where he stands at Villa Park.
Aston Villa lost 1-0 against relegation battlers Bolton Wanderers this weekend. The defeat was a bitter blow to Villa’s automatic promotion hopes, with Villa now seven points behind Cardiff City in second.
But whilst chasing the game, after Adam Le Fondre had given Bolton the lead, Bruce looked to the Villa bench. He decided to bring on another striker to partner Lewis Grabban up top. But, instead of going to Hogan, Bruce brought on 19-year-old Rushian Hepburn-Murphy.
The pacey striker had only played 15 minutes of first-team football this season and is yet to score a senior goal.
Hogan eventually did make his way onto the pitch but could not prove Bruce wrong for turning to the teenager instead.
But it highlights an obvious lack of confidence in the £12 million striker from Bruce. Hogan last scored in the Championship at the start of February and it is a serious concern as Villa now look likely to challenge for the play-off places in the Championship.
Hogan will hope he can take a chance to get back in the good books soon, after the Hepburn-Murphy experiment fell flat at the Macron Stadium. If not, then his future at Villa Park is looking increasingly bleak.
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