Football: First Division preview - Kidd's calibre faces true test

THE GULF between the Premiership and the Nationwide League is such that the teams winning promotion from the First Division are often sound bets to come straight back down a year later.

Logic would therefore suggest that clubs relegated from the Premiership should be prime candidates for a quick return, but recent evidence suggests otherwise. Last season relegated Crystal Palace and Barnsley both finished in mid-table, while Bolton were never particularly convincing despite reaching the play-offs.

Yet relegated clubs should have a clear start on their First Division rivals thanks to the Premier League's "parachute money", which amounts to nearly pounds 4m over two seasons following the loss of top-flight status.

It all depends, of course, on how wisely you manage your affairs. If you appoint Terry Venables as manager and end up owing him pounds 6.9m after disposing of his services in mid-season, you are likely to struggle. However if, like Crystal Palace's south London rivals Charlton Athletic, you budget sensibly - and fend off the vultures trying to pick off your best players - then the future should look bright.

Charlton's battle to stay in the Premiership may have ended in failure, but they survived in good shape for this season's war. Alan Curbishley, the manager, would no doubt have preferred not to lose Danny Mills to Leeds and Neil Redfearn to Bradford, but he still has a strong squad.

In terms of resources nobody in the division can match Blackburn, another of last season's relegated clubs. Brian Kidd's lavish spending failed to avert the drop, however, and although he has bought well this summer - Craig Short, Simon Grayson and Alan Kelly should all add steel to a team that appeared to lack heart last season - Sir Alex Ferguson's former assistant still has to prove that he can build a successful team. David Platt's Nottingham Forest are less likely to make a positive challenge.

Of last season's promotion challengers there seems little reason to expect much improvement from Bolton, Wolves or Sheffield United. Ipswich, however, should do well again despite the loss of Kieron Dyer to Newcastle, while Birmingham's recruitment of Stan Lazaridis from West Ham and Eddie Newton from Chelsea could provide the extra impetus they need to build on last season's play-off place. Steve Bruce, enjoying the resources he never had at Sheffield United, can be expected to take Huddersfield into contention.

Fulham look the best bet of the promoted teams, but although they have strengthened their squad with the signings of Lee Clark, Stan Collymore and Stephen Hughes - the latter two on loan - it remains to be seen whether Paul Bracewell can be as inspirational a manager as Kevin Keegan. After their traumas of recent times, Manchester City should be happy with a season of consolidation.

Predictions: Automatic promotion: Birmingham, Charlton. Play-offs: Fulham, Blackburn, Ipswich, Huddersfield. Relegation: Stockport, Swindon, Tranmere.

Comments