The Championship team by team guide

Nick Szczepanik looks at the season ahead in the English second tier


Barnsley

Last season: 17th.

Key newcomers: Craig Davies (Chesterfield), David Perkins (Colchester), Scott Wiseman (Rochdale).

Form: Keith Hill gets his chance to manage in the Championship after his good work at Rochdale, and although some low-key signings failed to stir supporters, the team have impressed them in pre-season with a passing style allied to a strong work ethic. However, playing the same way against Championship sides will be more of a challenge, and the fixture list has thrown them several stiff tasks in the opening weeks.

Early test: Nottingham Forest (a), 6 August. A chance to spoil Steve McClaren's home debut.

Prediction: Widely tipped to struggle, but could surprise.

Birmingham City

Last season: Relegated.

Key newcomers: Marlon King (Coventry), Steven Caldwell (Wigan), Chris Burke (Cardiff), Adam Rooney (Inverness), Boaz Myhill (WBA).

Form: Chris Hughton took Newcastle back to the Premier League at the first attempt two years ago, but the task at St Andrew's may be trickier following the departures of Seb Larsson, Roger Johnson, Barry Ferguson, Ben Foster and Craig Gardner, and the possibility that financial problems will force even more sales. The Europa League could also prove a mixed blessing, stretching the squad.

Early test: Nottingham Forest away, 1 October. Battle joined for second place in the Midlands behind Leicester.

Prediction: Financial problems could stall play-off ambitions.

Blackpool

Last season: Relegated.

Key newcomers: Barry Ferguson (Birmingham), Kevin Phillips (Birmingham).

Form: Ian Holloway has been uncharacteristically quiet – too quiet – since the Premier League dream died at the end of last season, but the early-season fixtures contain what look like plenty of winnable games and a good start could restore confidence and build momentum. Will there be more entertainment? Probably. A return to the Premier League? Unlikely. But when Blackpool were last at this level they began the season as relegation favourites, so you never know...

Early test: Cardiff City (h), 17 September. The first meeting with a potential play-off rival.

Prediction: Will challenge for a play-off spot.

Brighton & Hove Albion

Last season: Promoted.

Key newcomers: Craig Mackail-Smith (Peterborough), Will Buckley (Watford), Will Hoskins (Bristol Rovers), Kazenga LuaLua (Newcastle, loan).

Form: Gus Poyet's side have been warned that continuing to play the passing football with which they strolled to the League One title will be hard at the higher level, although Norwich did not find that to be true last season. The signing of Mackail-Smith was a statement of intent, but adjusting to their new 22,500-seat ground may prove a challenge after the idiosyncratic Withdean Stadium.

Early test: Blackpool (h), 20 August. A cut above anything Brighton faced last season.

Prediction: Hoping to challenge, but will settle for mid-table.

Bristol City

Last season: Promoted.

Key newcomers: Neil Kilkenny (Leeds), Ryan Taylor (Rotherham), Yannick Boasie (Plymouth).

Form: City will start the campaign with more stability off the field than they did last season, when Steve Coppell walked out after just two matches saying he lacked the passion to be a manager. But in order to make a serious challenge Keith Millen must sort out his team's tendency to concede goals at home. He has been looking for a central defender and a left-back all summer, but admits he may not land them before the start of the season.

Early test: Reading (h), 27 September. The first team to lose at Ashton Gate last season.

Prediction: Mid-table.

Burnley

Last season: 8th.

Key newcomers: Kieran Trippier, Ben Mee (both Manchester City, loan).

Form: Eddie Howe hopes that there will be no more departures after Tyrone Mears and Chris Eagles became the latest players to leave Turf Moor, following in the footsteps of Chris Iwelumo, Clarke Carlisle and veteran defender Graham Alexander. The manager has said he wants to make at least two more permanent signings, and he may need to if Burnley are to avoid sliding further away from the prospect of a return to the Premier League they last graced in 2009-10.

Early test: Derby County (a), 27 August. The sort of game the Clarets will have to win if they are to challenge.

Prediction: Could slip into the bottom half without investment.

Cardiff City

Last season: 4th.

Key newcomers: Robert Earnshaw (Nottingham Forest), Kenny Miller (Bursaspor), Andrew Taylor (Middlesbrough), Filip Kiss (Slovan Bratislava, loan), Craig Conway (Dundee Utd), Don Cowie (Watford), Aaron Gunnarsson (Coventry).

Form: How will Cardiff cope with their latest failure to win promotion? Malky Mackay is the latest manager hoping to provide a fresh answer. He warned his reshaped team may take time to bed in – Kenny Miller and Robert Earnshaw are the new strike force – so a visit to West Ham straight up is not ideal.

Early test: Leicester City (h), 25 September. Time to judge the new signings by then.

Prediction: Another tilt at the play-offs.

Coventry City

Last season: 18th.

Key newcomers: Joe Murphy (Scunthorpe), Chris Dunn (Northampton).

Form: They were promotion outsiders last Christmas but the Sky Blues then ran out of steam alarmingly during the new year. The owners have rejected a takeover bid that promised much-needed investment of some £30m, which has left manager Andy Thorn looking hopefully to Premier League clubs to provide him with loan players after losing seven of his own squad and managing to recruit only two goalkeepers, which does not suggest an imminent renaissance at the Ricoh Arena.

Early test: Watford (h), 20 August. Could be a relegation six-pointer.

Prediction: Will do well to avoid the drop.

Crystal Palace

Last season: 20th.

Key newcomers: Glenn Murray (Brighton), Mile Jedinak (Genclerbirligi).

Form: A reasonably strong finish last season pulled Palace clear of the relegation places with a match to spare, but has enough been done to ensure that fewer nails are bitten this season? Investment has been prudent rather than lavish, and there are probably only three weaker teams in the Championship. Manager Dougie Freedman has the support of the fans and he also has a canny adviser behind the scenes in Lenny Lawrence, a manager for more than three decades.

Early test: Burnley (h), 13 August. A memorable fixture for Palace fans, and a clue to their prospects for the season.

Prediction: Could struggle to stay up.

Derby County

Last season: 19th.

Key newcomers: Jamie Ward (Sheffield Utd), Nathan Tyson (Nottingham Forest), Craig Bryson (Kilmarnock), Chris Maguire (Aberdeen), Jason Shackell (Barnsley).

Form: Arguably last season's most inconsistent and unpredictable Championship side. Second best to rivals Nottingham Forest is an uncomfortable place for Nigel Clough, son of Brian, and it promises to be no different this campaign. What is more worrying is the number of other clubs who will also be above them. Whisper it, but they might miss the retired – if not retiring – Robbie Savage.

Early test: Nottingham Forest (a), 17 September. The biggest game on the fans' calendar.

Prediction: Lower half.

Doncaster Rovers

Last season: 21st.

Key newcomers: Chris Brown (Preston), Ryan Mason (Tottenham, loan), Richard Naylor (Leeds), Tommy Spurr (Sheffield Wed), Kyle Bennett (Bury).

Form: Manager Sean O'Driscoll described his side as "underdogs" before a friendly against League One Sheffield United last week. That could have been kidology – Rovers won 1-0 - or it may have reflected a worrying lack of confidence in his team's chances in the Championship, despite the addition of the experienced Richard Naylor. The bookies, who are allegedly never wrong, favour the latter view.

Early test: West Ham (h), 13 August. A chance to beat the favourites before they settle.

Prediction: Bottom six.

Hull City

Last season: 11th.

Key newcomers: Dele Adebola (Nottingham Forest), Jack Hobbs (Leicester), Peter Gulacsi (Liverpool, loan), Joe Dudgeon, Corry Evans (both Manchester Utd).

Form: Showed flashes of potential early in the year only to fade late, but could be dark horses this time, and a few eyes were opened by the recent 3-0 friendly win over Liverpool. Paul McShane, who shone in that game, could miss the opening weeks through injury, while the effect on team morale of the decision to suspend Jimmy Bullard over events on a tour of Slovakia is as yet unknown.

Early test: Leeds United (a), 16 August. An opportunity to assert Yorkshire bragging rights.

Prediction: Outsiders for a play-off place.

Ipswich Town

Last season: 13th.

Key newcomers: Michael Chopra (Cardiff), Lee Bowyer (Birmingham), Ivar Ingimarsson (Reading), Jay Emmanuel-Thomas (Arsenal), David Stockdale (Fulham, loan).

Form: Prize asset Connor Wickham has been cashed in, and the remodelled team have yet to show much sign of gelling in pre-season, but the new signings are interesting: Michael Chopra and Jay Emmanuel-Thomas provide plenty of attacking spark, while Lee Bowyer brings bite as well as bark into the midfield provided he still has the legs.

Early test: Southampton (h), 16 August. Two teams with play-off ambitions.

Prediction: Could be surprise challengers.

Leeds United

Last season: 7th.

Key newcomers: Michael Brown (Portsmouth), Andy Lonergan (Preston), Paul Rachubka (Blackpool).

Form: New signings have not exactly overwhelmed the ever-loyal support, but the club's owner Ken Bates has said that two "rather good" midfielders are on the way, while Michael Brown is an experienced competitor who will bring some traditional Leeds values to the engine room. Equally important, Bates says, is that he has turned down bids for existing squad members. The fans remain to be convinced.

Early test: West Ham (a), 21 August. A chance to play spoiler at a ground where Leeds usually do well.

Prediction: Marching On Together – but only to upper mid-table.

Leicester City

Last season: 10th.

Key newcomers: David Nugent (Portsmouth), Paul Konchesky (Liverpool), Kasper Schmeichel (Leeds), Neil Danns (Crystal Palace), Matt Mills (Reading), Sean St Ledger (Preston).

Form: The new owners have backed Sven Goran Eriksson to the hilt, and he has bought players who know the division – and plenty of them – to add to a squad that already showed signs of challenging last season. The Foxes were top scorers at home in the Championship and have added David Nugent to their strike force, while the leaky defence that cost them a play-off place has been reinforced

Early test: Nottingham Forest (a), 20 August. A quick chance to put some neighbours in their place.

Prediction: Joint-favourites, likely champions.

West Ham United

Last season: Relegated.

Key newcomers: Kevin Nolan (Newcastle), Matt Taylor, Joey O'Brien (both Bolton), Abdoulaye Fayé (Stoke).

Form: If Sam Allardyce had arrived last January rather than this summer, West Ham might still have found their season preview in the Premier League section. Rebuilding is still under way, with some hefty top-flight salaries still to be offloaded, but plenty of talent will remain at Upton Park, and Shane Long, the Reading striker, could be added to a list of promising new signings – the Hammers have already placed a bid of £8m.

Early test: Cardiff City (h), 7 August. One of last season's contenders will provide a yardstick.

Prediction: Some hiccups, but bubbles could blow in May.

Middlesbrough

Last season: 12th.

Key newcomers: Malaury Martin (Blackpool), Merouane Zemmama (Hibernian), Curtis Main (Darlington), Luke Dobbie (Everton).

Form: Favourites a year ago, Gordon Strachan's team never got out of the blocks and the Scot resigned in autumn. Tony Mowbray, his successor, was told to halve the wage bill, showing high earners such as Kris Boyd the door this summer. He needs Leroy Lita to sign for Swansea before he can spend to replace them, and some of the holes may have to be filled by more graduates from the youth set-up – a big ask.

Early test: Birmingham (h), 21 August. Two play-off teams, say the bookies.

Prediction: Top half, but no more.

Millwall

Last season: 9th.

Key newcomers: Darius Henderson (Sheffield Utd), Jordan Stewart (Xanthi), Therry Racon (Charlton), Ryan Allsopp (WBA).

Form: Justified their Championship worth last season and were involved in the play-off battle right up to the penultimate game of the last campaign. The loss of Steve Morison to Norwich may leave the Lions short of goals, although manager Kenny Jackett has maintained a sure touch so far and has the backing of the supporters. That said, the old place won't seem the same without legend Neil Harris, the club's all-time record scorer who is now at Southend.

Early test: West Ham (h), 17 Sept – as much for the police as for the team.

Prediction: Mid-table.

Nottingham Forest

Last season: 6th.

Key newcomers: Jonathan Greening (Fulham), George Boateng (Xanthi).

Form: New manager Steve McClaren not only has to repeat last season's play-off appearance as a minimum requirement but also contend with the legacy of Brian Clough and memories of the "wally with the brolly" incident at Wembley and the Dutch accent he suddenly acquired – not to mention the fact that his old boss at England, Sven Goran Eriksson, is managing a better-funded Leicester City just up the road. Two of his old Middlesbrough stalwarts have come in to help.

Early test: Leicester (h), 20 August. McClaren welcomes Sven to the City Ground.

Prediction: Play-offs again.

Peterborough United

Last season: Promoted.

Key newcomers: Scott Wootton, Ryan Tunnicliffe (both Man Utd, loan), Nicky Ajose (Man Utd), Craig Alcock (Yeovil), Paul Jones (Exeter).

Form: Last season's great entertainers scored and conceded most goals in League One. No prizes for guessing which stat is more likely to change against tougher rearguards and with top scorer Craig Mackail-Smith sold to Brighton. On their last visit to the Championship two seasons ago they parted company with Darren Ferguson and they went down anyway, so at least his job should be more secure this season.

Early test: Brighton (a), 27 August. A chance to lay the ghost of Mackail-Smith. Or not.

Prediction: Bottom six.

Portsmouth

Last season: 16th. Key newcomers: Greg Halford (Wolves), Stephen Henderson (Bristol City), David Norris (Ipswich), Jason Pearce (Bournemouth), Luke Varney (Derby).

Form: Yet more new owners – Russian this time – which promises a welcome period of stability at Fratton Park, but Steve Cotterill still says he needs a striker, midfield player and defender to boost a threadbare squad, with Chelsea's Patrick van Aanholt a possible loan signing. Portsmouth could only fill their subs' bench five times last season, so the new rules restricting bench places to five will be welcome.

Early test: Brighton (h), 13 August. Revenge for last season's FA Cup, or a warning.

Prediction: Top 10 if everyone stays fit.

Reading

Last season: 5th. Key newcomers: Mikele Leigertwood (QPR), Cameron Edwards (Perth Glory), Bongani Khumalo (Tottenham, loan).

Form: Surprised themselves by reaching the play-off final last season following a late run, but they have been weakened by the departure of Matt Mills, last season's captain, to Leicester. They have also admitted that the much-coveted Republic of Ireland forward Shane Long will probably have to be sold to prevent any more departures as they balance their books (see above), although they are holding out for more than the £8m offered by West Ham.

Early test: Leicester (a), 13 August. Get the difficult ones out of the way first...

Prediction: May have to make another late run.

Southampton

Last season: Promoted.

Key newcomers: Jack Cork (Chelsea), Steve de Ridder (Graafschap).

Form: Started slowly last campaign before exerting the power of their large squad, and they looked to be the strongest team in League One by the end of the season, if not the most subtle. Big crowds and a big budget could help them to sustain a second successive promotion challenge and a return to the Premier League, and manager Nigel Adkins knows the Championship well – from his time in charge of Scunthorpe.

Early test: Leicester (a), 27 August. It will tell Adkins something about his team's chances.

Prediction: Play-offs look within reach.

Watford

Last season: 14th. Key newcomers: Chris Iwelumo (Burnley), Mark Yeates (Sheffield Utd), Craig Forsyth (Dundee), David Mirfin (Scunthorpe), Prince Buaben (Dundee Utd).

Form: Replacing Danny Graham's 27 League and cup goals and the assists of Will Buckley will be a challenge for new manager Sean Dyche, who has stepped into Malky Mackay's shoes at Vicarage Road – the shoes sometimes seeming to be all that is left after four members of staff and a player followed Mackay to Cardiff. Some talented performers remain, but they could find the going tough.

Early test: Derby (h), 13 August. The Hornets will have to win games like this one.

Prediction: A struggle, but they should stay up.

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