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The Season's Contenders

Richard Heathcote


With the new season just three weeks away and Reading's first pre-season friendly out of the way the excitement is really starting to kick in.

The ambition of the club is vastly improving despite relegation with a whole new philosophy now in place under Nigel Adkins and Andy Crosby, partnerships already announced with Turkish giants Galatasaray and Formula 1 newbies Marussia (who have Britain's Max Chilton) and the announcement of former Real Madrid winger Royston Drenthe one of three top signings.

But who are Reading's main contenders this season? And are they underestimated by many of us having been sucked into this new look Reading way?

The Championship is one of the toughest leagues in the world not to mention most competitive and this season is really starting to shape itself into the toughest ever.

Relegated duo Queens Park Rangers and Wigan Athletic will also be vying for a straight return into the Premier League. The funny thing with QPR is that nobody actually knows what their situation is having spent millions on flops in the Premiership and expected to hit financial meltdown. Rangers have since announced the signing of Danny Simpson on a free from Newcastle which suggests (wage wise) that the kitty is far from empty.

No doubt many of the expensive flops that QPR have paid the price for will be leaving over the summer but an indication of a club in crisis is yet to be seen and with Harry Redknapp in control they can't be ruled out.

Then there is Wigan, the Fa Cup winners having beaten the mighty Manchester City, who will be playing in the Europa League for at least the qualifiers and then potentially a gruelling group campaign until December. The loss of Roberto Martinez will be a massive blow so holding on to some of their key players will eb crucial have already lost Arouna Kone to Martinez's new club Everton.

Owen Coyle has taken over the reigns and he tries to play the right way, as they say, but after a torrid time at Bolton the pressure will be on. Coyle replaced Kone immediately with Grant Holt for a third of the price and the big striker will be bound to score the goals to keep Wigan in the race for promotion, however, it will be very tough for the Latics to maintain the same momentum throughout a long, gruelling Championship campaign with cup runs and Europe getting in the way.

The side that seems most likely to cause problems outside of the relegated trio is Bolton who appear to be willing to splash the cash on the right player. So far The Trotters have bought Alex Baptiste on a free from Blackpool and Marc Tierney, the left-back joining on a free from Norwich, as well as Rob Hall for a compensation package from West Ham.

There have been more but of a lesser profile and, manager, Dougie Freedman will be looking for more.

Also looking to have another go at promotion will be Leicester City, Nottingham Forest and Watford who all have the resources to challenge thanks to foreign investment. Watford missed out on a return to the Premier League last year as a result of a Kevin Phillips penalty in extra-time.

Blackburn Rovers will be looking to settle down having sacked a number of managers throughout last season and they're a club capable of big things if off-the-field matters improve having got goal-machine Jordan Rhodes among their ranks.

Brighton have had turmoil since a surprise play-off defeat to Crystal Palace having sacked Gustavo Poyet but the Seagulls will be looking to forget their troubles and ensure they have a better start to the season. Blackpool still have Matty Phillips and Tom Ince among their ranks and those are two deadly wingers that will cause any teams problems; if these two remain and Paul Ince can add to the squad then they can't be ruled out.

Chris Powell managed to get his Charlton Athletic side going late last season and the Addicks finished strong in a respectable mid-table position. Powell will be looking to strengthen before embarking on a play-off push.

Ipswich, Leeds and Middlesbrough are another three that will be looking to spoil the party while newly promoted AFC Bournemouth will be a side to watch.

My tip at this early stage would be Reading, Bolton and QPR.

These may be the sides expected to be in and around the promotion push but in this league nobody can be ruled out.

All views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Tilehurst End or SB Nation

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