August 4th, 2011
So, the season begins on Saturday and the excitement is becoming unbearable. This will give you an insight into the season ahead and the teams that we'll come up against and how they'll rise to the challenge over the next nine and a bit months.
I've put together a projected table that takes into account many factors, including transfers, managers, the state of a club and the facilities they have available to them. It'll be interesting to hear your views as well.
1. WEST HAM UNITED- The Hammers looked as if they would be in turmoil as relegation struck in May, but, they've made good business since and, as it stands, are hanging onto Scott Parker, Robert Green and Carlton Cole. Sam Allardyce has been installed as the man to guide them straight back up and he hasn't wasted any time after already luring Kevin Nolan and Matty Taylor to the club. A sure bet to go up at this rate.
2. LEICESTER CITY- Spending money for fun at the moment and with Sven in charge they mean business. Expect nothing less than promotion, the play-offs will be deemed a failure and the only thing standing in their way will be whether or not they gel. As well as having, Maidenhead born, Andy King among their ranks and scoring the goals they have also signed Kasper Schmeichel, Neil Danns, Lee Peltier, Sean St Ledger, David Nugent, Paul Konchesky, John Pantsil and our captain Matt Mills, as well as securing the loan of Michael Johnson. I wouldn't say I'm scared but definitely wary.
3. BIRMINGHAM CITY- There is currently turmoil happening behind the scenes at Birmingham and a surge of stars have left or are leaving but despite this I believe they'll still be a force to be reckoned with and will push hard for promotion. Chris Hughton has been given the tough job of turning this teams fortunes around but he did it just two seasons ago at Newcastle United so if anyone can do the impossible it will be Hughton. Boaz Myhill will be hard to beat between the sticks and Marlon King has the ability to score 10+ goals this season. Should be able to make the play-offs still.
4. READING- In at four is Reading, despite the pessimism around we haven't lost too much. Ivar has moved on and that's fair enough and Zurab has gone elsewhere which I'm happy enough with. We lost Mills to the power of the dollar and a player's ambition but we have since brought in Bongani Khumalo on loan for the season and he looks like a great prospect with the potential to be a better player for us this season than Mills. A centre back is probably needed for squad depth but there is still plenty of time for that and a bright season looks likely.
5. NOTTINGHAM FOREST- Steve McClaren has returned to English football with Forest and he has a great chance of guiding them up this season, the play-offs is their most likely route but with a, now, more experienced McClaren he could prove to be the mastermind behind promotion. The experience of George Boateng has been added as well as the quality of Jonathon Greening (Jesus) and Andy Reid has been secured.
6. IPSWICH TOWN- Paul Jewell is beginning to shape his own team ahead of the season and they could become a real force this season. The sale of Wickham won't dent things too much as a nicely looking squad is coming together. They'll scrape a play-off place.
7. CARDIFF CITY- After reaching the play-offs last year and again failing to finish off the job Cardiff will find it tough to make them this time around. They have lost a number of players, many of whom were on loan, and you could say they're in a transitional stage under new boss Malky Mackay. Just missing out on the top six after a slow start and an inconsistent season.
8. BRIGHTON AND HOVE ALBION- An interesting thing is happening down in Brighton, Gus Poyet is bringing a nice style of football and a new stadium is ready to see the action. There is optimism all over the town and you can see why. They have lured Will Buckley and Craig Mackail-Smith to the club and look like a team to watch. They'll push for the play-offs and could well do a Norwich but I say they miss out, by a few points, on the play-off party.
9. LEEDS UNITED- Dirty Leeds will have another push at the play-offs and have a solid team ready for the season, I think they will trail off a little towards the busy Easter period, similar to last year. Making steady progress but still don't have that cutting edge to make the step up.
10. CRYSTAL PALACE- The eagles are my tip to be the surprise package and I believe they are making the right signings in the market to cause any such shock across the league. I'm still not sure if Dougie Freedman is the best of managers but he has had a good go so far. They are no way near a play-off push but they can creep into the top half and scare those above them on their day and at Selhurst Park.
11. HULL CITY- Not too much change at Hull so far but they have a good team, maybe the draw specialists this season. Their home form could be what makes the difference between top half and a play-off place as they have the potential to cause upsets away from home. Too many draws will mean they miss out on any promotion parties.
12. BLACKPOOL- Ian Holloway and his attacking tactics will again prove exciting and will also be what keeps the Tangerines competitive. They'll push for a play-off place but naive defending will cost them dearly and a mid-table place will be the outcome for 'Pool'.
13. MIDDLESBROUGH- Their troubles should be behind them and the dead wood is being removed after Gordon Strachan went on a crazy spending spree and began to turn the club into an SPL side. Tony Mowbray is fixing things and they'll be challenging for a play-off place. They need another year to settle and a mid-table finish will be about right.
14. PORTSMOUTH- The debt problems are not as bad as they were 12 months ago and Steve Cotterill has done a good job with a very small squad and a lot of loan moves. Permanent buys are coming in and money seems to be available. Too good to go down and should finish around mid-table.
15. BURNLEY- They've lost some good players in Tyrone Mears and Chris Eagles as well as releasing the experienced Graham Alexander. Eddie Howe has great potential as a manager and will steady the ship but he may need time from the fans and a January transfer window to sort things out. Surviving easily but will fall short of the competition.
16. SOUTHAMPTON- The Saints will be hard to beat and prove to be another strong team in this very competitive league and is further proof that there isn't much between the teams in this league. They should have no trouble surviving but I don't think they have a strong enough squad to make a big promotion push and will fall short of the play-offs.
17. MILLWALL- Their home form will keep them up and they could be another draw specialist, they don't like to concede goals and The New Den is a very hard place to go and pick up points. They may not score so much without Steve Morrison, who joined Norwich, but Darius Henderson will be a handful up top. Should stay up by a good number of points but won't be the surprise package they were last year.
18. BRISTOL CITY- They just don't seem strong enough to me, the goals of Nicky Maynard will make the difference between relegation and survival while Brett Pitman may come in handy and could score the goals that would prove me wrong. I'm going with 18th but it could be worse if they lose Maynard or better if he stays and Pitman chips in too. A hard one to call.
19. DERBY COUNTY- The Rams will struggle, especially with having no Kris Commons from the start of the season which is where the points they pick up may be what keeps them up. They need to have a good first 10 games but I don't think they are strong enough to harm any of the teams above and their away form will probably be poor. Nathan Tyson won't score more than 10 this season and Nigel Clough could be one of the first to lose his job this season.
20. WATFORD- No Malky Mackay will be the biggest problem Watford face and having no Danny Graham, who carried them at times last season and was top scorer, will seriously dent their chances of a good season. Sean Dyche won't be under masses of pressure but will do well to keep them up this season. I think they'll scrape survival but might need a 'super loan' to get them out of trouble as Marvin Sordell is too inexperienced, at the moment, to rely on.
21. BARNSLEY- Over the last few seasons they have survived based on having a good manager and it could be the same again, if they had a Brian Laws in charge they would stand no chance but Keith Hill has the credentials to keep the Tykes up for another year, at least. Could get a few beatings away from home and will depend on their home form and the six pointers.
22. COVENTRY CITY- RELEGATED. Andy Thorn has a very hard job on his hands and I see Coventry as another Derby but weaker. Thorn does need his chance and could be the man to guide them back up if they are relegated but I think they may need to go down in order to get stronger, like Norwich, Southampton and Leeds.
23. DONCASTER ROVERS- RELEGATED. I like Donny and they play nice football and have a good manager in Sean O'Driscoll but they had a massive slump last year, mainly due to injuries, and if you remember so did Preston the season before last and now they're relegated. Brian Stock, James Coppinger and Billy Sharp will need to be fit and at their best. The defence will need improving.
24. PETERBOROUGH UNITED- RELEGATED. I am not an admirer of Darren Ferguson and they've lost Craig Mackail-Smith and that says enough for me. Any points they pick up will be at London Road and they'll finish bottom. If they survive I'll eat my hat!!!