Championship guide for the 2015/16 season

Tommy Smith celebrates after scoring Ipswich's fourth at Brentford last season. Photo: PAGEPIX LTD

Tommy Smith celebrates after scoring Ipswich's fourth at Brentford last season. Photo: PAGEPIX LTD

The Championship fixtures for 2015/16 were announced this morning. STUART WATSON takes a look at what’s in store for Ipswich Town as they prepare for their 14th successive season at second tier level.

HULL CITY

Last three seasons: 2nd (Championship), 16th, 18th (both Premier League)

Steve Bruce – who has three Championship promotions on his CV – admitted ‘there is much soul-searching to be done’ following the Tigers’ last-day relegation.

The likes of Tom Huddleston, Ahmed Elmohamady, Nikica Jelavic, Abel Hernandez and Tom Ince are all wanted men, but relegation contract clauses means the drop in level won’t be too much of a jolt and the core of the squad should be retained.

Promotion odds: 9/4

BURNLEY

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Last three seasons: 11th, 2nd (both Championship), 19th (Premier League)

Having surprised many with their promotion in 2013/14, Burnley competed well for the majority of their single season in the top-flight, didn’t stretch themselves financially and return to the Championship in rude health.

Star striker Danny Ings has signed for Liverpool, while Ashley Barnes is out for the majority of the campaign with a knee injury, so strengthening the forward line is a priority for Sean Dyche.

Promotion odds: 11/4

QPR

Last three seasons: 20th (Premier League), 4th (Championship), 20th (Premier League)

Of the three relegated teams, QPR could find it the toughest to adjust.

The club’s accounts showed this time last year that their wage bill was close to that of Lazio and Atletico Madrid’s.

The likes of Rio Ferdinand, Joey Barton, Richard Dunne, Shaun Wright-Phillips and Bobby Zamora have all been released, various loanees – including Niko Kranjcar – won’t be back, while star striker Charlie Austin could be sold.

Young boss Chris Ramsey has his work cut ahead of his first full season in charge, but has already added Jay Emmanuel-Thomas and Massimo Luongo to the ranks.

Promotion odds: 4/1

MIDDLESBROUGH

Last three seasons: 16th, 12th, 4th (all Championship)

When the dust has settled on their below-par display in the Championship Play-Off Final defeat to Norwich, Middlesbrough fans will look ahead to this season with plenty of optimism.

Spanish boss Aitor Karanka enjoyed a fantastic first season in charge, overseeing the club’s best league finish since their relegation in 2009.

Signing a goalscorer is top priority with talismanic striker Patrick Bamford’s loan having expired.

Promotion odds: 3/1

BRENTFORD

Last three seasons: 3rd, 2nd (both League One), 5th (Championship)

The Bees performed well above expectations to finish fifth in their first season back at second tier level since 1992/93.

Manager Mark Warburton has left for Rangers, following a disagreement with owner Matthew Benham, with new Dutch head coach Marinus Dijkhuizen set to operate under a ‘Moneyball’ approach of mathematical modelling and statistics.

Having used only 24 players in the league last season, and with key loanee Alex Pritchard going back to Spurs, the squad will need strengthening.

Promotion odds: 7/2

WOLVES

Last three seasons: 23rd (Championship), 1st (League One), 7th (Championship)

Bouyed by the mid-season signing of Benik Afobe, the Midlands club surged up the table and only missed out on a play-off place on the last day of the campaign.

Kenny Jackett has laid solid foundations at Molineux after taking over at a club that had suffered back-to-back relegations. He is resigned to losing star winger Bakary Sako this summer, but has already signed highly-rated young midfielder Jed Wallace from Portsmouth.

Promotion odds: 7/2

DERBY COUNTY

Last three seasons: 10th, 3rd, 8th (all Championship)

Having narrowly lost the 2013/14 Play-Off Final to QPR, the Rams were tipped by many for automatic promotion last season – even more so when they signed the likes of Tom Ince and Darren Bent in January.

A dramatic end-of-season collapse saw them end up in eighth though and, following months of speculation, manager Steve McClaren moved to Newcastle.

Paul Clement has been appointed head coach, the Englishman having worked alongside Carlo Ancelloti at Chelsea, PSG and Real Madrid.

The signings of Bent, Alex Pearce (Reading) and Scott Carson show a real statement of intent to go again.

Promotion odds: 11/4

BLACKBURN ROVERS

Last three seasons: 17th, 8th, 9th

These are testing times for the Lancashire club. With their Premier League parachute payments having come to an end following three mediocre campaigns in the second tier, manager Gary Bowyer – under a transfer embargo until Financial Fair Play targets are hit – will be restricted to frees and loans.

Talented young striker Joshua King has already moved to newly-promoted Bournemouth, while the vultures are circling free-scoring front men Jordan Rhodes and Rudy Gestede.

Promotion odds: 8/1

BIRMINGHAM CITY

Last three seasons: 12th, 21st, 10th (all Championship)

Blues fans will be split into glass-half-full and glass-half-empty camps.

On one hand, the Midlands club is still in financial turmoil and, with owner Carson Yeung having lost his appeal against a conviction for money laundering, receivers are considering takeover bids.

Manager Gary Rowett did oversee a scintillating second half to last season though, taking over a team that had just lost 8-0 at home to Bournemouth in October and leading them to a 10th place finish with play-off form.

Keeper Darren Randolph has departed for West Ham.

Promotion odds: 11/1

CARDIFF CITY

Last three seasons: 1st (Championship), 20th (Premier League), 11th (Championship)

Controversial owner Vincent Tan has changed the colour of the home shirt back to blue, but fans still need winning over following a hugely disappointing first season back in the Championship – an 11th place finish the club’s lowest in seven years.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer didn’t last long, while his replacement Russell Slade has been heavily criticised for perceived long ball tactics. The Bluebirds secured only three home league wins in 2015 but look set to spend this summer.

Promotion odds: 9/1

CHARLTON ATHLETIC

Last three seasons: 9th, 18th, 12th (all Championship)

At best, this is likely to be a season of steadying the ship at The Valley.

With Belgian duo Joe Riga and Bob Peeters having failed to set pulses racing, it’s now up to Israeli Guy Luzon to get the Addicks back on track.

There will be a major overhaul at the south London club this summer, with senior players such as Tal Ben Haim, Chris Eagles and Simon Church among 15 players released. Highly-rated teenage centre-back Joe Gomez could also depart, with the likes of Liverpool and Arsenal reportedly interested.

Promotion odds: 25/1

SHEFFIELD WEDNESDAY

Last three seasons: 18th, 16th, 13th (all Championship)

It could go one of two ways for the Yorkshire club.

Stuart Gray has just been sacked following an 18th place finish and been replaced by unknown Portuguese coach Carlos Carvalhal – the club’s first non-British coach in their history.

New Thai owner Dejphon Chansiri, who completed a £37.5m takeover in January, has set a target of being promoted by 2017.

Promotion odds: 11/2

NOTTINGHAM FOREST

Last three seasons: 8th, 11th, 14th

After a disappointing campaign that saw Stuart Pearce sacked, a lengthy injury list hit hard and a transfer embargo placed upon them, Forest will be aiming to come back stronger under the management of Dougie Freedman.

Key men such as Chris Cohen, Andy Reid and Britt Assombalonga will be like new signings following long-term absences, while experienced second tier players Jamie Ward and Matt Mills have already been added.

Youngsters such as Ben Osborn and Tyler Walker are sure to be better following breakthrough seasons.

Promotion odds: 6/1

LEEDS UNITED

Last three seasons: 13th, 15th, 16th (all Championship)

Former Brentford and Wigan boss Uwe Rosler has become the Yorkshire club’s fifth manager in a year, owner Massimo Cellino as controversial as ever at Elland Road.

A transfer embargo has been lifted, Adam Pearson has returned as executive director from Hull, with striker Lee Erwin already signed from Motherwell.

A crop of young talent such as Lewis Cook, Alex Mowatt, Sam Byram, Charlie Taylor and Kalvan Phillips could kick on.

Promotion odds: 10/1

HUDDERSFIELD

Last three seasons: 19th, 17th, 16th

Manager Chris Powell oversaw a steady season which ended with just one defeat in 10 – albeit seven of those matches ending in draws.

Experienced players such as Anthony Gerrard and Jon Stead have been released and some inspired signings will be required if significant progress is to be made following three successive bottom-half finishes.

Promotion odds: 14/1

FULHAM

Last three seasons: 12th, 19th (both Premier League), 17th (Championship)

Kit Symons has stepped down from his role as Wales assistant boss to focus on Fulham full-time. A slow start to this season would undoubtedly see him quickly come under pressure.

The Cottagers struggled badly in their first season back at second-tier level since 2001, the controversial Felix Magath sacked in September.

The last of the big earners from the Premier League are being fazed out and the south London club face a fight to keep hold of star youngster Patrick Roberts.

Promotion odds: 11/1

BOLTON WANDERERS

Last three seasons: 7th, 14th, 18th (all Championship)

Neil Lennon will be looking to get the Trotters moving in the right direction again during his first full season in charge.

The Lancashire club’s top priority is signing a keeper after the departures of Adam Bogdan (Liverpool) and Andy Lonergan at the end of their contracts.

Matt Mills, Jermaine Beckford, Craig Davies and Keith Andrews are among the senior players to be released.

Promotion odds: 14/1

READING

Last three seasons: 19th (Premier League), 7th, 20th (both Championship)

Steve Clarke has warned his players to come back to pre-season in good shape ahead of his first full campaign in charge at the Madjeski Stadium.

Keeper Adam Federici and centre-back Alex Pearce have departed, while striker Pavel Pogrebnyak could be on his way.

The Royals may have been inconsistent in the league, but their run to the FA Cup semi-finals will give their fans hope, as will the fact that their Under-21s have just been promoted to the top-flight.

Promotion odds: 12/1

BRIGHTON

Last three seasons: 4th, 6th, 20th (all Championship)

The Seagulls went dramatically backwards last season following two successive play-off semi-final defeats, but – with Chris Hughton having replaced Sami Hyypia as manager in December – they finished the campaign playing some attractive football.

Chairman Tony Bloom has said that money is available this summer, but Hughton has warned that he won’t spend it ‘willy nilly’.

Promotion odds: 10/1

ROTHERHAM

Last three seasons: 2nd (League Two), 4th (League One), 21st (Championship)

Following two successive promotions, the Millers retained their second-tier status despite a late three-point deduction for fielding an ineligible player.

Steve Evans will be looking for a more settled squad this season having used 41 different players in the league.

Captain Craig Morgan and winger Ben Pringle have turned down new deals, but experienced duo Aidy White (Leeds) and Joe Mattock (Sheffield Wednesday) have been signed.

Promotion odds: 33/1

BRISTOL CITY

Last three seasons: 24th (Championship), 12th, 1st (both League One)

Steve Cotterill’s side won League One with 99 points and also claimed the Football League Trophy at Wembley in a memorable season.

Owner Stephen Lansdown admits they are now ‘joining the division of death’ and says the club – who were relegated with £50m worth of debts two years ago – will aim to be competitive without over-stretching themselves.

Promotion odds: 11/2

MK DONS

Last three seasons: 7th, 10th, 2nd (all League One)

Following six seasons of building in League One, the Dons finally sealed promotion with a second place finish.

Rising star Dele Alli is joining Tottenham this summer and the Buckinghamshire club may look to the London big boys for loanees.

Boss Karl Robinson has said ‘we don’t want to be a number, we want to compete, but we need to spend’.

Promotion odds: 11/1

PRESTON NORTH END

Last three seasons: 14th, 5th, 3rd (all League One)

The Lancashire club won the League One play-offs following nine previous defeats in the end of season knock-out competition.

Manager Simon Grayson is experienced at Championship level and could have a potent strike force in the form of Joe Garner and Jermaine Beckford, who has signed permanently following a successful loan spell.

Promotion odds: 11/1

– See tomorrow’s EADT and Ipswich Star for comment on Ipswich Town.

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