Good start vital for Premier prospects

THE importance of getting off to a good start was perfectly highlighted by the sides that won automatic promotion from the Championship.West Brom who finished as champions and runners up Stoke City were both safely ensconced in the top six after just ten games along with another Bristol City and Watford, who finished in the play off places.

Derek Davis

THE importance of getting off to a good start was perfectly highlighted by the sides that won automatic promotion from the Championship.

West Brom who finished as champions and runners up Stoke City were both safely ensconced in the top six after just ten games along with another Bristol City and Watford, who finished in the play off places.

The third team to go up, Hull City, who came from mid-table in February to finish third, showed how it is never too late and finishing strongly can be as rewarding as starting well.


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The lead in the Championship changed hands 19 times, with eventual winners West Brom hitting the heights five times before eventually clinching the title.

Play-off finalists Bristol City were there four times but slipped away at the end to finish fourth and meet Hull in the play-off final.

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While Ipswich were joint top for a day, along with Crystal Palace and Coventry City, after the opening fixture they would be tenth after ten games, although would flirt with the top six on a regular basis for the first half of the season.

It was only after being taken over by Marcus Evans did they slip away and the second half of the campaign did not match up.

Even so, like Sheffield United and Wolves, they were in with a chance of finishing in the play-off places right up until the final whistle on the final day.

The Championship was undoubtedly the tightest in memory.

West Brom won the title with just 81 points, the lowest total since the division went to 46 games from 42 and Tony Mowbray's side finished an astonishing 25 short of Reading's record.

At the other end of the table Leicester City went down with 52 points, the highest total since the increase in games and just 18 points separated the relegated Foxes from the Hornets who made the play-offs with 70 points.

Town manager Jim Magilton recognised the importance of getting off to a good start and that was reflected in the early return to pre-season last year.

This season the squad return for real on June 25, but all have been issued with fitness programmes to work to on their summer break and the return won't be as painful as in the old days.

With the fixtures coming out on Monday June 16, Magilton and his staff will be working out just how good a start they can get off too. This year even more emphasis will be on picking up wins away from home and not rely so heavily on home results.

If they can repeat their Portman Road form then Town, who had the best home record in the Championship with 15 wins and just one defeat, will give themselves a big advantage.

The pressure will be on from the off with Magilton knowing that if the Blues are not in pole position after ten games then he will only have another half a dozen before questions about his future are being asked.

He will not be alone. The managerial sack race is usually in full swing by September and reaches a crescendo by mid December.

With so many clubs backed by big finance having money will not be enough.

Squads need to be working well by the end of august, loans can add strength, but by mid-November all the strengths and weaknesses are obvious throughout the division and making changes in January is usually a sign of concern unless a team are only looking to consolidate.

Those sides that have come down are awash with cash. Around £11m parachute money to go along with what they have already earned in the Premiership will make Derby, Reading and Birmingham, powerful forces with a big head start.

Although they can be good teams to play early on as it generally takes time to adjust after relegation.

More difficult opposition will be those that have come up with Swansea, Nottingham Forest and Doncaster all still riding on a crest of a promotion wave.

We all remember the drama and excitement of a close finish, but while the start may be lower key, all those early points so easily dropped are just as vital.

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