Championship 2015/16: The journalists have their say on who’s going up and who’s going down

Who will be celebrating with the Championship trophy in May?

Who will be celebrating with the Championship trophy in May? - Credit: PA

The Championship season kicks-off this evening when Brighton host Nottingham Forest in the first of 552 games between now and May, with fans and players up and down the country all hopeful of successful seasons.

Watford's Troy Deeney (left) and Heurelho Gomes celebrate promotion.

Watford's Troy Deeney (left) and Heurelho Gomes celebrate promotion. - Credit: PA

But what do the so-called ‘experts’ think? Who’s going up? Who’s going down? Who will be the key men in the second tier this season?

We asked Championship journalists up and down the country for their thoughts ahead of the new season.

Brian Dick, Birmingham Mail

Gary Rowett oversaw the biggest improvement of league position of any of the Championship’s new managers, 13 places from 23rd to 10th. Tomasz Kuszczak is a big upgrade in the goalkeeping department and holding on to Demarai Gray has been massive. It’s small squad, but if they can pick their first XI as often as possible they have a great chance of equalling or even going better than last year’s 10th.

If not, it’ll be mid-table.

Paul Wheelock, Lancashire Telegraph

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It’s difficult to answer about Blackburn’s prospects until the transfer window closes. Sell Jordan Rhodes and that’s 40 goals lost, following the departure of Rudy Gestede, but it would lead to the club’s embargo being lifted, allowing Gary Bowyer to do what he does, bringing in quality players for small fees.

Whether Jordan Rhodes stays or goes will shape Blackburn's season

Whether Jordan Rhodes stays or goes will shape Blackburn's season - Credit: PA Wire/Press Association Images

Either way it is going to be a testing season. I do not see Rovers becoming embroiled in a relegation fight, but a top-six place may be beyond them.

Marc Iles, Bolton News

Finished 18th last season and unless the much-mooted outside investment happens soon, it’s hard to imagine Wanderers having anything other than another season of struggle.

If Neil Lennon is given cash to spend, however, there is a solid enough base to build on.

Keeper Ben Amos excelled last season and will be a key player, while youngsters like Zach Clough will continue to mature.

Tom Moore, getwestlondon.co.uk - Brentford

It’s been all change at Griffin Park with Mark Warburton leaving the club at the end of last season.

Who will step up and replace Danny Ings at Burnley?

Who will step up and replace Danny Ings at Burnley? - Credit: PA Wire/Press Association Images

Dutchman Marinus Dijkhuizen has come in as head coach and a raft of new players have been signed, while the likes of Stuart Dallas, and Jonathan Douglas have left.

Under owner Matthew Benham, Brentford’s seasons have been better than the ones before so it would be no surprise to see them challenging for promotion.

Andy Naylor, The Argus - Brighton

They still have the feel of a Premier League club in waiting off the pitch, less so on it.

Chris Hughton knows the division and they will be hard to beat in his first full season but need more attacking flair and goal threat before the window shuts to turn the struggle against relegation back into the top six finishes of the previous two years. Otherwise rare mid-table mediocrity beckons. Beram Kayal, a classy midfielder, could be a key player.

Andy Stockhausen, Bristol Post

Although a team that became accustomed to winning when claiming a League One title and Johnstone’s Paint Trophy double last season has nothing to fear from the Championship, the size of City’s squad is giving cause for concern.

Bobby Zamora has been given a hero's welcome down after returning to Brighton

Bobby Zamora has been given a hero's welcome down after returning to Brighton - Credit: PA Wire/Press Association Images

French striker Jonathan Kodjia – signed from Angers for £2.1m – remains the only new addition. Providing City can add some quality, they should comfortably hold their own in the English second tier.

Chris Boden, Burnley Express

With Sean Dyche still at the helm, I’d expect Burnley to be as hard to beat as they were two seasons ago at this level.

But will they have the same cutting edge without striker Danny Ings and Kieran Trippier supplying the ammunition? Dean Marney and Ashley Barnes will also be big misses after knee injuries suffered last season.

Jason Shackell has left for Derby too.

I’d expect them be top six, however.

Terry Phillips, Media Wales - Cardiff

Will Derby see the best of Darren Bent?

Will Derby see the best of Darren Bent? - Credit: PA Wire/Press Association Images

Back playing in blue, but many fans are still not happy.

Manager Russell Slade is working to win over the critics who don’t see him as the right man for the job.

Sammy Ameobi, loan from Newcastle, and defender Semi Ajayi, released by Arsenal, have been added, but City need more midfield quality.

Injuries to Bruno Manga and Ben Turner, probably City’s first choice centre-back pairing, are severe blows.

Richard Cawley, South London Press - Charlton

Charlton can’t match the budgets of many of their rivals and Guy Luzon’s recruitment drive has consisted of overseas signings. They have talent in the squad – deadly Icelandic winger Johann Berg Gudmundsson a prime example – but they are reliant on new boys bedding in quickly.

The most high-profile capture is Simon Makienok on a season-long loan from Palermo – a target for Premier League teams before his Serie A move went sour.

Ross McCormack is still the main man at Fulham

Ross McCormack is still the main man at Fulham - Credit: PA Wire/Press Association Images

Steve Nicholson, Derby Telegraph

Beaten play-off finalists in 2014 and favourites to go up last season before they crumbled in the run-in, Derby County look strong enough to challenge again. They have spent around £10m this summer and brought in seven players – Jason Shackell, Darren Bent, Alex Pearce, Scott Carson, Chris Baird, Tom Ince and Andreas Weimann.

Many of them have experience of this division and the Premier League and have won things.

Paul Warburton, getwestlondon.co.uk - Fulham

They stand a better chance than this time last year. How could they not? Felix Magath was a disaster.

Kit Symons is far more practical and his signings – Ben Pringle, Tom Cairney and Jamie O’Hara – reflect this.

They look fit for purpose and in pre-season he quietly got things rolling along.

I’ll bet a Cottage Pie they don’t flirt with relegation this time. Ross McCormack remains the key man.

Chris Wood is in at Leeds to lead the line

Chris Wood is in at Leeds to lead the line

Doug Thomson, Huddersfield Examiner

Town need to tighten up defensively and avoid too may injuries if they are to replicate last season’s bright phases and turn themselves into a genuine top-half team.

Chris Powell has some talented players but Town haven’t been consistent enough since returning to the second tier in 2012, recording finishes of 19th, 17th and 16th

James Vaughan is the Terriers’ match-winner, but he has to stay fit. Sean Scannell is also a key man.

Phil Buckingham, Hull Mail

A summer overhaul has seen 10 players leave since relegation from the Premier League and stripped back optimism ahead of the club’s Championship return. There’s no doubting the quality in the squad, or Steve Bruce’s record at taking teams up from this league, but only time will tell how severe the hangover will be. The Tigers were the last of all 92 English clubs to make a signing this summer, recruiting just 12 days before the new season.

Stewart Downing is back in his old stomping ground of Middlesbrough.

Stewart Downing is back in his old stomping ground of Middlesbrough. - Credit: PA Wire/PA Photos

Stuart Watson, East Anglian Daily Times/Ipswich Star

Finished sixth last season and, on the face of it, the squad looks stronger. Strike force is as good as any in the division, Ryan Fraser and Ainsley Maitland-Niles have added some much needed pace/guile to the midfield, while the defence – albeit thin on the ground – is pretty solid.

A spirited group should be top-six contenders again. Master man-manager Mick McCarthy is undoubtedly the club’s key asset.

Phil Hay, Yorkshire Evening Post - Leeds United

Much is expected of Leeds ahead of German coach Uwe Rosler’s first full season in charge.

With out-and-out left winger Stuart Dallas and striker Chris Wood added, Leeds should be far more dangerous than last season.

Centre-half Sol Bamba has been signed from Italian club Palermo and made club captain.

The play-offs might be asking too much but in a pretty even league I quite fancy them to finish top 10.

How important will Britt Assombalonga's absence until January be for Forest?

How important will Britt Assombalonga's absence until January be for Forest?

Toby Lock, Milton Keynes Citizen

Still need to strengthen considerably if they are to upset the apple cart this season.

Most teams are able to keep their best players when winning promotion, but Dons’ two best players in Will Grigg and Dele Alli have gone and replacements have yet to be found.

Expect a relegation battle and a lot of draws at home. Staying up would be more than enough to satisfy for their first season in the Championship.

Philip Tallentire, Teesside Gazette - Middlesbrough

Boro should be strong contenders for automatic promotion. The addition of Stewart Downing from West Ham and Espanyol’s Uruguay international Christian Stuani adds attacking nous to a rock-solid defence with the prospect of further signings to come.

Losing the play-off final at Wembley in May has only stiffened chairman Steve Gibson’s resolve to escape the Championship this time around.

Massimo Luongo is making the step up to the Championship with QPR

Massimo Luongo is making the step up to the Championship with QPR - Credit: Archant

Paul Taylor, Nottingham Post

Having been regarded as one of the favourites for promotion this time last year, the expectations at the City Ground are a little more modest this time around. A top six finish very much remains the goal, but Britt Assombalonga ruled out until January at least and long term injury problems still hanging over Chris Cohen, Andy Reid and Matty Fryatt – as well as the limitations of a transfer embargo to work within – any optimism is cautious.

Dave Seddon, Lancashire Post- Preston North End

I think Preston will be happy to stay up without being dragged into a relegation scrap at any time.

The last time they were promoted to this level (2000), they went straight through to the play-off final (2001) but similar is unlikely this time.

Simon Grayson is a proven boss at this level, while a front two of Joe Garner and Jermaine Beckford looks good.

With one or two more signings, I’d expect a mid-table finish.

Kevin McDonald is a key cog in the Wolves midfield

Kevin McDonald is a key cog in the Wolves midfield - Credit: Archant

Paul Warburton, getwestlondon.co.uk - QPR

There is a pragmatic QPR coming to a stadium near you.

No longer is it over-the-hill foreigners looking for a last pay-day, but lean and hungry players from the lower leagues (Ben Gladwin, Massimo Luongo, Jay Emmanuel-Thomas), the tried-and-tested (Jamie Mackie) mixed with the affordable from the continent.

Leroy Fer’s move to Sunderland has fallen through meanwhile

Back to basics will see them top 10, at least, if not higher.

Charles Watts, getreading.co.uk

After such a poor league season last time out, everyone at Madejski Stadium is hoping Steve Clarke can get the team challenging back towards the right end of the table.

He’s lost some key players this summer, but recruited the likes of Ali Al Habsi, Paul McShane and Stephen Quinn. Should be more to come, with two more strikers expected before the window shuts.

I’m expecting a top half finish, but think a play-off place will probably just be out of reach.

David Beddows, Rotherham Advertiser

Steve Evans is a top motivator and if he can get the absolute maximum from his players again then a finish towards the calmer waters of mid-table is within reach. Despite losing three key men in Ben Pringle, Craig Morgan and Kari Arnason, Rotherham look to have improved.

The new arrivals include several with Championship experience like Danny Collins and Greg Halford. The squad isn’t the biggest but several can play different positions.

Dominick Howson, Sheffield Star

Wednesday have brought in multiple players from abroad, none of whom have experienced the rough and tumble of the Championship before. If they break into the top 10 following a big turnover of players over the summer, that should be regarded as progress.

Despite being deployed out wide, Marco Matias notched 17 goals in the Portuguese top tier last season, helping Nacional to a seventh-placed finish.

It will be interesting to see how such new recruits fare.

Tim Nash, Wolverhampton Express and Star

After last season’s near miss when they were edged out of a play-off spot, expectations have risen again at Wolves this summer and a top-six spot will be the minimum requirement. But there is anxiety among the Molineux masses as last season’s 15-goal top scorer, left winger Bakary Sako, still hasn’t been replaced and key playmaker Kevin McDonald is stalling on a new deal and into the final year of his contract.Benik Afobe is a Premier League player in the making.

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