A very tough season lays ahead for all 24 Championship teams, looking through the lineups I am struggling to pick upright favourtites, plenty of Play-off contenders, most teams stuck in limbo and a few tipped for the bottom, let’s meet the contenders

PROMOTION CANDIDATES

Leicester City

The only team that I think has the greatest chance of promotion this year, although they have lost Manager Nigel Pearson they have kept star striker Matty Fryatt a goal machine in the past 2 seasons, to gain promotion from this league you need a goal scorer, and Fryatt guarentee’s 15-20 goals a season, add to that the like of Richie Wellens, lloyd Dyer, Robbie Neilson and Dany N’Guessan and you have the makings of a strong team. Manager Paulo Sousa did a good job at Swansea, it is a tough ask to follow in Nigel Pearson’s footsteps however Paulo has the ability to not only follow him, but take Leicester one step further.

Other candidates – Middlesbrough, Swansea, Ipswich

PLAYOFF CONTENDERS

Bristol City

Another new manager at a potentially massive club boosted by the signing of England International David James in goals, also keeping the likes of Nicky Maynard, Damion Stewart and Gavin Williams they have a strong squad with lots of potential. I expect them to have a very strong season and with time still left to add that little bit more quality, they will be a team to beat.

Cardiff City

Dave Jones announced today that the transfer embargo had been lifted, this should be the catalysty Cardiff need to bring in some good players, added to an already talented squad the potential to have a good season is there, Jason Koumas has already signed more should follow. Joe Ledley has gone to Celtic, Chopra is constantly linked with a move away, they still have Peter Whittingham, Ross McCormack and Jay Bothroyd to fire them into play-off contention. It will take all of Dave Jones managerial nouse to pick the team up from last years play-off defeat to get them a good start to the season, if he does Cardiff’s new groud could be a hard place to visit.

Coventry City

My last team picked for the play-offs is a little bit of a long shot, however all the ingredients are there, talented manager who’s done it before, exciting players and a good home crowd, Gary McSheffrey returns to where he once cause so many problems, young Irish players Stephen O’Halloran and Roy O’Donovan, the experience of Lee Carsley and a really exciting player in Lukas Jutkiewicz who showed his class on loan at Motherwell last year a remarkable goal in the memorable match against Hibs. Aidy Boothroyd will need to gel the players quickly, helped by the likes of Freddy Eastwood, Michael Doyle and Martin Craine good times could return to Coventry and the Ricoh Arena.

Other Candidates – Sheffield United, Leeds United

RELEGATION CANDIDATES

Scunthorpe United

It must be hard being a Scunthorpe fan constantly punching above your weight, plucking strikers either from the scrap heap or obscurity, watch them score tons of goals, to then watch them be sold again to the highest bidder, Billy Sharp saved his career at Glanford Park only then to move onto Doncaster, and this year it was Gary Hooper’s turn 50 goals for The Irons and then the big move to Celtic, so again Scunny fans have to look for their next savoir, Chris Dagnall has been brought in from Rochdale on a free and given the number 9 jersey, hopes will be pinned on him, too many players have left, I think it will be a long old season, and it could have a horrible ending.

Portsmouth

It’s easy to pick on Portsmouth, the club is in a real mess, minutes away from non-existence 14 players in the squad, 2 of them due to leave at some point, there needs to be heavy rebuilding in the squad to give them any chance, the players they have can only be described as journeymen, Tommy Smith, Michael Brown, Danny Webber all players that will not strike fear into any team, Kevin-Prince Boateng and John Utaka will surely leave, maybe even Aaron Moekena would leave, a grim job for Steve Cotterill lies ahead.

Other Candidates – Millwall, Derby County

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The English Championship can boast one of the wealthiest games in all of football, the Playoff Final played at Wembley could be worth 50 to 60 million pounds to the winner, and heartbreak and a tough season ahead for the losers.

4 teams tonight and tomorrow fight for their place in the Playoff Final; both games still in the balance, the winners will then be 1 win away from a place at England’s top table the Barclay’s Premier League.

The teams in question are Blackpool, Nottingham Forest, Cardiff City and Leicester City. Nottingham Forest were once the top team in Europe winning 2 European Cups, and then in the 90’s the fell all the way down to the 3rd tier of English football, Promoted from League One last season they have had a remarkable season under Billy Davies it is no easy feat to have the chance of 2 promotions in a row.

Leicester City of course had some wonderful seasons in the Premier League under Martin O’Neill making stars out of Neil Lennon, Emile Heskey, Steve Guppy, Muzzy Izzet etc once O’Neill left Peter Taylor continued the good job but was sacked in his second season, Micky Adams took over and things got from bad to worse for Leicester, relegation then administration followed and Leicester like Nottingham Forest found themselves in the 3rd Tier of English football, a rebuilding process began, Once in League One talented manager Nigel Pearson took over and in his first season they were promoted as Champions, and now with a chance for consecutive promotions and a chance to have a crack at the big time again.

If any team could do with the riches of the Premier League Cardiff City would be pretty high up that list, there’s has been doubt cast over Cardiff’s financial state in recent times, Peter Risdale trying to find a rich buyer for the club and coming up short, then promising all season ticket sales would be spent on players, and once again not delivering, Cardiff have been in the Championship since 2003 and would see this as their greatest chance to make it to the top flight, talented players like Peter Whittingham, Michael Chopra and Joe Ledley will be hoping they can fire their team to Wembley, and the Cardiff fans will be hoping the same, if they don’t win promotion the chances of these players remaining at Cardiff next season are very slim, even their status as a club could be under threat.

Now most people reading this blog I would hope have at some point taken a holiday in Blackpool, cold sea winds, Blackpool Tower, the Piers, the Pleasure Beach and Premier League Football, sounds good doesn’t it, well maybe not good but would be wonderful for the people of Blackpool, with the backing of Latavian Businessman Valeri Belokon they have made their way out of League One and up the Championship table and secured their Playoff spot on the last day of the season, having eccentric manager Ian Holloway in charge has spurred The ‘Pool on to new heights, and who would bet against them reaching the dizzy heights of the Premier League.

BLACKPOOL V NOTTINGHAM FOREST

Blackpool welcomed Nottingham Forest to Bloomfield Road last Saturday and the game did not disappoint, Forest started the better side and made it pay when Chris Cohen curled a beautiful shot with the outside of his left foot past Blackpool’s keeper, this only woke Blackpool up and they went on the hunt for a equaliser, a great move sweeping from right to left then back in the middle to find Keith Southern unmarked in the box his left foot shot trundled into the net, the first half ended with Dexter Blackstock’s header coming off the crossbar and Stephen Crainey clearing efforts off Blackpool’s goal line.

The Second half was all Blackpool and when James Perch brought down DJ Campbell in the box, Charlie Adam who has been Blackpool’s talisman all season calmly tucked it away for the 2-1 lead and that’s how the game finished Blackpool might rue the chance to score a third with the amount of possession they had in the Second Half.

LEICESTER CITY V CARDIFF CITY

This game was a much tighter affair, both teams still attacking but not as open as at Blackpool, Cardiff at times looking like the home side as they peppered the Leicester goal, the first half was all Cardiff, nervous Leicester fans could only watch on.

The second half started the same, Jay Bothroyd had a great header tipped over the bar in an early attack, it was Richie Wellens that got Leicester going firing a drive just past the post, then they had a penalty claim when Martyn Waghorn was bundled over when trying to get on the end of a cross, the pleas were waved away by referee Wiley.

On 78 minutes Peter Whittingham made the break through, a free kick on the right hand side, looked like he was going to play it into the box, He had different ideas, smashing the ball with his left foot past Chris Weale, there was nothing the keeper could do, a fantastic goal. For the remaining 10 minutes Leicester bombarded the Cardiff goal but David Marshall was not to be beaten and Cardiff will take a 1-0 lead into the 2nd leg.

2nd LEGS 

Tonight Blackpool travel to the City Ground with a slender lead, and Billy Davies will be hoping his team can use the home advantage and peg back the result and go on to Wembley. Blackpool will be confident they can score a goal away from home, it should be a great game, I cannot see anyone running away with it, and should go till the end, I would not be surprised if it ended on penalties, an exciting but cruel end for either team, my heart says Blackpool, think it would be great to see them in the Premier League, however my heart says Nottingham Forest I think they will have too much at home for Blackpool.

Prediction Blackpool 1 Notts Forest 3 (3-4 on agg)

Tomorrow Leicester go to Cardiff knowing they have to score 2 goals, and I think it will be too much for them, Cardiff looked great on Sunday and I think they will score more at home and I can’t see Leicester having an answer for them.

Cardiff will win by two and book their place at Wembley.

Prediction Cardiff 2 Leicester 0 (3-0 on agg)

 

That would make it a Nottingham Forest v Cardiff City Final – who will go on to emulate Burnley from last year when they beat Sheffield United in the final, and although they have come back down, I doubt they regret their year in the Premier League.

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FIFA and UEFA really make me mad sometimes.

The playoffs were decided recently for the remaining places left to qualify for South Africa 2010.

Greece v Ukraine
Portugal v Bosnia-Herzigovina
Russia v Slovenia
,
and of course
Republic of Ireland v France.

Before the qualification groups started there was no mention of there being a seeded playoff system, just that the top 8 second place teams would go into the playoffs, but after the scare of some good teams not making it, FIFA/UEFA decided it should be seeded.

My question is WHY?

Every team in qualifying was seeded to begin with and given enough games to qualify properly in their own right, so if you failed to get an automatic place, and finish second you should not then get help again with being given a so called weaker team in a 2 leg playoff game.

If there was a league table of 2nd placed teams it would look like this

Russia 22pts
Ukraine 21pts
France 21pts
Greece 20pts
Slovenia 20pts
Portugal 19pts
Bosnia 19pts
Ireland 18pts

Slovenia finished with more points than Portugal and the same points as Greece so what right do they have of being seeded in front of the Slovenians.

We could have had,  France v Portugal,  seeing one big team going out or Slovenia v Bosnia, giving hope to these 2 smaller naions would have a great chance of a place in South Africa.

FIFA would hate this though, continually making the rich nations rich, and the poor nations poor, I personally hope a big team or two go out nothing against the big teams just like a shock now and again, and without FIFA’s bureauracy we might see some more.

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