Over the last few years I’ve gained a pretty solid insight into what it takes to get promotion from the Championship. I won promotion through the play-offs last year with QPR, and back in 2010 I was part of the Newcastle team that won the Championship title. So with the Championship kicking off this evening I thought I’d knock out a few quick ideas of what it takes to go up, and pull out a few teams and players that I think will do well.
Consistency is the key
So what does it take? The biggest thing for me is consistency. You need to be able to hit the ground running and grind out results week in week out. That sounds simple, but in March 2014 QPR had eight games. We won four, drew two and lost two. A pretty decent return but due to the competitive nature of the league that allowed other teams to claw back a few points on us. That followed a February where we won only one point out of 12, and a January that saw us win four on the bounce in the league. This lack of consistency saw us drop out of the automatic promotion places and have to fight our way out through the playoffs.
So the competitive nature of the league and the need for consistency requires a team with a strong central core, and a squad with enough quality to step up whenever the opportunity arises. With that in mind, here are my top picks for promotion this time around. If you bet on them and they don’t come in, don’t start tweeting me for a refund!
Derby to win it
After playing them in the play-off final last time around, and sharing the six points over the two regular season games against them, I fancy Derby to win the Championship this time around. McClaren is a top coach, he’s already got a solid team in place, they’ve got an excellent academy that could bring through a few fresh faces when the team needs it most, they’ve managed to hold onto their best players, and Steve and Chris Evan’s links to top European clubs have helped them land a couple of decent young Spaniards from the Madrid clubs. They’ve also kept hold of Chris Martin who scored 22 goals for the last year and their player of the year Craig Bryson – a good midfielder who could have left this summer to play in the Premier League, but signed a five year deal with the Rams instead. That’s 39 goals they’ve got in the locker. And young Will Hughes will be a great asset this year too.
Some Opta stats to back that up
Derby scored more goals (84) than any other team in this year’s Championship
They had higher possession (55.5%) and pass completion (79.5%) than any other team in the division… except QPR!
The battle for second
We beat Wigan in the semis last year and it was proper scrap. I think they have what it takes to do really well this year. Last year they had the distraction of playing in the Europa League, and progressed to the semi-final of the FA Cup. So if they don’t have those kind distractions and squad challenges, who knows what they can do? They’ve lost Jordi Gomez to Sunderland, but they’ve done some decent business with Cardiff to bring in Andre Taylor and Don Cowie, but their biggest signing so far may well be Oriol Riera. The Spanish forward started out at Barca before plying his trade in the Spanish lower leagues, but his return of 13 goals in 37 games for an Osasuna team that got relegated is pretty decent. If he can gel with Callum McManaman and get some decent service, you’d imagine he’d be able to get a decent goal haul in the Championship.
Some stats to back that up
They’ve got two of the best keepers in the league in Scott Carson and Ali Al Habsi
Only the three promoted clubs and Brighton had more clean sheets than Wigan’s total of 16
Stuart Pearce took over at the City Ground in July following a pretty solid season for Forest that saw them finish 11th. While they were one of the better teams in terms of possession and passing, they lacked a little something at either end of the field. You can’t help but think that Pearce will be able to organise them a little better at the back this year (especially now they’ve signed the massively underrated Michael Mancienne from Hamburg), while up front they’ve brought in a highly rated young striker – Britt Assombalonga who scored 24 goals in League One last year. In Jamal Lascelles and Karl Darlow they’ve got some of the most promising players in the League (despite the fact they’ve been sold to Newcastle and loaned back to Forest for this season), and the addition of Michail Antonio who knows how to get down the wing and get some crosses will give their forwards the ammunition they need to get the goals they were missing last time around.
Some stats to back that up
Despite none of their players scoring more than 10 league goals Forest were the 7th highest scorers in last year’s Championship.
Forest were 7th best passing team, and enjoyed the 6th best possession stats. so imagine what they could have done with a goalscorer or two and a decent defence?