MANAGERS will have one just word embedded in their minds when they open their Championship campaigns this weekend: Blackpool.
Ian Holloway’s achievement in taking the Seasiders to the promised land on a shoestring budget and a team of grafters will certainly not have gone unnoticed among bosses of the so-called smaller sides in the second tier this season.
Indeed, but for Middlesbrough’s Gordon Strachan, it’s been noticeable just how many have shied away from recruiting that ‘star man’ this summer and opted for that good, honest pro who will put in a shift and help grind you out of the division.
With no outstanding team such as Newcastle in the league this year, the three teams that came down from the Premier League are the next most scrutinised – and none of them look particularly menacing.
Portsmouth are a club with too much damage to repair, while my old club Burnley and Hull City look in danger of settling back into Championship mediocrity.
Similarly, Cardiff, denied by Blackpool in last year’s play-off final, have financial problems of their own also and are in danger of having to offload some of their top players.
Strachan’s Middlesbrough are many people’s favourites and it’s easy to see why. Gordon has spent big on players he knows from his days in Scotland – the “men” as he calls them enlisted with the job of getting the club out of what is a very demanding league. I’ve also got a sneaky suspicion for Leeds.
Of the London clubs, QPR have the best chance, although question marks remain as to just how ambitious they are down there at Loftus Road.
Not being able to prise Darren Ambrose from rivals Crystal Palace raised a few eyebrows. He’d worked with Neil Warnock at Palace, scores a hatful of goals from midfield and was just the type of player to lead their charge in what has to be their best chance of promotion under the Lakshmi Mittal era.
For Palace, it has to be a season of stability under George Burley following their recent financial troubles, and with the small squad he has at his disposal, while Millwall, similarly, will just be happy to be in this position again next season and consolidate themselves as a Championship side.
MANAGER: George Burley
PLAYERS IN: David Wright (Ipswich), Adam Barrett (unattached), Andy Dorman (unattached), Lewis Price (unattached), Owen Garvan (Ipswich)
PLAYERS OUT: Nick Carle (Sydney FC), Johannes Ertl (Sheff Utd), Jack Randall (Aldershot), Shaun Derry (QPR), Clint Hill (QPR), Danny Butterfield (Southampton)
Player to watch: Darren Ambrose
Last season: 21st
Prediction: Another season of stability following financial woes
MANAGER: Kenny Jackett
PLAYERS IN: Shaun Batt (Peterborough), Tamika Mkandawire (Leyton Orient), Steve Mildenhall (Southend), Liam Trotter (Ipswich), James Henry (Reading), Kevin Lisbie (Ipswich, loan).
PLAYERS OUT: Dave Martin (Derby), Jason Price (Carlisle), Ali Fuseini (released), Adam Bolder (Burton Albion), John Sullivan (Yeovil, loan)
PLAYER TO WATCH: Steve Morison
LAST SEASON: 3rd (League One play-off winners)
PREDICTION: Survival is the key and should do it, but only just
MANAGER: Neil Warnock
PLAYERS IN: Jamie Mackie (Plymouth), Leon Clarke (Sheff Wed), Paddy Kenny (Sheff Utd), Shaun Derry (Crystal Palace),
Clint Hill (Crystal Palace)
PLAYERS OUT: Angelo Balanta (Milton Keynes Dons, loan), Matteo Alberti (AC Lumezzane, loan)
PLAYER TO WATCH: Akos Buzsaky
LAST SEASON: 13th
PREDICTION: Play-offs in their sights
MANAGER: Andy Scott
PLAYERS IN: Nicky Forster (Brighton), Toumani Diagouraga (Peterborough), Craig Woodman (Wycombe), Richard Lee (Watford), David McCracken (MK Dons), Simon Royce (Gillingham), Kirk Hudson (Aldershot), Mark Spillane (Norwich)
PLAYERS OUT: Nikki Bull, Danny Foster, Ben Strevens, Alan Bennett (all Wycombe), Ryan Dickson (Southampton), Cleveland Taylor (St Johnstone)
Player to watch: Myles Weston
LAST SEASON: 9th
PREDICTION: Play-offs not out of the question
MANAGER: Phil Parkinson
PLAYERS IN: Johnnie Jackson (Notts C), Gary Doherty (Norwich), Alan McCormack, Simon Francis (Southend), Kyel Reid (Sheff U), Akpo Sodje (Sheff W), Pawel Abbott (Oldham)
PLAYERS OUT: Jonjo Shelvey (Liverpool), Nick Bailey (M’boro), Deon Burton (Gabala), Matthew Spring (Leyton O), Darren Randolph (Motherwell), Stuart Fleetwood (Hereford), Frazer Richardson (S’oton), Lloyd Sam (Leeds), Izale McLeod (released)
PLAYER TO WATCH: Kyel Reid
LAST SEASON: 4th
PREDICTION: Play-offs despite key departures
MANAGER: John Still
PLAYERS IN: Damian Scannell (Southend), Luke Wilkinson (Portsmouth), Stuart Lewis (Gillingham), Gavin Tomlin (Yeovil), Gareth Gwillim (Histon), Alex Osborn (Grays), Danny Green (Billericay), Duran Reynolds (Southend)
Players outa: Danny Spiller (Gillingham), Anwar Uddin (Barnet), Wes Thomas (Cheltenham), Alex Bentley (released), Hakeem Araba (Billericay), Mark Mwokeji (AFC Wimbledon)
PLAYER TO WATCH: Paul Benson
LAST SEASON: 7th in League Two, play-off winners
PREDICTION: A long, hard season awaits
MANAGER: Russell Slade
PLAYERS IN: Matthew Spring (Charlton), Dean Cox (Brighton), Stephen Dawson (Bury), Lee Butcher (Tottenham), Elliot Omozusi (Fulham), Aaron Brown (Aldershot), Terrell Forbes (Yeovil), George Porter (Cray Wanderers), Alex Revell (Southend)
PLAYERS OUT: Tamika Mkandawire (Millwall), Jason Demetriou (AEK Larnaca), Stephen Purches (Bournemouth), Luke Ashworth (Rotherham), Glenn Morris (Southend)
PLAYER TO WATCH: Matthew Spring
Last season: 17th
Prediction: Top ten at best
MANAGER: Mark Stimson
PLAYERS IN: Steve Kabba (Brentford), Mark Byrne (Nottm Forest), Sam Cox (Tottenham), Jordan Parkes (Watford), Danny Kelly (Norwich), Anwar Uddin (Dagenham & R), Rossi Jarvis (Luton), Charlie Stimson (Gillingham), Ricky Holmes (Chelmsford), Glen Southam (Histon), Glenn Poole (AFC Wimbledon)
PLAYERS OUT: John O’Flynn (Exeter), Albert Adomah (Bristol City), Albert Jarrett (Lincoln), Micah Hyde (Billericay), Kenny Gillet (Inverness CT)
PLAYER TO WATCH: Anwar Uddin
Last season: 21st
PREDICTION: Another season of struggle