Birmingham City

By Colin Tattum (Birmingham Mail)

After escaping relegation on the final day in dramatic circumstances, Lee Clark has overhauled his squad again, taking into account the crippling financial situation at the club.

Big names and big earners have gone, nine new players - eight Bosmans, one loan - have come in.

With such a mess off the field (owner Carson Yeung is in prison and potential takeovers have stalled), Birmingham are aiming for mid-table but the bottom line is that no repeat of a desperate relegation scrap would represent a 'successful' season, under the present circumstances.

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Key Player: Clayton Donaldson was targeted by Lee Clark to provide goals and a powerful presence up front following the inevitable release of massive earner Nikola Zigic.

With no money to spend for another summer, Clark had to persuade Donaldson to join on a Bosman from Brentford with the promise of becoming one of Birmingham's main men, on what still remains a big club platform.

Clark wants Birmingham to play with more pace and mobility in the final third this season and Donaldson was identified as a key component for that strategy, allied to his goals record in recent campaigns.

Automatic Promotion: Cardiff, Derby

Play-Offs: Norwich, Wigan, Fulham, Forest

Blackburn Rovers

By Paul Wheelock (Lancashire Telegraph)

Having finished last season unbeaten in 12 games and just two places and two points outside the play-offs, Rovers fans are confident of a top-six finish this time around.

And with their side boasting potentially the deadliest strikeforce in the division, in Jordan Rhodes and Rudy Gestede, and creative midfielders of the quality of Tom Cairney and Craig Conway, their optimism is not misplaced.

However much will depend on whether Rovers can marry their genuine attacking threat with a more solid defence. They conceded 62 goals in 2013-14 – far too many for a side chasing promotion.

Main man: Blackburn will be hoping Jordan Rhodes can fire them into the play-offs

Key Player: The obvious answer would be Jordan Rhodes. After scoring an incredible 54 Championship goals in the past two seasons – no-one has netted more in that time – it came as a massive boost when he signed a new contract extension earlier this summer.

But with Rhodes’ goals almost a guarantee, I would go with captain and centre back Grant Hanley.

Young for a skipper, at 22, it will be his job to marshal and inspire a defence that has yet to prove it has what it takes to form the backbone of a promotion-winning team.

Automatic Promotion: Derby, Wigan

Play-Offs: Blackburn, Watford, Forest, Cardiff


By William Watt (Blackpool Gazette)

New man at the helm: Jose Riga has endured a nightmare summer

Blackpool's prospects this season are about as clear as mud at the moment after a traumatic summer at Bloomfield Road.

After a drawn-out search for a new manager, Pool finally settled on Jose Riga to replace the departing Barry Ferguson, but this was only the start.

A row between Riga and chairman Karl Oyston left the club with just eight players two weeks before the start of the season. A recent flurry of signings has finally arrived, but it's going to be almost impossible for Riga to whip them into shape for the start of the coming campaign.

Expect a slow start from the Seasiders, then who knows?

Key Player: A tough one to call with so many of Riga's recruitment still to be done.

Jacob Mellis is interesting. Coming through the Chelsea youth system big things were expected until an incident with a firework in the training ground saw him sacked.

He's rebuilt his career at Barnsley but is now hoping to kick-off and finally fulfil some of his potential.

Automatic Promotion: Wigan, Fulham

Play-Offs: Norwich, Derby, Cardiff, Brighton

Bolton Wanderers

By Marc Iles (Bolton News)

Bolton Wanderers' manager Dougie Freedman during the Sky Bet Championship match at the City Ground, Nottingham
Rebuilding job: Dougie Freedman has cleared the decks at the Reebok

Life outside the Premier League is biting hard at Bolton and great faith is now being placed in Dougie Freedman to build a side capable of challenging for the play-offs with a vastly-decreased budget.

Last season was a huge disappointment but after clearing the decks of under-performing big-earners, this is now very much Freedman's side.

Bolton retain a decent squad and have a budget some managers in the division would kill for - but their lack of a natural goalscorer has home fans concerned.

Key Player: Mark Davies. If Bolton can keep hold of the mercurial midfielder and keep him fit, there are few better plying their trade outside the top flight.

Silky running skills on the ball and an eye for goal - the ex-Wolves man needs to shrug his sick-note tag.

Automatic Promotion: Fulham, Cardiff

Play-Offs: Bournemouth, Norwich, Derby, Brighton


By Neil Perrett (Bournemouth Echo)

Everton's Dan Gosling celebrates scoring with teammate Leighton Baines (right) during the FA Cup, Fourth Round Replay at Goodison Park
Experience: Dan Gosling celebrates scoring for Everton

Bournemouth boss Eddie Howe has already highlighted the difficult challenge facing his squad following their exploits last season when they finished 10th – the club’s highest placing in the second flight in its history.

Howe has again invested in quality rather than quantity with free transfers Dan Gosling (Newcastle) and Junior Stanislas (Burnley) joined at Dean Court by big-money signing Callum Wilson (Coventry) who cost in excess of £2million.

With the likelihood of one or two more additions, the Cherries should have enough to avoid second-season syndrome and could again spring a few surprises with a play-off place not beyond the realms of possibility.

Key Player: Dan Gosling. The former Newcastle and Everton midfielder will add vital Premier League experience to a young and fairly new squad.

The 24-year-old will also have a point to prove having been used sparingly in the top flight by his previous clubs.

Automatic Promotion: Derby County, Wigan Athletic

Play-Offs: Fulham, Ipswich, Forest, Bournemouth


By Andy Naylor (The Argus)

Former Liverpool legend Sami Hyypia, ambitious Brighton's third manager in as many seasons, has two tough acts to follow in his first managerial post in England.

Gus Poyet and Oscar Garcia guided the Seagulls into the play-offs. The expectations of the biggest fan base in the Championship will be high once more.

Familiar face: David Stockdale will be lining up against Fulham this season

Owner and chairman Tony Bloom has ploughed another £30 million into a new training facility and now category one academy to accompany the Amex stadium.

Brighton have a Premier League infrastructure, the tricky bit for Hyypia is delivering Premier League football in such a congested, competitive division, especially after losing talisman Leo Ulloa and player of the season Matt Upson to Leicester.

Key Player: Brighton searched long and hard to replace last season's No. 1 Tomasz Kuszczak, surprisingly let go from one of the tightest defences in the division over the past two years.

David Stockdale, who made 21 appearances for Fulham in the Premier League last season, has the feel of a shrewd, value-for-money addition at around £1 million.

Automatic Promotion: Wigan, Derby

Play-Offs: Blackburn, Norwich, Middlesbrough, Wolves

Cardiff City

By Terry Phillips (Wales Online)

Cardiff manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer looks on
Contenders: Cardiff manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will be hoping his side can bounce back at the first attempt

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is ready to attack the Championship - and has competition for places among his forwards.

Federico Macheda, Javi Guerra, Adam Le Fondre and Joe Mason are all capable of hitting double figures, while Kenwyne Jones, whose physical presence offers a different option, can also chip in.

Manager Solskjaer, though, has work to do at the back - and is looking for a centre-back who can add extra quality and competition. Jose Fonte (Southampton) and Michael Keane (Manchester United) have been linked with Cardiff, while the Bluebirds are also looking abroad.

Cardiff are among the favourites to go straight back up and they will challenge, but my feeling is that they will be a play-off team this season.

Key Player: Goalkeeper David Marshall. The Bluebirds have midfield players and forwards who have the potential to create and score goals, but defensively they have looked fragile during pre-season.

It's going to be another big season for Scottish international Marshall, who faced more shots than any other Premier League goalkeeper last season and was Cardiff player of the year. He has to organise the defenders in front of him during matches and be a commanding figure at the back.

Automatic Promotion: Derby, Wigan

Play-Offs: Wolves, Forest, Cardiff, Bolton

Charlton Athletic

By Richard Cawley (South London Press)

Stepping up to the plate: Charlton are relying on Igor Vetokele to fire the goals

Fact there has been some investment by owner Roland Duchatelet has raised expectations that Charlton will not be embroiled in matters at the wrong end of the table but a number of their new faces are untested in the Championship – Igor Vetokele, Yohann Gudmundsson and Yoni Buyens – and a lot could depend on how quickly they adapt to English football.

Since they won promotion from League One a couple of years ago they have struggled to really crack open defences but the signing of former Coventry livewire Franck Moussa could help in that respect. The likes of Simon Church and Marvin Sordell toiled last year with a supply line that often dried up.

The big loss of the summer was Diego Poyet – outstanding in the second half of the season. He scooped the Player of the Year award but departed for West Ham. It could mean that Jordan Cousins, another outstanding young prospect, might be played in his favoured defensive midfield role.

Key Player: Igor Vetokele. The Angolan international is reluctant to make public any targets but if Charlton are to be successful this season then they need one of their strikers to step up to the plate.

He has looked sharp in the friendlies and shown good movement and instant control. Now he just needs decent service

Automatic Promotion: Derby, Fulham

Play-Offs: Brighton, Ipswich, Bournemouth, Middlesbrough

Derby County

By Steve Nicholson (Derby Telegraph)

In the thick of things: Derby need another big season from Chris Martin

Beaten finalists last season, and unfortunate to lose to QPR at Wembley, Derby are seen as serious contenders for another top-six finish.

Being priced as one of the favourites in the promotion race is an unusual position for them to be in having not been fancied before a ball was kicked last season.

So, can they handle the expectation? They are there to be shot at, a very different situation to being a surprise package.

Key Player: Striker Chris Martin, and not only for his goals.

He scored 25 last season, the best tally by a Derby player in 30 years, but his role as the focal point of the attack is pivotal to the way Derby play.

Everything goes into Martin, and this allows energetic midfielders like Craig Bryson, Jeff Hendrick and Will Hughes to join in, as well as wide players like Johnny Russell, Jamie Ward and Simon Dawkins.

Automatic Promotion: Norwich, Wigan

Play-Offs: Fulham, Cardiff, Bolton, Derby

Huddersfield Town

By Doug Thomson (Huddersfield Examiner)

High expectations: Nahki Wells must justify his £1.3m price tag

Consistency, and keeping star striker James Vaughan fit, are key to Town's hopes of improving on last season's 17th-placed finish.

Town have shown that on their day, they can mix it with the big boys of the second tier, but in both seasons since coming up from League One, they have suffered too-long winless runs, meaning a battle for survival in 2012-13 and the early end of their play-off hopes last time around.

Their experienced men have to be as influential as they can be, and help a crop of promising youngsters (there has been investment in both the academy and development squad) come to the fore.

Key Player: Club-record £1.3m signing Nahki Wells has had time to get used to the Championship, scoring seven times since joining from Bradford City In January, and there are big hopes of a productive frontline partnership with James Vaughan.

Automatic promotion: Wigan, Forest 

Play-Offs: Derby, Cardiff, Fulham, Bournemouth

Ipswich Town

By Stuart Watson (East Anglian Daily Times)

Mick McCarthy
Looking up: Mick McCarthy's men are outsiders for the play-offs

Ipswich Town are heading into their 13th consecutive season at Championship level and, for the first time in a long time, there is a feeling of optimism.

Experienced and no-nonsense boss Mick McCarthy has turned the club around dramatically in just 18 months, laying down some solid foundations to build upon.

May still lack a little bit of quality in key areas, but the Suffolk club will look at Burnley’s success last season and believe that spirit, organisation and hard-work can overcome star names and big budgets. Top-six dark horses.

Key Player: David McGoldrick scored 16 goals before a cruciate knee injury ended his season in mid-February. The former Southampton and Nottingham Forest man had fans off their seats with his clever movement, body-swerving dribbles and fine finishing from in and outside the box.

Automatic Promotion: Norwich, Derby

Play-Offs: Cardiff, Fulham, Wigan, Forest

Leeds United

By Phil Hay (Yorkshire Post)

Two words - who knows? We've had multiple signings from abroad, none of whom have played in the Championship before, and we've got a head coach who is - with the greatest of respect to David Hockaday - an obscure name in Football League circles and a risky appointment.

The truth about Leeds is that their squad last season was a mile short after Christmas and extremely lucky that the Championship's bottom three did not even manage a point a game.

A lot of those players are still here and many of them will figure again this season. The big loss during the summer has been Ross McCormack - a striker worth 29 goals in 2013-14. Unless United's new signings are real gems, you can't see where vast improvement is coming from. The play-offs are a long shot.

Big miss: Leeds must do without last season's top scorer Ross McCormack

Key Player: Marco Silvestri. Minus McCormack, goals are a natural concern but Leeds usually get it together at that end of the pitch. For several years their chronic weakness has been at the back.

Silvestri is a goalkeeper signed from Chievo and a former Italy Under-21 international. Owner Massimo Cellino says he's the best keeper Leeds have ever signed and if he's half as good as that then United will have one important base covered.

Automatic Promotion: Fulham, Wigan

Play-Offs: Derby, Cardiff, Watford, Middlesbrough


By Philip Tallentire (Middlesbrough Gazette)

Boro will challenge at the top end of the table if they avoid serious injuries to their star players.

An ambitious summer re-build should result in Aitor Karanka being able to field a team that is tight at the back but potent in attack.

Football friends: Middlesbrough manager Aitor Karanka is a pal of Jose Mourinho

Following five seasons in the second tier, chairman Steve Gibson is backing his Spanish head coach to the hilt and top six is the minimum requirement for a club with serious Premier League ambitions.

Key Player: New signing Kike Garcia is the player Boro are banking on to fire them into the Premier League. Karanka chased his signature for six months before getting his man in a 3.5m Euros transfer from Spanish second division play-off losers Real Murcia.

Standing over 6ft tall and able to operate inside and outside the box, Kike broke the 20-goal barrier last season and Boro believe he can achieve a similar return in the coming Championship campaign.

Automatic Promotion: Wigan, Middlesbrough

Play-Offs: Brighton, Derby, Norwich, Wolves


By Toby Porter (South London Press)

Millwall were unbeaten in their last eight games last season, rising from bottom of the table to stay up on the last day of the campaign – a feat dubbed the Great Escape by fans.

Ian Holloway have not lost any of the most influential players from that run – loan striker Steve Morison, now back at Leeds, was joint top scorer for the year (with Martyn Woolford) but he did not hit the net in the last six weeks of the campaign.

Holloway also has Richard Chaplow and Scott McDonald back - both hardly featured in the last six months of the season.

And he has signed four new boys – striker Lee Gregory who scored 70 goals in two Conference seasons at Halifax; Ricardo Fuller who hit the net six times last year for Blackpool; Yeovil centre-back Byron Webster, who looks likely to keep out Danny Shittu; and former Everton winger Magaye Gueye.

Millwall manager Ian Holloway
If the cap fits: Ian Holloway will be hoping the Lions can build on their promising end to the season

The former French U21 international is undoubtedly a flair player, but an unknown quantity because Holloway has agreed his off-field family issues, the details of which have not been disclosed, will take time to sort out.

Despite all that, the Lions are second favourites to go down, after the Tangerines.

Holloway’s insistence on team ethic will be crucial in how they fare this season – and it certainly succeeded at the end of last season. Fans have fairly low expectations - but the manager has a habit of guiding underdogs to promotion.

Key Player:

Lee Gregory is a goal poacher but needs a target man like Fuller – or someone simiilar – to give him something to feed on. So the 34-year-old former Stoke hitman’s form will be vital.

But the Jamaican is also crucial in the dressing room. He will demand the same all-for-one ethic which Ollie instils.

Automatic Promotion: Derby, Forest

Play-Offs: Brighton, Fulham, Ipswich, Millwall.

Norwich City

By Paddy Davitt (Eastern Daily Press)

Aston Villa's Joe Bennett (right) and Norwich City's Wes Hoolahan (left) battle for the ball
Leading the charge: Norwich City's Wes Hoolahan will be a force in the Championship

QPR managed to bounce back at the first attempt last season but the success of both Leicester and Burnley underlined the odds are against Norwich repeating the same feat.

Much depends on keeping their key men on the payroll beyond the end of the summer transfer window. City is debt-free after three years of Premier League money and under no pressure to sell, but the likes of Leroy Fer, Nathan Redmond and Gary Hooper continue to be touted with exits.

Keep their top boys at Carrow Road and the top six is a realistic target.

Key Player: Wes Hoolahan. Republic of Ireland international looked to be on his way last season after interest from Aston Villa, a failed transfer request and a bit-part role under Chris Hughton.

Neil Adams has made it clear Hoolahan will be the creative spark in his battleplan and the Dubliner will be as good as any in the Championship in that free number 10 role off the strikers.

Automatic Promotion: Fulham, Derby

Play-Offs: Norwich, Brighton, Wigan, Cardiff

Nottingham Forest

By Paul Taylor (Nottingham Post)

Nottingham Forest manager Stuart Pearce applauds the home fans
Target: Stuart Pearce will lead Forest's promotion charge

Forest have a change of manager, but no change in their ambitions. The goal, under Stuart Pearce, is the same as the one that faced Billy Davies – to get the club back into the top flight.

In truth, they are probably still two or three new signings away from being top-two contenders. It will be a case of watch this space on that front, with the new manager working hard to make additions.

But they do already possess the basis of a squad that can certainly push for the top six – and compete against most sides in the Championship. They will hope for better luck on the injury front – with 13 players ruled out at one point during the last campaign.

Key Player: Andy Reid. The Irish midfielder is, more than any other player in the side, the one player who can conjure something out of nothing. When he is at his best, normally Forest are too.

Automatic Promotion: Fulham, Wigan

Play-Offs: Norwich, Forest, Derby, Reading


By Charles Watts (Reading Post)

Expectations are low at Reading this season, the bold predictions of this time last year are long gone.

The ongoing ownership saga continues to leave the club in limbo, it's been over a year now since Nigel Adkins has been able to spend money on a player.

With experienced stars like Adam Le Fondre and Jobi McAnuff leaving during the summer and Garath McCleary and Danny Williams already sidelined by long-term injuries, a mid-table finish looks all they can hope for.

Leading by example: Jem Karacan has been given the Reading armand
Leading by example: Jem Karacan has been given the Reading armband

Key Player: Jem Karacan. Just named Royals' new captain, the midfielder missed almost all of last season with a ruptured cruciate ligament in his right knee. He was a huge miss and getting him back to full fitness will come as a big boost to Adkins.

Automatic Promotion: Cardiff, Norwich

Play-Offs: Derby, Forest, Fulham, Middlesbrough

Rotherham United

By Paul Rickett (Rotherham Advertiser)

It's a whole new ball game for Rotherham United. Promoted twice on the bounce under Steve Evans they face a meaty challenge ahead, not only on the field but also on the financial front, considering the sea-change in the cost of progressing so quickly in such a short time.

But Evans’ relationship with chairman Tony Stewart, the lighting millionaire who galloped to the club’s rescue five years ago, continues to flourish and their intention to establish the Millers in the second tier is clear.

Trophy boy: Steve Evans has strengthened his side following promotion

Evans is confident his bolstered squad will compete and – in light of the recent £600,000 bid for Swindon’s Massimo Luongo -  there is cash is in the bank if he needs to spend. Rotherham know it will be hard but they’re determined not to let this one slip.

Key Player: The Millers are clearly going to need a general in the ranks this season and skipper Craig Morgan is the man with that task. He’ll lead by example.

Automatic Promotion: Cardiff, Wigan

Play-Offs: Derby, Reading, Blackburn, Forest

Sheffield Wednesday

By Dominick Howson (Sheffield Star)

The delay in Hafiz Mammadov's takeover of Sheffield Wednesday has seriously derailed Stuart Gray's bid to revamp his squad. More than six weeks have passed since the Owls revealed Mammadov had agreed to become their new owner but the deal has still yet to be ratified by the Football League.

Gray has so far recruited just two players over the summer: Keiren Westwood and Sam Hutchinson. They lack strength in depth in all areas, apart from the goalkeeping department.

Spot on: Chris Maguire is a dead-ball specialist

Unless Wednesday quickly sign another four to five quality players, a third successive bottom half finish beckons.

Key Player: For Wednesday to avoid flirting with relegation, Chris Maguire needs to regularly weigh in with goals. He was quite often utilised in the wide positions last season but still managed to reach double figures. He is handy player in a dead ball situation too.

Automatic Promotion: Cardiff, Norwich

Play-Offs: Derby, Wigan, Blackburn, Forest


By Frank Smith (Watford Observer)

Watford have built a squad this summer to challenge for automatic promotion. A large proportion of the team remain and they have recruited very well in all areas of the pitch, with all bar two of their signings having previous experience in the top two divisions of English football.

Former Spurs and Brazil goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes, ex-Premier League centre halves Gabriel Tamas and Craig Cathcart, Hungary’s Daniel Tozser, the experienced Keith Andrews, Championship winning Lloyd Dyer and the 2013 Championship Player of the Year Matej Vydra are all part of the squad.

Ecuador’s World Cup full back Juan Carlos Paredes and Udinese’s Odion Ighalo have also joined.

Matej Vydra of West Bromwich Albion evades Martin Demichelis and Fernandinho of Manchester City
Big year: Matej Vydra will be vital for the Hornets this season

Troy Deeney, who has scored 45 goals in the last two seasons, could end up leaving before the transfer window closes but the Pozzo family want a promotion push so if a replacement is needed then they should strengthen further.

Key Player: Matej Vydra will be vital. The 22-year-old burst on the scene during his first loan spell with Watford in 2012 and scored 18 goals before January was up.

His form dipped considerably during the second half of the campaign after significant Premier League interest but he still earned a move to West Bromwich Albion.

He struggled in the top flight last season but now has the perfect platform to showcase his undeniable talent.

Automatic Promotion: Watford, Derby

Play-Offs: Wigan, Cardiff, Brighton, Ipswich

Wigan Athletic

By Paul Kendrick (Wigan Observer)

In the mix: Uwe Rosler's side are one of the favourites for promotion

Much will be expected this season from the Latics in their first full season under boss Uwe Rosler.

The German arrived midway through last term and transformed a mid-table outfit into play-off finishers in a remarkable journey that also included a glorious run to the FA Cup semi-finals.

If they can avoid the kind of injury crisis that ultimately derailed their promotion bid towards the end of last term - and keep the vultures away from the likes of Maloney, McManaman and McArthur - Wigan should be there or thereabouts.

Key Player: Shaun Maloney. Proven Premier League performer and his absence for most of last season through injury robbed Wigan of the man most likely to unlock any opposition defence. Onus will be on him even more this year following the departure of Jordi Gomez.

Automatic Promotion: Derby, Wigan

Play-Offs: Norwich, Fulham, Forest, Cardiff

Wolverhampton Wanderers

By Tim Nash (Express and Star)

Wolves might be coming up to the Championship from the league below but their aspirations are high.

Although he has only made two signings at the time of writing, head coach Kenny Jackett says he is aiming for a second successive promotion after bringing in numerous players last season who he believes are ready for the second tier.

Wolves will find it much tougher than last season but the momentum of their record-breaking title-winning campaign League One will carry them a long way and I wouldn't be surprised to see them challenging for the play-offs.

Pivotal part: Wolves midfield Kevin McDonald
Pivotal part: Wolves midfield Kevin McDonald

Key Player: Wolves have built a completely new style of play under Jackett and defensive midfielder Kevin McDonald is key to it.

Everything goes through McDonald and his ability to keep the ball and use it well is a vital factor in their success.

But so many contributed last season and Wolves will need big performances from Carl Ikeme, Danny Batth, Scott Golbourne, Michael Jacobs, Bakary Sako, Dave Edwards and Nouha Dicko to continue if they are to achieve their goal.

Automatic Promotion: Derby, Brighton

Play-Offs: Norwich, Fulham, Wolves, Ipswich