The Championship is an extremely competitive league. A whole host of Championship clubs nowadays have massive budgets, meaning they are able to buy a higher calibre of player. This has undoubtedly improved the quality of the league, but has also heaped pressure on the managers of the wealthier clubs. The pressure on themselves and the players to get in to the Premier League is bigger than ever. Although there are many in the hunt for a promotion place, only three can move up. Despite there being many teams within the league who could make it, I believe Hull, Burnley and Middlesbrough, will make it this year.
Hull are currently clear favourites for the Championship title, and rightly so. They simply have the strongest squad in the league. They have lots of Premier League players within their ranks, Robert Snodgrass, Tom Huddlestone and Jake Livermore to name a few. Steve Bruce has managed to keep hold of key players, such as the ones already mentioned, as well as Mo Diame and Abel Hernandez, who have been crucial to their success in this campaign. Despite losing a couple of important characters, such as Robbie Brady and James Chester, these two were sold for a combined worth of about £15 million, which is sure to help them in the long run if they do make it back in to the Premier League, as they will have a substantial amount of money to spend. While, the players certainly do deserve their praise for performing so well this season, we must not forget about Steve Bruce.
Many teams drop down from the Premier League and assume that they are going to go straight back up, but in reality, very few accomplish this. Teams such as Cardiff and Fulham have had poor seasons after being relegated. Both Cardiff and Fulham had foreign managers at the time who had no experience of the Championship, resulting in them being complacent, and subsequently being sacked. However, Steve Bruce has a wealth of experience in both the Premier League and Championship, so it is no surprise that he is well on his way to returning Hull to the Premiership at the first time of asking. If Hull do not finish the 2015/16 season as Champions, I will be very surprised.
Middlesbrough also have strengthened their squad this season with big money signings. Stewart Downing, a fan favourite, made a return to the Riverside in the summer from West Ham, along with David Nugent from Leicester, who despite never being that impressive, does provide Premier League experience. The two players costing Boro a combined worth of around £9.5 million. However, their biggest transfer of the season came in January, signing Jordan Rhodes from fellow Championship side Blackburn, for a staggering £9 million. This is a huge statement of intent from Boro, showing they are willing to splash the cash if it helps them reach the Premier League. They also brought in Richie De Laet from Leicester on loan until the end of the season, but defensively, they have been very solid this campaign. In fact they have the best defence in the league, conceding just 16 goals all season.
We will get to really see what they are made of when they play their last four games of the season. In those games they play Birmingham, Brighton, Burnley and Ipswich, all of which are currently chasing a play off spot. Even though those games seem the most difficult, there are no easy games in the Championship, and lots could change between now and May. Boro do currently have two games in hand, meaning if those two games in hand end up in victories, they will be top of the pile, but that of course is easier said than done. Middlesbrough also play Hull in a few weeks time which should be an excellent game. Although its very tight at the top, and will continue to be so until the final day of the season, I think Hull and Middlesbrough have enough to make it in to the automatic promotion places.
By Jonathan Wood, TFN Columnist on 15/02/2016 at 12:36