Who will be relegated from the Championship?

Last season the battle at the bottom of the Championship involved a lot of teams and went right down to the wire.

The teams that did go stay up will take confidence in that and will want to push on this season and not be involved at the wrong end of the table again.

The clear favourites to go down are Yeovil Town and unfortunately for them it will be a very tough ask simply because they were not expected to get promoted to the Championship in the first place so they do not really have the team in place to compete. I do like Gary Johnson though as a manager and his teams always seem to be very committed and want to win for him. They will be underdogs in every game so they have nothing to lose and that could work in their advantage.

Doncaster Rovers also gained promotion last season and this time I think they will go straight back down because I do not think they made the greatest of managerial choices in Paul Dickov but maybe he will prove me wrong. They have brought in Ross Turnbull in goal and this is a risky choice because he hasn’t played first team football for a very long time and even though he is getting older he does not have a lot of experience. I do though like the signings of Dean Furman and Harry Forrester and hope they do well in the Championship.

Barnsley finished last season superbly but it could be another year of struggle. David Flitcroft has had an exceptional start to his managerial career but it will be a real test for him when the going gets tough and his team get on a losing run. The signings he has made have been ok and will add something to the side and getting Chris O’Grady back is vital to the way they play. Also Dale Jennings will be looking to restart his career after an unsuccessful spell at Bayern Munich but hopefully he has taken some positives from that experience and will be brilliant in the Championship.

Paul Ince may have been able to keep his son Tom at Blackpool for the time being but that might not be enough for them to stay away from the relegation battle. Ince has not been a great manager over recent years and it will be a difficult job at Blackpool but he did end last season with very few defeats and if he can turn a few of the draws into victories then they will have nothing to worry about. They have brought in three decent strikers in Bobby Grant, Michael Chopra and Steve Davies so they at least have competition in the striking department and goals may not be a problem.

Burnley have lost their best player and most consistent goal scorer in Charlie Austin so it is no surprise at all that they are seen as one of the weaker teams in the division. They will need other players to step up or it will be a very long year for Sean Dyche if he gets to keep his job for that long. The only striker they have brought in so far is Ryan Noble from Sunderland and that cannot be convincing the fans that they are going to be successful.

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Who will be Burnley’s next manager?

Burnley may not have had the greatest starts to the season but they probably didn’t think they would need a new manager at this stage.

Eddie Howe, left the club for a team in a lower division and this may be quite hard for some fans to take, as surely there is more potential in a Championship side than there is in a League 1 side. But, if the reports are correct, then he left for personal reasons and nobody can really stand in his way if these are true because he wouldn’t have been able to perform to the best of his abilities if he wasn’t happy. So, they have to now look to the future and if they can keep hold of Charlie Austin then they have a good chance of getting in the playoffs this season, if they appoint the right man because someone that has already scored 15 goals should be in a team competing near the top of the table. It wasn’t too long ago that they were in the Premier League and they will have hoped that Eddie Howe was building towards taking them back there, but, in my opinion, it never looked likely under him. The big question is who will they appoint?

The favourite for the job is, Michael Appleton. I do understand why they would be looking at him, but the fans may not be overly enthusiastic about this appointment because he does have limited experience and even though he is performing fantastically at Portsmouth, is he really a promotion manager? Or, is he just overachieving because of the adversity he is facing at his current club? I think he will stay at Fratton Park a while longer but who knows maybe he will want a secure future and he is more likely to get that at Burnley.

Former player, Graham Alexander, is also heavily linked with the job, but yet again he does lack managerial experience and is this really the right option in the Championship? It worked out for Chris Hughton at Newcastle United, but was this a one-off? One thing that Alexander does have is the fact that his playing career was phenomenal, with him playing over 1000 games and so should get the respect of the players straight from the off. It hasn’t bothered the fans before that he has such an affiliation with rivals Preston North End, so I don’t see it being a problem if they bring him in as manager.

Finally, and the one most likely in my opinion, is Mick McCarthy. Yes, he has been linked with every Championship job available since he got sacked as manager of Wolves but Burnley are the first team in public that have confirmed their interest in the former Republic of Ireland manager. He has a good record in the Championship and has got teams promoted in the past, so even though he may not play the best football, it is effective and he has proven methods that work in the Championship and that is exactly what Burnley need right now.

Who will be Wycombe Wanderers next manager?

After losing three games in a row Wycombe Wanderers and only four points from seven games the club have sacked manager Gary Waddock.

Waddock, had been in charge since 2009 and won promotion to League 1in the 2010-11 season, however they only lasted one season at the higher level and were relegated. They were expected to challenge at least for the playoffs this season even though they lost a few key players and Waddock will be disappointed he wasn’t given more time to turn it round. But, the board have decided that a change is needed and there is still an air of negativity around the ground and will hope that a new man will get them back where they believe they belong.

This job will surely interest quite a few out of work managers and this is the route that the club will most likely take because they will not want to pay compensation to another team for a manager. So, let’s look at the options, the favourite for the job is currently Brian Laws, and this may come as a surprise to some people because he has managed in the Premier League recently with Burnley and it will be quite a big drop to League 2. However, he hasn’t had a managerial job since his sacking at the Championship club in 2010 so he does need to find a way back into English football. Another reason why he may be a good choice is because he has won promotion from this division twice before, both times with Scunthorpe United, so he knows exactly what it takes and which players he will need to achieve promotion again.

Another manager linked with the job is former Sheffield Wednesday manager, Gary Megson. Many people believe he was harshly sacked as their manager as the team were performing pretty well and were comfortably in the playoff places, although in the end it did turn out to be a good decision as the team got promoted, he still deserves a lot of credit as he signed a lot of the players. His style of football is usually criticised too as it is very long ball and feeding off the scraps which could be a good thing in League 2 and may work to the teams advantage, however, if Wycombe don’t have the players then the fans will have to accept a transitional period while they get in the right players to play his tactics.

Finally, Paul Ince could be in the running for the job, and it just shows that Wycombe can attract good managers because all three of these have managed in the Premier League at one point. Ince didn’t have the best of times at Blackburn Rovers but he has proved in the lower leagues he can be a success with both Macclesfield Town and MK Dons. His win record of 43.37% is not bad either and if he can replicate this at Wycombe then he would surely get them challenging for the playoffs at least.

Graham Alexander retires from football

Graham Alexander has retired from professional football after a fantastic career which has seen him play for four different clubs as well as represent his country.

Alexander took penalties with the outside of his foot which is quite unorthodox

Alexander also became only the second outfield player to play over 1000 professional games during his career. For every club he played for he played a minimum of 150 league games which just shows how brilliant and consistent he has been since his debut for Scunthorpe United in the 1990-91 season. Remarkably, in the very next season he became a first team regular and was virtually an ever present for the team for the next four seasons. Even though he was usually deployed as a right back or a holding midfielder he could also score goals and in his 159 league games he got 18 goals.

Luton Town was the next club he signed for and continued to play in most games for them too. His £100,000 price tag did not faze him and there was no doubting his commitment for the cause with him playing 152 league games and added 15 goals to his career tally. Although his first season ended in relegation he stayed with the club in the old Second Division and played over 50 games for the first time in his career, the first year they were down in the Second Division.

Unfortunately for him and the club he could not help them get promoted and joined Preston North End in the 1998-99 season. In his second season at the club he helped the club gain promotion to Division One after scoring 10 goals in 58 appearances. It is not very often you get a player that can score that amount of goals from the positions he played for the club. After securing Preston’s place in the league for a number of years, he was appointed club captain and was taking all of their set pieces including penalties which accounted for many of his goals. During his eight years he did not suffer many injuries and was able to play in most of the games and was one of the first names on the team sheet. He made exactly 400 appearances for the club and was named in the PFA Championship’s Team of the Year in the 2004-05.

But he did eventually leave the club for rivals Burnley which was seen as slightly controversial and a little strange after he had turned them down earlier in his career. The transfer was completed for £200,000 so Preston could not really complain after all the years of service he had given them. At the age of 37 he gained promotion to the Premier League for the first time in his career and played in an amazing 61 games in all competitions that season and in the next season became the oldest player to make his Premier League debut. In his only season in the Premier League he scored seven goals in 33 games and was one of their better players in a season which ultimately ended in relegation. For Burnley, he played in his 1000th professional game when he came on as a sub in a game against Swansea City.

He left Burnley and returned to Preston North End where he has ended his career. To make it even more special in his very last game in his career he scored against Charlton Athletic which both supporters applauded.

It was a fantastic career and he will be proud of every moment of it and I am sure the fans will have some wonderful memories of his time at their club. Alexander will also be proud of his 40 international caps for Scotland and his only disappointed will be that he didn’t score for his country.

Can Southampton survive in the Premier League?

Southampton will be playing Premier League football and will be hoping they have enough quality in the squad to stay up.

Manager Nigel Adkins has done a magnificent job and replicated Norwich City in achieving back to back promotions and ending up in the Premier League. Adkins has won 60 of his 98 games in charge which is remarkable and deserves to be praised and in my opinion will be a success in the Premier League either with Southampton or in the future with another club. I think he deserves a chance in the Premier League as all of his teams play football in the right way and love to get the ball forward and attack. The passing game the Saints have employed this year has been very good to watch and has cut open many opposition defenses. The only disappointing thing for Adkins is that he has failed to win both League 1 and the Championship but I don’t think the fans should care as they have gained promotion and are now back in the big time, which seemed very unlikely when they were relegated to League 1.

Looking to the future, do they have the players to stay in the Premier League? Starting in goal I believe they have two very good goalkeepers in Kelvin Davis and Bartosz Bialkowski. Davis is the number one and is very consistent having played nearly every game this season, and with over 600 games in his career he will not be fazed by playing in the Premier League.

At the back they are quite strong with Jose Fonte who has been linked with a few Premier League clubs over the years therefore must be too good for the Championship which he has shown this season with some very strong performances and has been a major influence in the dressing room. Danny Fox at left back may be seen as a weak point because at times he can struggle defensively but he adds to the team going forward and has the ability to put in a very good cross with his left foot. He does have Premier League experience with Burnley but that season was pretty much a disaster for him and the club and ended in relegation so he will be hoping for more success this time.

The midfield has a lot of promise with Jack Cork and Morgan Schneiderlin who can control a game from the middle of the park and both have the potential to be Premier League players for a lot of years to come. They are at the right club right now because Adkins will give them the confidence to go out and play and will progress them further. But their real star in the midfield is winger Adam Lallana who has scored 11 goals in 41 league games this year. He has been very impressive and has ran rings round the best of the Championship’s defenders. He likes to play on the left wing and cut in to shoot and bend balls into the box and it is because of his talents that the strikers have found it easy to score over the years.

So to the strikers and this could be where they struggle in the Premier League as they don’t have anyone that has consistently scored in the top flight. But they shouldn’t be worried as Rickie Lambert who has scored 27 goals in 39 games in the Championship and is a similar player to Grant Holt who has done fantastically well for Norwich City. Alongside him they have Billy Sharp who is also a brilliant goal scorer and after a slightly slow start now has nine goals in 15 games. But the big question is will they have enough ability to score the goals to keep the team in the league.

I believe Southampton have a good chance of staying up and St Mary’s will be rocking next season as they entertain the big boys of the Premier League once again. To make the season even sweeter while they are gaining promotion their local rivals have slipped into the third tier of English football.

 

Who will be Bournemouth’s next manager?

Bournemouth have sacked their manager Lee Bradbury only a week after club chairman Eddie Mitchell said they were making progress and was happy with the club’s current position in League 1.

Bournemouth are currently 12th in League 1

However a run of six defeats in eight games was enough for Mitchell and he has placed Paul Groves and Shaun Brooks in charge until the end of the season which will at least give them a chance to impress. With the club being in no danger of relegation this season, the players can relax and maybe these two will motivate them and get them to play good football again. This could lead to them getting the job permanently.

However, there are other managers in the frame for the job and the first that comes to my mind is Sean O’Driscoll because he is a very good manager and has been out of work for quite a while now after leaving Doncaster. He has already had a spell as manager of Bournemouth so he knows the place and should settle down pretty quickly into the role. He managed them for 326 games, winning 118 of them and he also got them promoted to League 1 in the 2002-03 season through the playoffs. After leaving Bournemouth he achieved even more success at Doncaster and was constantly praised by pundits and fans alike for the way his team played. He got them promoted to the Championship and also won the Football League Trophy. He should be a fans favourite because he has spent a large part of his life involved with the club as he spent a large part of his playing career at the club too, pulling on the shirt 423 times. The only problem is that he is currently working as a coach at Nottingham Forest who may not be prepared to let him go on a free and Bournemouth probably do still need a cheap option.

So if they are looking for a cheap option maybe Brian Laws will be in with a shout because he like O’Driscoll has won promotions throughout his managerial career and this is what Bournemouth will be aiming for next season. The former Sheffield Wednesday manager has been without a club since leaving Burnley and will probably be looking for a way back into football and Bournemouth could be something that interests him. He has a lot of experience and has a win record of 36.35% in his career which is not bad and maybe good enough for League 1.

Lee Clark is another name I will mention because in my opinion he was harshly treated by Huddersfield and will come back a better manager because of it. He has a lot of potential and could be a very good manager in the future and possibly manage right at the highest level. However, he needs to make sure his next job is the right one or it could cripple him. This job could be perfect as it would be similar to the job he was doing at Huddersfield and if they don’t get promoted this year, I am sure he will want to get one over on his former employers and at Bournemouth he will have the opportunity to do that.

I thought Bradbury was harshly sacked but the club have to move on and there are quite a lot of good managers out of work at the moment and if they make the right decision then next season could be very successful for them and with all of the recent financial problems it would be remarkable to see them playing in the Championship.

Brian McDermott rejects Wolves by signing a new contract at Reading

Brian McDermott has signed a new contract at Reading which puts an end to the speculation that he will be leaving the club.

Wolves were rumoured to be interested in McDermott to take charge of the team after sacking Mick McCarthy but this now must show the Royals fans that he is determined to succeed at the club and would rather have a go in the Premier League with his own team rather than trying to keep up a team that are one of the favourites for relegation now with players that he does not know very well.

Some people may criticise his decision as football can change very quickly and if Reading fail to get promoted this season and have a bad start to next season he could be shown the door and then will have missed his opportunity to manage in the Premier League anyway. But, I have a lot of respect for him because of this decision because he is trying to build something and managers are too quick to leave jobs in the lower leagues just to have the chance to manage at a higher level. Eddie Howe at Burnley is an example of this as I thought he should have stayed at Bournemouth and basically learnt more about the role there but he decided to move on and he didn’t have a great season last year and had a bad start to this one and there were rumours he was going to be sacked. Thankfully the board stuck with the young manager and that is now paying off because the team are now challenging for the playoffs.

Back to McDermott, he has had some great games as manager of Reading and probably none more so than his first victory which was against Liverpool at Anfield in the FA Cup thanks to an extra time goal from Shane Long and this victory was also the first time that Reading had won at Anfield so he the gaffer was always going to be in the record books no matter what. He has had more good days than bad days with a win percentage of 47% but unfortunately one of his defeats was against Swansea in the playoff final and this seemed to damage moral at the club, leading to them having a poor start to the next campaign but obviously McDermott raised the spirits of his young players and brought in some experience and has guided the club to fourth place, only six points behind table toppers West Ham.

The players seem to love playing for him because he gives them a blueprint of what he expects and makes sure everyone knows their job defensively. But when his team have the ball it is a joy to watch as he takes the shackles off the attacking players and lets them express themselves however they want which is paying dividends at the minute. It’s not surprising to see his name linked with arguably bigger jobs but he knows success will come in time at Reading and he wants to be there when they are back in the Premier League.

Haven’t we seen you before… David Nugent

David Nugent now at Leicester City was one of the hottest prospects in the Championship when he was at Preston but for some reason maybe poor decision making on his part his career fell away but now under Nigel Pearson he might just be getting his career back on track.

In March 2007 he must have been in dreamland when he made his debut and scored in the last minute for England against Andorra but since then this dream has turned into a nightmare. He left Preston that summer for Portsmouth for £6 million and was finally realising his ambition of playing in the Premier League. But his move to the south coast was a complete disaster and in the same transfer window he was already linked with a move away from the club which shows that something wasn’t right and he didn’t exactly fit in at Pompey for one reason or another. It took him 18 months to score his first goal in the league for the club and ironically it was against the man that signed him Harry Redknapp, he then followed this up with two more goals towards the end of the season but it still didn’t change the fact that he was a poor signing and was a failure. However, in his defence he is a striker and does all of his good work up top chasing the ball down and latching onto through balls but for Portsmouth he was played on the right wing and therefore his opportunities to score were clearly limited.

He then left the club on loan to join Burnley and enjoyed moderate success with six goals in his 30 Premier League games but under Brian Laws the team were relegated and left Nugent in limbo as to whether he would be joining permanently or staying at Portsmouth. In the end he stayed at Portsmouth and had his best season for a long time ending the campaign as their top scorer but he decided to leave the club that summer for Leicester City where he has again had a decent season and looks like he is getting back to the levels he was at when he was called up to the national squad.

In his role as the pantomime villain away to Southampton, he produced arguably his best performance for many years, constantly terrorising the Saints defence by running at them and linking up well with strike partner Jermaine Beckford. He showed tremendous pace throughout the game and scored the opening goal with a clinical finish from just outside the box. There is no doubt in his mind what he was going to do when he picked up the ball on the left wing and cut inside, he expertly curled the ball into the corner leaving goalkeeper Kelvin Davis with no chance.

He is never going to get back into the England squad but it is nice to see players that have struggled for a while get back to their best and he can always be proud of his one cap one goal record for England.