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Champion challenge

Peter Beagrie looks at which clubs should be pressing for promotion to the Premier League this season.

Last Updated: 01/08/13 at 15:19

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The Championship - or as some fans would see it, the gateway to heaven - is going to be one hell of a ride once again.

The play-off places are certainly up for grabs and up to 12 teams will think they have a genuine chance of finishing amongst them - but I reckon six clubs are capable of taking an automatic promotion spot.

I don't think I have ever seen three relegated clubs as well-equipped to go straight back up as QPR, Wigan and Reading, while I also think Nottingham Forest, Bolton and Watford will be in the mix come May.

You need five magic ingredients to get promoted from the Championship - a great goalkeeper, a solid defence, a creative midfield, a real goal threat and a top manager - and QPR, Wigan and Reading have got them.

They also have players with the attitude and application - I'm thinking in particular of QPR's Shaun Derry and Clint Hill - who will make sure that anybody else in their dressing room who doesn't fancy rolling their sleeves up and getting down and dirty pulls their weight.

QPR have even more of those players now in the shape of natural leader Richard Dunne and Premier League full-back Danny Simpson, and while I struggle to understand the acquisition of Karl Henry, their attacking options are plentiful - at least for now.

If Loic Remy stays, he can rip this division up; if Adel Taarabt stays, he can do the same and if Andy Johnson gets fit, Bobby Zamora stays fit and Charlie Austin settles, you have got five guys who could score bundles and bundles of goals.

I am making it sound like QPR could be promoted by Christmas - but the Championship is so unforgiving and if their attitude is not right day after day and there is a lack of togetherness, harmony and spirit, they will come unstuck. Skill is not enough.

Character

Reading, meanwhile, have a manager in Nigel Adkins who knows how to get out of this division, and are boosted by the signings of Wayne Bridge, the very talented Danny Williams from Hoffenheim, and, of course, the character that is Royston Drenthe.

Drenthe has an off-the-wall dress sense, a choice of hairstyles and doesn't always know what he is going to do next on the pitch, but if he gets it right he can be as exciting as Bakary Sako was for Wolves last term.

I thought that when Wigan lost Arouna Kone the floodgates would open and the likes of James McCarthy and Shaun Maloney would go, too, but they have not only managed to keep hold of those two butthey've added Grant Holt as well.

Holt is a brilliant signing - he is tried and tested, has the physique and attitude to succeed in the Championship and if Wigan play to his strengths, he could get around 20 goals - while fellow new boys Stephen Crainey, Chris McCann and James Perch arrive with knowledge of Championship promotions.

The Latics, who have also acquired goalkeeper Scott Carson from Bursaspor, have played under pressure at the wrong end of the Premier League for years.

So I don't think the pressure of a promotion challenge will debilitate them and I reckon they have a great shot of going up.

Backed

Nottingham Forest do, too, and you wonder why they didn't give Billy Davies money before, instead of penny-pinching when they were neck-and-neck with West Brom and Newcastle and gunning for promotion a few seasons ago?

They did not loosen the purse strings, Billy left and they went from manager to manager, but now Davies is back and getting backed and he has done very well in the transfer market this summer.

Midfielder Adlène Guedioura was Forest's standout player last year but now he will be supported by wide players Jamie Paterson and Djamel Abdoun, signed from Walsall and Olympiacos respectively.

Billy has also captured experienced 'keeper Dorus de Vries and two players with Premier League knowledge in Eric Lichaj and Gonzalo Jara, but they still need another striker after missing out on Austin.

Bolton finished last season really strongly and have strengthened well with Alex Baptiste and Marc Tierney and most notably Jermaine Beckford, so Dougie Freedman will be looking to push on, as will Watford, after losing in the play-off final to Crystal Palace.

The Hornets surprised me last year, but haven't surprised me with their recruitment policy this by signing a double-figure number of players, many of whom were on-loan last year but also Lewis McGugan, whose goals are always 'Goal of the Season' contenders.

Watford were irrepressible at times last season as Gianfranco Zola managed to unite his multi-national squad and there is no reason why they cannot be right up there again during this campaign.

Peter's Five to Watch

I have gone slightly under the radar with my five picks, selecting players who could be the difference between their club winning a play-off sport or staving off relegation, so here goes...

Dale Jennings (Barnsley)

Will Hughes (Derby)

Sam Byram (Leeds)

Jacques Maghoma (Sheffield Wednesday)

Jamie Paterson (Nott'm Forest)

Plus, if I had to pick out one man who could be spectacular success or a spectacular failure, I will go for Royston Drenthe. He will not be dull!

That's Peter's take, but who do YOU think will make a splash in the Championship? Let us know using the feedback form below...

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