The 2023/24 Championship season is fast approaching, so it’s time to make some outlandish predictions that will make me look stupid in a year’s time…
Birmingham City finish in the top six
The Blues are doing some uncharacteristically great business in the transfer market this summer, with Siriki Dembele and Dion Sanderson adding to what has already been a brilliant window for a club benefitting from their recent American-led takeover.
Birmingham were pre-season favourites for relegation last season. This was for good reason as they headed into the campaign with a poor-looking squad with an inexperienced manager in John Eustace.
Eustace was able to gain admirers while guiding Birmingham to safety without too much of a sweat and, after their recent signings, their supporters are rightly heading into next season brimming with optimism.
Having already picked Birmingham out as potential promotion dark horse, I’m well on board the hype train of a West Midlands outfit on the rise.
Birmingham finished 17th last season but there was very little between the mid-table sides and I’m expecting it to be the same next season. And if anyone is going to break out from the lower Championship pack and push for the play-off places, Eustace’s side are emerging as the most likely candidate…
Blackburn Rovers plummet down the league and flirt with relegation
While good vibes are rife in Birmingham at St Andrew’s, the same cannot be said at Blackburn Rovers.
Given the quality (or lack of) in their squad, they overachieved last season to mount a sustained push for the top six. While the seventh-placed side ended up falling short, Jon Dahl Tomasson still deserves immense credit for the job he did in his debut season in charge at Ewood Park.
Chile forward Ben Brereton Diaz has earned himself a move to Villarreal, and he might not be the last out of Blackburn this summer. A recent report from The Mirror claimed Tomasson is ‘considering quitting’ after the club’s owners ‘slashed’ his budget ‘by 20 per cent’.
While this report may be somewhat dramatised (and I’d imagine it is), the lack of investment by Blackburn’s owners is evident by their underwhelming start to the window and with Tomasson being linked with Feyenoord and Olympiacos in recent months, you have to say that it is only a matter of time before he is tempted elsewhere.
And given the uncertainty surrounding Tomasson and possible further departures, I reckon Blackburn will do a Huddersfield Town and slip into a relegation fight (that they will win after a few scares) after vying for promotion the season before.
28-goal Chuba Akpom does not reach double figures for Boro
Few would have been mad enough to predict Akpom finishing on 28 Championship goals last season, but he reached that tally during a remarkable breakout year for the former Arsenal academy product.
Michael Carrick’s arrival as Chris Wilder’s replacement was the making of Akpom, who thrived in the No.10 role as Boro flew up the table before eventually falling short in the Championship play-offs.
Akpom is unsurprisingly being linked with a summer move to the Premier League, but it would not be a surprise if he sticks around at Middlesbrough for their promotion push next season given the strength of his relationship with Carrick.
The 27-year-old was highly regarded at Arsenal but barring last season, he has flattered to deceive during his career. And while he blossomed in 2022/23, it is going to be impossible for him to replicate this freakish form.
This is a mental block that often impacts forward players and I reckon Akpom will suffer from a similar thing. And a hit to his confidence will see him revert to type and while he’s still effective under Carrick next season, he will fail to reach ten Championship goals in 23/24.
Neil Warnock doesn’t last the season at Huddersfield Town
One of the feel-good stories of last season was Warnock’s return to football as the wily old fox worked his magic to miraculously save Huddersfield Town from relegation (Winty was delighted).
Speaking in May after Huddersfield’s safety was secured, the 74-year-old claimed: “I couldn’t do ten months of this. I’ll be back next February somewhere.”
But just a month later – in an unsurprising turn of events – it was confirmed that Warnock has pulled a U-turn as he’s penned a new one-year to stick with the Terriers for the 2023/24 Championship season.
Huddersfield suffered a dramatic fall from grace last season after they reached the play-off final in 2021/22, as their squad – which previously overperformed – were exposed during their relegation-threatened plight.
And worryingly, Warnock has a limited budget at his disposal and he’s yet to make a single signing ahead of the new season starting on August 4.
This may not be too much of an issue for the veteran, with one of his best qualities being his ability to get the maximum out of his squad. But should the effect of his stardust wear off, Huddersfield will be back to where they were before his salvage job and the decision may be taken to usher him out of the door.
Southampton miss out on play-offs
Of last season’s relegated sides, Burnley were the only team who sealed an immediate return to the Premier League while Norwich City and Watford struggled around mid-table.
Ahead of the 23/24 campaign, Enzo Maresca’s Leicester City are looking like prime candidates to p*ss the league following some supreme transfer business. Leeds United meanwhile have not done too much, but with Championship specialist Daniel Farke at the helm and their promising youth products, they should be well in the mix.
It is pretty safe to bet that the West Yorkshire outfit are facing a fight with Middlesbrough for the final automatic promotion place and if any of the three relegated teams are going to flop, Southampton appear the likeliest candidate.
The Saints were a shambles last season as they were relegated with a whimper and they have appointed an up-and-coming manager in Russell Martin, who had his critics at Swansea City.
He was perhaps impacted by the Welsh club’s lack of investment and despite their strong end to last season, he is far from proven at this level. This is a move that could go wrong if Southampton become trigger-happy and oust Martin before affording him the time to see out a project.
With James Ward-Prowse and Romeo Lavia likely to leave, Southampton’s squad is set to take a major hit and while a couple of seasons of rebuilding in the Championship would do them good in the long run, their hopes of a speedy return to the Premier League may soon be quashed.
QPR get relegated
While Middlesbrough shot up the Championship to push for promotion last term, QPR went the other way after finding themselves in the automatic promotion places in the early months of the campaign.
The Hoops were eventually saved by Gareth Ainsworth (their third manager of the season) following his arrival from Wycombe Wanderers, but they made hard work of it.
Two wins in their final three games saw them end up 20th on 50 points and barring a bright end to the summer on the transfer front, they will be around the same place again next season.
While Rotherham United and Plymouth Argyle are perhaps the frontrunners for relegation in terms of budget,there w ill be nothing between the bottom six teams in terms of quality.
The bad vibes at Loftus Road look set to linger into the 22/23 campaign, with the appointment of a former player in Ainsworth not doing much to improve the mood.
His preferred style of play is hard to love and should their results stick to a similar theme as the end of last season, ‘Wild Thing’ will soon be dismissed (and could even win the Championship sack race) and an overall season of sorrow for QPR is on the cards.