As has so often been proven, making pre-season predictions about league football is the most certain way for a journalist, blogger or pundit to make an absolute fool of themselves. Placing your words and reputation on the line before a ball has been kicked is, in 90% of cases, a true recipe for disaster.
It is far more sensible to take a step back, wait for the dust of the first few weeks to settle, before rolling up the sleeves and delving into the tricky task of calling what the score will be come May.
So throughout October I’ll be doing what I call my Quarter Season Predictions for each division of the English Football League, this week on the Championship. Who will be promoted and relegated? Read on for the cast iron truth:
It is very unlikely that we shall see a repeat of last season, when in the final five games it was entirely possible for any of the top eight to be automatically promoted.
While Brighton have made a remarkable start, with Chris Hughton recovering from a disappointing couple of years to show once again as the man treated so badly at Newcastle and who did well on a negative budget at Birmingham, I don’t think they have the squad to last the distance.
Hughton’s former charges, the Brummies, are a different matter. Gary Rowett is one of the best English coaches in the professional game, having started the Burton revolution before pulling Birmingham together despite horrendous behind the scenes uproar. A Premier return awaits.
Another side long overdue a top table return are Middlesbrough, at one stage as short as 2/1 with bookmakers for promotion but now wobbling with one win in four and an all too familiar dearth of goals. There’s no denying, however, that a squad containing Downing, Nugent, Adomah and Friend should be good enough for second place.
The play-offs, meanwhile, are still impossible to pick. Reading look business-like this time, with Steve Clarke in a similar position to Hughton – a quality boss who is now returning from some months on the backburner. Hull and Burnley have retained enough of their Premier League class to be top six. The other team is usually a surprise – last year it was Brentford, but who will it be this time?
Trying to pick the Championship surprise package is like trying to pick a Grand National certainty while blindfolded, but I’m going to overlook the more qualified names of Derby, Cardiff, QPR and Wolves and plump for Sheffield Wednesday. Manager Carlos Carvahal has settled into England fairly swiftly, and they have a good spread of Championship experience, from back to front in Westwood, Turner, McGugan and Nuhiu.
Who will win the play-offs? Stick a pin in Hull, if only because Steve Bruce has won as many Championship promotions as he has had hot dinners. Look at him. That’s a lot.
For relegation candidates, Bolton Wanderers really look like a team whose time has run out. When you’re pinning your hopes on Shola Ameobi to fire you out of a relegation fight, you know you’re in trouble. To League One, and don’t count on an immediate return.
All three promoted sides from last year have struggled to acclimatise, and for lack of experience at this level, I’m backing MK Dons to go down. The third team? Leeds.
Steve Evans has been good at small clubs where his personality can take over. Leeds is too big for him. They have no owner. They have no talisman. They have impatient fans. They are too preoccupied with their history. They are going to be relegated.