Mr Waghorn kicked me out of my summer torpor last week by asking me to write something about the new Championship season based on what I’d learnt from Boro’s epic promotion struggle last year.
So, shortly before Fulham and Newcastle kicked it all off on Friday night, I started doing a bit of research.
First thing I did was look at the odds on Betfair: Newcastle massive favourites; Norwich, Villa and Derby the next three – some way behind. I did a double-take at Norwich’s odds of 6.4 (approximately 11/2 in imperial odds) and immediately had a medium-sized bet.
I can smugly report that they’re in to 5.9 (just below 5/1) as I type.
So what was my thinking?
Well, not sentiment for a start. Much as I like Rick (and Mick Dennis and my old BBC mucker Mark Golley), I’m hard-headed when it comes to gambling. And 100% successful, if my wife is somehow reading this.
No, as I said when trying to console you all at the end of last season, yo-yo is going to become the norm. Parachute payments are even higher from this season onwards, but already give relegated clubs a massive advantage.
Two of last season’s promoted teams – Burnley and Hull – bounced straight back up because they hung on to the bulk of their squads, and to managers who understand the Championship. Burnley even sold, arguably, their best player, the prolific Danny Ings. Admittedly, his replacement, Andre Gray, did equally well at about a third of the price, but the principle still applies.
So what of this season’s relegated teams?
Well, Villa were truly awful last season, and have a brand new manager.
Admittedly, Roberto Di Matteo previously got West Brom out of the Championship fairly impressively, but they were a club already set up to yo-yo. The reports from Boro’s friendly win at Villa last week suggest that they are still a remedial case at the back, though many Villa fans are seemingly grateful to us for taking Brad Guzan off their hands to sit on our bench.
By the time Di Matteo’s got them back to basics, a run of Saturday at Huddersfield, Tuesday at Rotherham and so on ought to leave them with a lot of catching up to do.
What of Newcastle? They bounced back last time they went down – the same season Di Matteo went up with Albion, in fact – and may do so again, but I’ve no idea why everyone’s so sure about it. I read an article on Friday saying that the Geordies had fallen in love with their club again under Rafa, and bought more season tickets than last season.
Oh, right, they beat Spurs 5-1 on the last day of an otherwise atrocious season. Well, Boro beat Manchester City 8-1 on the last day of the 2007-8 when the pressure was off, and were promptly relegated next season. Having grown up in pessimistic Teesside, part of me admires the endlessly sunny Tyneside outlook, but if you watched that game at Fulham on Friday night, the words “rude” and “awakening” sprang to mind.
They’ll batter a few teams at home, but the endless slog of midweek away trips to seriously motivated “lesser” teams may just take its toll. Boro messed several of those up last year, even after eight years of getting used to the 46 game schedule, and we’re nowhere as big a scalp as Rafa and Co.
We only went up on goal difference, and would have gone the same way as Brighton had we ended up in the play-offs again.
So with the hot favourites a ‘maybe’, and the other relegated club needing to start again, I really do fancy Norwich.
Your manager served an apprentice in the SPL, successfully navigated two years ago, and you have a better squad now. Yes, I know you’re short of firepower, but so were Boro all last season, until Jordan Rhodes came on board at the end, but a good defensive record meant we just about managed to cobble enough goals together from other areas.
Don’t worry about Ross McCormack – he was linked with Boro during every window back to his Leeds days, and it never came off. We ended up with a similarly tubby maverick called Lee Tomlin who was promptly sold by Karanka after nominally appearing in left midfield at Wembley against NCFC.
He was so immobile that afternoon it was rumoured that Brent Council asked Boro whether they’d applied for planning permission for a temporary structure.
Anyway, what of the rest of the division?
Well, Brighton deserved to go up last season rather more than Hull did, but it’ll be a massive test of character to bounce back from their last day and play-off misfortune. It’s a heartily recommended away trip day out, though.
Derby will be close – the bookies have got that right – Sheffield Wednesday, your visitors on Saturday, ought to make the play-offs again and will give you a decent first home test, and Fulham and Bristol City would be my outsiders to improve and be in play-off contention.
Maybe QPR, too – they all have managers who seem to know what they’re doing.
The other genuinely big clubs – Forest, Wolves and Leeds – all have new and/or bizarre foreign owners, so I wouldn’t be rushing to back any of them. As someone who will never shake off memories of their “fans” from our localish derbies of the 70s and 80s, I have to confess to being amused and reassured by the collapsible car and squirty flower show Leeds mounted at QPR.
Long may it continue, and I hope Garry Monk put a “pre-sacking” clause into whatever contract Massimo Cellino gave him. I’d activate it now if I was him.
It’s easy to say now my team have finally escaped it for at least a season, but I love the Championship.
Unless something goes horribly wrong, you’ll win more games than you’ll lose, and a lot more than you (or we) ever do in the Premier League.
You can go 4-1 up away from home like you did at Blackburn, and not ending up drawing 4-4, for a start. (No, I haven’t got over that… )
I’m going to have to adjust my mindset to trying to win 10-12 games all season, maybe three away wins if we’re lucky instead of double figures last season. And I may be wrong, but I’d be surprised if George Friend, Daniel Ayala and Adam Clayton end up in the PFA’s divisional team of the year again now they’re in the top flight.
Enjoy the slog.
Even if you don’t end up in the top two, you know how to win the play-offs.
But I’m sticking my neck out and saying you’ll be champions.
I’ll be keeping a watchful eye on my bet.