The Championship Race

I'm really looking forward to the Championship this season as it kicks off on Friday with Nottingham Forest under the guidance of Mark Warburton, entertain newly promoted Millwall who have Neil Harris as Manager. My previous goalkeeper coach, Kevin Pressman, and former young centre-half, Jake Cooper. The other game is a mouth watering fixture as two of the teams expecting promotion this season, Sunderland now managed by Simon Grayson entertain Gary Rowetts Derby County.

It's going to be very difficult to predict who will win the title, who will be runners-up and who will be successful in the play-offs.

I would like one of the previous clubs I managed in the Championship, Reading, to do well after missing out in the play-off final last season. I hear good things about Japp Stam.

I believe Middlesbrough may be best equipped from the three relegated Premier League sides to bounce straight back up at the 1st attempt. Always a very difficult task, however for the future of a club, a necessity. I know the consequences only too well, as the Manager of Reading following relegation from the Premier League to the Championship financial restructuring and ownership issues resulted in a challenging season. We only signed three players during pre-season to add to the reduced, relegated squad, and picked up several key injuries to important players. We narrowly missed out though on the play-offs, the last game of the season we drew 2-2 with Burnley. It looked to have been enough, before Brighton scored in the last minute of their game to take the final play off spot! 

All three relegated teams have changed their Managers. Middlesbrough have the talented young English Manager Gary Monk, who I believe having already cut his teeth in management at Swansea City and Leeds United will go a long way in the game. I believe it helps the cause that the owner of the Teesside club is an Englishman who cares for the local community and what a football club can bring to the area. Mr. Gibson is well respected, has supported the club through the ups and the downs, and knows exactly what's required.

Sunderland have appointed another ex Leeds United Manager in Simon Grayson. Vastly experienced now, Simon did a great job during his time at Preston North End and has demonstrated that given time he can improve football clubs. The fans expectations are high, however I'm sure they will give Simon time to work his magic.

Hull City have appointed a Russian Manager, Leonid Slutsky, who has not experienced the Championship demands before, so it will be interesting to see how he gets on in Humberside. One of my former players at Reading, Michael Hector has joined on loan from Chelsea, so I will be following with interest his fortunes.

Sheffield United have the momentum now under Chris Wilder, another seasoned English Manager, who guided them to promotion last season with 100 points. The Blades had been languishing in League 1 for several seasons. Several Managers had tried to get them out of the division without success, and I was one of them. I had a season as Manager of the South Yorkshire Club, I was bitterly disappointed to have had my 3 year contract cut short. I learnt many things in my short time at Bramall Lane.

Billy Sharp was the first signing at Sheffield United when I became Manager. A player I had sold to Sheffield United from Scunthorpe United in 2007. Billy had scored 30 goals in our title winning season. Billy also signed for Southampton where he scored some important goals in our promotion run in to the Premier League in 2012. Billy joined Reading on loan, however it was short lived due to the financial situation at the club at the time. I was delighted that Sheffield United was able to sign Billy from Leeds United, the only signing for a transfer fee.

Billy was the leading scorer in my time at the club, and again scored the goals that shot the club to promotion last season.

Across the City, Sheffield Wednesday have another goalscorer I had as a player at Scunthorpe United. We signed Gary Hooper from Southend United and following a successful couple of seasons with us, sold him to Celtic. Gary scored the goals that helped us reach Wembley twice at Scunthorpe, winning promotion, and an even bigger achievement in maintaining Scunthorpe's Championship status the following season.

I will be following with interest how both players get on this season and who scores the most goals. It will be an exciting couple of  'Sheffield Steel Derby' fixtures that I'm sure the passionate supporters will be up for. I wish them well.

Harry Redknapp at Birmingham City, Ian Holloway at QPR, Mick McCarthy at Ipswich Town, Steve Bruce at Aston Villa and Neil Warnock at Cardiff City, are vastly experienced Managers and all tasted success in the Championship. All good footballing people and all know what's required to get out of the division. Recruitment of players is critical to give Managers the opportunity to be successful, as is allowing the Manager time to develop his culture and the youth players. 

Fulham went close last season, and foreign Manager, Slavisa Jokanovic, did a good job. His experience of the division now, could give them the upper hand this season. I was pleased to see another one of my former players, Oliver Norwood, go on loan from newly promoted Brighton.

Other clubs to have foreign Managers this season are at Norwich City, Leeds United, Wolverhampton Wanderers, and Sheffield Wendesday. All will be expected to gain promotion.

Alex Neil at Preston North End has experienced promotion from the Championship and the experienced Phil Parkinson, did superb in getting Bolton Wanderers promoted last season. I will be following with interest former players from Reading, my captain, Jem Karacan and goalscorer supreme, Adam LeFondre.

Four teams remain that begin with the letter B, in what will be a very competitive division. Nigel Clough at Burton Albion, Lee Johnson at Bristol City, Paul Heckingbottom at Barnsley and Dean Smith at the ever improving, and interesting way of doing things, Brentford.

The Championship season is going to be relentless, is going to be brilliant to watch. We have some excellent Managers and big teams, with massive expectations. We will learn many things over the season. What we don't have though is a crystal ball. I certainly can't predict who will win the trophy I'm standing next to.

Can you ?