Football

Championship fight of their lives

Fixtures for the 2017-18 Sky Bet Championship has been announced, ahead of what has all the hallmarks of an epic season.

 

Hull, Middlesbrough and Sunderland join, having been relegated from the Premier League. In the opposite direction, comes Sheffield United, Bolton and Millwall after securing promotion from League One last season.

 

With so many looking set to challenge for promotion, I have run the rule over those who are expected to be up there this season.

 

Aston Villa

 

Steve Bruce saw his Villains end last season in strong form but their promotion credentials face an early test.

 

The opening weekend sees them face Hull before clashes with fellow promotion rivals, Reading (a) and Norwich (h) follow later in August.

 

September starts off no better with tough home clashes against Brentford and Middlesbrough.

 

If think the start is bad, wait for back end of the season.

 

The run in looks set to be brutal with Reading (h), Norwich (a), Leeds (h), Ipswich (a) and Derby (h) games all possibly having something riding on them during April.

 

The final day brings a trip to Millwall. That too will be tough if the Lions need points to secure survival.

 

All in all, Villa fans surely have to revaluate their expectations looking at those fixtures.

 

Birmingham City

 

Having slid from promotion contention at Christmas to near relegation, Birmingham will be hoping that Harry Redknapp’s expertise can finally get them back to the Premier League.

 

Their starting batch of fixtures look decent with only Ipswich (a) and Reading (h) looking likely to be potential stumbling blocks.

 

September however looks to be the toughest of them all for the Brummies. Away trips to Norwich and Leeds kicks off a packed month of action. A brief respite comes with a home game against Preston on 16th September.

 

The final week of that month could be key to how this season unfolds with Sheffield Wednesday visiting St Andrews, either side of away trips to Derby and Hull.

 

From Xmas to end of January, things get tougher again with Sunderland (a), Norwich (h), Leeds (h) Reading (a), Derby (h), Preston (a) and Sunderland (h).

 

Add in FA Cup third and fourth rounds plus a possible third round replay and you have to fear that this month could be the unravelling of their season.

 

April and May bring some decent fixtures but the final day sees them host Fulham, who could be going for automatic promotion then.

 

Redknapp should be relieved for easy start and end but boy will he be annoyed with the September and late December – January schedule.

 

Sadly promotion will be a tough ask here.

 

Brentford

 

This is a team that should be challenging for promotion every season. Their slow start to the past two seasons prevented them from achieving their potential.

 

This time, the Bees should look to fly into a strong position by the time September arrives. That is when their first real test arrives.

 

Aston Villa (a), Sheffield Wednesday (a) and Reading (h) within a week will be tough to deal with. If they can come out with a decent batch of points, they could be in the play off picture again.

 

Christmas and New Year brings another test as Norwich (a), Aston Villa (h), Sheffield Wednesday (h) and Wolverhampton (a) all face the Bees within 10 days.

 

The run is decent with the only issue being Hull at home on final day.

 

Overall, Brentford should realistically target the play offs this season and I hope they can do it.

 

Derby County

 

Gary Rowett will be hoping that his first full season can see the Rams return to their 2012-13 form, as they look to get in on the promotion battle.

 

The first two fixtures see Derby face Sunderland (a) and Wolverhampton (h) before a easier end to August.

 

Mid October to mid November will be interesting with; Nottingham Forest (h), Sheffield Wednesday (h), Norwich (a), Leeds (a), Reading (h) and Fulham (a) within space of a month.

 

If Derby are to miss out on promotion, that schedule could be what undoes it for them when reflecting on the season, come May.

 

The run in is decent but another test comes at end of April with a local derby at Burton on 14th April. A home clash with Middlesbrough follows before heading to Aston Villa to wrap up what could be a difficult end to that month.

 

A trip to Barnsley on final day could well be a relief for them if are hanging on to a play off place at that point.

 

Realistically, Derby’s campaign is difficult to call looking at their schedule.

 

Fulham

 

Having finally started to mount a serious promotion challenge, Fulham will be a side that everyone will fear playing.

 

Maybe the fear belongs to Fulham instead looking at August. It isn’t pretty to be frankly honest as can see below.

 

  • Norwich (h)
  • Wycombe (a) – League Cup
  • Reading (a)
  • Leeds (a)
  • Sheffield Wednesday (h)
  • Ipswich (a)

 

Taking Wycombe out of the equation, that is one heck of a brutal start. Could their promotion hopes well be destroyed within weeks of the new season?

 

The same line up (bar Ipswich) features at the start of the run in just to compound Fulham’s nightmare.

 

Realistically, I don’t see Fulham going up or even making play offs with that schedule because that is like a hammer blow in the face for players and fans.

 

Hull City

 

After losing Marco Silva, Hull start this season with Leonid Slutsky at the helm. The Russian will be hoping that his Tigers can make a roaring rise back up at first time of asking.

 

The opening weekend sees them visit Aston Villa but the biggest test comes in early September.

 

Derby and Fulham away before hosting Sunderland within a week is going to see their promotion credentials tested early on. A trip to Reading follows a week after getting visited by the Mackems so expect to see how strong their promotion challenge is by end of September.

 

Christmas and January sees similar test with the reverse fixtures against Derby and Fulham during the period between Boxing Day and New Year Day. After the FA Cup third round, Reading (h), Sunderland (a) and Leeds (h) all come back to back over a fortnight.

 

The run in should be no problem except for Aston Villa (h) on Easter Saturday and Sheffield Wednesday (h) on 14th April.

 

All in all, a decent schedule for the Tigers but those tricky sequences of fixtures above could cost them promotion.

 

Leeds United

 

With Thomas Christiansen now in charge, can Leeds avoid a repeat of last season’s near play off miss?

 

August seems like a nice start, provided they dispatch Fulham (h) and Sunderland (a) within days of each other.

 

There are no real tough  blocks of weeks for the Whites except for start of March when they head to Middlesbrough and Reading, either side of a home clash with Wolverhampton.

 

Leeds should be delighted with that schedule and can see them really in the play off hunt this time around.

 

Middlesbrough

 

Having managed to secure the service of Gary Monk, Boro are surely favourites to bounce straight back up.

 

August should see them hit the ground running with a decent schedule including; Sheffield United and Burton Albion.

 

Their first game however is a tough one away to Wolverhampton Wanderers. If they can overcome that game, they will surely cement pole position early on.

 

September too looks promising with only Fulham (a) looking to be the only possible slip up possibility.

 

The crucial part of season on paper to their promotion hopes is late February – early March. That period sees them face; Hull (a), Sunderland (a), Leeds (h) and Birmingham (a).

 

Middlesbrough has a kind run in with only Derby and Ipswich looking troublesome. The latter game is at Portman Road on the final day, where Boro has a woeful record.

 

Overall, Monk should be happy with how the schedule is looking, prior to FA Cup progress potentially creating a fixture congestion.

 

Norwich City

 

Daniel Farke becomes the Canaries’ latest manager as they look to return to the promised land of English football.

 

After a challenging start against Fulham and Sunderland, Farke’s first real test comes at end of September. That period sees his side visit Middlesbrough before heading to Reading just days later so could the extra miles cause a slip up for Norwich?

 

February could well be their biggest test of the season with; Middlesbrough (h), Derby (a), Ipswich (a), Wolverhampton (a) and Bolton (h). If can overcome that heavy looking schedule then expect a play off tilt from the Canaries.

 

Norwich shouldn’t be daunted by their schedule and look at it as an opportunity to push themselves forward. Leeds however have a better schedule but both sides should be up there.

 

Reading

 

Having suffered a cruel play off defeat on penalties, Reading can’t afford to suffer a hangover from last season.

 

Their season however isn’t too bad with not many testing games after each other. Other than that, there isn’t really much else to say about the Royals’ schedule.

 

For that reason, expect them to be right up there alongside likes of Hull and Middlesbrough.

 

Sheffield Wednesday

 

After missing out on promotion in two consecutive seasons via the play offs, Sheffield Wednesday need to hit the ground running and mount an automatic promotion this time around.

 

The Owls’ first real testing month comes in December against; Hull (h), Norwich (a), Wolverhampton (h) and Middlesbrough (h). Xmas brings kind away fixtures against Nottingham Forest and Brentford, who possibly could too be going for promotion.

 

Their run in is going to be tough with several other promotion contenders facing them during that period.

 

  • Sunderland (a) 2nd April 2018
  • Fulham (h) 7th April
  • Hull (a) 14th April
  • Reading (a) 21st April
  • Wolverhampton (a) 28th April
  • Norwich (h) 6th May

 

Their only respite comes in an away trip to QPR on 10th April, between Fulham and Hull games.

 

Looking at that line up, Wednesday need to virtually have promotion sewn up by end of March or could well miss out on play offs.

 

Sunderland

 

Sunderland are a mess with no manager and new owners in the pipeline, leaving players with a lot of uncertainty.

 

The early fixtures however are just as bad as Fulham’s and there is no spinning that fact.

 

  • Derby (h)
  • Bury (a) League Cup
  • Norwich (a)
  • Sheffield Wednesday (a)
  • Leeds (h)
  • Barnsley (a)

 

I really can’t see the Black Cats delivering much early on (excluding Bury) with that line up for August on top of off pitch problems. Their best bet for a win has to be Barnsley but Oakwell can be a tough place to go.

 

December too looks tricky prior to Xmas with Reading (h), Wolverhampton (a), Fulham (h) and Birmingham (h). If can negotiate that batch of games on top of August then promotion will surely be a possibility.

 

The Black Cats better not use up their nine lives in August because they will need some for the run in.

 

  • Derby (a) 31st March 2018
  • Sheffield Wednesday (h) 2nd April
  • Leeds (a) 7th April
  • Norwich (h) 10th April
  • Reading (a) 14th
  • Burton (h) 21st April
  • Fulham (a) 28th April
  • Wolverhampton Wanderers (h) 6th May

 

If the off pitch issues aren’t resolved quickly, promotion could well be gone by end of August at worst. December might be tough but if are hunting for a play off spot, they better hoover up wins between January – March looking at that run in.

 

Wolverhampton Wanderers

 

Wolverhampton could well be this season’s dark horses, given that they have managed to lure Porto boss, Nuno Espirito Santo to Molineux.

 

To justify that decision, they will need to overcome a tricky start as they face Middlesbrough at home on opening weekend.

 

Tougher league fixtures quickly follow on the road against Derby and Hull. The end of August however isn’t bad with Cardiff at home then a trip to Brentford on bank holiday weekend.

 

After that, most of the season looks relatively decent with not many tough games back to back, except for late February to mid March.

 

  • Norwich (h) 20th February 2018
  • Fulham (a) 24th February
  • Reading (h) 3rd March
  • Leeds (a) 6th March
  • Aston Villa (a) 10th March

 

Could that run be the bone that break’s Wolves’ back and end any promotion hopes?

 

Their last two games see them face Sheffield Wednesday (h) and Sunderland (a). If they’re are still in with a shout at promotion or play offs, expect these two fixtures to be hotly competitive.

 

Staff at Wolverhampton Wanderers should be happy with the fixture order. There’s no reason why they can’t challenge for either promotion or a play off spot here.

 

If got any views on how your team’s schedule is looking, please leave a comment below.

 

 

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