I expect that all the clichés will be to the fore again this coming championship season.
Anybody can beat anybody, it’s the most competitive league, it’s a long hard season, it’s the hardest division to get out of, the games come thick and fast, it’s a marathon not a sprint. There’s always a team who comes with a late run, injuries and suspensions will see off the smaller squads, the league doesn’t really take shape til Christmas. A couple of wins and you’re back in the mix.
All very true.
But at the start of the season I reckon that 14 teams will have had realistic expectations of promotion.
Villa, Birmingham, Bristol City, Derby, Hull, Leeds, Boro, Norwich, Forest, Sheff U, Sheff Wed, Stoke, Swansea and West Brom. Over half the league! If you add in Brentford, Millwall and Preston, who all punched well above their weight last season and may try to do it again, plus newly promoted and flying Wigan and Blackburn, then that’s 19 teams who think they are at least capable of the play offs.
So, will there be runaway winners, will there be a surprise packet, will there be a big spender. Who knows!
But with the new Premier League TV deal starting in 2019, getting promoted not only but gives you mass exposure on Sky, BT, Amazon and hundreds of channels around the world but guarantees you being amongst the 30 richest clubs in the world.
The new fixtures give us the first chance to look at when and where the promotion hopefuls will have their fate decided.

Championship Key Dates
Transfer Window Closes Thursday 9th August 2018, 5pm
Season Starts Friday 3rd August 2018
Season Finishes Sunday 5th May 2019, 12:30
Play Off Final Monday 27th May 2019

Aston Villa
First 3 games Hull (a), Wigan (h), Ipswich (a)
Last 3 games Millwall (h), Leeds (a), Norwich (h)

A lot will depend on Villa’s finances and who they manage to retain. Went for it last season and failed and now paying the price. Can Steve Bruce motivate his team again? Will he still be there?
Early Prospects Mid table

Birmingham City
First 3 games Norwich (h), Boro (a), Swansea (h)
Last 3 games Rotherham (a), Wigan (h), Reading (a)

Finished 19th for the last 2 seasons, can Garry Monk improve that in his first full season. Like a lot of teams, the need to get off to a good start is paramount. Without that, the confidence of a new season is soon replaced by nerves and uncertainty.
Early Prospects Some improvement

Blackburn Rovers
First 3 games Ipswich (a), Millwall (h), Hull (a)
Last 3 games Bolton (h), Norwich (a), Swansea (h)

Plenty of positives carrying on from last seasons promotion, however the Venky’s remain the dark cloud on the horizon. If they can hold on to their squad they should comfortably hold their own in this division.
Early Prospects Look forward to the season

Bolton Wanderers
First 3 games WBA (a), Bristol C (h), Reading (a)
Last 3 games Blackburn (a), Brentford (h), Nott’m F (a)

Avoided the drop on the last day last season. Need major improvement. But can’t see any coming.
Early Prospects Another season of woe

Brentford
First 3 games Rotherham (h), Stoke (a), Sheff W (h)
Last 3 games Leeds (h), Bolton (a), Preston (h)

Brentford keep on producing players and getting results despite being in the shadow of all the big London clubs, Dean Smith is doing a great job in charge. A new stadium is under construction for the Matthew Benham owned ‘moneyball’ club.
Early Prospects Top half

Bristol City
First 3 games Nott’m F (h), Bolton (a), Boro (h)
Last 3 games Sheff W (a), Derby (h), Hull (a)

An impressive League Cup run and a flying start to last season before fading away after Christmas. Lee Johnson and his team were flavour of the month early on, but it just shows how quickly fortunes can change.
Early Prospects Should be safe

Derby County
First 3 games Reading (a), Leeds (h), Millwall (a)
Last 3 games QPR (h), Bristol C (a), WBA (h)

Perennial bridesmaids hoping that Frank Lampard is going to be their Mr Right. Already have the nucleus of a decent team and with Lampard’s connections adding new blood shouldn’t be a problem. If he can get them to gel they could go far.
Early Prospects Exciting times

Hull City
First 3 games Aston V (h), Sheff W (a), Blackburn (h)
Last 3 games Sheff U (h), Swansea (a), Bristol C (h)

Hull almost followed Sunderland in back to back relegations last year. Appointed Nigel Adkins who steadied the ship. But he’s an average manager at an average championship club
Early Prospects Very average

Ipswich Town
First 3 games Blackburn (h), Rotherham (a), Aston V (h)
Last 3 games Swansea (h), Sheff U (a), Leeds (h)

Starting their 17th consecutive season in the championship. With that in mind and little money to spend, new manager Paul Hurst is going to have to work magic to turn the team around and make any progress
Early Prospects A hard season

Leeds United
First 3 games Stoke (h), Derby (a), Rotherham (a)
Last 3 games Brentford (a), Aston V (h), Ipswich (a)

Argentinian Marcelo Bielsa takes over the reins at Elland Road. Impressive track record, but is the squad strong enough and will he be backed by the owner. His relationship with owner Andrea Radrizzani will prove key.
Early Prospects Could be anywhere

Millwall
First 3 games Boro (h), Blackburn (a), Derby (a)
Last 3 games Aston V (a), Stoke (h), Wigan (a)

Fantastic last season for Neil Harris and his squad. Can they follow it up is the big question. If they don’t, it won’t be for lack of effort. A team built on unity and hard work. But will teams have worked them out?
Early Prospects Normal service resumed

Middlesbrough
First 3 games Millwall (a), Birmingham (h), Bristol C (a)
Last 3 games Nott’m F (a), Reading (h), Rotherham (a)

One of last year’s pre-season favourites, spent big and promised much. Now with Tony Pulis in charge they should be hard to beat. Serious contenders if they can score goals.
Early Prospects Play offs at least

Norwich City
First 3 games Birmingham (a), WBA (h), Sheff U (a)
Last 3 games Stoke (a), Blackburn (h), Aston V (a)

Mid table 14th last year. Former Borussia Dortmund reserves manager Daniel Farke had a mediocre first season in charge. Looks like more of the same this season.
Early Prospects Uninspiring

Nottingham Forest
First 3 games Bristol C (a), WBA (h), Wigan (a)
Last 3 games Boro (h), QPR (a), Bolton (h)

The Forest board seem to be backing manager Aitor Karanka who has a proven track record in this division. He will organise them but will they have enough firepower?
Early Prospects Outside title chances

Preston North End
First 3 games QPR (h), Swansea (a), Stoke (h)
Last 3 games Wigan (a), Sheff W (h), Brentford (a)

Exceeded all expectations last year, finishing a creditable 7th. A difficult second season in charge for Alex Neil having set the bar high. May struggle to challenge but should be comfortably safe.
Early Prospects Top Half

Queens Park Rangers
First 3 games Preston (a), Sheff U (h), WBA (a)
Last 3 games Derby (a), Nott’m F (h), Sheff W (a)

QPR have finished 12th, 16th and 18th in the 3 years since their relegation from the Prem. Steve McLaren has been brought in to revive their fortunes (I wonder if he’s true to form and does his first interview in a fake cockney accent) He’s got a big task ahead of him
Early Prospects Going nowhere

Reading
First 3 games Derby (h), Nott’m F (a), Bolton (h)
Last 3 games WBA (h), Boro (a), Birmingham (h)

Just over a year ago, Reading were a penalty away from being in the Premier League. For most of last season they were in danger of being relegated to League 1. Paul Clement succeeded Jaap Stam and must find something to improve the Royals.
Early Prospects Not good

Rotherham United
First 3 games Brentford (a), Ipswich (h), Leeds (a)
Last 3 games Birmingham (h), WBA (a), Boro (h)

The last 5 seasons for Rotherham have been promoted from League 1 via play offs, 21st in champ, 21st in champ, 24th in champ (relegated) and promoted via play offs. The form would point to another low finish. The most interesting thing about them is they play at The New York Stadium!
Early Prospects Going down

Sheffield United
First 3 games Swansea (h), QPR (a), Norwich (h)
Last 3 games Hull (a), Ipswich (h), Stoke (a)

Started well last year and promised much but faded towards the end finishing a disappointing 10th. Has Chris Wilder taken them as far as he can?
Early Prospects Mid table

Sheffield Wednesday
First 3 games Wigan (a), Hull (h), Brentford (a)
Last 3 games Bristol C (h), Preston (a), QPR (h)

After being in the play offs the previous 3 seasons, last year’s 15th simply wasn’t good enough. But it’s gonna be a hard road back. Boss Jos Luhukay had some success at Hertha Berlin, but Wednesday fans should be worried.
Early Prospects Can see them struggling

Stoke City
First 3 games Leeds (a), Brentford (h), Preston (a)
Last 3 games Norwich (h), Millwall (a), Sheff U (h)

After 10 years in the Prem, how will Stoke cope in the championship? Will Gary Rowett’s move from Derby prove to be a good one?
Early Prospects Play Offs

Swansea
First 3 games Sheff U (a), Preston (h), Birmingham (a)
Last 3 games Ipswich (a), Hull (h), Blackburn (a)

No doubt there will be a clear out of high earning and wantaway stars, leaving new manager Graham (ex Ostersund, remember them against Arsenal in the Europa Cup) Potter with a poor squad. I wish him well but think he’s out of his depth.
Early Prospects Bubble has burst

West Bromwich Albion
First 3 games Bolton (h), Nott’m F (a), QPR (h)
Last 3 games Reading (a), Rotherham (h), Derby (a)

Another club badly ran, badly managed and eventually relegated. Rumours of financial problems wont help. Lets see who is left after the clearout for new boss Darren Moore to attempt to go straight back up.
Early Prospects Mid table

Wigan Athletic
First 3 games Sheff W (h), Aston V (a), Nott’m F (h)
Last 3 games Preston (h), Birmingham (a), Millwall (h)

Newly promoted and will want to carry that momentum into the new season. Wont be easy though, need to strengthen
Early Prospects Might surprise a few

Good luck to everyone, Roll On August!!

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