Last season, I predicted that Derby would finish 12th. And by conspiring to draw the last game of the season against Peterborough United when they should have won 5-0, the Rams finished exactly where I said they would.
I also managed to pick four of the top six (West Ham, Reading, Blackpool and Cardiff). Of my other two picks, Leicester made a howling mess of ‘buying the league’ and Eddie Howe’s Burnley underachieved, given their status as a parachute payment club.
I correctly predicted that Coventry City would go down, but Peterborough United and Barnsley, my other tips for the drop, stayed up at the expense of basketcases Portsmouth and Doncaster.
Any idiot can be lucky once, but it takes a special idiot to be lucky twice and in that spirit, I’ve decided to have another crack at this whole predictions game. I’ve again gone for Leicester, Blackpool and Cardiff to finish in the top six, simply because the extra money at their disposal means that they are more likely to be able to sustain their form throughout the season.
Derby may have had the odd burst last year, but were overly reliant on certain key players to perform week-in, week-out, with little scope to change things around when results began to slip. And unfortunately, I see no grounds to predict an improvement in our league position this season.
THE DERBY COUNTY BLOG
PREDICTED 2012/3 CHAMPIONSHIP LEAGUE TABLE
1st BOLTON WANDERERS – Owen Coyle knows the division, but the main thing they have going for them is Kevin Davies. The big man is any Championship manager’s dream, providing a focal point for the attack and a reliable stream of goals from set plays and crosses. Any team who could have tempted him away would have been my automatic promotion favourites.
2nd WOLVERHAMPTON WANDERERS - Will be strong at this level – you could be cruel and say they have a ready-made Championship team already and with parachute payments to help them strengthen, plus the possibility of huge fees for Steven Fletcher and Matt Jarvis, Wolves fans will expect to yoyo bounce straight back up. However, their gamble on a foreign manager in Ståle Solbakken is not guaranteed to pay off.
3rd CARDIFF CITY - The perpetual ‘there or thereabouts’ club are heartily sick of their status as the division’s ultimate bridesmaids. Which is why some fans were desperate enough for promotion to embrace Malaysian owner Vincent Tan’s breathtakingly crass ‘indecent proposal’ of £100m ‘investment’ (for investment, read ‘loans, with interest’) for the right to change the Bluebirds’ home kit colour to red, along with a new badge featuring an ‘historic Welsh dragon’. Surely it would have been much cheaper for him to buy Wrexham? With these changes now implemented, there will be huge pressure on Malky Mackay to deliver instant promotion to justify them – a good start to the season is crucial. Craig Bellamy and Heidar Helguson will help and they still have their prime asset, Peter Whittingham.
4th LEICESTER CITY - The Thai owners continue to make loan capital available to Nigel Pearson, with Fleetwood Town striker Jamie Vardy becoming the first £1m player in non-league history early in the window and two players – Ritchie de Laet and Matty James – joining from Manchester United. After the botched attempt to buy promotion under Sven-Göran Eriksson, there is now huge pressure on Pearson to deliver, before the introduction of Financial Fair Play threatens to scupper the Foxes’ high-risk strategy. Let’s hope that play-off heartache ensues…
5th BLACKPOOL - As they continue to receive parachute payments, the Tangerines will still be able to run a higher wage bill than would otherwise the case. Ran West Ham very close at Wembley in the play-off final and will challenge for the play-offs again.
6th BIRMINGHAM CITY - After limping meekly out of the play-offs, the continuing uncertainties over owner Carson Yeung’s financial future are a serious worry for all Blues supporters. Manager Chris Hughton was swiftly tempted away to Norwich and although the transfer embargo imposed on the club has finally been lifted, a play-off berth is by no means assured for the Brummies under new manager Lee Clark. Jordon Mutch, the ‘one that got away’ from Derby’s academy, has been sold to Cardiff, but new signings Peter Lovenkrands and Darren Ambrose will complement existing goal-threats Nikola Žigić and that lovable scamp Marlon King.
7th BURNLEY - The windfall of a £6m fee for Jay Rodriguez from Southampton has boosted the Clarets, who consequently picked up Jason Shackell and Sam Vokes. Will be there or thereabouts and aiming to crack the play-offs.
8th BRIGHTON & HOVE ALBION Ensconced in their impressive new stadium and under the stewardship of the popular Gus Poyet, all is rosy in the garden at the Amex. The signing of ‘keeper Tomasz Kuszczak from Manchester United was eye-catching – the season-long loan deal for Wayne Bridge an oddity – but whether they can challenge at the top end of this division remains to be seen. I have a feeling that they will.
9th HULL CITY - Steve Bruce has been handed the reins after the controversial sacking of club legend Nicky Barmby, apparently for questioning the owners’ commitment to funding new transfers. According to Ehab Allam, Bruce had an unlimited budget this summer, with the expectation of resultant promotion and subsequent stabilisation in the top flight. Uncapped German striker Nick Proschwitz joined for £2.6m from second division club Paderborn and will be expected to make a big impact.
10th MIDDLESBROUGH - Middlesbrough look unlikely to join the promotion arms race in the forseeable future and seem to have become fairly moribund second division fare. Have lost key veteran Barry Robson, but bolstered the midfield by signing Grant Leadbitter and Emmanuel Ledesma, as well as signing veteran injury-sufferer / defender Jonathan Woodgate to a three-year contract.
11th NOTTINGHAM FOREST - The disastrous appointment of Steve McClaren and his prompt resignation left Forest in a terrible mess, but having survived last season, it would seem that the Dogs will now be spirited safely out of trouble by the wealthy Al-Hasawi family. The Kuwaitis naive statements about recruiting an ‘iconic manager’ unfortunately didn’t result in the appointment of Glenn Hoddle – Sean O’Driscoll was a far better choice and the Al-Hasawis have since funded a raft of sensible signings. Bringing in Simon Cox from West Brom proves that they intend to transform Forest from relegation candidates to promotion chasers, although it probably won’t be this season, as there is still much rebuilding work to do. What difference this turn of events will make to the Derby fans’ attitude towards GSE’s ‘break-even’ parsimony remains to be seen.
12th SHEFFIELD WEDNESDAY - One of the better-supported clubs at this level, but have stuttered along for years, having had a much worse decade than even Derby did in the noughties. However, they have added a fair few players to the squad over summer – Chris Kirkland, Anthony Gardner, Joe Mattock and fan favourite Michail Antonio among them.
13th BLACKBURN ROVERS - Parachute payments or not, Blackburn have come down in a terrible mess. Owners Venky’s have left fans seething with rage and manager Steve Kean is seen as their hapless stooge. Meanwhile, their ‘global advisor’ (?!) Shebby Singh is on record as saying that if Rovers lose three games on the trot, Kean will be axed. Money will be available (a lavish parachute payment, plus fees from selling the likes of Junior Hoilett) and the grizzled Danny Murphy will add much-needed leadership, but you get the feeling that there might be too many problems lying in wait for Blackburn to overcome this season. New £3m striker Leon Best promptly suffered cruciate ligament damage in pre-season, while the signing of 36-year old Nuno Gomes on a two-year contract was bizarre, but understandable, given the owners’ obsession with marquee names. Expect more tempestuous times in this corner of Lancashire.
14th LEEDS UNITED - Leeds were a real mess last season, as exploited by Derby at Elland Road. Ken Bates is still at the helm, after a proposed takeover by a shadowy Middle Eastern consortium fell through. Neil Warnock was disgusted with the squad at his disposal on taking over and admitted this summer that he thought about quitting. Sturdy pros like Jason Pearce, Andy Gray, Adam Drury and Paul Green will solidify things, but I don’t expect them to challenge for a play-off place. Oh and there’s definitely no scope for a falling out between Neil Warnock and El-Hadji Diouf!
15th HUDDERSFIELD TOWN - Much depends upon the mercurial Jordan Rhodes. If he is sold, the Terriers will be able to strengthen their squad, but can they effectively replace his goals? If he stays, he may well make a monkey of my mid-table prediction and propel Town into the upper echelons of the division.
16th WATFORD - Sean Dyche piloted the Hornets to a very creditable 11th last season – above Derby on goals scored – but it’s all change at Watford. After Udinese owner Giampaolo Pozzo bought out Laurence Bassini, Dyche was elbowed aside for Gianfranco Zola to become manager. The Pozzos are using Watford to place loanees from Udinese for experience, as they have done successfully with the Spanish club Granada, which they also own. The first loan signing told the media that he was pleased to move to the Hornets, because Watford is in London. In truth, with the new ownership model, new management and so many new players flooding in all at once, it’s hard to predict how they will do this season.
17th DERBY COUNTY - Owners GSE are huge fans of the Financial Fair Play (FFP) model, with the Rams’ outgoing CEO Tom Glick instrumental in bringing it into force, as a member of the Football League board. The club’s parsimonious approach is, they say, putting them ahead of the game, but this season, where FFP penalties do not apply, is likely to be yet another frustrating campaign, as the likes of Leicester and Cardiff continue to flash the cash in pursuit of the parachute payment-laden relegated clubs. Sadly, our lack of squad depth means that we are destined to struggle.
18th IPSWICH TOWN - Paul Jewell has completely lost his way as a manager and this could be his final season with the Tractor Boys. Ipswich have thrown a lot of money around in the past without getting anywhere and from the tone of Jewell’s pre-season interviews, it seems that belts are now being tightened in East Anglia – so there will be no more follies in the Jimmy Bullard vein. Given that Jewell has performed so badly when given funds, it’s hard to see him doing any better without money to spend. Could this finally be the end of the road for Jagger?
19th CRYSTAL PALACE - Palace have long harvested good youngsters from their south London catchment area and bringing through kids like Wilfried Zaha and Nathaniel Clyne has helped them to survive in the Championship. Funds from the sale of Clyne to Southampton may help them climb higher – and there’s also the possibility of a nice windfall if Victor Moses leaves Wigan for Chelsea.
20th PETERBOROUGH UNITED - Speculation that Darrren Ferguson would be off to Wolves and then Forest proved wide of the mark, but on a relatively titchy budget, the Posh can’t be expected to much more than survive at this level.
21st CHARLTON ATHLETIC - Manager Chris Powell will be warmly welcomed back to Pride Park, as long as the Valiants don’t win. Charlton’s impressive promotion season in League One points to them as a club with the potential to mimic Norwich and Southampton by bouncing straight through this division and into the promised land – however, the division will be very tough this season and they haven’t strengthened their squad overly much.
22nd BRISTOL CITY - A club who have been losing money hand over fist for too long and will have to face the consequences sooner or later. Derek McInnes managed to guide the Robins to safety last season and will hope to stabilise this time around, while continuing to work within the limitations imposed by the club’s parlous financial state. However, relegation is a real possibility.
23rd BARNSLEY - Another season of treading water, or is it the drop for one of the division’s smaller clubs this time? Benefited hugely from Portsmouth’s 10-point deduction last season and Keith Hill might find this to be a season too far for the Tykes. The signing of moody veteran Mido on a one-year deal had a gimmicky, Doncaster Rovers ‘experiment’ feel and is unlikely to save Barnsley from relegation – especially seeing as he’s already injured…
24th MILLWALL - The old cliché that the Den is a ‘tough place to go’ will be tested again this season. Their meagre record of seven home wins last season suggests that the Lions can actually be tamed fairly easily. Will struggle and could well go down.
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