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Stuart Dalgleish 16th Aug 2012 - 15:15

Championship 2012/13 preview

Can Warnock Leed United to promotion?

Neil Warnock took over at Leeds (9/1 outright, 3/1 promotion) halfway through last season and oversaw the worst home record in the club's history.

The size of the task facing the former Sheffield United supremo was huge, and he needed help from his notoriously stingy chairman Ken Bates - by and large this pre-season though he has got it and United have a decent squad, if not outstanding.

Their back-line is almost completely new, only Tom Lees remains from last season but he looks like he'll form a good centre-back pairing with Jason Pearce, while in Paddy Kenny they've got a keeper who performed to a very high standard in the Premier League last season.

The midfield has plenty of really solid Championship players in, but at the minute they've no flair player to replace Robert Snodgrass, the Scot was responsible for so many of United's good moments over the last few years with his great trickery, fantastic set-piece ability and eye for goal .

If they get a great winger then they'll really challenge this year as goals hasn't been a problem at Elland Road of late, Ross McCormack (16/1 top goalscorer) and Luciano Becchio (25/1) are proven at this level and Luke Varney (25/1) will add from the wing.

Of course, the Championship is an extremely tough league to get out of and the Whites will face fierce competition for the top six, not least from the relegated sides of last year.

Of those three teams, Bolton (6/1, 2/1) look to have the best squad as they've not lost too many key players.

The Trotters have an excellent defence for this level, and with the addition of Matt Mills it will only get stronger - the former Leicester man will be competing with Tim Ream and Zat Knight for a position in the heart of the defence while Hungarian keeper Adam Bogdan now has Andy Lonergan for competition between the sticks after club legend Jussi Jaaskelainen left for West Ham.

Midfield options include Keith Andrews (66/1), who enjoyed a good loan spell in this division with Ipswich last season, Mark Davies, Darren Pratley and Stuart Holden - Chris Eagles (80/1) and Martin Petrov will be putting balls in the box for the vastly experienced Kevin Davies (20/1) and David Ngog (14/1) to attack.

Leicester (7/1, 7/4) were the team that many expected to dominate the division last year, but it took the departure of Sven-Goran Eriksson and the return of Nigel Pearson to really revive their hopes, their run of form was timed too late though and they didn't even make the play-offs.

The Foxes have money though, so their already impressive squad has been further boosted by the seven-figure additions of Jamie Vardy (16/1), Ritchie De Laet, Anthony Knockaert and Matty James, Zak Whitbread will not be on a small contract either after arriving on a free from Norwich.

The afore mentioned Vardy will be just one of an impressive list of forward options featuring the likes of Jermaine Beckford (14/1), David Nugent (16/1), Marko Futacs (50/1) and Jeffrey Schlupp (80/1).

With Paul Gallagher (40/1) and Martyn Waghorn (50/1) sure to add goals from midfield, Leicester will be a serious player this season.

Wolves (9/1, 5/2) make up the front four in the betting, and like Bolton they haven't lost too many major players... yet.

I would not want to part with any money on them going up just yet until the futures of Steven Fletcher (14/1) and Matt Jarvis (80/1) are decided, the pair are being heavily linked with Premier League moves and Wanderers will certainly feel their absence if they do move.

No doubt about it, Wolves have some cracking players, but new manager Stale Solbakken hasn't experienced anything like this before so it could be a bit of a transitional period for men from the Black Country.

Such was the demoralising nature of Wolves' relegation, they have a few players that are really struggling for form, Kevin Doyle (12/1) was a shadow of his former self last season, while Roger Johnson is nowhere near the level that saw him once considered for international honours.

They could mount a challenge, but I can't see them hitting the ground running and their odds will certainly go out if and when their star duo depart.

Of the rest of the major players, I think the likes of Nottingham Forest (11/1, 4/1) and Birmingham (16/1. 5/1) could go well.

Forest have just had a takeover and will probably add to their squad before the transfer deadline, they underachieved last season big time, but with some clever business through pre-season they've ironed out some of the creases.

Sean O'Driscoll is a canny operator at this level, and he's brought in Simon Cox (20/1) to complement Dexter Blackstock (33/1) up top, while strengthened at the back with the signings of Dan Harding and Danny Collins, with Simon Gillett providing strength in depth in the midfield after arriving from Doncaster.

Birmingham look the overpriced team to me though, perhaps they won't challenge for the outright but at 9/4 they look a good shout for a top six spot, 11/2 to be the top team in the Midlands.

They've got one of the most promising young goalkeepers in the country in Jack Butland, fantastic midfield options in Chris Burke (66/1) and new signing from Crystal Palace Darren Ambrose, while Marlon King (20/1) and Peter Lovenkrands (33/1) will get plenty of goals feeding off the service from the exciting wide-man Nathan Redmond.

The likes of Stephen Carr and Steven Caldwell add experience to the back four, which also features the classy Curtis Davies.

At the other end, the teams I expect to struggle would be Sheffield Wednesday (9/1 relegation), Derby (3/1) and Bristol City (9/4).

Barnsley are the 6/5 favourites for the drop, and deservedly so as they have lost two of their best players in the past year in Jacob Butterfield and Ricardo Vaz Te, Keith Hill will have his work cut out that's for sure.

Peterborough (7/4) are second favs to go down, but they always seem to have plenty of goals in them (they scored two less than Reading last season) and I think their home form might just keep them up.

The Rams have been getting away with it for far too long, it's a surprise they've managed to stay in the Championship for this long, but like Coventry last season, I think their time has come.

Wednesday were promoted in second place from League 1 last year, but they were indebted to a certain court case which scuppered their rivals United with barely any time in the season left.

Dave Jones is vastly experienced at this level, but other than Michail Antonio, he doesn't have many aces up his sleeve.

You need strong options from the bench in this division, and if Gary Madine (33/1) doesn't hit it off then I fear where the goals would come from.



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