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Nic Ladds 2nd Aug 2010 - 10:32

The Championship 2010/11 preview

The most unpredictable league in the world returns as 24 teams battle it out for a place in the best league in the world.

Last year's Championship saw Newcastle run away with the title while West Brom were runners-up and Blackpool showed just how unpredictable this league can be as they were tipped for relegation and managed to secure promotion through the play-offs.

This year there are not really any stand out teams, usually the teams that are relegated from the Premier League as expected to dominate.

Not this year as Hull and Portsmouth are severely weakened due to financial constraints and although Burnley are expected to do well, they certainly aren't expected to walk it.

Gordon Strachan's Middlesbrough (11/2) side are the favourites to win the league after they have strengthened heavily with signings from north of the border. After a disappointing season last year, they have invested well in Kris Boyd, Nicky Bailey, Stephen McManus, Kevin Thomson and winger Tarmo Kink.

Kris Boyd (7/1 top goalscorer) is the all-time SPL top scorer and alongside his striking partner Scott McDonald (14/1), Boro have the SPL top scorer from the last five seasons leading their attack. If they can shore up their defence with a couple more names, on paper, it is hard to see any other side as strong.

Their main rivals are expected to be Nottingham Forest (7/1), which I am not sure I agree with. Although they did extremely well last season and finished third and Billy Davies is a top manager at this level, their lack of transfer activity is worrying.

They are weaker without James Perch, who has moved to Newcastle, Joe Garner who was gone out on loan and back-up keeper Paul Smith has also left. They are always a threat with Earnshaw and Blackstock up front but if either were missing for an extended period of time, they could struggle for goals.

Burnley (9/1) are the main realistic opposition to Middlesbrough's charge for the league title, they didn't go over the top last season and money doesn't seem to be an issue.

They have only lost Steven Fletcher of any real consequence and added some good names at this level: Lee Grant, Dean Marney, Chris Iwelumo and Ross Wallace.

For an each-way punt (1/4 odds, place 1,2,3) I would take a look at Preston (50/1). They struggled last season and finished 17th but with the play-off spots really up for grabs by almost any side this season, they could be in with a shout.

Darren Ferguson has cleared out a lot of the old dead wood and brought in plenty of new faces. With a couple more loans from Man Utd they could have some quality.

Their team is young and hungry and they could be over-priced if they can start well, with a home match against Doncaster to start -it could be the perfect opportunity to show what they can do.

In the top goalscorer market, Kris Boyd (7/1) is understandably the favourite but some value can be found in other players.  Jay Rodriguez (33/1) could get his chance in the Burnley side and the youngster has bags of potential.

Whether Michael Chopra (11/1) stays at Cardiff or moves elsewhere in the league, he is always a threat at this level.  Without him and Whittingham at Cardiff, it could be time for someone else to step up for the Bluebirds and Ross McCormack (40/1) and Jay Bothroyd(66/1) who got 11 goals last season, could provide some value.

In the relegation market, it is hard to look past Scunthorpe (11/10) and it could be time we see the back of the Irons in this league. They struggled to 20th place last season and have lost five key players since, including their three top scorers from last season.

Portsmouth (2/1) are a lot of people's tip for a double drop after losing a lot of their squad and facing an uncertain future financially. Who knows what their squad will look like come September 1st, they are only allowed to sign two more players to meet the minimum player amount and that is as long as no more players leave.

I think the newly promoted sides all represent a fair bit of value to go back down; Millwall (7/2), Leeds (7/1) and Norwich (9/1) have barely set the world alight with their signings over summer.

With more established sides in the league battling to stay up, although it is unlikely for all three to slide back down, it is hard to image that at least one or two of them won't be involved in a relegation scrap.

The Championship is a highly competitive and open league at the best of times and this year looks as open to debate as ever.  Over the course of 46 matches, teams usually end up where they deserve to be and it could come down to which team has the determination in the long run.



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