EYES ON THE SURPRISE; Championship's Steady Eddies could shock Leeds, Fulham & Cardiff.
GARY ROWETT says it would take a brave man to predict the outcome of the Championship title race this season.
In a league with more ups and downs than a seaside roller coaster, that should come as no surprise.
But the former Birmingham, Derby and Stoke chief believes that those who have taken it slow and steady during the past few years could be rewarded.
He said: "The Championship is a really interesting division this season - for all sorts of reasons. A few clubs have parachute payments, a few will be under pressure to play attacking, possessionbased football, and a few will be scrapping to get out however they can.
"But I do think there will be an opportunity for a club that has gradually built itself up, year on year, to get into the top six, a club under the radar at the moment who will surprise everyone.
"For example, Bristol City, who have quietly invested this summer. I also fancy Preston under Alex Neil to have a good season. And possibly Tony Mowbray at Blackburn. I'm not saying they'll walk away with promotion, or anything like that, but a couple of them could be up there. And, with a bit of momentum, who knows?
"It's a bit of a cliche, obviously, but the Championship is always so open, it's difficult to pick any outright winner.
"Who would have foreseen 12 months ago, for instance, that Norwich City and Sheffield United would have been promoted together? "
"That's what I'm talking about." However, Rowett (right) has picked a few he thinks will be in the shake-up come nextMay the start of next May. He said: "If you are pushing me for a few teams who I think will be up there, I'd probably say Leeds, Fulham and Cardiff.
"Leeds were very impressive for most of last season. They haven't altered too much, it's a question of whether Marcelo Bielsa can make them play with the same intensity and cope with the expectation of playing for such a big club.
"They fell away towards the end of the season. Maybe they just ran out of legs. It's a tough ask, physically, the Championship.
"I also like the look of Fulham.Aleksandar Mitrovic is staying at Craven Cottage and that's going to be a huge plus for Scott Parker because he is a striker who has scored a lot of goals in this league.
"They should also benefit because Anthony Knockaert, who they've signed from Brighton, will cause teams problems and they've got some pace on the other flank after Ivan Cavaleiro joined from Wolves on loan.
"And if you want another one, then look at Cardiff City.
"Neil Warnock tends to divide opinion among the public. But, as a manager, you cannot do anything other than admire his record.
"He knows what works, he has the JOHN HENDRIE has a foot in both beliefs courage to stick to his beliefs, and he consistently delivers. Cardiff will be a tough nut to crack."
One trend that the 45-year-old has picked up, however, involves a tactical rethink.
Rowett added: "There is definitely a growing pressure at some clubs for people to adopt a more pleasing passing style, playing out from the back.
"This will be in evidence - at least at the start of the season - at quite a few places.
"It will be interesting to see how long that approach lasts if results don't start going the way that the owners want.
"And I think we will see more interesting clashes in style.
"I know a couple of clubs - Birmingham and Charlton for instance - are using three centre-halves in pre-season - which is a move away from what they have done in the past.
"It's intriguing and I think anyone involved in this division can look forward to another season of surprises."
CHAMPIONSHIP OPENERSFRIDAY Luton v Middlesbrough (7.45pm) SATURDAY (3pm unless stated) Barnsley v Fulham Blackburn v Charlton Brentford v Birmingham Millwall v Preston Reading v Sheffield Wednesday Stoke City v QPR Swansea v Hull Wigan v Cardiff N Forest v West Brom (5.30pm) SUNDAY Bristol City v Leeds (4.30pm) MONDAY Huddersfield v Derby (7.45pm) THEPOOLS.COM BARNSLEY by ) Manager: Daniel Stendel Major ins: Wilks (from Leeds), Diaby (Lokeren), Sibbick (AFC Wimbledon), Andersen (AC Horsens), Collins (Chelsea). Major outs: Lindsay (to Stoke), Pinnock (Brentford). Fancy a flutter? To be promoted, 25/1. Verdict: Excellent recruitment in past and very active again. No pushovers. BIRMINGHAM Manager: Pep Clotet Major ins: Crowley (Willem II), Jack Salter-Clarke (Chelsea), Gardner, (Aston Villa). Major outs: Adams (Southampton), Jota (Aston Villa) Morrison (Reading). Fancy a flutter? To be promoted, 12/1. Verdict: Lost their boss, their top scorer and their captain. Must buy some goal threat. BLACKBURN Manager: Tony Mowbray Major ins: Johnson (Derby), Downing (Boro), Gallagher (Southampton). Major outs: Raya (Brentford), Downing (Portsmouth). Fancy a flutter? To be promoted, 10/1. Verdict: Mowbray has added Championship experience to a fairly young squad. BRENTFORD Manager: Thomas Frank Major ins: Raya (Blackburn), Norgaard (Fiorentina), Jensen (C Vigo), Jansson (Leeds), Pinnock (Barnsley). Major outs: Konsa (A Villa), Barbet (QPR), MacLeod (Wigan), Bentley (Bristol C). Fancy a flutter? To be promoted, 4/1. Verdict: Good transfer dealers usually. Hard to call, but top-half finish at least. BRISTOL CITY Manager: Lee Johnson Major ins: Dasilva (Chelsea), Szmodics (Colchester), Bentley (Brentford). Major outs: Eisa (Peterborough), Kelly (Bournemouth), Fielding (Millwall). Fancy a flutter? To be promoted, 11/2. Verdict: Play attractive football under Johnson and have steadily improved. CARDIFF CITY MMUG Manager: Neil Warnock Major ins: Vaulks (Rotherham Utd). Major outs: Zohore, (WBA), Gunnarsson, (Al Arabi), Harris, (Sheffield Wednesday). Fancy a flutter? To be promoted, 3-1. Verdict: Warnock is a wily campaigner the Bluebirds could be a handful if their veteran boss gets them at it. CHARLTON Manager: Lee Bowyer Major ins: Bonne (L Orient) Lockyer (Bristol Rovers), Aneke (MK Dons), Ben Amos (Bolton). Major outs: Bowry (Cheltenham), Aribo (Rangers), Bauer (Preston). Fancy a flutter? To be promoted, 22/1. Verdict: Tipped to suffer, but streetwise Bowyer will have them putting up a fight. DERBY Manager: Phillip Cocu Major ins: Shinnie (Aberdeen), Dowell (Everton). Major outs: Mount (Chelsea), Wilson (Liverpool), Johnson (Blackburn), Thomas (Barnsley), Bryson (Aberdeen); Cole, Nugent, Olsson (released). Fancy a flutter? To be promoted, 11/2. Verdict: Departed loan stars were vital Frank Lampard. Tough acts to follow. FULHAM Manager: Scott Parker Major ins: Cavaleiro (Wolves), Knockaert (Brighton). Major outs: Seri (Galatasaray), Babel (Galatasaray), Schurrle (B Dortmund). Fancy a flutter? To be promoted, 21/10. Verdict: The quality is there for a top-six slot, minimum. Fans can expect goals but more pragmatic approach under Parker. HUDDERSFIELD Manager: Jan Siewert Major ins: Grabara (Liverpool), Mbenza (Montpellier), Elphick (A Villa), Koroma (Orient), Brown (F'st Green). Major outs: Smith (Stoke), Lowe (Dynamo Dresden), Lossl (Everton), Williams released), Depoitre (released). Fancy a flutter? To be promoted, 5/1. Verdict: Should threaten the top six. HULL Manager: Grant McCann Major ins: Eaves (Gillingham), Ingram (QPR). Major outs: Keane (released), Evandro (released). Fancy a flutter? To be promoted, 12/1. Verdict: The fact Jarrod Bowen hasn't moved on is a plus, but the manager is unproven at this level. All to do. LEEDS MMH Manager: Marcelo Bielsa Major ins: Costa (Wolves), Harrison (Man City), White (Brighton), McCarron (Carlisle). Major outs: Jansson (Brentford), Clarke (Tottenham), Saiz (Girona). Fancy a flutter? To be promoted, 8/5. Verdict: Getting off to a flier will help hugely. Will be there or thereabouts again. LUTON eka), Manager: Graham Jones Major ins: Crainie (Sheff Utd), McManaman (Wigan), Sluga (Rijeka), Galloway (Everton), Tunnicliffe (Millwall). Major outs: Justin (Leicester), Stacey (B'mouth). Fancy a flutter? To be promoted, 14/1. Verdict: Consolidation, but came up with stylish football that Jones, a protege of Roberto Martinez, will continue. MIDDLESBROUGH Manager: Jonathan Woodgate Major ins: Meijas (Omonia Nicosia). Major outs: Flint (Cardiff), Jon Obi Mikel (Trabzonspor), Downing (Blackburn). Fancy a flutter? To be promoted, 17/4. Verdict: Boro have a rookie boss and a reduced transfer budget. A season of consolidation is the best to be hoped for. MILLWALL ), y Manager: Neil Harris Major ins: Mahoney (Bournem'th), Bodvarsson (Reading), Molumby (Brighton), Fielding. (Bristol City). Major outs: Martin (West Ham), Gregory (Stoke), Morison (Shrewsbury). Fancy a flutter? To be promoted, 18/1. Verdict: No need for boss to change. Will struggle, but should pull through. SHEFF WED Manager: To be confirmed Major ins: Harris (Cardiff), Odubajo (Brentford), Borner (Arminia Bielefeld). Major outs: Boyd (Peterborough). Fancy a flutter? To be promoted, 6/1. Verdict: Steve Bruce's exit meant Owls needed to act quickly but time's ticked on, and pre-season in ruins. Impossible to rate. READING n Manager: Jose Manuel Gomes Major ins: Adam (Stoke), Morrison (Birmingham), Maizga (Chelsea). Major outs: Bodvarsson (Millwall), Kelly (Feyenoord); McNulty (Sunderland). Fancy a flutter? To be promoted, 18/1. Verdict: The additions of Charlie Adam, Michael Morrison and Matt Maizga will ensure there is no flirtation with relegation. QPR AManager: Mark Warburton Major ins: Masterson (Liverpool), Amos (Spurs), Ball (Rotherham), Wallace (Rangers), Cameron (Stoke). Major outs: Freeman (Sheff Utd), Furlong (WBA), Bidwell (Swansea). Fancy a flutter? To be promoted, 16/1. Verdict: If the Hoops can stay clear of trouble early on, their star could rise. PRESTON Manager: Alex Neil Major ins: Nugent (Derby), Bauer (Charlton). Major outs: Robinson (Sheff Utd), Howard (Morecambe). Fancy a flutter? To be promoted, 17/2. Verdict: Preston punch above their weight, given their resources, but perhaps lack that star quality to make a dent in top six. NOTT'M FOREST Manager: Sabri Lamouchi Major ins: Ameobi (Bolton), Adomah (Aston Villa), Muric (Man City), Ribeiro (Benfica), Semedo (Benfica). Major outs: Tachtsidis (Lecce), Vellios (Atromitos Athens), Henderson (C Palace). Fancy a flutter? To be promoted, 11/2. Verdict: More turbulence But improving scorer in Joe Lolley. Anything could happen. WIGAN Manager: Paul Cook Major ins: Robinson, (Everton), Marshall, (Hull), MacLeod, (Brentford). Major outs: Powell, (Stoke), Vaughan, (Bradford), MacDonald, (Rotherham), McManaman, (Luton). Fancy a flutter? To be promoted, 18/1. Verdict: Wigan just kept their heads last term - it looks equally difficult this time. WEST BROM Manager: Slaven Bilic Major ins: Zohore (Cardiff), Furlong (QPR), Ajayi (Rotherham), Krovinovic (Benfica). Major outs: Rondon (DL Yifang), Dawson (Watford), Rodriguez (Burnley). Fancy a flutter? To be promoted, 10/3. Verdict: The squad looks weaker than 12 months ago - needs further strengthening. SWANSEA Manager: Steve Cooper Major ins: Bidwell, (QPR); Wilmot, (Watford). Major outs: James, (Man Utd), Ayew, (Crystal Palace). Fancy a flutter? To be promoted, 8/1. Verdict: Cooper arrived at the Liberty Stadium with a fine coaching pedigree. But building on Graham Potter's legacy amid vicious cost-cutting is a tall order. STOKE ,), ).Manager: Nathan Jones Major ins: Smith (Huddersfield), Lindsay (Barnsley), Powell (Wigan), Ward (Burnley), Gregory (Millwall). Major outs: Pieters (Burnley), Cameron (QPR), Adam (Reading). Fancy a flutter? To be promoted, 15/4. Verdict: The boss has brought in seasoned professionals hungry for a top-six tilt.
TREBLE CHANCE Lee Johnson at Bristol City, Preston boss Alex Neil and Blackburn gaffer Tony Mowbray (left to right)