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Pundits put City behind Derby andthe Latics; BLUEBIRDS IN THE CHAMPIONSHIP Blackburn Rovers v Cardiff City So who do Cardiff's rivals believe will go up into the Premier League? We've spoken to reporters covering every club in the Championship... and this is their verdict.

BIRMINGHAM Colin Tattum (Birmingham Mail) AFTER escaping relegation on the final day in dramatic circum-stances, Lee Clark has overhauled his squad again, taking into account the crippling financial situation at the club.

Big names and big earners have gone, nine new players - eight Bosmans, one loan - have come in. Birmingham are aiming for mid-table but the bottom line is that no repeat of a desperate relegation scrap would represent a 'successful' season, under the present circumstances. Key player: Clayton Donaldson was targeted by Lee Clark to provide goals and a powerful presence up front following the inevitable release of massive earner Nikola Zigic.

Automatic promotion: Cardiff, Derby Play-offs: Norwich, Wigan, Fulham, Forest BLACKBURN ROVERS Paul Wheelock (Lancashire Telegraph) HAVI AVIA NG finished last season unbeaten in 12 games and just two places and two points outside the play-offs, Rovers fans are confident of a top-six finish this time around.

And with their side boasting potentially the best strikeforce in the division, in Jordan Rhodes and Rudy Gestede, and creative midfielders of the quality of Tom Cairney and Craig Conway, their optimism is not misplaced.

Key player: The obvious answer would be Jordan Rhodes. After scoring an incredible 54 Championship goals in the past two seasons - no-one has netted more in that time.

Automatic promotion: Derby, Wigan Play-offs: Blackburn, Watford, Forest, Cardiff BLACKPOOL William Watt (Blackpool Gazette) BLACKPOOL'S L'S L prospects this season are about as clear as mud at the moment after a traumatic summer at Bloomfield Road.

After a drawn-out search for a new manager, Pool finally settled on Jose Riga to replace the departing Barry Ferguson, but this was only the start. A row between Riga and chairman Karl Oyston left the club with just eight players two weeks before the start of the season.

Key player: Jacob Mellis is interesting. Coming through the Chelsea youth system big things were expected. Time to finally fulfil some of his potential.

Automatic promotion: Wigan, Fulham Play-offs: Norwich, Derby, Cardiff, Brighton BOLTON WANDERERS Marc Iles (Bolton News) LAST season was a huge disappointment but after clearing the decks of underperforming big-earners, this is very much Dougie Freedman's side.

Bolton retain a decent squad and have a budget some managers in the division would give their right arm for - but their lack of a natural goalscorer has home fans concerned.

Key player: Mark Davies. If Bolton can keep hold of the mercurial midfielder and keep him fit, there are few better plying their trade outside the top flight.

Automatic promotion: Fulham, Cardiff Play-offs: Bournemouth, Norwich, Derby, Brighton BOURNEMOUTH Neil Perrett (Bournemouth Echo) BOSS Eddie Howe has already highlighted the difficult challenge facing his squad following their exploits last season when they finished 10th - the club's highest placing in the second flight in its history.

The Cherries should have enough to avoid secondseason syndrome and could again spring a few surprises with a play-off place not beyond the realms of possibility.

Key player: Dan Gosling. The former Newcastle and Everton midfielder will bring vital Premier League experience to a young and fairly new squad. Automatic promotion: Derby, Wigan Play-offs: Fulham, Ipswich, Forest, Bournemouth BRENTFORD Jake Murtagh (GETWESTLONDON) BEES boss Mark Warburton insists his side are not there just to make up the numbers after winning promotion from League One last season.

Their slick style of play is well suited to the Championship and they have recruited well in the close season.

Key player: Adam Forshaw. The midfielder has gone from strength to strength since signing from Everton a couple of years ago.

Automatic promotion: Cardiff, Norwich Play-offs: Brighton, Wolves, Derby, Wigan BRIGHTON Andy Naylor (The Argus) FORMER Liverpool legend Sami Hyypia, ambitious Brighton's third manager in as many seasons, has two tough acts to follow in his first managerial post in England after Gus Poyet and Oscar Garcia guided the Seagulls into the play-offs.

The expectations of the biggest fan base in the Championship will be high once more.

Key Player: Brighton searched hard to replace last season's No.1 Tomasz Kuszczak. David Stockdale, who made 21 appearances for Fulham in the Premier League last season is a shrewd acquisition.

Automatic Promotion: Wigan, Derby Play-Offs: Blackburn, Norwich, Middlesbrough, Wolves CARDIFF CITY Terry Phillips ( WalesOnline) OLE Gunnar Solskjaer is ready to have a real go at the Championship and has competition for places among his forwards.

Federico Macheda, Javi Guerra, Adam Le Fondre and Joe Mason are each capable of hitting double figures, while Kenwyne Jones, whose physical presence offers a different option, can also chip in. The manager has work to do at the back though. Key player: The Bluebirds have midfield players and forwards to create and score goals, and David Marshall to stop them. It's going to be another big season for the Scottish international. Automatic promotion: Derby, Wigan Play-offs: Wolves, Forest, Cardiff, Bolton CHARLTON Richard Cawley (South London Press) INVESTMENT by owner Roland Duchatelet has raised expectations that Charlton will not be embroiled in matters at the wrong end of the table but a number of their new faces are untested in the Championship.

Since they won promotion from League One a couple of years ago Charlton have struggled to really crack open defences.

Key player: Igor Vetokele. V The Angolan international is reluctant to make public any targets but if Charlton are to be successful this season then they need one of their strikers to step up to the plate.

Automatic promotion: Derby, Fulham Play-offs: Brighton, Ipswich, Bournemouth, Middlesbrough.

DERBY COUNTY Steve Nicholson (Derby Telegraph) UNFORTUNAT AT AE to lose to QPR at Wembley, Derby are seen as credible contenders for another top-six finish.

So, can they handle the expectation? They are there to be shot at, a very different situation to being a surprise package.

Key player: Striker Chris Martin, and not only for his goals. He scored 25 last season, the best tally by a Derby player in 30 years, but his role as the focal point of the attack is pivotal to the way Derby play.

Automatic promotion: Norwich, Wigan Play-offs: Fulham, Cardiff, Bolton, Derby FULHAM Jake Murtagh (GetWestLondon) MANAGER Felix Magath will be hoping to bounce back from relegation at the first attempt but there is a concern Fulham could go into freefall after a massive clear-out at the Cottage.

Magath has brought in a raft of little-known signings with no experience in English football to replace them.

Fulham have so far put all their eggs in one basket and will be relying on Ross McCormack to score the goals to get them up.

Key player: Ross McCormack. The big-money arrival from Leeds United will spearhead the attack and Magath will be hoping the Scottish star and replicate his impressive haul from last campaign. Automatic promotion: Cardiff, Norwich. Play-offs: Brighton, Wolves, Derby, Wigan.

HUDDERSFIELD TOWN Doug Thomson (Huddersfield Examiner) CONSISTENCY, Y, Y and keeping star striker James Vaughan fit, are key to Town's hopes of improving on last season's 17th-placed finish.

Town have shown that on their day, they can mix it with the big boys of the second tier, but in both seasons since coming up from League One, they have suffered toolong winless runs, meaning a battle for survival in 2012-13 and the early end of their play-off hopes last time around.

Key player: Club-record PS1.3m signing Nahki Wells has had time to get used to the Championship, scoring seven times since joining from Bradford City In January, and there are big hopes of a productive frontline partnership with James Vaughan.

Automatic promotion: Wigan, Forest.

Play-offs: Derby, Cardiff, Fulham, Bournemouth.

IPSWICH TOWN Stuart Watson (East Anglian Daily Times) FOR the first time in a long time, there is a feeling of optimism. Experienced and no-nonsense boss Mick McCarthy has turned the club around dramatically in just 18 months, laying down some solid foundations to build upon.

May still lack a little bit of quality in key areas, but the Suffolk club will look at Burnley's success last season and believe that spirit, organisation and hard-work can overcome star names and big budgets.

Key player: David McGoldrick scored 16 goals before a cruciate knee injury ended his season in mid-February. The former Southampton and Nottingham Forest man had fans off their seats.

Automatic promotion: Norwich, Derby.

Play-offs: Cardiff, Fulham, Wigan, Forest.

LEEDS UNITED Phil Hay (Yorkshire Post) Y TWO words - who knows? We've had multiple signings from abroad, none of whom have played in the Championship before, and we've got a head coach who is - with the greatest of respect to David Hockaday - an obscure name in Football League circles.

The big loss during the summer has been Ross McCormack - a striker worth 29 goals in 2013-14.

Key player: Marco Silvestri. Minus McCormack, goals are a concern but Leeds usually get it together at that end of the pitch. Silvestri is a goalkeeper signed from Chievo.

Automatic promotion: Fulham, Wigan.

Play-offs: Derby, Cardiff, Watford, Middlesbrough.

MIDDLESBROUGH Philip Tallentire (Middlesbrough Gazette) BORO will challenge at the top end of the table if they avoid serious injuries.

An ambitious summer re-build should result in Aitor Karanka being able to field a team that is tight at the back but potent in attack. Chairman Steve Gibson is backing his Spanish head coach to the hilt and top six is the minimum requirement. Key player: New signing Kike Garcia is the player Boro are banking on to fire them into the Premier League. Karanka chased his signature for six months before getting his man in a [euro]3.5m transfer from Spanish second division playoff losers Real Murcia.

Automatic promotion: Wigan, Middlesbrough. Play-offs: Brighton, Derby, Norwich, Wolves.

MILLWALL Toby Porter (South London Press) MILLWA ILLWA ILLW LL were unbeaten in their last eight games last season, rising from bottom of the table to stay up on the last day of the campaign.

Ian Holloway has not lost any of the most influential players from that run - loan striker Steve Morison, now back at Leeds, was joint top scorer for the year (with Martyn Woolford) but he did not hit the net in the last six weeks of the campaign. Key player: Lee Gregory is a goal poacher but needs a target man like Fuller - or someone similar - to give him something to feed on.

Automatic promotion: Derby, Forest.

Play-offs: Brighton, Fulham, Ipswich, Millwall.

NORWICH CITY Paddy Davitt (Eastern Daily Press) QPR managed to bounce back at the first attempt last season but the success of both Leicester and Burnley underlined the odds are against Norwich repeating the same feat.

Much depends on keeping their key men on the payroll beyond the end of the summer transfer window. Under no pressure to sell after three years of Premier League money, the likes of Leroy Fer, Nathan Redmond and Gary Hooper continue to be touted with exits.

Key player: Wes Hoolihan: One of the best players outside of the Premier League, will be looking to show his worth.

Automatic promotion: Fulham, Derby Play-offs: Norwich, Brighton, Wigan, Cardiff.

NOTTINGHAM FOREST Paul Taylor (Nottingham Post) FOREST have a change of manager, but no change in their ambitions.

The goal, under Stuart Pearce, is the same as the one that faced Billy Davies - to get the club back into the top flight. In truth, they are probably still two or three new signings away from being top-two contenders. Key player: Andy Reid. The Irish midfielder is, more than any other player in the side, the one player who can conjure something out of nothing. When he is at his best, normally Forest are too. Automatic promotion: Fulham, Wigan Play-offs: Norwich, Forest, Derby, Reading.

READING Charles Watts (Reading Post) THE expectations are low at Reading this season, the bold predictions of this time last year are long gone.

The ongoing ownership saga continues to leave the club in limbo, it's been over a year now since Nigel Adkins has been able to spend money on a player. With experienced stars like Adam Le Fondre and Jobi McAnuff leaving, a mid-table finish looks all they can hope for. Key player: Jem Karacan. Just named Royals' new captain, he missed almost all of last season with a ruptured cruciate ligament in his right knee. He was a huge miss. Automatic promotion: Cardiff, Norwich. Play-offs: Derby, Forest, Fulham, Middlesbrough.

ROTHERHAM UNITED Paul Rickett (Rotherham Advertiser) PROMOTED twice on the bounce under Steve Evans, Rotherham face a meaty challenge ahead, not only on the field but also on the financial front.

But Evans' relationship with chairman Tony Stewart, the lighting millionaire who galloped to the club's rescue five years ago, continues to flourish.

Key player: The Millers are clearly going to need a general in the ranks this season and skipper Craig Morgan is the man with that task. He'll lead by example. Automatic promotion: Cardiff, Wigan.

Play-offs: Derby, Reading, Blackburn, Forest.

SHEFFIELD WEDNESDAY Dominick Howson (Sheffield Star) THE delay in Hafiz Mammadov's takeover has seriously derailed Stuart Gray's bid to revamp his squad.

More than six weeks have passed since the Owls revealed Mammadov had agreed to become their new owner but the deal is still to be ratified.

Gray has so far recruited just two players, unless four to five more arrive a third successive bottom-half finish beckons.

Key player: Chris Maguire needs to weigh in with goals. He was quite often utilised in the wide positions last season but still managed to reach double figures.

Automatic promotion: Cardiff, Norwich. Play-offs: Derby, Wigan, Blackburn, Forest.

WATFORD Frank Smith (Watford Observer) W A W TF ATF A ORD have a squad to challenge for automatic promotion.

A large proportion of the team remain and they have recruited well in all areas of the pitch.

Key player: Matej Vydra will be vital. The 22-year-old burst on the scene during his first loan spell with Watford in 2012 and scored 18 goals before January was up.

Automatic promotion: Watford, Derby.

Play-offs: Wigan, Cardiff, Brighton, Ipswich.

WIGAN ATHLETIC Paul Kendrick (Wigan Observer) MUCH will be expected from the Latics in their first full season under boss Uwe Rosler.

If they avoid the kind of injury crisis that derailed their promotion bid towards the end of last term - and keep the vultures away from the likes of Maloney, McManaman and McArthur - Wigan should be there or thereabouts. Key player: Shaun Maloney. Proven Premier League performer and his absence for most of last season through injury was a huge blow. Automatic promotion: Derby, Wigan.

Play-offs: Norwich, Fulham, Forest, Cardiff.

WOLVES Tim Nash (Express and Star) WOLVES might be coming up from the league below but their aspirations are high.

Head coach Kenny Jackett says he is aiming for a second successive promotion after bringing in numerous players last season who he believes are ready for the second tier. Key player: Jackett has built a new style of play and defensive midfielder Kevin McDonald is key to it.

Automatic promotion: Derby, Brighton. Play-offs: Norwich, Fulham, Wolves, Ipswich.


Derby under |Steve McClaren and Uwe Rosler's Wigan are the top contenders for promotion according to the newspaper pundits, with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's Bluebirds also heavily tipped to bounce back at the first time of asking
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:South Wales Echo (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Aug 8, 2014
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