IN our next set of previews, Alex Grace picks out the sides he feels should be challenging for the top six.
Bristol City are always a side that are fancied to be in and around the play-off picture. They have a strong squad and have built well and added to it over recent years. Last season saw the Robins just miss out on a play-off berth, unlike in recent seasons their challenge did not fall away, and they were involved right up until the final day but lost out to Derby.
Lee Johnson is going into his fourth full season in charge at Ashton Gate and is the second longest serving manager in the Championship, after Lions boss Neil Harris. He has overseen steady improvement at Bristol City since his appointment and continues to show his ability as another bright young British manager.
The Robins have again recruited well. Tomas Kalas has joined the club on a permanent deal from Chelsea after spending last season loan at the club, while Jay Dasilva has also joined permanently from Stamford Bridge. The two combined join for around £10 million.
City have also signed Daniel Bentley from Brentford, a goalkeeper who has good experience at Championship level and one that has shown on a number of occasions that he can win his team a game or save them a point.
Famara Diédhiou and Marley Watkins will both be key to their challenge. Diédhiou found the net 13 times last season, including scoring the winner at The Den the last time these two sides met in April.
Promotion Odds [Sky Bet]: 11/2
Relegation Odds [Sky Bet]: 10/1
Millwall record vs Bristol City: Won 30, Drawn 31, Lost 35
Last meeting: Millwall 1-2 Bristol City – Championship, April 30, 2019
Ins: Tomas Kalas [£8.01m – Chelsea]; Jay Dasilva [£2.16m Chelsea]; Daniel Bentley [£1.98m – Brentford]; Rene Gilmartin [Free – Colchester]; Tommy Rowe [Free- Doncaster]; Sammie Szmodics [Free – Colchester]; Robbie Cundy [Undisclosed – Bath City]
Outs: Lloyd Kelly [£13.32m – Bournemouth]; Frank Fielding [Free – Millwall]; Stefan Marinovic [Free – Wellington P]; Joe Morrell [Loan – Lincoln]; Robbie Cundy [Loan- Exeter]; Mo Eisa [Undisclosed – Peterborough]; Max O’Leary [Loan – Shrewsbury]; Eros Pisano [Released]; Jay Dasilva [Chelsea – End of loan]
West Brom will once again be fancied to be in play-off contention. There was a big surprise in March when the club decided to sack Darren Moore despite sitting fourth in the division. They ended up finishing fourth but lost on penalties to Aston Villa in the play-off semi- finals.
Slaven Billic is the new man in charge and will be under pressure early on to make sure the Baggies are challenging at the right end of the league table. Failure to be in that top six come Christmas could see the Croatian under pressure.
There have been some key departures this summer. Salomon Rondon, who spent last season on loan at Newcastle, has moved to China. Craig Dawson has left to join Premier League side Watford.
Perhaps the biggest loss of all is Jay Rodriguez. The English striker has re-joined former club Burnley. He scored 22 goals last season and was a big part of the side that made it to the play-offs.
With Dwight Gayle also having returned to Newcastle that’s 45 goals scored by the pair last season. That’s a big loss.
Although the acquisition of Kenneth Zohore from Cardiff looks a good one, I feel they are still a little bit short up front, meaning their midfield will need to step up and contribute with goals if they are to reach the top six. Zohore scored nine goals when he was last in the Championship with Cardiff in the 2017-18 season.
The pressure will be on Hal Robson-Kanu and Matt Phillips to produce the goods. Robson-Kanu is someone who we know can score goals and provide that cutting edge. We all saw it when he was part of the Wales side that went on that magical run to the semi-finals of Euro 2016.
Promotion Odds [Sky Bet]: 10/3
Relegation Odds: [Sky Bet]: 18/1
Millwall record vs West Brom: Won 17, Drawn 9, Lost 14
Last Meeting: Millwall 2-0 West Brom – Championship, April 6, 2019
Ins: Kenneth Zohore [£8.01m – Cardiff]; Semi Ajayi [£1.49m – Rotherham]; Filip Krovinovicn [Loan – Benfica]; Alex Palmer [End of loan – Plymouth]; Oliver Burke [End of loan-Celtic]; Allan Nyom [End of loan – CD Leganés]
Outs: Salomón Rondón [£16.44m -DL Yifang]; Craig Dawson [£5.49m – Watfordf]; Jay Rodriguez [£5m – Burnley]; Kyle Howkins [Free – Newport]; Alex Palmer [Loan – Plymouth]; Wes Hoolahan, James Morrison, Gareth Barry, Tyrone Mears, Boaz Myhill [All Released]; Jefferson Montero [Swansea – End of loan]; Dwight Gayle [Newcastle – End of loan]
Preston have been the nearly men for the last couple of seasons. A seventh-place finish in 2017-18 saw them miss out on a place in the top six by just two points. Last season their challenge fell away in the last few weeks of the season as they went on to finish in 14th. They are a side who I feel can cause lot of the bigger boys some problems.
In Alex Neil they have a manager who has experience at this level and who has won promotion from this league during his time in charge at Norwich. Neil has built a good squad over the last two years and I feel that this season they have what it takes to make a charge towards that top six and make life very unsettling for those who travel to Deepdale.
Preston are yet to spend a single penny in this window but have acquired some very good free transfers. David Nugent joining from Derby is a fantastic deal for the club. Nugent has played at this level for a number of years. At 34 he is in the twilight years of his career, but he is still not someone you want to see coming off the bench for the final 20-25. He has the ability to change a game very quickly.
The arrival of Patrick Bauer looks a very good deal for the Deepdale club. Bauer is a defender who reads the game very well and he will cause problems from set-pieces. He scored the winning goal for Charlton against Sunderland at Wembley back in May to secure the Addicks’ promotion to the Championship.
Keeping hold of their players is what is going to be key for Neil and Preston. The departure of Callum Robinson to Sheffield United is a big blow but they will be able to re-invest that money.
Promotion Odds [Sky Bet]: 8/1
Relegation Odds: [Sky Bet]: 7/1
Millwall record vs Preston: Won 28, Drawn 11, Lost 26
Last Meeting: Millwall 1-3 Preston – Championship February 23, 2019
Ins: David Nugent [Free-Derby]; Patrick Bauer [Free – Charlton]; Kevin O’Connor [Cork – End of loan]; Marnick Vermijl [MVV Maastricht – End of loan]
Outs: Callum Robinson [£7.02m – Sheffield United]; Andy Boyle [Free – Dundalk]; Michael Howard [Free – Morecambe]; Marnick Vermijl [Free-MVV Maastricht]; Chris Maxwell [Free – Hibernian]; Tommy Spurr, Ben Pringle, Tom Stead [All released]
It was a season of disappointment at the Riverside as Boro failed to make it into the play-offs. Tony Pulis’ side finished in seventh place, a point outside the top six. It was a big underachievement after the money they spent the previous summer.
That failure cost Pulis his job and he left the club at the end of the season when his contract came to an end. He became very unpopular with the fans due to his defensive style of play. The dull football along with a lack of goals sealed the Welshman’s fate.
They have taken another risk in the managerial department this summer by appointing former defender Jonathan Woodgate. It looks a risk as Woodgate has no experience as a manager, but I do think given the time and the money to build the team he wants then he will be a success.
However, it has been a rather quiet summer so far in terms of arrivals. In fact there has been just one incoming so far, goalkeeper Tomás Mejás has joined from Omonia Nikosia on a free transfer. They have lost Aden Flint who has joined Cardiff, he only joined Boro from Bristol City last summer but failed to hit the ground running.
The only concern I have for the Teesside club is the fact they currently have squad of just 17 players. For them to be able to reach the top six they are going to have to bring in a number of players over the final few weeks of this window so that they have a competitive squad.
Promotion Odds [Sky Bet]: 9/2
Relegation Odds: [Sky Bet]: 14/1
Millwall record vs Middlesbrough: Won 19, Drawn 13, Lost 23
Last Meeting: Middlesbrough 1-1 Millwall – Championship 19th January 2019
Ins: Tomás Mejìas [Free – Omonia Nikosia].
Outs: Aden Flint [£4.01m – Cardiff]; Martin Braithwaite [£5m – CD Leganés]
John Obi Mikel [Free – Trabzonspor]; Stewart Downing [Free- Blackburn]; Dimitrios Konstantopoulos, Andy Lonergan [Both Released].
It seems as if every single season we are writing about Nottingham Forest as contenders for promotion or the play-offs. Last season was when I thought Forest would live up to their pre-season promotion contenders tag under Aitor Karanka.
Karanka was very well liked by the Forest faithful and many were sad to see him leave at the start of 2019. Martin O’Neil came in to replace him but he was replaced this summer.
Sabri Lamouchi comes into the City Ground as an unknown quantity. The Frenchman arrives having not managed in England before and comes into a club that expect to be in and around the top six. The pressure will be on early and the Frenchman will know job security is not something that is a given at Forest.
The Tricky Trees have had new blood come into the club this summer and in my opinion have made two very good signings.
Albert Adomah is a very smart recruit. He is experienced at Championship level and has been involved in promotion campaigns with both Middlesbrough and Aston Villa. He is a player who could work well with the current crop by passing on his experience. He is still someone who can offer a lot at this level. He made 39 appearances for Villa last season including all three play-off games as Dean Smith’s side secured promotion at Wembley by beating Derby.
Sammy Ameobi is a talent and, on his day, can tear a team apart. We didn’t get to see too much of that at Bolton last season due to the situation at the club.
These two players add to some very good talent already at the City Ground with the likes of Joe Lolley and Lewis Grabban.
Promotion Odds [Sky Bet]: 13/2
Relegation Odds: [Sky Bet]: 9/1
Millwall record vs Nottingham Forest: Won 26, Drawn 21, Lost 22
Last Meeting: Millwall 1-0 Nottingham Forest – Championship, December 29, 2018
Ins: Albert Adomah [Free – Aston Villa]; Arijanet Murić [Loan – Manchester City]; Sammy Ameobi [Free – Bolton]; Alfa Semedo [Loan – Benfica]; Tiago Silva [Undsiclosed- Feirense]; Yuri Ribeiro [Undisclosed – Benfica]; Panagiotis Tachtsidis [End of loan – Leece]; Apostolos Vellios [End of loan – Waasl.-Beveren]
Outs: Panagiotis Tachtsidis [£450k – Leece]; Stephen Henderson [Free -Crystal Palace]; Apostolos Vellios [Free – Atromitos Athen]; Jorge Grant [Undisclosed – Lincoln]; El Arbi Hillel Soudani [Undisclosed – Olympiacos]; Karim Ansarifard [Undisclosed – Al Sailya]; Pelé [End of loan – Monaco]; Saidy Janko [End of loan – Porto]; Diogo Gonçalves [End of loan – Benfica]; Molla Wagué [End of loan – Udinese]
Image: Millwall FC