Relegated trio have cash to go straight back

CHRIS LAKEY CHRIS LAKEY assesses the runners and riders for this season’s Coca-Cola Championship race


The summer is over - let the games begin! The Championship - the division that makes or breaks dreams - returns this weekend and, once again, it's a case of perm one from around a dozen as far as prediction go.

Managers around the Championship regularly tell us how difficult it is, how almost everyone has an argument for being in the top six come May next year.

In truth it will, once again, boil down to money. Those who have it are flaunting it. Those who haven't are left to look on with envy, trying to make the best of their glad rags but knowing that it will take a minor miracle to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear.

While Sheffield United, Charlton and Watford will be devastated by their loss of Premiership status, recent history suggests they won't be long in the Championship.

The parachute cash has created a trampoline effect, where those that go down have an advantage when it comes to going back up.

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Last season's top two, Sunderland and Birmingham, with that happy landing cash in their back pockets, had one-year stints in the Championship before going straight back up. Had Derby not beaten West Brom in the play-off final to join them at the top table, then all three promoted clubs would have been returning at the first attempt.

Which is all very well if you've wiped the tears of relegation away from your eyes in the last year or two. But for clubs like Norwich, whose payments have dried up, the scramble to get back becomes ever more difficult. And no amount of piffling "helping hand" payments from the Premier League is going to change that.

Peter Grant has to make do: he may not have had to sell players this summer, but the fact that two of his top ones went for a total of £5m has arguably helped his cause rather than weakened it. In non-parachute years, it's a case of sell one for a million, bring in two for the same price.

So, from the top, let's look at the relegated trio. While the extra cash is welcome, three managers have the task of resurrecting the fortunes of teams who have suffered a massive hit in coming down from the top flight. Watford weren't ready for the Premiership, but Adie Boothroyd will see that as a lesson learned. He has Marlon King back in attack, although he has just lost the influential Hameur Bouazza to Fulham.

Charlton's miserable season got worse and worse, the club couldn't cope and Alan Pardew arrived just a little too late to save them. Although he has lost Darren Bent to Spurs, Pardew knows the routine and still has a good squad.

The Blades lost Neil Warnock and brought in Bryan Robson - and are still mighty peeved at the way West Ham stayed up and they went down. Robson has brought in Billy Sharp and James Beattie for good money - but his own qualifications are questionable.

Waiting in the wing to buck the trend are bitter rivals Wolves and West Brom, who met in last year's play-off semis. Wolves didn't show that day, but Mick McCarthy has added Freddy Eastwood to his squad and jettisoned a few highly-paid under-achievers. McCarthy will make a team of Wolves and they'll be close - and he has the benefit of a healthy budget thanks to Steve Morgan's takeover.

Baggies' boss Tony Mowbray has promised good, attacking football - but has lost two of the best exponents in Diomansy Kamara and Jason Koumas. The bookies like them, but it will be more difficult for them this time around.

The bookies also like Southampton, but they have lost Gareth Bale and Chris Baird for good money - money which is needed to top up the coffers. Should George Burley need reinforcements, the cash may not be forthcoming.

Burley has pedigree in getting teams into the play-offs - although not necessarily getting them promotion.

Elsewhere the picture begins to look a little unclear, with the likes of Preston, Leicester, Stoke, Sheffield Wednesday, Norwich, Plymouth - and more - in the "bubbling under" category.

Some have money, some think they have money, some just haven't. The turnover of players at some clubs means that unless their manager has got it spot on, it might take a while for new players to gel.

Martin Allen has brought in just about a new squad at Leicester, while at City Peter Grant has added eight new faces - and there could be more.

Grant starts with a clean slate - and will be expected to produce. The parachute money has gone so he has had to keep a close eye on the purse strings. Julien Brellier looks a good buy, and you shouldn't really have to ask for more than bringing in last season's league top scorer, Jamie Cureton.

Okay, Earnshaw, Etuhu and Safri have gone, but you expected the first, the second wouldn't have troubled too many fans and the third was inevitable.

Cardiff, Stoke and Burnley all threatened to carry the dark horses' tag last season and somewhere from the middling group will emerge a front-runner - but can they last the pace? And who will it be? There are plenty of choices: a quick count shows a dozen middling clubs lagging behind a challenging pack of, say, five.

Newcomers Bristol City could be a surprise package: they've a few bob - Lee Trundle didn't come cheaply from Swansea - and a big supporter base behind them, but Scunthorpe might struggle, especially without Sharp.

Blackpool showed Norwich last season they could play a bit. In Keigan Parker and Wes Hoolihan they have quality - and they will need it.

Expect Colchester to struggle after losing so many players, as well as Hull and QPR, although Barnsley might keep their heads above water.