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In Focus: The contenders looking for promotion to the Premier League
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Matthew Storey
LiveScore
Vincent Kompany and Burnley will be looking for promotion back to the Premier League at the first time of asking
Vincent Kompany and Burnley will be looking for promotion back to the Premier League at the first time of asking

The Championship returns on Friday night as Huddersfield entertain Burnley in English football’s curtain-raiser.

Gone are the days when the second tier was the most unpredictable league in the world but it will still throw up plenty of surprises over the next 10 months.

The likes of Watford and Norwich will be among the favourites to go straight back up, yet there are plenty of big clubs with similar ambitions.

We run the rule over the runners and riders in the Championship promotion race.

The parachute regiment

Burnley, Norwich and Watford will all expect to challenge at the top right away, such is the current gap between the Premier League and Championship.

Now led by Vincent Kompany, the Clarets have lost Nick Pope, Ben Mee, Dwight McNeil and James Tarkowski, while Maxwel Cornet could be on the move.

But the likes of Ashley Westwood and Josh Brownhill are top-flight quality and will be aided by some exciting summer signings, including Scott Twine and a trio of Manchester City academy products.

It has been all change at Watford as well, with the Hornets appointing Forest Green boss Rob Edwards, 39, as their head coach.

Much of the squad who got them promoted two years ago remain, including Ismaila Sarr and Joao Pedro, who could rip up the second tier.

Norwich have gone down another route, making only a couple of signings and keeping the same core in place.

Dean Smith will hope to replicate Daniel Farke’s success from their past two seasons at this level.

The challengers

Reda Khadra will look to shine for Sheffield United after an impressive loan spell at Blackburn
Reda Khadra will look to shine for Sheffield United after an impressive loan spell at Blackburn

Sheffield United suffered play-off semi-final heartbreak last term, yet look well equipped to challenge again under Paul Heckingbottom.

After Heckingbottom, 45, took over from Slavisa Jokanovic in November, the Blades had one of the best records in the division.

The loss of loanee Morgan Gibbs-White will hurt but they will hope that new loan rangers Tommy Doyle, Reda Khadra and Ciaran Clark take them to the next level.

Ex-Blades boss Chris Wilder was named Middlesbrough chief in November and quickly turned around their fortunes.

City keeper Zack Steffen and Wolves wing-back Ryan Giles have already arrived and if Boro can bring in a proven Championship striker, they look well set to crash the relegated clubs’ parties.

West Brom complete this trio and need a vast upturn in form after a miserable 2021-22 campaign saw them finish 10th in the league.

Two of the Championship's best creators have arrived in Jed Wallace and John Swift — Steve Bruce knows they need a fast start or his job could be in trouble.

Best of the rest

If Viktor Gyokeres and Callum O'Hare remain at Coventry they will be a force to be reckoned with
If Viktor Gyokeres and Callum O'Hare remain at Coventry they will be a force to be reckoned with

As Huddersfield and Luton proved last year, anyone can reach the play-offs with good management.

While the Hatters look well set to punch above their weight again, the loss of boss Carlos Corberan and a number of key players mean it is tough to see Huddersfield doing the same.

Millwall have threatened to make the step from strong mid-table side to play-off contenders in recent seasons and look to have replaced Wallace wisely.

Coventry continue to improve under Mark Robins and will fancy their chances of gatecrashing the top six.

It has been a miserable few years for Stoke and despite bringing in Dwight Gayle and a couple of strong loanees in Gavin Kilkenny and Will Smallbone, the jury remains out on whether Michael O’Neill is the best man for the job.

Two other exciting teams to keep an eye on are Swansea and Hull. If the Swans can perfect Russell Martin’s possession-heavy style, it will be incredibly effective.

Hull, on the other hand, have made some of the most eye-catching signings of the window, including snapping up Jean Micheal Seri from last year’s champions Fulham.

Tags

ChampionshipBurnleyWatfordNorwich CitySheffield UnitedMiddlesbroughWest Bromwich
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