Connect in the back of the net

You only need to look into the recent past to see the struggles teams face in the Championship after they got relegated.

Fulham, Cardiff and QPR have all been in the Premier League in the last five seasons, and have since languished in the lower half of the nation’s second division.

However, as the teams get richer coming down into the division (with parachute payments increasing), how will the next set of relegated sides fare?

 

Middlesbrough

Their failure in the Premier League was down to one thing; Goals. A stable defensive record and an admirable amount of clean sheets was an odd accompaniment to a 19th finish.

This summer they’ve looked to correct such a drought, mainly through the singing of Britt Assombalonga from Nottingham Forest. £15M is a commanding fee for someone who has suffered much injury blight in the last couple of years, but 30 goals in 65 games for Forest is a good explanation for why such money was spent.

The signings of Martin Braithwaite and the young Ashley Fletcher lessen the burden on Assombalonga, but undoubtedly if they are to be successful he must be their 20-goal-a-season man.

Whilst they’ve strengthened up top, the singing of Jonny Howson from Norwich (for £4M) is one that will make fans and pundits alike take notice. His consistency and experience at this level is invaluable, whilst his career goal record of 52 in 400 isn’t a bad one for a central midfielder.

However, signings aside, the appointment of Garry Monk is the most valuable piece of business Boro have done. Just missing out on the play-offs last term, Monk did an incredible job with a Leeds side no-one expected to be near the top 6.

His record in the Premier League with Swansea is certainly nothing to be scoffed at. With a point to prove to his old chairman, a year of learning the division with Leeds and a good budget to work with; Monk must be relishing the coming season.

Aside from changes the club have made since relegation, another plus point for them is what they’ve kept the same. The likes of Gibson, Downing, Stuani and Friend are all part of the squad that got them up in the first place, and are still there.

Burnley have shown how stability can be as important as buying good players, with their current squad still largely the squad Dyche initially got them into the Premier League with three years ago.

Boro seem the best placed of the three to go straight back up. With the manager and the signings they’ve made (along with a good squad base) one would expect them to fighting out for automatic promotion.

Prediction: 1st

 

Sunderland

The loss of Defoe is clearly the biggest negative for Sunderland over the summer, though largely an expected one.

His record of 34 in 87 for the club is remarkable given their position of recent years in the Premier League. To add salt to their wounds he was lost without any financial recuperation on his transfer from Toronto, although his departure will have freed up significant wages.

Another loss, although some would argue it’s not a “loss”, is David Moyes. Opinion divided amongst Sunderland fans whether he would have succeeded in rebuilding them, his managerial stock seems so low now that perhaps Grayson is a better appointment.

A proven track record in recent years, over-performing with his young home-grown Preston side bodes well for the academy graduates Sunderland boast. Whether or not he can rebuild Sunderland largely depends on the owners’ resolve and commitment to a period of transition.

If any Sunderland fans expect immediate promotion perhaps they should quell their lust.

Aiden McGeady the marquee signing, a player Grayson knows well, isn’t exactly the sort of player you’d jump around for when the club announce it on social media. Undoubtedly a decent player, playing for Everton, Spartak Moscow and Ireland, but one perhaps past his best.

The signing of James Vaughan, another player Grayson has managed before, has been captured fresh from scoring 24 goals for Bury last term (albeit in League 1) presumably to fill Defoe’s boots. While a couple of young Everton loanees is nothing to write home about either.

However, one should respect that this is what Grayson did at Preston, and it worked. Granted, Sunderland have had somewhat of an exodus at the Stadium of Light, with 10 first team players permanently leaving from last years squad, but a necessary exodus nonetheless.

Their spine of Pickford, Kirchhoff and Defoe have all left, recouping a healthy net £25M from their business this summer (mostly from Pickford joining Everton for £30M).

Sunderland bouncing back seems unlikely, given the huge turnaround and lack of investment into the squad, but Grayson’s recent success cannot be ignored, and a host of young players coming through the ranks could propel them up the division.

Stranger things have happened in the Championship than Sunderland’s immediate promotion.

Prediction: 12th

 

Hull

Whilst Boro’s biggest plus of the summer was getting Monk, the Tigers’ biggest negative was losing Silva.

Arguably if he had managed them from the start of the Premier league campaign they would have survived; he proved himself to be a natural fit for English football. However, he sought the cream of English football as much as Hull did, so when Watford came calling it was a complete no-brainer for the ex-Porto man.

Instead Hull have now got Leonard Slutski, an ex Russian National team manager. He comes in to the season with no experience of English football, but I suppose neither did Silva so that issue could go amiss in Hull.

Whilst undoubtedly an experienced manager internationally, we have seen many managers from outside the country come in and fail in the Championship, even if they are successful elsewhere.

Paulo Sousa, once of Swansea and QPR, failed in this league but is now managing the biggest club in Switzerland in FC Basel. An odd appointment by the mercurial Assem Allam.

Nothing really to get excited about for their incomings.

Only a young CDM by the name of Kevin Stewart, with Premier League potential from Liverpool, catches the eye when looking at their business. Fraizer Campbell has been acquired for nothing from Palace, though his best years, namely at Hull, seem long gone having solely made sub/cup appearances in recent years.

More troubling than a lack of incomings is an excess of outgoings. 14 players lost this summer already, notably Maguire and Robertson who have sought Champions League pedigree clubs in Leicester and Liverpool.

Only 6 players added would suggest their business isn’t done yet, but optimism might well be leaving the fan’s hearts as they head into this new season.

Whilst many expect Sunderland to struggle, no-one seems to include Hull in that bracket, yet their summers have been remarkably similar. Squads that has been taken apart and not yet put back together again.

I do not mean to suggest that Hull will trouble the trap door, but their business this summer does not fill any confidence that they will be challenging Boro for those automatic spots.

There are many better placed teams in the league to do that this season than Hull City.

Prediction: 10th

 

Written by Dominic Mehlig

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