Had we done this Championship season preview a few hours ago, we’d sit here and tell you how Rafa Benitez and Newcastle are the clear favorites to win the league and make a straight return to Premier League play.
Oh, how things change in a few hours.
Fulham – last season’s defensive punchlines – took down a frail looking Newcastle 1-0 at Craven Cottage. Here are three things you need to know from this match: Newcastle did not put on a title-winning performance, looking shaky at the back; Fulham, on the other hand, looks a completely revitalized squad with a host of solid signings; and one of those new additions, Denis Odoi, completed this utterly ridiculous bit of skill, sending Paul Dummett to the woodshed:
Nevertheless, the Magpies remain the clear favorite in the league, with Rafa Benitez one of two Champions League-winning managers in the English second tier. The other is Roberto Di Matteo, the new Aston Villa manager charged with bringing them back to the Premier League with a much more underwhelming squad than Newcastle boasts. Di Matteo does have the chance to deploy a bright, shiny new toy up front in experienced Championship striker Ross McCormack, signed from Fulham on Thursday for a healthy sum of cash.
There are plenty of contenders for those promotion spots, however, and as always in the Championship, it’s a long, slog of a season to keep the favorites honest. Reading finished 17th last season, and replaced Brian McDermott with former Champions League winning player in Jaap Stam, handing the 44-year-old his first managerial job. Fulham is another side to keep an eye on, who finished 20th last year with a miserable defensive record, but despite the loss of leading scorer McCormack, as displayed in their victory over Benitez and Newcastle, they’ve made a host of smart signings and look to be a solid side under the management of former Chelsea midfielder Slavisa Jokanovic.
Derby County is another contender, having found themselves just barely on the wrong side of promotion yet again last year. Under the wing of Nigel Pearson – the man who brought Leicester City to the Premier League – they’ll give it another go. QPR is always a team to look out for, although they were uncharacteristically quiet this summer. Brighton Hove & Albion missed out on promotion last season on goal differential, and after succeeding in fending off interest in some of their best players this summer, they look ready to go, plus the addition of experienced midfielder Steve Sidwell.
The grinding nature of life in the Championship has begun again – with a shocking result already upon us on opening day – and it promises to be a wild ride as always, with everything on the line.