Middlesbrough were relegated from the Premier League last season, and despite looking competitive for much of the campaign, they ended up a full 12 points from safety once the final curtain had fallen. The north-east club were a Premier League regular between 1992 and 2009, but have spent their time since struggling to regain and retain their place at the top table.
Boro chairman Steve Gibson – known as one of the best in the business – has snapped up a promising young manager in Garry Monk to lead the club over the course of next season. Monk has already established himself as one of the country’s leading new managers, and with the stability and budget of Middlesbrough behind him, this could be a very promising year.
As ever the Championship will be described as one of the hardest leagues in the world, and it’s hard to argue with that point of view when you look at some of the massive clubs that are battling to get out of the second tier. Newcastle and Rafa Benitez bounced back at the first time of asking last season, eventually winning the Championship title by a point from Chris Hughton’s Brighton. The Seagulls will be enjoying their first taste of the top flight since 1983, and play off winners Huddersfield the first taste of the top division since 1972.
That leaves some big clubs battling it out for three promotion positions this time around, including the likes of Aston Villa, Sunderland, Norwich, Hull, Sheffield Wednesday, Fulham, Leeds, Derby and QPR. All of these teams either have huge fan bases or recent experience in the Premier League, and it’s going to be another gruelling 46-game season to earn promotion.
The bookmakers are split over who to make favourite for the trophy at this stage, with different firms opting for one of Aston Villa, Norwich or Middlesbrough.
The Villains will expect to have a much better season this time around under Steve Bruce, after the former Hull manager took up the post midway through last season. The effect he had certainly appeared to steady the ship, and while away form has been a long-term problem for Villa, there was plenty to suggest Bruce has reorganised the club and brought much-needed stability. The Birmingham-based club are available at a general +800 if they take you fancy. A good deal may also depend on transfer business over the summer for Villa, and there have been reports that there may not be a big budget after heavy spending failed to earn promotion last season.
Norwich may be in a better position, and the Norfolk club can also be backed at around +800 . On a similar footing to Middlesbrough, the Canaries have always run a tight ship and are not in any immediate financial trouble. They finished a full ten points out of the play off positions last term after relegation the previous season, and the hierarchy decided to part company with Alex Neil. New manager Daniel Farke is the former coach of Borussia Dortmund’s reserve side, and he has made positive comparisons between the German club and the Canaries. With a good deal of quality in their squad and the budget to buy new players, Norwich are fancied to have a very good season.
The likes of Fulham, Sheffield Wednesday, Derby, Hull and Sunderland come next in the betting, and while all have chances, all have reasons for doubt too. David Moyes resigned as Sunderland boss after a torrid season, and Aberdeen manager Derek McInnes has been in talks for the job. The club has already agreed the £30 million sale of goalkeeper Jordan Pickford, and the rumours about lack of money persisted throughout last season. A squad filled with journeymen and dead wood may take more than a season to reshape.
Fulham were unlucky to lose out in the play offs after a great run this season, and they may go well again without troubling the top two spots. Hull are another club in the position of selling players rather than building a squad for this level, and there’s a fair bit of instability around the Tigers too. Sheffield Wednesday and Derby will also be competitive, but whether they have the strength in depth to challenge for the title is open to question.
Steve Gibson has been Boro chairman since 1994, and he is widely regarded as a ‘model’ football club supremo. Garry Monk pointed out that the lure of stability is what drew him to the north east, and he should have financial support as well as the support of all involved with the club. It will be a welcome change for the former Swansea boss, who did an excellent job at Leeds last season. The Yorkshire club have been in disarray for several years, but Monk managed to galvanise the squad and came very close to landing a place in last year’s play offs.
With a squad that is packed with top quality Championship players and a smattering of Premier League quality, Boro are sure to have a good crack at winning promotion at the first time of asking. The parachute payments awarded to clubs that get relegated are a massive boon to a club in Middlesbrough’s position, and the fact that it is such a stable club means that they will be able to hold onto a core of players and add some extra quality as Monk sees fit.
Middlesbrough to win the Championship