How tough will the Championship be next season? As tough as it always is, that’s for sure. It’s a hard slog every year and you rarely get a campaign where the standard drops so much that promotion is on a plate.
Look at the three sides who came down from the Premier League in 2013 – Reading, QPR and Wigan Athletic. Reading missed out on the play-offs and Wigan failed to get through them. QPR were very lucky in the end and got out of jail at Wembley.
When teams like that with parachute payments are pushed to the wire, you know you’re in a competitive league. So Leeds United’s fixtures are the same as usual – a marathon which will test the club severely. Millwall away is not a particularly straightforward start but what would have been the ideal first game?
A home fixture, everyone says, but we got turned over badly by a few teams at Elland Road last season. The players struggled in the atmosphere and often look more free and comfortable on the road.
The trick with the Championship is not to second-guess. My first instinct would be to say that December is a horrible month – Ipswich, Forest and Derby away, Fulham and Wigan at home – but things change as the season goes on.
Wigan, unexpectedly, were as poor as any team who came to Elland Road last season, largely because they had no manager. Ipswich away was a match we won. The best thing you can do is to take the campaign week by week and keep the points ticking over. There’s no predicting when exactly things will go right or wrong.
Next season we’ll be up against a bundle of clubs with parachute payments; as many as 10, or so I’ve read. It’s a fact that parachute payments are a big advantage to the teams who benefit from them and massive disadvantage to those who don’t. It’s an unfair system if you ask me and we’re in danger of creating a two-tier structure in the Championship.
There’s no doubt at all that dropping down from the Premier League with players on Premier League wages is a major problem, and the parachute payments clearly help with that.
But I’m watching Cardiff City sign all sorts of players at the moment and wondering whether they really need any assistance to keep themselves competitive.
We all know that at Elland Road, finances are very tight. There’s been a lot of cost-cutting since Massimo Cellino took over and I think he’s understood for a while that he’s got a massive job on his hands.
Now that the fixtures are here, it really focuses the mind on the biggest job at hand – getting ready for the start of the new season.
The move for Dave Hockaday as head coach has surprised a lot of people and I must say I don’t know much about him but it was vital to have someone in place before pre-season training begins next Thursday.
The last thing you want is players turning up for the first day with no idea about who’s in charge or what’s going to happen.
We suffered a serious loss of confidence towards the end of last season and it’s vital in my eyes that it’s restored before we kick off at Millwall on August 9.
We seem to say this before every season but as a club we’re crying out for a year in the Championship which gives us hope and makes us think that something positive is building at Elland Road. We’ve had too many lost seasons with too many unsettling moments – and I’m desperate to avoid another.
So, for me, the priority is less about who we play on the first day and more about how well-prepared the club are when the first day arrives.