Rangers already ahead of game as rivals look to close gap

Harry Redknapp

Harry Redknapp

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Danny Mills: The Championship was Europe’s most competitive league last season. Here, the former Leeds defender eyes the runners and riders in 2013/14.

BARNSLEY

Danny’s verdict: “They did amazingly well to stay up last season. There was a time when most of us thought they had gone. But we’ll be talking about Barnsley in the same terms this year and if they finish 21st then I think they’d call it a success. Staying in the Championship has to be their aim. They’ve let a few experienced players go but their signings interest me. A bit of thought has gone into them and Dale Jennings coming from Bayern Munich is the most intriguing of the lot.”

BIRMINGHAM

Danny’s verdict: “You wonder how they’ll cope without the players they’ve lost. Nathan Redmond is a really talented kid and Ravel Morrison’s gone back to West Ham. Curtis Davies will be missed too. But Lee Clark’s a good coach and I don’t see them getting into trouble while he’s there. Whatever the situation at Birmingham, St Andrews is always a difficult ground to go to and they’ll pick up plenty of points there. They’ve got mid-table written all over them.”

BLACKBURN

Danny’s verdict: “I don’t like saying this but Gary Bowyer has to be one of the favourites to lose his job first. That’s no slight on him, it’s just a reflection of the fact that the job at Blackburn looks nigh-on impossible. Some of the decisions taken by their board are worse than ludicrous and the trouble with Blackburn is that you never quite know what’s coming next. Jordan Rhodes will be their shining light, but the squad as a whole is limited and at the best they’re heading for a season of consolidation I feel.”

BLACKPOOL

Danny’s verdict: “At the moment I’m not convinced that Blackpool can put a decent team out. There’s been some clear-out this summer and not a great deal coming in. They’ve kept Tom Ince but I honestly doubt that he’ll be there at the end of August, and without him there’s little else to cling to. As for Paul Ince, he still hasn’t proven that he’s a great manager or a great coach. I’m expecting them to find the going tough.”

BOLTON

Danny’s verdict: “Last season was bizarre for Dougie Freedman. He left Palace, who went on to win promotion, and finished just outside the play-offs with Bolton. I wonder if he regrets his choice. Bolton are a sensible, stable club and they’ve put some money behind their manager in the past few weeks. There’s experience throughout the whole squad. They’ve got a shout of the play-offs, but I reckon the teams coming down to be better than them, so automatic promotion? Not in my opinion.”

BOURNEMOUTH

Danny’s verdict: “In their defence, they’ve got a manager – Eddie Howe – who seems to be in his element at Bournemouth, plus a squad who are used to winning. Signing Ian Harte was a good move too. I know he’ll help the dressing room. On the negative side, they’ve got a ground with a 10,000 capacity and presumably a pretty small budget. They’ll be doing well if they’re not in or around the bottom three.”

BRIGHTON

Danny’s verdict: “It’s all been a bit strange at Brighton. From what I could gather Gus Poyet had just about everything he could have asked for down there and I’d love to know what his problem was. If he was still in charge then I’d be pessimistic about Brighton. You often see clubs who lose in the play-offs fail to get it together the following season. But with a new manager and a decent set of players, they’ll go close to the top six again.”

BURNLEY

Danny’s verdict: “I’m a big friend of Mike Tomlinson’s and, as a Burnley fan, he won’t like me being negative but the picture at Turf Moor looks pretty bleak. For me, everything rests on Charlie Austin but there’s every chance that someone will buy him before the transfer window closes. Yes, there are issues with his fitness but he’s got to be worth a gamble. And if he goes you really have to ask what that leaves behind.”

CHARLTON

Danny’s verdict: “Charlton went through a few hard years and, as one of my old clubs, it’s nice to see them looking stable again. Chris Powell’s a good bloke and he’s clearly got the measure of Charlton and their budget. He’s got his head screwed on too. Ninth last season was a great achievement and I’m backing them to go top 10 again. Just don’t expect too much.”

DERBY

Danny’s verdict: “Derby are what they are – a well-run club with a decent fanbase who seem quite happy with mid-table finishes year after year. I get the impression that they’re just a realistic bunch who know that County perhaps aren’t big enough to expect Premier League football year after year. They’ve got a decent style about them, as you’d expect from Nigel Clough, and they’ll be 12th or thereabouts.”

DONCASTER

Danny’s verdict: “An unknown quantity. I say that because there’s a lot of talk of Irish investment coming to Doncaster. Players like Shay Given have been linked with them. If that happens and Doncaster suddenly find themselves with money to spend then they could be the surprise package of the Championship. Look at what happened at Watford last season. On the other hand, if a stack of cash doesn’t materialise then they’ll be down the bottom end, surely.”

HUDDERSFIELD

Danny’s verdict: “Another former team-mate of mine here, which probably says something about my age. I played with Mark Robins at Norwich. He’s an ambitious bloke and he knows what he’s doing, but I suspect that Huddersfield will get lost in the huge glut of like-for-like clubs sitting between sixth and 20th. They’ll stay up though, no question of that.”

IPSWICH

Danny’s verdict: “One of the real threats in my view. Their form under Mick McCarthy last season was excellent and he’s the perfect manager for this league. He doesn’t have set ideas about formations or anything like that. He takes the players he’s got and finds the right way for them to play – and more often than not he gets it spot on. Some of the stick he’s had is laughable. Look out for them in the play-offs.”

LEEDS utd

Danny’s verdict: “Thirteenth last season was disappointing but an awful lot has changed at Elland Road. A bit like Mick McCarthy, Brian McDermott is the key. It’s all about the manager. He’s definitely got the ability to get it right and something tells me he will. The squad’s not perfect, but it’s not terrible either and a few more players would lift them up a level. Leeds need to start well but I’m optimistic.”

LEICESTER

Danny’s verdict: “What Leicester prove is that money is only a blessing if you get your signings right. I rate Nigel Pearson as a Championship manager and as much as people thought he’d be sacked after losing in the play-offs last season, I do like to see a club giving their boss an extended chance. That said, if it doesn’t work for him this time around then I don’t see him surviving. And I don’t feel particularly confident about Leicester getting into the top six again.”

MIDDLESBROUGH

Danny’s verdict: “I’m a little surprised that Tony Mowbray’s still in the job at Boro. Twice in two seasons his team have been in great shape at Christmas before bombing completely and if I was in the boardroom then I’d be asking serious questions. The thing about Mowbray is that when it works for him it works really well so if they’re consistently good then they’ll be a threat. I just don’t know how you could possibly predict that.”

MILLWALL

Danny’s verdict: “Dark horses? Maybe. Put it this way – between Easter, Bywater, Morison, Martin, Chaplow, Bailey and McDonald, they’ll be forking out a fair amount of money. I don’t think Steve Lomas could complain about having an uncompetitive wage bill. He’s new to the league so we’ll see how he goes, but Millwall should kick on.”

NOTTM FOREST

Danny’s verdict: “My heart says yes, Forest are usually there, but my head says no for some reason. I don’t really know why. Billy Davies has his passion and his routine but will it come good for him again? And is the squad considerably better than it was in May? They’re a wait-and-see club.”

QPR

Danny’s verdict: “They’re favourites in two respects. Favourites for the title and favourites for a calamity. If it’s going to go spectacularly wrong somewhere this season then Loftus Road’s the place. But their best signing by far was bringing Steve McClaren in as first-team coach. I’m not sold on him as a manager, but in a coaching capacity he’s absolutely first-rate. It’s a masterstroke by Harry Redknapp and they might well top the Championship because of it.”

READING

Danny’s verdict: “I can’t explain why they dumped Brian McDermott for Nigel Adkins. It was nothing more than swapping like for like. Anyway, most of their key players are still on board and they’ve probably had the most settled summer of any of the sides who’ve come down. They’ll be strong, they’ll be organised and they’ve got a boss who’s done it before. I don’t think they’ll finish top two – but they won’t be far away either.”

SHEFFIELD WEDNESDAY

Danny’s verdict: “Sheffield Wednesday are like Leeds – a big club with loads of tradition and, frankly, wasted in the Championship. I’d love to see both teams back in the Premier League. But Wednesday seem to have permanent money issues and they’re a bit of a nothing force on paper. They were 18th last season and probably 18th this, even though I’d like to be more positive about them.”

wATFORD

Danny’s verdict: “The Football League has closed the loophole on loans but Watford simply found another way to raid Udinese. Some people thought last season was a flash-in-the-pan for them but I don’t agree. They’ll learn from it and benefit from the experience. The play-off final was maybe one big game too many for players who weren’t used to the pressure. They choked in the end. But Zola’s a clever guy and he’ll get them going again.”

WIGAN

Danny’s verdict: “It remains to be seen if Owen Coyle’s a good fit for Wigan but he’s not short of the players he needs. Grant Holt is the pick of their signings and he’ll probably score 25 goals. Any side with a 25-goal striker in it is going to be close to promotion. Coyle’s style of football was better at Burnley than it was at Bolton and if he sticks to the former, they deserve to be very short odds to go up.”

YEOVIL

Danny’s verdict: “A small club with a small ground entering uncharted territory. I love seeing clubs punch above their weight, but what is there to suggest that they can avoid the drop over 46 games? I see a very long, hard season coming for them and they’ll deserve medals if they’re still a Championship side come the of the season in 10 months time.”

Andrea Radrizzani.

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