Big Kick-Off: Why Championship top six is just too tough to call – David Prutton

Wily campaigner: Young Leeds United coach Thomas Christiansen will have to be wary of wily old campaigners like ex-Whites boss Neil Warnock, above right.
Wily campaigner: Young Leeds United coach Thomas Christiansen will have to be wary of wily old campaigners like ex-Whites boss Neil Warnock, above right.
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There’s a tendency to say that the Championship gets stronger with every passing season but unpredictable is the word I’d use this year.

If you asked me to name the clubs who have a chance of the play-offs I’d list 12 or more and I’d defy anyone to pick the top six accurately.

Mick McCarthy: Ipswich Towns Big Mick can still school the new crop of sexy young foreign managers when he wants to.

Mick McCarthy: Ipswich Towns Big Mick can still school the new crop of sexy young foreign managers when he wants to.

The division is a hugely open field, helped by the fact that many Premier League clubs come into it in a bit of a state these days. Traditionally you assumed that the three relegated clubs would lead the way but the statistics don’t back that theory up.

Once again, Hull City look to be in transition and Sunderland are a bit of a mess. Parachute payments and last season’s income won’t be too much of an advantage for them.

At the other end of the scale are Middlesbrough who, let’s be fair, have been speculating to accumulate throughout the summer. They’ve thrown so much money at their squad and the cynic in you might say that the spending has come six or 12 months too late, but that level of investment has been done for a reason. Boro want to go up and go up as champions.

Unlike last season, Garry Monk can’t play the ‘we’re a developing side’ card if results go wrong. For him it’s pretty much win or bust.

So will Leeds make the top six? I’m inclined to ask why the hell not? But you could as easily make an argument for six other clubs beating them to it.

David Prutton

The same can’t be said of Leeds United but Leeds will find a higher level of expectation around Elland Road this season. Monk was clever at casting his side as plucky underdogs and it was only in the latter stages of last term that the thought of missing out on the play-offs began to feel like a major failure. This time, with Thomas Christiansen as head coach, they’ll be expected to compete. They’ll be expected to be in the mix. And even if this does end up being another year of building, Leeds need to finish inside the top six to paint the picture of a club making progress.

The bottom line is that they got to 75 points last season despite a bad start and an awful finish. They got to that mark despite the fact that the recruitment in Monk’s pre-season was less concerted and organised than it has been this summer.

Leeds have gambled to an extent on Christiansen and some of the players they’ve brought in from abroad, but there’s obviously a plan under Andrea Radrizzani and it certainly looks as if the club have hit a lot of the targets they identified at the start of the summer.

Defensively the squad looks light but there’s time to address that yet and there doesn’t seem much doubt that another centre-back will come in. There’s also a lot of pressure on Chris Wood to score goals again but I reckon he crossed a bit of a threshold in terms of confidence and finishing last season and I’d back him to do well again.

YEP columnist and Sky Sports pundit David Prutton

YEP columnist and Sky Sports pundit David Prutton

So will Leeds make the top six? I’m inclined to ask why the hell not? But you could as easily make an argument for six other clubs beating them to it.

As for Christiansen, he’s stepping up a level at Elland Road but, as I said at the time of him arriving, I’m open-minded about what people would once have called off-the-wall appointments.

What last season did, with Huddersfield going up and Reading making the play-off final, was to redress the perception of the conventional approach. Promotion isn’t always dependent on experience or reputation or money.

Promotion is what happens when a plan comes together. More and more clubs seem to be thinking like that.

I read Christiansen’s interview in the YEP last month and the most interesting bit was him saying that he wouldn’t be here if he didn’t think he could do the job; that if he came here with no confidence, the job would eat him.

It’s fair to question how well he’ll adapt but wrong to think of him as wet behind the ears. The club’s confidence in him has been shown by the fact that they’ve thrown a good amount of money at their squad and entrusted Christiansen with it.

He is, when you look at it closely, part of a growing breed in the Championship; the ‘sexy’ crop of younger coaches who are coming up against the wily old campaigners like Steve Bruce, Mick McCarthy and Neil Warnock.

You’ll see days when the fresh approach pays off. You’ll also see days where Big Mick schools the whippersnappers in the way that he does so well.

The only prediction I’ll make is that no-one will blow the division out of the water this season.

No-one will destroy the league. And when it winds up in May, there’ll be more surprises.

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