2017/18 Championship Previews: C-L

Following on from VAVEL UK's first set of Championship previews this piece looks at the teams ranging from the letters C to L with the season kicking off in just under two weeks.

So let's take a look at how Cardiff City, Derby County, Fulham, Hull City, Ipswich Town and Leeds United may fare this time around having experienced a mixture of play-off heartbreak and mid-table mediocrity last season.

How did they perform in 2016/17?

Cardiff City

The Bluebirds got off to a disappointing start last time around, losing seven and winning just two of their opening 11 games which led to the sacking of manager Paul Trollope on October 4. Trollope was succeeded by the experienced Neil Warnock and Cardiff's form improved exponentially from the moment of his appointment onwards, with the highlight arguably coming during January and February where the Welsh side secured away wins at Derby County and Leeds United and lost just three games in 11.

Finishing 12th come the end of the season represented a job well done for Warnock, who took over from Trollope as the Bluebirds sat 23rd in the table with only the league's whipping boys Rotherham beneath them. Summer signing Kenneth Zohore netted 12 goals in 29 league appearances despite only playing 123 minutes of football in the first half of the season, while Cardiff ever-present Peter Whittingham remained an important figure in the squad with seven goals and eight assists to his name.

Derby County

Despite hoping that the 2016/17 season would finally see them reach the play-offs, a poor start saw the Rams sack Nigel Pearson after just under two months of the season following a initial suspension. Former Derby boss Steve McClaren took over for his second spell with the club and lost just once across October and December as the club entered the new year one point outside the play-offs.

Their fortunes took a turn for the worse in 2017 as they won only three in 13 before parting ways with McClaren, replacing him with newly sacked Birmingham City boss Gary Rowett. Rowett lost just twice in nine games as manager, securing four wins as he guided Derby to ninth place with their play-off hopes already long gone thanks to McClaren's barren run. Tom Ince enjoyed a standout season, scoring 14 goals and grabbing eight assists from the wing while Darren Bent also hit double figures as he netted 10 goals for the Rams.


Slaviša Jokanović's side were one of the most interesting teams to watch last season thanks to their maddenning inconsistency throughout the entire campaign. Fulham did the double over league winners Newcastle and recorded thumping 5-0 and 4-1 wins over play-off winners Huddersfield Town, yet succumbed to a humbling 4-0 home defeat at the hands of struggling Bristol City in addition to losing at home to QPR, Birmingham City and Wolves throughout the season.

Tom Cairney, Chris Martin and Stefan Johansen all hit double figures in terms of goals, while Sone Aluko and Cairney recorded 12 and 11 assists for the season respectively as Fulham remained an exciting team to watch going forward. Their sixth placed finish saw them reach the play-off semi-final and they were arguably the favourites for promotion following their impressive run of five wins from their final six games. They failed to find a way past Jaap Stam's disciplined Reading side however and were dumped out of the play-offs 2-1 on aggregate, leaving them to spend another season in the second-tier.

Hull City - by Chris Lincoln (full preview here)

Hull's 2016/17 season consisted of more drama than a spell on Coronation Street as rollercoaster runs of form, regular manager changes and supporter unrest plagued a tough return to the top flight.

Despite guiding the Tigers back into the Premier League, Steve Bruce resigned before he could lead his team into their opening match after falling out with the board over transfers.

Yet Mike Phelan led a small squad to victory over defending champions Leicester City in the season curtain-raiser as a positive spell of results unfolded. However, Sir Alex Ferguson's former assistant could not extend the run for long as Hull slipped towards the bottom of the table with Premier League victories became irregular commodities.

Phelan was relieved of his duties at the turn of the year and aspirational Portugese manager Marco Silva was brought in for the rest of the season. As Phelan's summer signings struggled to make an impact, Silva recruited wisely and an upturn in results followed. 19 points from a possible 21 at home gave Hull a strong chance of survival.

Embroiled in a head-to-head with Swansea City for the last survival spot, Hull suffered a dramatic defeat to already relegated Sunderland that took survival out of their own hands. A demoralising 4-0 defeat to Crystal Palace confirmed their downfall before Spurs put seven past a beleaguered Tigers outfit on the final day of the season.

Ipswich Town

The Tractor Boys spent much of last season lounging around in the bottom half of the Championship, and while never really coming close to the threat of relegation they also never came close to putting a run together in order to push up the table. Mick McCarthy guided the club to a 16th placed finish following the loss of talisman Daryl Murphy to Newcastle, and a lack of bite up top was clear to see as the club were outscored by teams such as relegated Blackburn Rovers and newly promoted Burton Albion.

Youngster Tom Lawrence was one of the club's top performers last season, scoring nine goals with 11 assists to his name over the course of 34 appearances.

Leeds United - by Luke Williamson (full preview here)

Under the stewardship of former Swansea boss Garry Monk, Leeds spent much of the campaign trading places inside the play-offs only to go on a poor run of form towards the end of the season that ultimately cost them their chance at securing a Premier League return. The Whites were defeated by Wolves and Burton Albion in consecutive matchdays and finished up the season with draws against Norwich City and relegated Wigan Athletic to ensure they would spend an eighth consecutive season in the second tier.

Striker Chris Wood finished the season on an impressive 27 league goals, while at the back loan signing Pontus Jansson was one of the division's top centre-backs, earning himself a permanent transfer ahead of this season. Monk's departure over a poor contract offer soured things somewhat, although former APOEL boss Thomas Christiansen has arrived to steady the ship and set the club on course for the Premier League.

Fulham were unable to go all the way in the play-offs last season.

A successful transfer window?

Cardiff City

The Bluebirds may not have broken the bank during the summer window, but that doesn't mean they have failed to add to their ranks. Bristol City's versatile midfielder Lee Tomlin has made the move to Wales for just under £3m and can chip in with a few goals from the centre of the park, while Rotherham duo Danny Ward and Lee Camp have also joined Warnock's side during the window with Ward in particular looking a solid acquisition thanks to last season's 11 goal tally in a shockingly poor Rotherham side.

Although the three alongside a group of free transfers, including Hearts full-back Callum Paterson, may not be signings who set the world alight they do add depth to a squad that is largely looking to have a season of stability with the play-offs most likely out of their reach for the time being. A Premier League return will have to wait for the Bluebirds, but under Warnock the club should be safe from the threat of relegation this season.

Derby County

Derby's biggest news during the summer window has been in terms of outgoings rather than incoming players unfortunately for Rams fans. Highly rated midfielder Will Hughes and last season's top scorer Ince have left for Premier League sides Watford and newly promoted Huddersfield Town for fees of just under £8m each.

The two will be difficult men to replace, and thus far Rowett has acquired experienced pair Tom Huddlestone and Curtis Davies from Hull City and the two will slot straight into the starting eleven in central midfield and defence respectively. Right-back Andre Wisdom, who spent the 2013/14 season on loan at Pride Park, joins the club permanently from Liverpool and will look to fill the hole left by Cyrus Christie who joined Middlesbrough recently.

Under Rowett's leadership fans will be hopeful that they can reach the play-offs this season, as they attempt to return to the Premier League after what will be ten consecutive seasons in the Championship following the infamous 11-point season in the top-flight. Despite losing the influential Hughes and Ince, the Rams still have an experienced goalscorer in Bent while the added steel of Huddlestone and Davies should serve them well this season.


Jokanović has added Belgian midfielder Ibrahima Cissé and Spanish centre-back Marcelo Djaló to his squad so fair in the summer window, but the club's most important signings have been the renewals of both Cairney and Ryan Sessegnon's contracts. The pair were two of Fulham's standout players last season and both penned new deals this summer despite interest from Premier League clubs such as Tottenham, Liverpool and Newcastle United.

Sessegnon in particular has plenty of room to grow at just 17 years of age and his renewal shows that he believes Fulham are ready to push on and return to the Premier League, which will almost certainly be their aim this season after coming so close last time around.

Hull City - by Chris Lincoln (full preview here)

Despite their best efforts the Tigers were unable to retain the services of Silva, and have since replaced him with former Russia boss Leonid Slutsky. The club have sold several players during the summer window with Davies, Huddlestone, Andrew Robertson, Harry Maguire, Eldin Jakupovic, Ahmed Elmohamady and Josh Tymon all moving on to pastures new.

Liverpool's Kevin Stewart has been the biggest buy of Hull's summer costing around £4m, although that could rise to £7.5m due to add ons in the deal. Former Tigers forward Fraizer Campbell has also returned to Humberside and offers pace and a non-stop work ethic up front, qualities which can't be overlooked in the Championship. Slustsky will be aiming to finish in the play-off places at least this season, and Hull stand a good chance of returning to the top-flight at the first time of asking if they hold on to their key players.

Ipswich Town

In an attempt to rectify the attacking problems of last season, McCarthy secured the signature of Rangers forward Joe Garner ahead of the upcoming season. Garner scored 25 in 37 for Preston during their League One promotion season, although he only found the net six times the following season in the Championship before heading off to Scotland.

Midfielder Tom Adeyemi has also joined on a free transfer from Cardiff to bolster McCarthy's options in the centre of the park, but it is hard to see anything but a season of struggle ahead for the Tractor Boys. If the club are not careful, they could well find themselves in a relegation battle come the back end of the season especially following the loss of influential centre-back Christophe Berra to Hearts.

Leeds United - by Luke Williamson (full preview here)

Mateusz Klich was first to sign for Christiansen, signing a three year deal after joining from FC Twente for an undisclosed fee. Next came Werder Bremen goalkeeper Felix Wiedwald, also signing a three year deal.

Christiansen continued his busy July with the signing of midfielders Vurnon Anita from Newcastle and Samuel Sáiz from SD Huesca. Next to come was striker Caleb Ekuban from Chievo Verona for an undisclosed fee. Despite having played in the preliminary rounds of the Europa League, the 23 year old will likely play back up to Wood this season, unless Christiansen looks to play two up front.

Another forward, Ezgjan Alioski, signed from FC Lugano, before defender Giuseppe Bellusci agreed to terminate the defender’s contract 12 months early, which the club followed up by signing Matthew Pennington from Everton on a season long loan. Goalkeeper Marco Silvestri then left the club for Hellas Verona in Serie A for an undisclosed fee.

Following several seasons of earning an unwanted name as the Championship's resident play-off bottlers, the Whites are looking to finally make their return to the Premier League under new management and although automatic promotion may be out of their reach, a play-off place is the least that fans expect.

Christiansen leads a new look Leeds United this season.

Players to look out for

Cardiff City - Danny Ward

Having spent last season plugging away up top for a pitiful Rotherham side and managing to score just over a quarter of the club's league goals in the Championship, Ward arrives in Cardiff hoping to build on a successful season personally. At 26 years of age the former Huddersfield Town striker is approaching the prime of his career and could form an impressive partnership with Zohore in attack should Warnock opt to go with a two striker formation. His £1.5m fee may not have made him a marquee signing for the club but it shows Warnock can make shrewd acquisitions on a tight budget, as Ward provides a goal threat for a reasonable price.

Derby County - Matěj Vydra

Although the Czech international may not have lived up to his club record £8m fee last season, he is still the man who helped fire Watford to the play-offs in the 2012/13 season with a 20 goal tally not to mention an additional eight assists. The 25-year-old experienced a large amount of upheaval in the managerial area last season with the club going through three managers across 46 games, which will have done nothing to help stabilise the team in terms of playing style. Now playign under Rowett, Vydra has a chance to get back to his best and with the loss of Ince he could well be the one his team-mates look to for those all important goals this season.

Fulham - Tom Cairney

The Scottish midfielder was undoubtedly one of Fulham's top performers last season and the fact they have tied him down to a new four-year contract despite a reported £20m bid from newly promoted Newcastle is a statement of intent in itself. His 12 goals and 11 assists from attacking midfield last season proved vital in the club's promotion push and he will need to be on top of his game once again if they are to go one further and secure a Premier League return. The 26-year-old will be looking to prove that he is no one-season wonder and should he and his team-mates iron out last season's inconsistencies then fans could be looking at the man to fire the club back to the big time.

Hull City - Sam Clucas - by Chris Lincoln (full preview here)

Midfielder Clucas enjoyed a breakthrough season in the Premier League and acquitted himself well against some of the best players on the planet. Capable of playing out wide, in the engine room or behind a lone striker, Clucas' passing ability presents a key role for the 26-year old next season as his side look to return to the top-flight at the first time of asking.

Ipswich Town - Tom Lawrence

Lawrence enjoyed a successful season last time around and his side will need him to build upon that if they are to avoid being dragged into trouble this season. The 23-year-old is the man who holds the key in the Ipswich side, and if new signing Garner is to succeed up top he needs the man behind him to provide the right service.

Leeds United - Samu Sáiz - by Luke Williamson (full preview here)

New signing Sáiz arrives from Spanish second division side SD Huesca with a point to prove after a career of hopping from club to club in Spain. Players don't begin their career with Real Madrid unless they have something about them, and some stability could be just what the 26-year-old needs to thrive. Recording 12 goals and eight assists last season, Sáiz will take some of the goalscoring burden off last season's top scorer Wood, who scored almost half of the club's goals in the Championship.

Clucas impressed in Hull's midfield despite their relegation from the Premier League.

Young players to look out for

Cardiff City - Kenneth Zohore

The Danish striker showed a glimpse of what he can do last season despite being frozen out of the squad for the early part of the campaign, so will now be looking to build upon those performances and get a full season of Championship football under his belt. After spending several years hopping between different clubs on loan Zohore seems to found a place to stay in Wales, and at just 23 years of age the former Fiorentina man still has his best years ahead of him. The addition of Rotherham man Ward will either provide competition or a new strike partner for Zohore, which either way could prove to be a boost to his form this season.

Derby County - Andre Wisdom

The last time this former Liverpool full-back got a full season of football under his belt was during his loan spell with Derby as he made 37 appearances during the 2013/14 season. Now back in Derbyshire but this time on a permanent basis, Wisdom will be looking to prove his worth in a team that hopes to return to the top-flight this season. Having just turned 24 in May he still has best years ahead of him as long as he remains committed, and at a price of £2m potentially rising to £4m the right-back is an affordable home-grown talent who can help Derby remain a defensively solid team as they were last season.

Fulham - Ryan Sessegnon

Having just turned 17 in May, Sessegnon spent much of last season playing a pivotal role in Fulham's promotion push aged just 16. Last season's performances saw Tottenham and Liverpool reportedly interested in acquiring his services this season, but his decision to remain with Fulham shows a level-headedness that not all players his age possess. Sessegnon is adept at playing both as a left-back and a left-midfielder and scored seven goals across all competitions last season, in addition to five assists. A career at the top level awaits the youngster and Fulham won't be able to hold on to him forever, but they can fend off the big boys for a little longer if they secure promotion this season.

Hull City - Kevin Stewart - by Chris Lincoln (full preview here)

Midfielder Stewart made nine appearances for Liverpool last season but has been snapped up for a fee that could rise to £7.5 million, and after spending time on the fringes with the Premier League's big clubs he will now be looking to prove himself in the second tier in a side that hopes to return to the big time. Isaac Hayden showed last season for Newcastle what a Championship move can do for a young midfielder, and Stewart would do well to follow the blueprint laid out by the former Arsenal man this season.

Ipswich Town - Bersant Celina

The 20-year-old attacking midfielder joined on loan from Premier League side Manchester City earlier in the transfer window, and will be looking to prove himself in the Championship in order to put his name on the map. Saying that his loan spell with Eredivisie side FC Twente last season helped him "manage playing first team football in front of a big crowd", Celina arrives at Portman Road with a 30,000 seater stadium to raise to its feet and could prove to be a shrewd acquisition in attack as long as he has the right work ethic.

Leeds United - Matthew Pennington - by Luke Williamson (full preview here)

Signed on loan from Everton during the summer window, the 22-year-old centre-back could thrive under the guidance of Jansson should the two form a partnership this season. Pennington knows a place in the team is not guaranteed, saying that he will "look for a chance and when it comes I’ll look to take it".

The England U19 international has made nine appearances thus far for the Merseysiders, and has spent time on loan in League One with Tranmere Rovers, Coventry City and Wallsall in past seasons. Acclimatising to life in the Championship could be just what this young defender needs to make the crucial next step in his career.

Could Pennington kick-start his career on loan at Leeds this season?