The new Sky Bet Championship campaign kicks off just a week on Saturday but with ranging times of preparation due to the late end of the 2019/20 season in the second tier, have the promoted sides used their time wisely to prepare for the big season ahead?
For the 18 teams that competed in the Championship last year, they have had just a month and a half to prepare for the new campaign that’s now just around the corner – after an enthralling end to a dramatic season in July.
The regular Sky Bet League One campaign never restarted after the COVID-19 break and the season was concluded on a points-per-game basis, meaning champions Coventry City and fellow automatic promotion side Rotherham United haven’t played competitive league football since March.
The play-offs were the only thing left to be concluded in the third tier and Gareth Ainsworth’s Wycombe Wanderers were on hand to win their first-ever promotion to the Championship, with Joe Jacobson’s penalty being the difference in a 2-1 win at the expense of Oxford United.
The Sky Blues make a welcomed return to the Championship, after an eight-year absence following their relegation in 2012. It has been a rollercoaster for the Coventry faithful who’ve had to endure several off-the-field issues under unpopular owners – SISU.
City have had several players depart the club over the summer but no notable first-team names that hamper the squad and they’ve also added to their ranks, adding further quality in many areas of the pitch.
Mark Robins’ side have secured seven signings thus far, three of which being youngsters from different Premier League outfits.
Callum O’Hare is one of those names and he’ll be keen to kick on from his tally last year at the club, where he scored four goals and notched seven assists. The 22-year-old enjoyed a successful loan spell in 2019/20 and didn’t hesitate in signing a permanent deal with the Sky Blues when his contract with parent club Aston Villa ran out this summer.
Ryan Giles in another face that returns this season, but on another loan spell. Coventry fans will be keen to see more of the left midfielder this season after very limited game time due to the halt in play, following his loan from Wolverhampton Wanderers in the January transfer window.
Giles is just 20-years-old and will be keen to impress both Robins and Nuno Espirito Santo in the Wolves camp this season. It’s a great opportunity for the youngster to shine in a strong, physical and demanding Championship season.
Shipping goals following promotion to a higher division is always a big worry for clubs, but Coventry have delved into the market for defensive improvements with the loan signing of Brighton & Hove Albion centre-back Leo Ostigard and Ligue 2 right-back Julien Da Costa.
Ostigard was unlikely to feature whatsoever this season given Brighton’s summer recruitment and the return of Ben White – who impressed in Leeds United’s promotion side, so this move looks a good one for both parties.
After impressing for Chamois Niortais in the second division of France, Da Costa has been spoken highly of by manager Robins as a versatile player across the backline, which could be important for City should they rack up a number of defensive injuries. He was the second summer addition and joined the club on a free transfer.
Gustavo Hamer is likely to be the most exciting addition in the opinion of the supporters so far. The central midfielder has made 50 appearances in the Dutch top-flight (Eredivisie) with a combined goal and assist return of 11 across them matches. The 23-year-old has age on his side, with plenty of time to grow as a player and the Sky Blues will be hopeful of a good return from the £1.35 million fee they spent.
However, Coventry’s likening of the European market didn’t stop there, as the captured the signing of Paderborn winger Marcel Hilssner. Hilssner is the oldest of the current summer signings, but at just 25, the recruitment has been heavily focused on youthful players.
Tyler Walker is the most recent signing of the bunch and an important one at that. Coventry fans have been calling out for a striker addition all summer to bolster their options in the final third and Walker was the man brought in. The 23-year-old has spent 14 years at Nottingham Forest, but since signing his first professional contract in 2015, he’s been loaned out on six occasions. Walker’s recent loan spells with Mansfield Town and Lincoln City were both impressive, scoring 36 goals across two seasons.
The Millers are certainly a lot more familiar with the Championship than their promotion rivals in recent years, but they’ll be hopeful for a change in fortunes. They’ve spent four of the last six seasons in the second tier but a 21st placed finish on two occasions was the highest they managed to muster.
Rotherham have been very risk-free with their business so far this window in preparation for life in the Championship once again, bringing in three names that have second-tier experience under their belt.
Angus MacDonald is the first of those names, signing from relegated Hull City. MacDonald had a tough time last campaign in a leaky Tigers defence, but manager Paul Warne will be hoping he can improve their defensive line and use last season’s relegation as a learning curve in his career.
The addition of Wes Harding from Birmingham City also adds versatility across the backline. The 23-year-old is naturally a right-back that can offer the Millers bags of pace, but he can also be a reliable figure in the centre of defence should injury problems mount.
Jamal Blackman has also signed for Rotherham and will be hopeful for a big season in between the sticks for the Millers. Blackman is now 26-years-old but is yet to appear for Premier League giants Chelsea and the 6ft 6in stopper will be keen to tie down consistent game time this campaign, after making just 10 appearances over his last three loan moves.
Kieran Sadlier looks a very astute signing for the Millers, from their Yorkshire rivals Doncaster Rovers. The left midfielder scored 11 times and provided six assists in League One last campaign and would have been a welcomed addition into many Championship sides, but it was Rotherham who snatched his signature. A fantastic free transfer!
Mickel Miller is the final piece of business to note so far and comes in as a slight unknown but he adds to their attacking options and once again joins on a free transfer. For years players have made the switch from the Scottish Premiership to the Championship with varying success, but Warne will be hopeful Miller will add to the list of successful additions that help them fight for survival.
The Chairboys are the side that come up with seemingly the most work to do. It has been rare to see a prediction or opinion so far that has Wycombe surviving the drop this year, for a number of factors.
Many have said the style of football that Wycombe play and that was successful last year, will be exposed in the Championship and have little success. As well as that, the unpredictable promotion last season sets Wycombe up for their first-ever season in the second tier, leaving them with work to do in the transfer window.
Wanderers have currently made six additions and you’d assume that Ainsworth will need to delve into the market a lot more between now and the closing of the window, to ensure Wycombe have the best chance possible of survival.
Giles Phillips was the first summer arrival, joining the club permanently from QPR on a free transfer, following his loan spell last season. Phillips made 11 appearances for the Chairboys last campaign and he’ll be hopeful that he can cement a solid partnership alongside fellow new centre-back signing Ryan Tafazolli.
Tafazolli has played a lot of football in both the third and fourth-tier in his career so far and made the step up to play Championship football for the first time last summer, joining Hull City. His second season of football is with the Championship’s favourites to be relegated but ensuring he doesn’t suffer back to back relegation’s as a player will be top of his priorities.
Jason McCarthy is another familiar face around Adams Park. The right-back now joins the club permanently for the second time in his career. The 24-year-olds first spell at the club was in the 15/16 season on loan, before joining in the summer of 2018 for a season and leaving for Championship Millwall. However, after being out of favour he joined the Chairboys on loan in January and recently made it permanent once again for their debut Championship campaign.
Young shot-stopper Curtis Anderson was left without a club at the end of August, following his release from American outfit – Charlotte Independence. At just 19, it’s an exciting move for Anderson and he offers further competition for the number one spot.
Wycombe’s remaining two pieces of business join from the Scottish Premiership. The first was Hearts centre forward Uche Ikpeazu, who despite not having Championship experience has plenty in the English leagues, playing for a host of different clubs.
Daryl Horgan will be remembered by some from his time spent at Preston North End, but he’s most recently played his football for Hibernian. The Irish international will come into the squad ready and raring to go after already making five appearances this season in Scotland, where league football has already resumed.
Coventry – The Sky Blues have made some smart signings and given their scintillating form at the end of last season, that may well serve them well heading into this campaign. It will still be a tough season for Coventry, but they should have enough to steer clear of the drop and they currently out of the three promoted sides look the most prepared.
Rotherham – Despite knowing the demand of the division, it has thrown up very little success for the Millers in recent years. Some smart signings have been made and Rotherham may well surprise a few, however, a relegation battle is likely to be on the cards and that could well go to the wire.
Wycombe – A season of struggle looks likely for the Chairboys who have no experience playing at this level. Strength in depth across positions is what looks the most worrying for Ainsworth’s side, however, after defying the odds last season while being tipped for relegation, this Wycombe squad certainly knows how to prove the doubters wrong.