As has so often been proven, making pre-season predictions about league football is the most certain way for a journalist, blogger or pundit to make an absolute fool of themselves. Placing your words and reputation on the line before a ball has been kicked is, in 90% of cases, a true recipe for disaster.
It is far more sensible to take a step back, wait for the dust of the first few weeks to settle, before rolling up the sleeves and delving into the tricky task of calling what the score will be come May. A bit cowardly, but sensible. At least that's what I thought.
In fact, across the three tiers of the Football League, it is almost harder to make a call on promotion, play-offs and relegation than it was back in the summer. In the case of the Championship, at the time of writing the top eight are separated by two points, the top 14 by six. This situation won't last, but it is mesmerising while it lasts, as more than half the division are seduced by that most dangerous but seductive of traps, which will let down all but three in 35 games time - that thing called hope.
But who will be celebrating promotion? Usually the relegated sides are the safe option, and had I written this in August, I would most likely have predicted that Wigan, Fulham and Norwich would all be challenging for the top six, all in the top ten, and at least one returning to the promised land of grotesque amounts of TV money.
However, only the latter of this statement counts. Fulham's strikingly abysmal start, mired in undercooked players, pathetic mismanagement and cheese-related medicine, may look to be being reversed, but only to the extent of mid-table obscurity, along with Cardiff, who may finally achieve some much needed sanity by appointing the able Russell Slade as manager, but no more than that.
Norwich City, on the other hand, have adjusted extremely well from the drop back down. Neil Adams has proved the perfect pair of safe hands (although how long he would survive in the Prem is another matter), and they've retained a lot of quality in keeper John Ruddy (despite a couple of dodgy moments thus far), Johnson and Howson in midfield, and look to have added a ready supply of goals in Cameron Jerome and Lewis Grabban. They look champion material to me.
As for second place, there are a few pretenders - Watford have started well despite great managerial upheaval, but I have doubts about their long term sustainability under Billy McKinlay. The same with Nottingham Forest - Stuart Pearce has started well, but he did the same with Man City and the England U21s, and neither ended well. I can't predict Boro, because as a fan that would appear biased, and will also jinx them (I won't be hopeful again...).
I'm going to stick a pin in Wolves for automatic promotion. Norwich and Southampton have proved that momentum really can carry you up from League One to the top table, and they have a good all-round squad, a superb fanbase, and a boss in Kenny Jackett who has been long overdue a shot at the big time. It'll go down to the last day, but I think a most extraordinary five years at Molineux will have a happy ending.
The play-off winner? Oh, I'm going to be churlish and back Middlesbrough for it. Come on, we've been playing superb attacking football with a wealth of options, and the best defensive record in the league so far, Karanka may have finally solved the Riverside conundrum. Or I may have cursed him forever. I hope not.Suggest a correction