Every year, hundreds of predictions are made about the football season ahead. Promotion and relegation candidates are pored over, and it's all a bit pointless because you have no idea what a team will perform like until they step onto the pitch.
Being a cautious type, I always refuse to predict future finishing positions until a quarter of the season has gone, because it is only by then that the lay of the footballing land becomes clearer. All this month, I will be running a series of predictive blogs for each of the top four football leagues, continuing with the Championship.
Writing this at around half 11 on Wednesday night, Newcastle have just gone top of the Championship with a 2-0 win at Barnsley. Managed by Rafa Benitez, their squad included double goalscorer Dwight Gayle, along with Jonjo Shelvey, Matt Ritchie and Mo Diame, as well as Jack Colback, Christian Atsu and £15m striker Aleksander Mitrovic on the bench.
This raw power of resources is why everyone pre-season tipped Newcastle for promotion as champions, and after a shaky start it is beginning to look as if they were right. The Toon Army are clearly too big for this division, and given time and money Benitez looks to have put together a team more than capable of returning to the top flight.
Picking the side to accompany the Magpies into the Premier League for next season is a trickier task. Norwich would be the obvious choice, but Brighton have been impressive in the way they have bounced back from coming so close to automatic promotion last season, and being humiliated by Sheffield Wednesday in the play-offs.
Chris Hughton is one of the best managers outside the top-flight; mistreated at Newcastle, he almost got Birmingham promoted on old pieces of string, then did the job with Norwich. Things may have ended badly in Norfolk, but he has rebuilt his reputation, and kept together a squad big on ambition and low on primadonnas. And Brighton's stadium is crying out for Premier League football.
Speaking of Birmingham, I tipped them for promotion last season, and though a late season nosedive made me look the fool then, I'm backing Gary Rowett for a second time, on this occasion via the play-offs. Again low on household names but high on gumption, the second city needs a top flight club that isn't West Brom.
At the bottom, after two seasons of teeth-skin survival, Rotherham are looking shakier than ever in a division pumped with cash. Conceding 32 goals in your first 13 games is never a good sign - at this rate Lee Camp could be picking the ball out of his net 100 times by May, and that is a relegation rate.
Also getting relegated are Blackburn, whose malaise under poor ownership looks to be leading them closer to a Coventry-esque plughole, and Barnsley, who after such a fiery start are doing the opposite of last campaign and falling with an irreversible air. Expect Paul Heckingbottom to be in the Prem and third favourite for the England job next season then.
More:Quarter Season Predictions Championship Newcastle United Brighton And Hove Albion Birmingham City
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