The new Championship season is almost upon us, with Huddersfield Town and Burnley kicking off the 2022/23 campaign with an exciting War of the Roses clash at the John Smith’s Stadium on Friday, July 29th.
Norwich City and Watford, both relegated from the Premier League last season, are tipped for a return to the top flight via the two automatic promotion places, but the Championship is a notoriously difficult division to predict and often the most unexpected sides can throw a spanner in the mix.
So, with that in mind, read on as we take a look at five teams who could prove to be dark horses in this upcoming season.
Queens Park Rangers
There should be a lot of excitement around Loftus Road ahead of the new season as Queens Park Rangers (QPR) appointed Michael Beale — arguably one of the most exciting coaches in world football — as Mark Warburton’s successor earlier this summer.
The 41-year-old started his coaching career within the youth ranks at Liverpool before moving to São Paulo, but he has really made a name for himself as a key member in Steven Gerrard’s coaching staff at both Rangers and Aston Villa.
Beale hasn’t exactly been given the resources to build on the squad, but defenders Jake Clarke-Salter and Kenneth Paal have been brought in from Chelsea and Zwolle for free, while Tyler Roberts has been loaned in from Leeds. They should put up a good fight for the play-offs.
It’s hard to call Luton Town dark horses after they upset the football betting odds so drastically last season, but the reality is that given their minimal transfer budget and wage expenditure, the expectations surrounding the Hatters will be low again this season.
But while they are by no means one of the best squads in the league, they have the fighting spirit and belief of one and Nathan Jones has the ability as a manager to get the best out of this crop of players — as he has proved time and again.
The controversial departure of Kal Naismith to Bristol City is a massive blow, but Luton have made some good signings this summer and could be in with a chance of making the play-offs again should they not suffer a hangover from last year.
Sleeping giants Sunderland finally shook off the shackles of League One last season, winning the play-offs after four seasons in the third tier of the English football pyramid and their passionate fanbase will be hoping for back-to-back promotions back to the promised land.
The Black Cats’ downfall and inability to climb back up the football league has been extraordinary, and well documented thanks to the popular Sunderland ‘Til I Die docuseries, and there will be an onus on Alex Neil’s men to produce the goods now they are back in the Championship.
It’s a bit of a concern that they haven’t done a lot to improve their squad for the second tier though, with their four current summer arrivals, the oldest of which is Northern Irish centre back Daniel Ballard at 22, not exactly the most convincing.
The departure of Carlos Corberán, one of the Championship’s most highly-rated managers, is a massive blow for play-off final losers Huddersfield and they are now more favoured for a relegation fight than a promotion berth in the betting markets.
Danny Schofield, a first-team coach under Corberán’s tenure, has been put in charge of the squad on a permanent basis but the departing Spaniard has left very big boots to fill at the John Smith’s Stadium and replicating their play-off bid won’t be easy.
With Lewis O’Brien and Harry Toffolo appearing to be off to Nottingham Forest, Schofield’s job won’t be made any easier. Huddersfield’s model of doing things is promising, but it’s concerning that someone like Corberán was no longer convinced.
After leaving his role as Northern Ireland boss, impressing as he helped them reach their first ever European Championship in 2016, to join Stoke City, a lot was expected of Michael O’Neill at the Bet365 Stadium in Staffordshire.
However, after three seasons in charge of Stoke, the 53-year-old is yet to really improve the Potters — finishing 15th at the end of his first campaign and 14th twice in succession.
He has had a clear out this summer though, with Joe Allen, Tom Ince, James Chester and Steven Fletcher just some of the older players moved on to make room in the squad for some younger faces. Something has got to click for O’Neill at some stage, and this could be the year it does.