Ah the Championship, you gloriously unpredictable creature. Welcome back.
This weekend sees the start of league action in England and Scotland and while the Premier League players get an extra week to play friendlies, the grafters are back now.
The Tote is offering a fantastic FreePlay 6 on five Championship games and Celtic’s Scottish Premiership opener so here’s my verdict on the games that could net you some serious cash.
BIRMINGHAM v CARDIFF, Saturday 3pm
The Blues are my outside tip to get relegated as they have little cash to fund new signings and they were a weak-enough squad anyway. The Bluebirds don’t look to be going anywhere this season, the Welshmen look a side who won’t have relegation fears but might not trouble the top six. Anything could happen here. Unless nothing happens at all, of course.
VERDICT: Birmingham 0 Cardiff 0
DERBY v BRIGHTON, Saturday 3pm
Brighton’s play-off campaign foundered with a remarkable series of injuries in their semi-final against Sheffield Wednesday in May. A burst of three goals from Hull in the first leg of their semi-final did for Derby. With Nigel Pearson now in charge of the Rams, it appears that they have summered better and they have so far held off bids for some of their big players. I don’t expect Brighton to be as strong this season and they might struggle to make the play-offs having gone so close to automatic promotion last time.
VERDICT: Derby 3 Brighton 0
VIDEO: Derby 4 Brighton 1, 2014 play-offs
READING v PRESTON, Saturday 3pm
Those in the know at Reading may have viewed Hal Robson-Kanu’s Euro 2016 heroics with a mixture of embarrassment and bewilderment after they let him go at the end of last season. Two goals later and the big offers have come flying in for the Welsh striker. Over the summer, though, Reading lost someone far more important with the death of Eamonn Dolan, a key figure at the club for years. The Royals have underachieved lately and hopefully in Dolan’s memory they can kick on. Preston are fourth favourites for the drop according to those that know, but they have recruited well and might surprise a few.
VERDICT: Reading 0 Preston 2
VIDEO: Hal Robson-Kanu’s Cruyff turn
QPR v LEEDS, Sun 12pm
Two sides that have got lost in the Championship shuffle meet at Loftus Road. Neither side have made enough recruits to suggest that they will be promoted come next May, but Leeds could be set for an improvement having done some decent business, so a play-off push, if off-field chaos can be kept to a minimum, is not out of the question. I’ll say a low-scoring draw will be the result here.
VERDICT: QPR 1 Leeds 1
HEARTS v CELTIC, Sunday 2.15pm
Eyebrows raised when the talented Moussa Dembele went to Celtic and he is already proving that he is going to be a star for the Hoops with his late penalty to get Celtic into the play-off round of the Champions League qualifiers. The return of Rangers to the Premiership is going to sharpen minds at Parkhead as there will be no room for slip-ups this season. Brendan Rodgers knows he must have his side settled from day one and a trip to Hearts has the potential to be tricky but I expect the Bhoys to get through it.
VERDICT: Hearts 1 Celtic 2
SHEFFIELD WEDNESDAY v ASTON VILLA, Sunday 4.30pm
The play-off final losers against the side well adrift at the bottom of the Premier League last season. Both sides could have the potential for a hangover at the start of the season, but Wednesday have had a solid summer, keeping much of their squad together. It’s overhaul time for Villa and it will be interesting to see how quickly Roberto Di Matteo gets them back on track. Getting only 17 points last season is not necessarily a barrier to bouncing straight back up. I’m taking the Owls to be quicker out of the blocks.
VERDICT: Sheffield Wednesday 3 Aston Villa 1