The 2022/23 Championship season is upon us and excitement is starting to brew amongst every single football fan across the country.
The usual suspects of promotion and relegation candidates enter discussions amongst pundits, but what about those quietly lurking in the background, like an awkward cousin at a family BBQ?
It’s important to note, these are the dark horses of the mix.
There will be no parachute payment chatter here as we take a look at the clubs looking to surprise a few next season…
The Lions have had a productive summer managing to plug several gaps despite losing a star performer in Jed Wallace.
The arrival of Zian Flemming should go someway into improving Millwall’s attack, with the Dutchman scoring 12 in 28 last season.
It’s likely he will operate behind the frontman, much like Joel Piroe for Swansea with most of his positioning coming centrally, giving Rowett a new avenue of attack.
George Honeyman and Jamie Shackleton are likely being brought in to give Millwall a higher, more aggressive press allowing the Lions to play further up the pitch meaning they’ll be less reliant on sitting in a deep defensive shape.
Then there’s Benik Afobe, who grew in confidence as the season progressed and was even on the verge of playing European football this summer with Club Brugge.
That deal fell through though, giving Millwall the chance to pounce and pick up the forward for the 22/23 season. I think it’s a given that he will once again bag double figures.
Sure, they’ll need to add a few more bodies in, but with the new signings coming in to join up with the likes of Billy Mitchell, Danny McNamara, Jake Cooper and co, this Millwall side is looking very tasty.
What’s more, we all know they’ll be hard to break down as Rowett has built Millwall from solid foundations.
But the final pieces of the jigsaw has always been to add in the right areas, and take the game to opponents to ensure they turn those tight draws into wins.
There’s something brewing at The Den this summer and it might just be the play-off push they’ve been on the cusp of achieving for years.
The Robins had a top six attack and bottom four defence last season; at least that’s the outside perception. Scintillating going forwards, furiously incompetent at the back.
Now, having had one of the better summers in the divisions with a recruitment drive that needed to happen, they could well be in the play-off mix this season.
Recruiting defensive personnel was important and signing the best centre-back in the Championship last season will help.
Kal Naismith brings composure and, perhaps most importantly, leadership into the team that will help them manage games better from a defensive point of view.
With Kane Wilson, he provides an attacking outlet from the right flank while allowing Alex Scott to move into midfield.
There’s immediately more ammunition for attack and composure defensively with those two players, and that’s without mentioning Mark Sykes.
The free transfer from Oxford likes to drift into positions off the right-hand side, meaning a potential partnership will be brewing with Wilson, giving that attack more punch in the final third.
Squad depth is looking tidy as well, with youngster Tommy Conway enjoying a productive pre-season along with Nahki Wells supporting the main cast of Semenyo, Weimann and Martin.
Then in midfield, there’s the likes of the aforementioned Scott, Matty James, Andy King, Joe Williams and Han Noah Massengo.
It’s a solid squad with a high ceiling and mix that with Nigel Pearson, who has seemingly steered the Robins out of their transition period and into a new phase (hopefully), it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them challenging for a top six place next season.
It’s hard not seeing the Sky Blues knocking on the top six door once again.
They were there for two thirds of last season and certainly have the potential to do so again.
Jonathan Panzo is a good addition with his defensive versatility, as is Calum Doyle, who is a progressive passer from the back.
Kasey Palmer is a sensible addition, especially under Mark Robins’ stewardship and the Coventry recruitment team that rarely gets things wrong.
The only thing that could hold them back is squad depth in midfield, as well as consistency from Viktor Gyokeres and Matty Godden.
Both have the potential to score double figures at the very least, but in Gyokeres’ case, he will need to be consistent after having two purple patches last season. With Godden, it’s shaking off small injuries.
That being said, there weren’t many teams who got the better of the Sky Blues last season and, with a settled side and one or two more players adding to the mix, they will almost certainly be knocking on that top six door once again.
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