We take a look at the four sides based in the Midlands, all looking to establish their dominance and end the 2022/23 Championship campaign as 'Regional Winner'.
West Brom reigned supreme in this market last season, and the smart money would be on them to repeat that feat in 2022/23 as Steve Bruce attempts to bring top-flight football back to the Hawthorns.
Albion catastrophically let slip a tight grip on the Championship last time round, plummeting from top spot in November to a disappointing tenth place end of season finish – a dip in form that cost former Barnsley boss Valerien Ismael his job after just seven months in charge.
Bruce was brought in to try and resurrect the club’s fortunes in February, but was unable to inspire his side enough to gate-crash the top six. It looks a different story for the Baggies this summer though, with the club having worked shrewdly in acquiring some of the most eye-catching and sought-after Championship free agents.
The arrivals of John Swift, from Reading, and Millwall's in-demand Jed Wallace kicked-off an already impressive recruitment drive, before Turkish star Okay Yokuslu, who excelled during a loan spell with the Baggies two years ago, made a surprising return following the expiration of his Celta Vigo contract.
They look strong in all areas of the pitch, and goals, you would think, will be aplenty this season, with last season’s top scorer Karlan Grant being complemented by their fit-again big money signing Daryl Dike, the exciting Grady Diangana and former Millwall man Wallace.
If the Baggies are to be threatened in this market, then Stoke City, you would expect, are almost certain to be the biggest challengers to their throne.
It has been a challenging few years for the Potters since dropping into the second tier. You sense a sea of change in the Potteries however, with a major clearing of the decks being undertaken by boss Michael O’Neill over the course of the past 12 months.
A previously ageing squad now looks more fine-tuned for the rigours of the Championship, and if the Potters can hit the ground running, then they could be right up there come next May.
Injuries hampered the side last term no doubt, but there were undoubted flaws too. Too few goals were scored and too many goals were conceded. If Stoke are to propel themselves above West Brom in 2022/23 then they will be right in the mix for promotion, but that depends upon addressing those isses.
The return to fitness of key defender Harry Souttar, the emergence of Lewis Baker, who shone after arriving from Chelsea, and the addition of proven Championship goalscorer Dwight Gayle could be key.
Coventry City were one of the surprise packages of the 2021/22 campaign, and they will be hoping to prove they were no flash in the pan as they gear up for a third successive season at Championship level.
Mark Robins’ side were tipped by many to drop back to league One 12 months ago, but their fluid, high-tempo and dangerous counter-attacking style of play secured them a thoroughly deserved top half finish.
Their early season form caught many off-guard, establishing themselves as genuine contenders for a a top six berth, whilst also managing to cling onto the coat-tails of the likes of Bournemouth and Fulham, who were showcasing their previous top-flight muscle.
Consistency was always going to be the issue for the Sky Blues, and whilst their form did tail-off during the winter months, they still ended the campaign in 12th place, on 64 points – a tally which hadn’t been bettered in the second tier in almost 20 years.
The challenge now is to build upon that achievement, and whilst incomings will be key, you sense that retaining the likes of Callum O’Hare, Viktor Gyokeres and player of the season Gustavo Hamer will ultimately determine the club’s 2022/23 aspirations.
Birmingham City are the BIG outsiders in this market and it’s hard to foresee anything other than another real battle for Championship survival at St Andrew’s.
Manager John Eustace is attempting to shake things up in the second city and instil some much-needed positivity around the club, with a continuation of off the field issues severely hindering the side’s on-field performances in recent seasons.
Cash is at a premium, so Eustace, who is undertaking a tricky first senior managerial position, is having to be cute with the business he conducts to try rectify the clear and long-standing issues within his squad.
That said, highly-regarded Arsenal youngster Auston Trusty, Wolves defender Dion Sanderson and Norwich City’s Przemyslaw Placheta have all arrived on loan and, at least on paper, appear to offer improvements, whilst the acquisition of experienced stopper John Ruddy is designed to help shore up a leaky backline.
Last season, Birmingham’s second-tier status was aided by points deductions to Derby County and Reading, but this time around they will have to find a way to get over the line themselves. Anything more than that would be a bonus.
By Mark Mothershaw