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Championship - Football: Dan Childs' ante-post tips

The rewards for reaching the Premier League have never been greater and another fascinating Championship promotion race is on the cards, with Dan Childs assessing the contenders.

He gives his views on who might be celebrating come the end of the season, dissects the scramble for play-off places and who will be battling to avoid relegation to League One.

Yo-yo Canaries can bounce back up

Norwich City have spent the last four seasons bouncing between the Championship and the Premier League and are in with a great chance of yo-yoing back to the top-flight as second-tier champions.

Discussions are ongoing regarding the nature of Premier League parachute payments, which are giving recently relegated clubs a massive advantage over their second tier rivals.

And the greatest beneficiaries this season are Burnley, Watford and Norwich, who are 6/1 to win the Championship and 6/4 to secure promotion.

Having a bigger budget is no guarantee of success, but Norwich have a knack of recruiting the right players for the Championship and were second tier winners in 2018-19 and 2020-21.

Teemu Pukki was their top scorer from both of those campaigns and is a player Norwich will rely on to spearhead their promotion challenge.

The challenge for Norwich is to supply their Finnish finisher with enough quality service. Creative attacking midfielder Emi Buendia was sold at the end of the 2020-21 season and has been sorely missed over the last 12 months.

However, City are hoping for big things from Danel Sinani, who impressed during last season's season-long loan at Huddersfield Town, while the drop down in class is likely to be beneficial to Milot Rashica and Josh Sargeant, who showed flashes of their quality in the Premier League.

There is untapped potential in the squad and manager Dean Smith could be the right man to bring it out. He steered his boyhood club, Aston Villa, to promotion in 2018-19 and could guide the Canaries to a third title in five years.

Edwards ready to lead Hornets revival

Parachute payment cash could propel Watford's bid to win a second promotion in three seasons, with the Vicarage Road outfit 15/8 to claim an immediate return to the Premier League.

The Hornets have a well-earned reputation for being ruthless with managers, but would be wise to show some faith in Rob Edwards, who looks an astute appointment.

Edwards guided Forest Green Rovers to the League Two title last season and his attractive style of football should soon get the Vicarage Road crowd on his side.

He will need to make a few signings to plug the gaps left by the departures of experienced trio Ben Foster, Moussa Sissoko and Juraj Kucka.

However, they have plenty of untapped potential in the squad and are hoping for a big contribution from centre-forward Issouf Bayo, who scored 11 goals in 16 games for Belgian top-flight side Charleroi last season.

The Hornets may need a bit of time to settle down but they should have a strong squad in place by the end of September and they look a solid pick to finish in one of the automatic promotion slots.

Blades and Clarets to miss out on top two

Burnley were relegated on 35 points last season, far more than Watford and Norwich, but they look the least likely of the three to bounce straight back.

The Clarets face a period of adjustment after spending the last six seasons in the Premier League and have lost a large part of the spine of their team, with central defenders James Tarkowski and Ben Mee and goalkeeper Nick Pope among those moving on.

For a club that has thrived on stability there are a lot of changes to digest and one of them is in the dugout with Vincent Kompany arriving for his second taste of management.

Kompany had mixed fortunes during two seasons at Anderlecht and his preference for a possession-based game may be at odds with some of the players he has inherited.

Burnley have, however, bought well with the acquisition of attacking midfielder Scott Twine from MK Dons.

The 22-year-old has fantastic technique and looks bound for the Premier League, however, whether or not he gets there with Burnley is open to debate, with the Clarets 4/1 to secure promotion next season.

Sheffield United were the unluckiest of the teams who missed out in last season's Championship play-offs and they will hope to take the direct route to promotion in 2022-23.

Paul Heckingbottom's Blades are certainly trending the right way, but there is an over-reliance on 36-year-old Billy Sharp to score a large percentage of their goals.

Sharp was injured towards the end of last season and he will need better support if the Blades are the challenge for the top two, with United priced at 7/2 to earn a top-flight return.

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Baggies and Black Cats should be top-six bound

West Brom performed well below expectations last season, but they can expect to do much better after a fruitful start to the transfer window.

It was tough for Steve Bruce to turn the Baggies around after his February appointment, but he had a great start to the summer by recruiting talented duo Jed Wallace and John Swift on free transfers from Millwall and Reading.

The out of contract pair were second and joint-third in last season's Championship assists charts, with Swift creating 13 goals and Wallace 12.

They should provide some quality service for dangerous forwards Karlan Grant and Daryl Dike and there is no reason why 5/6 West Brom shouldn't nail down a top-six finish.

Sunderland will also have genuine play-off aspirations, despite having only just come up from League One.

Black Cats' gaffer Alex Neil proved himself to be an excellent second tier manager during spells with Norwich and Preston North End and his star centre-forward, Ross Stewart, has the necessary quality to flourish at the higher level.

Exciting winger Jack Clarke has joined from Tottenham on a permanent basis and Neil's side should not be too far away from the play-off places - with the Wearsiders 10/3 to secure a top-six spot.

Royals heading for relegation

Reading did just about enough to avoid the drop last term, but it may well have been only a temporary reprieve, with the Royals 15/8 to be relegated.

Their threadbare squad became even weaker after the departures of key midfield trio Andy Rinomhota, Josh Laurent and Swift.

Royals manager Paul Ince is attempting to plug the gaps on a shoestring budget, but his squad lacks depth and experience and is likely to be exposed over the course of 46 games.

Birmingham City - 6/4 to go down - could also struggle after failing to make enough quality signings and taking the questionable decision to replace Lee Bowyer with rookie boss John Eustace.

By Dan Childs

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