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Can any bolters emerge from the chasing pack to claim Championship promotion?
The second tier is becoming ever more competitive and an instant return to the top flight cannot be guaranteed.
Norwich, Watford and Burnley were quickly installed among this season’s Sky Bet Championship promotion favourites following relegation from the Premier League.
But English football’s second tier is becoming ever more competitive and an instant return to the top flight cannot be guaranteed as several other clubs appear well set to challenge.
Sheffield United, Middlesbrough and West Brom have clear Premier League aspirations of their own and these have also been acknowledged by the bookmakers.
And there is every chance one or two bolters will emerge from the chasing pack to defy the odds, as demonstrated by Barnsley in 2020-21 and both Huddersfield and Nottingham Forest last season.
Another intriguing Championship campaign will get under way a week early this year due to the World Cup finals in Qatar.
Fixtures will be put on hold from November 12 to December 10 and it remains to be seen what effect an unprecedented pause will have on the battles that will unfold at either end of the table.
Relegated Burnley and new boss Vincent Kompany will come under the spotlight when they launch the new season at beaten play-off finalists Huddersfield on Friday.
A new era begins for the Clarets after their six-year spell in the top flight, while the Terriers also have a new man in charge, Danny Schofield, following Carlos Corberan’s shock resignation earlier this month.
Norwich, aiming for a third Premier League promotion in five years, travel to Cardiff for their opening match on Saturday and Watford host Sheffield United.
The Hornets are also hoping to justify their ‘yo-yo’ tag for at least another season, by bouncing straight back to the top flight for the second time in three years, this time under latest head coach Rob Edwards.
Two more promotion favourites will clash on the opening weekend, with Middlesbrough taking on West Brom at the Riverside.
Boro are expected to mount a top-six challenge at least under promotion specialist Chris Wilder, while the Baggies have regrouped after a season to forget and boss Steve Bruce is bidding to guide a club out of the Championship for a fifth time.
At the other end of the table, Rotherham and Wigan, who have home games against Swansea and Preston respectively on the opening day, are braced for survival battles following promotion.
The Millers have bounced straight back to the Championship after relegation for a second time, while the Latics have returned after a two-year stay in League One.
Sunderland are fancied to fare better under Alex Neil following their play-off final win against Wycombe in May, but Black Cats fans’ hopes of back-to-back promotions could prove unrealistic.
Birmingham, still weighed down by on-going speculation over club ownership, Blackpool and Reading also feature highly on the bookmakers’ list of relegation candidates.