Timebomb is ticking if Blues go down

RICK WAGHORN Given that we all now know for certain where we're going to be next year - heading back up to Turf Moor on the M6 on a dank Friday night - it's probably not a bad exercise in working out just who might be joining us in the nine-month long, happy-go-lucky party that is The Championship.


Given that we all now know for certain where we're going to be next year - heading back up to Turf Moor on the M6 on a dank Friday night - it's probably not a bad exercise in working out just who might be joining us in the nine-month long, happy-go-lucky party that is The Championship.

Or rather who you would want to be playing next season if anyone of a Norwich bent could pick and choose the winners and losers from the forthcoming promotion and relegation tussles and the bitter play-off fights in between?

If we deal with League One first, history would suggest that - at least first season back - there ought to be little to unduly fear. Nine times out of ten, it turns out to be a season of consolidation - getting and keeping that foothold back in the higher flight.

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Luton Town were a right handful through the autumn only to fall back into the pack; Sheffield Wednesday and Hull City have set their sights on nothing more than avoiding the drop back.

On their current away form, the Canaries should make sure Wednesday are safe this Saturday when they arrive with three big points to give to the home side.

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So, other than guaranteeing three other, little grounds that are not exactly traditional happy hunting grounds for the 'Oooh, these changing rooms are a bit cramped…and have you seen the state of their pitch?' Canaries, you can perm any three from eight in League One and expect them to offer a test of Norwich's away-day resolve next season - be it anywhere from Roots Hall, Griffin Park or - please, no - that delightful haul down the M4 to Swansea. Still, at least The Vetch Field has gone.

But, in every likelihood, I can't see a potential play-off contender arriving from the murky depths of League One.

I'm not entirely convinced that the bottom half of The Championship offers any 'coming' team that will take us all by surprise next term. I just don't see anyone - even of a Leicester City or Coventry City ilk - having the big, fat wads of cash to change them into runaway title contenders. Nor have either of them had that five or six years knocking around the play-off places that year-by-year moulds the Readings and the Sheffield Uniteds into ever bigger and better Championship machines.

Southampton remain an even bigger crisis waiting to happen as someone, somehow seeks to oust the whole Rupert Lowe-Sir Clive Woodward show from St Mary's; I don't see either of them going quietly.

Which brings us to the four teams in The Championship play-off places - which of Preston North End, Watford, Leeds United and Crystal Palace would you wish to see disappear off to The Premiership?

Personally, I'd love to kiss good-bye to Palace if only to spare everyone the traditionally wretched trip to Selhurst Park. This season's visit was right down there with my worst expectations.

But then given their ability to lose 2-0 to Leicester City on a Friday night, I'm not sure you that even the Eagles have got a Norwich-like inconsistency out of their system. For consistency, Preston are probably the 'form' team. They simply don't concede goals and in the centre-half pairing of Youl Mawene and Claude Davis have a centre-half duo as composed and as comfortable as any in that play-off pack.

Watford have done exceptionally well under Adrian Boothroyd this season. But they are mid-wobble. His big managerial test will come next year - will he suffer 'second album syndrome'? So I'd want Palace out; Preston may yet grind their way out.

The big interest, of course, is who is about to join us from the Premiership. Sunderland, of course, have long been doomed and, in all fairness, never gave any indication of expecting anything else.

They were probably resigned to be playing back in The Championship from, say, the last week in September. It might actually come as a blessed relief to be back in a league where they have half a chance of winning a game.

Otherwise, you have to sit there and pick two from three - be it Portsmouth, Birmingham City or West Bromwich Albion.

For me, Birmingham have got to go. That club is ticking as we speak given the current strained relations between club owners and Blues' players. Is Mario Melchiot and Jermaine Pennant going to want to hang around next season? Matthew Upson? David Dunn? And where is Steve Bruce going to sit in the midst of all this? Blues go down and there will be all sorts of blood on the St Andrews' carpet and I can't see them being one, happy ship come August 5.

Likewise, albeit to a lesser extent, West Bromwich Albion who - on the back of two years yo-yoing up in the top flight - will have a similar number of big fish who won't want to get their hands dirty in The Championship. And that's before anyone starts to talk about where that leaves Bryan Robson's future. Second season is the one where you consolidate and head for the safer waters of 14th or 15th - it is not the year that you slip out of the trap door.

Portsmouth I'd want to survive. Not for any great love of Harry Redknapp or the Russian money currently sluicing its way through Fratton Park, but for the pretty certain knowledge that armed with wedges of someone else's cash Redknapp knows how to get out of this division. He's done it once too often and - unlike Robson and Bruce - will not have the managerial axe hovering over his head this summer.

The ones to really fear, I suspect, are Sunderland. They have had their Championship team in place all season - that's why they can't win in the Premiership. There will be no big fish making big noises about getting out ASAP and if Niall Quinn's takeover goes through and the unpopular Bob Murray departs to leave Quinn and pals at the helm with current caretaker boss and terrace favourite Kevin Ball in the managerial mix somewhere then I fancy the Stadium Of Light might just rock once more.

For Sunderland never had any great expectations of their season in the Premiership. And with no great expectations comes no great disappointment when they return to Turf Moor on a Friday night. As everyone in Norfolk has long discovered, having great expectations - be it either of staying in the promised land on the final day of the season or bouncing back with a swagger at the first attempt - is a recipe for total disaster.

On that front, at least, Norwich didn't disappoint.

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