The Championship returns next weekend so Born Offside previews the upcoming campaign. First up we focus on Barnsley, Birmingham City, Blackpool and Brighton…

BARNSLEY

Last season: 17th  Odds to win: 290-1

An admirable 17th placed finish last season defied the experts who tipped them for relegation. This season however may be much tougher after the loss of key players and manager Mark Robins.

Robins left after disagreements over budgets and has been replaced by Keith Hill who joins from Rochdale. Hill was a legend at Rochadle spending five season as a player before earning the club promotion to League One in 2010.

But the loss of Adam Hammill who joined Wolves in January and Jason Shackell now at Derby could prove costly. Despite playing just half the campaign Hammill was the Tykes top scorer last season, that responsibility now falls to Craig Davies. The forward plundered 23 goals for Barnet in League Two last season. If he can join forces with the live-wire Danny Haynes then Barnsley will have a real shot at survival.

Key Player

23-year-old Haynes is a real handful with his pace and movement. Since his move from Bristol City in January he has netted six goals in 20 games.

Verdict: 22nd

BIRMINGHAM CITY

Last season: 18th (Premier League) Odds to win: 14-1

The Carling Cup holders face a difficult battle to return to the Premier League at the first attempt largely due to off field influences. Every team has to cut their cloth accordingly after demotion but owner Carson Yeung’s arrest and the fire-sale at St. Andrews has left the Blues in limbo.

Chris Hughton has been brought in to stabilise the club although his remit is promotion at the first attempt. That is despite the loss of basically all of last season’s starting line-up. Hughton achieved a similar feat at Newcastle two seasons ago but he had a much stronger squad on that occasion.

Roger Johnson, Ben Foster, Lee Bowyer, Seb Larsson, Craig Gardner and Kevin Phillips have already departed while Marlon King, Morgano Gomis, Adam Rooney, Chris Burke, Steve Caldwell and Boaz Myhill have arrived. But with Liam Ridwell, Scott Dann, Nikola Zigic and Cameron Jerome all set to jump ship, Birmingham are nothing like the force they were last term.

Key Player

James McFadden is the only remaining attacking player with genuine Premier League quality. King and Rooney will prove decent at Championship level but much relies on the creativity of McFadden if Birmingham are to challenge for promotion.

Verdict: 4th

BLACKPOOL

Last season: 19th (Premier League) Odds to win: 20-1

Ian Holloway’s Tangerines won many fans with their all-out attacking approach to the Premier League last season but ultimately defensive frailties cost them dear. And while Blackpool have replaced the outgoing DJ Campbell, Charlie Adam and David Vaughan they still look light at the back even at Championship level.

Experienced Birmingham duo Kevin Phillips and Barry Ferguson have arrived to add some much needed know-how to Holloway’s outfit. These additions should also shore up Blackpool’s reckless attacking play although Holloway is committed to his style and will go out with the intention of outscoring the opposition every week. It may be exciting but without more defensive cover Blackpool may fall short of challenging for automatic promotion. The play-offs however are not out of the question.

Key player

Even at 38, Kevin Phillips is a deadly finisher especially at Championship level. Flanked by Gary Taylor-Fletcher he should be a golden boot contender.

Verdict: 7th

BRIGHTON

Last season: 1st (League One) Odds to win: 22-1

After promotion last season, a new stadium, a young, hungry manager and exciting signings, Brighton are certainly on the up. The addition of Peterborough hitman Craig Mackail-Smith certainly raised eyebrows admist Premier League interest. Poyet has not stopped there the additions of Will Buckley, Will Hoskins and Kazenga LuaLua more than cover the loss of last season’s top performers Glenn Murray and Elliott Bennett.

The Seagulls arrive in the championship on a wave of euphoria and in this league that can count for a lot just ask Norwich. And Brighton have the ability and momentum to go for promotion.

Key Player

Craig Mackail-Smith became Brighton’s record signing when he left Peterborough for £2.5million last month. And the Seagulls will be relying on him to be the firepower behind a promotion charge.

Verdict: 6th

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