‘Leeds, Ful­ham & Cardiff are my top tips.. but be­ware a dark horse,’ says Rowett

Sunday Mirror (Northern Ireland) - - COUNTDOWN TO THE CHAMPIONSH­IP, LEAGUE ONE & TWO - EXCLUSIVE By NEIL MOXLEY @neil_­mox­ley

IT WOULD take a brave man to con­fi­dently pre­dict the out­come of this sea­son’s Cham­pi­onship ti­tle race, reck­ons Gary Rowett.

In a di­vi­sion with more ups and downs than a sea­side roller-coaster, that should come as no sur­prise.

But the former Birm­ing­ham, Derby and Stoke chief be­lieves that those who have taken it slow and steady dur­ing the past few years could be re­warded.

Rowett said: “The Cham­pi­onship is a really in­ter­est­ing di­vi­sion this sea­son – for all sorts of rea­sons.

“A few clubs have parachute pay­ments, a few will be un­der pres­sure to play at­tack­ing, pos­ses­sion-based foot­ball and a few will be scrap­ping to get out how­ever they can.

“But I do think there will be an op­por­tu­nity for a club that has grad­u­ally built it­self up, year-on-year, to get into the top six.

“One that will ap­pear a lit­tle bit un­der the radar at the mo­ment, who will sur­prise ev­ery­one.

“Clubs such as Bris­tol City, who have qui­etly in­vested this sum­mer. I also fancy Alex Neil at Pre­ston to have a good sea­son and pos­si­bly Tony Mow­bray at Black­burn.

“I’m not say­ing they’ll walk away with pro­mo­tion, or any­thing like that, but a cou­ple of them could be up there. And, with a bit of mo­men­tum, who knows? It’s a bit of a cliche, ob­vi­ously, but the Cham­pi­onship is always so open, it’s dif­fi­cult to pick any out­right win­ner.

“Who would have fore­seen 12 months ago, for in­stance, that Nor­wich City and Sheffield

United would have been pro­moted to­gether? That’s what I’m talk­ing about.”

How­ever, Rowett has picked a few that he thinks will be in the shake-up, come the start of next

May.

He said: “If you are push­ing me for a few teams who I think will be up there, I’d prob­a­bly say Leeds, Ful­ham and Cardiff.

“Leeds were very im­pres­sive for most of last sea­son. They haven’t al­tered too much, it’s a question of whether Marcelo Bielsa can make them play with the same in­ten­sity and cope with the ex­pec­ta­tion of play­ing for such a big club.

“They fell away to­wards the end of the sea­son. Maybe they just ran out of legs. It’s a tough ask, phys­i­cally, the Cham­pi­onship.

“I also like the look of Ful­ham. Alek­san­dar Mitro­vic is stay­ing at Craven Cot­tage and that’s go­ing to be a huge plus for Scott Parker – be­cause he is one who has scored a lot of goals in this league.

“They should also ben­e­fit be­cause An­thony Knock­aert (in­set, top), who they’ve signed from Brighton, will cause teams prob­lems and they’ve got some pace on the other flank af­ter Ivan Cavaleiro joined from Wolves on loan.

“And if you want an­other one, then look at Cardiff City. Neil Warnock (in­set, be­low) tends to di­vide opin­ion among the public. But, as a man­ager, you can­not do any­thing other than ad­mire his record.

“He knows what works, has the courage to stick to his be­liefs and con­sis­tently de­liv­ers. Cardiff will be a tough nut to crack.”

One trend that the 45-year-old Rowett (above) has picked up, how­ever, in­volves a tac­ti­cal re­think. He added: “There is def­i­nitely a grow­ing pres­sure at some clubs to adopt a more pleas­ing pass­ing style, play­ing out from the back.

“This will be in ev­i­dence – at least at the start of the sea­son – at quite a few places. It will be in­ter­est­ing to see how long that ap­proach lasts, if re­sults don’t start go­ing the way that the own­ers and de­ci­sion-mak­ers want.

“And we will see more in­ter­est­ing clashes in style. I know a cou­ple of clubs – Birm­ing­ham and Charl­ton – are us­ing three cen­tre-backs in pre-sea­son – a move away from what they did in the past.

“It’s in­trigu­ing, and we can ex­pect an­other sea­son of sur­prises.”

‘There’s an for op­por­tu­nity has a club that grad­u­ally built it­self up, yearon-year, to get six’ into the top

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