Three Premier League teams will leave fans bitterly disappointed at the prospect of travelling to what are now League One opposition in next year’s Championship. On the flip side of that coin, three very happy League One clubs are going to be mixing against players who’ve plied their trade in the Premier League.
The question is, what top flight and third division sides might find themselves visiting each other’s stadium next season?
1) Bristol City vs Leicester
Nigel Pearson’s Foxes won’t have fond memories of the last time the two sides shared a division. Anthony Knockaert’s missed penalty resulted in Troy Deeney’s late winner, earning his Watford side a ticket to the play-off final. However, Bristol City’s seven year stay came to an end, finishing bottom. Steve Cotterill took over from Sean O’ Driscoll, and after stabilising the Robins in their first season in League One, has marshalled superbly their charge to the top and look destined to return to the Championship, with Leicester set to join them, trailing behind the rest in the Premier League in their first season back since 2004.
Bristol City – Luke Freeman
The 22-year-old has been much sought after, following his impressive spells in League One with initially Stevenage and now in Bristol. Signed for a reported £800,000 in August 2014, Freeman has contributed four goals and nine assists, the joint most in the division. In truth, Cotterill’s side has a number of star players but do not rely on just one. However, Freeman is probably the pick of the squad, as he aims to show former side Arsenal what they let slip through their fingers in the Championship.
Leicester – Daniel Drinkwater
The Foxes’ defensive midfielder was one of their key figures in their promotion from the Championship last season, earning a nomination and eventually finishing second in the Player Of The Year award, and has been an integral part of Leicester’s fight against relegation. An undoubted huge asset to the club, Nigel Pearson would do well to persuade him to stay if they cannot escape the drop zone.
2) Burnley vs Swindon
Swindon’s rise through the League One has been aided by the help of Premier League loanees. Sitting just behind Bristol City, Mark Cooper’s men narrowly lost out to Brentford in the play offs last season but have responded well to the heartache and could be one step away from the “promised land” next year.
Burnley have struggled to cope with the rigorous demands of Premier League football. If someone had told Sean Dyche Borussia Dortmund had only collected two more wins than the Clarets this season, he probably would have called a psychiatric hospital. Unfortunately for Mr. Dyche, BVB’s poor form has been in equal measure to Burnley’s own, as they sit 19th. Relegation would surely ensure the departure of stars Kieran Trippier and Danny Ings, it’s not unreasonable to predict that Swindon will fare better than Burnley if they meet in the Championship come 2015-16.
Burnley – Kieran Trippier
Most fans would automatically assume Ings is Burnley’s most important player, and while this may be true this season, Dyche would find it easier to replace Ings with a Championship goalscorer than find a better right back than Trippier. The 24-year-old has been instrumental over the last three seasons, both defensively and offensively, and his absence from the starting XI would be sorely missed. He has created three times as many chances as Liverpool’s Mario Balotelli, with 17 key passes made from right back.
Swindon – Massimo Luongo
Recently named the Asian Cup’s “most valuable player”, 22-year-old Luongo made his international debut for Australia last year and has cemented his place in the Socceroos’ midfield. Having initially joined on loan in March 2013, Luongo agreed a permanent deal with Swindon in August of that year, signing from Tottenham for £400,000.
A player who dictates play in the middle of the park, he has all the attributes needed to compete in a stronger division.
3) QPR vs MK Dons
Undoubtedly not two of the most liked sides in either divisions, Queens Park Rangers’ first attempt to survive in the top flight was laughable. Money was thrown at an issue where players did not care what badge they wore on their shirts. Meanwhile the book on MK Dons history is quite short, having adopted the identity of the original Wimbledon FC. Harry Redknapp bought Charlie Austin who propelled QPR into the play offs and subsequently into the Premier League. However, although the signings Redknapp had made this season were more structured, the club still finds itself perilously close to the drop zone and could well find themselves there come May. MK Dons, of course haven’t played in the Championship in it’s 11 year history.
QPR – Charlie Austin
Evidently manager-less QPR’s most lethal weapon, Austin’s meteoric rise through football since his days as a builder has been nothing short of phenomenal. His 13 goals this season has been the predominant reason as to why Rangers’ do not find themselves in the bottom three at present, although if QPR were to be relegated, Austin would have no choice but to leave for the sake of his career. Without the 25-year-old, the club would still be in the Championship from the initial relegation back in 2012-13. If they lose him again, they may be destined to stay there.
MK Dons – Ben Reeves
Reeves has been outstanding in the two seasons spent at the stadium MK after arriving on a free from Southampton. Although he has lost two sublime League One strikers in Benik Afobe and Patrick Bamford, Reeves has continuously supplied out on the left wing, and despite his return of four goals and four assists, he should provide instrumental in Karl Robinson’s side’s push for a first promotion to the Championship.
4) Preston vs Hull
Preston have the unwanted Football League record of qualifying for 9 play offs spanning the three lower divisions, however being unable to gain promotion in every single campaign. The ninth failure came at the hands of Rotherham last May, but the Lilywhites are again having a steady campaign in League One. Although they may not achieve automatic promotion, it could be 10th time lucky for Simon Grayson’s men. Hull, meanwhile, have had a disastrous season, scoring only 23 goals in 25 Premier League games. With Nikica Jelavic being their only real threat up front, Steve Bruce may have to prepare his side for the worst. The two sides haven’t met each other since 2010-11, where Hull won 1-0.
Preston – Joe Garner
Not only is Garner “Mr. Preston”, he’s one of the finest strikers the Football League has on offer. Aged 26, he joined his boyhood team in early 2013 and has scored 31 goals in just 69 appearances. Garner, like his manager, has past experience in the Championship with Nottingham Forest, Huddersfield and Watford and is an all around striker. Here’s one of his sensational efforts in the play offs against Rotherham.
Hull – Jake Livermore
It was generally agreed that after a successful loan move, the permanent signing of Livermore from Tottenham to break the club’s record fee for transfers was one of Bruce’s better ideas. He stood up and was counted in a resolute début season back in the Premier League for Hull, and despite their struggles this season, Livermore’s stats’ do not lie: He has completed 964 passes, with a pass accuracy of 84 %, with 70 % of those passes being forward balls. His solitary assist could be as of result of poor conversion from Hull’s forwards, having created 19 chances for the likes of Jelavic and Hernandez.
5) Aston Villa vs Sheffield United
Paul Lambert couldn’t quite hit the heights as a manager that he did as a player, winning the Champions League with Borussia Dortmund back in 1997. His manager Ottmar Hitzfield deployed him in midfield to deal with a certain Mr. Zidane agaisnt Juventus. His three year tenure at Villa was.. interesting to say the least, but came to an end after a 0-2 loss to Hull.
His side has lacked nous, experience and character too many times this season and many Villa fans fear Tim Sherwood is not the man to save them. They haven’t been relegated in the Premier League era and not from the old Division One since the 1986/87 season, but the Villa Park faithful may be travelling to the likes of Birmingham and Sheffield Wednesday instead of Manchester City and Arsenal next season, as 12 goals scored is just not good enough. Villa also have the worst goal difference in the division, of -22.
Sheffield United fans are still outraged over the way they were relegated from the Premier League back in 2006/07 following the “Carlos Tevez incident”. They were relegated to League One in 2011 but have really only recently come to the surface with Nigel Clough, son of legendary manager Brian, in charge. Impressive wins over promotion rivals Swindon and Bristol City has showed the Blades have the capabilities of promotion. A game between the two would be one Aston Villa right back Matt Lowton would cherish, considering his time at Bramall Lane. The two sides met in the FA Cup last month, where Ryan Flynn scored the winner in a 1-2 victory for Clough’s men.
Aston Villa – Brad Guzan
The American shot stopper has been the saving grace of the Villains in recent seasons, his contributions often going unnoticed. Guzan has acquired seven clean sheets for Villa from 25 games, an impressive feat considering the clumsiness and inexperience of some of the back four. He has also made 61 saves. Without the 30-year-old, Paul Lambert may have relegated this side long ago. Alas, Lambert is gone and the issue remains. Guzan will be heavily relied upon whatever division he plays in next season.
Sheffield United – Jamie Murphy
At Bramall Lane, Clough has another squad of individuals, but winger Jamie Murphy, signed from Motherwell in 2013, has been the outstanding candidate for his team. His goals against Swindon and Bristol City in effectively six-pointers will bring United much closer to cementing a place in the play offs come May. In total scoring 7 goals and assisting in 8, Murphy would be a welcome addition to most Championship sides.
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Featured image by Ronnie Macdonald via Flickr