Following the release of the EFL fixtures, the excitement for the upcoming Sky Bet Championship season has been ramped up a notch as the beginning of pre-season looms and three teams in particular will be eagerly anticipating their instant returns to the second tier having achieved promotion from League One during their year in exile, since their relegations. Take a look at these three familiar outfits and their credentials as they hope to avoid a repeat performance from two years ago when they faced the drop.
First up, Wigan Athletic.
Promotion as champions capped a stunning season for the Latics that saw them defy the odds to reach the FA Cup quarter-finals, despatching Premier League winners, Manchester City before bowing out in the last eight. However, manager, Paul Cook will be keen to see his dominant side continue to flourish in the second tier, with Cook refusing to consider the prospect of relegation as they edged out Lancashire rivals Blackburn Rovers to clinch the title.
Having competed in the top flight just five years ago, relegation to League One seemed harsh on a side that won the FA Cup in 2013 however they answered their critics with aplomb, producing a convincing surge to the top of the table as their firepower proved too much for their third-tier opponents.
With Cook committing to another four years at the DW Stadium, he will look to further his summer recruitment in order to avoid the threat of a less desirable instant return. The Latics have already made two additions to their side ahead of the new season, plucked from League One promotion hopefuls, Peterborough United, Portuguese youngster, Leonardo Da Silva Lopes joins Wigan for an undisclosed fee. As does Scottish winger, Kal Naismith, who rejected a new deal at Portsmouth having excelled for 8th placed Pompey.
Wigan are yet to see a big departure from the DW Stadium and the Latics will hope that Will Grigg’s fire remains lit during the off-season, with the striker’s red-hot form being a must if Wigan are to do more than just fight for survival. The Northern Irish frontman scored 26 times in all competitions and led the line alongside James Vaughan. Confidence is high and rightly so for a side that coasted back at the first time of asking, losing just six times and racking up 99 points.
Opening fixture: Sheffield Wednesday (H)
Next up, Blackburn Rovers.
Emulating the success of their Lancastrian counterparts, Blackburn Rovers pipped Shrewsbury to the remaining automatic promotion place after an almost flawless second-half of the season saw them secure their place in the Sky Bet Championship once more, where they previously spent five seasons that reaped little reward. Tony Mowbray rediscovered and rebuilt Rovers and his own reputation following short tenures elsewhere to take the once Premier League winners straight back up.
EFL League One Player of the Season, Bradley Dack will be anticipating making his mark on the Championship after he had a major say in proceedings, notching 18 goals from midfield in his maiden season with Rovers following his £750’000 switch from Gillingham. Dack’s influential performances, coupled with the crucial input of 14-goal striker Danny Graham meant a formidable partnership was formed that saw Rovers make Wigan work for top spot.
Previously an established top-flight club, Blackburn will hope their year in the third tier can be used as motivation to remain at the right end of the table next year, although they are yet to secure their first signing of the summer, despite being linked with £2 million Charlton Athletic defender, Patrick Bauer, with Mowbray choosing to prioritise defensive stability over attacking options.
Equally, Rovers are yet to see anyone depart Ewood Park and many of their top performers remain in contract talks and look set to follow Craig Conway and Danny Graham in signing new deals with the newly-promoted outfit, Derrick Williams is rumoured to be next to follow suit.
Opening fixture: Ipswich Town (A)
Lastly, Rotherham United.
Paul Warne oversaw a narrow play-off final victory at Wembley to ensure Rotherham became the final team to bounce back at the first attempt. Third-placed Shrewsbury fell victim to two goals from Millers defender, Richard Wood as the Yorkshire side clinched the trophy, with their return to the Championship confirmed. Warne will be hoping he can better their previous stay of just three seasons in the second tier.
A 4-2 win on aggregate against managerless Scunthorpe set Rotherham up for a trip to the capital and they had their day against Paul Hurst’s side who took the Miller’s to a grueling period of extra time, where Captain, Wood snatched a 103rd-minute winner to send the Reds into raptures.
Like Blackburn, Rotherham have not yet begun to recruit new faces for their upcoming campaign, however, the Millers have released six players, including defender Shaun Cummings, and Jonson Clarke-Harris who joins Coventry City having helped the Sky Blues make their way out of League Two during a successful loan spell.
The Millers most recent Championship campaign saw them total just 13 points, which meant their relegation was confirmed long before any final day drama could take place. Warne will be hoping to change that this time around as he prepares for his first full season at the New York Stadium, having previously played for the Millers prior to his retirement.
Keiffer Moore is subject of interest from the Millers as they hope to resign the Barnsley striker who spent last season on loan with them, scoring 13 times, before the Tykes suffered relegation. Derry City ace Aaron McEneff is also poised to sign for Rotherham upon the opening of the transfer window in July.
Opening fixture: Brentford (A)
Wigan, Blackburn, and Rotherham fans, let us know your thoughts by commenting below and taking part in the poll. Does your side have what it takes to survive the drop next year? You can tweet us at @AllOutFootball_ using the hashtag #AOF.