Sunday, July 13, 2008

Championship 2008-09 Storylines, Vol. 1

An occasional Pardew's Guardian feature ahead of the August 9th kickoff of England's "second tier" ...
1) Will Alan Pardew rescue his managerial reputation by taking Charlton back to the Premiership at the second time of asking? "Pards" (pictured above, top) was riding high after leading West Ham to a surprising 9th-place finish in the Prem and a place in the FA Cup final in the spring of 2006, capping an upward trajectory that saw him lift Reading into contention for the top flight before taking on the Hammers job while the club was getting used to the Championship in 2003. But the disastrous first few months of the Hammers' 2006-07 campaign led to his firing, and while Pardew landed on his feet by taking over at Charlton on Christmas Eve he was unable to keep the Addicks up. The South London side looked like a good bet for automatic promotion in the early part of the 2007-08 season, but they fell off precipitously as spring 2008 came around. Some critics thought it was evidence that the bloom had finally come off the Pardew rose. A manager married to the sports science side of the game may have seen his shortcomings on the footballing and tactical fronts come home to roost. Still, the Addicks will be right in the Championship mix again so maybe Pards will have the last laugh.
2) Can Dexter Blackstock and friends deliver newly-wealthy Queen's Park Rangers to dizzy heights? The free-scoring forward (pictured above, middle) found himself to be the toast of the West London sub-Prem football scene after regaining his scoring touch for manager Luigi De Canio's QPR side last spring. And that was a good time for the former Southampton man to show his capabilities, as Formula One's Renault technical director Flavio Briatore and his Italian consortium vowed to pour money into the club in an effort to reach the promised land of the top flight. Blackstock is one of those 'tween players who may be too good for the second tier but just not up to the standard of the Prem. For similar examples, think of Nathan Tyson, Freddie Eastwood, post-Sunderland Kevin Phillips and -- some would say, though I disagree -- Bobby Zamora. How Blackstock comes out of the gate could go a huge way in determining the Hoops' fortunes this season.
3) Will Roy Carroll's quality deliver Derby the title at a canter? The Northern Irish goalkeeper (pictured above, bottom) certainly has his detractors, but I don't happen to be one of them. I think he got a raw deal from the English press for some high-profile blunders while at Manchester United, and his well-publicized drinking and gambling problems derailed what had been a promising start to his West Ham career. I saw him play for the Hammers in person vs. Bolton at Upton Park, and his attributes were on display for anyone with a good pair of eyes that day. Rams manger Paul Jewell brought Carroll in last season much to late to save Derby's sinking ship, but that inspired signing could provide a comfort zone when it comes to the top of this season's table. There won't be another keeper with his pedigree lining up for any of the other 23 teams in the division, and that sort of solidity at the back could have everyone else fighting for second place.