English Championship campaign kicks off today

AFP, LONDON

Sat, Aug 11, 2007 - Page 19

Sheffield United, Charlton and Watford kick off their campaigns to return to the English Premiership at the first attempt today as 24 Championship sides scrap it out for a shot at the big time.

Fourteen of the teams are former Premiership clubs and restoring their top-flight status is the only game in town for such sides.

The Championship is the fourth most-watched league in Europe behind the Premiership, Germany's Bundesliga and Spain's La Liga.

But that is little comfort to the teams desperate to get out of it.

Bookmakers William Hill price Charlton as the 6/1 favorites to win the Championship, followed by Wolves and West Bromwich Albion at 7/1 with Watford and Sheffield United at 9/1.

Charlton, who spent seven straight seasons in the top flight, would have hoped to face the likes of Manchester United once again this year.

But a home tie with the newly promoted and decidedly unglamorous League One champions Scunthorpe United will have to do today.

Sheffield United host Colchester, whose home is the 6,340-capacity Layer Road.

The Blades fought an unsuccessful battle to get their Premier League status reinstated at the expense of West Ham United, believing the Hammers should have been deducted points rather than fined over the muddled registration of Argentina striker Carlos Tevez.

Bryan Robson, the former Manchester United and England midfielder who coached Middlesbrough and West Bromwich, has taken over at Bramall Lane following the colorful Neil Warnock's resignation.

Watford travel to play Wolverhampton Wanderers.

Wolves' bitter Black Country rivals West Bromwich Albion, who lost out to Derby County in the Championship play-off final last season, start all over again at Burnley.

The Championship play-off final is the soccer match with the biggest financial reward on offer in the world, with a place in the Premiership worth an estimated ?50 million (US$100 million).

Unlike the top flight, the Championship is a relatively open contest, where smaller sides can mix it with the bigger clubs -- including newly promoted teams.

Of the other newcomers, League One runners up Bristol City host Queens Park Rangers, while League One play-off winners Blackpool visit Leicester.

Today's Championship fixtures:

Barnsley vs. Coventry City, Bristol City vs. Queens Park Rangers, Burnley vs. West Bromwich Albion, Cardiff City vs. Stoke City, Charlton Athletic vs. Scunthorpe United, Hull City vs. Plymouth Argyle, Ipswich Town vs. Sheffield Wednesday, Leicester City vs. Blackpool, Preston North End vs. Norwich City, Sheffield United vs. Colchester United, Southampton vs. Crystal Palace, Wolverhampton Wanderers vs. Watford.