FL 125 Championship
As Sky Sports picks out 125 players to watch in the Football League, here's the Championship 31-65. All 24 clubs are covered over the course of two second tier instalments, but have we got it right?
By Chris Burton & Daniel Storey
Last Updated: 30/07/13 2:40pm
With the Football League currently celebrating its 125-year anniversary since inception and with the new season to get underway in earnest at the weekend, we've spread our net across the Sky Bet Championship, League One and League Two to pick out 125 shining lights outside of the Premier League for the 2013/14 campaign.
Even if you're the type of supporter that doesn't have to debate whether the glass is half-full or half-empty because you've long-since since drained the contents, there's no need for despair as we've picked out at least one player from every club.
In total, we've ranked 65 players from the Championship and selected 30 each from Leagues One and Two respectively as those most likely to make a significant impact this season.
It's all a matter of opinions though and we'd love to hear yours. So if we've got your club's star man all wrong or missed a young kid all set for a breakthrough campaign let us know by filling in the feedback form below.
31. Blackpool - Matt Phillips
Blackpool may have taken up a one-year option on Phillips' contract, but whether he sees that extended agreement out remains to be seen. He has been dominating transfer gossip columns for some time now, with Premier League sides aplenty said to be mulling over an approach for his services. The 22-year-old would not come cheap, but he could be seen as an alternative to club colleague Tom Ince - who now appears set to stay at Bloomfield Road until at least January. Phillips has been capped on two occasions by Scotland, but needs to convince Gordon Strachan that he is deserving of further international recognition - a challenge he can be expected to meet head on.
32. Leicester City - Wes Morgan
Widely regarded as one of the most complete centre-halves outside of the Premier League, Leicester netted themselves quite the bargain when they lured Morgan away from home-town club Nottingham Forest in January 2012. A hulking defender who is strong in the air and in the tackle, it has come as no surprise to learn that Forest are keen to take the 29-year-old back to the City Ground now that there financial struggles are over. Leicester, though, have handed Morgan their captain's armband and will demand a sizeable fee for his services as they endeavour to put a contract extension in place.
33. Nottingham Forest - Andy Reid
It never quite worked out for Reid after his departure from the City Ground in 2005. Glimpses were shown at Tottenham, Charlton and Sunderland but fitness and confidence issues consistently held him back. Now back at Nottingham Forest, Reid once again looks settled and happy, reflecting in his impressive form. Only four players in the division registered more assists than Reid last season, but the most impressive aspect of the midfielder's performance was his evidently improved stamina.
34. Leeds United - Ross McCormack
A 19-goal return in 2011/12 would have you believe that the Scot should be deployed down the middle, with it obvious that he knows his way to the back of the net. He is, however, as effective, if not more effective, when operating from a wider role. He proved that last season with an impressive return of 11 assists in the league. Only three players could better that tally in the Championship, and McCormack also weighed in with eight goals in all competitions. He will feel he should be breaking into double figures every year - regardless of where he starts - but Leeds have moved to add Matt Smith and Noel Hunt to their ranks this summer so there will not be as much pressure on him to deliver on that front in 2013/14.
35. Blackburn Rovers - Scott Dann
You don't get too many £6million players in the Championship, never mind £6million centre-halves. Dann, though, demanded that fee when he was taken to Blackburn from Birmingham in 2011. At the time, he was being linked with some of the top clubs in the country and was touted as a potential England international. Relegation out of the top flight was not part of the plan, but Dann was an ever-present for Rovers last season as they adjusted to life away from the spotlight. Speculation suggests he could be on the move before the summer window slams shut, as Blackburn look to cut costs, but for now he is club captain at Ewood Park and will lead them into 2013/14.
36. Watford- Joel Ekstrand
Watford's success last season, which took them to within 90 minutes of the Premier League, is all the more remarkable when you consider how many loanees Gianfranco Zola had to bed into his ranks. The vast majority were experiencing life in England for the first time, but once they found their feet the Hornets took flight. Ekstrand was among those to earn plenty of plaudits, with the Swedish defender figuring in over 30 Championship fixtures. He has been brought back to Vicarage Road on a three-year contract and will be hoping to step up into the top flight with the Hornets in the not too distant future.
37. Sheffield Wednesday - Michail Antonio
Antonio's debut season at Hillsborough ended on an injury low, but he offered enough prior to picking up an untimely knock to suggest that Sheffield Wednesday have acquired themselves quite a player. He was snapped up after initially impressing on loan, and has justified the faith shown in his talent - something he lacked at Reading. A tricky winger who knows his way to goal, 23-year-old Antonio will be looking to burst out of the blocks and further enhance his growing reputation over the course of the next 10 months.
38. AFC Bournemouth - Matt Ritchie
Given that Ritchie made his Premier League debut for Portsmouth in April 2009, it seems odd that, at 23, this will be his first season as a starter above the third tier. Having only joined Bournemouth in January from League One rivals Swindon Town (a transfer that saw Paulo Di Canio hand in his resignation at the club), the winger's form helped effect a glorious run of form that culminated in automatic promotion to the Championship. After being named League Two Player of the Year in 2011/12, Ritchie repeated the feat last season at the next step up. All eyes will be on how he copes with Championship life.
39. Leicester City - Chris Wood
Given his size and strength, it comes as something of a surprise that Wood is still just 21 years of age. After failing to establish a first team place at West Brom following a move from his native New Zealand, Wood finally found impressive goalscoring form during a four-month loan spell at Millwall during last season. When the January transfer window came Wood favoured a permanent move to Leicester over remaining at the Den, but the goal record continued. Leicester fans will be hoping that Wood's form instigates an automatic promotion bid this season.
40. Middlesbrough - Jason Steele
Named as Middlesbrough's Player of the Season last year, Steele was the only player to play every minute of the club's league season. Aged just 22, the goalkeeper has England U21 caps and even represented Great Britain against Brazil in the run in to the Olympic Games last summer. In a division in which fine goalkeepers are numerous, Steele has the potential to be the best. Middlesbrough's pressing concern is holding onto their young asset.
41. Charlton Athletic - Chris Solly
There are a number of talented full-backs currently plying their trade in the Football League, and most of them have been noted by Premier League scouts. Solly is among those to have drawn admiring glances from the top table in English football, and could soon be dining among the elite. Charlton will need to be paid big money if they are to cash in on the 22-year-old, though, as they are determined to ensure that they are the ones to benefit from his considerable talent. Solly has been named Charlton's Player of the Year in each of the past two seasons.
42. Bolton Wanderers - Jermaine Beckford
Leicester will be hoping they aren't left to rue the decision to let Beckford link up with a potential promotion rival this summer, with a proven marksman having slipped through their net. The 29-year-old may not have come close to replicating the kind of form he showed during his time at Leeds - when he plundered 85 goals over the course of three productive seasons - in recent times but he remains a nuisance to defenders at Championship level with his pace and predatory instincts. Eight goals for a struggling Huddersfield side last season suggest Beckford has lost none of his touch and he could flourish now surrounded by Bolton's enviable array of creative talent.
43. Leeds United - Luke Murphy
Quite how Crewe do it year after year is anyone's guess, but the Alex's academy system remains among the most revered in England. The latest shining light to have been moulded at Gresty Road and freed to spread his wings away from the nest is Murphy. When it was announced that Leeds had secured his services, the general consensus was that they had acquired themselves a midfielder who is already better than most but, at the age of 23, has the potential to grace the very top of the game. The fact that Leeds shelled out a £1million-plus fee for the first time in eight years to land Murphy speaks volumes about how highly he is regarded.
44. Yeovil Town - Paddy Madden
It is a regular occurrence for a striker to perform at an almost inexplicably different level upon moving clubs, but in the case of Paddy Madden, the change was so instantaneous it defied belief. Allowed by Carlisle to join Yeovil on an initial one-month loan after scoring just two goals in 32 league games in Cumbria, the striker took to life in Somerset immediately. The Irishman scored 22 goals in 35 games including a stunning strike in the League One play-off final as Yeovil reached the second tier for the first time in their history. Madden won the division's Golden Boot and significant praise. Fans in Carlisle will be left scratching their heads.
45. Doncaster Rovers - David Cotterill
Appearing for seven different clubs by the age of 25 hints at a rather nomadic career for Cotterill until now, but at Doncaster he seems to have found a home at which he is comfortable and confident. A series of spectacular goals in 2012/13 made him extremely popular to fans in South Yorkshire, and Cotterill reached double figures in the league as Rovers were promoted at the first time of asking. Named in the PFA's League One Team of the Season was a justified recognition for a fine season, and Cotterill should easily settle at Championship level.
46. Burnley - Kieran Trippier
Any player providing 11 assists over the course of a productive campaign in the final third of the field would be expected to ply their trade either up top or out on the wings. Not Tripper, he is a full-back. The 22-year-old was, however, only bettered in the creativity department last season by three players. His willingness to fly forward has been embraced by the Clarets, who now consider the youngster to be one of the finest exponents of the wing-back role in the second tier. His exploits in 2012/13 were rewarded with a place in the Championship Team of the Year and Premier League vultures are now starting to circle.
47. Huddersfield Town - James Vaughan
Whilst Vaughan may not have progressed from his auspicious career beginnings (he still remains the Premier League's youngest ever scorer), Vaughan ended his Norwich City nightmare with a loan move to Huddersfield last season. His 14 league goals effectively ensured the Terriers' survival after promotion, and fans at the John Smith's Stadium will have been delighted that the forward was captured on a permanent deal. Still just 25, Vaughan now has the opportunity to reignite his career as the main man at a Championship club.
48. Millwall - James Henry
After ten league games in four years at Reading, it was clear that Henry needed to move on. Having enjoyed two spells at the Den, Millwall were keen to make the move permanent, and since moving to South London Henry has blossomed into a fine winger. Last season's form was cut short by a series of injuries (although he regained fitness for the FA Cup semi-final), but on his day Henry remains one of the most exciting attacking players in the Championship.
49. Ipswich Town - Aaron Cresswell
Quite where Cresswell stands in an ever-lengthening list of promising full-backs in the Football League is open to debate, but he must figure somewhere near the top of that chart. Ipswich spotted his potential in 2011 and ensured that it was they who lured him away from Tranmere. Two seasons later, in which he has missed just a handful of games, and Cresswell has more than justified the faith shown in him. Ipswich knew the 23-year-old would attract interest this summer, as players of his quality are always in high demand, but they will do everything they can to keep him at Portman Road.
50. Reading - Wayne Bridge
Bridge has rather lost his way in recent years. Unfortunate to join Chelsea and Manchester City as they undertook major rebuilding programmes, the 32-year-old has become something of a forgotten man. It is, however, worth noting that he has a Premier League winners' medal to his name and 36 England caps. He helped Brighton put themselves in promotion contention last term and will be back for more on the Championship stage in 2013/14 after linking up with Reading. The Royals are expected to be among the second tier frontrunners and will be looking for Bridge to provide an added threat down their left flank - complementing the likes of Jimmy Kebe and Royston Drenthe.
51. Nottingham Forest - Chris Cohen
If you're looking for the spectacular, someone who loves nothing more than hogging the headlines and basking in personal glory, then Cohen is not your man. If, on the other hand, you are after a Mr Dependable, someone who will put in 7/10 performances week in, week out and let nobody down, then Cohen is most definitely the man you are after. It came as no surprise to see the versatile 26-year-old top Nottingham Forest's Player of the Year poll last season and there is every chance he will defend that title in 2013/14. If he is fit he plays, and if plays then he tends to play well.
52. Brighton & Hove Albion - Tomasz Kuszczak
It would have been easy for Kuszczak to accept a support role at Manchester United and enjoy basking in the benefits which accompany a standing among the playing staff at one of the world's biggest clubs. The Pole was, however, unwilling to be just another squad player - even one who gets his hands on silverware on a regular basis - and completed a move to Brighton in the summer of 2012. He was a virtual ever-present last term for the high-flying Seagulls and is convinced it will not be too long before he is back at Old Trafford in the visiting dressing room.
53. Wigan Athletic - Chris McCann
After being handed the managerial reins at FA Cup holders Wigan, one of Owen Coyle's first tasks was to draft a familiar face into his ranks. Managers are well advised to 'stick to what they know' and Coyle has done just that in his acquisition of McCann. The Scot worked with the highly-rated midfielder during his time at Burnley and, while he has had his fair share of injury troubles, considers the 25-year-old Dubliner to be an absolute steal on a free transfer. He may well be right, but it is now up to McCann to prove that he is deserving of a starting berth in a Latics midfield packed with talent and that he can help secure a second promotion under Coyle's tutelage.
54. Leicester City - David Nugent
There aren't too many players who boast 100 per cent scoring records at international level, but Nugent is one of them. Admittedly, he has only made the one appearance for England, but no-one can take that solitary cap or a debut goal away from him. Few eyebrows were raised when Nugent was drafted into the Three Lions fold back in 2007 and he was involved in a big-money move to Portsmouth shortly after making his bow. He has struggled to get goals at a Premier League level, but remains a prolific marksman in the Championship. The 28-year-old has plundered 16 goals in each of his two seasons at Leicester and will be looking for more of the same this term.
55. Charlton Athletic - Johnnie Jackson
A successful spell at Colchester United from 2006 to 2009 ended a period when Jackson's career had slumped after initial bright beginnings. The midfielder failed to establish himself at Tottenham, making only 20 Premier League appearances in seven years at White Hart Lane. Now at Charlton and having reached 30 years of age, Jackson has matured into a fine Championship player who has now scored more than ten league goals from midfield in each of his last three seasons.
56. Ipswich Town - Tommy Smith
Now Ipswich's longest-serving player despite being just 23, Smith has firmly established himself in defence, and was named as the club's Supporters' Player of the Season in May. That award capped off quite a year for the defender, who became New Zealand's youngest ever captain in May 2012. With a contract that was due to expire at the end of this season, supporters were buoyed by the news that a new deal had been signed. After a difficult period during his time at Portman Road, Smith looks to have won over the fans.
57. Sheffield Wednesday - Lewis Buxton
Narrowly beating Chris Kirkland to the Sheffield Wednesday Player of the Season award last season demonstrated quite how important the defender was in the club's survival in the Championship. This season, Buxton has higher ideas: "My goal as a player is to get to the Premier League and that is Wednesday's goal." Supporters will be buoyed by such ambition, and happy that Buxton has committed his future to the club. "It's an honour and a privilege to play at Hillsborough and I can't wait for the new season to start now my future is sorted. There was a bit of interest from elsewhere, but as soon as Wednesday said they were offering me a new deal, that was all I wanted."
58. Huddersfield Town - Jack Hunt
When Swansea chairman Huw Jenkins was quizzed on his club's supposed interest in former Wigan full-back Ronnie Stam a few weeks back, he knocked those reports on the head and went on to reveal that Hunt was actually among those the Premier League outfit are looking at. Such interest is understandable, with the 22-year-old having made quite a name for himself in recent years. He was named in the League One Team of the Year in 2011/12 and did not look out of place on the Championship stage last term. How long it takes him to step up another rung on the ladder remains to be seen, but the big boys are watching him closely.
59. Blackburn Rovers - Adam Henley
Henley admits he came close to leaving Blackburn on loan at the start of last season, with Steve Kean having decided to overlook his talents. He was drafted back into the first team fold, though, and is still considered to be among the brightest prospects on the books at Ewood Park. The American-born Wales U21 international is only 19 years old, but has already shown that he has maturity and confidence beyond his years. The 2013/14 season could be a crucial one for him as he now needs to show that he can be a consistent performer at a club that harbours ambitions of returning to the Premier League in the not too distant future.
60. Bolton Wanderers - Marvin Sordell
The last 12 months or so must have passed by as something of a blur for Sordell, as he has graced the Premier League, represented Great Britain at the 2012 Olympic Games, turned out in the Championship and taken in a trip to a major international tournament with the England U21s. It could be that he crashes back down to earth with a bump in 2013/14, but those in charge at Bolton will do their utmost to ensure that doesn't happen. Dougie Freedman is a big fan of the 22-year-old forward, but will be aware that there is plenty more to unlock from the youngster if he can find the right key.
61. Sheffield Wednesday - Chris Kirkland
There will be two England international goalkeepers turning out in the Championship this season, with Kirkland having been joined in the second tier ranks by Wigan new boy Scott Carson. Kirkland has represented his country on just the one occasion, and may have to settle for a billing as a one-cap wonder. Tipped for the very top during his early days at Coventry, injuries have blighted a career which promised much more than it has delivered. Kirkland is, however, still a top shot-stopper and at 32 years of age would like to think that he has many years left in the game.
62. Wigan Athletic - Scott Carson
Carson's has been a strange career. Appearances for Leeds, Liverpool, Aston Villa and West Brom in the Premier League and four international appearances for England hint at continued success, but the goalkeeper was the fall guy under Steve McClaren's failure at England. After two seasons in Turkey for Bursaspor (a brave move for which he deserves immense credit) Carson has made the decision to return to England, and will surely play a crucial role in Wigan's bid for promotion. Still just 27, he has the chance to earn redemption back home.
63. Bournemouth - Brett Pitman
Pitman would have been one of the more obvious picks on a list such as list between 2008 and 2011, but he may have slipped off the radar for a couple of years after seeing his form dip during a spell at Bristol City. Pitman is, however, back where he belongs after rediscovering his scoring boots in 2012/13. A return to Bournemouth has done him the world of good, with familiar surroundings bringing out the best in him. Pitman is still only 25 years old, but already has 100 goals to his name and plundered 19 of them last term. Eddie Howe will be delighted to have him back and will be looking forward to seeing how he fares back among Championship company.
64. Doncaster Rovers - Harry Forrester
After failing to register a single league appearance at Aston Villa (despite the club fending off interest from Manchester United for his signature), Forrester was signed by Brentford, rejecting an offer from Dutch giants Ajax (for whom he had scored a pre-season friendly hat trick) to move to Griffin Park. After impressing during Brentford's promotion campaign last season, the attacking midfielder allowed his contract to expire in order to join Doncaster on a free transfer. At 22, he will be keen to test himself at such a level for the first time in his career.
65. Barnsley - Reuben Noble-Lazarus
Born a year and a day after the Premier League began, Lazarus became the youngest player to ever feature in the Football League during Barnsley's game against Ipswich in 2008 - manager Simon Davey admitted that he had been blocked from playing the forward when aged 14 due to competition rules. Lazarus has struggled at times at Oakwell, but now aged 19 hopes to establish himself as a first-team fixture next season. Manager David Flitcroft indicated in May that his performances had proved that he had "turned into a man".