Five to Watch
Thomas Hill picks out five of the Championship's most promising players to keep an eye on this season.
Last Updated: 10/08/12 3:26pm
With the Football League set to get underway on 18th August, we pick out a quintet of players who might just light up the second tier over the next ten months. Last season's beaten play-off contenders Birmingham, Blackpool and Cardiff supply four of the players to make the top five, with Leeds finishing off the group.
Club: Birmingham City
Jack Butland's rise from on-loan League Two keeper, to Euro 2012 back-up and Team GB No.1 is nothing short of extraordinary. Butland's rise has attracted the attention of a number of Premier League clubs, who spent time watching him during his stint at Cheltenham Town last season.
The youngster joined the Blues' academy in 2007, but has yet to make a first-team appearance for the Championship side. In 2011, he was handed the No.1 jersey but Colin Doyle and Boaz Myhill were given the nod over him throughout the campaign.
Cheltenham were lucky enough to loan Butland on two occasions where he made 24 appearances in total in 2011/12. The recent Olympic Games saw Butland show his shot-stopping ability as well as ability to command his box.
New manager Lee Clark hasn't revealed who he wants between the sticks just yet, but after Butland's performances over the summer he looks more than ready.
Club: Leeds United
Pearce became Neil Warnock's first signing of the summer in May, when he moved from Portsmouth for an undisclosed fee. With a reputation of a traditional tough-tackling centre-back, Leeds fans are licking their lips at the prospect of seeing Pearce in the white shirt at Elland Road.
Having come through the ranks at Portsmouth, Pearce made a move to Bournemouth where he impressed at the lower levels. A return to Pompey followed in 2011, where Pearce won the players' player of the year and seven of the nine supporters' awards available.
To date, Pearce has made over 250 appearances and Leeds fans will be hoping this no-nonsense centre-half can improve their back line this campaign.
Club: Birmingham City
Sir Alex Ferguson was stunned when Ravel Morrison asked more money last season after only making three appearances, with the Manchester United manager saying the demands were 'unrealistic'. Morrison has once again surprised a few people by joining the Blues, but it could be the perfect move for him should he get the games to shine. Morrison made the move to the Midlands on a season-long loan on Sunday, despite only joining West Ham in January for a fee of £650,000.
West Ham boss Sam Allardyce is hoping Morrison will get some match practice in after making just one substitute appearance against Leeds in March. Morrison has the talent to excel but his reputation has gone before him in the past few seasons. If he can be given a platform to show his ability, Morrison could finally make people talk about him for all the right reasons.
The 2011/12 season was a breakthrough campaign for winger Matt Phillips as his glittering performances saw him named in the PFA's Championship team of the year. This summer, Scotland boss Craig Levein came calling and Phillips decided to play for Scotland, expressing that the opportunity was too good to turn down.
His pace and ability with the ball at his feet caught defences napping last season as Blackpool narrowly missed out on promotion in the play-off final. Blackpool boss Ian Holloway sent Phillips on a short-term loan to Sheffield United to find form in the first half of the season. It was a move that proved to be crucial in his development, Phillips netted five times in five starts before returning to Blackpool to finish the season with 12 goals in 35 games.
Phillips and fellow winger Thomas Ince will be crucial this season as Blackpool will look to the Premier League once more.
Mason enjoyed a whirlwind 2011/12 season after making the step up from League Two side Plymouth Argyle. Cardiff started the season with Kenny Miller and Robbie Earnshaw up top, but Mason's hard work and determination paid off as he was thrust into the first team.
In all competitions last year, Mason started 27 games and found the net on 12 occasions; scoring vital goals to help Cardiff into the play-off spots at the end of the season. In the Carling Cup final against Liverpool, Mason found the net but it wasn't enough to bring the trophy back to Wales.
His impressive performances for Malky Mackay's side were rewarded with a new contract until the summer of 2016. Fulham, Sunderland and Swansea were all linked with Mason throughout the 2011/12 season but Cardiff will be confident they'll be joining the Premier League with Mason a key part of their attack.