Six Football League stars to watch in 2015/16 featuring Benik Afobe, Demarai Gray and more
By Nick Wright
Last Updated: 24/07/15 11:46am
As the start of the Football League season draws ever closer, we pick six players who look set to make a big impact in 2015/16.
The campaign gets underway when Brighton host Championship rivals Nottingham Forest live on Sky Sports 5 HD on Friday, August 7.
And here's a selection of potential stars who can light up your screens on Sky Sports this season.
Demarai Gray, Birmingham
Birmingham have had to fight to keep hold of talented teenage winger Gray after his breakthrough season in 2014/15, but he recently committed to the club by signing a new three-year contract at St Andrew’s .
Manager Gary Rowett described Gray’s new deal as Birmingham’s “biggest signing of the summer so far”, and the England U20 international has certainly had his fair share of suitors, with Premier League new boys Bournemouth seeing a string of bids rejected last season.
Gray possesses great pace and loves to take on defenders. Only one Championship player under the age of 21 completed more dribbles than his 66 last season, and he also netted six goals over the course of the season.
Newspaper reports suggest some of the Premier League’s biggest clubs are monitoring Gray’s progress, and Rowett expects further improvement. "I think he is looking at another season where hopefully he gets 40-odd games and advances again,” said the Blues boss. "I'm really, really looking forward to working with him once more.”
Tjaronn Chery, QPR
QPR fended off interest from Premier League clubs to land Chery, according to director of football Les Ferdinand, and the Dutch forward is certainly an exciting acquisition.
Chery arrives at Loftus Road having established himself as one of the Eredivisie’s top attackers since joining Groningen two years ago. The 27-year-old scored 10 goals and claimed seven assists in 2013/14 and went from strength to strength last season, finishing the campaign with 15 goals and six assists in the league and earning his first call-up to the Netherlands squad.
Only four players directly contributed to more Eredivisie goals than Chery, who is quick and skilful and has a penchant for scoring spectacular free-kicks. And while Dutch imports have had varying degrees of success in England (for every Luis Suarez there is an Afonso Alves), QPR head coach Chris Ramsey believes he has the ability and versatility to shine.
"Tjaronn is a very good technician, a fine player,” said Ramsey. "He can play in a variety of positions in the top half of the field and will bring more pace to our squad, which is something I knew we needed after last season.”
Benik Afobe, Wolves
No player in England scored more goals than Benik Afobe last season. After netting 19 times for MK Dons in the first half of the campaign, the former Arsenal striker took his overall total to 32 after signing for Wolves in January.
Afobe was highly regarded within the Arsenal youth ranks, but a string of loan spells were hindered by injuries and it wasn’t until he joined MK Dons that he finally began fulfilling his potential, convincing Wolves to sign him permanently from the Gunners.
As well as being a ruthless finisher, the England U21 is quick, physically strong and an excellent dribbler. His efforts last season also ensure that he will start the new season full of confidence. "Any defenders that I come up against at the moment, I just feel I can score and rip them apart,” he told Sky Sports in April.
“That’s the great thing about having confidence, I am not really worried about who I am playing against. I just want to prove myself and be the best player I can possibly be.” With such self-belief, it is easy to see why he is the bookmakers’ favourite to be the Championship’s top scorer.
Chris Wood, Leeds United
Having failed to adequately replace the prolific Ross McCormack last season, Leeds moved quickly to sign striker Chris Wood from Leicester on a four-year contract at the start of July.
The 23-year-old New Zealand international was given few Premier League chances with the Foxes and struggled to make an impact on loan at Ipswich last season, but has impressed in previous Championship spells.
The Whites will be hoping he can rediscover his 2012/13 form, when he scored 11 goals in 19 games on loan at Millwall before earning his permanent switch from West Brom to Leicester, where he added another 11 goals before the end of the campaign.
Leeds are reported to have paid around £3m for Wood, who is physically strong and technically accomplished as well as having considerable Championship experience. “He has potential to develop and has his best years in front of him,” said Leeds boss Uwe Rosler. “It’s exciting. He already has a proven goalscoring record and I think there are many goals to come.”
Teddy Bishop, Ipswich Town
Midfielder Bishop only turned 19 this month but has already become a key player for Ipswich Town having made 35 Championship appearances in an eye-catching breakthrough campaign last season.
Newspaper reports have linked the likes of Arsenal and Manchester United with the talented youngster, but he penned a new contract at Portman Road in February, much to the delight of his manager Mick McCarthy.
“He is going to play in the Premier League, no doubt about that,” McCarthy said in February. “Let’s hope it’s with us. Whatever happens, he will play there because he’s that good. This is no false dawn. I’m not looking through rose-tinted glasses. He can be top class.”
Bishop has drawn plaudits for his maturity and distribution in central midfield, and it was no surprise that he started both legs of Town's Championship play-off semi-final against Norwich. With Ipswich plotting another crack at promotion this season, Bishop will certainly be one to watch.
Che Adams, Sheffield United
Outside the Championship, Sheffield United teenager Adams is among the most exciting young prospects. The Blades beat off fierce competition to land the pacy, skilful striker from non-league Ilkeston last season, and he is already reported to have attracted interest from Cardiff City .
Adams burst onto the scene in explosive fashion when he netted a quick-fire double in last season’s Capital One Cup semi-final against Tottenham, and he has been tipped for a big year in 2015/16 as the Blades eye promotion from League One having fallen short last year.
Adams has impressed in United’s early pre-season fixtures, and the youngster is eager to impress new manager Nigel Adkins. “It’s a massive opportunity for myself and the rest of the young lads,” he said in a recent interview with The Star. “I had a taste last season and hopefully I can play more this time around. That’s definitely my aim.”