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Roker Ramble: Uppers and Downers

So – at the half-way stage of the season, who do we think will stay up and go down come the end of the season? The Ramble predicts...

Hull City v Manchester United - Premier League Photo by Nigel Roddis/Getty Images

Hull – no prizes for the first guess. The strength of any organisation stems from the top, and Hull are basically headless. Their owner, and the man who dragged them out of the footballing wilderness, Assem Allam, is ill so his family are running the Club. Efforts to change the name have alienated the fans and their resistance has encouraged the family to sell - but a buyer can’t be found.

The manager doesn’t have a proven record and they have a weak squad - if they lose Robert Snodgrass in the January window, as is looking likely, then they lose their most influential player. They look doomed.

As do Swansea the way things stand. And, similarly to Hull, the trouble stems from the top. Recent boardroom shenanigans have left the Club both in the hands of an American consortium and with a set of disgruntled fans. The sacking of Francesco Guidolin in October 2016 led to the appointment of the first US manager to work in the Premier League. Bob Bradley was working in the French second division when he got the call from Swansea, and there may be a reason for that – perhaps he’s not very good.

Bradley was sacked yesterday by the Swans, and his replacement at the Liberty Stadium is not yet known - Alan Pardew, anyone?

As to who will be joining them, it will be one from Sunderland, Middlesbrough, Burnley, Bournemouth or Leicester.

I think David Moyes and Martin Bain have enough going for them to keep us up. I think we’ll see some more free transfers come in January, I think we have the right spirit in the team and we’ll fight all the way. It’ll be close but we’ll get over the line. Same goes for Middlesbrough. If Alvaro Negredo has a better second half of the season than the first, I think that Aitor Karanka will keep them up.

Burnley have the look and feel of a Championship team - they also have in Joey Barton and George Boyd, two of the most annoying players in the division, but they have a big advantage in that they’ve been here before. Sean Dyche is a very capable manager and if they can match their efforts from the first half of the season I think they too will stay up. Bournemouth would have to completely crash and burn to get sucked into a relegation scrap, so my answer as to who will get relegated with Hull and Swansea has to be Leicester.

Their flair players have their heads so far up their new contracts they’re not performing. The loss of N'Golo Kante means their defence has lost it’s protection and seem to be back to pre-championship-winning standard, and I don’t think the manager is good enough to sort out the mess. If he was, he'd have done it by now. I think they’re toast.

So, if they’re the downers, who’s going to replace them?

Newcastle would have to fail spectacularly not to be promoted as champions and it can only be good for the North East to have all three teams back together in the Premier League. It’s about time that ‘the hotbed of football’ stood shoulder to shoulder with London and the North West again, and I think that in Karanka, Moyes and Benitez, the region has the managers who can start to repair its tarnished image.

As for the other two relegated clubs from last season, Villa are still rebuilding under Steve Bruce and Norwich seem to be self-destructing having lost seven out of their last nine games, and are probably due a managerial change.

But Brighton have been there or thereabouts for the past few seasons and Chris Hughton is too good a manager not to get them over the line this time. Not the best news for our travelling away fans maybe, given that the fixture is pretty much guaranteed to be on a midweek evening next season.

The choice of the third promotion place is as intriguing as always, and looks likely to come from any one of Derby County, Reading, Leeds, Huddersfield, Sheffield Wednesday or Fulham.

Derby, like Brighton, have been knocking on the door for a few seasons now and have always faltered towards the end of the season. Will Steve McClaren keep his concentration this time? He’s certainly done a good job since he came back in, but for me they’re perennial failures and won’t make the grade again this time.

Reading, under Jaap Stam are looking stronger than many expected, but I think they’re either flattering to deceive or it could be a season too early for them. Similarly with Huddersfield – Jurgen Klopp's protégé David Wagner is doing a fantastic job with limited resources, but I think they’ll struggle to last the pace in what is without doubt, the toughest division to get out of. I think they’ll come close and then lose their manager in the close season as he’s poached elsewhere.

Sheffield Wednesday have stated that they want to be back in the Premiership in the 2017-18 season for their 150th anniversary, and nearly did it a year early, losing the playoff final to Hull last year, so they have a platform to build on and are definite contenders.

Leeds would be the poetic choice, with Swansea going in the opposite direction. Garry Monk, undoubtedly the prime candidate for Championship Manager of the Season, was badly treated by Swansea and then accepted the poisoned chalice that is the Leeds manager's position - he's done an outstanding job. And yet you can’t help thinking that with problems at the top, off-field events may have an adverse effect on the on-field activities.

So, I’m going to go with Fulham. Not only because it’s my favourite away venue, but because they finally look like they’ve got a good balanced squad. They’ve sorted out their managerial problems, they’re hitting a good run of form and there’s always one team in the Championship that leaves it late and makes it into the playoffs (usually at the expense of Derby) - once in there, anything could happen.

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