Premier League's newest members will be fighting for survival
Earlier this week the final promotion spot in the Championship was decided, so let's examine the three sides that'll join the Premier League in August.
Cardiff went to the top of the second tier in late November 2012 and wouldn't be budged from the spot -- losing only four of the remaining 28 matches of the season. The club hasn't played in the top flight since the early 1960s, and seemed to have got stuck after finishing in the playoff places three years in a row, only to lose out. But the manager Malky Mackay, helped by a healthy transfer kitty, made sure that Cardiff stayed out of the messy business of the playoffs this time around.
Not even the most vicious-tongued opponent could come up with a better description of Cardiff's approach to getting into the Premier League than Mackay's own: "monotonous consistency". His players do not put on the prettiest show of soccer you'll ever see, and no one on the Cardiff roster has more than nine goals to his name (top scorer Heidar Helguson has now gone back to Iceland, leaving Aron Gunnarsson and Peter Whittingham, each with eight league goals, behind).
However, they work hard as a team and besides sharing scoring duty (Cardiff still had the third best goals tally in the division), that has made them tough to get in behind. The goalkeeper David Marshall has been one of the club's best players in the past 12 months. Cardiff kept a clean sheet in a hefty 39 percent of matches last season, the last being the goalless draw with Charlton Athletic that secured promotion in April thanks to third-placed Watford's defeat to Millwall on the same night.
Mackay was initially linked with the vacant post at Everton, but said: "My job is here with Cardiff City, and I like it. I've got something that we've built." The building looks set to continue over the summer, with the owner Vincent Tan releasing £25 million (just under $38 million) for transfers. "We are working flat out to ensure we are ready," says Mackay, who expects to add "four or five" players capable of keeping Cardiff up. The Sunderland striker Danny Graham has already been mentioned.
If you don't follow the Football League, you may be confused to hear Cardiff, playing in a red kit, referred to as "the Bluebirds"; part of the owner's plan has been to ditch the traditional blue and outfit Cardiff in red, because it is considered lucky in Asia, where he intends to win the club "long-term success". If you look carefully you'll see a tiny bluebird at the bottom of Cardiff's new red dragon crest. Tan may find it harder to keep people on side if the good fortune starts running out.
Steve Bruce's team had to wait until late, late on the last day of the season to have automatic promotion confirmed, after a run of three matches without a win -- without a goal -- left them in danger of being leapfrogged by Watford. It was actually a Leeds United goal, scored a good 10 minutes after Hull's 2-2 draw with Cardiff had finished, that finally swung it. "I don't think I've ever witnessed anything quite like that," said Bruce, his cheeks pinked by a tense afternoon.
So three years after being relegated, the Tigers are back in the top flight, and such is the level of expectation that some fans camped outside the ground to be at the front of the queue for season tickets for the 2013-14 campaign. Like Cardiff, Hull will be looking to add players to the squad, with forwards a priority; no team in the top half of the table scored fewer goals than Hull last season. So far the club has been linked with Celtic's Gary Hooper, the West Brom striker Peter Odemwingie, and Jordan Rhodes, who scored 27 goals for Blackburn this season.
Despite Bruce's post-promotion words about his players -- "they might not be naturally talented, but they have huge desire" -- he takes a stronger squad into the Premier League than Phil Brown had at his disposal five years ago. The managing director has hinted that the transfer market is tough for the likes of Hull, saying, "players are keen to keep their options open; you're jostling for position and seeing where you end up." But the club has promised to take a sensible approach, making a handful of additions, and has already secured this season's loan signings George Boyd and, in all likelihood, Ahmed Elmohamady, on permanent contracts.
After finishing fifth, Palace earned that last coveted Premier League place with a 1-0 win over Watford in Monday's playoff final, having already seen off Brighton & Hove Albion in the semis. It has been eight years since the Eagles were in the top flight, and a tumultuous spell in the Championship it has been, too: reaching the playoffs in two of their first three years there before avoiding relegation to the third tier -- and the death of the financially ailing club -- by the skin of the teeth in 2010.
This, then, is dream stuff, and with the rewards for promotion (and even subsequent relegation) so high, the club is talking about investing wisely, not only in playing staff, and creating a legacy. Increasing stadium capacity may not sound terribly romantic, but it's a sweet melody to Palace ears. Whether it will be done with Premier League cash or parachute payments will depend on their success in strengthening the squad. Especially since Wilfried Zaha, who rarely scored anything other than a crucial goal, has already left for Manchester United.
The co-owner Steve Parish has suggested that Palace will follow the model not of fellow Londoners Queens Park Rangers, but of Norwich and Swansea. "The clubs that have gone out and gone made tend to lose that team ethic," he said. "The players we have got were playing for the chance to play in the Premier League." The consensus is that the likes of the goalkeeper Julian Speroni and the captain Mile Jedinak are already good enough, with younger players such as Jonathan Williams worth a try.
"It's about the quality you add, the players you've got and how much they want to prove to the world they can do it," said the manager Ian Holloway, whose brief visit to the Premier League with Blackpool certainly didn't lack spirit. He will want to bring some real sparkle in to Palace's front line, though; on top of Zaha's move, top scorer Glenn Murray is a long-term injury absentee. It is little surprise to see the club already being linked with forwards from Odemwingie to Real Madrid's Javier Acuna.