HEAD COACH Carlos Carvalhal acknowledges that Sheffield Wednesday have lost the underdogs tag that served them so well en route to making the Championship play-off final in May.
The Owls proved one of the surprise packages of the division last season along with Brighton, but following their exploits in 2015-16, many experts are tipping them to be firmly in the promotion shake-up this term.
Expectation is also high among the Owls’ fanbase and despite the presence of the Sky TV cameras for tomorrow’s attractive home game with relegated Aston Villa, a crowd of around 28,000 is expected at Hillsborough (kick-off 4.30pm) for the second leg of a televised Yorkshire double-header that starts with Leeds United’s trip to QPR.
Carvalhal, who added Will Buckley to his squad yesterday after he arrived from Sunderland on a season-long loan, said: “We are not underdogs (now) as we stayed in the sixth position.
“It means that our opponents will look to us and see that we are one of the six teams who are the best in the competition. This is now a reality that the opponents will look to us and we will surprise nobody and teams who play against us will have more respect, like we respect them.
“We will not surprise them and teams will know what we can do and it is why we are trying to improve the team and create surprises all the time.”
Meanwhile, the competitive reign of Leeds head coach Garry Monk begins at Loftus Road tomorrow (noon kick-off).
Despite an encouraging pre-season, he admits that counts for little as he strives to hit the ground running and avoid the fate of one of his recent predecessors in Uwe Rosler, who paid the price for a slow start to the last campaign when he was axed by Massimo Cellino in October.
Monk, seeking to strengthen his squad further in the coming weeks after signing seven players so far this summer. said: “The plan is to win games straightaway. There’s no long-term plan any more for managers.
“The be-all and end-all is performances and the passion and the quality we put into performances will be the judge for us.
“We are looking forward to it and are very confident within this group that we can perform to a very good level and be very competitive in this league.”
Huddersfield Town are likely to be backed by their biggest opening-day home attendance in the history of the John Smith’s Stadium against Brentford this afternoon and head coach David Wagner is urging his new-look side to feed off the increased backing.
A crowd of over 18,000 is expected, which would represent the largest first-day crowd since the stadium opened in 1994 and Town’s best on home soil in a seasonal curtain-raiser since 1970.
On the crowd boost for Town, who have sold a total of 15,023 season tickets for the 2016-17 campaign, Wagner said: “I think this is huge for every player and member of our team and club.
“Everyone will enjoy it more if the crowd is big and the stadium is full.
“The Liverpool pre-season game helped for sure and everyone enjoyed playing in front of such a big crowd (of 21,266) and now we have to deliver with our performances and results.”
A bumper opening-day gate is also certain at Rotherham United, with Alan Stubbs leading out the Millers for the first time, against Wolves, who were taken over recently.
Despite the Millers being bracketed among the relegation favourites, Stubbs – who is expecting more transfer activity shortly after bringing in Scott Allan, Jon Taylor and Kelvin Wilson this week – says he is intent on proving the doubters wrong.
He said: “The Championship is a big challenge, but I love a challenge and I love proving people wrong.
“I did not expect us to make three signings this week, so that has been a boost and there will be more before the end of August.”
Barnsley start their Championship adventure at Ipswich Town, managed by ex-Oakwell favourite Mick McCarthy, with the Reds boasting a proud away record which has seen them lose just once since November 24.
On his side’s opening test, head coach Paul Heckingbottom said: “We are competing against better players and more high-profile and experienced managers who have achieved a lot in the game.
“It is really good and everyone of us, staff members and players, are looking forward to it.
“On Monday morning after the last pre-season game was done, we all had a smile on our faces, ready to go.”