DONCASTER Rovers defender James O’Connor has admitted he will be looking out for the double header against relegated Birmingham City when the 2011-12 Championship fixtures are unveiled on Friday.
Birmingham-born O’Connor says that he is surprised that the Carling Cup winners, who will be playing in Europe next season, will be plying their trade in the Championship again after two seasons in the top flight.
“They did well in their first season in the Premier League and they were also doing well again last season and did well to win the Carling Cup,” he said.
“But for some reason they seemed to lose their way after that and ended up going down.But I’m sure that along with the likes of Blackpool and West Ham, they’ll be looking to bounce straight back up.
“The respective managers of Birmingham and Blackpool know what is needed to win promotion from the Championship, and I’m sure that will stand them in good stead.
“West Ham haven’t played at this level for a few years, but they’ve just appointed an experienced manager in Sam Allardyce.
“But it won’t be all about the three clubs coming down; there are three good clubs coming up and Southampton and Brighton, in particular, are big clubs who have got momentum. Like Alex McLeish (Birmingham) and Ian Holloway (Blackpool), Southampton manager Nigel Adkins knows what the Championship is all about. Likewise, a lot of the Peterborough players have recently played at this level so we know next season is going to be tough.”
The bookies certainly think it will be tough for Sean O’Driscoll’s men having quoted them as 13-8 favourites to be relegated.
“I can’t say that I’m surprised in view of how we played in the second half of the season and were we finished,” said O’Connor. “Even though we eventually finished six points clear of the relegation zone, it was a close call.
“But I think the fact that we have been made favourites to go down will act as a great motivator for us.
“I also think having been involved in a relegation battle last season will stand us in good stead if we find ourselves in a similar situation next season. I think that we dug in well in our last three or four games to make sure that we stayed up.”
In the final analysis, it was Rovers’ form in the first half of the season which saved them from finishing in the bottom three.