The race for riches

It is known as the £60 million battle; the prize at stake for the 24 Championship clubs if they can reach the Premier League.

Reading's Irish striker Kevin Doyle.
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It is known as the £60 million (Dh429m) battle; the prize at stake for the 24 Championship clubs if they can reach the Premier League. Riches and prestige await, but the path to the promised land of English football's elite division can be treacherous, full of hope, yet heartbreaking too.

The action begins tomorrow and there will be a mix of tension and excitement around the grounds as they prepare for the challenge ahead. Birmingham, Reading and Derby tasted the disappointment of relegation from the Premier League last time around and are desperate for a quick return. With goal-scorers obviously making a difference between success and failure, it is the Alex McLeish's Blues who look to have the attacking armoury to destroy defences with Marcus Bent and Kevin Phillips leading their line.

But, despite losing Dave Kitson to Stoke, Steve Coppell will be quietly confident his side can challenge with Kevin Doyle, the prolific Irish striker, the man to watch. Paul Jewell has carried out reconstructive surgery on the squad at Pride Park after Derby finished, shamefully, as the worst-ever Premier League team last season with just 11 points. And in Rob Hulse and Nathan Ellington, he has a strike duo who could make the most of chances created by the lively Kris Commons on the left flank. The trio will not have it easy though, a scalp for the lesser lights like Barnsley, Blackpool and newly promoted Doncaster.

And with four play-off places up for grabs, every point is vital, something Tommy Miller knows only too well. His Ipswich side missed out on the end-of-season lottery on the final day by just one point, with just three wins on their travels proving costly. With Richard Wright and Ivan Campo in their line-up and an ambitious Jim Magilton in the hot seat, the Tractor Boys are among those tipped for promotion. Miller, who went up with Sunderland in 2007 and played in the top flight with Ipswich too, said: "Everyone wants to be in the Premier League. It doesn't matter who you are, who you play for or what people think of your chances; that is the dream at the start of the season.

"You want to be playing against the best players, against the best teams. That is what makes the Championship so difficult and so demanding. There is so much at stake and there is constant pressure, probably more than there is in the Premier League. "Birmingham and Reading will be the favourites because they have Premier League players and a bit of extra quality. Birmingham, especially, have the firepower up front. Kevin Phillips has done it time and time again.

"There is interest in the Championship right until the end; that is what makes it so exciting, some say more than the Premier League, because you can never really be sure how it will end up. "It is not always the biggest club that succeeds and it's about who wants it the most." @Email:akhan@thenational.ae