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OUR 2016-17 CHAMPIONSHIP OPPONENTS: PART ONE

23 June 2016

In-focus: our rivals for the 2016-17 season

WITH the 2016-17 Sky Bet Championship fixtures released this week, we profile the teams Norwich City will face over the course of the season. First up, Part One.

ASTON VILLA

Manager: Roberto Di Matteo   
Home: Villa Park
2015-16: 20th (Premier League)
Twitter: @AVFCOfficial

Fact
: Roberto Di Matteo scored the only goal of the 2000 FA Cup Final for Chelsea as they beat Aston Villa 1-0 at Wembley.

Aston Villa will be looking to go into the new season with fresh optimism, following some major changes at the club this summer.

A period of steady decline culminated in relegation from the Premier League last term, although fans are hopeful of improved fortunes following the successful takeover of Chinese businessman Tony Xia.



Villa also have a new man on the sidelines, with Roberto Di Matteo making a return to management one year on from departing German side FC Schalke 04.

The Italian led Chelsea to Champions League success four years ago, but perhaps more pertinently - given Villa's current standing - guided West Bromwich Albion to promotion from the second tier in 2010.


BARNSLEY

Manager: Paul Heckingbottom
Home: Oakwell
2015-16: 6th (League One, promoted via play-offs)
Twitter: @bfc_official

Fact
: Manager Paul Heckingbottom made 16 appearances for the Canaries during the 2002-03 season.

An incredible second half of the season culminated in Barnsley achieving promotion via the play-offs, having been in serious danger of relegation halfway through the season.

The upward trend began under previous manager Lee Johnson, but accelerated under current boss Paul Heckingbottom - then in caretaker charge - as the Tykes rose up the table to secure sixth-place.



They ruthlessly dismantled Walsall in the play-off semi-finals, before defeating Millwall 3-1 at Wembley to confirm their place in the Sky Bet Championship.

Remarkably, that success marked their second of the season at England's showpiece stadium, having beaten Oxford United in the Johnstone's Paint Trophy Final in April.

BIRMINGHAM CITY

Manager: Gary Rowett
Home: St Andrew's 
2015-16: 10th
Twitter: @BCFC

Fact: City striker Cameron Jerome was part of the Birmingham side which won the League Cup in 2011, defeating Arsenal in the Final.

Birmingham spent much of the 2015-16 campaign flirting with the Sky Bet Championship play-off places, without ever truly threatening to break into the top six.

Between the 35th and 45th game of the campaign they remained in 9th spot, before dropping to tenth on the final day after drawing at Cardiff City.



Better form when it mattered most could have seen them enter play-off contention, and they will be hoping for improvement in 2016-17 under manager Gary Rowett.

That result extended their winless league run to seven games, with the Blues winning just one of their last 11 matches.

BLACKBURN ROVERS

Manager: Owen Coyle
Home: Ewood Park
2015-16: 15th
Twitter: @Rovers

Fact: Four former City players represented Blackburn last season; Elliott Ward, Elliott Bennett, Chris Brown and Simeon Jackson.

Blackburn responded to the departure of Paul Lambert by appointing Owen Coyle earlier this summer - the 49-year-old having managed Lancashire rivals Burnley earlier in his career.

While falling well short of a place in the top-half last time out, Rovers were never in serious dangerous of relegation either as they were forced to settle for mid-table.



. 2-1 victory in February 2015, travelling to Ewood Park on Saturday, August 6, with their last visit ending in a Blackburn on the opening day City are set to face

The loss of Jordan Rhodes to Middlesbrough in January leaves a gap to be filled in attack, and Coyle will be hoping new signing Antony Stokes can do just that after arriving from Celtic on a free transfer.

BRENTFORD

Manager: Dean Smith
Home: Griffin Park
2015-16: 9th
Twitter: @BrentfordFC

Fact
: Griffin Park had the unique claim of housing a different pub on all four corners of the ground up until 2015, before one - The Royal Oak - was closed on a permanent basis.


Those victories included a 3-0 home win over Fulham in their penultimate game, before thrashing Huddersfield Town 5-1 away from home on the last day of the season. Brentford picked up considerably towards the end of last season, winning seven of their last nine to rise up from 18th and eventually finish ninth.




With his first full season at the helm approaching, Brentford may have aspirations of making the play-offs once more - having taken fifth spot in the 2014-15 campaign.

Such form suggests highly-rated boss Dean Smith, who joined from Walsall last November, is starting to make a real impact at Griffin Park.

Look out for Part Two soon, featuring Brighton, Bristol City, Burton Albion, Cardiff City and Derby County.



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