After a long, hard summer, the wait is almost over. The Championship returns this weekend to the delight of fans up and down the country, with all 24 clubs dreaming of a successful season.
Ultimately, however, only 3 sides will make it to the promised land of the Premier League, and here we take a look at 5 of the strongest candidates.
Middlesbrough (15/8 to be promoted with Bet365)
In Garry Monk Middlesbrough have a manager that has proven himself as a real bright light once again. His time at Swansea may have ended in difficult circumstances, but at Leeds last season he excellent in an environment that can only be described as testing.
At Middlesbrough he’s almost certain to avoid such issues, with chairman Steve Gibson continuing to run a sable ship and Premier League money still pumping through the club.
An almost £30m outlay on attacking trio Britt Assombalonga, Martin Braithwaite and Ashley Fletcher should solve last season’s chronic lack of goals, whilst Jonny Howson’s arrival from Norwich will provide steel in the midfield.
On paper, it’s a strong Boro side that looks destined for an immediate Premier League return.
Aston Villa (15/8 to be promoted with Bet365)
Few managers have won promotion to the Premier League as many times as Steve Bruce (4), and his Aston Villa side look strong as he targets yet another repeat of that success.
Much will depend on the continued fitness of new central defensive pairing John Terry and Chris Samba. If available and on top form, they will be formidable at this level. If not, then a large chunk of the wage bill may have been unwisely distributed.
The big concern for Villa, however, should be at the other end of the pitch. Last season they managed just 47 goals in 46 Championship games, and thus far only Ahmed Elmohamady has been brought into add to that total. Unless more goals are brought into the squad during the remainder of the transfer window, Steve Bruce’s wait for a 5th Premier League promotion may continue.
Fulham (11/4 to be promoted with Bet365)
The Cottagers surged into last season’s Championship play-off with a run of blistering late-season form, and will be hoping to continue in that vein as they chase a return to the Premier League after a 3-year absence.
Concern was raised this week, however, when manager Slavisa Jokanovic suggested that he has little say over which players come in and out of the club, stating that it "it is not in my hands" and "my list is completely ignored".
There is still hope to be had, however, in the fact Tom Cairney and Ryan Sessegnon have signed, and key players Tomas Kalas and Lucas Piazon have remained at the club.
If they can make it to the end of the window without a manager/management showdown, Fulham look like very strong promotion candidates indeed.
Sheffield Wednesday (10/3 to be promoted with Bet365)
Bouncing back from play-off disappointment in successive seasons is never easy in football, but that is the task facing Carlos Carvalhal and his Wednesday side this season after they followed up 2015/16’s Wembley defeat to Hull with semi-final heartbreak to Huddersfield last term.
The sight of 6 players leaving the club and just 1 (Burnley’s George Boyd) coming in to fill the void may have alarmed some fans, but their manager has remained upbeat about his side’s chances in recent weeks, and rightly so.
This is a side that boasted one of the meanest defenses in the division last season, and the retention of Sam Hutchinson and Tom Lees will do much to ensure a continuation of the theme this time out. They also possess genuine quality up top in the shape of Steven Fletcher and Fernando Forestieri.
Another play-off berth looks very much on the cards, but anything more than that will surely depend on further dealings during the remainder of the window.
Norwich City (4/1 to be promoted with Bet365)
The Canaries were one of the 2016/17 Championship season’s biggest disappointments, boasting a side that, on paper, should have finished far higher than the 8th spot they ultimately achieved.
The club have rung in the changes since then, with manager Alex Neil departing along with 10 players including the likes of Graham Dorrans, Jonny Howson, Sebastian Bassong and Youssouf Mulumbu in a summer of real transition.
The imposing Marcel Franke has arrived during the transfer window, along with Middlesbrough's James Husband and the undoubtedly talented Marley Watkins. Norwich’s most eye-catching recruit, however, has come in the home dugout.
Manager Daniel Farke arrived from Borussia Dortmund with glowing references from many fellow professionals, but no managerial experience whatsoever. Only time will tell if the move will prove a masterstroke or an unmitigated disaster, but his addition to the fray certainly cements Norwich’s place as the wildcard call for this season’s Championship.
If there's one thing you can guarantee in the Championship, it's surprises. So, in this most unpredictable of divisions, it's only right that we give an honorable mention to the likes of Wolves, Derby, Leeds and Hull. If things gel in these sides, they've got every chance of challenging the favourites in the divisions and grabbing a promotion spot.
No matter who comes out on top, however, we’re guaranteed one thing: excitement.