Southampton kicked off their bid for an immediate return to the Premier League with a 2-1 win at Sheffield Wednesday in the opening game of the "toughest ever" Championship season on Friday.

Nathan Tella's curler was turned in by Adam Armstrong to put Southampton ahead in the eighth minute at Hillsborough.

Lee Gregory equalised with a close-range volley in the 54th minute.

But Che Adams' clinical finish from six yards in the 87th minute won it for Southampton at the start of their first season outside the Premier League since 2012.

After last season's bottom of the table finish, former Swansea boss Russell Martin has been hired to stabilise a club that used three managers in their failed attempt to avoid relegation.

The gritty victory over promoted Wednesday underlined how tough it will be to escape a division packed with clubs ready to push themselves to the financial brink in their desperation to hit the Premier League jackpot.

The average annual spending by Championship clubs is £32 million, with nearly two thirds of clubs paying more on wages than they generate in revenue.

Reading and Wigan were relegated last season after incurring penalties for financial issues, but spending has intensified after a summer of overseas investment in Championship teams.

Influenced by Wrexham's rise to global prominence during their promotion to League Two last season under the ownerships of Hollywood actors Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney, US-based celebrities have rushed to buy into English clubs.

NFL icon Tom Brady, recently retired after his glittering career as a quarterback for the New England Patriots and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, has taken a minority ownership stake in Birmingham City.

Optimism is high at relegated Leeds after their takeover by 49ers Enterprises -- the investment arm of NFL franchise San Francisco 49ers.

Top golfers Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas, alongside NBA star Russell Westbrook, added further glamour to the Leeds promotion push after the trio bought shares in the club.

Twice as difficult

Armed with substantial "parachute payments" from the Premier League after their relegation, Southampton, Leeds and Leicester undoubtedly have the financial muscle to barge their way back into the big time.

But, inspired by tiny Luton's surprise promotion last season, virtually all of the Championship's 24 clubs can dream of going up.

The battle to snare one of three places in the top-flight will be harder than ever according to Huddersfield manager Neil Warnock, a 74-year-old veteran of four promotions from the second tier.

"The toughest Championship ever. The six teams who have come into our league are all improved on the six who departed, so it will be twice as difficult," Warnock said.

Rocked by the end of their fairytale spell in the Premier League -- which including winning the competition in 2016 -- Leicester have taken a gamble on untested manager Enzo Maresca, previously part of Pep Guardiola's backroom staff at Manchester City.

The Foxes start their season against last season's beaten play-off finalists Coventry on Saturday.

Leeds took a more battle-tested approach than Leicester, hiring German Daniel Farke to emulate his two second tier promotions with Norwich.

Farke's debut comes against Cardiff at Elland Road on Sunday.

Adding to the expectation of a relentless, unpredictable promotion race, the newcomers from League One -- Wednesday, Ipswich and Plymouth -- all have large fan-bases and ambitions of more than mere survival.

Wednesday's popular boss Darren Moore was surprisingly sacked in the close-season despite winning promotion via a last-gasp victory over Barnsley in the play-off final.

Xisco Munoz, a Championship promotion winner with Watford in 2021, has been tasked with leading Wednesday's attempt to return to the Premier League for the first time in 24 years.

And on the evidence of Friday's hard-fought contest, whoever emerges with promotion will have fought tooth and nail for the lucrative prize.