Season Preview 2019/20 – Strugglers
Wednesday, 31st Jul 2019 20:09 by Clive Whittingham
The third and final part of our annual look ahead to the forthcoming Championship teams looks at the sides, other than QPR, that we believe are in for a tricky time in 2019/20.
Last Season Out of the darkness cometh light, and amidst the ongoing malevolent ownership of the Allam family it was gratifying to see the footballing resurrection of one of the game’s genuinely good guys – Nigel Adkins. What’s the biggest room in your house? The room for improvement. Once managerial hot property after a clutch of promotions with Scunthorpe and Southampton, his reputation had dived after poor stints with Reading and Sheff Utd to the point where he’d been out of work for 18 months prior to taking one of the least desirable managerial jobs in British football at the moment midway through 2017/18. We tipped Hull as one of the teams that could take the final relegation spot last season because, make no mistake, while the Allams continue pursue an embittered and miserly strategy of asset stripping this club and driving it into the ground this ends in one of only two ways for Hull City – a takeover, often mooted but never materialising, or relegation to League One. A course of ownership that began when the Allams were denied a request to take ownership of the community built and owned KC/KCom Stadium for a nominal amount in order to build a highly lucrative retail park on the adjacent car park entirely out of the goodness of their own hearts, will eventually kill the club by a thousand cuts if it continues. That it didn’t result in a relegation last year was largely thanks to the work of Adkins, and the form of wingers Kamil Grosicki and breakout talent Jarrod Bowen. Two wins and ten defeats in the first 16 games looked bleak but Hull were surprisingly good in a 3-2 win at Loftus Road and promptly set off on a Christmas streak of five consecutive wins that formed part of a run of nine wins and three draws from 13 games. They were still technically in play-off touch when our return visit to the KCom came around in March, but blowing a two goal lead against a dire Rangers team with centre back Liam Ridgwell and goalkeeper David Marshall playing like they’d spent the previous night elbows deep in hookers and blow showed just how flimsy this City side was, despite Bowen’s ongoing brilliance. Afterwards Fraizer Campbell, affable but bemused, told BBC Radio Humberside that no he hadn’t been offered a new contract, no he didn’t expect to be offered one, and no nobody had even spoken to him about it one way or the other. As it transpired, the same was true of his manager, who left at the end of the season reputation restored and will be short odds favourite for jobs arising during the coming months.
Ins: Ryan Tafazolli, CB, Peterborough, Free >>> Tom Eaves, CF, Gillingham, Free >>> Josh Bowler, RW, Everton, Loan >>> Matt Ingram GK, QPR, £400k
Outs: Evandro, AM, Santos (Brazil), Free >>> Callum Burton, GK, Cambridge, Free >>> David Marshall GK, Wigan, Free >>> Liam Ridgwell, CB, Released >>> Will Keane, Alleged CF, Released >>> James Weir, LM, Released >>> Ondrej Mazuch, CB, Released >>> Fraizer Campbel, CF, Released
Manager: Grant McCann McCann was a creative midfielder with a wand of a left foot as a player, winning promotion via Football League play-offs during long stints with Cheltenham, Scunthorpe and Peterborough. Good quiz question, the finals were played at three different stadiums as well. He had a stint as manager of the latter from 2016 to 2018 but ended up going the way of so many Peterborough managers before and since – unable to break into the top six for any serious length of time and sacked within 18 months of getting the job after a run of defeats. He fared better with Doncaster, making the play-offs in League One in attractive style and pushing Charlton all the way to penalties at The Valley in the second leg despite being dominated in the first. In the end they were beaten in a controversial shoot out which the police demanded the referee hold at the Charlton end of safety reasons, only for the Rovers players to be pelted with missiles while they were taking their kicks. Progressive, forward-thinking, up and coming young managerial talent? Or a cheap option from a local lower league club taken by skinflint owners? Time will tell. Tough job.
This Season: As it stands, three days out from opening night, Jarrod Bowen, Kamil Grosicki and Markus Henriksen remain with the Tigers. Spurs, Newcastle and others have balked at a £20m fee for Bowen and Hull need that to remain the case beyond next Thursday’s transfer deadline if they’re to survive in the Championship this season. If the money is paid, don’t expect much reinvestment in the team – locals are conducting a fingertip search for any trace of a £35m profit made in the last Premier League season and four chunky parachute payments received since in a squad that will rely on Gillingham’s rudimentary centre forward Tom Eaves for goals in his first ever try at this level. QPR fans will look on with interest to see how Josh Bowler does with some actual first team football having chosen to move on from Loftus Road after one sub appearance to spend some time parked in Everton’s U23 set-up. Goalkeeper Matt Ingram played slightly more, and much less successfully, for Rangers after arriving from Wycombe and will try again to make it as a Championship regular after a summer move north. At press time a fee has been agreed for Sunderland captain George Honeyman.
Fan Opinion: Tigerlink “First of all it’s important to realise we are still a club in crisis as our taciturn and unpredictable owners the Allams continue to squeeze cash out of our Club at every opportunity, stifling any ambition. The team overperformed last season largely on the back of goals and quality performances from Jarrod Bowen and Kamil Grosicki and a settled side.
“Nigel Adkins won over the fans during 2018/19 and developed a strong team ethic and spirit whilst working on a seemingly ever reducing budget. His departure after a relatively successful season is probably a further indication of the total inflexibility of the Allams and their limited motivation. Grant McCann has arrived from Doncaster and much will depend on whether he can keep the valuable Bowen, Grosicki and Henriksen at Hull City. He may need to perform even better than his predecessor if he is to keep us away from the bottom of the table in 2019/20.
“For the third successive summer business has been dominated by departures from the club, with this year the proven and popular David Marshall and Frazier Campbell heading for the exit door and the likes of Marc Pugh and Todd Kane apparently unwanted or too expensive and heading for QPR. All depart with our best wishes for the future. Our hopes for the season are realistic. The club desperately needs new owners and a total overhaul from top to bottom. In the meantime, survival in the Championship would again be an over achievement and is our realistic aim.”
Prediction: Twenty first. A running theme for this piece will be clubs that have been mismanaged over a period of years and cannot continue to behave as they have been doing and get away with it, particularly if the newly promoted teams are competitive. Hull are one of those, and heavily reliant on Bowen sticking around. If not, could be big trouble.
Last Season Another wild ride for a club that treats each season in turn like a new instalment of The Hangover movie franchise. They began under a transfer embargo, imposed because, although they were yet to file their accounts for the financial year that included Harry Redknapp’s latest trolley dash, the forward-looking statements required by the league from each club at the end of the season showed that they had, indeed, blown a hole in the rules three quarters of a mile across. This embargo was promptly ignored, and a further £2m-odd spent on Kristian Pedersen from Union Berlin, because Harry Redknapp’s spending sprees often leave clubs short of a full back despite an enormous outlay and they liked his lovely blonde hair. This was eventually waved through by the EFL on the basis of a rather flimsy “well he’s here now, what do you want us to do send him back?” argument. They started with no wins in their first eight league games and a League Cup loss at Reading which, with a points deduction due at some point during the season, looked to be curtains for them before the first act had really begun. They then promptly beat Leeds at Elland Road. Just because. That came at the start of a run of three defeats in 22 games, just under half a season, which had a team many (ok, us) had tipped for relegation soaring off towards the play-offs. In February they went 4-0 up in little over half an hour at QPR, then spent the next hour looking absolutely certain to blow it, only to pull a penalty save out of the bag in injury time to win the match after all. If you needed a microcosm of both clubs’ 2018/19s, that was it. Off they subsequently went on a run of six defeats and one win in eight games, again, just because. This started to drop them perilously close to the drop zone once you factored in the points deduction, which the EFL were pushing to be between 12 and 15 points. When it finally came, it was ridiculously late in the day, and only nine points, with the judgement rather ridiculously knocking a point off for an early guilty plea – an early guilty plea to an offence which is in black and white in a set of accounts and cannot be denied, an early guilty plea having ignored the transfer embargo the summer before. It left Brum with a cushion to the bottom three, rendering the punishment completely useless, and they cruised through to the end unbeaten in their last seven. And they beat Leeds again – something we can all get on board with. A job well done by all involved. Garry Monk was sacked in June.
Ins: Ivan Sunjic, CM, Zagreb, £7m >>> Dan Crowley, AM, Willem, £700k >>> Jake Clarke-Salter, CB, Chelsea, Loan >>> Gary Gardner, CM, Villa, Part Ex >>> Agus Medina, CM, UE Cornella (Spain), Free >>> Ivan Guzman, RW, UE Alot (Spain), Free >>>
Outs: Che Adams CF, Southampton, £15m >>> Jota, RW, Villa, £4m part ex >>> Greg Stewart, CF, Rangers, Free >>> Viv Solomon-Otobor, RW, Sofia, Free >>> Bez Lubala, CF, Crawley, Free >>> Michael Morrison, CB, Reading, Free >>> Cheick Ndoye, CM, Released >>> Tomasz Kuszczak, GK, Released
Manager: Pep Clotet Steve Bruce did six years at Birmingham, a spell that included Premier League football. Since then, bar a League Cup win and European campaign under Chris Hughton and a half decent spell under Gary Rowett, they have been managed by Alex McLeish, Lee Clark, Gianfranco Zola, Harry Redknapp and Steve Cotterill. Garry Monk seemed like a breath of fresh air, and Birmingham looked even madder than usual for firing him this summer, until tales of how he and his agent conducted transfer deals there and at Leeds and Middlesbrough came tumbling out. After all of that, you could forgive Birmingham for thinking that managers aren’t really their thing, and so they’re not going to have one. Pep Clotet has been named caretaker head coach by the club, who say they’re not seeking anybody permanent for the role at this time. So, a permanent caretaker head coach then? Honestly, they’re mental this lot, hide the bleach and sharps when they come round.
This Season: Clotet is one of those new-fangled Andre Villas Boas types who never actually played the game to any kind of level and instead went straight into coaching at a young age. Now, we absolutely love these sorts of brave new-age freedom fighters because they get troglodytes like Steve Claridge and Robbie Savage all riled up and honking down radio microphones about football jobs going to “non-football people” to just whoever it is that wants to listen to Steve Claridge and Robbie Savage’s radio programmes in a non-prisoner-of-war confession-extraction scenario. You just know Sam Allardyce is furious about it as well, in between his five daily servings of gravy, and that makes it a wonderful thing indeed.
But Clotet’s record is not good. In 2006/07 he was sacked by Figueras nine games into a season which they finished up being relegated from Spain’s Segunda Division. In 2009/10, in his next senior job after a spell coaching youth teams, he was sacked by Espanyol’s B team seven matches into a season which ended with them being relegated from the third tier. He was assistant to Roland Nilsson for Malmo’s 2010 Swedish league championship which helped win him the head coach job at Halmstads the following season and finished bottom. A spell with Malaga’s B team ended when he failed to get them promoted from the third tier in Spain. He’s since followed Garry Monk around Swansea and Leeds, before having another stab at the job himself at Oxford who sacked him after 12 wins in 36 games in League One. It’s not screaming out to us, to be honest.
Birmingham’s biggest problem, like Hull, is the ownership, and while that remains the case we hold them in amongst a clutch of clubs for whom years of chronic mismanagement could easily render them a relegation possibility with not too big a twist of the dial. To avoid it this season, much will depend on how cleverly they use the £15m from the sale of Che Adams, and how successful their attempt at a switch to a more open, expansive, progressive style of play will be. Yes, it’s that old Championship chestnut, which almost always results in the exponent of it getting binned in September with the team well ablaze and a good, old fashioned, English manager being summoned to clean up after Johnny Foreigner and get those balls being pumped into the channels to turn the full backs around again.
They’ve spent £7m on Ivan Sunjic from Dynamo Zagreb to play the crucial play dictating role in the middle of midfield. They’ve also taken a £700k dive on wild child Dan Crowley who’s been kicked out of more clubs than Charlotte Church but has unquestionable ability and says he’s matured after a spell in Holland with Willem. “The thing with me is that I have a strong personality. I’m a bit like marmite. You either really like me or you don’t understand me,” he says. Or, Young Daniel, secret option number three… Could be the steal of the season, could blow the whole dressing room up. Don’t feed him after midnight. Don’t let him have a sword.
The Birmingham fans seem reasonably confident, flush with the spending of some money again, but I have my very strong doubts.
Fan Opinion: @MatthewBlue1875 “For the most part, last season was pretty fun. The club and the fans seemed to be on the same page for the first time in a long while. Even with the points deduction hanging over our head for all that time and then finally being applied, the team and the fans just seemed to pull together. It was great to see a player (Adams) actually score 20+ goals for the first time in 20-odd years. You might remember three of those goals. If you ignore the points deduction, we ended up pretty much where most fans expected in table. It was all about consolidation and building for the following season. Of course, in true Birmingham City fashion the board went ahead and decided to dismantle all that hard work.
“We've clearly not finished our business yet, but so far it's been good. As expected we've sold Che Adams for good money, moved Jota on and released numerous other players. We've brought Gary Gardner back, who was an important cog in Monk's machine last season. We've brought in former Arsenal wonderkid, Dan Crowley, who, judging by our recent friendlies, looks a real talent. Especially for 700k. Jake Clarke-Salter has arrived from Chelsea on loan. England U21 captain, seems decent on paper but had a bit of a mare against Brighton last weekend. Ivan Sunjic has also joined from Dinamo Zagreb. He's was the Croatian U21 captain in the recent Euros. We believe he's actually our record signing of around £7m, but the club haven't promoted that fact. He looks like the sort of midfielder we've lacked since Barry Ferguson left. We're all very excited about him. There's more to come, Moha Ramos, goalkeeper from Real Madrid is due to sign any minute and we've also got a couple of forwards on the agenda too.
“I've no idea what to expect from the season. We had been playing counter attack direct football under Monk, but the board want a continental style of tiki-taka and we seem to be making the right moves in the market to try and play that way, but from the friendlies it would appear we've still got some way to go. There's a question over permanent caretaker head coach, Pep Clotet too. Yes, you read that right and no I don’t understand either. His managerial record is not the best, however we still have the same coaching staff we had under Monk, but with the added bonus of Paco Herrera, who helped Liverpool to Champions League glory with Rafa Benitez. I think the board are going to want play offs minimum. I think I'd be happy with top ten. We'll probably finish about sixteenth and have four different managers before the end of the season.”
Prediction: Twentieth. Exactly the same as we said for Hull. Without Adams’ goals they could be very vulnerable if one or more of Luton, Barnsley and Charlton are competitive and the Tigers hold onto Bowen.
Last Season Luton Town had a tidy side the last time they were at this level, 2005-2007, with the likes of Rowan Vine and Markus Heikkinen to the fore. But it was built on unsound financial footings and dodgy payments to agents, dwarfed for coverage by Mike Newell’s misogynistic rantings about female match officials but always lurking and ready to bite them. Their punishments for these offences (the financial ones, not having a bombastic twat for your manager) was unprecedentedly harsh. Docked ten points for administration in 2007/08, then a further 20 for ongoing insolvency issues in 2008/09, and another ten that season for the agent business, they lost 40 points from their totals in little over 18 months and were relegated three times in quick succession to the Conference. It’s been a long old way back. It took five years and five different managers to escape from non-league, then four seasons and a near miss in the play-offs to get up from League Two. By the time they did it, though, they were embarrassingly too good for the level, scoring more goals than anybody in the Football League bar Man City in a campaign which included an 8-2 win against Yeovil, 7-1 against Stevenage and 7-0 against Cambridge. So ready for League One were the Hatters, that they steamed straight through it at the first time of asking, winning promotion in brilliant style. Rob Lee’s son Elliott scored 12 goals from a much-vaunted midfield diamond which also includes the impressive Pelly Ruddock who has been part of the side since the 2013/14 Conference campaign. James Justin and Jack Stacey flew forward from full back and former Crawley striker James Collins banged in 25 goals. Even the poaching of the inspirational architect of this brilliant side, Nathan Jones, by Stoke halfway through the campaign didn’t disrupt things unduly. The title was won regardless, under the threat of a paddling from caretaker manager and local legend ‘Big Mick’ Harford.
Ins: Simon Sluga, GK, HNK Rijeca (Croatia), £1.3m >>> Martin Cranie, CB, Sheff Utd, Free >>> Brendan Galloway, LB, Everton, Free >>> Ryan Tunnicliffe, CM, Millwall, Free >>> Callum McManaman, RW, Wigan, Free >>> Jacob Butterfield, CM, Derby, Free
Outs: James Justin, RWB, Leicester, £6m >>> Jack Stacey, LWB, Bournemouth, £4m >>> Arthur Read, CM, Brentford, Free >>> Luke Gambin, LW, Colchester, Free >>> Alan McCormack, DM, Northampton, Free >>> Aaron Jarvis, CF, Sutton, Free >>> Jack James, RB, Released >>> Jack Senior, LB, Released
Manager: Graeme Jones All three teams promoted from League One have been pilfered for the players that got them there to one extent or another this summer. Luton have the added complication for starting a first Championship season since 2006/07 with a new manager. Despite seeing the job through last term, Mick Harford has returned to scouting, recruiting and scaring the kids on his street. In comes Graeme Jones, a lower league journey man striker as a player most noted for stints with Doncaster and Wigan, but somebody who has burgeoning reputation as a coach thanks to his work alongside progressive Roberto Martinez at Swansea, Wigan, Everton and Belgium. He assisted Darren Moore at West Brom last season, and has repeatedly been linked with vacancies at Swansea, Burnley, and elsewhere, but this will be his first full managerial role. It’s an appointment that mirrors the capture of Nathan Jones, a respected coach at Brighton but never previously a number one, which worked so well for the Hatters previously. Whether Jones brings Martinez’s attitude that defending your own goal is something for philistines and completely unnecessary remains to be seen, but he’d be unwise to depart from Jones’ all-guns-blazing approach too much, given how long Luton have employed it and how successful it’s been for them.
This Season: So much of Luton’s attacking threat started from deep-lying wide areas and the powerful forward runs of Justin and Stacey that their style cannot help but change with their departures to Leicester for £6m and Bournemouth for £4m respectively. Brendan Galloway had a torrid time up at Sunderland, but then so did everybody and the former Everton man might make a decent fist of replacing Stacey down the left. I doubt Martin Cranie, one-time QPR loaned wonderkid, can do the same as a makeshift right back, if that’s the theory behind that addition on a free from Sheff Utd. No additions have been made up front, so the pressure is on James Collins to continue his 25-goal form of last season, or Danny Hylton to get up around the 21 mark he reached the year before in League Two. A transfer record that has stood since Lars Elstrup was acquired in 1989 for £850k was finally broken this summer with the £1.3m signing of giant Croatian goalkeeper Simon Sluga for £1.3m – he’d come to the Hatters attention in a pre-season friendly last summer before winning the Croatian league with Rijeka in May.
Fan Opinion: Matt Storey “The keys to the promotion were momentum from the year before, sticking to the diamond system that worked all season and having the same keeper and back four from October onwards. The departures, particularly the full backs, will change the way we play, because so much of our threat came from them last year, but that could happen with a change of manager anyway. The summer business is promising, but there is still work to be done. I think we’ll be a bottom half Championship side and there is every chance it’ll be a relegation battle. I’m confident we’ll stay up though.”
Prediction: Nineteenth. Honestly, we had them as the third relegated team until the eleventh hour and talked ourselves out of it, muttering some vague crap about momentum. Good players leaving and a rookie manager taking over makes an already difficult task harder.
Last Season Millwall finished one place and four points outside the relegation zone last season which, when you’re operating with one of the league’s lowest wage bills, is a success of sorts. Problems, however, were threefold. Firstly, expectation of more from this team had grown during a remarkable second half of 2017/18 which saw them go 13 unbeaten, winning nine, and almost crashing in through the backdoor of the play-offs making ‘yee-haw’ noises and firing guns into the air. Secondly, it’s all very well saying they survived, but the bottom three in the Championship last season couldn’t find their own arse with both hands and probably did more to save Millwall than Millwall did. And thirdly, while Neil Harris insists that the Bermondsey public like their football good and long, with every possession, throw-in, free kick, kick-off and loose ball immediately and enthusiastically belted in behind a full back and chased down by a pack of wild dogs while children cry and women scream for mercy, watching that sort of bracing, attritional game can wear a bit thin when it’s not winning. There was a sense from the outside that the Millwall team that had won promotion in 2017 and pushed for the Championship play-offs in 2018 was simply coming to the end of a natural cycle and needed a refresh – an opinion strengthened by the huge improvement simply calling Ben Thompson back from a loan at Portsmouth and sticking him in the team had. A lot of the players had been there a long time, they were still too reliant on 56-year-old Steve Morison in attack, the Championship had got wise to the “style” and although they were only a full on Tony Roberts moment of goalkeeping in injury time against Brighton away from an FA Cup semi-final, things had just gone a little stale. Harris, however, thought it even more severe than that, questioning player attitudes and dark forces at work in his dressing room. Different dark forces, we presume, from the ones that sacked Richard ‘Keysie’ Keys from his job at Sky for talking about whose back doors he’d like to smash in on camera.
Ins: Connor Mahoney RW, Bournemouth, £900k >>> Matt Smith, CF, QPR, £400k >>> Jon Dadi Bodvarsson, CF, Reading, £700k >>> Jayson Molumby, CM, Brighton, Loan >>> Frank Fielding, GK, Bristol City, Free >>> Alex Pearce, CB, Derby, Free >>> Bartosz Bialkowski, GK, Ipswich, Loan >>> Jason McCarthy, CB, Wycombe, Undisclosed
Outs: Sid Nelson, CB, Tranmere, Free >>> Ryan Tunnicliffe, CM, Luton, Free >>> Lazar Stojsavljevic, CB, Newport, Free >>> Conor McLaughlin, RB, Sunderland, Free >>> Tom King, GK, Newport, Free >>> David Martin, GK, West Ham, Free >>> Lee Gregory, CF, Stoke, Free >>> Steve Morison, CF, Shrewsbury, Loan >>> Jordan Archer GK, Released
Manager: Neil Harris A Millwall legend as a player, and hugely respected for the turnaround job he’s done as manager since inheriting a dire situation from Ian Holloway. But some of that goodwill was spent last season and if the one dimensional approach continues to yield poor results this year the natives may get restless. Perhaps they’re not as fond of watching footballs being fired out of a cannon all Saturday afternoon as Harris thinks they are.
This Season: A promised and much-needed refresh of a tired squad has been delivered, with eight new faces at press time. Importantly, they’ve added a proper goalkeeper in Bartosz Bialkowski from Ipswich after years of persevering with circus acts between the sticks. I thought we were going to have to start using a ball with a bell in it for a moment there. The other big change has been in attack where long termer Lee Gregory has gone to Stoke and Methuselah Morison is now plying his trade on loan at Shrewsbury. In their stead has come the amazing non-scoring forward Jon Dadi Bodvarsson from Reading, and Big Posh Matt Smith from QPR who’s so nailed on to be awarded a penalty at Loftus Road in September after two years of being persecuted by referees while in hoops I’m almost afraid to go to the game. Quite how Millwall use Smith will be the key to their season. Harris has wanted him for donkeys’ years, and on the face of it he’s the perfect player for their style, but as we now know ourselves the former Leeds and Fulham target man is painfully immobile and has almost no back-to-goal game to speak of whatsoever. Get the ball wide and get good quality service into the box from wingers and he’ll split open Championship heads and feast on the goo within. But if Harris thinks he’s going to be able to go long and direct down the middle of the pitch, then he could be disappointed. A big-man-little-man combination with Tom Bradshaw, hopefully fit again after a false start first season, with old fashioned wingers supplying the crosses could make the Lions a potent threat, particularly at home.
Fan Opinion: @MillwallJDB “Millwall went into last season with some optimism. We had just missed out on the play offs the previous year, a result beyond anyone’s expectations and while we did not expect to repeat that we did not think we would struggle. As it was we only just avoided relegation. The last minutes sale of George Saville, poor form by previous key players and at times very one dimensional tactics meant the season ended up being a long pretty dismal slog. The return from loan of Ben Thompson was key in an upturn in the second half of the season and we did at least have an exciting cup run. Overall it was a season to forget for Lions’ fans
“Neil Harris did not mince his words in May. He referenced many off field problems and that he needed to clear the decks and revamp the squad. After a slow start to the window he has been true to his word and brought in eight players. These have included exciting prospects Mahoney from Bournemouth and Malumby (on loan) from Brighton as well as McCarthy and Bruey from Wycombe and Wimbledon. He also brought in some experienced players which include Matt Smith of course along with Alex Pearce from Derby and Bodvarrson from Reading. Our goalkeeping department has been very weak in recent years and he has also brought in two experienced Championship keepers in Bialkowski and Fielding. Overall therefore a great summers business although as is often the case with clubs on Millwall’s budget there no obvious prolific goal scorer
“A few weeks ago I think most Millwall fans were pretty gloomy about the new season. The summer’s transfer business has changed the mood and the atmosphere is much more positive. It will require Harris to show a bit more tactical agility and variation than last year and for new signings to bed in quickly. Overall however I think we will finish lower mid table as I still think were a squad in transition but at least it feels as though we are going to give it a good go.”
Prediction: Fifteenth. They could do with Bradshaw getting fit, and must be wary of punting long straight balls to Matt Smith as opposed to good crosses from wide which is what he actually thrives on. Definitely three worse teams than them as it stands.
Last Season Several clubs should be counting their lucky stars that the 2018/19 Championship contained three teams as shambolically bad as Ipswich, Bolton and Rotherham. Millwall, whose manager questioned the attitude of his own team repeatedly, who won just two of their last 14 matches when in a relegation battle, survived. QPR, who won only three of their final 23 league games, including a dead rubber on the final day of the season, not only survived but actually had enough points to do so when Steve McClaren was sacked in March. Birmingham City, with nine points deducted, survived with plenty to spare. Wigan, with just two away wins all year, and Reading. Reading survived. This despite great long stretches of the season with barely a victory to speak of. They’d likely have gone down the previous year but for a charitable injury time penalty miss by our own Jake Bidwell over Easter and started the new campaign with no wins in their first six games. There were just two wins in 17 from the end of September to the third round of the FA Cup and none at all from November 10 to January 12. Their new manager bounce, such as it was, following the replacement of Paul Clement with Jose Manuel Gomes, was one win from ten games. They finished the season with one win from the last seven, and two from the last ten, and survived all the same by a muscular seven-point margin.
Ins: Michael Morrison, CB, Birmingham, Free >>> João Virgínia, GK, Everton, Loan >>> Charlie Adam CM, Stoke, Free >>> Matt Miazga, CB, Chelsea, Loan
Outs: Jon Dadi Bodvarsson, CF, Millwall, £700k >>> Joey van den Berg, CM, NEC Nijmegen, Free >>> Anssi Jaakkola, GK, Bristol Rovers, Free >>> Liam Kelly, AM, Feyenoord, Free >>> Marc McNulty, CF, Sunderland, Loan >>> George Legg, GK, Released >>> Danzell Gravenberch, CB, Released >>> Paul McShane, CB, Released >>> John O’Shea, CB, Retired >>> Callum Harriott, LW, Released
Manager: Jose Manuel Gomes Much of the credit for said survival was laid at the door of Jose Manuel Gomes who inherited a poor team, years in decline, on December 22 with just four league wins to its name. Since you ask, Gomes had previously managed Paços Ferreira, Aves, Leixões, União Leiria, Moreirense, Aves again, Videoton, Al-Taawoun, Al-Ahli, Baniyas, Al-Taawoun again (bloody knew he would) and Rio Ave in between various coaching and assistant manager roles. In truth, he looked like a bit of a joke appointment from a club circling the drain. But he immediately brought in a more progressive style of football, and only the best performance of the season from Joe Lumley prevented QPR from being caught cold in what looked like a gimme at Loftus Road over Christmas. That finished goalless, and converting the pretty stuff into goals was always likely to be a problem with Reading’s carefully and expensively assembled collection of non-scoring forwards – Jon-Dadi Bodvarsson finished with seven, Sone Aluko, the biggest waste of a seven figure fee since Wayne Rooney’s weave, got one (one) before swanning off on loan. Six wins were forthcoming in the second half of the season, all but one of them at home mind and the one on the road was at basket case Ipswich.
This Season: Despite the good work of Gomes, the better style of play he’s brought in, his popularity among Reading fans and the way he’s lifted the mood, there are warning signs all over this Reading team in 2018/19. They’re trying to shovel out a collection of poor quality, high-earning players but finding buyers unwilling to bite. They’ve been chumming the water all summer but Chris Gunter, Garath McCleary and David Meyler are among those still there, still earning, but not taking part in first team activities. They have, however, shifted Bodvarsson, Liam Kelly and last season’s failed project Marc McNulty but even that lightening of the load comes countered with a soft transfer embargo for forthcoming FFP breaches which has prevented any serious incomings. For the record, nobody considers Charlie Adam a serious incoming apart from the proprietors of Reading’s pastry emporiums. They’ve used the loan market to strengthen at the back and in goal, and Michael Morrison is solid enough at centre half, but there are dead Andrex puppies with a more potent attack on them than this Reading side as it stands today. John Swift has impressed in pre-season but major additions needed seriously quickly or they’ll go this time.
Fan Opinion: Simeon Pickup “We might well struggle again this season. We've had to drastically reduce the size of the squad to slash the wage bill but, having been handed a soft transfer embargo by the EFL, replacing those players has taken too long. The squad is therefore very young, with the bulk of it made up of under-23 players who may or may not be ready to play a big part last season. However, in comparison to this time last year it's a much leaner, more focussed squad with far better morale - and those qualities can take a team far in this division. The manager - who did a marvellous job in keeping us up last season - has also had a decent amount of time to get to grips with English football and get his ideas embedded into the players. So, in short, Reading Football Club is much healthier now in various ways than it has been. How much good that'll do in the long run is anyone's guess.
“The key transfer business for us so far has been drastically reducing the size of the squad. Even after the exits of around a dozen loanees and players at the end of their contracts, we've had to move on more. Liam Kelly was sold to Feyenoord (now managed by Jaap Stam) and Jon Dadi Bodvarsson went to Millwall, but there's still various others who've been excluded from training and told to find new clubs. At the time of writing, they include Chris Gunter, Garath McCleary, Marc McNulty and David Meyler - squad players at best whose wages aren't cheap, but won't be of much use to this manager's system.
“Making signings of our own has been difficult while we strive to stay within the confines of Financial Fair Play, and the EFL even put us under a 'soft transfer embargo' that seemed to restrict us to 'one out, one in'. Young Everton 'keeper Joao Virginia is a huge talent and should be a fine addition as our new number one, while Michael Morrison and Charlie Adam add much-needed experience at the back and in midfield respectively, although we won't want to rely on either too much this season. So, decent business so far, but there's an awful lot to do.
“The new manager has done extremely well. The biggest challenge for him when he arrived was to reinvigorate a club that was severely short on morale in both the squad and fanbase, but he managed that within a few weeks. His brand of relentless optimism (which never went over the top, unlike other managers we've had - hi, Nigel Adkins) was a breath of fresh air in contrast to the stale monotony of Paul Clement's management, and it wasn't long before he became hugely popular with the fanbase. In terms of keeping the fans onside and optimistic, he's not put a foot wrong so far.
“Tactically, he seemed perhaps a little naive at first, going all in for possession football in the opening weeks of his time in Berkshire. That was easy on the eye but didn't yield points - take the 0-0 draw at Loftus Road at the end of 2018 as an example - so Gomes eventually switched to a more counter-attacking style in the spring. His pragmatism paid off, and we picked up points at a good rate in the closing months to keep us out of danger, including a particularly impressive last-gasp 2-2 draw at champions Norwich City. However, the sense is still very much that we relied on the quality of our loan signings in January: Emiliano Martinez, Matt Miazga, Lewis Baker, Ovie Ejaria and Nelson Oliveira. Although you can accurately say that he got some great performances out of them, it's doubtful that we would have stayed up if Gomes had been working with the squad that Clement had.
“This season will start slowly and frustratingly at first before picking up. I fancy us to add a few more signings in the closing weeks to boost the squad, but even if we do it'll take a while for them to gel, and the whole club is in transition so we need to stay patient. The first third or so of the season will probably see us struggling to pick up any momentum, but we should gradually improve as the campaign unfolds. A solid midtable finish of 12th will do me very nicely indeed.”
Prediction: Twenty second. In the same club as Birmingham and Hull where you just feel years of decline and poor decisions cannot continue without it costing them at some point. If Hull keep Bowen, Birmingham get their shit together and we’re not as bad as people fear, it could be Reading going despite the good impression made by the manager so far.
Last Season Wigan have regressed rapidly from a former Premier League team and FA Cup winner in play-off contention – QPR beat them in the semi-finals in 2014 – into one yo-yoing between the Championship and League One following the reduction and end of their parachute payments. Back at this level last season after a stellar League One promotion under Paul Cook, survival was the name of the game and achieved with yards to spare in eighteenth, with 52 points giving a 12-point gap. Even through that decline, Wigan have often done a nice line in strikers and although nobody made double figures last season the class of Nick Powell and the arrival of Josh Windass gave them enough to bloody the noses of some of the division’s bigger boys – Stoke were beaten 3-0 on their own patch, Villa 3-0 in Wigan, and Leeds hilariously and crucially 2-1 at the business end of the season despite the Latics playing more than an hour with ten men.
Ins: David Marshall, GK, Hull, Free >>> Antonee Robinson, LB, Everton, £1.98m >>> Lewis MacLeod, CM, Brentford, Free
Outs: Callum McManaman, RW, Luton, Free >>> Nick Powell>> James Vaughan, CF, Bradford, Free >>> Shaun McDonald, CM, Rotherham, Free >>> Jamie Walker, LW, Hearts, Free >>> Owen Evans, GK, Macclesfield, Loan >>> Devante Cole, CF, Motherwell, Loan >>> Jonas Olsson, CB, Released >>> Darron Gibson, CM, Wetherspoons, Free
Manager: Paul Cook Occasionally takes time out from screaming in the face of match officials to lead teams to promotion from the lower leagues.
This Season: Sadly, I rather fear for them in 2019/20. Firstly, they’ve not only lost Powell to Stoke, but they’ve lost him on a free transfer, leaving precious few funds to bring a replacement in through the ever-tricky striker market. When you’re getting beaten out by newly skinted QPR for Jordan Hugill things don’t bode well, though they are apparently in the £3m game for Portsmouth’s player of last season Jamal Lowe. Goals look like they’re going to be a huge issue though, and the addition of goalkeeper David Marshall designed to shore up the defence could have the opposite effect if his form for Hull in the second half of last season is anything to go by. Reece James, who filled their league-imposed quota of at least one Chelsea loan per squad and was the outstanding player on the pitch when we lost there in February, will also not be returning though Dujon Sterling, who QPR were set to sign before Todd Kane was landed, could be incoming. Pending further additions, I don’t see three worse teams in the league than this and their fixtures through the early weeks do them no favours at all.
Fan Opinion: @Elbalson from the @pieatnight_WAFC Pie At Night podcast “After yoyoing between League 1 and The Championship for the last few years the sole aim last season was to stay up, so anything above the three relegation spots was enough. After a decent start though, some of our fans expected that we would maintain it and finish in the top half of the table. The more sensible amongst us knew we wouldn't be able to keep it up although to be honest we proved we could be a match for anyone in the division on our day, it's that sort of league isn't it?
“We've done ok over the summer, strengthening in the right areas so far. We started last season with an young back four (five if you include the keeper) who had no experience at Championship level. That led to the inevitable defensive mixups so to have kept them together, made Robinson's (LB) loan a permanent move and adding the experience of David Marshall (GK) we look more solid on paper at least.
“Losing Nick Powell on a free to Stoke leaves a gaping hole in the midfield / forward area and one which we have yet to try and fill. Whether we adapt our style of play to cope without him remains to be seen but we'd like to see a few more additions before the window closes. Been heavily linked with Jamal Lowe from Portsmouth who I think is a decent player and could do well in this league. Oh and we apparently had a bid for Jordan Hugill accepted but struggled to meet his wage demands - I see he's now on loan at Loftus Road.
“This season feels more like stepping into the unknown than last, despite the fact that last year we'd only just been promoted (again!). I was quietly confident last summer as we'd kept the team that won League 1 together and I knew we were good enough to play at this level. My current thinking is that I am not entirely sure where the goals are going to come from and while there were definitely three worse teams than us this time last year (*waves at Bolton*) I’m not sure that is necessarily the obvious case now. It'd be nice to have a mid-table finish, with no flirting with relegation what some clubs might deem a 'boring' season. We never have those at Wigan Athletic.”
Prediction: Twenty third. The loss of Nick Powell without receiving a fee is a hammer blow. Starting with Cardiff, Stoke and Leeds at home, Preston and Boro away won’t help them post point early.
Last Season Like a concert pianist with a smack habit, Charlton were brilliant and flawed last season. They came out of a play-off semi-final failure in 2017/18 and immediately set off for the top six again, aided by strong recruitment handled by our former youth academy head Steve Gallen and led by the arrival of prolific AFC Wimbledon striker Lyle Taylor. Just a couple of wins in the first eight games hinted at a hangover, but they then developed a rather happy knack of winning games in groups of three. Wycombe, Bradford and Plymouth were beaten back-to-back in September, Mansfield, Bristol Rovers and Burton in November, Portsmouth, Wimbledon and Gillingham in December. They came home with a wet sail – just two defeats after the turn of the year, and 13 wins across those 21 league games. Flying into the play-offs with all the momentum they destroyed Doncaster for the first half of the first leg, but profligate finishing allowed the northern side to hang in and spring an ambush in the second leg, taking it all the way to penalties. Seeing a club official march onto the pitch with a police officer and demand the referee hold the shoot out at the Charlton end for safety reasons, only for the Rovers players to be pelted with objects during their kicks, left a sour taste. The manner of their victory in the Wembley final against Sunderland, secured with the last kick of the game in injury time after their keeper had conceded a farcical own goal after five minutes, was pure football theatre and romance. All achieved against the backdrop of another one of Shaun Harvey’s “fit and proper owner” success stories.
Ins: Macauley Bonne, CF, Orient, £200k >>> Tom Lockyer CB, Bristol Rovers, Free >>> Chuks Aneke, CF, MK Dons, Free >>> Adedeji Oshilaja, CB, Wimbledon, Free >>> Ben Amos, GK, Bolton, Free >>> Nathan Harness, GK, Stevenage, Undisclosed >>> Ben Purrington, LB, Rotherham, Free
Outs: Josh Parker, LW, Released >>> Jamie Mascoll, LB, Wycombe, Free >>> Igor Vetekele, CF, Westerlo (Belgium), Free >>> Joe Aribo, CM, Rangers, Free >>> Mark Marshall, RW, Gillingham, Free >>> Nicky Ajose, CF, Exeter, Free >>> Patrick Bauer, CB, Preston, Free >>> Tariqe Fosu, LW, Oxford, Free >>> Ben Reeves, AM, Released >>> Mikhail Kennedy, CF, Released
Manager: Lee Bowyer Who would have thought when he was serving a drugs ban at Charlton as a player, doing his bit for race relations in Leeds, or belting his own team mate during matches at Newcastle, that Lee Bowyer would prove inspirational managerial material? Given the circumstances he’s working under at Charlton, the job he’s done so far is remarkable, and will have clubs willing to overlook his past and give him a shot when he inevitably tires of the insufferable bullshit the disgusting ownership of this football club dump on it on a weekly basis.
This Season: Charlton are so badly run, the owner cuts off nose to spite his face. Even if Roland Duchâtelet has grown so tired of the fully justified fan protests, why would you allow the contract situation of a starlet like Joe Aribo to deteriorate to the point where he can leave on a free to Glasgow Rangers? Outstanding centre half Patrick Bauer has also left for nothing, joining Preston. The recruitment drive led by Steve Gallen continues to churn up gems – I love Tom Lockyer from Bristol Rovers – but this is a squad that looks woefully short in all areas. Bowyer deserves better for the work he’s done in tight conditions, but not only is he not getting it he also had the ignominy of an outlandish ‘official statement’ from Duchâtelet arriving abruptly on the club website over the summer saying his manager was asking for a ridiculous wage, accusing him of playing Garry Monk-style games with a favoured agent, and saying he was departing the club. Bowyer subsequently did sign a contract extension the next day. Another case of disgusting mismanagement of a community asset by a foreign businessman allowed to continue completely unchecked by the EFL.
Fan Opinion: David Bonney “Last season turned out to be a very good one as you would expect from one that ended with promotion. We started off not being able to field a full subs bench for the first few games and ended up with the playoff final victory. The final itself being a strange mirror of the season as a whole, beginning with us giving away an extraordinary own goal in the first five minutes and then grabbing the winner in the dying moments. It was a bit of a minor miracle from Bowyer really as it was all done against the backdrop of ongoing supporter dissatisfaction with the owner and without spending a penny on transfers.
Last Season A consortium led by Chinese investors and, more interestingly for sports geeks and season previewers looking for angles, involving baseball’s Moneyball expert Billy Beane took over Barnsley in late 2017. Football has long been moving towards a statistical and analytical model of recruitment and team selection, with clubs such as Brentford surging ahead of bigger, richer rivals through smarter, modern thinking and the idea of Beane himself being involved in football at our level was an exciting one. The appointment of Jose Morais, a former Chelsea coach, to manage a team that had lost a number of key men at the end of contracts proved an early misstep and the Tykes were relegated in 2018. Daniel Stendel, a German who managed Hannover in his homeland, proved a much shrewder appointment and Barnsley were able to bounce straight back through a mixture of strong defence (21 clean sheets) and classy, forward-thinking football. Stendel, a passionate touchline presence, wound St Josephine Barton up so much in an end of season game with Fleetwood that Barton stuck one on him in the tunnel afterwards and now faces ABH charges. Welcome Daniel, pull up a stool mate we’ll buy you a pint.
Ins: Luke Thomas, RW, Derby, £1.2m >>> Mads Juel Anderson, CB, Horsens (Denmark), £900k >>> Mike Bahre, AM, Hannover, £135k >>> Brad Collins, GK, Chelsea, Free >>> Samuel Sahin-Radlinger, GK, Hannover, Free >>> Conor Chaplin, CF, Coventry, Undisclosed >>> Toby Sibbick, RB. Wimbledon, Undisclosed >>> Mallik Wilks, LW, Leeds, Undisclosed >>> Aapo Halme, CB, Leeds, Undisclosed >>> Bambo Diaby, CB, Lokeren (Belgium), Undisclosed >>>
Outs: Ethan Pinnock, CB, Brentford, £3m >>> Liam Lindsay, CB, Stoke, £2m >>> Adam Davies, GK, Stoke, Free >>> Victor Adeboyego, CF, Bristol Rovers, Loan >>> Ryan Hedges RW, Aberdeen, Free >>> Adam Jackson, CB, Hibs, Free >>> Zeki Fryers, LB, Swindon, Free >>> Lloyd Isgrove, LW, Released
Manager: Daniel Stendel My enemy’s enemy is my friend. I for one welcome our new German overlord.
This Season: Barnsley have also been gutted of key men who brought them to this level in the first place. Losing both centre backs – Ethan Pinnock to Brentford for £3m and Liam Lindsay to Stoke for £2m – and goalkeeper Adam Davies to Stoke on a free is not ideal in a crucial part of the pitch. Those clean sheets kept last season were key to the success and it’s asking a lot of Mads Juel Anderson on his first go at British football, and Aapo Halme who didn’t look all that at Leeds to come in and keep things tight at the back. More encouraging is the arrival of Luke Thomas on one wing from Derby, and Mallik Wilks on the other, also from Leeds. They impressed downstairs on loan at Coventry and Doncaster respectively and look like exactly the sort of slick recruitment Barnsley have become known for, and will need to pull out of the bag if they’re to survive this season. Crucially, Alex Mowatt, who always looked a decent player at this level to me, and former Luton man Cameron McGeehan remain fit and firing in the middle of midfield. Worries over whether Kieffer Moore and Cauley Woodrow can score Championship goals in sufficient quality are tempered slightly when you look at the strike forces Wigan, Charlton, Hull, dare we say QPR, are going to attempt to survive with.
Fan Opinion: @CDRidyard88 “After the poor employment of Jose Morais lead to Barnsley’s Championship demise last season, they once again turned to the spreadsheet to find a diamond in the rough, Daniel Stendel. Every player, every staff member and everyone in the town bought in to Daniel’s Barnsley, what a rollercoaster of a ride which we ended bouncing back at the first attempt.
“The Stendel DNA has brought the best out numerous players, most of all the middle two of Mowatt and McGeehan. Barnsley’s defence was a hard nut to crack last season, so it was no surprise top stopper Davies, along with the centre half partnership of Lindsey and Pinnock have moved on to better their lifestyle. Other squad players have left too, but those three will be the hardest to replace.
“Barnsley have made a total of ten signings this summer, in hopes of bringing in competition and to be able to rotate the squad to suit the gaffer’s high intensity gegen press. Notable signings are Mads Anderson who will be trying to keep lots of quality strikers quiet and Malik Wilks who may have the individual brilliance to unlock a few defences this season.
“As always Barnsley have turned to database and the spreadsheet of statistics to help with recruitment, however as the old adage goes “the game isn’t played on paper”. Barnsley will no doubt upset a few teams this season with their offensive style, however I believe we may concede a few due to relationships being unformed in a pivotal part of the pitch. All in all, it’s going to be an interesting season for Barnsley. A perfect season would be fourth from bottom and Barnsley securing Mr Stendel’s long term future. Have a great season everyone, stay safe and enjoy.”
Prediction: Eighteenth. One of several clubs we’ve had in our minds for the third relegation spot in this preview over the past few weeks, mainly due to the exodus of key players from the promotion team. Their ability to scout adequate replacements, the manager staying put, and the state of several other clubs in the league persuaded us otherwise but this will be a tough campaign.
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