There was a downside to this glorious summer of football. A downside to the so called worst Netherlands side of all time dismantling the all-conquering Spain team, a downside to James, Hames or whatever he wants to be called Rodrigues scoring a goal that defied everything we thought we knew about life and a downside to David Luiz going AWOL and Germany thumping 7 (SEVEN) past Brazil. Football was never going to get any better. Life had reached its peak. The events of June 12 to July 13 had rendered the prospect of a 46 game Championship season, and having to carry on breathing without a World Cup to watch as a reward, horrendously unattractive. Not even Peter Beagrie telling us this is the most competitive league in the world every other day could fix this one.
So, instead, the 24 teams that take part in the world’s best second tier decided to make things interesting. Ten, if not twelve, teams will have realistic ambitions of promotion. Those who just missed out on promotion last season have all improved, while the sides that came down from the Premier League all boast impressive squads and will be looking to make an immediate return. Then, just like in Brazil, there’s a handful of dark horses who will be looking to cause an upset or two and break into the top six.
Down the other end of the table, those who struggled have either revamped their squad or vastly improved it, while those who gained promotion from League One all look in good shape and would easily have avoided relegation last season. In fact, where in previous seasons you might well have been able to predict a top eight and a bottom four, ordering the teams before this campaign gets under way is a difficult task. One crisis club aside, it’s all very much up for debate; an unpredictability that makes this Championship season genuinely as exciting as any before it.
What World Cup?
Goals change games. One of those annoying clichés that’s so blatantly obvious you drop an IQ point every time you use it. It also only takes a second to score a goal, says another equally obvious frequently used saying. In Birmingham’s case, it only takes a second of the final game of the season to score a goal that has prevented total disaster and given the club a chance to rebuild. You won’t find that in your bumper book of football clichés.
Had Paul Caddis not equalised with the final meaningful touch of the Blues’ 13/14 season, Birmingham would be preparing for life in League One. Bad enough on its own, especially for a club that had not long ago been a permanent fixture in the top flight, but given their ownership issues, with years of uncertainty culminating in majority shareholder Carson Yueng being imprisoned and no one quite sure what’s going on at St. Andrews, it would have been a catastrophe.
But survival has allowed for things to calm down somewhat. A takeover is still desperately needed, with Carson Yueng remaining majority shareholder from his prison cell and finances not the best, but that immediate sense of impending doom that occupied the thoughts of many Blues in the final months of last season is no more, at least for the time being.
The Manager – Lee Clark
It’s fair to say relegation would not have been undeserved last season; 18 games without a home victory and just 16 points gained from January onward are the worrying stats that indicated just how woeful the Blues were at times last season, and Clark took a great deal of criticism for Birmingham’s woes. The young manager tag has left him and he can longer live off the back of his unbeaten run at Huddersfield. The pressure will be on Clark straight away to pick up results and prove wrong those at St. Andrews who feel he should have left the club last season following some bizarre decisions.
With ageing pros, such as Nikola Zigic, Wade Elliott and Peter Lovenkrands removed from the wage bill, Clark has improved a weak squad with young players and those with a point to prove/with experienced pros, such as Nikola Zigic, Wade Elliott and Peter Lovenkrands, departing, Clark has been forced to rely on young, unproven and unconvincing players to bolster his weak squad.
There are two ways to look at how Birmingham have gone about their business this summer, but I think it’s fair to say the route they’ve take is the correct one. The only real loss from those that have left is winger Chris Burke, but the signings of David Cotterill and Mark Duffy from Doncaster will nullify the impact of his departure.
Stephen Gleeson and Jonathan Grounds arrive after impressing in League One and will be eager to show they’re capable in the Championship having been let go by Wolves and Middlesbrough earlier on in their careers. Grounds is joined by fellow defensive additions Gavin Gunning, David Edgar and Spurs loanee Grant Hall, who will hope to improve a defence that conceded more goals than any side outside the bottom three last season. Forwards Clayton Donaldson, more recently deployed as a winger by Mark Warburton at Brentford, and Wes Thomas, who impressed during a loan spell at St. Andrews in the 2012/13 season, round off Birmingham’s respectable transfer dealings and may well partner each other in attack throughout the campaign.
A mixture of journeymen and young players, but a slightly better mixture of journeymen and young players than the mixture of journeymen and young players that made up Birmingham’s squad last season.
Where last season there was enough journeymen to get Harry Redknapp all hot and flustered, they are now outnumbered by enough promising youngsters to make Crewe look on with envy. In fact, Clayton Donaldson and Paul Robinson are the only players aged 30 or above, but the likes of Darren Randolph and Paul Caddis provide additional experience to this young side.
At the other end of the age spectrum, Will Packwood, having recovered from injury, Callum Reilly and Mitch Hancox will be looking to continue to grow their reputations having broken into the first-team squad over the past couple of years. There’s also the impressive Tom Adeyemi, a rare bright spark from last season’s nightmare.
This is by no means a squad that will win the division, nor is it a squad that a former Premier League club will be proud to have, but it should offer something more than last season’s side did.
Fans View: Natalie Whitehouse
1) Paul Caddis’ last minute equaliser on the final day of last season – did that goal avoid a complete crisis at St. Andrews, allowing you to press on, or merely paper over the cracks for the time being?
I’d say somewhere in the middle. First and foremost we need buyers or investors, and a Championship club is a much better and bigger prospect than a league one club. On the other hand nothing has really happened in terms of being bought or invested in; so it seems to be a waiting game, but a waiting game in the championship is much better than being in one a division lower.
2) Despite what’s gone before, you’ve made some very savvy signings this summer. Will this season be slightly less agonising, or at least involve more home wins?
I’m impressed with the quantity and quality Clark has managed to bring in on such a tight budget, so with that in mind I believe we have a better squad than last season and I can’t see it going down to the last day again that’s for sure! I think home wins last season became such a ‘thing’ it got to the players far too much; this season we have a pretty much new team who hopefully won’t feel the pressure and be able to pick up points at St. Andrew’s.
“I can’t see it going down to the last day again”
3) What’s your take on Lee Clark? How much pressure is he under?
My patience with him wore extremely thin towards the end of last season when he clearly had no idea what he was doing; making random team selections that highlighted the fact he was completely clueless as to where to turn to get the results we desperately needed, especially at home. But give him his due, he’s made some astute signings and I think he’s riding the pressure of being a manager quite well. I don’t believe we can afford to sack him and he’s not the type to walk away so I would say this pressure is however rather minimal; but he knows all too well a few bad performances and results when the season begins, and the fans will once again get on his back.
4) Who will be your key player this season?
In all honesty I have no idea. We’ve signed so many new players and only played two pre-season games thus far, so it’s hard to tell. Clayton Donaldson is one I think will do a good job in this division providing he has the service from midfield, and Tom Adeyemi was a standout player for us last season so I think those two will do particularly well for us. I’ve also heard great things from MK Dons fans about Stephen Gleeson so I can’t wait to see what he can bring to the side.
5) If you could sign one more player, within reason, who it would be?
I would have loved to have got Emyr Huws back on loan because he was great for us last season, scoring a couple of brilliant long-range goals to boot. But as he’s out of the equation after his move to Wigan, I’d go for a player who is currently training with us, an ex-Celtic youngster named Denny Johnstone. I suppose a nineteen year-old may be a bit of a gamble, but he’s supposedly highly rated and would be worth a punt in the Championship.
Summary: They have improved their squad, but so has every other side in the division. If Birmingham were to stay clear of the bottom three throughout the course of the season, and a buyer was found, few in that part of the Midlands would moan. 21st
For several seasons, Blackburn were the gift that kept on giving. A general inability to win games under a succession of god awful managers and the bizarre decisions made by owners Venkeys amused the football community, but depressed and frustrated Blackburn fans who had to watch their side fall so quickly from grace.
However, if Rovers’ end of season form is anything to go by, they might well be back on track. They ended the campaign 13 games unbeaten, only missing out on a play-off place by the slender margin of two points; two points more they could have easily achieved had it not been for some disappointing draws during that unbeaten run.
Nonetheless, Blackburn have stopped being a joke (well, apart from that awful kit promo video). They decimated several sides during that sensational run of form, and the rest of the Championship took notice. Rovers will be a competitive force this season.
The Manager – Gary Bowyer
His appointment was viewed as another mistake by the Venkeys, and it was certainly a gamble; last season was Bowyer’s first full season in charge of any club. After a stuttering start, it looked as if that gamble wasn’t going to pay off, but Bowyer not only got his side winning, but playing some very good passing and pacey football.
While only three additions have been made, striker Chris Brown from Doncaster, defender Alex Baptiste on loan from Bolton and the permanent signing of loanee Luke Varney, the key for Blackburn was to have a second shot of breaking into the top six with last season’s squad.
On paper, last season’s squad was always a competitive one, but the signings of Craig Conway and Rudy Gestede really kicked Blackburn on. Conway’s skill down the flank, especially his crossing ability, was made all the more potent with all 6’4 of Gestede waiting in the centre.
Gestede also proved the perfect foil for Jordan Rhodes, with the pair linking up together superbly, whilst Conway had assistance from Joshua King on the opposite flank. Throw in playmaker Tom Cairney, and it’s fair to say Blackburn are a real attacking threat.
With Paul Robinson, making a return midway through last season following a blood clot, and Jake ‘son of Steve’ Kean two excellent options to choose from between the sticks, in addition to the signing of Baptiste addressing a possible lack of cover at centre back should Matthew Kilagallon or Grant Hanley suffer injury or suspension, Blackburn also look impressive at the back.
Fans View – Carly Brown
1) The form you found yourselves in at the back of last season was extraordinary – was the overriding feeling frustration that you couldn’t quite break into the top 6 or positivity to take forward into this season?
There is a lot of positivity around the club. Hopefully the form at the end of the season motivates us to have a good start and prove what we can do.
“There is a lot of positivity around the club”
2) How frustrating has your lack of movement in the transfer market been or are you happy with how your squad is shaping up?
Over the course of last season we built a strong squad. I still believe we need another couple of solid defenders.
3) Media reports of the Venkeys being a bit silly have died down recently, is opposition to your owners still as strong?
The club has become more stable recently with the backing of Bowyer and when Venkys are quiet everything seems to run smoothly. They’re still not the fans favourites but who can blame us?
4) Who will be your key player this season?
Jordan Rhodes is going to be vital once again. He knows how to put the ball in the back of the net – it’s as simple as that!
5) If you could sign one player, within reason, who would it be?
I couldn’t really give you a name but I’d say we need a solid defender with experience. Someone who can lead the defence
Summary: Must click from the off, but Blackburn will be there or there abouts this season. 4th
‘Crisis’ club is a phrase that’s often overused. Billionaire-backed, Champions League playing clubs seems to be in crisis every time they drop so much as a point. If that’s a crisis, than Blackpool’s situation is a disaster wrapped in a catastrophe, coated in a layer of woe, sprinkled with tears and, when you press down on it, the sound of 10,000 dispirited boos leak out.
At the time of writing, less than two weeks before the season begins, the Tangerines have just eight senior pros on their books. Four of those eight are strikers, and one of those will be asking his sponsors for a pair of goalkeeping gloves unless Blackpool can recruit a stopper before August 9th. A mammoth 28 players have left Bloomfield Road this summer, and Karl Oyston’s bizarre reluctance to sign the players, or any players for that matter, that new boss Jose Riga wants has left the two parties seemingly not cooperating with each other and the club without a squad. Gulp.
The Manager – Jose Riga
Once upon a time, Blackpool fans far and wide were rejoicing at the appointment of Riga. The Belgium, who impressed many at Charlton in the back end of last season, seemed like a bit of a coup, or at least something better than Paul Ince or an out of his depth Barry Ferguson.
Several weeks on, and there’s still some serious doubt as to whether Riga will be in charge at Bloomfield Road come the season opener such is the reported level of stalemate between the boss and the club’s owner. That Riga being present at a pre-season friendly, one of the few they haven’t bothered to cancel, was newsworthy tells you all you need to know.
It goes without saying, but losing 28 players and signing just two is a bit of a disaster. The likes of Matt Gilks, Chris Basham and Tom Ince are among those who have departed, whilst journeyman defender Tony McMahon, after a loan last season, and Estonian forward Sergei Zenjov are the pair to arrive.
To make matters worse, attempts to sign players haven’t gone well. It appeared as if the Tangerines would finally have a ‘keeper, with Ben Alwnick set to join, but the former Charlton shot stopper opted to join Peterborough at the eleventh hour.
To call a collection of eight players, most of which are just about average, a ‘squad’ is pushing it a bit. No doubt something will have to give and there will be some players in place before the season starts, but you worry now that there isn’t enough time for the squad to gel. It’s all pretty bleak.
Fans View: Taylor Holman
1) It all seems like chaos to those on the outside, how do you explain what’s going on at Blackpool right now?
It’s the result of years of under-investment into the squad and the infrastructure of the club by the chairman. Instead of creating a lasting legacy following our season in the Premier League, the club hasn’t moved forwards whatsoever.
2) Of the countless amount of players that you’ve lost, who are you most disappointed to see depart?
I think in a few years it will be realised just how much of a mistake it was to allow Harrison McGahey to leave the club. He has the potential to make it in the top tiers of football.
3) Does having Jose Riga, a manager who sailed a sinking ship to safety last season, give you at least an ounce of hope?
Us Pool fans will back Riga regardless. However, the club is just too much of a shambles to think it would take anything less than a miracle for us to avoid relegation.
“The club is just too much of a shambles to think it would take anything less than a miracle for us to avoid relegation”
4) Who will be your key player this season?
Tom Barkhuizen will be the big breakthrough of the season. He’s shown quality in the games he’s played already and won’t be facing any competition for places…
5) I’ve asked other fans for one player they’d like to sign, but you can have five. Pick five players, within reason, you’d like to see in a Blackpool shirt this season.
Nathan Delfouneso, Faris Haroun, Martin Craine , Ishmael Miller and Ben Alnwick have all been linked with us and I’d be happy to see them bolster our squad. We definitely need it.
Summary: At least relegation would presumably force an end to Karl Oyston’s rein. 24th
Like there’s always one club who overachieves to gain promotion, there is always one club who are hotly tipped for promotion and end up disappointing. Last season, Bolton were that club that many believed would be right up there and instead found themselves down the other end of the table; a frustrating season that was made all the worse by Lancashire rivals Burnley going through the reverse.
While Burnley were collecting win after win, it took Bolton until October 5 to pick up their first three points of the campaign. By which time all hope of promotion had already been given up, confidence and promising performances were lacking and the season was effectively a write-off.
But, at times, Bolton looked at least a fraction better than a shambles. For all the terrible runs of form and dire defeats, there were occasions where victories were strung together and relegation was rarely, if at all, looking like a possibility. If anything, that they proved themselves to be capable at times only served to increase the frustration. It does, however, give the cash strapped and seemingly Championship trapped club some hope that this season could prove more successful.
The Manager – Dougie Freedman
One of several under fire bosses who desperately needs a good start, especially at home where Bolton’s struggles made for a dire atmosphere at time last season. Just six games were won at what was the Reebok (now Macron); only Birmingham, Barnsley and Yeovil won fewer. At times, the Trotters looked void of ideas, sapped of creativity and equally disorganised at the back. Freedman took most of the blame, and the atmosphere turned somewhat toxic during a run of eight games without a win at the start of the calendar year, including a pathetic 7-1 defeat to Reading.
A positive end to the season kept the critics at bay, but they’ll be quick to call for Freedman’s head should the Trotters start the season in poor fashion.
The failure to sign Lukas Jutkiewicz on a permanent deal will hurt the Trotters, with the forward prolific during Bolton’s better moments of last season. It’s left them weak in attack, and without a man who was so crucial to their upturn in form at the back end of last season. The loss of Andre Moritz, who made an impression from midfield, and the failure to rekindle Chris Eagles’ form, leading to his departure, will also be disappointing.
Bolton have, however, managed to secure the services of Liam Feeney, Liam Trotter and Neil Danns, who all impressed on loan in Lancashire last season, whilst the signings of Dorian Dervite, a central figure to Charlton’s survival last season, and Dean Moxey, a full-back who was a constant figure in Crystal Palace’s promotion winning side, improve a back four that was less than impressive at times last season. Kevin McNaughton, who also enjoyed a loan spell at the Reebok during the previous campaign, provides another option at the back, re-signing on loan from Cardiff.
Where are the goals coming from? At the time of writing, Bolton have just two first-team forwards; the inconsistent Jermaine Beckford and Craig Davies, who was far from prolific on loan at Preston last season. For all the creative spark the Trotters possess, Neil Danns, Mark Davies and Chung-Yong Lee especially, there’s a serious concern that chances created won’t be finished off.
However, if Bolton address their striker shortage, their squad would appear to be a competitive one. Liam Trotter and newly appointed captain Jay Spearing promise to form the sort of midfield partnership that would make the toughest of opponent a little worried about the damage that might be done to their body, whilst the likes of Tim Ream and Matthew Mills give Freedman a host of defensive options.
Fans View: Jake Vickers
1) You were among the favourites for promotion last season, but found yourselves down the other end of the table, heaping pressure on Dougie Freedman. Is it promotion or bust for Freedman this campaign?
Obviously last season was disappointing and it will be a big year for Freedman, with just 12 months left on his contract there is a very real possibility he could leave the Reebok (or Macron) next June. Dougie will have to earn a new deal and while doing this he will have to change the opinion of a section our fan-base. Whether this campaign has to end in promotion for him to receive an extension is unclear but an improvement is a must.
“Whether this campaign has to end in promotion for him to receive an extension is unclear but an improvement is a must”
2) Despite last season’s disappointment, you’ve been a little slow to move in the transfer market. How frustrated are you with the lack of strengthening?
So far it has been disappointing, however it could have easily been a different story had we managed to sign Lukas Jutkiewicz permanently. The lack of attacking players brought into the club has been underwhelming, however the signing of 3 defenders in Kevin McNaughton, Dean Moxey and Dorian Dervite has provided some much needed improvement to a back-line which looked very insecure for a large proportion of last season.
3) You’ve recently appointed Andy Hughes as your Development manager – a man who was a huge influence to the development of young players at Charlton. Who are the names Hughes will be helping to bring through and is his job doubly important given the lack of signings?
Hughes will be part the coaching team that will help a group of players, who have been the first to be raised through the newly improved youth facilities, to break into the senior squad. These include the highly rated attacking full back Andy Kellett and Sanmi Odelusi, who spent a few months on loan at MK Dons last season. Looking at some younger players he will work with on a longer basis includes pacey striker Zach Clough and Republic of Ireland U19’s striker Connor Wilkingson who started his career at Millwall. He will also get to work with some players who carry a big name, such as Premier League goalkeeper Jussi Jaaskelainen’s son, William who will try and live up to his dad’s reputation.
4) Who will be your key player this season?
This season I believe Mark Davies has the potential to be the deciding factor in our success (or lack of it). The creative midfielder was hampered by injury last season which kept him out for a large proportion. A player who has performed well in the Premier League for the club and showed glimpses of that form when he has been fully fit.
5) If you could sign one player, within reason, who would it be?
One signing would be Joe Mason from Cardiff, a player who spent two short loan spells at the club last season scoring 6 goals in 16 games and showed glimpses of quality. He also has age on his side at only 23 so a permanent deal could be a long term investment. He would add some much needed fire power to our strike force which is looking limp with only Craig Davies and Jermaine Beckford currently on the books.
Summary: Someone better let Dougie know that Bolton have enough defenders now and they could possibly do with some strikers. They’re quickly becoming another club who have failed to escape the Championship, and look set for a lengthy stay. 14th
With 15 games left of last season, Bournemouth were level on points with Birmingham City and just a point ahead of Blackpool. By the end of the campaign, Eddie Howe’s men had pulled 22 and 20 points clear of those two sides respectively. A winless February, which had the Cherries looking over their shoulders, was followed by a mammoth 25 points in 10 games to give the newly promoted side a fighting chance of sneaking into the top six.
That final play-off spot may have proved elusive, with just one win from the final five games meaning Bournemouth had to settle for tenth, but wins over QPR, Blackburn and Reading, not to mention the style of play Howe had his side playing, convinced fans of the South Coast club that they could mix with the very best this division has to offer. In fact, the entire division will be aware that Bournemouth are something of a force this season; the trip to the seaside may well become the only highlight for away fans visiting Dean Court.
The Manager – Eddie Howe
Widely regarded as the best young manager in the country, getting his side to play a wonderful brand of counter-attacking football, Howe is hotly tipped to go onto something much bigger than pesky little Bournemouth. However, the job he’s done on the South Coast has been so miraculous, taking the Cherries from the brink of the Conference to to the brink of the Championship play-offs, that pesky little Bournemouth could be something much bigger themselves if he continues to improve the club’s on the pitch fortunes year on year.
One 20-odd goal a season striker departs; one 20-odd goal a season striker arrives. There was a period of mild grieving when Lewis Grabban, scorer of 22 goals last season, departed to Norwich for £3m, but the arrival of Callum Wilson, equally capable in front goal and a better investment in the long term, from Coventry quickly quelled those concerned supporters. The signings of midfielder Dan Gosling and winger Junior Stanislas, who played a large part in Burnely’s promotion last season, are equally good additions to the Bournemouth squad; two relatively young men with a desire to prove their good enough for the Premier League are the sort of players Howe can have playing at their full potential.
They’ve also pocketed some cash after taking a share of the money Southampton received for former Cherry Adam Lallana. More than useful in the climate of financial fair play.
The Cherries may not have an abundance of players with Premier League experience like so many others chasing a top six finish, but what they do have is a well-balanced side full of players who have gained a reputation at this level. There is no obvious weak point in what would be Bournemouth’s starting XI.
Lee Camp is a goalkeeper most Championship clubs would be happy to have, Adam Smith and Simon Francis, as much as it pains me to say it, are resolute at the back and equally capable of creating a chance when they bomb down the flanks, while Steve Cook and Tommy Elphick formed a formidable partnership in Bournemouth’s excellent run-in last season.
Harry Arter, one Charlton may regret letting go, will do a sterling job as the deeper midfielder, allowing Gosling or highly rated Eunan O’Kane to push forward, whilst there’s a potent threat from either flank with Matt Ritchie on the right and Stanislas on the left.
They’ve also got a French chap who will partner Wilson in attack. Decent in the air and central to the success of any side he plays for, scores a few goals, handsome enough to turn the eye of even the manliest of men. Name escapes me…
What may well hold Bournemouth back, however, is a lack of strength in depth. Of course, no side can afford to have injuries to their key players, but that’s even more so for the Cherries; where others have four players for each position, Bournemouth just about have three. The nature of the division means that, at one point or another, Howe will be relying on his slightly below par squad players to perform at the standard of their superior teammates.
Fans View: Peter Charles
1) What was the overriding thought from last season – disappointment that your play-off chasing form began just a little too late, or encouragement that this season could see you mount a serious promotion challenge?
It was an encouragement, for definite, however, in a way it was a shame, as we didn’t win some very winnable games towards the end, and I think we underestimated ourselves for part of the season, but we had a superb season nonetheless.
2) It’s been a bit of a mixed transfer window for you. Do the ins outweigh the outs?
I believe so, it was a shame to see Grabban go, but the reported £3million for him is a very good piece of business, and as excellent a player as he was, he never seemed a natural finisher, so his goal tally was testament to his work ethic. Wilson should be an excellent signing, he could be all Grabban was, and then some, judging by what we’ve heard from Coventry fans. Stanislas and Gosling look solid additions, too.
3) Do you often pinch yourself that Bournemouth are in the situation they are, able to spend millions, having arguably the best young manager in England and having an outside chance of promotion to the Premier League, considering what’s gone before?
It’s still a very bizarre situation, as all I’ve really known supporting us is administration, habitually selling our best players, and being managed by the likes of Jimmy Quinn. Also, when you consider we were stranded in the League Two drop zone for most of the 2008/2009 season, and a relegation away from almost certain liquidation, it’s a quite remarkable turnaround. The eternal pessimist in me says it won’t last, but after all we’ve been through, we may as well enjoy the ride.
4) Who will be your key player this season? (It’s Kermorgant, isn’t it?)
Yeah, it’s Kermorgant. He was effectively the missing piece to the puzzle last season, and really enabled us to push forward. There was an excellent link between Grabban and himself, and when you consider how similar Grabban and Wilson are, as players, the Kermorgant/Wilson combination could prove to be really effective.
“Kermorgant was effectively the missing piece to the puzzle”
5) If you could sign one more player, within reason, who would that be?
Seeing as Max Gradel is being heavily linked with a return us, at the time of writing, am I allowed to say him? I’m not overly imaginative, sorry. He was superb for us when he was here, in a pretty poor team, and since then has played in a Europa League team, in St Etienne and the World Cup, and can beat a full back, with, quite frankly, ridiculous ease. I’d love to see him back at Bournemouth.
Summary: To the Championship what Colombia were to the World Cup. Yammes Kermorgant and co. might just fall short, but they’ll gain plenty of admirers and take plenty of scalps along the way. 9th
Few supporters of any club will ever face the feeling of dejection and heartbreak that Brentford fans felt on April 27 last year. Even less will face that agonising feeling once again just three weeks later. From the incident, that needs no repeating for the sake of Brentford supporters who no doubt still wake up in cold sweats from that experience. on the final day of the 2012/13 season that has been dubbed ‘Trottbar’, to the slow start that cost them in the League One final, Brentford endured a torrid period that meant all their hard work from that season was meaningless.
It also threatened to derail the club’s progress; Brentford had made themselves a force in League One again, and some were questioning whether the club would have the mental strength to come back from such a series of knocks.
When Uwe Rosler departed for Wigan in December and the relatively unknown Mark Warburton replaced him, there seemed to be another one of those agonising set-backs. Instead, the Bees used it to their advantage; improving as the season went on and eventually sealing second place in League One with relative ease.
In some ways, their promotion last season was incredible. To overcome the traumatic end to the season before, and to only getting stronger following Rosler’s departure, shows incredible determination and grit. But, in others, their promotion was to be expected. The side Rosler and Warburton had to at their disposal was solid at the back, excellent going forward and overall a genuinely exciting group of players. Either way, Brentford now face the challenge of League One a season later than they would have liked, but arguably in a better position to face the trials the second tier offers.
The Manager – Mark Warburton
This life lark is all a bit easy for Mark Warburton. Although injuries prevented him from having a serious career as a player, Warburton made the best of bad situation and became a successful city trader. But then he decided he fancied a crack at this football management lark and packed in the bank balance building day job to attempt a rather ambition plan.
Via a coaching role at Watford, setting up the Next-Gen Series and two roles, first team coach and director of football, at Brenford, Warburton found his way into a managerial position.
Given the reins, somewhat surprisingly to those outside of Griffin Park, after Rosler departed, the 51-year-old suffered just four defeats in 27 as he kept up Brentford’s promotion push without any real hiccups. Playing a similar style of sharp and potent passing football that Rosler had the side playing, Warburton’s earned heaps of praise for how quickly he took to his role. A natural, as he seems to be at everything he does.
The Championship’s difficult, you say? Warburton laughs in the face of difficulty.
If points were awarded for the level of excitement caused by a signing, Brentford would already have enough to survive. Every club in the division would have been happy to have signed Moses Odubajo, the winger who was outstanding in Leyton Orient’s surprise promotion push last season, and he might well be one of the buys of the summer. Signing the highly rated Alex Pritchard, equally as impressive at Swindon last season, is also the sort of acquisition that makes the rest of the Championship raise an eyebrow.
Elsewhere, gambles have been taken on Scott Hogan and Andre Gray to reproduce their goal scoring form in League Two and the Conference at a higher level, but both seem capable enough and offer far more than just goals. If there wasn’t enough pace and flair, and in Gray’s case physicality, in this Brentford side, there is now.
Nonetheless, losing Clayton Donaldson to Birmingham is a blow, regardless of the names brought in. The winger-cum-forward played such an important role in Brentford’s success over the past few seasons that his influence will be difficult to replace. Even so, if Moses can walk on water, I’m sure he can fill those rather large boots.
Full of impressive youngsters, but possibly lacking an experienced Championship player or two. Brentford fans certainly wouldn’t trade their Deans, their Forshaws and their Bidwells for a bunch of 30-something journeymen in the name of ‘experience’ but they could certainly do with a few more senior pros, especially with both manager and the majority of players about to begin their first season in the second tier.
Regardless, Brentford’s squad is still full of impressive individuals with heaps of potential, capable of avoiding the drop despite their relative youth. In attack, they can call on talent with the ability to change the course of a game in an instant; winger Alan Judge, signed on a permanent deal after a productive loan spell last season, will be aided by Odubajo and creative midfielders Adam Forshaw and Pritchard. Nonetheless, with that reliance on Hogan and Gray in attack, another out and out forward may be needed.
Tough tackling midfielders Alan McCormack, vastly improved from his terrible season at Charlton, and Jonathan Douglas add a bit of well-travelled grit to this young side, especially useful when Brentford’s back four is likely to be populated by 20-somethings; as impressive 20-somethings they may be.
Fans View: Toby Maxtone-Smith
1) Teams promoted from League One in previous seasons have often coped well with the demands of the Championship – is a top half finish realistic?
Last season we were just as good as, if not better than, Bournemouth were when they went up from League 1, and look how well they did. Having said that, I think the Championship looks a lot stronger this year than last year. There is only one obviously weak team (do I even need to say?). Three pretty poor sides went down, and the three promoted sides all have money to spend. A top half finish is certainly within reach, but I’m not expecting it.
“A top half finish is certainly within reach, but I’m not expecting it.”
2) You’ve made a number of exciting signings, but is there a concern about the lack of second tier experience in your squad?
In a sense our weakness is the same as our strength. Our most likely starting XI will have an average age of 23, with seven players 22 or under. Only Tony Craig and Jonathan Douglas have any meaningful Championship experience, and that could be a problem, particularly at tough away games. On the other hand, almost our whole squad is on an upward curve in their careers. The players we have signed will all be hungry to improve. I’d much rather we signed that type of player than players signed solely because they have ‘Championship experience’.
3) What fixture are you looking forward to more – welcoming back Uwe Rosler or playing Fulham?
Well Fulham is obviously the outstanding fixture. They’re our traditional rivals, and we haven’t played them since the turn of the millennium. But there are so many big fixtures, new grounds and new places to go to this year. On a personal level, the new ground I’m most looking forward to visiting is Elland Road. Also, having trips to Bournemouth and Blackpool within four days of each other in mid-August is a stroke of luck. We face Wigan at Griffin Park on the last day of the season, and I would expect that to be Wigan’s promotion party, which would be lovely, unless we go down that day.
4) Who will be your key player this season?
Adam Forshaw. We signed him from Everton as a right-midfielder, but in the middle of the 2012-13 season he became a central-midfielder, and he hasn’t looked back since then. He’s a wonderful passer, has a cutting edge and was deservedly named League 1 Player of the Year. I’d also say the experience of Tony Craig will be crucial at the back. It is likely he will have three 21 year-olds alongside him, so he needs to take control of that backline.
5) If you could sign one more player, within reason, who would it be?
I would say a new right-back, but there aren’t many outstanding candidates there, so I’ll go for Patrick Bamford of Chelsea. Our two strikers, Andre Gray and Scott Hogan, were recruited from Luton Town and Rochdale respectively. Both are promising, but risky signings and may well need time to adapt to the jump. Bamford’s a great goalscorer, a skilful player and would suit our system well. If you’ve got a regularly scoring striker in the Championship, anything is possible.
Summary: A club with plenty of potential boasting a squad full of exciting players. But this is Brentford’s first season in the second tier for 22 years, and a few injuries leaves their squad looking a little bare. The club becoming an established Championship club must be the goal for Brentford over the next few seasons. 18th
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