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Sky Bet Championship Season Preview 2015/16 – Part Three

Part Two


Hull City

The excitement of European football, the expectation that breaking the club’s record transfer free twice brings, and the hope of a top half finish.

If you had told a Hull City fan this time last year that their club would be playing Championship football in 2015/16, you would have been laughed down. Their only worry the threat of owner Assem Allam changing the club’s name. s fds fd bdfn dn df ndfn d

Alas, having finished as runners-up in the 2013/14 FA Cup before a seemingly positive summer, the Tigers hugely underachieved last season. Their Europa League adventure ending before the group stage, many of their signings disappointing in one way or another, and a relatively tame drop to the second tier.

For some clubs who have been relegated when they were seemingly ‘too good’ to suffer such a fate, the impact has been disastrous. Marooned among the Championship also-rans, or soon sliding towards League One.

However, many, including Norwich last season, have recovered almost immediately from a nightmarish relegation campaign. The task for Hull this season is to put 2014/15 behind them, and aim to emulate the Canaries in achieving promotion at the first attempt.

The Manager – Steve Bruce

In the same way it appeared as if Hull were going places last season, so too did it seem that Bruce was building something special at the KC Stadium.

Bruce, who has done a reasonable job at several yo-yo clubs throughout his career, had followed promotion to the Premier League with survival and a remarkable effort to take the club to the FA Cup Final.

But that hard work was emphatically undone last season. Whether it was investing in too many players without Premier League experience that disrupted the balance of his side, injuries to key men, or just simply failing tactically, something went horribly wrong for Bruce.

It has left some, understandably, questioning his position. Will Bruce be able to motivate a side that he failed to last season, and will he be able to find a way to stop Hull entering a rot that many clubs do upon relegation from the Premier League?

Regardless, few managers in the Championship have a CV as respectable as Bruce’s, and even those left unimpressed by the 54-year-old last season will feel some sort of expectation that he can put things right.

Transfer Business

Following their relegation from the Premier League, members of Hull’s squad were always likely to attract interest from club’s in the top flight. But to lose two of their key players, who have played for the Tigers long and successfully enough to understand what is demanded by supporters is extremely disappointing.

Solace can be taken from the fact that both James Chester, who heads to West Brom, and Robbie Brady, who joins Norwich City, have commanded large fees. The Welsh centre-back costing £8m, and the Irish winger finally allowed to move for £7m after several bids were turned down.

However, it merely papers over the cracks that losing two key players creates, especially when little has been done at the time of writing in terms of freshening up Hull’s squad.

Former Newcastle full-back Ryan Taylor, with a point to prove after an injury plagued couple of years, and midfielder Sam Clucas, who arrives from Chesterfield with a strong reputation gained from impressive performances in League One and Two, are certainly tidy additions.

But further signings must be made, and the £15m received in transfer fees used wisely, for Hull to make an immediate return to the top flight. Bids for Brentford’s Moses Odubajo and Andre Gray certainly along the right line.

The Squad

For all the disappointment, consternation, and concern, there remains quality in Hull’s squad that, on paper, is above Championship level.

At centre-back, the experienced Curtis Davies and Michael Dawson will do battle with Harry Maguire, who may now be given a chance having signed from Sheffield United at the start of last season and spent the second half of it on loan at Wigan, while Tom Huddlestone will be among Hull’s midfield options intent on impressing after disappointing last season.

There’s also quality, and goals, in attack, with Nikica Jelavic, Dame N’Doye, and even flop Abel Hernandez likely to be potent in the second tier. That is, of course, if they remain at the club for the duration of the season.

And the possibility of losing players whose reputations are higher than the Championship might lead to another issue for City this season. Players who arrived from abroad expecting to play Premier League football, or those who have played Premier League for much of their career, may struggle to motivate themselves in the second tier.

The young and hungry players in Hull’s squad, such as Maguire, Andrew Robertson, and recent signing Clucas might well prove to be among their most important performers this campaign.

Fans View: Nicholas Smith (@Nicks648)

Last season promised so much. Did you have any fears of relegation before it got underway, and where do you think it all went wrong?

This time last season felt a lot different to now and I must say I was on a wave of optimism for the coming season especially after ‘winning the deadline day’ with the signings of Hernandez and Ben Arfa. Thus, I was looking at mid-table and the bottom three did not even cross my mind.

I feel there were three reasons we slipped into the bottom three. Firstly injuries to the likes of Snodgrass and Jelavic really cost us.

Secondly, I feel Bruce got it wrong with injury management and this meant that injuries reoccurred far too often, leaving us without key players for long periods.

Finally, we quite frankly deserved exactly what we got. We put in extremely poor performances both against Newcastle, Burnley, West Brom and Stoke and we got comfortably beat by all four teams. If you take 2 points off them four all season you are going to be in trouble.

Does faith in Steve Bruce remain, and does he need to achieve an immediate return to the Premier League?

Steve Bruce is the right man for the job because quite frankly there isn’t an available manager out there currently who is better. However, I would say there are a lot of fans currently questioning him on his transfer strategies. Personally,  I think an immediate return is unlikely but I prefer to judge come the end of the transfer window.

What sort of boost does the FA rejecting your name change provide, especially after a torrid season?

The name change debacle has dragged on for three years now and with the owners’ tantrums and threat it is quite frankly an embarrassing side show. However, being firmly in the NO camp I was absolutely ecstatic when the FA rejected the name change. Keeping our name is more important than anything else in my opinion, though it is extremely worrying for the English game that the head of the FA Greg Dyke is in favour of it after only hearing the owners’ views on the topic.

A number of potentially key members of your squad have spent most of their career in higher divisions, either here or abroad. Are you concerned about their motivation?

There are only a few players in the squad I have a worry for and they are our three strikers – Jelavic N’Doye and Hernandez. None of them particularly want to be here and the sooner they are sold the better. I, however, think Bruce with the signing of Clucas is trying to build a young hungry squad who will put in effort.

Only two additions have been made to your squad to date. Are you concerned that, after the failure of last season, a lack of fresh faces will lead to a continual decline, and what positions would you like to see strengthened?

Losing James Chester and Robbie Brady is genuinely gutting to myself. They have both developed into exceptional mid-table Premier League players it is thereby only right that they both are allowed to leave to play in the premier league. I think around three more players will leave but I think we are developing a big kitty with nearly £20m gathered from Ince, Chester and Brady.

I wouldn’t say we need mass signings as we do have quality players in positions already like Huddlestone for example on his day he is an exceptional Premier League player never mind a Championship player. Overall I hope we get two strikers and a ‘keeper.

Summary: There are always question marks over a club that has just suffered relegation, and particularly one that hasn’t had much freshening up. But Bruce is no fool and there’s enough quality in Hull’s squad for them to be there or thereabouts. 3rd

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Ipswich Town

With their squad, as many like to point out, put together in exchange for a bottle top and a shiny Panini sticker, injury striking down one half of their potent strikeforce, and the club seemingly nowhere near as well placed as many others in the Championship to challenge, a top six finish for Ipswich last season was an overachievement.

Nonetheless, mixed with a huge amount of pride was some disappointment among Ipswich supporters that their club could not quite get over the final hurdle. And not just because they were defeated by rivals Norwich City in the play-off semi-final. regergergergerger

For the Tractor Boys are not underdogs who welcome their attempts to gain promotion being patronised. Having been trapped in the second tier for what is now a 14th season, there are serious ambitions, irrespective of a comparative lack of spending, to return to the top fight.

And those ambitions, regardless of last season’s semi-final defeat and many contenders for a top six spot growing stronger, remain as large as ever.

The Manager – Mick McCarthy

Few managers are as perfectly suited to a club as McCarthy is to Ipswich. His ability to form a cohesive, balanced and effective side irrespective of the budget available perfect for a club with restrictions on spending, but not on ambition.

And the job the Irishman has done at Portman Road is reflective of that. Progress has been steady, with a ninth place finish sandwiched between comfortable survival from relegation and last season’s play-off campaign, but McCarthy has managed to move the club forward with minimal money spent.

The task for the 56-year-old now is to emulate his achievements at Sunderland at Wolves. In truth, he had larger resources available as he achieved promotion with those two clubs, but Premier League football was achieved with a tight squad, almost absent of marquee players.

Transfer Business

Like a number of clubs in the second tier, whose resources are limited or choose to keep their books balanced instead of gambling on promotion, Ipswich have become accustomed to cashing in on a key player during the summer.

And with Aaron Cresswell heading to West Ham a year ago, another exciting full-back has moved onto a Premier League club during this window. Bournemouth parting with £8m for Tyrone Mings.

The departure of the left-back, excellent throughout last season to the extent that Arsenal were said to be interested in January, is evidently a huge loss to the Tractor Boys. His defensive work and threat going forward down the flank will be sorely missed.

But so too does Mings’ sale provide a positive. Not only was young Scottish winger Ryan Fraser loaned to Ipswich as part of the deal, and relatively prolific forward Brett Pitman also swapping Dean Court for Portman Road, but the large fee could potentially be used to take the Tractor Boys forward.

For that to happen, however, owner Marcus Evans would have to abandon his financial control principles. Ainsley Maitland-Niles, an exciting winger who has joined on loan from Arsenal, the only other arrival to date.

The Squad

While a small squad would be a hindrance for many clubs, it is arguably ideal for Ipswich and McCarthy. A tight group only enhancing the cohesion of his side.

And within that small group is some genuine quality. Christophe Berra and Tommy Smith an incredibly solid centre-back pairing, Luke Hyam and Cole Skuse among a number of dependable midfield options, and the duo of Championship top scorer Daryl Murphy, who has signed a new deal to remain at Portman Road having notched 27 times last season, and David McGoldrick is potent.

It means the Tractor Boys have a strong and cohesive starting XI, one that can compete with any side in the division, but strength in depth could potentially prove an issue should injury strike or during tough periods of fixtures.

That particularly true at the back, where cover in the centre and out wide is extremely limited.

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Fans View: Cameron Laws (@lawseyitfc)

Given the play-off semi-final defeat, was last season ultimately a relative success or a failure?

The season on a whole was a definite success, with us being written off by most people throughout the whole season. The second half of the season was quite disappointing given we were in the top two throughout December and looked unbeatable, but after dropping out of the top six after a defeat to Huddersfield in April, we managed to pick up some form again to redeem ourselves.

Regarding the play offs, we were the obvious underdogs and it just wasn’t too be. We were the better side in the first leg and in the first half of the second leg, it looked like we were going to finish the job. Unfortunately one slip up in defence led to the game changing moment of the red card and we were doomed from then. As much as it hurt losing to our rivals, it was a season to be proud of after years of mediocrity.

In turning a crop of relatively average players into an outstanding side, just how impressive a job has Mick McCarthy?

Mick has done a fantastic job. After Paul Jewell was sacked in the 12/13 season we were bottom at the start of November with just seven points. We were all over the place as a football club and the owner Marcus Evans had to make the right appointment to save us from certain relegation. With no money being spent on transfers, we’ve often relied on the left over scraps of other championship clubs. Players like Noel Hunt and Luke Varney for example have been brought in and Mick and Terry Connor have got the best out of them. He’s done a fantastic job to get us where we are in two and a half seasons and hopefully we can go one better next year.

Would you like Marcus Evans to abandon his principles and use the entirety of the Tyrone Mings money in order to find the additional quality needed to mount a successful promotion push?

With the money we received, our MD Ian Milne has come out and said that some of it would be available for use in transfers if needed. Mick has also come out and said he has the money available but will only use it if he needs it, rather than just throwing it anywhere simply because we have it in the piggy bank.

Should you have some strength in the transfer market, where would you like to strengthen and who would you want to sign?

I think the main problem is the defence. We have a back four then it is youngsters with no proper experience. We only actually have one proper full back in Jonny Parr so I think we’re crying out for a right back as our main priority. We were just yesterday linked with 19-year-old Hearts right back Jordan McGhee. I don’t know much about him but he’s made 42 appearances for the Scottish club in two seasons so clearly is highly rated.

With that strong nucleus still in place, supplemented by a handful of tidy additions, can you achieve a top six finish again? 

There is no reason why we can’t finish in the top six. Our squad has certainly got stronger than it was last season and with McCarthy’s record in this league I’m confident we can achieve another high finish. Top six is obviously the aim for this season but if we can sort out the defensive errors I see no reason as to why we could potentially push for a top two spot, although that would be a whole another challenge.

Summary: McCarthy is a genius, the loss of only Mings means the harmony of the squad remains, and the subtle improvements make it stronger. They’ll be up there once again. 6th

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Leeds United

A head coach appointed seemingly to be the owner’s puppet, before duly being dismissed when it emerged a chap whose previous club was Forest Green Rovers wasn’t good enough. An owner constantly in and out of court, regularly threatening to quit while suspended from football affairs, and generally confusing all. Players signed by the bizarre owner picking up mysterious ‘injuries’ and refusing to play.

By Leeds’ standards, the 2014/15 season was quite a quit one. But by the standards of normal football clubs, it was yet another year of barely explainable chaos. Topped off by the horrendous treatment of dignified head coach Neil Redfearn, suffering a disgusting attack of character by Massimo Cellino before being removed without proper notice in favour of Uwe Rosler and provided with so many hurdles to jump over when given his old job as academy director back that he was unable to take it, the 15th place finish is almost irrelevant.  gergergergergerg

But beyond the sacking of Redfearn and appointment of Rolser, there has been a relative calm at Elland Road over the summer.

Noteworthy events have been minimal, the signings have been understated but astute, and the period without crisis has led a group of supporters who have learnt to latch onto the smallest crumb of optimism in order to keep themselves sane can argue they have reason to be positive.

Equally, however, the emotionally battered fans of what remains a huge club will be telling themselves that crisis is only around the corner. They have experienced far too many false dawns to get carried away by any sense of expectation.

The Head Coach – Uwe Rosler

There is, of course, still anger at the treatment of Redfearn. And so there should be – there is no way of dressing up the disgusting manner in which Cellino handled his dismissal, effectively insulting Leeds supporters’ admiration towards a man with genuine feeling towards the club.

However, as time as healed, those disillusioned supporters, without abandoning their anger, will have grown to the idea of Rosler’s appointment. A promising young manager, with a point to prove after his first set-back in his short career last season at Wigan.

But, before that, he laid the foundations for the current success at Brentford, transforming their style of football and making them one of the most admired sides in the Football League. Similarly, he postponed the rot at the DW Stadium, taking Latics into the Championship play-offs.

And once everything else is begrudgingly put to one side, there is a belief that Rosler can go some way to putting Leeds back on some sort of track.

Transfer Business

Although their activity has been minimal, this summer’s work in the transfer market has been relatively impressive from Leeds.

In fact, maybe it is that controlled activity that makes it so impressive. Lessons seemingly learned after the amount of unwelcome dross that was recruited last season – most of the loanees will not be seen again at Elland Road.

Neither will Billy Sharp, who joins Sheffield United after managing just five goals for the Whites, and Rudy Austin, released after three seasons as something of a Marmite player.

And the incomings are extremely promising. Midfielder Tom Adeyemi arrives on loan from Cardiff with an impressive reputation built on the back of his performances two seasons ago for Birmingham, Ross Turnbull will compete with Marco Silvestri for a starting place between the sticks, and centre-back Sol Bamba joins permanently from Palermo after a successful loan spell last season.

But the most impressive addition comes in attack. Only Sheffield Wednesday scored fewer goals outside the bottom six last season than Leeds’ 50, and Chris Wood, signed for £3m from Leicester, has the capabilities to address that.

While Lee Erwin, a promising young Scottish forward who arrives from Motherwell, has also been added to Leeds’ options in attack, much of the burden will be placed on New Zealand international Wood, who has impressed at Championship level for Birmingham City and Millwall, as well as the Foxes.

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The Squad

In difficult times last season, Leeds’ crop of academy graduates provided both pride and points. A quality group, most of which have been developed by Redfearn, that kept the club competitive and prevented supporters from completely losing faith.

And their decision to remain at the club has provided a huge source of positivity. England U19 international midfielder Lewis Cook, having signed a new three-year deal, singlehandedly increasing supporter belief.

Alex Mowatt broke through with nine goals from midfield last season, left-back Charlie Taylor impressed in the latter half of the season, and Sam Byram, at 21, is now a relative veteran with over 100 league appearances.

In fact, supplemented by Italians Silvestri, Giuseppe Bellusci, and Mirco Antenucci, there is a young feel to Leeds’ squad away from their academy graduates. Captain Liam Cooper is only 23, while Luke Murphy, who signed a contract in the summer on reduced terms, is 25.

Alas, there remains rather large holes in Leeds’ squad. That particularly true in wide areas, where genuine wingers are as abundant as the number 17 under the Cellino regime.

It’s likely that Byram and Taylor will be pushed forward, or striker Souelmane Doukara could be played out wide, but doing so then leaves to further gaps in a squad that has quality but not strength in depth.

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Fans View: Josh Fisk (@josh_fisk)

While anger must remain at the way Neil Redfearn was treated, is that side-lined by the hope of success under a promising head coach in Uwe Rosler?

I think so, but it will depend on how we start the season. Redfearn was treated appallingly and should undoubtedly still have a place within the football club, but I didn’t see him as the right man to take us back to the Premiership. Whether Rosler is the man to do it is doubted, but there is a lot of positivity around the place at the minute. Rosler speaks in detail how he wants to improve our fitness, shape and discipline to play an attacking, high-pressing game and his signings on paper have been good. The Chris Wood signing in particular was a real statement of intent and has done a lot for fuelling the optimism that we’ll do well for this season.

What’s the feeling towards Massimo Cellino – a misunderstood genius or a chairman who will continue to manufacture chaos and crisis?

Arguably the latter, but probably somewhere in between. He’s been hiding well behind the scenes so far this summer and seemingly left most of the running of the club to Adam Pearson, our new executive director who has undoubtedly done an excellent job at keeping Cellino’s erratic nature at bay. As a result, we’ve had a very steady summer…and haven’t signed any players over the age of thirty from Serie B!

Lewis Cook signing a new deal was a major boost this summer. How important are the crop of excellent young players at Elland Road, both in providing something to believe during difficult times and giving hope that the club can move up the table in the near future?

As you say, last season, the young players provided something to believe in during difficult times, but this season I hope with their help we can push further up the table. The fact that they’re academy born and bred is refreshing, but the most important aspect of them all is that they are all very good Championship players, now with another season of Championship experience. Byram will almost certainly play in a more attacking role week in, week out which will be exciting, whilst Cook and Mowatt should form an excellent central midfield three alongside Luke Murphy. It isn’t just these players either, the signings of Erwin and Adeyemi reinforce the idea that we’re starting to hopefully a build a younger, hungrier and better squad.

Only Sheffield Wednesday scored fewer goals than Leeds outside the bottom six last season. Can Chris Wood address your problems in front of goal?

Chris Wood is the type of striker we have lacked for a long time, someone who can play up front on his own and hold the ball up, whilst scoring a range of different goals. He’s also good in the air and on paper, is the most complete striker we’ve had for a while. Our main issue with goalscoring is the creation of chances but hopefully the way we play under Rosler will create chances for him. There has been concern over the summer about his fitness having picked up a hamstring injury in pre-season but if he remains fit, I can see him doing very well here. I’d watch out for Lee Erwin as well, he’s young and raw but the two of them could cause problems this season.

With uncertainty still surrounding the club, and the squad lacking in a few areas, how far away are you from a successful promotion push, and what needs to be done for a return to the Premier League to be achieved?

We’re very similar to a number of clubs in this division in the sense that you could see us finishing anywhere from 20th to 6th. I don’t think we’re that far off from a play-off push, although I don’t think we’d win the play-offs if we got there. We’re not ready for Premier League football just yet, but we’re certainly closer having looked at the starting elevens that played the first game of the last two seasons. We now have a young, deep squad with guaranteed starters last season probably looking at a place on the bench this season, which is promising. I think we need four or five players, including two wingers over the course of the next two seasons to mount a serious charge next season, as long as keep the current crop of players as well. I’d take a top ten finish this season, with better more consistent performances throughout.

Summary: Getting there. Leeds still have a seat at the table shared by crisis clubs, but the appointment of Rolser has seen an uncomfortable situation become a promising one, and the squad is as strong as it has been for several seasons. Mid-table likely, but don’t be surprised if they push on. 13th


Milton Keynes Dons

For good reason, it’s tough for many to admire a club whose mere existence is extremely contentious. To praise a club who were born out of the destruction of another goes against the value system that belongs to football supporters.

But if you are to overlook such politics, there is little getting away from how impressive the MK Dons were last season. gwegewgwegew

Although their promotion was only sealed after Preston’s final day slip up at Colchester, their efforts throughout the season, and especially in the final ten weeks, meant Championship status has not been achieved by a fluke.

On 15 occasions were three goals or more scored as over 100 were racked up over the course of the season, just three games were lost between the opening day of the season and Boxing Day, and nine of the final eleven games resulted in victory with a goal difference of +28. A reward for Karl Robinson’s adventurous style of play.

The challenge for the Stadium:MK side, however, is to now prove that they are up to the rigours of the Championship. More will be demanded, blowing away teams will be impossible, and the bigger sides of the division might well inflict similar damage to that the Dons inflicted on weaker League One sides last season.

To survive in the second tier would arguably be a bigger achievement that their second place finish in the third.

The Manager – Karl Robinson

Once one of England’s most highly rated young bosses, Robinson’s reputation took a relative battering in the seasons prior to the one just gone.

Consecutive failures in the play-offs could be excused, but two seasons in a row where the Dons finished some way behind the top six, with ambitions, an infrastructure, and a side that demanded more, could not.

But Robinson made those who had started to question him rethink their views last season. An exciting brand of attacking football resulting in 101 goals scored, an improvement of 31 points on the previous campaign, and a second place finish. All with a squad, containing few marquee players, gelled together superbly.

The promotion not only a personal success for Robinson, but providing a platform from which he can prove his often debated managerial abilities in the second tier.

Transfer Business

The chances of MK Dons surviving in their first delve into the Championship have been made slimmer by the loss of arguably their two most important players from last season.

The first is Dele Alli, sold to Tottenham in January and loaned back to Stadium:MK for the remainder of the season. The Football League Young Player of the Year scored 16 goals in 39 league appearances, and Alli’s ability in the middle was vital to Dons’ success last season.

So too were Will Grigg’s 20 goals, who returned to Brentford after the completion of his loan spell and has now joined Wigan Athletic. Dons desperately needing to find a new dictator of play, and a player or two capable of contributing more than 15 goals.

Simon Church, who joins after scoring eight goals in all competitions across two seasons at Charlton, and Dale Jennings, who spent time on loan in Milton Keynes in 2013/14 but has failed to live up to the potential shown at Tranmere than got him a move to Bayern Munich, don’t appear to be the solutions.

Sam Gallagher could be, but expecting a mountain of goals from an injury-hit 19-year-old with just one league goal so far in his short career is arguably wishful thinking.

Cristian Benavente, however, might well provide a positive contribution. The Peru international playmaker, signed from Real Madrid B, comes with the risk that he may not adapt to the English game, but so too is he highly rated by those who have seen him play.

Elsewhere, defenders Joe Walsh, relegated with Crawley Town last season, and Matthew Upson, whose experience will be as vital to any individual contribution, have joined on frees, while Cody Cropper arrives from Southampton to compete with goalkeeper David Martin.

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The Squad

The success the club enjoyed last season, helped by the major contributions from Alli and Grigg, was built on the back of a whole side that was greater than the sum of its parts.

Of course, there were talented individuals among Robinson’s squad. Skipper Dean Lewington remaining as important as ever having been at the club since its controversial birth, Carl Baker providing goals and assists having been snapped up on a free at the back end of September, and Samir Carruthers a threat out wide.

But there are few names that strike fear into the hearts of other Championship clubs, or would attract the interest of sides in this division.

That will be irrelevant if Robinson can again get his side playing an excellent style with perfect balance, but it might well be the case that their lack of quality is exposed by stronger opposition in this division.

Fans View: Harry Wright (@HarryWright27)

Will playing Championship convince a larger part of English football to accept your club, or does that not bother you, with the chance to play at this level purely providing a personal satisfaction?

The abuse we get doesn’t particularly bother me.  We get the same old rubbish day in day out and frankly it’s quite entertaining when someone comes up with something original.  I would like to think people start to accept the fact we’re here and here to stay.  I think as time goes on people are starting to appreciate what we’re trying to do, which I feel is what is needed.  We are a growing club and although we may be hard to like, we’re becoming ever harder to ignore.

Having underachieved for a couple of campaigns, were you at all beginning to doubt Karl Robinson before last season’s promotion?

During the 2012-13 season I was fed up of Karl’s constant pathetic excuses for bad performances. After Pompey away one Tuesday night he blamed the fact it was cold on a 1-1 where we missed more sitters than I can remember.  If Karl was to have gone however, I don’t think we’d have found someone better to fit our club and the style we like to play.  I think any manager of this club will have to deal with the past as well as the young fanbase and rather small budget so I think Karl and MK are a perfect fit and despite the underachievement I think we all know we were going to go forwards before we went backwards, at some point.

Dele Alli was obviously an important part of your success last season. Are you dramatically weaker without him, or do you think you’ll be able to cope his absence?

Dele was once in a generation player for a League One club.  I don’t think we’ll see his type again for a while.  Carruthers and our brand new signing Aguza may have certain attributes that Alli had but are nowhere near the full package. I just hope others will step up now he’s not here and we can replace his goals adequately or we will struggle.

The loss of Will Grigg could also be detrimental to your chances of survival. Where will your goals come from?

I’m hoping that our new strikers Sam Gallagher and Simon Church step up as strikers here will always get chances due to the free flowing football we play, previously shown with Afobe and Bamford also having good goal ratios here. Ben Reeves will hopefully be back to his best and get a few more than last season with Daniel Powell and Carl Baker always a threat.  Benavente may also be crucial in getting the goals we need to ensure a good season.

While momentum carried over from last season might well mean it’s stronger than it appears on paper, your squad seems a little weak. Where do you need to strengthen, and who would you like to see come in?

Four signings this week have definitely helped.  A left back may soon be needed because I don’t think Lewington will cut it in the championship.  A proven striker is definitely required as Church and Gallagher don’t have prolific strike rates themselves.  Karl Robinson is always looking for wingers so if one or two become available we’ll definitely be strengthening there too. Providing one of Carruthers or Aguza step up we’ll be okay in the midfield but I’m not 100% convinced by either of them being tasked with replacing Alli. A quick striker such as Sam Baldock would be good, as would a midfielder well known for his goals to accompany the more defence-minded Darren Potter.

Summary: Certainly have the ability to surprise, but with a relatively weak squad are unlikely to be able to replicate the style of football played in League One against stronger opposition. Won’t be lambs to the slaughter, and will surprise a few sides, but will ultimately struggle. 23rd

KcRNEadn


Middlesbrough

The reward for winning the Championship play-off final, as we are constantly reminded, is huge. Not only is a trip to the New York Stadium replaced by a visit to Old Trafford, but winning at Wembley and gaining top flight status significantly bolsters the club’s finances.

And those rewards only increase in size when the relative failings of the losing finalists in the following season are considered. So many start with positivity, believing that they are stronger for the experience, but only three who have fallen at the final hurdle have responded by achieving another top six finish since 2007. rehergherherherh

That’s the same number of sides who have responded to final heartbreak with a bottom half finish. With expectations of promotion higher, key players snapped up by Premier League clubs, and Championship opposition strengthening, supporters are frequently left disappointed as their side fails to go one better than the previous campaign.

However, fears of failure following heartbreak are not felt in Middlesbrough. While some might have crumbled after their tame 2-0 defeat to Norwich City at Wembley in May, they appear to have come back even stronger.

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The Head Coach – Aitor Karanka

The job that Spaniard Karanka has done at The Riverside since taking over in November 2013 is quite remarkable.

Maybe it is something best explained in the difference in average home attendance from 2012/13 to 2014/15. Not single-handedly, of course, but Karanka’s impact has added an average of just shy of 2,000 supporters to The Riverside’s stands each game, rising from 17,587 to 19,562.

A club that had long been marooned among the Championship also-rans, and mocked for the empty seats and lack of atmosphere on Teeside, have become a terrific force in the division, with many clubs fearing a trip to face Karanka’s side.

The brilliance of the Spaniard has seen Boro transformed into a side who are stubborn at the back while, at the same time, developing an attractive and potent style of play going forward. His contacts and knowledge have allowed for high quality players to be signed who wouldn’t have previously joined club. The improvement he’s made to the club has completely reversed the semi-decline and apathetic atmosphere.

It means that not even last season’s play-off final defeat has led to any questions about his ability to lead Boro forward. That is undoubted.

Transfer Business

It took just one transfer to alleviate any doubts Boro supporters, and fans of other Championship clubs, had about their chances of challenging for promotion once again.

For to sign Stewart Downing, a player who won an England cap last season and was seemingly playing his best football since his Aston Villa days, is arguably one of the most impressive transfers ever made by a second tier club.

In truth, it’s something of a gamble. Investing £5.5m in a 30-year-old, even one who holds the club dear as a supporter and academy graduate, seems like a case of do or die. Steve Gibson, one of the most celebrated owners in the Football League, intent on getting his club back to the Premier League.

But the extent to which his signing is a gamble is limited first by Gibson’s successful stewardship of the club, making moves like this possible, and secondly by further improvement to the squad that was already impressive.

And their chances of promotion will only increase should they land Blackburn forward Jordan Rhodes, which they seem set to do sooner rather than later. The prolific striker arguably an upgrade on Patrick Bamford, who returns to Chelsea after a successful loan spell.

In fact, the only key players that Boro have lost from last season are those who have finished their loans. But Kenneth Omeruo, who has been replaced by Tomas Kalas, Ryan Fredericks, who played only a bit-part role last season, and Jelle Vossen, whose departure has been offset by Uruguay forward Christian Stuani’s arrival, shouldn’t be too desperately missed.

With experienced and versatile defender Alex Baptiste joining from Bolton and exciting playmaker Diego Fabrrini signed on loan from Watford, it’s fair to say Boro look even stronger than they did last season.

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The Squad

It’s strong. Very strong.

Particularly in midfielder, where their options are numerous and varied. From the defensive Grant Leadbitter, the box-to-box Adam Clayton, and the creative Adam Forshaw, there’s quality in Boro’s midfielder.

Out wide, Albert Adomah has been one of the best wingers in the division for several seasons now, while Mustapha Carayol will be looking to make an impression after injury woes in the previous campaign.

Further forward, Lee Tomlin, despite lacking the figure of a second tier footballer, showed his class in last season’s FA Cup victory at Manchester City, while Kike’s nine goals understate just how effective and important he was in Boro’s campaign.

And with much of Boro’s success built on a solid foundation, with the least amount of goals conceded (37) in the division last season, they remain strong at back. I’m personally a huge admirer of George Friend, while Ben Gibson’s emergence has been yet another positive to take from the previous two seasons.

Fans View: Adam Benson (@itsbeno96)

There are several examples of sides completely collapsing in the season following a play-off final defeat. Are you confident your near miss can be used positively, and promotion can be achieved this campaign?

I’m very confident it can be used positively as, unlike many sides, we haven’t stuck with the same squad that missed out on promotion. We’ve improved our squad by bringing in Downing, Stuani and hopefully Rhodes.

Many sides become complacent and think the same squad that missed out via the play-odds will go one better, but we’re aiming to go one better with a better squad. We only missed out on automatic promotion by 5 points last year, the main reason was goals. So we’ve aimed to bring in a better forward line to bridge that gap, as well as not losing any of our key players who are here on permanent contracts.

For some time, you appeared to be marooned among the Championship also-rans. Just how impressive a job has Aitor Karanka done to make you a serious force again?

He’s done a brilliant job, he’s managed to galvanise the whole club and change the whole mentality of the club. We were always seen as a very negative fanbase and a very negative club but Karanka has changed that completely and got everyone going in the same direction. He’s also been trusted with Steve Gibson’s money, and has spent it very wisely.

The signing of Stewart Downing is a huge statement of intent, but does the money spent make it a huge gamble?  

Not at all, he was one of the most influential players in the premier league last season, so to step down to the championship shows how much Boro means to him, and I can’t see it being anything other than a huge success. His ability should shine through in this division.

At the time of writing, you’re closing in on Jordan Rhodes. Will he and downing be the difference between fourth and first?

Hopefully, yes. We lacked goals at times last year and Rhodes is a natural finisher whilst Downing can put things on a plate for all our forward players. So we’re hoping that when we’re in need of a spark then Downing can provide the creativity and Rhodes can score the goals.

Your squad looks as strong as any in the division, and all but complete. Is there any position that you would like to see strengthened?

Goalkeeper and centre half. Dimi is solid and reliable but it was a bitter blow to see Given stolen off us at the last moment. I’d like to see a goalkeeper come in and provide Dimi with genuine competition. Also we only have Ayala, Gibson and the forever unfit Woodgate at centre half, so we need one or two in that position to provide cover.

Summary: Some teams react better than others to the disappointment of losing a play-off final. Few will react as well as Middlesbrough. 1st

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Nottingham Forest

One of football’s biggest mysterious is Forest’s season after season failure to turn promotion-worthy form at the start of the season into actual promotion.

Seven games into last season, they were not only top of the division, but in devastating form. They finished 14th.egergeherhse ers her

After 30 games in 13/14, they were fifth, and a margin of eight points between themselves and seventh. They finished 11th.

With 37 games gone in 12/13, they were also fifth, but ultimately slipped to eighth. In each of those season, Forest switched from periods where they were unbelievably dangerous to unbelievably dour seemingly at random.

So maybe their failure to at least properly challenge for promotion is not such a mystery. Achieving consistency, however, remains an unsolved conundrum to the City Ground club. Something they will be looking to solve in order to challenge for the duration of this campaign.

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The Manager – Dougie Freedman

Having gone done the win-supporters-over-by-appointing-someone-they’re-fond-of route twice without success, chairman Fawaz Al-Hasawi arguably opted to take the complete opposite route in appointing Forest’s next manager.

For the man who succeeded Stuart Pearce was Dougie Freedman. A manager whose CV offered little encouragement, and one who had been sacked by Bolton to the delight of their supporters.

The trotters questioned his tactics, ridiculed his signings, and loathed his supporters. A left-field appointment, and not the sort of left-field appointment that excites.

However, the former Crystal Palace boss managed to reassure supporters of Forest with seven wins from his first ten games in charge. The only defeat in that time one to a resurgent Charlton side, who they pushed all the way.

But no wins in the final eight games of the season have raised the initial questions that were asked upon his appointment. Is he really the man to take Forest forward?

Confidence in Freedman higher than it was when he was first appointed, but there remains an element of doubt about his credentials. He still has something to prove.

Transfer Business

Restricted by a FFP transfer embargo, Forest’s activity has not been lavish, but subtle improvements have been made to a squad that wasn’t as far away from challenging as their 14th place finish suggests.

First of all, underperforming high-earners have been moved on in order to free up space in their squad and wage bill. With Jamie Mackie, Danny Collins and Greg Halford let go earlier on in the summer, the mutual termination of Djamel Abdoun and Radoslaw Majewski’s contracts in recent days suggests more additions could be made to the squad.

They would join forward Jamie Ward, who arrives from rivals Derby but with a record impressive enough to quickly forget about his past, defender Matt Mills, who has the unenviable task of replacing Jamaal Lascelles, and left-back Dani Pinillos, a 22-year-old Spaniard who impressed during a trial.

Also snapped up by Freedman is former Charlton goalkeeper Ben Hamer, who joins on loan from Leicester City and replaces Karl Darlow, who heads to Newcastle alongside Lascelles after the pair were bought and loaned back to Forest last season.

Hamer, who was a fan favourite at The Valley and impressed when given a brief opportunity in the Premier League, is not only an excellent stopper, but also adds to what is already a very strong collection of bears at the City Ground.

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The Squad

One of the main factors in Forest’s inconsistency is horrendous fortune with injuries striking down not just key players, but players who they depend on for success.

And their side certainly looks a lot less threatening without Britt Assombalonga. The forward, who scored 15 times in 29 league games last season, will be missing until after the New Year with injury and it is almost impossible to replace someone so potent. Matty Fryatt and Dexter Blackstock decent Championship strikers, but little more than that.

However, the imminent returns of talismanic captain Chris Cohen and the extremely lovable Andy Reid has almost offset the loss of Assombalonga.

Cohen was just six games into a comeback from a lengthy lay-off last season before suffering the third cruciate knee ligament injury of his career, while Reid also sat out the previous campaign after the first six games.

There is, of course, concern the pair won’t be as influential as they once were, with both the mental and physical effects of their injuries holding them back, but it won’t stop Forest fans believing the impact of their return will be huge.

Elsewhere, winger Michail Antonio will again be vitally important after his 14 goals last season, highly-rated youngster Ben Osborn and Henri Lansbury forms a strong midfielder partnership, and there are options at the back with Jack Hobbs, Kelvin Wilson and Michael Mancienne competing with Mills.

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Fans View: Isaac Johnson (@NFFClcCy)

With several failed bids for promotion, what needs to change for you to mount a season-long and successful promotion push?

In a word, stability – on and off the field. Since the arrival of the Al Hasawi family at the City Ground, we’ve been through a whole host of managers and players alike and it has so far proven to be sending us backwards with 8th, 11th and 14th place finishes, but that’s where the FFP transfer embargo we currently find ourselves under begins to look like a blessing in disguise.

We’ve been extremely limited in what we’ve been able to do in the transfer market this summer and as a result we’ll find ourselves with a very similar squad of players to the one we had last campaign. The team should be well aware of each other’s strengths and weaknesses and that can only help us as we head into another long Championship season. In truth, we already had a strong squad and were only in need of keeping our star players and making a few key additions and so far, we’ve done well in both regards.

Despite a strong start, Forest under Dougie Freedman failed to win any of their final eight games of the season. Is he the right man for the job?

I, like many others, was quite sceptical when Dougie was first appointed, but so far he’s done a great job. The end of season form was certainly disappointing, but when you consider the fact that six of our last eight games were against sides that finished in the top nine and that we had nothing to play for, I personally wouldn’t read too much into it. He has masterminded some impressive victories so far and has done well in improving our financial situation whilst enhancing our squad, so I can’t wait to see what he can do with an entire season. He certainly talks a good game; let’s just hope it translates to performances on the pitch.

Despite his age, just how important could a fit Andy Reid be this season?

A fit Andy Reid could possibly be the difference between a top six finish and another bottom half finish; he’s that good, and seems to have gotten better with age. Had it not been for his injuries in the 2013-14 campaign he could have almost single-handedly carried us into the play-offs; it wasn’t until his absence that we lost our way and it was a similar story last season, albeit at a much earlier stage in the campaign. There are quite a few fears about his fitness as he was originally scheduled to return at around Christmas time, but he’s suffered setback after setback and as a result a few fans have been talking about the possibility of him retiring, but the latest news is that he is in light training, so hopefully it won’t be too long until we see him in the Garibaldi red once again.

With Britt Assombalonga out with injury until the New Year, is another forward needed, and where else do you need to strengthen?

We’re desperately short up front at the moment. With Lars Veldwijk loaned back to the Netherlands and Matty Fryatt out until September, we’re left with just Dexter Blackstock and 18-year-old Tyler Walker as our fit strikers. Blackstock himself doesn’t have the best of injury records and we can’t afford to be relying on someone as inexperienced as Walker, so cover is essential.

We’ve passed upon the opportunity to sign Nicky Maynard, but we do still have former Ipswich man Paul Taylor on trial and there’s currently talk from journalist Alan Nixon of us being close to bringing in someone on a season long loan, but who that is exactly is unknown to us supporters. Lukas Jutkiewicz has also been linked, but a deal would only be made if Henri Lansbury was to move to Burnley. I think we’re relatively strong in all other areas in our squad, especially when you consider how good our academy is looking, but maybe another body in the middle of midfield wouldn’t hurt; preferably Gary Gardner on loan from Aston Villa again please!

Does promotion, and winning games, really matter when your squad has such a strong beard game?

It’s rather scandalous that the Football League doesn’t take its players facial hair into consideration, because we’d certainly be up there. Dougie has not long brought in Ben Hamer who, as I’m sure you’re well aware, would vastly strengthen any side’s beard game. When you add what he brings to the solid foundations already in place from the likes of Henri Lansbury, Danny Fox and a few others, we’d be a hairy proposition for any side. We on Trentside can’t wait for November, it’s just a shame that Djamel Abdoun looks to be on the way out!

Summary: Some doubts over Freedman, but there is enough strength in the squad to challenge regardless. Keeping key players fit vital, and will have a chance of a top six finish if they’re there or thereabouts when Assombalonga returns. 9th

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Part Four will be released in the coming days

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Sky Bet Championship Season Preview 2015/16 – Part Two

Part One 


Burnley

You’d have done well to find anyone away from Turf Moor who confidently believed Burnley would avoid relegation last season.

For while their promotion to the Premier League was impressive, utilising a fantastically balanced side led by an extremely talented boss, their failure to improve the squad in preparation for the challenges the top flight offer always seemed suicidal. While Leicester snapped up Esteban Cambiasso, Burnley moved for Marvin Sordell. gererberbherer

In truth, the Clarets were rarely embarrassed or outclassed. They lost by more than two goals just twice, and eight of their defeats were by a single goal.

But those narrow defeats were a consequence of a lack of players capable of individual moments of brilliance. No side scored less than Burnley’s 28, with the hardworking and unified nature of the side unable to provide safety.

So while there was an expectation that Sean Dyche’s side would again be playing Championship football in the 2015/16, the concern is that their experience in the top flight has set them back. The balance and confidence so crucial to their promotion potentially damaged.

The Manager – Sean Dyche

At times last season, the Ginger Mourinho cut a pretty desperate figure. The gravelly voice which was a sign of passion and commitment during Burnley’s promotion season became a further indication of weakness as he continued to plead for sympathy.

At first, you were on his side. His claim that Burnley’s finances meant they were unable to compete with the majority of Premier League side’s was fair, and meant defeats couldn’t be looked upon too harshly.

But as it and similar excuses were used more and more, you began to feel less sympathetic. Burnley not the first side to compete in the top flight with a small budget, more responsibility was needed to be taken by Dyche and his players.

It means the status of the highly rated boss has taken a bit of a blow. Not to the extent that he is no longer one of the most respected young managers in England, but he does need to prove himself a little once again.

Transfer Business

With relegation from the Premier League, especially for a relatively small club, comes key players departing. Those that have impressed in the top flight will undoubtedly have opportunities to remain there.

As such, it is something that must be accepted, especially if the fee is substantial and the player has gone onto better things.

But in Burnley’s case, some frustration can be justified. Not much can be done about Danny Ings departing to Liverpool for a fee set by a tribunal, and it stands to be relatively healthy sum regardless, but the club’s other two key departures can’t simply be brushed off as a consequence of relegation.

To lose captain Jason Shackell, an outstanding centre-back at this level and one that proved his worth in the top flight, to fellow Championship side Derby has caused anger, while, although losing him was predictable, to get just £3.5m for full-back Kieran Trippier in an age of large transfer fees is a disappointment.

In fairness, former Aston Villa full-back Matthew Lowton is a decent replacement for the Tottenham-bound Trippier, and forward Jelle Vossen is a solid addition to the squad after impressing for Middlesbrough last season, but further signings are needed if the Clarets are to be competitive this season.

The Squad

While the players that made their promotion-winning side something special have departed, there can at least be some solace taken in that a decent core of that squad remains.

Tom Heaton a goalkeeper whose performances were so impressive in the Premier League that he earned an England call up, Ben Mee a consistent performer at left-back, and Michael Duff, although 37, an important figure to have around the club with over 300 league appearances and an understanding of what is required to play for the Clarets.

In midfielder, Player of the Year George Boyd and Scott Arfield managed to impress for Burnley in difficult circumstances last season, while a fully-fit Sam Vokes is a potent threat at Championship level.

In fact, their forward options are pretty impressive. There was much more to Ashley Barnes’ season than just angering Chelsea supporters, and Lukas Jutkiewicz has a Championship record almost as impressive as his name.

Oh, and they’ve got Sordell, who scored a hat-trick for Charlton once, which is something.

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Fans View: Salman Rushkar (@SalmanRushkar27)

Looking back, could more have been done prior to the season getting underway to get the side up to scratch, or would Burnley have been outclassed in the Premier League regardless?

With hindsight, more could’ve been done, prior to the season getting underway to get the side up to scratch. We definitely took a while to adapt to the league. In regards to transfers, it’s rather easy to suggest that we should have signed one or two more players, which could have helped us retain our Premier League status. However, we were only five points off safety last year – with a bit of luck we could have quite easily stayed up. The club as always was cautious in its approach; we didn’t spend excessively on transfers or on wages. Teams like Hull and QPR both took a different approach and suffered the same fate. The idea that it doesn’t matter how much you spend, but whom you spend it on rings well and true.

“With a bit of luck we could have quite easily stayed up”

Has the Premier League adventure taken you forward as a club, or set you back?

I would argue the two visits to the Premier League in the past few years have helped us take great strides forward. The board with their cautious approach have prioritised building our club back up again within our means. This is evident in the repurchasing of our ground and facilities, and with the plans to transform the training facilities. It seems to be all part of a long term strategy to strengthen the club.

In needing to respond to the disappointment of relegation, is this the biggest test of Sean Dyche’s managerial ability?

I would argue so, but I imagine Sean Dyche will thrive on this test. He has been at our club for two and half years now, and has slowly but surely developed his own squad, which will raise expectations. The pressure will also be on from other clubs, who will want to challenge us and will view us as a scalp worth taking.

In the departures of Ings, Trippier and Shackell, some excellent talent has been lost. Which player are you most disappointed to lose?

All three were tremendous assets for the club. They were consummate professionals who through sheer hard work developed into wonderful players who seemed comfortable playing in the Premier League. Arguably we will miss the players in the following order, Ings for his goals, Shackell for his leadership qualities and Trippier for his ability to create chances. However, personally Trippier is the player I am most disappointed to lose. He has been exceptional for us for the past three years; he has been a constant threat on the right hand side due to his ability to shape out chances, whilst his ability to nullify attackers has come on strides.

Although there remains a decent core of a side, with many featuring in the promotion-winning campaign, how much weaker is your squad compared to two seasons ago, and what additions are needed to compete for a top six finish?

I would argue our squad has more ability than the promotion winning side of two years ago, although our starting line-up is probably a little weaker. I believe this partly because we have fewer inconsistent players in the squad such as Keith Treacy and fewer players Dyche has an aversion to playing, such as Brian Stock. Like I stated earlier Dyche has now developed his own squad, which is full of players he trusts and who fit his style of play. I would of course like us to add to the side, in form a centre back to replace Jason Shackell and a versatile midfielder to give us a little more depth. The signings thus far have been promising with Chris Long, Matthew Lowton and Jelle Vossen all arriving. This season looks promising; with a top six finish more than an achievable goal.

Summary: Irrespective of last season and the summer’s events, Burnley are a side well led and with a decent core. Nonetheless, the target must be to stabilise before thoughts can turn to emulating the success of two seasons ago. 8th


Cardiff City

It is a cruel irony that when the diligent campaigning and protesting of Cardiff City supporters finally got them what they wanted, they were left disheartened by their club’s on-the-pitch efforts.

For while the Bluebirds returned to blue midway through last season, it was difficult to enjoy given the disappointing season the club endured. Despite having pre-season ambitions of an immediate return to the Premier League, Cardiff finished 11th in the Championship, their lowest position since 2007/08. Cardiff_City_Crest_2015

First under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, and then Russell Slade, the Bluebirds struggled. A handful of decent runs of form providing a top half finish, but too often were the results poor, the football even worse, and players of which much was expected of failing to impress.

The feeling of apathy around the Cardiff City Stadium only increasing.

The Manager – Russell Slade

While Slade’s record as a manager in the lower divisions is respectable, Cardiff’s decision to appoint a boss used to working at smaller clubs with low expectations appeared misguided.

His style of football was surely not suited a club of the Bluebird’s stature. The cap-wearing boss known for abandoning any sort of flair in favour of making his sides hard to beat – something that works for a relative underdog in League One, but not a side attempting to return to the Premier League at the first time of asking.

And so it has seemingly been proven. Cardiff supporters frequently left angered by dreary football and indifferent results, particularly during a run of one win in 13 games between December and February.

While seven of the last 14 games of the season were won, it did little to prevent calls for Slade to be sacked. Irrespective of the fact that they were not met, there will be immediate pressure on the 54-year-old to prove himself to be the right man for the job at the start of the coming season.

Transfer Business

Given that Cardiff, in quality of football played and results achieved, were disappointing throughout last season, you would have thought that freshening up the squad would have been a must.

But, with the season less than two weeks away, the Bluebirds have made just one addition to their first team squad. While Kevin McNaughton, Danny Gabbidon, and Nicky Maynard have all been released, and Tom Adeyemi has joined Leeds on loan, winger Sammy Ameobi, who often found it hard to make an impression at St James Park, is the only in, joining on loan from Newcastle United.

While young defenders Semi Ajayi and Jordan Blaise join from Arsenal and Bordeaux respectively, they are likely to link up with the club’s development squad.

And the return of Kenwyne Jones and Adam Le Fondre from loan spells at Bournemouth and Bolton at least provides some fresh-ish faces to the squad, but Le Fondre has stated he’ll no longer be playing for Cardiff.

The club doing little to provide any cause for optimism.

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The Squad

There was enough quality in Cardiff’s squad last season for it not be hovering around meaninglessly with the Championship also-rans, and that remains the same this season

That particularly true of the side’s spine, which appears particularly strong. Goalkeeper David Marshall, excelling in the Premier League two seasons ago, centre-back Bruno Ecuele Manga, who won Cardiff’s Player of the Year, and Aron Gunnarsson, who agreed a contract extension in the summer, forms a solid base.

Throw into that the still-influential Peter Whittingham, the creative Anthony Pilkington, who missed large parts of last season through injury, and the goals of the returning Jones, and you’ve got yourself a core that is the envy of a number of Championship sides.

But there remains too many average players in the squad, who are likely to play a reasonable part in the Bluebird’s season. The options at full-back, in Fabio, Scott Malone, and Lee Peltier, are neither horrendous nor promotion-worthy, while forward Eoin Doyle has struggled with the step up from League One to the Championship.

To challenge, especially with Slade in charge, improvement is needed.

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Fans View: Dan Lewis (@Dan_Lewis92)

Achieving promotion in red, or grinding out an unimpressive mid-table finish in blue?

As memorable and historic as City’s promotion was a couple of years back, there is no denying it would have felt a whole lot better had it been achieved in the traditional colours. Many fans have still yet to return, despite Vincent Tan reverting back to blue, meaning the process is likely to take a little while longer to rectify. Last season’s mid-table finish may have been underwhelming, but in the context of things it was worth it just for the return to blue.

Will there always be a strong sense of apathy around Cardiff while Vincent Tan remains owner?

Some suggest Tan deserves praise for his decision to revert back to blue, but for others the damage had already been done. The following game saw an increase in atmosphere around the City Stadium, something which has been badly lacking since relegation from the Premier League, but in truth there is still a real sense of detachment around the club. As already witnessed in 2012-13, though, there is one thing that will change all that – success on the field. Football supporters are a fickle bunch.

It’s fair to say Russell Slade failed to impress last season. How much time will he have to turn things around?

As far as underwhelming choices go, bringing in a man who was on the brink of being sacked from a club struggling at the bottom of League One to take over a team fighting for promotion to the Premier League was certainly right up there. The worst case scenario is that Slade is shown the exit midway through the season, meaning another campaign of disruption. I expect him to be gone before Christmas.

“I expect Slade to be gone before Christmas” 

For a side that failed to achieve their goals last season, are you slightly worried around the lack of transfer activity this summer?

‘Transition’ is the word being bandied around by the club at the moment, as the cost-cutting continues into a second transfer window. There is no denying that more sensible spending is needed to keep the budget in line, yet after such a dismal season last time out an injection of new faces is badly needed. Sammy Ameobi appears to be a shrewd loan capture, but more is needed before the window closes.

How far away are you from a return to the Premier League, and what needs to be done for Cardiff to mount a successful promotion push?

Even the most ardent of City supporters are predicting a mid-table finish this time around, with a top-six finish seemingly a long way off. Maybe after a year of bonding this settled squad could now push on, but unless Slade changes things around – particularly in midfield – then finishing between 9th-13th is the most likely outcome.

Summary: Regressing at a rate of nots. With the football played under Slade last season poor, and other teams making big strides forward, it’s hard to suggest they’ll challenge. 16th

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Charlton Athletic

Before supporters of the Addicks can dream about a return to the Premier League, they first must hope for a season which doesn’t need rescuing after dissolving into crisis.

For while a 12th place finish suggests a stress free campaign, it was far from it. A depressing 13-game winless run from November to February seeing the South East London club drop from play-off contenders to relegation candidates, Bob Peeters lose his job, and Guy Luzon appointed in extremely contentious circumstances. ehergergergergergerhe

But a run of seven wins from nine, during which a Tony Watt-inspired side decimated opponents, steered Charlton clear of trouble and offered some optimism for a more consistent effort during this campaign.

That doesn’t translate into promotion ambitions, especially with an end-of-season slump, gambles taken on a host of new signings, and doubts still remaining about owner Roland Duchatelet’s regime irrespective of his sale of Standard Liege, but this season is not being approached with trepidation.

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The Head Coach – Guy Luzon

The impressive nature in which Charlton’s Israeli boss made his universal doubters reconsider their views can best be summed up by the fact he now appears natural in the role.

In truth, most of the anger from supporters was against the manner of his appointment. A man who had previously been sacked by owner Roland Duchatelet at Standard Liege, and one that was considered the best candidate despite 20 other applicants mysteriously being interviewed in 24 hours, chosen to replace the rather harshly treated Peeters.

But so too were there question marks over his ability as a manager, with Liege fans effectively rioting to remove him. Question marks that turned to worry as Charlton’s performances in the first month of his reign switched between lacklustre and laughable.

However, with a simple switch to a counter-attacking 4-4-2, Luzon, in the short-term at least, proved his worth. His contribution vital to Charlton’s climb away from the threat of relegation, helping many of the club’s inconsistent performers find their best form.

Of course, the challenge for Luzon now is to prove that period was not a fluke, to follow up his relative success in an entire campaign, and perfect his sometimes dubiously executed touchline crouch.

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Transfer Business

When Roland Duchatelet bought the Addicks, supporters were promised that the youngsters produced by the club’s excellent academy would no longer be sold to the first bidder, before they had contributed as much as possible to the club that developed them.

But for the second summer in a row, an exciting young talent has slipped through the club’s fingers having made 20-something appearances. At least, on this occasion, the obvious disappointment of losing the excellent Joe Gomez has been masked by Liverpool parting with £5-6m for the England U18 centre-back.

And that anger has been quelled further by a host of positive additions made to the squad. While many are typical Duchatelet gambles on young foreign players with high resale value, most appear less Yohann Thuram and more Igor Vetokele.

German centre-back Patrick Bauer, who arrives from Martimo, appears more composed than the departed Tal Ben Haim and Roger Johnson, El Hadji-Ba will want to prove himself in the English game after injury prevented him from getting a chance at Sunderland, and 6’7 forward Simon Makienok fills the target man hole that has been there since Yann Kermorgant’s departure to Bournemouth in January 2014.

With 22-year-old former Spurs winger Crisitan Ceballos, who failed to make an appearance for his former club, joining alongside Algerian international midfielder Ahmed Kashi and young French centre-back Naby Sarr, the only concern is that players with reasonable potential or decent records in Europe won’t adapt to the rigours of the Championship.

The most important signing of all, however, is a player who adapted to the Championship with ease. Johann Berg Gudmundsson, who had previously hinted at a move away from SE7, has agreed a new four year deal with the Addicks. A rare sign of serious intent under Duchatelet’s regime.

8

The Squad

The Addicks showed at the back end of last season that, when injuries haven’t plagued their squad and players with experience of the Championship bolster it, there is enough quality at the club to beat the division’s best.

In Watt and Gudmundsson, Charlton possess a pair of players with match-winning qualities. Their ability on the ball, and Gudmundsson’s skill from a dead ball situation, means possible deficiencies in the side can be glossed over.

A fit and firing Igor Vetokele, who notched 11 times last season but suffered in the latter part of the season having been forced to play through the pain barrier on a number of occasions, will also be required the Addicks are to be a serious force in the coming season.

Beyond that, the side’s backbone is impressive. With Charlton not winning a single game without him, supporters will tell you that Stephen Henderson is one of the best goalkeepers in the division. His shot-stopping and leadership at the back vital.

Vital, too, are two Charlton academy graduates. Vice-captain Chris Solly, who appears to have moved on from the injury problems that prevented him from playing twice a week, and Jordan Cousins, attracting interest from the Premier League with his displays last season, have won three of the last four Player of the Year trophies in SE7.

And helping to glue this group altogether is captain Johnnie Jackson, who returns after an injury layoff and will hit 200 appearances for the Addicks this season. His influence, on and off the pitch, more vital than ever given the lack of Championship experience among the new signings.

But there remains limited numbers in a number of areas – something that cost the Addicks at time last season. The hope for supporters is that this relatively decent core is supplemented by additional signings, particularly at centre-back and a few additions with Championship experience.

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Fan View – Louis Mendez (@LouisMend)

Guy Luzon got his side to play some excellent football after a controversial and difficult start to life in SE7. Has he proven himself to be the right man for the job?

It took a month or so, but once Luzon found his feet in south east London, he had the side playing some of the most entertaining football we’ve seen for years. Given that this came despite the back drop of an awful 13-game winless run, it was all the more impressive and turned a potential relegation battle into a comfortable end of season stroll.

It’s too early to suggest that he has already proven himself – he’s only been here for 6 months. But he has certainly laid the groundwork for a positive campaign ahead.

With Johann Berg Gudmundsson signing a new contract, something he said he would only do if the club indicated clear ambition, could this summer prove to be a turning point in the Roland Duchatelet regime?

JBG made no secret of the fact that the transfer business conducted at Charlton this summer would greatly sway his decision on signing a new contract. The fact he has probably indicates two things – firstly that he has been impressed with the recruitment process undertaken in the close season. And secondly, Katrien and Roland have realised that JBG is a prize asset whose value would only appreciate with another good season in English football’s second tier and therefore have paid him accordingly. Handsomely.

The Addicks have been busy in the transfer market, but Duchatelet’s policy of favouring players from Europe with potential but no Championship experience is not without its risks. Are you excited or anxious about the crop of summer signings?

The transfer policy at Sparrows Lane has been one of the most divisive aspects of the Duchatelet era. Early on, recruits were generally of a standard way below what was required in the Championship.

Things felt like they had turned around in this aspect last summer, with the quality of Vetokele, Gudmundsson, Buyens etc joining the club, and these signings being bolstered by players with Championship experience in January when they were most needed.

There were of course still a few duds joining the ranks, only to be moved on within a short space of time- Christophe Lepoint’s spell in SE7 will form an excellent quiz questions in years to come.

So, whilst its impossible to not feel excited about the young players who have joined this summer, especially when you look at their pedigree before signing – I’ll always approach with trepidation.

For every Johann Berg Gudmundsson, there’s probably an Anil Koc lurking in the background.

Joe Gomez, Diego Poyet, Jordan Cousins, Jonjo Shelvey and Carl Jenkinson. Charlton’s academy has churned out some impressive talent over the years. Do you think the likes of Karlan Ahearne-Grant and Tareiq Holmes-Dennis can make an impact this season?

There’s plenty of competition for places in the side in the positions that both Karlan and Tareiq operate in. We spoke to Tareiq after the game at Dagenham, where he scored a spectacular free kick, and he said whilst he would like to break into the first team set up at Charlton, he wouldn’t be against going out on loan again to get some more first team experience further down the leagues.

If pre-season is anything to go by, Karlan has more chance of featuring this coming season. He has been more involved in the senior XIs put out by Guy Luzon, and has impressed – his two goals at Welling got the campaign of to a great start personally for Karlan.

A third youngster who I think could make an impression this season is Regan Charles-Cook. Very much involved in the friendlies, Luzon is said to be a big fan. Energetic and industrious but also displaying some neat footwork – expect to see at least a few substitute appearances this campaign.

There has been some talk among Charlton supporters that the club could push for the top six this season. Is that a realistic target and, if not, what needs to be done for the club to flirt with the possibility of Premier League football again?

Much like the start of last season – we’re entering the unknown in SE7. If we start the campaign in the same vein of form that we ended last season in then we will give ourselves every chance.

Squad wise, we are still short –especially in the centre of defence. Even if the threadbare back line does get off to a good start, this would have to be addressed for any extended periods of positive results to materialise.

As we saw last season, any prolonged attack at the summit of the Championship requires squad depth.

“We’re entering the unknown in SE7”

Summary: The bookies have long had the Addicks as one of the favourites to go down, while optimism among supporters for a play-off push is relatively high. In truth, with a squad that threatens to be competitive if injuries are avoided and the new recruits adapt to the English game, it’s likely to be somewhere in the middle again. Hopefully, on this occasion, without any mid-season flirtation with disaster. 10th

11


Derby County

Having been top of the Championship table with 13 games to play, Derby somehow managed to bottle promotion more impressively in the campaign just gone than in the season before that.

For while Richard Keogh’s mistake and Bobby Zamora’s winner for QPR at Wembley was heart-breaking, it was not a dramatic decline over the course of those final 13 fixtures.Derby_County_crest.svg

Just two were won, meaning the Rams slipped out of the top six altogether on the final day and ended up in eighth. Almost embarrassingly low for a club tipped for automatic promotion, at the start of the campaign and in February.

But while letting promotion slip for two consecutive seasons has the potential to destroy confidence at a club, there is a fresh impetus at the iPro Stadium. Belief stronger than ever that this is the campaign that will result in a return to the Premier League for Derby.

The Head Coach – Paul Clement

To blame Steve McClaren for two seasons where the Rams fell just short would be extremely harsh, especially given the nature of the first attempt. For the majority of his time at Pride Park, the former England boss did a decent enough job.

But it’s understandable why some have suggested it was McClaren that was preventing a side more than capable of achieving a top two finish from going up.

It’s therefore equally understandable why many Rams supporters are feeling even more confident of promotion than they have been in the past two season, and the rest of the division are even more fearful of them, following the appointment of Paul Clement.

True, Clement has never managed before, and many marvellous coaches have failed when given a leading role. But such was his reputation at Real Madrid, where he successfully assisted Carlo Ancelotti to a Champions League win, you feel his transition to head coach will be seamless

His knowledge, contacts, and tactical nous gained from working at one of the world’s greatest clubs will surely provide an already impressive side with a further advantage.

Transfer Business

While their end-of-season failings eventually proved costly, it look little away from how impressive loanees Darren Bent and Tom Ince were.

Striker Bent notched 12 times after arriving from Aston Villa in January, while Ince excelled on the right wing, and provided a further 11 goals.

So to secure both players permanently for the coming season puts the Rams in an extremely healthy place, irrespective of their involvement in the eventual decline. Bent may have missed a crucial penalty in the decisive defeat to Reading, but his goals prior to that were vital.

Elsewhere, the loss of Jamie Ward, who scored twice against Charlton at The Valley last season, has been offset by the signing of Aston Villa winger-cum-forward Andreas Weimann. The Austrian impressed initially after breaking into Villa’s first team, but has struggled in recent seasons, so a drop to the Championship may help him find his best form again.

So too have Derby’s defensive options been bolstered, with former player Jason Shackell returning to the iPro after an impressive spell at Burnley. He’ll compete for a place at centre-back with Alex Pearce, who joins from Reading, and Chris Baird, snapped up following his release from West Brom.

With former England international goalkeeper Scott Carson also joining the club as number two to Lee Grant, it’s fair to say the Rams have enjoyed a very promising summer.

1

The Squad  

Derby’s signings merely add to a squad that was, regardless of last season’s failure, already in relatively healthy shape.

In fact, there is no obvious weakness in the Rams’ squad, with strength in depth in every single department.

Captain Keogh and Jake Buxton provide additional options at centre-back, while the full-back positions are suitably stocked, with Craig Forsyth and Ryan Shotton likely to start ahead of Stephen Warnock and Cyrus Christie.

In midfield, the talent of England U21 international Will Hughes is obvious, while getting a full campaign out of George Thorne may prove vital after the former West Brom man spent much of last season injured.

With the Rams often playing three in midfield, Craig Bryson or Jeff Hendrick could complete that trio, with Johnny Russell and 18-goal forward Chris Martin competing for one of three forward slots alongside Derby’s new additions.

A squad that’s almost disgustingly strong.

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Fans View – Grace Charlton (@graceecharlton)

What do you put two successive seasons where the Rams have slipped up late on in their promotion push down to?

It’s hard to pinpoint an exact reason why the 13/14 season ended with a loss to QPR in the playoff final. With beating Brighton 2-1 at their own ground and beating them 4-1 at the iPro it gave us a huge confidence boost, but I think the occasion got to the players. We dominated QPR throughout the game, but we found it hard to take the chances that we created, which cost us in the end. The 14/15 season ended unsuccessfully due to McClaren and the Newcastle rumours getting to his head. He said in an interview that he had had ‘no contact from Newcastle’ whereas 2 days later during a fans Q&A he said he’d rejected them, contradicting himself and losing the fans trust from that moment. The atmosphere at home and away games was constantly deflating from March onwards, and the team were unable to perform under his management without the full support from the fans.

The appointment of Paul Clement, given his past, is obviously very exciting. But are you at all worried that he won’t be able to turn success as an assistant coach into success as a head coach like some have failed to do in the past?

When Clement was first appointed I was very optimistic and there was a good vibe around the club, fans and staff, but it was easy to be optimistic after seeing his background in coaching. However, with preseason starting with a 2-1 loss to Grimsby and a very unconvincing 1-0 win against Northampton, nerves are kicking in. I know everyone sees preseason as a learning process but regardless it isn’t the best confidence boost. The players look like they’re struggling to adapt to his playing style and Clement has no clue as to what his best team is, and he doesn’t have a massive amount of time to decide especially without having a challenging opponent to play against.

Despite being involved in the eventual failure last season, how important are the permanent signings of Darren Bent and Tom Ince?

I’d say they’re both going to be an essential part to success this season, but I also think that they’re just going to be a small piece of the puzzle. Last season Bent was key as without him we’d have been left without a prolific striker with Chris Martin out injured and Leon Best being sent back to his parent club after an unsuccessful loan spell. A strike partnership of Bent and Martin next season would be impressive to say the least. Ince is probably one of the most important signings we’ll make but I’m weary that he was trying too hard to impress last season and that now he’s fully got his feet under the table he might drop off slightly.

The squad looks pretty much complete, with strength in depth in all areas. Is that something you would agree with or are further additions required?

I agree with that to an extent, I think there are areas where improvement is needed, left and right back to be specific. At left back, Craig Forsyth is too inconsistent, in addition to this he doesn’t have much competition seen as our only other player who can play confidently at left back is Stephen Warnock who has been at the club 6 months and hasn’t impressed Derby fans, especially after getting sent off on his debut, resulting in a 2-1 loss to Reading in the FA cup. At the other side, Cyrus Christie, who is our only recognised right back, seemed to lose confidence towards the end of last season for reasons unknown and cover for that position was scarce with Ryan Shotton and at points Richard Keogh taking his place, so I think that is somewhere that definitely needs looking at. However you have the opposite problem with midfield. Will Hughes, Craig Bryson, Jeff Hendrick, George Thorne, Chris Baird, Andreas Weimann, Johnny Russell, Tom Ince and Simon Dawkins all come into contention for midfield roles, with the latter four playing the role of wingers. This begs the question of who will depart, and how badly this departure will affect the squad as those above are all potential starting XI players.

Surely you’re not going to bottle it this season, are you? Surely this is the season that you finally gain promotion to the Premier League?

I honestly think that this season failure isn’t an option and I feel that Clement sees it the same way. His comments after the preseason games we’ve had so far are clear that he isn’t happy with how the performances are going, regardless of whether we’ve won or not. However if this season doesn’t end in promotion I think that’ll be it for our promotion dreams, especially after the way last season ended how it did.

“This season failure isn’t an option”

Summary: The squad is better than ever, and Clement is an exciting appointment. Surely this is Derby’s year. 2nd

2


Fulham

From cheesegate revelations through to losing 4-1 at Craven Cottage to rivals Brentford, a side they barely payed any attention to while they were in the Europa League final and the Bees were in League One, Fulham’s first season in the Championship after 13 in the top flight was an embarrassing disaster.

The bizarre Felix Magath sacked after seven winless games, the mini-revival under Kit Symons coming to a shuddering halt with just six wins after Christmas, and more goals (83) conceded than anyone outside the bottom three leaving the Cottagers in 17th place. wegwe gweg wg weg

With that all coming after spending £11m on Ross McCormack, who at least played his part with 17 goals, in the hope of achieving an immediate return to the Premier League, it’s fair to say Fulham dramatically underachieved last season.

The worry for supporters of the Cottagers is that last season won’t act as a wakeup call, but the relative calm before the storm.

In recent years, Charlton, Portsmouth and Wigan have all suffered relegation to League One in their second season back in the Championship. A fate Fulham could suffer should Symons and his squad fail to perform again.

But with Symons having a summer to devise some sort of strategy, some tidy additions made to the squad, and financial stability gained after the £11m sale of Patrick Roberts to Manchester City, there’s some hope that Fulham could be keeping a close eye on the other end of the Championship table.

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The Manager – Kit Symons

In truth, it’s hard to argue against the suggestion that Symons did enough to warrant a permanent go at the Fulham job after a successful caretaker period. With four out of seven games won, and Symons’ having strong affections for the Cottagers, it seemed like an obvious choice.

But it’s possibly the case that owner Shahid Kahn jumped the gun. Symons’ initial success potentially down to the fact he provided a short term boost after a nightmarish period under Magath, and not because he is a competent manager.

Or at least that is a feeling that crept through as the losses mounted up and the quality of football decreased dramatically under the Welshman after Christmas.

However, irrespective of some Fulham fans wanting him out, he remains at the club. Although he won’t do for much longer if the performances in the second half of the previous campaign are repeated.

At the very least, Symons won’t be rubbing cheese on any knees, which is something.

Transfer Business

The best way to alleviate supporter fears is to make a statement or two in the transfer market, and that, to an extent, is what Fulham have done.

They are not signings that have made the rest of the division suddenly fear a Fulham revival, but they are signings that strengthen the Cottagers squad and provide some hope for the season ahead.

And few things get supporters more excited than when their club beat a hosts of others to a player’s signature. Interest from Championship clubs, many in a better place than Fulham, was said to be high in Ben Pringle, so that they proved attractive for the talented left winger is promising.

Even more impressive is the signing of Tom Cairney. The young playmaker has been a consistent performer in Blackburn’s inconsistent side over the previous two seasons, and, along with Pringle, will provide chances for Ross McCormack to finish.

Another man supplying for McCormack will be Luke Garbutt, who joins on loan from Everton. A full-back with a sweet left-foot delivery, the England U21 international appears like a very handy addition.

Elsewhere, Andy Longergan arrives from Bolton to compete with young goalkeeper Marcus Bettinelli for the number one jersey, midfielder Jamie O’Hara joins with some baggage but having somehow managed to impress while at Blackpool, and Wales international full-back Jazz Richards joins permanently from Swansea having spent time on loan at Craven Cottage last season.

And with Roberts’ departure bringing in a sizeable amount of cash, there will surely be more additions before the window closes.

The Squad

The problem with Fulham’s squad last season was seemingly twofold. Too many players without Championship experience, or the appetite to play for Fulham, were signed, and too much was expected of their bright young things, who would fill the gaps in their squad.

Thankfully, that should not be an issue this time around. Not only are the new recruits all relatively experienced in the English game, but those that weren’t before are no longer alien to it.

Nonetheless, there are still obvious areas of Fulham’s squad that make you feel uncomfortable. Particularly at centre-back, which was a problem position for the Cottagers last season with so many goals conceded. There’s a big group of them at the club, but few, aside from Dan Burn, are genuinely reliable.

Which is some contrast to their options in the centre of midfield. Scott Parker, Ryan Tunnicliffe, and the impressive Lasse Vigen Christensen will compete with Cairney and O’Hara, with any combination forming a formidable partnership or trio.

And with the Matt Smith and McCormack forward partnership beginning to blossom towards the end of the season, not to mention Alexander Kacaniklic and promising youngster George Williams among the wide options, Fulham’s defensive issues may simply be addressed by outscoring their opponents.

7

Fans View – David Field (@Mitrogol)

Last season was a bit of a disaster, wasn’t it?

I would definitely say last season didn’t go as planned. If you told me before last season started that we would finish 17th I would be very disappointed. Of course the start didn’t help, 1 point from the first 7 games is just unacceptable

How long does Kit Symons have to prove he’s up to the job?

I think Kit has until the end of the upcoming season, although that may be too late. Will he prove he’s up to it? I’m not quite sure to be honest. Ever since Roy Hodgson left I wanted a manager that truly cared about the club and we finally have it, but I’m not confident in his managerial abilities.

“Will Symons prove he’s up to it? I’m not quite sure to be honest”

Especially in the shape of Tom Cairney and Ben Pringle, you’ve made some decent additions to the squad. Are you better equipped to challenge this season?

I would definitely say we’re in better shape than last season. Tom Cairney in particular is a very exciting signing for us. I think last season we had good players but there was no competition for places.

In what positions do you need to strengthen to make yourselves competitive, and who, realistically, would you like to see come in?

I think centre-back. There are rumours of Fulham being linked with Lewis Dunk of Brighton who would be a good signing but we’ll see what happens. If that doesn’t work out I would happily take Michael Turner from Norwich back as we had him on loan for the second half of last season.

Patrick Roberts – disappointed to see him leave before having the chance to make an impact, or simply pleased with the amount of money received for him?

A bit of both to be honest. I’m definitely disappointed to see possibly the best academy product we’ve ever had leave before he started more than a handful of games. On the other side the reported fee rising to £11m is very pleasing.

Summary: Regardless of doubts about Symons, they’re in a much better place to challenge this season. May ultimately fall short, but won’t be far off. 12th

11


Huddersfield Town

Last season was the eighth season in nine that Huddersfield have finished higher than they did in the previous campaign. The one season that they didn’t, when they went from finishing third in League One down to fourth, they achieved promotion via the play-offs.

And yet, there’s a feeling that the Terriers are stagnating, and dangerously close to regressing. Rising from 19th to 16th via 17th in their three seasons in the Championship is a very, very steady climb, but, with a platform seemingly to build upon, supporters want more. gergergregerg

In truth, three seasons of survival in the Championship is probably a relative success in the Championship and, although run sensibly by owner Dean Hoyle, financial limitations mean it’s probably expecting too much for a club of Huddersfield’s stature to have realistic ambitions of a top ten finish.

But with a manager in charge who previously provided a top ten finish to a side who had no right to be up there and a handful of tidy additions made in the transfer market, there’s cause for some optimism at the John Smith’s Stadium.

The danger, however, is that they will eventually get caught out. As other clubs gamble or find inventive ways to push towards the play-offs, leaving Huddersfield behind as they do, the Terriers and their cautious strategy may find themselves falling behind.

The Manager – Chris Powell

A legend at The Valley, Powell is some way from achieving that sort of status at the John Smith’s Stadium.

In truth, the flat-capped one did enough to earn the respect and a decent amount of trust from the Huddersfield faithful in his first season in charge. Always looking over their shoulder and enduring a handful of very poor runs, but Powell always grabbed wins when it mattered most – unless, of course, it was a derby.

But after a season of finding his feet away from SE7, more will be expected of him up north in his second. Addressing a few bad results before they become the start of a poor run, greater consistency, and maybe a win over Leeds all demanded.

8

Transfer Business

Huddersfield’s transfer policy under Hoyle seems relatively uncomplicated. Snap up rough diamonds on the cheap, provide a platform from which they can impress, then flog them off at profit.

And while this has proved a frustration for many supporters, who would much rather see their best players kept and find it difficult to celebrate financial stability, such a strategy appears to have worked positively for the state of Huddersfield’s squad this summer.

For although it is a disappointment for many that the impressive Connor Coady has been sold to Wolves after only a season at the John Smith’s Stadium, the players who have come into the club are relatively impressive.

Dean Whitehead, highly appreciated by supporters of each club he has represented, arrives as an experienced replacement for Coady, while highly-rated 19-year-old playmaker Kyle Dempsey joins the club after impressing for Carlisle.

Australian international Jason Davidson, who has 18 caps for his country but found chances limited at West Brom last season, fills the void left by Jack Robinson’s return to QPR, while Martin Cranie’s signing provides an experienced alternative to Joel Lynch and Mark Hudson at centre-back.

The capture of Jordy Hiwula, who scored nine times in 19 games while on loan at Walsall from Manchester City last season, and extending Ishmael Miller’s stay at the John Smith’s Stadium having made a decent impact at the back end of last season rounds off a pretty decent summer of activity that pushes the Coady departure to the back of supporters’ minds.

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The Squad

Functional, without being flash. There’s certainly enough about Huddersfield’s squad for the club to remain well above water, but little more than that.

It’s in forward positions that the Terriers are most impressive. Sean Scannell and Harry Bunn were mightily impressive out wide last season, while there is an expectation that this could be the campaign for Joe Lolley’s emergence.

Centrally, Nahki Wells is prolific, notching 14 times last season, and James Vaughan can be just as potent, if his body remains in on piece for a decent length team.

There’s also a decent enough midfield, with Jonathon Hogg and last season’s Player of the Year Jacob Butterfield both players who would be important figures in most squads in this division, while Huddersfield’s impressive development and academy sides provide options in the shape of Phillip Billing and Sondre Tronstad.

It’s really only at the back where genuine questions can be asked about quality and depth, counteracted by the excellent Alex Smithies, who will make his 250th league appearance in goal for the Terriers this season.

Tommy Smith, Hudson, Lynch and Davidson form a decent backline, but, aside from the versatile Cranie, there’s no real cover in the full-back positions. One or two of those before the season gets underway and Huddersfield look healthy.

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Fans View: Greg Marah (@HTAFCPodcast)

Where are Huddersfield at the moment – progressing, stagnating, or regressing?

I think it’s fair to say we are stagnating. Whilst arguably we will have the strongest squad we’ve had in 15 years, the financial disparity of this division with parachute payments and the lack of sides following FFP means as a club we are not progressing to the stable championship side us fans crave us to be.

Chris Powell had a mixed start to life as Huddersfield boss, leading his side through decent runs and enduring tough runs. Did he do enough to earn the trust of supporters or is there pressure on him to impress at the start of the season?

Some fans think he’s the best thing since sliced bread, others are the polar opposite. As a bloke he certainly fits the bill for the club and he wants to use the young talent we are trying to bringer through. However tactically there are some big question marks and I for one didn’t enjoy the style or quality of football that was on offer under Powell last season. Those who want to be entertained and don’t want us to sit on a 0-0 at home certainly need impressing. Yet it’s a result driven business and perhaps given the quality of this division we might have to endure many scrappy wins/draws.

The sale of Connor Coady has been offset by some tidy additions. How would you assess your transfer business, and your squad?

I like our transfer model. Buy young players  with potential, develop them and sell them on as a profit. New signing Kyle Dempsey is one player who excited me given what I’ve heard from someone who watched him week in week out.
Yet key issues still remain in our squad and a lot of that is due to finances. We shipped 75 goals last season and haven’t really improved the defence. Martin Cranie’s addition smacks me as cheap and getting in someone versatile when in reality we need quality at CB and a proper full back.
We’ve still not replaced Coady and I worry that our wide players lack the quality of delivery to concern most sides.

A number of your key players struggle with injury problems, with James Vaughan, Jonathan Hogg and, to an extent, Joel Lynch springing to mind. With a relatively small squad, is success this season dependent on keeping your players in bubble wrap?

f the three you mentioned stay fit all season then we are a different proposition in this league, but we know that won’t happen.
Due to our lack of quality in reserve it wouldn’t surprise me if we are reliant on loan signings to dig us out of any hole we may find ourselves in.
I am genuinely worried, especially if Lynch gets injured because he is by a country mile our best CB.

Your development and academy sides have been impressive for a number of seasons now. Is this the campaign that some the talented individuals step up to the first team?

I’d hope so but I’m not sure that many of those who have done well for the under 18s and 21s will make it. There are a few who had been touted to make a breakthrough for the last few years but none have really kicked on which is a crying shame.
The last player to come into the side through the academy was Jack Hunt and that was 4 years ago. So we are overdue!
We have a couple of exciting teenage full backs at the club and a few lads who will go on loan to develop.  Yet there is nobody really banging down the door for an opportunity at the moment.

Summary: Until further investment is made, or a gamble is taken, Huddersfield remain in limbo. Improving just enough to keep up with the pace, but still someway off a top half finish. Could certainly push a little higher if Powell gets his squad to click, but survival the aim again. 19th

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Part Three will be online in the coming days.

 

Young Charlton Side Suffers Southend Defeat

There was an expectation that Guy Luzon would provide another opportunity for his new side’s cohesion to grow, and the club’s new signings a further taste of English football, in Charlton’s pre-season trip to Southend United.

But, with the Championship getting underway in just 11 days’ time, Luzon decided not to gel his starting XI, instead giving those on the outskirts of the first team a chance to impress. One final look at those who could provide support or push themselves into the head coach’s plans throughout this campaign.

And if this friendly fixture was effectively a trial match for the development squad and the outcasts, then few were able to complete it successfully. Error prone at the back, wasteful in possession, and lacklustre going forward, the Addicks fell to a 2-1 defeat.

Not even those whose places in the first team are assured this season all managed to impress. While club captain Johnnie Jackson and new signing Ahmed Kashi were composed in midfield, Nick Pope was far from it. One-time Charlton target Anthony Wordsworth’s 30th minute strike trickling underneath him to give Southend the lead.

Among the youngsters, it was the tenacious Mikhail Kennedy who provided the largest cause for optimism, and he fired the visitors level three minutes later. A composed finish after a quickly-taken free-kick had caught Southend off guard.

But Charlton were extremely disappointing after the break, rarely enjoying a sustained period of possession and often allowing Southend to come forward a little too easily. Substitute goalkeeper Dimitar Mitov keeping the sides level.

But even he could not prevent a former Addick from giving the Shrimpers a 58th minute lead that their pressure arguably deserved. Having saved from Charlton academy graduate Myles Weston, David Mooney was able to tap in the rebound at the far post.

There was something of a late rally from the Addicks, with a succession of corners from Kennedy testing the Southend back four, but the equaliser that would have salvaged some pride could not be secured.

If Luzon was all but certain of the group of players who would form his first team squad before tonight, then little was done to change his mind.

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Among those who were hoping to change his mind before kick-off was the banished Andre Bikey, who baby-sitted a back four which also featured Tareiq Holmes-Dennis, Harry Lennon, and Aaron Barnes.

And the bulldozer-like centre-back was characteristically unorthodox in the game’s opening moments. After a miscued header fell straight to Weston, who failed to capitalise, Bikey opted to clear a low-ish delivery whipped into the box with a two-footed scissor kick, serenaded with a cry of ‘beeeeeeast’ as he did.

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Another man in the side attempting to win Luzon back over was Callum Harriott, but his and Charlton’s first shot of the night would have done little to help his cause. The winger clearing the roof of the South Stand after Karlan Ahearne-Grant’s shot-cum-drive across the face of goal was missed by Joe Pigott and fell to him.

But that was a rare opening for the Addicks in the first half, who found the attacks Jackson and Kashi started were breaking down, and Southend’s passing moves were causing concern.

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Concern that only grew as Charlton’s back four displayed a lack of composure. Bikey gifting the ball to Weston on the edge of his own box, and thankful that the forward could only blast wide of Pope’s left hand post.

In fact, the visitors were thankful on several occasions that their opponents could not apply the finishing touch to the chances they were creating. Wordsworth blasting against the roof of the away end after the ball appeared to sit up perfectly on the edge of the box for him, Ryan Leonard firing straight into Pope’s hands from distance, and Cian Bolger flashing a header narrowly wide from corner.

So too were the Addicks thankful for the referee’s generosity. A Southend man viciously taken to the floor by Barnes, with appeals for a penalty turned away as Leonard pounced on the loose ball and skewed over.

But such good fortune was not to last. A fantastic passing move from Southend, around static Charlton defenders, concluded with Wordsworth striking first-time through the legs of Pope. An incredibly poor goal to concede.

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To their credit, however, Charlton’s response was both unexpected and excellent. A quickly-taken free-kick completely wrong-footed Southend, allowing Ahearne-Grant to send Kennedy clear. The winger took one touch, before rifling across the face of Ted Smith’s goal and into the far bottom corner. Composed and clinical from the young Northern Irishman.

The goal appeared to provide a much needed surge of confidence to the largely young Charlton side, and they were able to end the half strongly. Ahearne-Grant sent through on goal by Harriott, but the young forward’s touch big enough to allow ‘keeper Smith to come out and deny him.

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It meant half-time probably didn’t come at the best of times for the Addicks, halting the momentum they had only just gained. That view only enhancing as they began the second period in sluggish fashion.

And were it not for Mitov, a replacement for Pope during the interval, then Southend would have surely capitalised. The young Bulgarian goalkeeper first tipping over from Wordsworth’s narrow-angle free-kick, then blocking an effort away from the resulting corner, before pulling off a simply stunning save to deny Bolger a headed goal from close range.

Alas, Mitov’s excellence did not excuse Charlton, who failed to click into gear after Southend’s early rampage and were soon suitably punished.

In fact, the goal was reflective of the sloppy manner in which they were playing. Holmes-Dennis’ horribly misplaced pass sending Weston through, with Mitov able only to parry his effort into the path of Mooney, who tapped in from close range.

At the very least, it was hoped that conceding would finally wake the Addicks up. But, although not helped by the influential, but still not fully fit, Johnnie Jackson going off, they remained clumsy at the back and unable to produce a cohesive forward move.

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That true to the extent that Mooney might well have doubled his side’s lead. Soutend’s summer signing foiled by Mitov, coming off his line and pouncing on his toes as Mooney barred down on goal.

The desperate situation meant Luzon turned to Reza Ghoochannejhad, who is seemingly being given another chance to prove himself in SE7. The Iranian received a good reception as he was introduced, but they may be to do with the fact he replaced the ineffective Harriott.

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And while the forward himself had little direct impact on it, Ghoochannejhad’s introduction was followed by a late siege from the Addicks, who finally found some spark in the game’s final ten minutes.

But all they had to show for it were a handful of half chances. Lennon heading over from one of a succession of Charlton corners, and Holmes-Dennis forcing Smith into a save after his overhit cross looked to have been creeping in.

As such, the young Addicks and those with a touch more experience trying to impress were left frustrated. The side not only suffering defeat, but doing so with an incredibly disappointing performance that convinced neither Luzon nor the Charlton supporters in attendance that they were ready for first team football.

Pope and Mitov will head to Bolton on Friday night, as will Jackson, Kashi, and Ahearne-Grant should their legs allow another appearance, but the chances of any others who featured at Roots Hall appearing at the Macron, which offers the final chance for the Addicks to develop some cohesion and match fitness before the season gets underway, are incredibly slim.

Sky Bet Championship Season Preview 2015/16 – Part One

That their promotion was a fairytale story is something of a myth, but Bournemouth’s Championship title win does provide some inspiration to the 24 sides who will be competing in England’s second tier this season.

For it shows, that regardless of perceived size, promotion is an achievable aim for all in this division. Ambition is needed, an amount of money must be spent, and a clear strategy is required, but it’s something that is within reach for more clubs than it’s not.

But so too does Wigan Athletic’s relegation provide an element of caution, if not fear, to second tier sides. A side who finished in the top six the season before, and were tipped for a repeat, can easily find themselves sucked into a relegation battle.

It means the Championship can be hard to analyse and predict prior to the season’s kick-off. A team few anticipated to be challenging for a play-off place will undoubtedly be up there come May, and a side that many had high hopes for will be struggling down the bottom.

But, once again, I’ve ignored common sense and put my (already minimal) reputation on the line. All 24 teams will be assessed in depth over the course of four parts. The first featuring some of the division’s most intriguing sides.

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Birmingham City

Whisper it quietly, and with every bit of caution possible, but a much sought after sense of normality might well be returning to St. Andrews.

It hasn’t quite made an appearance just yet. While the imprisoned Carson Yeung maintains ownership of the club through the in receivership Birmingham International Holdings Limited, there will remain unease and a feeling that the crisis club tag which has been with the Blues for many seasons now has not yet disappeared. 45101-3025

However, with an exclusivity agreement signed with potential buyers Trillion Trophy Asia, Panos Pavlakis and his fellow directors seemingly running the club well on the ground, and Gary Rowett and his side providing stability on the pitch, things are genuinely looking up for the first time since relegation from the Premier League and a subsequent play-off failure in 2012.

That normality will be celebrated shows the extent of the turmoil the club has been in since. Yeung’s ownership crippling the club and depleting the quality of the squad, St Andrews a near-empty and depressing place, and relegation fears only relieved after Rowett’s appointment last season.

But with normality on the horizon, so too is positivity. Years of regression means the Premier League is not a realistic target in the short-term, but the security a takeover should bring and the relative success Rowett can provide could be the beginning of the end of a period in which vice-president Michael Wiseman believes the club have been merely “existing”.

The Manager – Gary Rowett

When Rowett was appointed as Birmingham manager at the end of October 2014, the Blues were sitting 23rd in the Championship. The momentum gained from Lee Clark keeping the club in the division on the final day of the previous season had long since vanished, and there was a genuine feeling they wouldn’t be so lucky on this occasion.

Especially with a gamble taken to appoint the Burton boss. The step up to the Championship seemed a big one, regardless off the wonders he had worked to make an unfancied side one of the best in League Two.

But a young and ambitious manager was exactly what a club in reverse, and a side playing without confidence, needed. He immediately spoke with belief which spread, he organised a seemingly lost group of players and got them playing more purposeful football, and results started to be achieved.

52 points were taken from Rowett’s 32 league games in charge. The Blues eventually finishing 10th, and were the eighth best team in the division from the 41-year-old’s appointment onward.

It means Rowett has built a very solid platform from which to build upon going into this season.

Transfer Business

Arguably the most important signature Birmingham have and will secure this summer is that of a player that already belonged to them.

For to tie exciting young winger Demarai Gray down to a three-year deal, especially with Premier League Bournemouth circling, is a huge boost for the club.

Of course, should Birmingham remain a mid-table Championship club, then a talent like Gray will eventually depart. But to know the 19-year-old will either contribute towards the Blues on the pitch or demand a large fee and contribute towards their bank balance is extremely reassuring.

Elsewhere, the departure of goalkeeper Darren Randolph to West Ham has been offset by the arrival of experienced stopper Tomasz Kuszczak, who is likely to be first choice ahead of returning academy graduate Adam Legzdins.

Former Burton man Jacques Maghoma has also been snapped up after his release from Sheffield Wednesday. The versatile midfielder was inconsistent at best while at Hillsborough, but a reunion with his former boss, under who he impressed, could result in the 27-year-old rediscovering his best form.

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The Squad

The relative weakness of Birmingham’s squad makes Rowett’s achievements last season all the more impressive.

In fact, the only genuine cause for concern at St. Andrews at the moment is the slight lack of quality and worrying amount of bodies available.

With few first teamers departing, a decent core exists. Michael Morrison played a vital part in the revival after arriving from Charlton last season, while ever-present Clayton Donaldson’s 15 goals were as beneficial as his hold up play and diligent work in attack.

But without the loan players who contributed towards the end of last season, namely Robert Tesche, Diego Fabbrini, and Lloyd Dyer, there are holes to plug in Birmingham’s squad. Particularly in the centre of midfield, with Stephen Gleeson, who has failed to impress after arriving from MK Dons, seemingly the only available partner for David Davis.

The current ownership situation means that player recruitment is likely to be complicated, and the Blues may have to rely again on short-term signings to bolster their squad until the takeover is completed.

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Fans Views: Natalie Whitehouse (@_natwhitehouse)

With a takeover potentially on the horizon, a sense of stability returning, and Gary Rowett impressing as manager, is this the most positive you’ve felt about the Blues in some time?

Definitely. Although I do think a takeover is still a long way off, the feeling around the club as a whole is definitely much more positive than this time last year and Gary Rowett has a lot to do with that.

Regardless of any sense of positivity, how far away from a return to the Premier League do you remain? Is this another season where a mid-table finish will be a relative success?

After Rowett took over in November we managed to finish tenth which, given our awful start to the campaign, was excellent. I’d like to finish there or there abouts again this season. As for a return to the Premier League, that won’t happen until a takeover has been completed and we are financially stable once more, which, as I said above, is further off than we would like it to be.

A number of Charlton supporters, myself included, are still disappointed that Michael Morrison was allowed to leave the club. Just how impressive has been in a Birmingham shirt?

He’s been brilliant and is one of the reasons we did so well last season, no doubt about it. And I think he’d be even better if he had a strong, consistent centre back alongside him and they can get a god partnership going.

Securing the future of Demarai Gray was obviously important, but do you think other youngsters, such as Koby Arthur and Denny Johnstone, could make an impact this season?

Koby Arthur is a really good little player and I’d like to see more of him this season, and he does seem to be in Rowett’s plans. As for Johnstone, we’ve hardly seen him since we signed him, he’s been given a small chance during pre season but I’m really not sure he’s someone who will be playing much for us.

Your squad remains a little short on numbers, particularly in the centre of midfield. How many players do you think need to come in, and who would you realistically like the club to sign?

Yes we definitely need a few more players before the season starts. Thankfully we’ve got a couple of goalkeepers now after the departure of Colin Doyle and Darren Randolph. We need a partner for Morrison, Spector is good but won’t last a season without getting injured. I’ve seen us in three pre season games and what is most striking is our lack of creativity. Ideally we need a midfielder, and I’m gutted we can’t get the likes of Tesche or Fabbrini back, but we need to move on and hopefully secure another signing of their ilk before the start of the season.

Summary: Nowhere near ready to make a return to the Premier League, and need some addition bodies in midfield to make sure they’re not dragged into any sort of trouble, but another season of mid-table stability will be relative success for the Blues. 14th

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Blackburn Rovers

For the second successive season, inconsistency put pay to any hopes Blackburn had of achieving a top six finish.

For each time Gary Bowyer’s side put together a run of results that left them on the verge of breaking into the play-offs, a series of winless games that knocked Rovers back down the table followed.

And the most frustrating facet of that is, once again, Blackburn finished the season in strong fashion. With their play-off hopes effectively over and the pressure off, only two of their last 13 games resulted in defeat. Not too dissimilar to the 12 game unbeaten run at the of the 2013/14 season.regregregerg

The task for Bowyer and his side, of course, is to find a way of spreading such consistency throughout the season, and to perform at the points in the campaign when the pressure is on and it really matters.

But, with two 20-goal-a-season strikers, a relatively decent side behind them, and previously possessing some degree of weight in the transfer market, the solution to those problems really should have been discovered long before this campaign.

You feel that, with other teams getting stronger and Blackburn beginning to regress, especially with the club restricted by a transfer embargo, their chances of finally breaking into the top six are slimmer prior to the campaign getting underway than at any point since their relegation from the Premier League.

The Manager – Gary Bowyer

That Blackburn’s bespectacled boss remains in charge after a second successive campaign where he fell short of achieving a top-six finish is arguably the greatest showing of the Venky’s newly found sense of patience and sensibleness.

In truth, Bowyer’s reign as Blackburn boss has been a relative success. An unlikely permanent appointment after a brief caretaker spell at the end of the 12/13 season, the 44-year-old has provided stability, done enough to get a Rovers side lacking in depth when compared to other promotion hopeless to compete, and took the club to the last eight of FA Cup last season.

However, the controversial owners of the Ewood Park club might well act if Bowyer underachieves this season. With Premier League football now not played for four seasons, and this the final year of parachute payment support, a return to the top flight needs to be made to avoid the club becoming a permanent fixture among the also-rans of the Championship.

Transfer Business

That the new season is so close and Blackburn are yet to add significantly to a squad that wasn’t quite good enough to achieve a top six finish last season will be of huge concern to supporters of the club.

That especially true considering it has become considerably weaker. Excellent playmaker Tom Cairney has been sold to Fulham for £3m, out-of-contract winger Josh King has been snapped up by Bournemouth, and Jordan Rhodes, at the time of writing, is edging closer to a move to Middlesbrough.

With an amount believed to be around £600,000 gained from Stoke’s sale of former player Steven N’Zonzi to Sevilla, and high earners such as David Dunn and Paul Robinson released, there is surely some money available for Bowyer to boost his squad, irrespective of the FFP transfer embargo that isn’t really an embargo.

The signings of two Frenchman, 6’4 midfielder Sacha Petshi, who joins after a successful trial, and former Caen forward Bengali-Fode Koita, is a start. But more needs to be done, and it needs to be done desperately quickly, especially if Rhodes departs.

The Squad

While there are goals, and men supplying those who score the goals, in Blackburn’s side, they are well within their right to fancy themselves in every game played.

For Ben Marshall and Craig Conway supplying Rudy Gestede and Jordan Rhodes creates one of the most potent attacking forces in the Championship. Keeping all four of them, which looks unlikely, crucial to Blackburn’s chances of relative success this season.

And, in truth, you can certainly form a competent starting XI out of the pool of players available to Bowyer. Jason Lowe and Corry Evans strong in the centre of midfield, Grant Hanley and Matthew Kilgallon a solid enough centre back pairing, and Player of the Year Marcus Olsson provides a real threat from full-back.

But it is beyond the starting XI where things begin to look a little concerning, and just a handful of injuries at present could cause serious problems.

The Rovers low on numbers, and low on quality, in reserve, and may have to rely on youngsters such as promising defender Ryan Nyambe and midfielder Darragh Lenihan, who spent last season on loan at Burton, stepping up.

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Fans View: Carly Brown (@carlybrownn)

After another frustrating season of inconsistency, is this Gary Bowyer’s last chance to break into the top six?

I really don’t see us as a ‘top six’ side and with the squad we’ve got currently it will be difficult. It’s not been easy for Bowyer as we do have a transfer embargo so he is limited on who he can bring in but maybe a new manager could come in and do something special.

Most clubs need just one 20-goal-a-season striker to achieve promotion. Why do you think you failed with two, and what can be done this season to make Rhodes and Gestede’s goals more valuable?

I asked myself this question so many times, having two strikers that both scored 20 goals is amazing. The answer is that we simply conceded too many silly goals and wasn’t strong enough when we took leads in games. We need strong quality CBs that know exactly what they’re doing.

Do you feel you may have to settle for being a mid-table Championship club, and that the Premier League is out of your reach?

It does feel like it unfortunately, the premier league seems along way away now and it would take a lot of changes for us to get back up to there and produce that quality of football.

“The premier league seems along way away now”

Tom Cairney sold for, in the current climate, a relatively minor fee, Josh King snapped up by Bournemouth, and no additions to the squad. Are you concerned by your summer activity?

With the transfer embargo it’s difficult, we’ve signed two players in the past week but they’re unheard of really. Also I can’t see Gestede staying with us or Rhodes for that matter so we’re going to need some replacements but I really don’t know who could replace either of them…

If you could make a realistic addition to your squad, what position would you strengthen and who would like to sign?

Everywhere?! We need a creative midfielder (like Tom Cairney) and some forwards to replace Rhodes and Gestede (if/when they leave). But like I said it will be difficult when we’ve got no money to spend!

Summary: With Rhodes and Gestede, Rovers will always have a chance. Without, it’s a frighteningly weak squad for a side who were in the Premier League not too long ago. The chance to get back in the top flight has seemingly been blown, and the chance of a top-half finish totally dependent on Rhodes and Gestede staying put. Should ultimately be okay, but may be the latest former Premier League club to have a season of worry about the prospect of League One. 18th 


Bolton Wanderers

Bolton are by no means a crisis club. In Phil Gartside, they are overseen by a chairman who has the club’s best interests at heart. In Neil Lennon, they have a manager with a respectable track record, and who was rumoured to attracting the interest of Leicester City earlier in the summer. In the squad, there’s a decent mix of experienced Championship players and promising young talent. grgerbherherhnerhe

The problem, however, is that while other clubs who have taken a hit following their relegation from the Premier League have started to progress again, the Trotters are stagnating at best.

For while an injury crisis played its part, Bolton’s 18th place finish last season was not unjust. Other clubs try different strategies to reach the top flight, invest in exciting talent and boast 20-goal-a-season forward. Bolton’s strikeforce, saved by the loan signing of a player they may not be able to secure permanently, had a combined age of 73.

And in their final season of parachute payments, it seems vital that the club at least show positive signs and improve upon last season if they are to move away from the bottom half of the Championship in the near future.

The Manager – Neil Lennon

It’s arguable that last season didn’t offer a fair reflection of Lennon’s managerial abilities. At the very least, it’s unfair to criticise a manager too harshly for struggling to 18th with an inherited squad that suffered more injuries than a side in a bugged Football Manager save.

And it’s why most Bolton supporters are fully behind their boss, who took over from the failing Dougie Freedman when the Macron Stadium club were seemingly heading towards relegation.

He responded with seven wins from his first 12 games in charge, which included a defeat to perennial strugglers Charlton, giving the Trotters some breathing space in the bottom half of the division. That run possibly more reflective of Lennon’s ability than the struggles during the injury crisis.

Nonetheless, there is no getting away from the fact Bolton won just five games in the 2015 half of last season. A strong start to the season, which isn’t helped with Derby County and Middlesbrough the first two opponents, needed to alleviate any potential doubts about the Northern Irishman.

Transfer Business

Overall, Bolton’s activity this summer appears relatively positive, with underperforming high earners moved on, a couple of tidy additions made to the squad, and room surely for more.

In fact, the only real disappointment among supporters is that Eidur Gudjohnsen could not be kept on, with the Icelander joining Shijiazhuang Ever Bright. Despite his age, the cult hero made a useful impact last season, and most would have preferred him to stick around.

But less tears have been shed over Matt Mills, Jermaine Beckford and Craig Davies leaving the club, who never really performed consistently enough to justify their wages.

Not even the departures of Adam Bogdan, to Liverpool, and Andy Lonergan to Fulham are looked upon with too much disappointment, with former Manchester United youngster Ben Amos coming into replace them.

The signing of versatile defender Derik, a Spain U21 international from Real Madrid, has created some excitement, while Lennon seems like the sort of boss needed to help Gary Madine find some form that he has been unable to show since his conviction for assault.

But there’s certainly a need for further additions, which you would think are possible given the clear out. Interest remains in Adam Le Fondre, with supporters attempting to raise money for the last season’s loan star, and Lawrie Wilson, a fans’ favourite at Charlton, has been on trial.

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The Squad  

Irrespective of the summer clear out, Bolton’s squad contains a sizeable number of players who are little more than average, but likely to be earning a decent wage.

Liam Feeney, Neil Danns and, of course, Emile Heskey, whose reputations have been built on successes away from the Macron Stadium, falling into that category.

But once you shift through the rather uninspiring members of their side, there’s a few gems. Keeping Mark Davies fit is an absolute must, Dorian Dervite’s consistency at centre-back would be valued by any Championship side, and both Rob Hall and Jay Spearing will have returned from loan spells at the end of last season hoping to make a positive contribution for the Trotters during this campaign.

There’s also a couple of decent youngsters in Bolton’s squad, called upon last season during the injury crisis. The most exciting of which is forward Zack Clough, who scored six times in ten games before falling victim to an injury himself.

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Fans View – Jake Vickers (@Jake_BWFC)

Have Bolton, in recent years, ever been further away from the Premier League?

In my lifetime this is the farthest Bolton have been from the Premier League. Immediately following relegation we should have earned a play-offs spot and since then we have never looked like repeating that, with last season being worst.

Do the crop of young players in your squad, particularly Zach Clough, offer some hope that you can progress?

Following the huge investment in the youth system at Bolton it has started to pay off recently. With players such as Josh Vela, Tom Walker, Quade Taylor and the thoroughly excellent Zach Clough breaking through (as well as the signing of Max Clayton) in the last few years the younger players in the senior squad are showing some potential. If we manage to hold on to these it could mean a bright future for the club.

Neil Lennon had a difficult task on his hands last season, taking over after Freedman’s unsuccessful period as boss and was then hit by a barely believable injury crisis. Did you see enough in testing circumstances to make you think he’s the right man for the job in the long-term?

Neil Lennon deserves nothing but praise for last season, he took us over when we were bottom of the league and steered us away from the relegation battle. This was made even more impressive with the huge injury problem, with more than half our senior squad out injured at one point. Neil Lennon is one of the most valuable assets we have and we need to keep hold of him at all costs, ideally he would be our long term manager but I see his future at a higher level.

Neil Lennon deserves nothing but praise for last season”

Is the internet fundraiser for Adam Le Fondre a bit of light-hearted fun, a good case of fan power, or the perfect display of how far you’ve sunk?

The Adam Le Fondre fundraiser can easily be seen as embarrassing. Many fans see it as a joke but it was unnecessary. A lot of clubs are short for money, it isn’t a problem specific to Bolton and there was no need for it to be made.

Apart from Adam Le Fondre, who else would you like to see come in, and where do you need to strengthen?

With the clubs financial situation it’s easily to say who you’d like to sign but many of these targets would be unrealistic. We’ll have to stick to the loan market and free agents. Ideally we would sign a competent RB which would free up Josh Vela into his natural midfield position, and two wingers. Also if it’s not too much trouble I’d love Lukas Jutkiewicz from Burnley (but that’s never going to happen). More importantly I’d like to see us keep the likes of Clough, Mark Davies and Josh Vela.

Summary: Lennon providing a positive impact, keeping key players fit, and young players stepping up will all be needed for Bolton to improve on last season. But with sides improving around them, they may get sucked into the relegation battle. 22nd

11


Brentford

Events at Griffin Park over the previous six months have been incredibly hard for those on the outside to make sense of, and even harder for supporters to come to terms with.

For the logic in parting company with Mark Warburton appears questionable. The highly-rated coach, who guided the Bees into the Championship play-offs against the odds in their first season following promotion from League One, unable to share owner Matthew Benham’s statistical analysis-based vision.gregreger

To create a situation where a popular and talented boss, who continued to work with dignity and managed to maintain Brentford’s top six place even after his end-of-season departure was confirmed in February, can no longer continue in his role appears suicidal.

Not only has Warburton’s managerial ability been lost, but so has the excellent bond he appeared to have with his players and supporters. To an extent, last season’s relative success is almost irrelevant, and the Bees are starting again.

However, the belief Benham has in his statistical analysis system, which brought him financial reward through gambling and football success at FC Midtjylland, as well as his prior achievements at Griffin Park, mean there remains a generous amount of optimism among supporters of the West London club.

The head coach is unknown, but fits the system. A number of the summer signings appear dubious on paper, but all fit perfectly into Benham’s philosophy. The system itself is largely untried in the physical and demanding Championship, but the Bees have reason to believe they can emulate last season’s success.

The Head Coach – Marinus Dijkhuizen

“I think it’s a brave decision to take me” is hardly the sort of comment that you want to be hearing from your newly appointed, and relatively unknown, head coach. Not exactly the sort of statement that inspires confidence.

And, given that Dutchman Dijkhuizen has replaced someone as successful as Warburton, there will be immediate pressure on the 43-year-old to succeed.

However, he boasts a relatively decent record. It was his work at Excelsior, who he led to promotion and then kept in the Dutch Eredivisie on a limited budget, which attracted co-director of football Rasmus Ankersen to appoint Dijkhulzen

Also, and arguably more importantly, he’s fully behind Brentford’s somewhat bizarre statistical model. Dijkhulzen is both excited by the project, and willing to have his coaching heavily determined, and interfered, by statistical influence. He’ll receive texts from stats boffins during games – the model’s mouthpiece first and a coach in his own right second.

It seems employing a coach willing to be, to an extent, a guinea pig in this experiment is the only way Benham and Brentford can succeed.

Transfer Business

Losing Alex Pritchard, after the playmaker returned to Tottenham following the completion of his impressive loan spell, was always going to be a major blow for the Bees, but their quirky transfer strategy has resulted in some interesting additions to the squad.

Akaki Gogia, relatively prolific for Hallescher FC in the German third tier, Ryan Williams, an injury-prone former England futsal international who was released by Morecombe at the end of last season, and Konstantin Kerschbaumer, signed from Admira Wacker in a bid to boost profit from shirt printing sales, all seemingly signed on the basis of their ability to contribute to Brentford’s stats based system.

In fact, it was arguably their most ‘normal’ signing that appeared like a direct replacement for Pritchard. But Josh McEachran’s foot injury that has ruled him out for three months means he’s likely to be pushed down the pecking order by other impressing ahead of him. Nonetheless, while the one-time wonderkid has failed to kick on in recent years, the Chelsea academy graduate will suit Brentford’s passing style when fit and may benefit from some stability having been chucked around on loan from Vicarage Road to Vitesse.

Elsewhere, French centre-back Yoann Barbet and the impressive capture of Denmark international Andreas Bjelland improve a defence that showed the occasional sign of vulnerability towards the end of last season, while Lasse Vibe, who scored 31 goals in 56 games for IFK Gothenburg, and German U21 international Phillipp Hofmann provides competition to Andre Gray in attack.

Their transfer strategy is all a bit weird, but it seems to be working.

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The Squad

The summer additions mean the Bees are one of few Championship clubs who are well stocked in all departments.

There was initial worry that a lack of forward options would cost them, with Gray and injury-plagued Scott Hogan the only recognised forward options at the club.

While Gray, impressively dealing with the step up to the Championship from the Conference, helped himself to 16 goals last season largely playing as a loan front man, Vibe and Hoffmann were desperately needed.

One of Brentford’s biggest strengths, however, is that there’s goals throughout the side. Especially in the case of impressive playmaker Jota, who notched 11 times in an outstanding first season in English football last time out.

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Fans Views: Toby Maxtone-Smith (@TRMaxtoneSmith)

What’s the overriding feeling – a longing for Mark Warburton to return, or excitement over Marinus Dijkhuizen, Matthew Benham’s statistical revolution, and the quirky signings you’ve made?

As with all these things, it’s a bit of both. I don’t think any Brentford fan can say they were happy to see Warburton go, but Dijkhuizen looks like being a good appointment. My worry is that, along with Dijkhuizen, we’ve hired so many people in positions above him, including two directors of football and a ‘Head of Football Philosophy’, whatever that is. Dijkhuizen’s only real job is to pick the team and manage tactics.

Alex Pritchard played a vital role in your top six finish last season, and will obviously be a huge loss. Do you think one of your new midfield signings will replace him, or will your style of play be altered to combat his absence?

Pritchard was the best player I’ve ever seen at Brentford, but we’ve made two signings who could play in his position, just behind the striker. They are Konstantin Kerschbaumer and Akaki Gogia (I’d never heard of them either). Both look good on Youtube and came highly recommended from journalists who had seen them play – that’s all I can say. I’d imagine we’ll stick to a 4-2-3-1, but it’ll be tough without Pritchard. There were times last year when we relied on him completely for creativity.

You appear very low on numbers in attack, but there’s a decent amount of depth throughout the rest of your squad. Is a striker or two all you need, in theory, to be competitive again this season?

Not anymore – Philip Hofmann (German U21 international) and Lasse Vibe (top scorer in the Swedish league) joined in the last few days. When the new directors of football came in they said we ‘need a bigger squad’. This worries me quite a lot. If you look at a list of FL clubs by the number of players they used, it is so clear that a small squad leads to success. We used the fewest players in the division last year and I firmly believe that was key to us doing so well.
We will certainly be competitive. We’re stepping into the unknown this season, and there are plenty of reasons it could go wrong. But anyone who knows anything about the players we’ve signed are stunned that we’ve managed to pull them off. We could storm the league; we could finish 10th. But last season was not a flash in the pan.
“We could storm the league; we could finish 10th. But last season was not a flash in the pan”

Warburton and Pritchard aside, most of the figures who impressed last season remain at the club. How important is that, not just in terms of increasing the likelihood of a repeat of last season, but in smoothing the transition period and calming fears?

That’s true, but I expect a few stalwarts to say goodbye. Jonathan Douglas is almost certainly on his way out, and Sam Saunders, Alan McCormack and Harlee Dean may be going the same way. But players like Jake Bidwell and Toumani Diagouraga, one of the best central midfielders in the division last season, remain. They’ll be hugely important in our transition.

Does Benham’s decision to remove Warburton and go down the route he has mean there is immediate pressure for another top six finish to be achieved in order to vindicate his actions?

It seems amazing to say it, given that this is only our third season above League One in 50 years, but yes – I think there is some pressure. But the project is a long-term one, and one average season will not mean the club will say ‘We got it wrong, let’s go back to what we know’. Our approach is here to stay.

Summary: Genius or self-inflicted crisis? It would appear that Brentford’s new strategy is closer to the former than it is the latter. There will undoubtedly be teething problems as players new and old adapt and Dijkhuizen finds his feet, which could set them back, but the Bees will be competitive again. 4th

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Brighton and Hove Albion

For a number of years, Brighton have mixed a successful business model and progression off the pitch with constant improvement on it.

In fact, the Seagulls were one of the most celebrated clubs in the Championship, with many seeing it as only a matter of time before they reached the Premier League. Constant changing of manager largely ignored, and successive play-off failure simply delaying the inevitable. erberberber

However, after several seasons of rapid progression, 2014/15 provided a suggestion that the Seagulls had become complacent. With neither Sami Hyypia and Chris Hughton proving successfully, form lacking among previously important players, and injuries taking their roll, the club slumped to 20th, looking over their shoulder for the duration of the season.

They remain a successfully run club, and a club which can match the ambitions of a group of supporters who have gone from fighting for a ground to watch their side play to hoping Premier League football can be played in their spectacular Amex home.

But the events of last season might mean those top flight ambitions will have to be put hold on for a while, with a minor rebuild required.

The Manager – Chris Hughton

When leading Newcastle United back to the Premier League, and Birmingham City through Europe and into the play-offs, there was a great deal of hype about Hughton.

He didn’t occupy the bedroom walls of football hipsters, but he did gain the respect of most followers of the English game.

In fact, there was outrage when Norwich City opted to depart with Hughton as they plummeted towards the Championship two seasons ago. Attempts from supporters of the Canaries to tell anyone that would listen of Hughton’s flaws proving frivolous.

It meant his appointment was met with excitement from Brighton supporters, and positive acknowledgement from those on the outside. The boss to get the Seagulls back on track, having fallen to 22nd under Hyypia.

If Hughton’s task was simply to keep the club in the second tier, then he fulfilled what was asked of him.

But for many Brighton supporters, not enough was shown in the closing weeks of the season for their excitement to be justified. The football poor, and results even worse. No win from the final seven games of the season worrying.

A big campaign not just for the Seagulls, but for Hughton, he needs to prove himself once again.

Transfer Business

If Brighton’s summer activity is anything to go by, then the warning against complacency that last season offered has been taken on board.

While the unavoidable departure of Young Player of the Year Joao Teixeira, who has returned to Liverpool following an impressive loan spell last season, will hurt the Seagulls, the squad has otherwise been strengthened.

With just Sheffield Wednesday (43) scoring less outside the bottom three than Brighton’s 44 last season, arguably the most important additions come in attack.

Signing much talked about Real Madrid striker Jack Harper seems like a massive coup, even if the Scotland U19 international has limited experience, while Israel international forward Tomer Hemed arrives from Almeria boasting a record of 10 goals in 15 games for his country.

There has also been a move for Finland U21 striker Vahid Hambo, who has scored 14 goals in 13 appearances for Inter Turku. Whether the forward trio will make an immediate impression in England is questionable, particularly with Hambo expected to spend time in the development squad, but the pedigree is there to address Brighton’s problems in front of goal.

At the other end of the pitch, capped Finland stopper Niki Maenappa has joined after playing over 100 times for VVV-Venlo, and will compete with David Stockdale for a place between the sticks.

Elsewhere, right-back Liam Rosenior joins having been consistently performed for Hull City in the previous five seasons, while Cameroon international left-back Gaetan Bong was a rare impressive member of Wigan Athletic’s relegation squad.

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The Squad

Regardless of the tidy additions to the squad, the Seagulls remain relatively understocked in the centre-back department.

Experienced captain Gordon Greer and the excellent Lewis Dunk, who has attracted Premier League interest, form a formidable partnership, but there is very little in reserve. While Rosenior can play there if required, a centre-back or two is probably needed before the season gets underway.

So too is there a need for a winger or two, with Inigo Calderon, although successfully enough to win Brighton’s Player of the Year, and Jake Forster-Caskey often played in unnatural wide midfield roles last season.

But, with midfield options plentiful, Hughton could look to play a narrower formation. Especially with Andrew Crofts, who missed much of last season with injury, hopeful of being fit enough to begin the campaign, the pool of centre-mids is mightily impressive.

Crofts will compete with former Charlton man Dale Stephens, Celtic midfielder Beram Kayal, the impressive Rohan Ince, Dutchman Danny Holla, and, although he is sometimes deployed out wide, England U21 international Jake Forster-Caskey. The loss of Teixeria might not be too hardly felt.

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Fans View: Sam Wilson (@MrSamWilson)

Last season was obviously a huge disappointment. Was it just a blip to a club with big ambitions, or a more serious sign of regression?

Somewhere in the middle. We’ve been spoilt since we moved to the Amex and stepped up into the Championship with Poyet and a host of key players that have since left and not been adequately replaced. Hyypia was trying to force a style that didn’t suit our players and it cost him, but it didn’t help him that we replaced the like of Ulloa with cheap options.

Looking at the squad right now I expect us to be midtable; the right business before the window slams shut and we could figure at the right end of the table again.

Chris Hughton has been heavily criticised as Brighton boss so far, both for the quality of football played and the results achieved. How long has he got to prove himself?

I think it was a case of making do and just getting the job done when he came in. As long as we avoided relegation the style was irrelevant. Now that he’s got a full pre-season to work with the squad and bring in new players there’ll be more expected from the side.

A relatively large section of the support were bemoaning the negative style of the side when we reached the playoffs two years running; it’s a results business but even if we’re winning you’ll probably hear mutterings from the crowd if it isn’t with flair. The chairman isn’t one to make kneejerk reactions though, so even if the fans get restless it won’t affect Hughton’s job security.

“Now that Hughton’s got a full pre-season to work with the squad and bring in new players there’ll be more expected from the side”

You struggled in front of goal last season. Can new signings Tomer Hemed, Vahid Hambo, and Jack Harper address that?

They can’t be much worse than Leon Best, that’s for sure. There’s more pressure on Hemed to deliver than Hambo and Harper; they are both currently injured and going into the development squad with the aim of stepping up by the end of the year.

Hemed is having a decent preseason on the goals front but most would agree we still need to sign another first team striker if we aren’t to rely on the impotent Chris O’Grady.

If anything, you could argue that Brighton have too many quality centre-midfielders, with the return of Andrew Crofts further swelling the numbers in midfield. Is there enough quality there to soften the blow of losing Joao Teixeria?

Centre midfield is certainly one of our populated areas of the squad, but there’s a lot of graft without much creativity. The signing of Beram Kayal in January proved to be one of the few bright spots of last season and he’ll be a key component of the team this year. Hughton favours a 4-4-1-1 which means only two of Kayal, Ince, Holla, Crofts, Stephens and Forster-Caskey will play. Forster-Caskey is something of a divisive figure among the fans (perhaps a victim of circumstance as much as anything else) and rumours of a bid from Wolves aren’t necessarily unwelcome.

The squad remains a little short in a number of departments. Where would you like the club to strengthen, and who, realistically, would you like to see come in?

We need a striker, at least one winger and a centre back (two if the club accept a bid for Lewis Dunk).

The club has been heavily linked with Iranian winger Alireza Jahanbakhsh from NEC in Holland. He’s touted at £1.4m and I’d be delighted with that as he’s better than what he have now. We’ve also been linked with Blackburn’s Ben Marshall but I’m indifferent about that. I’m surprised we’ve not gone for old Hughton-favourite Sebastien Bassong at the back, and up front I wouldn’t mind a bid for Adam Le Fondre.

Based on the dealings so far this summer they’ll all be completely unexpected signings out of left-field from around Europe, which is far more exciting than this time last year.

Summary: Better placed to compete than they were last season, especially if key payers stay fit, but questions over Hughton and general quality of squad means promotion an unrealistic target. 15th

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Bristol City

For the third season in four, the League One title was won by a side who lost just five games throughout the campaign. Bristol City, like Charlton and Wolves before them, relentless in their domination of a competitive division.

And although the Robins were unable to reach the 100 point mark, falling just one short of a century, confidence is at a similar level to those who enjoyed an excellent first seasons back in the Championship after accumulating three figures in League One. egergreg

For both Charlton and Wolves, using the majority of their promotion-winning squads and utilising the momentum they had created, fell just short of a play-off place. The Addicks three points from the top six, while goal difference cruelly denied Kenny Jackett’s men were cruelly denied the chance to compete for a second consecutive promotion.

In truth, suggesting that Bristol City could emulate those achievements would probably be going a little too far. Boss Steve Cotterill has been frustrated in the transfer market, and redevelopment to Ashton Gate doesn’t paper over the fact that the Robins are relatively alien to the Championship when compared to Charlton and Wolves.

But the potent, and often dominant, style of football played in League One means there remains a belief that their return to the second tier will be a relative success.

The Manager – Steve Cotterill

With a confident and strong-minded persona that can often by interpreted as arrogance, it’s reasonable to say that Cotterill isn’t universally adored throughout the Football League.

But the 51-year-old has done an outstanding job at Ashton Gate since taking over in December 2013, halting a seemingly unstoppable decline before building a title-winning squad.

And with a decent Championship record, most recently doing a respectable job in tough circumstances at Portsmouth before moving to the City Ground and keeping relegation threatened Nottingham Forest in the division, the step up should be natural to Cotterill.

Transfer Business

For all the positivity at the club, Bristol City’s summer activity has provided a rare source of frustration for supporters.

It took until July 20 for the Robins to make an addition to their squad. And while that addition was a strong one, with prolific 25-year-old forward Jonathan Kodija arriving from Angers for £2m, departures mean the squad is a little short of numbers.

Forward Jay Emmanuel-Thomas has joined QPR and Wade Elliott has retired, while George Saville and James Tavernier, who had a strong impact while on loan at Ashton Gate, have returned to Wolves and Newcastle respectively.

With Cotterill and director of football Keith Burt said to be targeting players aged 24 with Championship experience, and the club intent on making signings which are value for money, those rules might have to be bended slightly if the Robins are to have a complete squad in place for the start of the new campaign.

The Squad

Thankfully, the core of their squad remains, and, much like Charlton and Wolves did, you would think that a side who dominated League One to the extent it did has enough about it to compete in the Championship.

In fact, the majority of their squad either has Championship experience, or has impressed to such an extent in League One that their opportunity in the second tier is more than deserved.

In the first category, Frank Fielding, Adam El-Abd, and Aaron Wilbraham have all be useful at this level before, in the second, Marlon Pack, Luke Freeman, and Kieran Agard are surely good enough to succeed.

Fans View: Jordana Vivian (@jordanavivian_)

Many recent winners of League One have worked their way into the top half of the Championship in the following season. Do you feel you’re capable of that?

I’d like to think we’d certainly be aiming for that. We’ve got a more than capable squad, as proved by doing the double with the League One title and the Johnstones Paint Trophy last season, albeit a bit thin on the ground, but with more quality than half of the Championship sides including a 18 goal centre half in Aden Flint and runner up League One player of the season Luke Freeman. Having got rid of some of the high earners from last season including Wade Elliott, and most notably, Jay Emmanuel-Thomas, we’ve got more room and money in the fund to build further.

In building a well-balanced squad and achieving promotion with relative ease, just how good a job has Steve Cotterill done, and can he be a success for City in the second tier?

When Cotterill was first appointed on a 3 year deal, a lot of people doubted his ability and the length of the contract, when in actual fact an experienced manager at that level with a long backing behind him was exactly what the club needed after a string of failures.

Especially when you consider the ground improvements and the seemingly sensible way that the club is being run in, is this an equally as positive period as the one under Gary Johnson?

I think the whole atmosphere around the club is more positive than under the Johnson era. Under Johnson, the football wasn’t particularly impressive and a lot of it was go 1 goal up in the first half and just sit back under pressure for the whole of the second, whereas you’ll never see that under Cotterill. Our assistant manager, John Pemberton, is more enthusiastic and passionate than our caretaker, and soon to be manager, Keith Millen ever was, and the player seem to believe in Cotterill’s style of play than with anyone else before. Everyone is looking forward to the new stadium being built with the new South Stand looking impressive and with heavy backing of our impressive owner Steve Lansdown, the club can only move in the right direction.

“I think the whole atmosphere around the club is more positive than under the Johnson era”

You’ve been a little slow to get going in the transfer market. Is that a concern or do you trust Cotterill and the owners to have a complete squad in place by the star of the campaign?

Although only signing one player in the transfer window so far makes you a little unenthusiastic, I have no doubt that more signings will follow. With full backing from Lansdown, Cotterill has a fairly big budget, as proved with Kodjia, to sign quality players. As last season proved with Cotterill bringing in players such as Freeman, Aaron Wilbraham, Korey Smith, Luke Ayling and Mark Little, he’ll be looking to bring in similar style players to improve the squad for the season.

With the squad being high in quality but a little low on numbers, where do you need to strengthen and who, realistically, would you like to see come in?

Starting from the back, having released back up goalkeeper Dave Richards in the summer, a replacement will be needed to compete with League One keeper of the season Frank Fielding. Mark Bunn looked on the cards to sign, but decided to join Aston Villa at the last minute, which you can’treally blame him for. Defensively, not a lot of cover is needed, although there are rumours we’re looking for another central defender with Adam El-Abd looking set to leave and Karleigh Osbourne off to Wimbledon on loan. We seem to be quite short of cover in the midfield area as Cotterill prefers a 5-3-2 formation and may need to strengthen, possibly with Bradley Dack of Gillingham for example. Definite cover is needed strike wise with Keiran Agard set to miss the start of the season with injury and Wilbraham turning 36 soon, help will be needed for Kodjia. From a personal perspective, I’d love former City Players Nicky Maynard and Sam Baldock to make a return, or a striker such as Adam Le-Fondre to complete the line up.

Summary: Momentum carried over from last season means a top half finish cannot be ruled, especially if more additions are made to a useful core, but finding their feet in the Championship once again will surely be Bristol City’s objective. 17th

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Part Two will be out in the coming days. 

Gordon Jago: “It was a happy Valley, but I learnt what not to do at Charlton”

There’s excitement in his voice as he answers, but so too a hint of assertiveness. As if he’s happy the subject of his allegiance to Charlton Athletic has cropped up in conversation, and equally insulted that I felt the need to question it.

But Gordon Jago’s 147 league games for Charlton between 1954 and 1962 have almost become a footnote in his incredible list of career achievements.

The 82-year-old has spent his entire working life in football. He’s won England youth caps, helped to create one of the best sides QPR supporters have ever seen, and been interviewed for the job of England manager.

And for the last 40 years, Jago has been enjoying success in every soccer-related role he’s attempted in the USA. His Tampa Bay Rowdies side were runners-up on two occasions in the now defunct North American Soccer League, his work as coach of the Dallas Sidekicks, an indoor soccer side, earned him induction into the Indoor Soccer Hall of Fame, and his successful running of the Dallas Cup, a youth tournament that attracts academy sides from all over the world, saw him made a MBE.

So you can be forgiven for thinking, amongst all that, his affection for the Addicks has been pushed to one side. Other moments in his life taking greater significance, meaning he is not a supporter from afar of the club he spent his entire professional playing career at.

That, however, is not the case.

“Oh yes, it’s one of the first results I look for while I’m out in the United States,” says Jago, on a visit back to England.

“It was a happy Valley, the players were good together and the crowd was very supportive”

Jago, who turned down Tottenham Hotspur in order to represent his local club, can confidently look back at his playing career as a relative success. His longevity particularly impressive with 52 professionals, including eight centre-halves, at the club when he first broke into the first team – some contrast to the lack of numbers, particularly at the back, at present.

“I think I was a good, steady, average first team player at that time, and I must have been to play over the amount of games I did,” says Jago.

“I also must have been a thinker, because I remember we played Manchester United a year before the [Munich] crash. It was one of Bobby Charlton’s first games, Duncan Edwards was playing, and so was Tommy Taylor. Great players.

“Taylor was the England centre-forward, and he went out to the 18-yard line, so I’d go with him and stand him up. Then they’d knock it up to him, and he’d be running in while I’m running in on my own goal trying to flick it out. He went above me twice, and scored twice.

“I remember thinking this is ridiculous, so I didn’t go out to him on the next occasion. Willie Duff, the goalkeeper, is going berserk, but I’m telling him it’s a waste of time. Now as the ball’s coming in, I’m going out and heading it the way I want to and getting above him.”

It means there are positive memories for the centre-half, who scored a solitary goal during his time in SE7.

“It was a happy Valley, the players were good together and the crowd was very supportive.”

And so you might think. Jago’s Charlton career saw him play in the First Division, play alongside the likes of Derek Ufton, Benny Fenton, and Frank Lock, and play under legendary Addicks boss Jimmy Seed.

While knowledge among younger supporters about Seed isn’t complete, anyone who has ever been to The Valley will be aware of the impact he had on the club. One of the first things I did after stepping foot inside the ground for the first time was ask who the bloke whose name was on the away stand was.

But there is genuine frustration in Jago’s voice as he speaks about the standard of coaching, training, and tactical guidance that was on offer under Seed, and his replacement Jimmy Trotter. His views going almost completely against the status Seed has at the club.

“There were so many things done at Charlton at that time which weren’t the right things to do,” he suggests.

“Our training was diabolical. Our preparation was diabolical. We didn’t have a training ground at that time.

“Jack Shreeve, the coach, used to stand in the middle of The Valley. There would be four groups of players, two on the halfway line, and two behind the goals. He’d hold his fingers up to us, and however many number fingers were held was the amount of laps we did.

“I weighed nothing, and could run for miles. But if I started to run quick, then the Gordon Hursts of the group would say ‘where the bloody hell are you off to, Jago?’, so you dropped back and just ran, which really didn’t do us any good.

“On Tuesdays, we’d go on a run through Blackheath, and that was our training. Seed and Trotter told us that if you have the ball in the week, you won’t want it on a Saturday. Can you believe that?

“We couldn’t go on the field if it was wet, as they didn’t want to spoil it. I used to get goalkeeper Willie Duff to kick balls down on a cinder surface out at the back, and my forehead would be scared from it, but I did that myself.”

“There were so many things done at Charlton at that time which weren’t the right things to do”

Jago’s frustration was only increased by the fact he had made his first inroads into coaching while Trotter was boss, and could see the obvious faults in the training. He earned his preliminary coaching badge, and then became a staff coach at the FA, instructing other coaches at Lilleshall.

And such frustration was eventually displayed shortly before Jago’s retirement during one of Shreeve’s Valley running sessions.

“I wasn’t a rebel, but I go up to the far side away from the old stand and I stopped. I walked towards Jack in the centre circle,” he recalls.

“I told him ‘Jack, you could train a bloody chimpanzee to do your job’, and I carried on walking. I go home and tell my wife to expect a phone call that afternoon. No phone call.

“I go in the next morning, expecting to be in the office to see Trotter. Nothing. Jack Shreeve never said a word. No discipline, no nothing, and it killed it for me.

“Shortly after, I was kicked in the eye while playing Middlesbrough. I had a blood clot, but had to go back on after half-time because there was no substitutions. They took me to Moorefield hospital after the game and they went berserk. I could have been blind.

“I was only 29, but I decided then that that was the end of my career. I played a few games at the end of the season in the reserves, and I left after”.

Trotter, in Jago’s view, should never have been made manager of the club, despite being a brilliant trainer before getting the top job.

“Benny Fenton was going to come back from Colchester after Seed left, and that meant Benny, who had been a player under Jimmy, would be over Jimmy.

“Trotter didn’t want that, and he talked the board into making him manager. He was a nice man, but he had no knowledge of coaching.”

And, incredibly, there is similar criticism for Seed.

“Seed was a good selector of players, but he certainly wasn’t a tactician or coach,” says Jago.

“His conversation at the start of each season was “36 points”. That was it. Nothing else. His attitude was First Division. 36 points and stay in the First Division.

“How can a manager say 36 points? What sort of incentive is that?”

“Seed was a good selector of players, but he certainly wasn’t a tactician or coach”

It’s of no surprise to Jago that the Addicks suffered in the latter half of his time at the club, which included Seed resigning and relegation following in 1956-57, and the club slumping to 15th in the Second Division in his final season as a player.

So how is it that Seed managed Charlton 729 times, won an FA Cup, and has legendary status at The Valley?

“A lot of it was done by the players themselves,” believes Jago. “Don Welsh was the captain and the leader of the cup-winning side, and Benny Fenton was the captain and the leader when I was a player.

“I learnt more from the players playing in the game than I did from any training or coaching. Benny Fenton would be talking to me the whole time during the game. Little basics, but you needed to understand it.”

Such criticism of Seed means it is not the legendary Charlton boss who nurtured Jago into a successful managerial career. In fact, there’s a feeling that his time under Seed and Trotter had the opposite effect.

“I learnt what not to do at Charlton, which stood me in great stead for the rest of my life as a coach and as a manager.

“I learnt from people like Ron Greenwood and Walter Winterbottom, by going on coaching courses, and being made a staff coach by Winterbottom. They taught me a new world of soccer.

“I was coming back from seeing some of the best coaches in Europe in action to ‘you can’t have a ball because you won’t want it on Saturday’.”

Jago was particularly keen to praise Greenwood’s impact on his career, who first suggested to him that coaching might be a path to go down while they joined in with England training, without being named in the squad.

In fact, Greenwood attempted to buy Jago while he was assistant coach at Arsenal.

“Arsenal made a bid for me, when Ron Greenwood was the assistant coach, but Trotter didn’t tell me,” recalls Jago.

“They were going to give Charlton Cliff Holton and some money for me, because they didn’t have a centre-half at that time and I was playing quite well.

“But I didn’t hear about it until three weeks after. I called up Greenwood and only then did I have it confirmed. It could have been a chance of a lifetime, but it didn’t happen.”

“I learnt what not to do at Charlton, which stood me in great stead for the rest of my life as a coach and as a manager”

Nonetheless, it’s fair to say Jago’s chance of a lifetime was still to come. His success at QPR means he remains a cult hero at Loftus Road today.

Having cut his teeth in non-league football, in the States, and as a coach at Loftus Road, Jago was given the manager’s job in 1971, and he went onto achieve promotion to the First Division and build a squad that, after his departure in 1974, would come within a point of winning the title.

“The best five years of my life in soccer were at QPR,” says Jago, with plenty of meaning. “It was just incredible, and we built a team that was unbelievable.

“When you add the likes Stan Bowles, Don Givens, David Thomas and Frank McLintock that you personally signed, your choices, it was just marvellous.

“The standard of the soccer that they played was tremendous, and it was a joy to go every morning to train because they were so receptive.

“They’d come back in the afternoon, and Terry Venables and Stan Bowles would spend hours trying to bend a ball around a wall on wheels. It was such a great atmosphere, because all the players wanted to better themselves.”

And Jago, without at all sounding arrogant, is fully aware of the impact he had at QPR, and the respect he maintains from supporters.

“It’s nice to hear people say well done or thank you, but I didn’t have to be told that. I know when I’ve had good days or bad days.

“I’d been interviewed for the England job after Sir Alf Ramsey left, so whatever I was doing, was catching the eye.”

“The best five years of my life in soccer were at QPR”

Equally, his time at Loftus Road coming to an end brought about great sadness for Jago. The journey concluding before it had reached its natural conclusion, owing to a dispute with chairman Jim Gregory.

“The saddest day of my life was when I walked out on QPR. We’d won promotion, had one season in the top flight and finished, and I knew that team was going to get better. I wanted to get into Europe.

“Sure enough, next season, when Dave Sexton picked it up, they got into Europe. But I knew that that was coming, because the side was so good, and I knew I was walking away from all of that.

While Jago reminisces about his time at QPR, I remind him that the opening day of the season sees two of his former clubs meet. The response is predictable.

“Oh Christ. I’m in trouble, here. May the best team win,” he offers.

“I follow QPR as closely as Charlton. I also check the results of West Ham, who I followed as a kid, Millwall, and to a certain extent Fulham as I had a couple of years there as a coach which I really enjoyed.”

In some respects, it’s a very odd bunch of clubs to feel attachment to. Plenty of London rivalries can be created from the pool of teams.

Nonetheless, supporters of the clubs he has worked for hold him in high regard, irrespective of whether he has represented a rival or not. Something that may seem strange to those Charlton supporters who immediately wrote off Bob Peeters because of his Millwall connections, but not Jago.

“My job as a coach or manager was to build a team, then to select players, and to make the players the best they could be,” he says.

“In my career, we always succeeded as a team. There were a number of times where we won promotion with a late run. I still hold the record at QPR for the most games unbeaten, 22. At Millwall, we went 15 games unbeaten to get promotion, and I changed the whole team with no money.

“So it doesn’t surprise that I’m held in high regard by supporters of rival clubs.”

And it was a rival of the Addicks where Jago went next, appointed Millwall manager shortly after leaving QPR.

“One minute I’m on the verge of Europe at QPR and being looked at for the England job, the next minute I’m at Millwall,” he laughs.

“But it was two and a half good years. I enjoyed it. I had to change the whole club, and the genuine fans were good people.”

However, Jago’s next career move after QPR could have been very different. He might well have made a return to SE7.

“At that time, it was very interesting,” he recalls. “Benny Fenton left Millwall, Dave Sexton left Chelsea, Gordon Jago left QPR, and Bill Nicholson left Spurs.

“There was a group of us out of a job at the same time, and Benny Fenton went to Charlton, I went to Millwall.

“I met [Charlton owner] Michael Glikstien just after I had left QPR, and gone to Millwall. He told me that ‘we really should have taken you after you left QPR’.

“But that was the only knowledge I had of Charlton having an interest me. I never applied to Charlton, or even indicated anything to them, but he did indicate, perhaps being wise after the event, that I should have gone to Charlton at that time. It would have been interesting.”

Even if the Addicks had wanted to make Jago their boss after he had left Millwall in 1977, feeling the need to resign after a largely fabricated BBC documentary on the club’s hooligan culture made the environment at the club a difficult one, their chance had long gone.

“One minute I’m on the verge of Europe at QPR and being looked at for the England job, the next minute I’m at Millwall”

For Jago soon headed off to the USA and, but for almost returning as QPR manager in 1984, has not had thoughts of returning to the UK to live or to work since.

“I liked the way of life in the United States. It was a good life, and a good life for my family. That’s why I’ve never really thought about coming back,” explains Jago.

And without moving to America, Jago would not have been able to find a calling in the Dallas Cup. Even now, despite officially retiring, he remains an advisor and takes an active part in a competition he has put all his efforts into, and a role he adores.

“The Dallas Cup gave me a whole new life. I was retiring when they asked me to come on board and that was it.

“To still be in the game, and to be enjoying what you do, is incredible. The nicest thing was, when you went in the office every morning, you didn’t have a clue what was going to happen, because you could get people from all over the world contacting you.

“I must give thanks to the Robsons, the Busbys, and the Fergusons, who helped me and sent teams over. It’s been a great success.”

“To still be in the game, and to be enjoying what you do, is incredible”

Alumni of the competition include Wayne Rooney, Tom Cleverly, and Peter Crouch, but getting Charlton to take part, irrespective of the club’s success in producing talent, has proved difficult.

“The big problem with getting Charlton over was finding a sponsor to pick up the tab. I could only bring a team over that I could sell,” Jago admits.

And a look at the teams who took part this year suggests the Addicks would be in esteemed company. Everton, Valencia, and Corinthians among the entrants in the Gordon Jago Super Cup.

But, during a conversation that lasted five hours, not one pair of eyes in the London hotel in which we chat gave a man who has an international tournament named after him, a second glance.

In fairness, most of those eyes belonged to Australians, seemingly setting off to Lord’s the following day.

But if they had listened to the same stories I was told, they would have realised they were in the presence of a fascinating man, who has achieved an incredible amount in his lifetime.

My Worst Charlton XI – Part III

#3 – Miguel Llera 

His gangly right leg produced a feeling of euphoria rarely bettered while inside The Valley. The nine men of Charlton heroically snatching a stoppage-time equaliser against promotion rivals Swindon Town on Boxing Day 2009.

In terms of just a single goal, it’s arguable that only Johnnie Jackson’s winner against QPR betters it for the release of emotion it caused. For one short moment, Miguel Llera was at the centre of wild celebrations, and a hero in SE7.

Alas, irrespective of how special a moment his late volleyed lob over David Lucas was, it does not override the first feelings that come into your head when the Spaniard’s Charlton career is remembered.

For it was far more common to see Llera’s right boot send an aimless punt up field than it was for it to loop a ball over a goalkeeper. It was far more common for Llera’s feet to be left stuck in the surface as a pacey forward showed his lack of agility. It was far more common for his feet to be placed where they shouldn’t have been, as an opposition striker exposed his poor positioning.

In the often direct nature of League One, Llera was able to survive on the basis of occasional good fortune and near-perfect ability in the air that did not belong to a man with so many faults. It’s how he managed to rack up 45 appearances over two seasons.

It was his style of play that proved the biggest annoyance to Charlton supporters. It’s undoubted that Phil Parkinson, the man in charge for most of Llera’s appearances, had some contribution to the way the Spaniard played, but his persistence in lumping unnecessary and inaccurate long balls forward to the like of Deon Burton and Paul Benson was gruesome viewing.

Defenders whose first instinct is to get the ball clear have been a success in SE7. Michael Morrison, who made my best Charlton XI, wouldn’t be seen dead risking a touch when he could simply smash the ball away first time.

But the frustration with Llera was that with yards of space and plenty of time, he would more often than not fail to make a short pass and spoon the ball forward. Signed in the summer of 2009 from MK Dons, he was at the heart of some of the most aesthetically unappealing football played by the Addicks in my time as a supporter.

Maybe his decision to play in such a style was based around a desperate lack of composure. When the pressure was on, Llera crumbled.

And there was no better example of that than in another fixture against Swindon at The Valley in the same season.

Although the Addicks had allowed Swindon the equaliser having overturned a 2-1 deficit from the first-leg, the advantage remained with the hosts as extra-time approached.

For the visitors, having seen Gordon Greer dismissed, were a man lighter than Charlton. The elven would surely find a way to break down the ten at some point over the additional 30 minutes.

Alas, a suicidal mistake from Llera, one arguably as large as Nicky Bailey’s penalty miss, brought parity in terms of numbers on the pitch. The Spaniard slipped, allowing Charlie Austin to seemingly break through, before deciding the best course of action was to desperately hold onto his shirt and drag him down.

With the penalty loss and despair that followed, his Charlton career never really recovered after that moment. Although he would make a return of sorts under Chris Powell, Llera was discarded relatively early on in the 2010/11 season.

If it isn’t that play-off semi-final defeat, then Miguel Llera’s contribution to the Addicks following his departure can best sum up his Charlton career.

That contribution in three games for Sheffield Wednesday against his former club greater than 45 while wearing red.

The first of those three came as Charlton narrowly won at Hillsborough through Johnnie Jackson’s free-kick; a crucial result on their way to beating Wednesday to the title. His struggles at the back saw the “Miguel Llera, he ain’t got a clue” chant coined, and it was heard each time he played against his former employers thereafter.

He certainly didn’t have a clue in two fixtures at Hillsborough against the Addicks in 2014. The first, Charlton’s FA Cup victory over the Owls, saw him in typical error-prone form, while the second involved him somehow being unable to cope with Marvin Sordell, proving particularly helpful for at least two of his three goals.

Maybe the fact he so regularly wilted against his former club is another sign of his failure to deal with high pressure moments, and to regain composure after a mistake.

It’s easy to paint a picture of Llera as centre-back incapable of going a game without making a comical mistake, but that isn’t quite true. Many of his games for the Addicks, and for Sheffield Wednesday, passed by without incident.

But the moment he made one mistake, or lost composure for a second, he was gone. There was no recovery. More lost than one of his aimless punts upfield.


 

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Part One|Part Two

Missing Out on Bulot a Big Blow

There are few positive connotations linked to a most improved player award. In youth football, it is regularly awarded to the kid who can’t kick straight, but managed to make an accurate pass once midway through March. I, impressively, managed to win one for both football and cricket when I was even small(er) lad.

But Charlton’s most improved player in the 2014/15 season was not deemed as such out of sympathy. Frederic Bulot’s transformation from network flop and forgotten man under Bob Peeters to fan favourite and key figure under Guy Luzon was remarkable.

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There was a time, and with justification, where he was placed next to Yohann Thuram as a figurehead for all the things wrong with Roland Duchatelet’s strategy. A player effectively sent against his will from one network club to another, who was not suited to English football, and was seemingly unwilling to put the necessary effort in to prove himself.

Such was his lack of playing time that his disappearance to Equatorial Guinea for the Africa Cup of Nations was hardly noted. Appearances had been limited, and positive contributions even less so.

In fact, upon his return from international duty with Gabon, he was seen as a problem rather than a solution in Luzon’s first few weeks in charge. The sort of player that was seemingly being picked on basis of Duchatelet’s influence, and not on ability. His dreadful performance as a second striker in the traumatic defeat to Norwich City providing further evidence for such a belief.

But, rather emphatically, Bulot forced his critics, of which there were plenty, to change their views. So impressive was he in the run of seven wins from nine that he managed to make himself something of a fans’ favourite.

Part of that, of course, was his rather generous interaction with supporters on social media, but it was largely as a result of his pace, power, and genuine threat from both flanks that made him such a central figure to Luzon’s counter-attacking football. On the occasions where Bulot was a victim of Luzon’s end-of-season rotation, the Addicks lacked a degree of potency.

Whether it was the change of head coach, his trip to the AFCON, or simply a case of needing time to acclimatise to the English game, something clicked for Bulot in the final few months of the season. If he had have been a player permanently contracted to Charlton, there would have been a level excitement about what he could achieve if he was able to replicate such form over the course of the season.

Instead, there has been a summer of doubt over whether Bulot’s loan deal from Standard Liege would be made into a permanent switch. His importance to the side towards the end of the season meant resolving the complexities of making his move to SE7 a permanent one should have been one of the main priorities over the summer.

But it would appear those in charge of transfer dealings were complacent. Maybe they anticipated that, giving that Liege were part of the network and good relations existed even after Duchatelet sold the Belgian club, Bulot’s transfer would happen naturally.

For I cannot work out any other reason why the Gabon international was today presented as a Remis player, and not setting off for Belgium with Charlton.

Of course, it’s probably something as basic as the French club offering more money to Liege, and to the player himself, but they should not have been in a position to do that.

In a period during and post-Duchatelet’s ownership of Standard Liege, all parties were wanting the deal to happen. Transfers, of course, are complex, but with greater urgency the deal should long since been completed before Remis even voiced an interest.

We were told for a number of weeks that the deal was merely being delayed for the sake of being delayed. You got the impression that the transfer was just a few signatures away from being completed. Bulot kept dropping hints, and was even seen training with the Addicks during pre-season.

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For all intents and purposes, he was once again a Charlton player. So to have him taken from under our noses is incredibly frustrating.

You could even argue that loaning Bulot in the first place was a little odd. There was evident little interest in keeping him at Liege, so why did he need to make a temporary switch to another network club?

Even if his failure had extended throughout the season, and there had been no desire to keep him, he could have simply been moved again. Bulot would have simply joined the list of players signed on permanent deals and then sold or loaned under Duchatelet.

Which leads onto what is now the more pressing matter – finding a replacement for Bulot. Unless you’re of the opinion that playing centre-mids and strikers out of position is the way to go, it’s hard to argue that Charlton’s wide options are currently incredibly limited.

Not only is there a worry that, having failed to secure Bulot, our position in the transfer market isn’t as strong as the first three additions to the squad suggested, but Duchatelet’s record of replacing players is incredibly sketchy.

There have, of course, been a number of excellent additions, and those made this summer appear promising. But when the list of failed transfers is so long, it’s a little hard to feel positive about the likelihood of a player being brought in who will have the same impact as Bulot did.

Especially from the off, with one of the main benefits of signing Bulot being that he had seemingly already adapted to the Championship, and no risk would have to be taken on a player who, although impressive on paper, might not be able to apply himself in England’s second tier.

Not only has a player with experience of the Championship been missed out on, but one with knowledge of Charlton and Luzon’s system lost.

Having the same front four that proved so potent during the winning run to turn to, and not have to implement a new system around new signings would have been incredibly beneficial. You feel now that a great deal of the momentum gained from that period, not helped by the sluggish end-of-season performances, is now lost.

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I don’t dismiss the idea that players will come and go season-to-season no matter how the club is being run, but there was a decent skeleton on show throughout February and March. That’s now missing a few bones.

And time is running out to properly insert new ones. Of course, the transfer window does not shut for another month and a half, but leaving key signings so late isn’t wise. In an ideal world, I’d have liked the basis of the squad to be together already.

The situation, involving Bulot and in general, is by no means a complete disaster. There were plenty of positive signs during the first half at Park View Road on Saturday, not least the style of football that was being played.

And additions required to the starting XI, although excessive for this time of year, are not outrageous. A centre back and a winger gives the Addicks a decent enough first choice side, but the second half did show, even with a few absentees, how paper thin the squad remains. I think you can be excused for mixing positivity with a touch of anxiety.

I’m not at all completely rubbishing the idea that an adequate replacement for Bulot will be found, nor that the squad won’t be sufficiently bolstered, but I find it hard to dismiss the failure to sign the winger as nothing to worry about because someone better and as effective will simply be plucked from Duchatelte’s pool of transfer targets.

It means that, as has seemingly been the case with every obvious error made under Duchatelet’s ownership, a true judgement can only be made once a replacement has been found. Regardless of how hard it is to replace disappointment with relatively blind faith.