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Home » Season Previews » Sky Bet Championship Season Preview 2015/16 – Part Two

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.

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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

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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.

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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

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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.

6

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.

12

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.

19

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.

 

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