For Bristol City to cement their image as a developing and progressive club, the consequence of serious investment from owner Stephen Lansdown, there was a real need for them to avoid an immediate return to League One last season.
To suffer relegation in their first season back in the Championship since 2012/13 would not have created crisis, but there would be no foundation for the Ashton Gate ground improvements and the club’s strong ambitions to stand on.
Those foundations cracking somewhat midway through the campaign, as a run of torrid performances and just one win in 11 left the Robins in the bottom three and saw Steve Cotterill dismissed, but the base ultimately very sturdy come its conclusion.
Relegation not just comfortably avoided under Lee Johnson’s stewardship, with seven of his 16 games in charge won, but impressive and attractive football played to add another layer of opportunity to those foundations. Enough seen in those final weeks of last season to suggest that City can be a competitive force in a full campaign with Johnson in charge.
And with a summer that has seen the club break its record transfer fee to beat a host of other Championship clubs to the signature of Lee Tomlin, who performed so impressively on loan at Ashton Gate last season, the expectation cannot simply be to maintain their second tier status.
That image as a developing and progressive club most certainly cemented, but now it must be proved.
The Head Coach – Lee Johnson
Ever since taking his first steps into management with Oldham Athletic three years ago, Johnson was always likely to end up in charge at Ashton Gate.
His 174 league appearances only playing a small part in his natural affiliation to the Robins, with the primary reason for it coming as a result of his father’s success as manager of the club. With a promotion to the Championship and a play-off final appearance, though one that ultimately ended in defeat, Gary Johnson’s cult hero status something that meant his son was bound to follow in his footsteps.
And though Johnson Jnr has some way to go before emulating his father’s success or status at Ashton Gate, there is no doubt the 35-year-old has made an impressive start to life as leader of the Robins.
The threat of relegation avoided, and avoided with a style of football played that has provided promise for the future. Defensive solidity, led by the impressive Aiden Flint and a return to 4-4-2 from Cotterill’s 3-5-2, allowing for a more threatening brand of attacking football, which was most certainly helped by the arrival of Tomlin.
So too has there been praise from within for the way that Johnson has begun to promote youth at Ashton Gate, with academy graduate Joe Bryan suggesting that fellow youngsters can now “see a clear pathway”.
The appointment of Johnson in general furthering the idea that City are a club with the potential to progress, and he certainly a boss that can oversee that.
The air of positivity created by Johnson and his side towards the end of last season has been marvellously maintained by the club’s efforts in the transfer market. A real buzz among supporters as a consequence.
The most obvious reason for that being the signing of Lee Tomlin, returning to the club after being the catalyst for their comfortable move away from the relegation zone during his loan spell last season. Other Championship clubs apparently interested, but £3m spent to lure the skillful playmaker back to Ashton Gate.
The signing of the more conservative midfielder Gary O’Neil, arriving on a free following his release by Norwich, seemingly as important. Experience, leadership and intelligence added to what is a young and expansive side. His influence certainly useful.
Having signed a 33-year-old, City’s focus on being a developing club full of promise was reaffirmed by the arrivals of 20-year-old Josh Brownhill, who joins from Preston having impressed on loan at Barnsley last season, and 21-year-old Callum O’Dowda, who fits perfectly into Johnson’s system having impressed in an exciting Oxford United side.
Oh, and they’ve signed an Icelandic centre-back from Juventus, which is fun. Hordur Bjorgvin Magnusson, who is 23 and has spent the previous two seasons on loan at Serie B club Cesena, seen as one that the Robins can develop.
Those signings building on a strong group already in place, which showed its potential on several occasions last season.
Richard O’Donnell making the goalkeeper jersey his own after arriving from Wigan in January, with Frank Fielding providing a more than useful alternative.
And O’Donnell will stand behind the only position where City are arguably weaker than they were last season. Nathan Baker and Aden Flint’s partnership at the back became formidable towards the end of the season as a four-at-the-back formation was more consistently used, but the former has returned to Aston Villa after his loan spell ended. Derby loanee Alex Pearce also heading back to his parent club, meaning youngster Zak Vyner, who made four appearances last season, and new signing Magnusson, may need to step up.
Depth in the full-back positions, though, with Mark Little and Luke Ayling, who can fill in at centre-back if required, on the right, and Scott Golbourne and Derrick Williams on the left. Ayling and Golbourne, having impressed since his January return to the club, the favourites to be given the starting roles.
Midfield options equally impressive, with the new additions needing to push ahead of Korey Smith, Bobby Reid and Marlon Park for a starting role in the centre, while Luke Freeman and Joe Bryan very handy wingers. Tomlin likely to play between the midfield and attack, but is versatile enough to play in a fixed position if needed.
And up top, there’s the goals of Jonathan Kodjia, who scored 20 in his first season in English football. Kieran Agard providing support, and Aaron Wilbraham, who will probably have to be used sparingly at 36, provides a very handy alternative.
Quite a talented side, with plenty of potential.
Fans View: Jordana Vivian (@jordanavivian_)
Having consolidated your position in the Championship last season, has your summer activity proven you are a club that wants to progress beyond celebrating survival in the second tier?
Among that activity was the permanent signing of Lee Tomlin. How important is it to have him back at the club after impressing last season?
Lee Johnson has made a marvellous start to life as City boss. What can he achieve with this club?
It’s fair to say that many were underwhelmed by the appointment, however they were proved wrong by some of the football we’ve already seen. The style, quickness and quality has already improved, with also many thanks to assistant John Pemberton, and his activeness in the transfer window has been a breath of fresh air. I fully believe he’s the man to take us forward and echo or even go beyond what his dad Gary did for us.
“Many were underwhelmed by the appointment, however they were proved wrong by some of the football we’ve already seen”
Does this season, given the investments made and money spent, need to include a push for the play-offs, or is it more realistic to demand small steps over a number of seasons?
And finally, where will you finish this season?
Ambition doesn’t always mean certain success, but there’s a chance it might do in this scenario. 9th
The rise of Burton Albion has put many of my efforts on Football Manager, which I happen to be quite proud of, to shame. In a more realistic setting, where financial restraints and status play more decisive roles, the Brewers have incredibly climbed from non-league football to the Championship in eight seasons.
And unlike with some clubs who have risen up the pyramid at a similar pace, there can be no accusation that Burton have bought their success. The investment of long-standing chairman and local lad Ben Robinson, who has had a connection with the club for over 40 years, sustained and sensible, reaffirming the rather fairy tale nature of this rise.
At the very least, their efforts to achieve promotion from League One last season, with many tipping their relatively weak squad to struggle in the third tier, were quite remarkable. A second successive promotion, and a second successive promotion that was not derailed by a manager doing a marvellous job departing for a Championship club during the campaign. Nigel Clough completing the job that had been started by Jimmy Floyd-Hasselbaink in getting the Brewers over the line and into the Championship.
In fact, it is consistent clever managerial appointments that have been the backbone of this climb up the divisions. Clough the man that oversaw Burton’s rise through the non-league structure before returning in December, Paul Peschisolido consolidating in League Two when that appeared a testing challenge, and Gary Rowett pushing the club towards League One.
But there is a fear, as Burton prepare for their first season in the Championship, that the managerial expertise of Clough alone will not be enough to make one of the smallest clubs to ever feature in the second tier competitive.
They have, of course, exceeded expectations and done more than simply compete when they were expected to be overwhelmed in the past, but avoiding relegation would arguably be a greater single achievement than anything managed previously.
The Manager – Nigel Clough
It felt fitting that the man who began Burton’s climb up the divisions and towards the Championship was able to complete it. Clough in charge for the final 20 games of last season, having led the Brewers 709 times previously, and doing just enough to get the Brewers over the line on goal difference.
The end to season a little unconvincing and nervy, with just two wins from the final nine games, but that taking nothing away from an incredible overall achievement, and the affection supporters of the Pirelli Stadium club feel towards Clough.
But while that affection remains unrelenting, there has to be a question from the outside as to whether Burton are best placed to compete in the Championship with Clough in charge. His understanding of the club definitely a bonus, but his record in the Championship previously with Derby County is a little underwhelming.
Nothing to prove to the Pirelli Stadium faithful, but maybe something to prove to himself. That he can manage a team in this division, especially one with a squad that requires managerial advantage to be able to survive.
The chances of Burton competing with other Championship sides in the transfer market even less likely than competing with other Championship sides on the pitch, so the quality of their additions need to be considered in the context of that.
So while the signings made by the Brewers this summer might be a little questionable had they been made by other second tier clubs, that they largely come with experience and some previous evidence of performing at this level is enough to make them decent recruits for Clough’s side. At the very least, they approve it.
Centre-back Ben Turner frozen out by Cardiff City in recent seasons, but has both Premier League and Championship experience. Competition for the signature of Kyle McFadzean came from League One Sheffield United, but the defender did a decent job for MK Dons last season. Chris O’Grady, who joins on loan from Brighton, has a poor goal-scoring record, but can provide a physical presence up top.
The alternative being 23-year-old midfielder Jackson Irvine, who arrives from Ross County with four Australia caps to his name. A partnership with skipper John Mousinho likely, or possibly new addition Lee Williamson, with Burton thankfully maintaining the majority of their squad from the previous campaign.
A failure to retain Mark Duffy, having been on loan at the Pirelli for the duration of last season, the only real disappointment, though Lloyd Dyer will replace him, with Shane Cansdell-Sherriff, Anthony O’Connor and Robbie Weir players who played some sort of role in promotion but have been allowed to depart the club.
But is that improvement enough to make this squad competitive in the Championship? It would appear they’re still going to be relying on collective strength, some outrageous fight, and a bit of good fortune.
If Burton are to make some sort of impression in the Championship, or at least avoid relegation, then utilising the cohesion and collective strength of the group that brought success last season will prove crucial.
A group that, even in League One, was stronger than the sum of its collective parts. The Brewers not exactly bursting at the seams with quality players.
Jon McLaughlin a reliable performer in goal, but will be playing in the Championship for the first time, while reserve goalkeeper Stephen Bywater is yet to make an appearance having been signed from the Kerala Blaster, who play in the Roger Johnson-approved Indian Super League, in January.
McLaughlin is likely to stand in front of a new-look back four irrespective of the fact that the Brewers conceded just 37 times in the league last season. Phil Edwards, an ever-present at right-back, likely to keep his place, but Turner and McFadzean look set to form Burton’s centre-back partnership, with new signing Ryan Delaney battling it out with Damien McCroy for the left-back spot. Tom Flanagan and Tom Naylor, who featured heavily in League One, alternative defensive options.
As is skipper John Mousinho, but the signings of Turner and McFadzean means he’ll probably spend most of his time in the centre of midfield, with Irvine or Williamson likely to fill the void left by Weir’s departure. Callum Reilly, Calum Butcher and Matt Palmer, who impressed after returning from a loan spell at Oldham, the other central options.
Slightly less flexibility out wide, however, with the failure to re-sign Duffy more acutely felt irrespective of Dyer’s arrival. The signing of O’Grady will mean he’ll probably partner Stuart Beavon in attack, with Lucas Akins and Marcus Harness, whose appearances were limited last season but did sign a new contract in the summer, competing with Dyer.
Beyond that, though, there is very little in the forward positions. A real need to recruit before the season begins.
Fans View: Dan Tate (@_DanTate)
So, erm, how on earth do Burton Albion find themselves in the Championship? It’s an incredible rise.
I am as surprised as anybody! From watching my team struggle for years in League Two to then suddenly go on a rise like this is incredible. The majority of the credit has to go to Gary Rowett. After the sacking of Paul Peschisolido, Gary brought the togetherness of the whole squad and club together and had a plan. Ever since he took charge our main asset has been our defence and is our focal point, we scraped 1-0 wins a lot, not the best football to watch but got results.
We got to the play-off final with Gary and lost 1-0. I wasn’t too Disappointed as it provided confidence for the seasons to come.
The season after Jimmy (Floyd Hasselbaink) took over and we were all sceptical because of his managerial inexperience. However he carried on the pattern of winning. Promotion to League One was achieved comfortable, and may were expecting a mid-table finish in our first season in that division.
But after another incredible start to the season the fans believed once again. And though many were 50/50 on Nigel Clough coming in after Jimmy departed, I was happy to see him back where he belongs. After a successful first spell with us years ago I was confident he could get us over the line, which he did.
“From watching my team struggle for years in League Two to then suddenly go on a rise like this is incredible”
And how on earth do a club like Burton Albion hope to survive in the Championship?
To survive we need to work as a team, and attract hard working players. And of course Clough has great experience at Championship level so he knows the ins and outs of this league which will be vital to help keep us safe.
Nigel Clough wasn’t particularly successful at Derby County or Sheffield United, but has hero status at Burton. Do his efforts for the club mean he warrants a full season in charge regardless of whether he struggles, or will tough decisions need to be made if results aren’t achieved?
It’s hard to say. Ben Robinson has a great relationship with Nigel and he puts all his trust in him so it will be interesting if results don’t go well what will happen. Clough gets accused of not having a Plan B in games if things go wrong, which was seen a few times last season. However I have my faith in Clough and hope he can see out all the season regardless of what happens.
Your ability to compete in the transfer market is obviously limited, but the signings made so far and the ones that appear to be on the horizon seem to be of reasonable quality, with some experience added to the squad. How would you assess your summer activity?
I am impressed with the signings made so far. We have brought in a lot of experience at Championship level with the likes of Chris O’ Grady, Lee Williamson, Lloyd Dyer and Ben Turner. These players will definitely benefit the more inexperienced players and younger players and hopefully they all gel well together to be successful. I would like to see Clough bring in a more natural goalscorer, someone like Adam Le fondre for example, guaranteed goals wherever he has been at.
Regardless of who is signed, is your greatest strength the cohesion and the determination to defy the odds of what is already at the club?
Most definitely, all the players work for each other and it’s great to see. You look at Leicester last season and Iceland in the Euros, both exceeded expectations with a similar sort of mentality and I hope we can take inspiration from that.
Finally, where will you finish this season?
I think with the signings we’ve made so far, there’s enough quality to stay up. 20th
Would not at all be surprised if they manage to prove their worth in the division, having proved everyone wrong in the previous two seasons, but it appears a tough ask. 24th
Possibly the best summation of Cardiff City’s 2015/16 season is the fact that they managed to finish in eighth despite winning back-to-back league games only once after September. A constant flirtation with the idea of being competent, but consistency lacking.
Middlesbrough, Brighton and Derby beaten, but points dropped against Charlton, MK Dons and Rotherham. A run of five wins in eight, which took in those back-to-back victories, leaving the Bluebirds a place and two points from the top six with seven to play, but just one further victory meaning they were ultimately two places and six points behind. It, as has been the case post their relegation from the Premier League, not quite clicking at the Cardiff City Stadium.
The reign of Russell Slade, therefore, not necessarily a complete failure, but his inability to make his side more ruthless and his overall style of football meaning most Cardiff supporters were never truly won over. No tears shed as the boss was first moved to a backroom position, before heading off to manage Charlton.
Like Slade’s reign itself, however, the conclusion of it hasn’t quite delivered what supporters were hoping for. A conclusion wanted, yes, but so too was a managerial appointment to provide genuine excitement and hope for the coming season. That could deliver where Slade could not.
The appointment of Paul Trollope, therefore, not what most had in mind. An appointment from within of a man who has not led a club since 2010, and is seen by many as a way of the ever unpopular Vincent Tan once again cutting corners in his running of the club.
A reputation of sorts gained from being on Chris Coleman’s Wales coaching staff, but certainly not the sort of appointment that will reconnect apathetic fans, and one that doesn’t appear to provide the Bluebirds with the improvement they require to make a season-long and consistent challenge for the top six.
The only consistencies at Cardiff seems to be frustration and disappointment. A whole heap of pressure on Trollope, Tan and the club to change that.
The Head Coach – Paul Trollope
It’s quite an odd situation that the most promising aspect of Trollope’s chances of succeeding as head coach of Cardiff has also created a degree of frustration.
For the 44-year-old has spent a large part of his summer concentrating not on improving the Bluebirds and their squad, but as a key and respected member of Wales’ coaching staff. Obviously not an opportunity Trollope was likely to turn away, nor should he have, but you can certainly appreciate why frustration existed.
His importance within the Welsh camp noted, and the experience gained from helping to take them to the semi-finals of the European Championships unmatchable, but the distraction from his duties with Cardiff a little concerning ahead of a season in which there is a desperate to hit the ground running.
A need to settle the uncertainty and doubt over appointing a boss that, though has that positive experience with Wales to call upon, has not led a club on his own since 2010, and was part of Slade’s indifferent reign.
In fact, in saying that “the target is the play-offs and hopefully promotion”, even Trollope himself is aware of the pressure he is under.
Pressure extended by Tan’s comments that “an attractive style of football that Cardiff City fans love” will be played and that there will be a “return to the Premier League” with Trollope in charge.
And, arguably most importantly, there is pressure provided from supporters who need to see an improvement upon the efforts of the man Trollope worked under last season, and for what appears a rather questionable appointment to pay off.
A hope that that time spent with Wales this summer will have provided a positive impact on his managerial ability, rather than left Trollope with too much to do in too little time to make the Bluebirds a competitive force this season.
Cardiff’s business has been a touch slow, especially considering the summer began with something of a clear out of underperformers on high wages.
Kenwyne Jones, who spent the second half of last season on loan at Al Jazira and has since new joined new MLS franchise Atlanta United, Ben Turner, snapped up by Burton, and Filip Kiss among those to be released, while a seven figure sum has apparently been received in order for flop Eoin Doyle to join Preston permanently.
Scott Malone, the left-back who has had an indifferent time at the Cardiff City Stadium, also departing to Fulham in a swap deal that sees Jazz Richards move the other way. The full-back someone that Trollope will be aware of, given that he’s been a part of the Wales set-up.
Though he is trumped in the most exciting signing stakes by the arrival of Benin forward Frederic Gounongbe from Belgian side Westerlo. The 6’3 28-year-old score 22 times in 45 games for his former club, and there’s hope his physical presence will mean adapting to the Championship shouldn’t prove too difficult.
Elsewhere, the permanent signings of Danish forward Kenneth Zohore (KV Kortrijk) and Dutch winger Lex Immers (Feyenoord) has been celebrated after they both impressed on loan with the Bluebirds in the second half of last season.
Otherwise, however, it has been something of a quiet summer on the recruitment front for Cardiff.
A positive of continuity is that Trollope will already be aware of the strengths and weakness of the players available to him, and have an early indication of how to organise the group effectively.
A group that Trollope will know contains a respectable amount of quality, but lacks a certain amount of depth.
David Marshall continuing between the sticks, despite several years of apparent interest from Premier League clubs, marshalling a back four that is likely to feature experienced and solid duo Bruno Ecuele Manga and Matthew Connolly in the centre, with Richards and former Manchester United left-back Fabio on either side.
Sean Morrison and Lee Peltier among those providing alternatives, but maybe a little bit more depth at the back wouldn’t go amiss.
Certainly no issues with depth in midfield, where Aron Gunnarsson’s efforts for Iceland during the summer possibly make him a more serious contender for a starting place. Peter Whittingham, Joe Ralls, Kagisho Dikgacoi, Stuary O’Keefe and Tom Adeyemi, who appears to have been given another chance after a loan spell at Leeds United, the long list of options available.
It’s unquestionably the centre of midfield where the side’s greatest depth can be found, with both options out wide and in attack reflecting those available at the back. Quality initially, but lacking a bit beyond that.
Craig Noone and Anthony Pilkington the sort of wide men whose inconsistencies frustrate, but can perform exceptionally at Championship level, while Immers can be deployed out wide despite favouring a more central position, but youngsters Matthew Kennedy and Kadeem Harris have failed to impress since arriving at the club with potential, with both having relatively unfruitful loan spells in League One last season.
While in attack, there is a degree of uncertainty as to whether Adam le Fondre and Federico Macheda, both binned by Slade and sent out on loan last season, have a future at the club.
That they both appeared in something of a reserve XI at Forest Green Rovers in pre-season indicates they will need to prove themselves again if they are to remain at the club, but Gounongbe and Zohore being the only other strikers at the club suggests they might be needed.
Regardless, to be competitive this season, greater depth required.
Fans View: Daniel Lewis (@Daniel_Lewis92)
Paul Trollope. Really the appointment that will make up the gap between yourselves and the play-offs, or simply Vincent Tan doing things on the cheap?
When the announcement was initially made earlier this summer, I’d say that 90% of the fanbase was left completely underwhelmed by the decision. To replace Russell Slade (manager) and Paul Trollope (assistant) with Paul Trollope (manager) and Russell Slade (director of football) – near enough a straight reversal of positions – was quite simply bizarre. The other 10% were happy to just see a change of manager, no matter who took over from Slade.
You can never read too much into pre-season results, of course, but I have already been completely won over by Trollope. He has given younger players hope of breaking into the team, having been completely overlooked during Slade’s near-two season tenure, while also experimenting with a couple of new formations – one of which being a 3-5-2 which worked so well for Wales at the Euros. Still too early to tell at this stage, then, but I believe a stronger play-off challenge is on the cards this time around.
The apathy that has existed among supporters towards the club for the majority of Tan’s reign still appears in place. Is the only way that goes is by him selling up?
Since reverting back to blue 18 months ago Tan, to his credit, has remained relatively quiet. That may suggest that he has lost all interest, but his purchasing of other clubs across the globe – FK Sarajevo in Bosnia, KV Kortrijk in Belgium and Los Angeles in the United States – suggests that he is now willing to take a more backseat role and let the professionals do the work on the field.
As hated as Tan was for large parts of his spell in South Wales – and still is among many who have since stopped supporting the club – he has in the past received some unfair press. At this moment in time he is well on track to being respected by fans once again, though giving Trollope some further funds would of course further helps his cause!
You appear relatively settled at the back and have decent quality in the centre of midfield, but do your attacking options concern you at all?
Taking a look around the Championship this season, even with the likes of Newcastle United and Aston Villa dropping down, I still believe Cardiff boast the best array of central defensive players. That is largely why Trollope has opted to go with the five-at-the-back system with two wing-backs, who are also well suited to playing high up the field.
Central midfield, as you say, is also well equipped and no further strengthening is needed there. The fact that Icelandic hero Aron Gunnarsson is unlikely to play too much football over the coming months says a lot. Attacking options last term were scarce to say the least, not helped by the fact Adam Le Fondre and Federico Macheda – two decent players to have at this level – have failed to live up to the hype. Anthony Pilkington was shoved up top for the final third of the season and was rather hit-and-miss, so hopefully Trollope can bring in another new face to help in that department – our promotion hopes may depend on it.
Overall, what is required for Cardiff to have a decent chance of breaking into the top six this season?
What’s that old adage about the table never lying? Well last season it did! How Cardiff were still in with a shout of promotion come the final fortnight of the campaign I do not know, but had we sneaked into the top six at Sheffield Wednesday’s expense it would have been daylight robbery. A vast improvement is therefore needed to ensure we do not go backwards, with the new man in charge hopefully being the right person to help take us up another level.
A lot will depend on how the likes of Villa and Newcastle, as well as familiar faces in Derby, Wednesday and Brighton, fair over the next 10 months. Defensively City are ready to mount a challenge for a play-off place, but we must improve when it comes to attacking transitions – particularly at home to the ‘lesser’ teams which too often proved our undoing under Slade.
“Defensively City are ready to mount a challenge for a play-off place, but we must improve when it comes to attacking transitions”
And finally, where do you think you’ll finish this season?
Similar to last season in terms of position, I’ll go with 7th in Trollope’s first season in charge. Unlike Slade, though, I believe the style of football will prove to be far more entertaining which will hopefully help bring supporters back in their droves. Here’s to hoping!
Very much unconvinced that appointing Trollope is the stroke of genius some, mostly called Vincent, believe it is, which isn’t to say they won’t be there or thereabouts again. 8th
Heartbreaking and tiresome for Derby County supporters, a little bit hilarious for the rest of. Two play-off failures, with an impressive capitulation that meant a top six place was thrown away in between, making this season another season where promotion is the only acceptable outcome after those other seasons where promotion was the only acceptable outcome for England’s premier bottlers.
But the Rams, always enjoying extended moments throughout seasons where they appear the Championship’s most impressive side before unexplainable losses of form occur, are in serious danger of losing that bottlers tag.
The appointment of Nigel Pearson, the man who laid the foundations from which Leicester City won the Premier League title, gives them genuine cause for optimism untainted by the fear that they’ll ultimately throw away a promising position.
For every dilly ding dilly dong, there were two reminders not to forget the impact that Pearson had on the Leicester side. A man respected by supporters of the champions, and English football in general.
As such, it already feels misplaced to belittle Derby as bottlers. With such a strong manager in charge, they’re creating greater fear than they have in previous season. A greater expectation that they will maintain their best form throughout the course of a season.
But so too can caution be found in the strength of their opponents. The Championship appearing very strong this year, or at least the top sides are an obvious class above the rest.
A need not only for Pearson to drill consistency into his side and make sure they avoid complacency, but also improve the Rams in order for them to keep pace with the best this division has to offer.
The Manager – Nigel Pearson
With a former England manager and Carlo Ancelotti’s Real Madrid assistant, Derby’s head coaches in their period of impressive bottling have not exactly lacked status or perceived talent.
But the appointment of Pearson gives the Rams arguably their strongest and most impressive boss in recent years. If only because he can lay claim to providing the assist for Leicester to become champions of England.
Part of that assist came from turning a team that had impressively capitulated in a play-off contest, the Foxes’ infamous defeat to Watford, into title winners the following season. The Leicester side that Pearson won the Championship with showing no signs of a hangover, and it performing mightily impressively throughout the 13/14 campaign.
That experience as vital in Derby’s situation that the respect the 52-year-old gained for keeping Leicester in the top flight two seasons ago.
A bonus for supporters of the Rams is that Pearson is joined by Chris Powell, a man well-liked around the iPro following his playing stint at the club, in the Derby dugout. The flat-cap wearer, with Championship experience as a boss at Charlton and Huddersfield, certainly appears a handy number two, and has worked with Pearson previously.
Maybe quite oddly, considering a new boss is in charge and the finances available, Derby haven’t been active at all in the transfer market. Nigel Pearson placing faith in the undoubted quality that already exists in the squad he has been handed.
In fact, Derby’s summer has consisted of allowing those no longer wanted to depart, and desperately attempting to hold onto those players of quality that are likely to lead a promotion push in the coming season.
Conor Sammon, Stephen Warnock and Raul Albentosa among those departing, while long-serving centre-back Jake Buxton has joined Wigan Athletic.
Elsehwhere, several bids from Burnley for Jeff Hendrick, who impressed for the Republic of Ireland during Euro 2016, have been rejected.
Let’s be honest. This Derby County squad is one that should have worked its way out of the Championship long before this season. Its quality far exceeding many other sides in the division.
Their defence, marshalled by Scott Carson, is a very solid unit. Richard Keogh, despite calamity never being too far away, and Jason Shackell forming one of the best centre-back pairings in the division, while Cyrus Christie and Marcus Olsson are the sort of attacking full-backs that don’t completely ignore their defensive duties.
The depth in midfield, both in terms of those that like to sit back and more creative individuals, is extraordinary. So much so that losing Hendrick would not be a complete disaster. The Irishman competing with Craig Bryson, Bradley Johnson, Jacob Butterfield, Will Hughes and George Thorne for the three available central positions.
There’s also quality on the flanks, with Derby’s forward trio containing wingers that are very much direct and attack-minded. Johnny Russell and Tom Ince marvellous, with competition provided from Andreas Weimann, Nick Blackman and Abdoul Camara. All of that creativity making regular goalscorer Chris Martin’s life quite a simple one.
And from a personal point of view, there’s something quite lovely about Darren Bent being coached by Chris Powell. More lovely than the quality in the rest of their squad, obviously.
Fans View – Grace Charlton (@graceecharlton)
Another season that promised promotion, but delivered a bit of a capitulation. What went wrong last time out?
Last season was a strange one. To start with the results we were getting weren’t a reflection of how well the team were playing, but as we got better results and more wins our performances looked less and less convincing.
After Christmas the performances became more of a problem when we struggled to beat League Two Hartlepool in the FA Cup, however no one would have suspected Clement’s departure even with this dip in form, so when it came in early February it was a shock to everyone.
With no one seemingly lined up for the job, it was down to Wassall to take charge for the remainder of the season and, along with the help of Redknapp, I think he surprised quite a few people with how well he managed a top 6 championship side, but it was never going to end in promotion for us.
The bloke that laid the foundations from which Leicester City won the Premier League is now in charge at Derby. Surely Nigel Pearson’s influence is going to prevent some sort of horrendous capitulation this year?
I’d like to think so, but after watching Derby fail to gain promotion for the past three seasons anything is possible.
With Pearson and Powell on the management team and the newly appointed Idiakez as part of the coaching staff, I’d like to think this season won’t be another disaster for Derby.
However, many people are judging Pearson based on what happened with him at Leicester and the expectations surrounding him and the club are high. Morris needs to give Pearson time to cement the foundations here like he did at Leicester, and the fans don’t need to be on his back if everything doesn’t go perfectly during his first season.
Patience is key with Derby, it will all come into place eventually.
“I’d like to think this season won’t be another disaster for Derby”
What is it that Pearson needs to do get this very talented Derby side to perform for the duration of the season?
Consistency is the main problem with Derby. The performances aren’t consistent enough and neither are the results. We have a large squad and if he can find a team that can work well together and play well together then that’s all he’ll need to do. Last season we struggled with team selection as there are too many talented players for the positions available and it’s down to finding the right team without rushing into what’s seemingly best on paper and sticking to that.
You’ve not been active in the transfer market, but is there really a need to? This squad is good enough, isn’t it?
If we don’t get hit with injuries like we did at the start of last season with both Hughes and Bryson being injured in the first game, we should be fine. The squad is big enough and I don’t think we need to add any more players, we’re covered in all positions and with people like Forsyth and Thorne hopefully returning this season we’ve got more than enough.
Many people say we don’t have a prolific goal scorer apart from Martin, but if they’re given the chance, I’d like to think Bent and Blackman could surprise a few people.
And finally, where will you finish this season?
I’m feeling optimistic about this coming season I think it’ll be top six.
This is it. Maybe. Possibly. Probably. 2nd
Five consecutive top twelve Premier League finishes, in addition to an appearance in the Europa League final, followed by relegation and two horrendous Championship campaigns, that latest of which seeing the club capitulate to 20th.
Fulham now undoubtedly one member of a not exactly small group of former Premier League clubs that appeared stable in the top flight only to have since imploded in quite impressive fashion.
Not even the appointment of a competent and previously successful Championship head coach, in the form of Slavisa Jokanovic, could halt the decline of the Cottagers that had been continued by Kit Symons. The Serbian, who won promotion with Watford, winning just six of the 22 league games he oversaw in the second half of the season, with three of those coming against the three relegated clubs.
All this despite Fulham’s squad, particularly given the potent attacking threat of Ross McCormack and Moussa Dembele, having obvious strengths. A side that should not have been anywhere near the bottom three, with the incompetence of other sides a major factor in them not getting drawn into a relegation battle.
It does, therefore, create this concern that Fulham are in such a state of unstoppable decline that only complete revolution will resolve the club’s issues. The worry that they will provide this season’s answer to Charlton and Bolton not a completely irrational one.
But so too, despite three seasons of struggle and the summer departure of Dembele, must slightly irrational optimism challenge the fear at Craven Cottage. A season that will begin with Jokanovic, whose reputation remains intact and has the support of Fulham fans, in charge, giving him the opportunity to build and progress quickly as he did at Watford.
There must, however, be a strong and obviously encouraging start to the campaign. The mood in West London rightfully fragile, and supporters unlikely to have the patience to deal with signs that suggest another horrendous season.
The Head Coach – Slavisa Jokanovic
There is an acceptance that the blame for Fulham’s slump to 20th last season does not lie with the manager who arrived just before the turn of the year. The club in a state of decline that encouraged such a fall.
But that isn’t to say there isn’t a strong degree of disappointment with how Jokanovic’s first 22 games in charge of the Cottagers panned out, with much more expected from a boss that led Watford to automatic promotion in 2014/15.
The Serb seen as the man to revitalise Fulham, but half-hearted efforts and horrendous defensive performances continued to occur beyond his appointment. That defensive weakness, with more goals conceded than any other side outside of the bottom three, one of many issues that must be addressed going into the new season.
There remains, however, hope that Jokanovic can bring about improvement to his side.
Not least from the man himself, who demanded that the Cottagers spend this coming season “fighting for a different target”. A demand that his side competes for a top six finish once he has instigated the change required.
At the very least, to see how Fulham compete after a first summer working under Jokanovic provides a certain amount of intrigue.
It’s probably not ideal when your head coach is taking to Twitter at the start of pre-season to say that “we need new additions over the next few days to build a competitive squad for the season”.
Especially given the frustration in losing Dembele to Celtic without a fee being paid, in addition to a number of first time players departing. Dan Burn, Jamie O’Hara and Alexander Kacaniklic among those released, goalkeeper Andy Lonergan (Wolves), winger Ben Pringle (Preston) and young midfielder Emerson Hyndman (Bournemouth) sold, in addition to Maarten Stekelenburg (Everton) and Kostas Mitroglou (Benfica) finally leaving the club on a permanent basis.
But it would appear that indirecting your owner on social media is a new form of 21st century football management. Fulham’s additions since then have been promising.
Particularly pleasing that a defence that conceded 79 times last season has been heavily strengthened. Centre-back Tomas Kalas, who has done a decent job with Middlesbrough over the previous two campaigns, arriving on loan from Chelsea, Belgian full-back Denis Odoi signed from Lokeren, and Jaz Richards sent to Cardiff with Scott Malone arriving in his place.
That in addition to David Button, a goalkeeper who has proven himself to be a solid performer at this level, signed from Brentford, and Austrian centre-back Michael Madl, who impressed while on loan at the Cottage in the second half of last season, making his move a permanent one.
Improvements made in midfield, too, with the composed Kevin McDonald signing from Wolves, and Togo international Floyd Ayite joining from Bastia having scored 14 times in 53 games for the Ligue 1 club. While Sone Aluko, who can also play out wide, appears to be the replacement for Dembele having signed following his release from Hull City.
The concern, however, is that rumours about McCormack’s future continue. Norwich apparently interested, and his failure to travel with Fulham on a pre-season camp, needing to remain in West London for a spot of treatment, not helping. A desperate need to keep a hold of him in order to challenge in the coming season.
McCormack among several in Fulham’s squad that, despite last season’s disappointment, possess undoubted quality and may well improve with a full pre-season and season of Jokanovic’s management.
Richard Stearman, a natural leader at the back who arrived with a reputation of being among the best centre-backs in the division following his signing from Wolves last summer, one of the many needing to improve after an indifferent season. Tim Ream, Madl and Kalas competing for a place alongside him.
The versatile Kalas also adds to the quality in the full-back positions, providing cover to Ryan Fredericks and Odoi. Youngster Jack Grimmer and new signing Malone offering additional depth.
But it’s in the centre of midfield where Fulham are arguably at their strongest. New signing McDonald joining a wealth of options, which include the evergreen Scott Parker, the creative Tom Cairney, and the exciting Lasse Vigen Christensen.
A need, however, for greater depth in the wide areas. New signings Ayite and Aluko appear most likely to start on the flanks, but youngster George Williams the only real option beyond that unless Fredericks is deployed further forward.
That arguably the only area of Fulham’s squad with genuine question marks over it, though another forward would be useful regardless of whether McCormack is retained. The potent Scot joined by target man Matt Smith, Cauley Woodrow, who has enjoyed a positive pre-season, and Aluko, should be not be required out wide, as the Cottagers’ options up top.
All in all, it’s a decent squad. Improve the options further forward, and lock McCormack in a box until September, and it’ll be a very good one.
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Despite a struggle last season, is there excitement over what Slavisa Jokanovic can do at the club with a full pre-season under his belt?
It does finally feel like we have a proper manager in charge which we haven’t been able to say for a few years now, we had an incredibly poor squad last season so I find it exciting what we can do with his own crop of players.
” We have a proper manager in charge which we haven’t been able to say for a few years now”
What does Jokanovic need to instil into this Fulham side in order to have it competing.
We need to find confidence again and some stability and with that the results should come. The quality he has added so far should naturally bring that.
You’ve been active in the transfer market, losing a few first-team players but making some useful signings. How would you assess your squad?
The majority that have gone out the door have been woeful to be honest so it’s been great to get rid of the deadweight. Losing Dembele is obviously a blow and makes it worse the fact he has gone to the Scottish Premier League a move that makes no sense when it seemed a few big clubs were after his signature. The only other loss is Hyndman, a great central midfielder who I had high hopes for but he just seemed too lightweight for the Championship. Bournemouth will make a lot of money out of him one day.
Incomings so far have been promising. Button from Brentford will provide good competition for the number 1 shirt with Betts which will help develop him even more. Kalas on loan from Chelsea should give us some much needed steel at the back but we still need another CB with a proper defensive head on him. McDonald has been a target for quite some time now and from what I remember from the Wolves game last season was that he controlled the majority of the game from midfield and knew how to break up play well. The other signings we have made Malone, Odoi, Aluke and Ayite I don’t know anything about other than they all have pace which is something we have been screaming for now for years.
Especially having lost Moussa Dembele, how important is it to keep a hold of Ross McCormack?
Currently it seems almost certain that he is off which I have already come to terms with, he has basically single-handedly carried us that past two seasons and I will be like many devastated to see him leave but if we can get a big sum of money for him at his age than its good business. I’m just gutted we didn’t get Gayle to replace him.
Finally, where will you finish this season?
Not a clue at the moment as it’s just too hard a league to predict, but we have to be aiming for a play-off place and with the signings we have made and the rumoured players coming in I think that is more than possible.
A lot depends on whether McCormack can be kept, but Jokanovic can certainly make the Cottagers competitive in his first full season in charge. Among the chasing pack. 10th
Last season was Huddersfield Town’s joint-lowest league finish (19th) since promotion from League One in 2012, with their final points tally (51) the smallest in their four consecutive seasons in the Championship.
And yet, it was a season that offered more reasons for optimism, showed greater signs of progression, and provided a stronger belief that the club were not simply settling for bottom-half obscurity than any other since their return to the second tier.
For the appointment of German born David Wagner, replacing the acceptable but unexciting leadership that many believed Chris Powell to be offering, has rejuvenated a club that were seemingly in danger of simply accepting their role as one of the Championship’s also-rans.
The Wagner Revolution it almost immediately labelled, which might have appeared odd to those on the outside with results not obviously improving. The Wagner stabilisation more accurate.
But results didn’t always match a high quality level of performance. The occasional disappointing displays qualified by the fact that Wagner’s inherited side weren’t quite suited to playing his brand of high-energy and pressing football. A genuine feeling of excitement among regular visitors to the John Smith’s Stadium.
And the excitement has been extended by a summer of positive additions to the Huddersfield squad as Wagner compiles a side capable of playing the ‘gegenpressing’ style inherited from his time working with Jurgen Klopp at Borussia Dortmund. Highly rated signings, largely from Wagner’s homeland.
There are of course plenty of examples of clubs recruiting from abroad and those players failing to adapt to the conditions of the Championship. There no guarantee this revolution will result in relative success.
But this a positive revolution, rather than a coup. With intelligent individuals making intelligent decisions for the benefit of the club, and an attempt being made to build a Huddersfield that can compete in the top half of the Championship.
At the very least, optimism and positivity is not misplaced.
The Manager – David Wagner
Lee Clark, Simon Grayson, Mark Robins and Chris Powell. The managers that had previously led Huddersfield since their return to the Championship had been safe, conservative and hired or fired with a single goal in mind – maintain the club’s status in the second tier.
So in appointing Wagner last November, owner Dean Hoyle made something of a statement of ambition. The Terriers no longer willing to simply accept Championship survival and, given their relative financial limitations, prepared to take an alternative strategy to challenge in the top half of the division. Unquestionably a gamble.
But a gamble that, without getting carried away while results remain indifferent, appears to have paid off. Those indifferent results not the focus of Huddersfield supporters, but the style of football and overall positivity brought to the club by the former Borussia Dortmund reserve team boss.
There is, however, no getting away from the fact that the importance of results cannot be downplayed in Wagner’s first full season of his so-called revolution. With a host of his own signings made, there is a need to turn the positive influence seen last season into points.
Not necessarily pressure, given the support that Wagner has, but an expectation that the German born coach will provide an improvement in results with a side assembled to his liking.
In what was always going to be an interesting and exciting summer of transfer activity, as Wagner shaped a side capable of playing his aggressive pressing football, even the most optimistic of expectations have been surpassed with the perceived quality of additions made to Huddersfield’s squad.
So much so that the departure of long-serving, and long-serving occupier of the treatment room, centre-back Joel Lynch, who has joined QPR, is barely a footnote. The only first-team departure of any real significance.
For the focus is on the 12 (T W E L E V E) first-team players that Wagner has brought to the club during the summer. Many of them, as expected, German or with connections to the Bundesliga.
That loss of Lynch made even less significant by the fact Huddersfield’s centre-back options have improved significantly. Michael Hefele, captain of his former club Dynamo Dresden, Christopher Schindler, arriving at the John Smith’s Stadium from 1860 Munich for a club record fee, and Jon Gorenc Stankovic, who joins from Borussia Dortmund with Wagner suggesting “it is not normal” that a player of the 20-year-old’s potential would sign for the club, giving Huddersfield some handy defensive options.
The left-back position, largely unsuccessfully filled by Jason Davidson last season, has also been improved with a signing from Germany, as former Borussia Dortmund man Chris Lowe arrives from FC Kaiserslautern, while midfielder Ivan Paurevic, a Croatian who previously played for Russian club FC Ufa but has also worked with Wagner at Dortmund, also joins the Terriers.
Elias Kachunga, a forward who struggled to make an impression at Bundesliga side FC Ingolstadt last season despite being the club’s record signing, rounding off the German-related invasion with a season-long loan in Yorkshire. Wagner having faith in the 24-year-old’s natural talents, and hoping he’ll provide competition to Nahki Wells.
So too, however, have Huddersfield improved their squad with what appear to be excellent additions from other English clubs.
Competition for the goalkeeper’s jersey between two young stoppers as Wales international Danny Ward arrives on loan from Liverpool, and Joel Coleman, with 43 appearances in League One despite only being 20, has been snapped up from Oldham Athletic.
And promise and potential is a theme that runs throughout those signed from Premier League and Football League clubs. Not least in midfield, with the need for energy and creativity in Wagner’s pressing and passing style of play.
Jack Payne, having shown marvellous playmaker qualities at Southend, joins on a free, Kasey Palmer, a name familiar to Charlton fans having come through the club’s academy at the same time as Joe Gomez and having a similar reputation, joining on a temporary basis from Chelsea, and Australian Aaron Mooy, signing for Manchester City this summer after impressing for connected club Melbourne City, also spending a season on loan at the John Smith’s. Serious creative quality among that trio.
Signing Rajiv van La Parra, who showed promise during a spell on loan from Wolves last season, on a permanent basis a nice bonus to a very promising summer of activity for the Terriers.
The questions to ask, of course, is whether those signed from abroad will adapt to the English game, whether those with potential will step up, and whether Wagner be able to shape his side into a functioning unit.
But a gamble like this undoubtedly the only way a club like Huddersfield, with certain financial and status restrictions, could hope to make improvement.
Given the seemingly endless number (yeah, I know I said 12 earlier, leave me alone) of new arrivals at the John Smith’s Stadium, the importance of those that remain is not to be underestimated.
Especially among the experienced members of Huddersfield’s squad. Tommy Smith, Mark Hudson and Martin Cranie might not be regular starters, but their leadership and influence in creating cohesion will be important.
Jonathan Hogg, irrespective of the additions made to the midfield, more likely to be a regular starter, along with the talented Harry Bunn, the inconsistent Sean Scannell, and the prolific Wells. At least some continuity.
There are also some hope that Philip Billing, Joe Lolley and Kyle Dempsey, youngsters that played bit-part roles last season but were able to impress when they were involved, will be able to provide more prominent assistance to the side during this campaign.
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What with the Wagner Revolution and all that, is the most excited you’ve been for a Championship season in quite some time?
Definitely since we returned to the Championship, as for the first time since 2012 we have recruited plenty of players and on first look recruited quite well. Forget the marketing of the Wagner Revolution – Chairman Dean Hoyle has returned to the formula which initially got Huddersfield Town fans excited when he initially took over the club… cheap season tickets and backing the manager in the transfer window.
With all of that, it’s the first season since Town’s return to the second tier that relegation hasn’t been at the back of my mind and I suspect many other fans feel the same way. However, I won’t get as carried as way as some when they believe we will be outsiders for promotion!
What is it, aside from the transfers made, that makes Wagner so likeable and impressive?
I jest… Wagner has come in with a positive attitude and looks to achieve the best he can with the group of players he has. The previous incumbents always seemed to have an excuse as to poor performances or results and it was usually that other clubs have more money than us. While that was true, it doesn’t exactly instill faith in the team or the club and what Wagner has done has totally reversed that.
Wagner has got us playing fairly attractive football, he wants his side to be as fit as possible and get in the face of the opposition – all qualities that wins over many sections of fans from those who like, as Big Sam would say, ‘tippy tappy bollocks’ to those who are advocates of getting stuck into the opposition. Wagner’s positivity, his ‘terrier philosophy’ and his ambition is what the club needs right now and is what makes him so impressive.
Are there any fears about too much change occurring at once, and those players signed from Germany not adapting to the English game?
Our esteemed Chairman said at the end of last season that we wouldn’t sign more than 3/4 foreign players as not to create a disjointed dressing room – think Newcastle! However, already this window we have signed six from abroad but the difference between those we have signed and many foreign players who join other clubs is that every player we have signed speaks brilliant English and all seem to be buying into the english way of life, well as much as stalking their social media seem to show.
There will always be a worry, though, that signing so many new players may create problems and the team may take a while to gel together. However, given Wagner’s training regime – in which there are double training sessions, training sessions before friendlies and a bonding trip to Sweden – I think the time taken to gel will be a lot less than if an English manager was in charge.
With an influx of players from Europe and relatively inexperienced signings made from England, how important are the senior pros that remain?
I think the most important players around the squad this season will be Mark Hudson and Dean Whitehead, both of whom I would’ve let go in the summer. Thankfully my football management career is virtual reality.
Wagner has been impressed by Hudson, who signed a new three-year-contract in the summer, the contract covering another year playing and then a transition into coaching. This is a very shrewd deal by the club as Wagner aims to have an English influence in his coaching team so to not rock the apple cart and help make Wagner’s transition into English football easier, as seen by his initial appointment of former Liverpool coach Mike Marsh, who has now departed to the England set up and the recent appointment of Andy Hughes from Crystal Palace.
Dean Whitehead is equally as important. An integral part of Chris Powell’s side, his style of play had to quickly adapt to the ‘terrier identity’ that Wagner brought in – essentially gegenpressing. Whilst Whitehead has the nous and the ability on the ball, his legs aren’t what they used to be so it would’ve been understandable if he had left. Rotherham offered him a deal but he has chosen to stay and fight for his place, yet I see him struggling for game time. Nevertheless, this experience and nous to pass on to the younger players and new imports will be vital as the club aims to develop this season.
Overall, regardless of whether this revolution is a success, do you applaud the club for being brave enough to take a slight gamble in order to move forward?
Again, I’d urge many to forget the word revolution, it’s marketing hype. This is a transition and one that has been long overdue. Huddersfield Town cannot compete with many in this division financially which means attracting the right players and better players will always be extremely tough. To compete with those who come down to the Championship with tens of millions in parachute payments, those who spend £35million on players and still don’t get promoted, you have to think outside the box.
Chris Schindler aside, Town have not really spent that much money and by raiding Germany and looking abroad for talent we will be getting more value for money as well as players who won’t be on the same kind of wages as their English counter parts. Is it brave? Yes. Is it necessary? More so. Clubs like Town can’t survive in the division without thinking outside of the box.
“Is it brave? Yes. Is it necessary? More so”
And finally, where will you finish this season?
12-14th. Fans expect more currently, as do other clubs fans who are looking at how many players we have signed, but this for me is a year of transition. Yes if we click we may be a surprise package but there are still deficencies in our squad which will hold us back and there are still players in our squad who aren’t good enough.
For me the major issue is not having a striker who can aerially or physically duel with Championship centre-halves. Questions also still remain over the likes of Sean Scannell and if they can provide the goals from midfield needed to catapult Town up the table too.
This is very different to other complete overhauls, given that the head coach is in charge and he’s had a season to see what’s needed in the Championship. Think there needs to be an elment of caution, but quite excited to see what can ultimately be achieved. 11th
Part Three to follow in the next few days. All information, or at least it should be, correct as of 26/07/2016. All photos my own, or marked for reuse by others.