Chris Powell's Flat Cap

Home » Season Previews » Chris Powell’s Flat Cap Championship Season Preview – Part Four

Chris Powell’s Flat Cap Championship Season Preview – Part Four

Part Three


Queens Park Rangers

A rather lethargic second tier campaign, which saw the club slump to 12th in their first season back in the Championship following relegation from the Premier League, is arguably what was needed at Queens Park Rangers. Possibly more useful in the long-term than a push for the top six. qpr-new-crest-2016-1300

For it has encouraged a change in philosophy at a club that had been held back for several seasons by unenthusiastic journeymen on large contracts. Harry Redknappitus, or something like that. A balancing of the books and future development now taking prominence.

A change beginning midway through last season, with the appointment of a relatively young manager who had shown signs of potential in the lower leagues. Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink not overseeing immediate transformation at Loftus Road, with results and performances remaining indifferent, but his shaping of his squad since then has given the R’s a more youthful and encouraging side.

In truth, a focus on creating a younger and more progressive side does not guarantee immediate success or improvement. But the attempt to improve in such a manner is certainly the right path to take for QPR, who have largely shunned long-term thinking during their period of bouncing between the top flight and the Championship.

A season, therefore, where success is not guaranteed, but you feel the club is moving in a more positive direction overall.

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The Manager – Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink

It took Hasselbaink eight league games for him to pick up his first win as QPR boss after arriving from Burton Albion in December, and only seven of the 27 league games he oversaw were won, but there is no desire to write off the former Burton boss’ chances of success at Loftus Road.

For enough was shown during his time in charge at the Pirelli Stadium to suggest Hasselbaink remains a promising appointment for the R’s. Particularly that results were gained in a stylish fashion with a relatively unfancied side.

Things didn’t quite go to plan for the former Chelsea and Charlton forward in his first six months in charge, not least with winter signings Abdenasser El Khayati and Conor Washington failing to live up to their potential, and there will undoubtedly be pressure on him to succeed in the early weeks of the campaign.

But after a summer working with this side, and adapting it to the style of football he wishes to play, is the time to make a true judgement of whether Hasselbaink is right for this job. A summer, too, that will have allowed individuals to improve and seen promising signings made.

That, however, has not stopped Hasselbaink suggesting that expectations can’t be too high in the coming season.

“We want to be competitive and challenge. The big aim is to get promotion but we can’t be crazy and stupid,” he said.

Improvement and development, both in terms of results and becoming more in tune with Hasselbaink’s philosophy, the overriding goal.

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Transfer Business

A certain type of player leaving the R’s this summer, and a certain type joining. Quite literally out with the old, and in with the (slightly) new(er).

To lose the old wasn’t necessarily consistently a positive. Disappointment that long-serving club captain Clint Hill and injury-hit midfielder Alejandro Faurlin, both with cult hero status at Loftus Road, were among those to be allowed to leave the club, but it seen as the right time for them both to move on.

Also frustration to be had in Matt Phillips moving to West Brom, with the impressive Scottish winger joining the Premier League club for £5.5m, though an acceptance existing that retaining him would have been difficult. A player that possess top flight quality.

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Fewer tears shed, however, as Armand Traore, Rob Green and Samba Diakite joined forgettable Charlton loanee Yun Suk-young in being released by the club, while Leroy Fer (Swansea) has left permanently and Sandro will probably join him before the end of August.

The exit of underperforming players on large wages, in addition to the money made from the sale of Phillips and the departure of Charlie Austin in January, giving the R’s a power, presence and pounds in the transfer market.

Power, presence and pounds that have been used relatively wisely, with the club seemingly moved on from the days of spending overinflated sums on average players.

Jake Bidwell, who arrives from Brentford, and Jordan Cousins, signed from Charlton, the greatest sign of that. Young players who have already proven themselves at this level, and have shown great commitment and determination at their previous clubs. Both wearers, Bidwell regularly and Cousins on occasions, of the captain’s armband at their previous clubs despite being 23 and 22 respectively.

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Joel Lynch another addition who, though at 28 lacks the young and promising tag, has proven his worth in this division and has characteristics that make him appear committed and determined. A little injury hit, but an excellent performer at centre-back when fit for Huddersfield.

A move also made for 25-year-old Poland international Ariel Borysiuk. Signed from Poland’s premier club, Legia Warsaw, and awarded the number seven shirt at Loftus Road despite being a combative midfielder, there is promise of quality.

A need for more, most certainly, with Patrick Bamford and Alex Pritchard linked, but that these are the sort of names that the R’s are being linked with, and not a 37-year-old journeyman who last had a good season in 2012, is promising in itself. A different direction most certainly being taken.

The Squad

It quite refreshing that in looking through QPR’s squad, it’s those with potential that stand out, rather than wondering how much Samba Diakite is being paid a week.

That true even in the goalkeeper position, where Alex Smithies, despite having over 250 league appearances to his name and already proving himself as an excellent Championship, has time to get better at the age of 26. Matt Ingram, 22, his understudy having impressed for Wycombe Wanderers and he, with just shy of 150 league appearances, not short of experience either.

In the centre of defence, there is the option to use Steven Caulker, who has returned to the club after his rather disastrous loan spells at Liverpool and Southampton. Celtic allegedly interested, however, and Grant Hall, who made a decent impression having arrived from Tottenham last season, skipper Nedum Onuoha, and new arrival Lynch all likely to be ahead of him. Another centre-back probably needed should the man once capped by England depart.

Bidwell and James Perch likely to claim the full-back positions, and depth will improve once the long-term injured Jack Robinson returns. The 22-year-old, who has impressed in the Championship previously during a loan spell at Huddersfield, suffering a set-back over the summer.

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It homegrown players, in the shape of the largely untried Darnell Furlong and Cole Kpekawa, who currently provide cover at right and left-back, and so another full-back with proven quality wouldn’t go amiss.

Young players who still need to prove themselves also to be found in the centre of midfield, though with a larger layer of proven quality above them. Ben Gladwin yet to make an impression having arrived from Swindon last summer, and in fact spent parts of last season back with the Robins alongside homegrown Michael Doughty.

They’ll provide cover to Cousins, Borysiuk, Massimo Luongo, and the more experienced Karl Henry, who are arguably all above them in the pecking order. Former Watford man Daniel Tozser, who appeared 17 times last season, also an option.

Two of those likely to sit behind Tjaronn Chery, with the attacking midfielder enjoying an excellent first season at Loftus, scoring ten times and showing real quality.

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Chery the R’s most creative and threatening attacking midfield option, particularly with wide options a little stretched. Junior Hoilett’s future uncertain and Jamie Mackie injured. Abdenasser El Khayati and Conor Washington, under real pressure to prove himself after failing to score having arrived from Peterborough in January, probably going to find themselves as the starting wingers initially.

It leaves Sebastian Polter, who appears to be Simon Makienok but German, competent, and without a nice dog, as Hasselbaink’s central forward man. It up top and out wide where options are seriously lacking, to the point that Jay Emmanuel-Thomas appears to have been given another chance, and a real need to strengthen before the start of the season.

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Fans View: Mark O’Haire (@MarkOHaire

Jimmy-Floyd Hasselbaink’s arrival at Loftus Road last season didn’t quite result in the upturn of form that many were hoping for. Regardless, have you seen enough during his period in charge to feel a sense of optimism, or are you a touch concerned?

I was a little tentative to the appointment but I’ve full support and faith in Jimmy and the staff. The club have begun to take a long term view and therefore expectations have been scaled back accordingly; performances under JFH last year weren’t always thrilling nor majorly progressive but supporters realise it’s not a quick fix.

A great deal of us felt a little disconnected from our club during the disastrous spending sprees however there’s hope and light at the end of the tunnel and I see JFH guiding us down the right path. So yes, optimistic, relatively unconcerned but realistic about what QPR will offer in the coming 12 months.

In both recent departures and arrivals, in addition to Hasselbaink’s appointment, it appears that the club is taking a slightly more pragmatic and long-term approach than in recent years. In other words, not simply allowing Harry Redknapp to blow the wage budget on a 34-year-old journeyman. The right way to go?

Absolutely. I remember crying my eyes out when we sold Les Ferdinand, Andy Sinton and co as a kid. I always wished Rangers could push on and compete as a major Premier League club but the slipper just never fit – we’re not suited to be big-spenders and although I’d never criticise the ambition, it was embarrassing and humbling and to see our club taken to the cleaners in front of the whole football population.

QPR have always been about giving local players a chance, finding rough gems and giving players the opportunity to move on to bigger and better things. I’m thrilled by the additions of Joel Lynch and Jake Bidwell this summer and 100% believe it’s the right way to go. Some supporters are getting itchy feet regarding the lack of a striker joining but I’d rather start the season without a forward than chucking cash around willy nilly on a player that’s no interest in pulling on the shirt, as we’ve seen all too often in recent years.

Nonetheless, does the ambition for this season have to be promotion, or are your expectations in the short-term a little lower than that? 

The answer to this is different for many fans. For me, after relegation I just wanted the club to consolidate last season and stay out of the news. Thankfully, we managed to get through 2015/16 without too much drama and it’s now baby steps to rebuild the club on and off the pitch. I think all 24 clubs would want a push to the play-offs but I wouldn’t say we’re targeting promotion – that can come next year.

You appear to be lacking a little in attack. How hopeful are you that Conor Washington, having struggled a little since arriving in January, will prove his worth in the second tier?

Conor’s a strange one. Clearly talented, when he has played we’ve often played him up front on his own – a position and role he’s unfamiliar and unsuited too. Seb Polter is in pole position to start in the lone striker’s role so Conor’s possibly going to be playing wide in a 4-2-3-1 right now, unless JFH decides to play two up front, which we’ve little evidence he will. I’m a little fearful for Conor’s future but I’m certain JFH and the club will have seen how and why he thrived at Posh under Westley and will do their utmost to integrate him into the team.

We are short in attack and it’s an issue that’ll be even more magnetised following Charlie Austin’s departure but I’m confident in the club and JFH to make the right calls regarding transfers. They’ll be looking at options and unless those potentials suit, I don’t see the benefit in buying players in for the sake of it.

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And finally, where will you finish this season?

The side seems strong and solid from goalkeeper, in defence and through midfield. If we can add a bit of sparkle to the attack then I’ve no doubt we’ll be a top-half team. Right now I think an 8th-12th placed finish looks most likely.

Summary

Before anything else, the lack of quality and depth in forward positions needs addressing. But the R’s, though maybe not resulting in immediate success this season, are going in the right direction. A promising mid-table finish, rather than a sluggish one. 12th

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Reading

Such is the rather uncertain position that Reading find themselves in, a drop from serious play-off contenders at the start of last season to a final position of 17th has almost lost its importance over the summer months.  erherherherher

A drop used to justify the sacking of both Steve Clarke and Brian McDermott. The speed with which both bosses were dismissed disappointing many supporters, particularly in the case of McDermott. Supporters split over the decision to remove him at the conclusion last season, but the overriding feeling being that a well-respected figure around the Madejski, having led the club to the Premier League in 2011/12, had been treated in poor fashion.

And a gamble taken on the next appointment, with former Manchester United defender Jaap Stam given his first job in management. A big name, of course, and one that has spent time as an assistant at Ajax, but that doesn’t prevent uncertainty existing over whether the Dutchman is the right man to lead a club that has been in relative decline since their relegation from the top flight in 2013.

The managerial situation, in addition to the club’s disappointing recent campaigns, ultimately a consequence of a succession of questionable ownerships. Anton Zingarevich’s reign leaving the club in a financial mess, and the Thai consortium that’s followed seemingly searching for new investment.

Financial uncertainty, and uncertainty about the stability of the club in general. Possibly best summed up by chairman John Madejski criticising the owners’ decision to sack McDermott during the press conference to announce Stam while shareholder Sumrith Thanakarnjanasuth was on the same table, with those comments criticised by club CEO Nigel Howe. Division within the club, and opposition from outside.

Not to the point where supporters are protesting, particularly given that there has been communication and reassurances, but a stage has certainly been reached where disconnection is growing between club and its fans.

This certainly a position where supporters are increasingly finding it testing to have faith in their club, and not much faith existing that a challenge for a top-six spot, especially with the managerial appointment a gamble and funds comparatively lacking, will be possible in the coming campaign.

It’s probably all worth it to watch Yann Kermrogant play, mind.

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The Manager – Jaap Stam

Maybe there is an argument that appointing a big name in the world of football as your club’s new boss in relative uncertain times will inject hope, excitement and positivity into supporters.

But the more realistic response to former Netherlands international Stam being named Reading manager is for that uncertainty to increase. Without having led a club before, there is only his reputation as a player and his words to go off in assessing how likely he is to bring success to the Royals. A complete unknown quality.

In fairness, his words are strong.

“As a player I wanted to win as many trophies as I could and as a manager I have the same ambition. I am going to do that with Reading and I am very happy to do that with this club. Hopefully we can get to the Premier League with Reading,” said Stam upon his appointment.

That followed up with a promise of “attacking football” and a “need to be creative”. Strong words, undoubtedly, but with little evidence to support them.

Pressure on the former Manchester United defender, irrespective of how experienced he was as a player, to back up his words and prove himself as a manager.

Transfer Business

If there is one certain positive in appointing a name like Stam, it’s the fact his presence will help to attract players to the club. Both from his home country, and from other English clubs.

Of the Dutch contingent, it’s Roy Beerens that arrives with the strongest reputation, despite only playing five times for Hertha Berlin last season. The 28-year-old winger, who has two caps for his country, failed to make an impact in two seasons with the German top flight club, but was an impressive performer for AZ Alkmaar previously.

Midfielder Joey van den Berg, who “is physically strong enough for the Championship, is technically strong and…has a winner’s mentality” according to Stam, arrives from FC Heerenven with a disciplinary record that Joey Barton would admire, while 22-year-old defender Danzell Gravenberch, interestingly signed before Stam’s arrival on the recommendation of technical director Brian Tevreden, joins from Dordrecht with Dutch youth caps to his name.

There have also been signings from abroad without Dutch connections. French forward Joseph Mendes, who has the pace to also play out wide, arrives from Le Harve with a pretty mediocre goal-scoring record, while Finish goalkeeper Anssi Jaakkola arrives from South African side Ajax Cape Town, a club owned by the Ajax of the Netherlands where Stam has worked as a coach.

And from England comes John Swift, who signs on a permanent basis from Chelsea having spent last season on loan at Brentford. The 21-year-old midfield, who had a mixed time at Griffin Park but showed a decent amount of promise overall, replaces Aaron Tshibola, with Reading unable to turn down the £5m offered for their exciting young midfielder.

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Thankfully, Tshibola is the only real loss that has been suffered by the Royals this summer, though there were a few suggesting that the decision to allow Hal Robson-Kanu to leave after his efforts in France might have been a mistake. Anton Ferdinand and Simon Cox also released.

Michael Hector is no longer a Reading player, having spent last season on loan at the Madejski following a transfer to Chelsea, while the somewhat indifferent performing Ola John, Matej Vydra and Lucas Piazon are among those to return to parent clubs after loan spells, but these are departures the club would have prepared for.

The Squad

They’ve got Yann Kermorgant. Yann Kermorgant. Yann Kermorgant!!!!!

No but seriously, Reading have Yann Kermorgant. Nothing else really matters, does it? Apparently so.

Yann Kermorgant

And despite Kermorgant’s presence in attack, it’s probably in midfield where the Royals have the greatest strength and depth. Both centrally, where George Evans, Danny Williams and Norwood will compete for places with Swift and Van den Berg, and out wide, with Stephen Quinn, Garath McCleary, the returning Paolo Hurtado and Beerens available to Stam.

The Dutchman could also deploy Deniss Rakels and Mendes out wide, but they’re likely to be needed up top, with the Royals lacking a little bit of depth in attack. Dominic Samuel, having spent last season on loan at Gillingham, may get a chance in the first-team squad.

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But it’s at the back where Reading’s biggest concern is, certainly in terms of depth. Chris Gunter and Jordan Obita quality full-backs, but nothing in reserve. Captain Paul McShane an experienced centre-back and promise shown by 21-year-old Jake Cooker, but only the inexperienced Gravenberch offers an alternative.

Handy, then that there’s decent goalkeeping options, with new signing Jaakkola competing with Jonathan Bond and Ali Al-Habsi for the starting berth.

Fans View – The Tilehurst End (@TheTilehurstEnd)

I sense, after a succession of questionable ownerships and on-the-pitch stagnation, a sense of apathy among Reading supporters. How true is that?

I think that was certainly the case at the end of last season, another year that promised much and delivered very little. There was a feeling the club was drifting aimlessly without any real direction but the past few weeks have slowly seen optimism return to the Madejski Stadium. Suddenly one of our three co-owners seems to be taking direct interest, there’s a clear vision and the squad is being rapidly reshaped. Of course we’ll need to see it sustained before we totally let our guards down but for now there is a growing sense of cautious optimism.

Does the appointment of Jaap Stam address that, in creating some excitement, or is there more concern that an inexperienced boss is in charge?

Initially a lot of fans were skeptical about a manager with such limited managerial experience but Stam’s been doing well on the media front and has helped bring a bit of a buzz back to the place. Of course we’ve seen other former United legends like Solskjaer flounder so again we’ll just have to wait and see. Whatever happens fans just want to see someone given a proper go after seeing 4 managers leave in the past 3 years.

A number of signings have arrived from Europe, which has had mixed results at other Championship clubs in the past. Are you concerned they might not adapt to the English game, or is this the route Reading have to go down to compete at the top of the division?

I think your second point nails it really. There’s no way we can compete financially with the likes of Villa, Newcastle or even Derby so we have to be increasingly creative and take a few more risks to stay competitive.

I think the key here is that we’ve been signing players with points to prove rather than just mercenary types who are on their way down so they should at least be giving it 100% even if they’re slow to adapt. All fans want to see are players giving it their all so if these new signings do that, we can take a dud or two!

Every little bit of worry and concern is worth it to watch Yann Kermorgant play though, right? 

Well when he puts in performances like he did at The Valley last season! Sadly we didn’t get to see the best of Yann last season but with a full pre-season behind him and a new strike partner or two I’m hoping this will be a good year!

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And finally, where will you finish this season?

I could honestly make a case for anywhere from 1st to 24th but my gut tells me it’ll be somewhere between 6th and 12th. If we get on a good roll and stay injury free anything can happen but if we struggle early and the new signings take longer than we hoped to gel I could just as easily see us sucked into a dog fight. Still, if you forced me to make a pick I’d say 10th.

Summary

An uncomfortable situation off-the-pitch, and an uncertain one on it. Very hard to predict what impact Stam and his signings will make, and despite my doubts I think that with time and patience, it could work out quite nicely. One of the many clubs in this division where if it all clicks, somthing positive will happen. A need, however, for exceptions to be relatively low in his first season in charge. 17th

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Rotherham United

As Neil Warnock, having overseen an incredible run that kept Rotherham United in the Championship, confirmed he would not be remaining at the club, there was a danger that uncertainty and an element of crisis would replace what appeared to be reassurance and stability. gewgwegewgew

Six points from safety and with just one victory in ten matches after three games of Neil Warnock’s reign, the Millers appeared condemned to relegation at the end of February.

But, as a consequence of the experienced boss’ nous, an 11 match unbeaten run followed that saw Rotherham finish nine points above the bottom three despite losing their final two games of the campaign. The turnaround barely believable, and supporters desperate for Warnock to remain at the New York Stadium.

His departure meaning that Rotherham’s advantage, explicitly the brain of the 67-year-old, had been lost. Not a month after their survival had been confirmed, the threat of relegation in the following season appeared substantial.

Warnock, however, made a key point as he departed the club. “The club needs somebody to commit themselves now to actually take it forward,” he said. The Millers possessing a desire to be ambitious and progressive – not something the Yorkshireman felt he could commit to with him only wanting one more year in management.

It seems, therefore, that the appointment of Alan Stubbs is a more logical one with the long-term ambitions of Rotherham in mind. A young boss, who has shown potential at Hibernian, with the capability of leading the Millers over the coming years.

But so too did Warnock make the point that any thoughts of challenging at the top end of the Championship for Rotherham are “a few years away yet”.

The main thing is consolidating in the Championship, have a steady season where they’re not flirting with relegation and get the infrastructure correct for when they could make a push,” he quite rightly said. Stubbs must first provide stability, before further ambition can be shown.

As a result, this will not be an easy season for Stubbs and his Rotherham side, and achieving Championship survival would again prove a success for a club not yet in a position where it can push on.

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The Manager – Alan Stubbs

It mattered not that Stubbs had failed to achieve promotion from the Scottish second tier in two consecutive seasons with Hibs. His overseeing of the club’s dramatic Scottish Cup win, their first in 114 years, meant his job at Easter Road was one with a great deal more security than many managers could claim to have.

Consequently, even Stubbs himself can see the “risk” involved in moving to Rotherham. A testing job, with the club comparatively weaker than many of the opposition they will face in the Championship, and one that the former Everton defender takes on without the same level of backing he had from Hibernian supporters.

But, with his ambition for the Millers high, the 44-year-old will hope to experience similar backing from home fans at the New York Stadium. That will undoubtedly be the case if he can deliver on what has been said is the ultimate aim – to be “around the play-offs.”

The aim for this coming season, however, is to simply adapt. Stubbs must prove himself in the Championship, and at the absolute very least maintain Rotherham’s status in the second tier.

A need to organise what is truthfully a sub-par group of players to such an extent that they can compete in this division. The “risk” of taking this job reaffirmed by how difficult a task that may prove to be.

Transfer Business

Any potential enthusiasm and excitement created by the arrival of Stubbs certainly hasn’t been supported in the transfer market. A very frustrating summer of recruitment for Rotherham.

The main frustration coming from the failure to sign Wasall forward Tom Bradshaw. The prolific Welshman opting instead for Barnsley, a club likely to be involved in the same relegation battle as the Millers.

The frustration increased by the fact that, at the time of writing, no other forward has been found to fill the rather sizeable gap in attacking options. A situation that exists as a result of Matt Derbyshire, Rotherham’s main forward option last season, heading off to Cyprus, in addition to the much less frequently used Leon Best and Luciano Becchio being released.

An attempt to find an experienced midfielder with leadership qualities, to replace the departed Paul Green, has also been unsuccessful, with target Dean Whitehead opting to remain and fight for his place at Huddersfield.

Two young, more attack-minded, central midfielders have arrived, however, with 22-year-old Will Vaulks joining from Falkirk, and 22-year-old Jake Forster-Caskey, who has regressed slightly in recent seasons having shown early potential at Brighton, arriving on loan.

The signing of winger Anthony Forde, who impressed at Walsall, also made as contracted (Emmauel Ledesma and Jerome Thomas) and loanee (Chris Burke and Andrew Shinnie) depart, while Lewis Price joins as reserve to the experienced Lee Camp having been released by Sheffield Wednesday.

Price replacing the released Alex Cairns and Adam Colin, with a clear out also taking place in defence. Lewis Buxton, who has spent the summer on trial at Charlton, former Addick Frazer Richardson, and Lloyd Doyley, who spent a part of last season training in South East London, among those to be let go.

With Paddy Kenny and Danny Collins also included, in addition to the four loan deals that expired at the end of last season, it all amounts to 17 players no longer a part of Rotherham’s squad, and only four added to it. Not ideal.

The Squad

It no surprise, therefore, that Rotherham’s squad appears a touch weak. At least, with the excellent Camp, the quality between the sticks cannot be questioned.

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There’s reasonable numbers in defence, which was exploited by Warnock at the end of last season with five recognised defenders frequently deployed, but the quality is debatable. Journeymen for as far as the eye can see.

Former Addicks Richard Wood and Greg Halford, having spent earlier parts of the season out on loan, became important players towards the conclusion of the campaign, with Wood determined in defence and Halford acting as a shield between midfield and the backline.

Kirk Broadfoot, a more natural full-back, was often used in the centre, with the experienced Stephen Kelly making a decent impression at right-back, and former Sheffield Wednesday man Joe Mattock a regular at left-back. January signing Aymen Belaid, Tom Thorpe, who returns from a loan at Bradford City, and the versatile Joe Newell providing defensive alternatives.

So too, if required, could Richard Smallwood fill in at centre-back, but he excelling for the Millers as a combative midfielder. Skipper Lee Frecklington often alongside in the centre, with Vaulks, Forster-Caskey and Chris Dawson, who joined from Leeds in January but is yet to make an appearance, providing competition.

But it’s forward positions, both centrally and out wide, where Stubbs’ side appears particularly weak. Danny Ward, the embodiment of a frustrating and inconsistent winger, Newell, and Forde the only senior natural wide men at the club, though Forster-Caskey can fill in and even Halford played wide right once last season.

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While centrally, there’s effectively nothing. Jonson Clarke-Harris set to be out for the majority of the season through injury, which does at least keep him away from penalties. The need for additional strikers desperate.

Fans View: Josey Webb (@Joseywebb)

A part of you must have been resigned to relegation after Charlton’s 4-1 win at the New York Stadium in January. Just how impressive a job did Warnock do, and how disappointed were you not to retain him?

The defeat to Charlton was disappointing, but how easy we made it for them was even worse as it never looked like they were under any sort of pressure. Remember this was a team that had a horrible away record and were below us in the table, to crumble so easily was hugely disappointing.

However, it was still January and with Bolton up next there was still hope. I think the last minute defeat in that game was the one that got alarm bells ringing and it was obviously the final game for Redfearn before we sent an emergency call to Warnock.

I think the job Warnock did was terrific, the players looked down and out, and even though it wasn’t pretty we went on a great run and in typical Warnock style suddenly remembered how to get points.

At first I would have loved to have kept hold of him, but when it started to drag on it felt to me like his heart wasn’t in it so don’t blame him for walking away a hero. He would only have done a maximum of one season so we could have potentially been in exactly the same situation in a year’s time.

Warnock for Stubbs. The best of a bad situation or an opportunity to build something with a young boss in charge?

Warnock did a great job, but we all knew it was a short term fix. Even if he had given us another season, it was still only a quick fix and the sort of players he likes to sign would do a job for him but we need to start looking to build something. I think Stubbs is a good appointment, probably the best of the realistic names we were linked with, but as he has never managed at this level it was always going to be a risk. He seems ambitious so hopefully he can get some way to realising his ambitions with Rotherham.

What does Stubbs need to do to replicate the form under Warnock, and avoid another season-long relegation battle?

Not too much in my opinion, we have a core of players still here that did so well at the back end of last season and he will need to add a little more quality, especially up front. The key thing that Warnock did was give the players he had the belief that they were good enough, so if Stubbs can keep this going he already has some good players available. It will be tough, no Rotherham fan will tell you any different, but if we can stay lucky with injuries (hopefully Clarke-Harris is the only one) and he can find that elusive front man, we could be ok.

You’ve not had much luck in the transfer market. How concerned are you about the state of your squad?

The current transfer policy is so different to that of Steve Evans that most of us have felt frustrated. Over the last few seasons we have been used to seeing a couple of new players every week so it has been a dramatic change. So far though the players we have signed have looked good and it is refreshing to see a more considered approach to try and get the players we actually want. We desperately need at least two strikers, so not seeing one brought in yet has proved frustrating but the club apparently deemed Bradshaw and Gregory not worthy of the price their clubs wanted. I’m not a scout so don’t know how good these players are or will be but hopefully some movement on this front will happen before too long.

The manager seems calm about the state of the squad, even though it does look a little thin, so that is good enough for me. We will see what the next two weeks bring.

And finally, where will you finish this season?

I don’t share the optimism of Alan Stubbs that we will finish top 10 but that is ok. Ask any Rotherham fan and most will be happy to stay up again. It would be nice to do things a little more comfortably and start to build and improve. I’m going to go for 18th.

Summary

Will undoubtedly be involved in a relegation battle again. Unsure if they’ll survive this one. 23rd

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Sheffield Wednesday

In the immediate aftermath of their play-off final defeat to Hull City, the overriding emotion for supporters of Sheffield Wednesday would have been one of disappointment accompanied by a feeling of an opportunity missed. Sheffield-Wednesday-Crest (2)

And why wouldn’t there have been? No reward for an impressive season, the Owls’ first where a serious attempt to return to the Premier League was made since their relegation in 2000, and instead the pain of falling agonisingly short having to be dealt with. Failing to achieve promotion having been 90 minutes away from it always carries a sense of injustice.

But once those reactionary feelings died down, supporters of Wednesday could reflect on an incredible first full season under the control of owner Dejphon Chansiri. His ambition reflected in a rise from 13th to 6th, the push for promotion exceeding the realistic expectations that were in place, and the play-off final defeat providing a platform to build form rather than crushing what was already built.

For the Owls, unlike many who suffer play-off final defeat, head into the new season in a stronger position than they started the last. Carlos Carvalhal with a year of experience in the Championship to his name, a successful and cohesive side maintained that played exciting football last season, and a handful of quality additions made to a squad that wasn’t in need of an overhaul.

The despite of last season not damaging to want Wednesday want to achieve. There no reason why they can’t compete for promotion once again.

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The Head Coach – Carlos Carvalhal

There was an element of uncertainty as Carvalhal arrived at Hillsborough last summer. Something of a gamble by Chansiri to dismiss the well-liked Stuart Gray, who had led the Owls to a comfortable mid-table finish, and replace him with a boss without experience of English football who had been something of a journeyman throughout Europe.

But such is the success that Carvalhal enjoyed in his first season in England, and the attachment he shares with the club and its supporters, it seems strange that there was ever any uncertainty at all.

The Portuguese boss justifying Chansiri’s decision throughout the season, constructing a mightily impressive side that played positive and attractive attacking football on their way to the play-off final.

His achievements not only in bringing about collective success, but getting the best out of players who had previously frustrated. Fernando Forestieri’s reputation sometimes preceding him, but a much more consistent performer than during his time at Watford, Barry Bannan one of the division’s best playmakers having struggled to settled elsewhere, and Gary Hooper a potent threat having underwhelmed at Norwich.

And with a year’s experience of the Championship, it can be suggested that Carvalhal may prove to be even more impressive in this campaign. His understanding of what’s needed to succeed in this division greater, and occasional mistakes less likely.

Mistakes like persisting with that rather questionable coat for much of the season…

Transfer Business

There no doubt that frustration existed towards Wednesday’s transfer activity for much of the summer, but the arrival of Almen Abdi and Daniel Pudil has done more than appease.

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The positive of the general lack of activity in the early parts of the summer being that their relatively successful squad from last season, with its strength in depth in most areas, remains intact. That the impressive Ross Wallace has agreed a new deal the sort of news to match that of a new signing.

And the signing they did make, in addition to recruiting Jake Kean as a reserve goalkeeping option, appears a decent one. Carvalhal never afraid of going direct should it be required, and Steven Fletcher has proven himself to be a real handful for Premier League, and Ligue 1, defences to deal with in recent seasons. Not the best goal-scoring record to complement his other attributes, but his strength, intelligence and ability to bring others into play will certainly prove useful.

But there were grumbles that not enough was being done to build upon the success of last season, especially given the club’s financial resources and their ambition. The attempts to re-sign Pudil effectively becoming something of a rather dull saga, and little else happening.

So to finally secure the left-back on a permanent basis, in addition to his Watford teammate Abdi, has reaffirmed the club’s ambitions, and quietened a handful of supporters that were maybe growing a little uncomfortable with the lack of activity.

The Squad

As proven last season, Wednesday’s side is incredibly talented and well-deserving of their place in the Championship play-offs. But it does lack a little bit of depth in certain positions.

Keiren Westwood one of the division’s best goalkeepers, and has consistent performers Tom Lees and Glenn Loovens stood in front of him to form a solid central defensive unit. Right-back Jack Hunt another impressively consistent member of this Wednesday side, and the signing of Pudil crucial given the lack of other left-back options. A same, therefore, that cover for a very strong and consistent defensive unit is lacking.

Depth questionable at the back, but certainly not in the centre of midfield. So much so that Lewis McGugan managed just 12 appearances last season, unable to dislodge the yellow-card hungry Sam Hutchinson, the creative Barry Bannan or the tireless Kieran Lee. Former Addick Jose Semedo and fellow Portugese Filipe Melo also available to Carvalhal.

Lee also played out wide at times last season, and he may be required on the right of the midfield again should Wednesday play a 4-4-2. The former Oldham man preferred to Marco Matias in that position for much of the season, and even deployed there while Aiden McGeady was on loan with the Owls. Ross Wallace making the left wing his own, and Jeremy Helan not really a serious threat to his starting place. Even with the arrival of Abdi, who can play out wide in addition to the Bannan-role, you’d probably still want another winger.

Nonetheless, the need to improve the depth of Wednesday’s wide options is made less desperate by the fact Carvalhal could deploy the attacking 4-3-3 used at times during the final weeks of last season in this campaign. Fernando Forestieri, Gary Hooper and Lucas Joao forming quite the potent forward trio, with Fletcher and Atdhe Nuhiu also available.

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Fans View: Alexandra O’Neil (@alexandraswfc)

Is the idea that you overachieved last season, rather than failed in the play-off, an important thought to hold going into the new season?

Definitely, no one expected the play-off final after certain performances last season, and the whole experience was surreal. However it has raised the expectations of a number of fans for the coming season

Given those achievements last season, are your expectations higher this season? Will only promotion do?

Of course expectations have gone up, but I think hope has also increased. After years of crap we finally have a solid team with a creative manager. I’d personally be happy with play-offs again, especially with the amount of money being spent by other teams and the calibre of players being signed.

Given how many overseas managers and coaches have failed in the Championship, just how impressive a job has Carvalhal done in turning Wednesday into serious promotion contenders?

Unbelievable. Obviously the investment has helped, but he’s managed to get a team of frees (Bannan), bargains (Forestieri) and players who were already there (Lee, Lees, Westwood) looking like a force to be reckoned with. Being Wednesday’s first foreign manager we were all a little sceptical, but he’s proven he’s got his head screwed on unlike some of the other foreign managers.

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You’ve not done a great deal of strengthening to your squad, the Pudil situation continues to drag on, and it can be suggested you lack depth in certain areas. Is all that a worry, or are you still well-placed to challenge? (Asked prior to the signings of Pudil and Abdi)

A lot of our fans are panicking over these, and I must admit the Pudil saga is one that worries me. However, the best players we signed last year weren’t ours until the end of August, so I’m not too worried. We haven’t lost anyone from our squad, and judging by pre-season a few of the injury prone players from last year are looking strong. We do need additions, but I’m confident in Chansiri and Carvalhal to deliver.

Finally, where will you finish this season?   

5th. We won’t have enough to compete with the relegated teams, and if we don’t add any more quality I can’t see us being near automatics. I’ll live in hope, though.

Summary

Make the handful of improvements to the squad required, and will challenge again. 5th

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Wigan Athletic

With an ambitious young chairman who understood what was required to revitalise the club, a well-supported boss who showed a commendable amount of managerial talent in his first season in the dugout, and a group of players that have reignited supporter interest at a time when apathy was growing, Wigan Athletic return to the Championship in a much healthier state than the one they were in when they left it.erherherherne erh reh es

For such was the atmosphere around the DW Stadium as the Latics dropped to League One two seasons ago, the belief that the club who spent eight years in the Premier League and won a FA Cup would immediately bounce back was not entirely universal. The unpopular reign of Malky Mackay, with a group of players lacking drive and commitment, leaving behind unavoidable baggage. No longer the nation’s overachievers that continue to defy the odds, but a club regressing at pace.

The answer an almost total squad revolution, with young players and the best League One had to offer making up the bulk of those coming in. Gary Caldwell, a natural leader on the pitch but in his first full season in management, deserving of endless praise for gelling a newly formed unit together, and getting it to play attractive and dominant football. A quite staggering 82 goals scored, and just two defeats after mid-December, en route to lifting the title.

The events on the pitch reflecting the attitude of 25-year-old chairman David Sharpe, taking over from grandfather Dave Whelan, and reversing the notion that the Latics were in an unavoidable state of regression.

In fact, as Wigan return to the second to the second tier, they arrive with a sense that they are a progressing and developing unit. The ethos of last season maintained, with the lure to spend and attract larger names ignored.

Maybe, therefore, not quite in a position where a return to the Premier League can be considered. There will be times where inexperience among their staff and squad will be exposed in the cutthroat nature of the Championship.

But maintaining, and building upon, a young and hungry side gives the Latics an excellent chance of laying a foundation in the second tier from which further development can occur, and supporter interest and attachment can remain high.

Oh, and Will Grigg’s on fire. There, I said it. We all happy now? Good.

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The Manager – Gary Caldwell

A club rejuvenated, a squad revolutionised, and promotion as champions all achieved in Caldwell’s first full season in management. It no wonder that the Scot was named the LMA’s League One Manager of the Year.

For despite failing to achieve Sharpe’s rather ambitious target of achieving 100 points, Wigan’s first season under Caldwell was a huge success and provided further encouragement for the future. The club escaping from the clutches of disaster under his leadership.

Always likely to have the full support of Latics, given that he won the FA Cup as captain of the club, and always likely to make for a good boss, given his strong qualities as an on-the-pitch leader, the impressive campaign in League One has merely cemented a strong wave of support behind the 35-year-old boss. Appointing a previously untried manager on the basis of his connection with a club in relative crisis a gamble, but one that has certainly paid off.

The task at hand for Caldwell to prove his worth in the Championship, and that he can show adaptability and compromise when needed against stronger opponents. His attacking play, utilising the youth and energy in his side, commendable, but greater defensive resolve will be required in periods throughout the coming the campaign.

Something, with the full DW Stadium’s backing, he’s likely to be able to achieve.

Transfer Business

Considered strengthening to a core that will largely have no issue in making the step up from League One to the Championship.

It in the centre of defence and midfield, as bit-part players Leon Barnett and Chris McCann depart, where the main additions have been made. Dan Burn, who has shown promise but so too a keenness to commit horrendous errors in his Football League career, joins from Fulham, while experienced Jake Buxton arrives from Derby with nothing to prove at this level.

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A bit more for 21-year-old playmaker Alex Gibley, snapped up from Colchester United following their relegation to League Two, to prove, but he has shown plenty of class and potential for the U’s, while Nick Powell, whose career has stagnated horribly since his move to Manchester United, has been offered a chance to reignite himself at the club he spent a season on loan at in 2013/14.

Further defensive additions made in the shape of Stephen Warnock, who joins permanently from Derby having enjoyed a successful loan spell in the second half of last season, and Kyle Knoyle, a young full-back signed on loan from West Ham who replaces the departed Reece Wabara.

The loan signing of Liverpool’s Adam Bogdan also made. Easy to scorn at his ability having become the brunt of much mocking following his move to the Premier League club, but his quality at this level shown during his time with Bolton.

Additionally, Emyr Huws return to the club after a very impressive loan spell at Huddersfield last season. A bit of a fall out in the way he left the Latics, but a player whose ability to dictate play in the middle mean it’s worth patching up those differences.

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The Squad

In truth, there have been more complete sides to gain promotion as champions from League One in recent seasons, but that isn’t to suggest this Wigan group isn’t one with plenty of promise and potential. A contrast from the ageing and lethargic squad that took the club down two seasons ago.

No issues with it lacking experience, however, with 41-year-old Jussi Jaaskelainen still going strong between the sticks, and will face competition from new arrival Bogdan. Third choice goalkeeper Lee Nicholls, who spent part of last season on loan at Bristol Rovers, likely to depart.

Competition for places seemingly also resulting in departures at centre-back, too, with Jason Pearce linked with a move to Charlton Athletic despite being a regular from November onwards last season. Craig Morgan and Donervon Daniels the other centre-backs to feature relatively regularly last season, and they’ll provide competition to Burn and Buxton.

Former Manchester United full-back Reece James and new signing Knoyle likely to compete for the right-back spot, with Andrew Taylor, who returns from a loan spell at Reading, offering cover to Warnock.

The defence tidy, but it’s in the centre of midfield where the Latics appear to hold the greatest strength in depth. From the experience of 34-year-old David Perkins to the potential of 23-year-old Max Power. They joined by the combative Sam Morsy, playmakers Gilbey and Huws, attack-minded Powell, and promising youngsters Jordan Flores and Tim Chow.

Good quality in the wide positions, too, with many of Wigan’s wingers having played at this level previously. Michael Jacobs a useful performer for both Derby and Wolves, while Yanic Wildschut, creative and exciting for the Latics, has something of a point to prove having failed to make a great impression at Middlesbrough. Maybe a need for one man option, however, with Ryan Colclough, showing excellent promise having arrived from Crewe in January, the only natural alternative, though Power was deployed on the right at times last season.

Additional cover in the wide positions would also allow Wildschut to play further forward, were options are also a little limited. Craig Davies a useful target man, but a little goal shy in his Wigan career, and caution is needed with Will Grigg, irrespective of his efforts last season, given the fact he’s not played at this level before.

Powell, better suited to an attacking midfield role, providing another forward option, but a winger and a striker and Wigan’s squad is probably complete.

Fans View: Jack Piper (@_JackPiper)

A young owner, a young boss, and a relatively young side reconnecting disillusioned supporters and quickly returning Wigan to the Championship. Though promotion was expected, how impressive has the effort been by all those associated with Wigan in the previous 12 months?

The effort made by everyone last season was phenomenal, given the disappointment of the unexpected relegation, and circus around appointing a largely unpopular choice in Malky Mackay the season before. The challenge was to reconnect with supporters alongside the obvious of promotion back to the Championship. Last season, the effort was there and of course the performances warranted a league title. The most pleasing aspect was however, it felt like ‘our club’ again.

The effort from board level right down to the starting XI was always 100% which was brilliant, as it’s something all supporters really wanted to see from that season, again considering the complete opposite the season before.

Somewhat of a gamble made in appointing Gary Caldwell as boss, but he appears to have proved his worth. How far can he go as a manager, and where can he take Wigan?

Appointing Caldwell as manager was a huge risk and last season was a perfect first season for him, bringing in young, hungry players, installing that exciting brand of passing football and of course winning the league. That was the expectation of many however, given us still receiving Premier League parachute payments, however, when you consider the likes of Sheffield United (who spent more on wages last season) this makes the job Caldwell did look more admirable.

As a manager in general, I think it’s too early to call just yet. Last season, as I say, with the money at the disposal we had the pick of the players in the division, which undoubtably makes his job easier. This season however, with the money somewhat drying up and not being the ‘big fish’ in the league, it will be much harder, I think this is the test for him.

I’m of course hoping Caldwell will be the man to lead us back up to the promised land of the Premier League, however, I think it will take time. This season perhaps could be used as a season to simply bring younger lads in and help them gel to potentially make a push for promotion in next or even the season after.

Regardless, is there a need to keep in expectations in check for the coming season? A need to view yourselves as a promoted League One club, and not a former Premier League club?

I think everyone at the club now views us as a newly promoted League One club, as opposed to a former Premier League side. The squad has completely changed from our last Championship squad, never mind the Premier League! A Lot of players are unproven at this level, which is interesting to keep a look out for, given the success of last season. I think many supporters would be more than satisfied to see us around mid-table this season, anything higher would be considered a fantastic season!

Your transfer activity has largely reflected the idea of you being a club in development again, with bigger names largely avoided and a certain amount of youth or players with points to prove added. How would you assess your transfer activity? 

I would consider the transfer activity as incomplete, I expect to see more faces through the door, as I still think we’re a bit short, especially up front, at the back and on the right wing. To me, Caldwell seems to like bringing young, hungry players in due to the success of last season, and this seems to be something he’s following and sticking to.

Not every player of course will be young, however, they largely have something to prove, rather than them being Marquee signings like in the past we had under Coyle (McClean, Holt etc.) for example. But I think that’s due to the realisation that we’re a side now who’s been promoted from the third division and not an ex-Premier League outfit. As I say though, I do expect more signings to be through the door, I just fear we’re leaving it a tad too late!

And is your squad in general prepared for the step up in quality? In other words, will Will Grigg remain on fire in the Championship, or are defences going to be able to extinguish his threat? (Sorry)

Ha! I certainly hope so! Having watched Will Grigg for the best part of a season he’s nothing more than a finisher, so I think if the players around him can create chances for him, he’ll finish, and the chant will continue! Players to look out for this season will be young Max Power, who I feel was excellent last season, Michael Jacobs, who looked way too good for League 1 last season. Yanic Wildschut at times looked largely the same, however he was hot and cold, so would be interesting to see how he fits the bill in the Championship.

David Perkins, our player of the season, will also be one to keep an eye out for, given the last time he played at this level he was relegated by a poor Blackpool side. I think the most interesting one to look out for will be Nick Powell, following his release from Manchester United, he was brought back to the club. He, without a shadow of a doubt, has the ability, but is more an attitude thing with him. If we can sort that out, like the last time he was here, he’ll be some coup we’ve managed to pull off.

And finally, where will you finish this season?

Finally, I think we’ll finish around 14th this season, no real danger of relegation, but no excitement of a potential back to back promotion. A year in which we’ll look to build on.

Summary

A steady first season back in the second tier, but one where they’ll have half an eye over their shoulders. 19th

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Wolverhampton Wanderers

In an ideal world, the takeover of a football club is a time of encouragement and excitement. A fresh approach, and fresh finances, moving a club forward. One that, in the case of Wolverhampton Wanderers, appeared a little stale and in need of an injection of something last season.  gwegewgewgewgwg

And that will ultimately prove to be the case for Wolves, as Chinese consortium Fosun International, assisted by super-agent Jorge Mendes, purchase the club from Steve Morgan. Huge investment and signings from Mendes’ pool of players seemingly on the agenda.

But with pre-season well underway, the elongated process of the takeover of the club has had a frustrating impact on Wolves’ preparations for the new season.

A manager accepting he will depart at some point, but still in charge while his potential replacement takes the Spain job. Supporters grew frustrated with Kenny Jackett’s decision making and tactics last season in a 14th place finish, but most will admit he deserves better than to simply be keeping the seat warm for whoever is appointed as the new boss. Julen Lopetegui it will not be.

Transfers unable to be completed, and the squad incredibly thin with the new campaign weeks away. Nick Powell, for example, lost to Wigan, and new signings that now can arrive having little time to settle and bed in.

Players bemoaning a difficult and uncertain situation to work under, with Dave Edwards sympathetic towards Jackett and suggesting the delay in the takeover being completed is rather uncomfortable. The timing of this takeover could have been better.

And so it leaves the Molineux club in a difficult short-term position going into the new season. A difficult position that will be addressed with the takeover completed, but Wolves’ pre-season preparation has hardly been ideal.

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The Head Coach – Kenny Jackett (for now)

It’s probably not unreasonable to suggest that the new regime offering their full support to Jackett can roughly be translated to “we couldn’t get Lopetegui so you’ll have to do for now”.

An approach was made to Lopetegui, very highly rated as a coach in the Spanish set-up, which was seemingly one he was interested in pursuing, but the attraction of leading his national team apparently greater than a move to Wolverhampton. He doesn’t know what he’s missing out on.

And so Jackett, whose time at Wolves had appeared to reach something of a natural conclusion at the end of last season, irrespective of any takeover, after a campaign of disappointing results and football that was hard to be encouraged by, will begin the season as boss.

Not that the experienced boss, who led Wolves to an emphatic promotion from League One and had them challenging for the play-offs in the Championship in the season, is necessarily vilified by supporters. There is an appreciation of the work he has done for the club, while also suggesting that he’s done what he can and a fresh face is required.

Hope that possibly the access to Chinese millions will reignite his reign at Wolves, but a greater sense of disappointment that someone else has not been allowed to spend them. A great deal of pressure on the former Swansea and Millwall boss to reaffirm his worth.

As such, you fear that if results aren’t achieved immediately, something that will be incredibly difficult to do in this transitional period, then he will be dismissed rather quickly.

Transfer Business

Jackett’s chances of achieving immediate results made tougher by the delay in being able to make signings that the takeover has caused. Kevin McDonald the only harmful departure, but goalkeeper Andy Lonergan, likely to find himself as a reserve to Carl Ikeme, the only arrival at the time of writing.

But with the takeover complete, the spending begins. At the very least, the utilising of the link with super-agent Mendes, in addition to Fosun International representative Jeff Shi’s apparent connection with Benfica, is well underway.

Pele, a midfielder who spent last season on loan at Pacos Ferreira, Helder Costa, a winger who played 25 times during a temporary switch to Monaco in the previous campaign, and Silvio, a former Portugal international left-back who has been on loan at Benfica from Atletico Madrid for the previous three seasons, all seemingly heading to Wolves.

Links, too, with winger Ola John and forward Nelson Oliveira, which is unsurprising given that they both spent last season on loan at Reading and Nottingham Forest respectively.

A little more surprising that the Portuguese media have suggested Wolves will be spending £20m in order to sign attacking midfielder Anderson Talisca, and beating Liverpool to his signature in the process. A story that does seem a little hard to believe, and one that local Wolverhampton media aren’t particularly keen on.

Additionally, there have been links with players who have already proven their quality at Championship level. Interest apparently in Blackburn winger Ben Marshall and Middlesbrough creative midfielder Adam Forshaw.

An exciting pair, who would be excellent additions along with the relative unknown qualities of those arriving from Portugal, but a desperate need for deals to be completed, and to move on from the stage of simply being links and suggestions.

The Squad

The need to make those signings intensified by the current state of Wolves’ squad. Short of numbers and a little short of quality as a consequence of the lack of activity prior to the takeover being completed.

There is, however, a framework that the new additions will be added to. There not a need for an entirely new squad to be built.

Not least when several of Wolves’ young players have made marvellous impressions in the previous few seasons, particularly in defence. Full-back Dominic Iorfa the most impressive of them, with Kortney Hause and Ethan Ebanks-Landell also proving themselves to be dependable performers in the backline despite their relative youth.

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They joined by homegrown skipper Danny Batth, one who divides opinion among supporters, right-back Matt Doherty, and 19-year-old left-back Sylvian Deslandes, who is the most recent young Wolves defender to show promise.

Mike Williamson’s name would also be among that list, but his injury woes continue having joined the club on a permanent basis in January. With winger Nathan Byrne also able to play at right-back, and Silvio seemingly set to join, options at full-back are fine, but there definitely a need for another experienced centre-back.

A need, particularly after McDonald’s departure, also for greater strength in the centre of midfield, or at least for players who have remained on the outskirts of Wolves’ side to step up. Jed Wallace, who arrived from Portsmouth last season with promise but was ultimately loaned to Millwall, Lee Evans, who spent the entirety of the previous campaign at Bradford City, and George Saville, who also spent time at Millwall last season, among them.

That trio undoubtedly behind the excellent Conor Coady and the hardworking David Edwards, with Jack Price also an option. But it is, overall, a slightly underwhelming pool of central options.

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The same can probably be said for the options available out wide, and it no wonder that Wolves have been linked with a number of wingers. The promising Jordan Graham and Polish wide man Michal Zyro both long-term absentees through injury, leaving one-time Charlton target James Henry, little more than steady, and Byrne, who began to impress towards the end of last season, as the only options available to Jackett.

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Even less depth in attack, though Nouha Dicko’s return from injury, another to be hit by the plague of serious knee injuries that appears to be affecting residents of Wolverhampton, doesn’t appear to be too far away. At present, Joe Mason, who scored three times after his January arrival from Cardiff, and 18-year-old Bright Enobakhare are Wolves’ only recognised forwards.

Some quality within that squad, but the Chinese millions must improve it quite dramatically in order for Wolves to be competitive.

Fans View: Ashley Nixon (@ashleynixon95)

This takeover has the very distinct of one that will either allow you to win the World Cup in six years, or will see your club completely implode in quite farcical circumstances. The general feeling among Wolves supporters appears to be one of excitement though?

I couldn’t have put it any better myself. It’s all rather exciting if you ask me, though. Of course it could all go wrong, of course we could end up identifying as the Wolverhampton Timberwolves in our famous red shirts and in our ground that has recently been renamed the Costcutter Coliseum.

But I would rather this uncertainty than just treading water as a mid-table Championship (sorry, EFL Sky Bet Championship) side. The fans are almost unanimously thrilled about the takeover too. Mainly, because the dynamic duo of Moxey and Morgan were about as popular at Molineux as Kevin Phillips.

Regardless, given the timing of the takeover and the disruptive effect that it has had on pre-season, is this campaign simply one of transition, with caution required towards expectations?

I think that is the case, and that anywhere above 10th place would be fine by me. However, I completely understand the fans’ frustration and impatience in terms of a “long term project”. I can already hear the sound tattoo artists around the Black Country being asked to do portraits of Jeff Shi’s face on people’s backs.

From the outside looking in, I can completely understand why people would expect us to be there or thereabouts. However, it’s going to take time for all of the new players I assume we will bring in to settle into life in the league.

Kenny Jackett, having been on the verge of departing throughout the duration of the takeover process, remains as boss. Are you putting a fiver on him to be the first Championship manager to leave his job this season?

As you well know, I was never Kenny Jackett’s biggest fan. He’s not going on my managerial Mt. Rushmore, put it that way. But I respect him for the way in which he has acted during this whole takeover scenario, with nothing other than class.

To be fair, I will defend him to an extent. Last season he was hamstrung by losing his three best players Dicko, Afobe, Sako (They’re magic, you know) to injury in the case of Nouha Dicko and the other two left the club. Then Jordan Graham and Michał Żyro got seriously injured. So, in short, he massively underachieved last season but you can’t place ALL of that blame on him.

But to answer your question, yes, I think he won’t be here much longer. The new owners have already sounded out Julen Lopetegui and apparently were after ex-Olympiacos manager Marco Silva, so I can’t imagine KJ has too long left. It’s a matter of if, not when.

The Jorge Mendes link seems to mean you’ll be getting every player that Benfica don’t want. As a Charlton supporter, I’m naturally suspicious of players from one club being sent to another. Would you welcome a host of arrivals from Benfica?

Firstly, if I may… I think what is happening to your club is an absolute disgrace. I have been following the whole ridiculous saga (mostly through you, but also the CARD twitter account) and it just makes me sad.

Back to Wolves, I have my suspicions about Mendes. He doesn’t get involved in things if they aren’t financially beneficial to Jorge Mendes. By the way, that’s absolutely fine if it is also beneficial to Wolves. For every Charlton, there is a Watford, I’m sure they would recommend that model.

And finally, where will you finish this season?

That is absolutely the Million Dollar (or 6.6 Million Chinese Yuan) question. I honestly have no idea, if I am being honest. If I had to guess, I would say between 8th and 12th. But anything could happen, which in itself is exciting.

Summary

Something exciting, or at least interesting, is happening in the People’s Republic of Wolverhampton. But in the short-term, given the disruptive impact this takeover has had on pre-season, uncertainty over Jackett’s future, and the likelihood of players arriving with the need to adapt to the English game quickly, caution is required. Could well be among the chasing pack if everything clicks quickly, but that’s unlikely. A transitional season. 15th

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Thanks for taking the time to read through my Championship Season Preview. Sure you don’t agree with all of it, not even sure if I agree with what I’ve written myself, but a decent amount of effort has gone into it so appreciate every minute set aside to take a glance through it. 

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