TTU Go Predicting: a Club-by-Club Championship Preview 2014-5

Hornets

Following on from John McGee’s freeform assessment of League 1 yesterday, here is a somewhat more plodding assessment of the level above. That, however, is no reflection on the ins and outs of this season’s Championship – a competition where extortionate transfer fees, underqualified managers and frankly terrifying owners hold sway, where parachute payments warp the competition and everyone is indulging in the filthy scramble for Premier League riches – apart from Blackpool. If the written word isn’t enough, all three of our previewers can be heard expounding in person on the same issues on three special editions of the We Are Going Up! podcast this week. Anyway, without further ado:

Birmingham City

A year on from the kind of cut price shopping spree that leaves any buyer needing to repeat the process, Birmingham City have been scouring the bargain counter again, illustrating how a financial slough can last for years rather than months. Last year’s crop of unknowns and existing ‘assets’, all 41 of them, failed to pull up any trees and it was only thanks to Paul Caddis’s equaliser at Bolton that the Blues beat the drop, having slumped alarmingly to three home defeats in a row in the run-in. Still, we were wrong in predicting that Lee Clark would have been long gone by now and he has shown quiet dignity amid a board room farrago that has seen Carson Yeung embark upon a six year prison sentence while maintaining a 15% stake in the club and acting Chairman Peter Pannu inexplicably hold on to power. Of the incomers, Clayton Donaldson from Brentford will provide pace and trickery cutting in from the left although he may be a little raw for the Championship and Chris Burke will be especially missed on the opposite flank.

Verdict: Looking over their shoulders

Blackburn Rovers

A generally listless season for Rovers ended with an unexpected 12 match unbeaten flourish with QPR and Wigan defeated along the way – and Blackburn could be the proverbial horse of dark colour this season. Much of that is down to the wholly admirable, understated management of Gary Bowyer of course – the Mancunian is a wise tactician and has been known to outwit many a more histrionic counterpart. Rovers will once again look to Jordan Rhodes to keep them in touch with the leaders even if he has now been superseded by Ross McCormack in the ‘Number 1 Overpriced Scottish International’ stakes. Chris Brown and Luke Varney will provide strictly non-threatening back up, despite Rhodes’ protestations, while Alex Baptiste should add poise to an often lumbering back line – but Venky’s are still in charge so any feeling that this could be their year are misplaced.

Verdict: Middle of the Road

Blackpool

Have Preston North End legends Sean Gregan and Mark Rankine been running Blackpool behind the scenes this summer? Had they been, one could scarcely imagine the club ending up in a worse state than it is after a seven month plummet in 2013-4 saw the Tangerines rely on their unexpectedly good start to avoid relegation. Having taken 141 days to appoint Jose Riga as manager, Karl Oyston then promptly fell out with the Belgian, who probably hadn’t expected his squad to be whittled down to eight players. Since then, the likes of Nathan Delfouneso (I am still trying to work out how that combination of letters can produce the pronunciation ‘Del Fonzo’), Ishmael Miller, Joan Oriol, Donervon Daniels, Peter Clarke, Jacob Mellis and Tomasz Cywka have arrived, the latter duo from a relegated club, while only the Estonian international Sergei Zenjov had swelled the ranks until recently. Having only just recruited a goalkeeper in Cardiff’s Joe Lewis, Blackpool now face relegation as a virtual certainty while questions continue to circulate concerning the whereabouts of parachute payments and the sorry state of a training ground that would be insufficient for a Sunday league team. The damage seems almost deliberate.

Verdict: Looking over their shoulders

Bolton Wanderers

Sometimes a team needs an apocalyptic result to engender change and the fall-out from the Trotters’ 7-1 capitulation at Reading in January led to a mildly promising climax to the season for Dougie Freedman and his men. That the squad is large and handsomely compensated is still a concern even if the continued absence of Stuart Holden is nobody’s fault. So far, the new influx has done little to address a striking problem which Jermaine Beckford singularly failed to resolve and although the languid creativity of the appropriately named Liam Trotter, fierce shooting of Medo and continued promptings of Chung-yong Lee all provide a threat, the squad overhaul is surely only half complete while the auditors continue to take an interest from afar.

Verdict: Middle of the Road

Bournemouth

Smaller clubs need to embrace a process of renewal wholeheartedly and Bournemouth have been the poster child for that approach this summer. The key switch has seen Lewis Grabban depart for Norwich and although Callum Wilson has stressed he is not a replacement, I’ll stick my neck out and suggest that the former Coventry man might actually constitute an improvement – the embodiment of the kind of canny business Eddie Howe has now became renowned for. Grabban led the line brilliantly in 2013-4 but Wilson was a revelation in his first full season for the Sky Blues and provides pace and mobility. Add to this the continually assured central defensive abilities of Steve Cook and the midfield buzzing of Matt Ritchie and the Cherries look good enough to challenge again. However, a disappointing draw with local-ish rivals Yeovil in April cost them dear and they will have to avoid such temporary losses of confidence this time out.

Verdict: Chasing the play-offs

Brentford

Brentford looked genuinely impressive in clinching promotion with a 1-0 win over Preston and the only question mark would surround their ability to renew the loan deals which propelled them into the Championship. They have acted quickly therefore in welcoming back Alan Judge to the club while Alex Pritchard should do equally as well as the departed George Saville after a successful temporary spell at Swindon. In ex-Evertonians Jake Bidwell and Adam Forshaw, the Bees possess two players who should negotiate the step up in class with ease while Alan McCormack is a muscular and athletic presence. As noted above, Clayton Donaldson has moved on after scoring 46 times for the club so Mark Warburton has taken a punt on Luton’s Andre Gray, prolific as the Hatters roared back into the Football League in April as well as Moses Odubajo for a cool million from Leyton Orient. When they were last promoted to this level in 1992, Brentford managed just a year in more rarefied climes – they’ll do much better this time.

Verdict: Chasing the play-offs

Brighton and Hove Albion

The disappointment of being well beaten by Derby County in the play-offs was followed by the regrettable departure of Óscar García for Maccabi Tel-Aviv. So, it’s been encouraging for Seagulls’ fans to witness such a go ahead appointment as Sami Hyypiä, fresh from a stint at no less a club than Champions League regulars Bayer Leverkusen, albeit one that culminated in the old heave-ho. The Finn has witnessed the departure of experienced players including Tomasz Kuszczak, Matthew Upson and David Lopez while he has invested in a new goalkeeper in David Stockdale, Chris O’Grady from Barnsley and the seasoned Aaron Hughes. That constitutes a low key set of deals for a squad that didn’t need much alteration so it will be Congolese midfielder Nzuzi Toko who provides a touch of the unknown. The extraordinary £8 million collected from Leicester for Leonardo Ulloa should help finance further business with Bristol City’s Sam Baldock one of those underwhelming potential incomers fans find it hard to get excited about.

Verdict: Chasing the play-offs

Cardiff City

In Kim Bo-kyung and Peter Whittingham, Cardiff still have midfielders to envy and the competitive streak which at times promised to serve them so well in a plucky lone season in the top flight should once again be fully in evidence. A shame, therefore, that Vincent Tan spoils it all with a seemingly unending series of crass measures and the decision to dispense with the services of Malky Mackay – and the way it was handled in particular - rivalled the kit fiasco for sheer vulgarity. Meanwhile, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s CV still looks seriously undercooked – even in the Championship – and Fraizer Campbell, Craig Bellamy and Steven Caulker have moved on along with Jordon Mutch and Gary Medel, the latter subject to the tying up of the paperwork with Inter Milan. Up front, the Bluebirds have turned to the uncanny fox-in-the-box abilities of Adam Le Fondre while Guido Burgstaller looks like an adept pick from Rapid Vienna in midfield but the loss of key players so close to the recommencement of hostilities will put the Norwegian under severe pressure.

Verdict: Chasing the play-offs

Charlton Athletic

The Valley has been an ever revolving door in recent seasons and this state of permanent revolution at the club became more acute when Roland Duchâtelet arrived to impose the ‘Watford’ model on the Addicks last winter. Crucially, however, the arrangement is with clubs from leagues of less international stature than Italy and Spain and initial results were patchy as relegation was only narrowly avoided. Now, Bob Peeters is the man in charge of on-pitch strategizing and George Tucudean, Yoni Buyens and Jóhann Berg Guðmundsson are the latest arrivals from the Low Countries. Andre Bikey and Tal Ben Haim will form a central defensive partnership of a decidedly mid-noughties hue but the outrageously promising Jordan Cousins will be the Valiants’ main man if the fine progress he made last season continues.

Verdict: Looking over their shoulders

Derby County

The problem with acquiring a lot of loan players is that it provides a shop window for richer rivals to choose from and Steve McClaren’s attempts to refashion the Derby County squad of 2013-4 have fallen on pebbled ground so far this summer. Hence, Andre Wisdom opted for West Bromwich Albion while Patrick Bamford is being linked with Middlesbrough. That said, Bamford was spending an increasing amount of time on the bench at the end of last season and there are plenty of players still in situ to fire a challenge – Craig Bryson, Jamie Ward and Will Hughes were vital in propelling the Rams to a terrific year and the way they disposed of a talented Brighton team in the play-off semi-finals was startling. An injury to the one loanee that did renew terms, George Thorne, is unfortunate but the squad should be bolstered before the end of August with another promotion bid in the offing – they’ll need more than that king of the ‘relaxed’ performance Leon Best though.

Verdict: Promoted

Fulham

The £11million capture of 29 goal Ross McCormack has been the main transfer headline of the summer in this league and even if the Scot’s recent scoring record and his ability to provide chances for others mark him out as guaranteed asset, it’s hard to conceive that Felix Magath has seen much of him while the steepness of the fee merely illustrates the pernicious effect of those ol’ parachute payments. Fulham will have collected a great deal of money themselves of course – the prevalence of undisclosed fees prevent proper judgements but Sascha Riether, Ashkan Dejagah and Pajtim Kasami should all have fetched a decent return while Magath has dropped into the Bundesliga for Adil Chihi and Konstantinos Stafylidis. World Cup star Bryan Ruiz, Maarten Stekelenburg and the beleaguered Konstantinos Mitroglou are still on the books but it will perhaps be youngster Moussa Dembélé from whom more is expected. Still only 18, this star of the FA Youth Cup will be a divisional young player of the season contender.

Verdict: Chasing the play-offs

Huddersfield Town

The Terriers have made three well-judged acquisitions in Lee Peltier, Radosław Majewski and Joe Murphy and this business neatly improves a squad with a very well organised look to it. Adam Clayton’s lustrous beard may have over emphasized his abilities to opposing fans last year – and he now looks likely to jump ship to Middlesbrough or Brighton – but he was a dervish in midfield while Jonathan Hogg is hard as nails and James Vaughan a certain goal scorer if he can stay free of injury. Add to that Nakhi Wells – an immediate success on crossing West Yorkshire from Bradford in the January window – and suddenly, this is a team which could well feature in the top six. Credit to Mark Robins for assembling such an effective unit so quietly – Football League nous having been cleverly combined with raw promise.

Verdict: Chasing the play-offs

Ipswich Town

Ipswich fans were daring to indulge in reverie in the dying days of 2013-4 but in the end, a marginal lack of quality left them short against more persistent rivals. Mick McCarthy is a shockingly underrated manager and considerably more effective in this post than his nemesis Roy Keane – and he will once again conjure gold from base materials. Aaron Cresswell has left for West Ham for a considerable fee allowing the likes of Bálint Bajner, from Borussia Dortmund’s B Team and Kévin Bru – surely the first Mauritius international to feature in English league football – to sign up. Luke Chambers and another of the new arrivals, Jonathan Parr provide the brand of steel in defensive areas that one would expect from a McCarthy team while Jay Tabb and Stephen Hunt will snap around like Chihuahuas.

Verdict: Middle of the Road

Leeds United

The appointment of Dave Hockaday at the helm was almost as surprising as owner Massimo Cellino’s eventual successful negotiation of the Fit and Proper Person’s test and the former Forest Green Rovers boss joins Christian Gross, Joe Kinnear and Crystal Palace’s Attilio Lombardo/Tomas Brolin combo in the roster of all time leftfield managerial hirings. Hockaday has devoted his extensive experience of Italian football to bring Zan Benedicic, Marco Silvestri, Tommaso Bianchi, Gaetano Berardi and Souleymane Doukara in from varying levels of that country’s pyramid system although the aforementioned pocketing of £11 million for Ross McCormack does indicate a degree of skill at wheeler-dealing. Alex Mowatt, Matt Smith and Sam Byram are as good a crop as youngsters as any team in the division possesses however and, as always with Leeds United, there will be passion in spades.

Verdict: Middle of the Road

Middlesbrough

Middlesbrough improved gradually over the course of early 2014 and laid down a significant marker in shelling out 3.5 million euros for Real Murcia forward Kike. In addition, manager Aitor Karanka has done well to attract loanee Kenneth Omeruo back to the Riverside and the squad contains Championship experience aplenty in the shape of Grant Leadbitter, Rhys Williams and another newcomer, James Husband. Links to the old days have been severed with the departure of Stuart Parnaby and Matthew Bates, both to Hartlepool, and Boro will attempt to overcome the inconsistency that has plagued previous campaigns. They will certainly have to wait longer than just a year to be back in the Premier League however.

Verdict: Middle of the Road

Millwall

After the unedifying hounding of Steve Lomas out of the club, cluelessly as he may have acted at times, the Lions did just enough to stay in the Championship last time out with Ian Holloway’s shopaholic tinkering continuing to set the tone. Despite arriving from the Premier League, Magaye Gueye has little record to speak of as a striker but Byron Webster did well in a Yeovil shirt last year as the Glovers manfully lost their fight to stay up. Caribbean stars Ricardo Fuller and Carlos Edwards both have something to prove but it’s hard to see the manager repeating his promotion exploits of yore. Scott Malone remains one of the club’s more dynamic performers and David Forde is ever popular in goal.

Verdict: Looking over their Shoulders

Norwich City

Having only lost Robert Snodgrass after relegation, Norwich City will be among the favourites to spring back and we should probably expect Gary Hooper, Bradley Johnson, Alex Tettey and John Ruddy to shine a level down – to name but four in a squad that has an exceedingly accomplished look about it. The question marks surround the inexperience of manager Neil Adams as well as the degree to which confidence will have been knocked by adversity. Adams clearly feels that a lack of presence up front is a problem and has addressed this by bringing in Lewis Grabban and Kyle Lafferty. On leaving Palermo, the Sicilian club’s president Maurizio Zamparini described the former Rangers and Burnley man as ‘an out-of-control womaniser, an Irishman without rules. He is someone who disappears for a week and goes on the hunt for women in Milan’. Luckily there are no direct flights to Italy from Old Buckenham Airfield.

Verdict: Chasing the play-offs

Nottingham Forest

At the time, the decision to allow Stuart Pearce a delayed restart to management at the City Ground seemed quite barmy although in retrospect, it allowed Psycho to escape any blame for a ‘failure’ that would have been well out of his wherewithal to control. Forest have recruited well since May even if a big question mark hangs over Michael Mancienne after a stuttering career in Germany and a lot rests on the shoulders of Lars Veldwijk, scorer of a goal in 3 out of every 4 games with Excelsior Rotterdam – could he be the new Pierre van Hooijdink? Pearce has hedged his bets by bringing in Britt Assombalonga, Matty Fryatt and Michail Antonio to improve thrust in forward areas and Chris Burke has been one of the leading Championship players for half a decade now. It is to be hoped that Pearce’s frankly sub par managerial record won’t end up the same way as that of former England teammate Tony Adams and he’s been given a chance to plead extenuating circumstances after Jamaal Lascelles and Karl Darlow were apparently sold without his blessing this week.

Verdict: Chasing the play-offs

Reading

A still uncompleted takeover saga has strangled the club’s ability to move forward this summer and Reading are the only team not to have signed a player in the Championship. Add to that injuries to five stand out players in Danny Guthrie, Hal Robson-Kanu, Jem Karacan, Garath McCleary and Danny Williams and a season of struggle beckons. For one of the previously best run clubs in the league to suffer the ignominy of rumoured administration was galling while the injudicious financial rewards proffered to Royston Drenthe and Pavel Pogrebnyak have come back to bite the Royals on the bum; although not fans of FIFA 14 in Berkshire. Hope lies in a youth set up that achieved a Premier Under-21 League Cup victory and an FA Youth Cup semi-final appearance in 2013-4 and Jordan Obita’s conversion to left back is one of the few tactical innovations Nigel Adkins can claim.

Verdict: Looking over their Shoulders

Rotherham United

Like Derby County, Rotherham are another club that relied heavily on the loan system last year and James Tavernier, Tom Hitchcock and Richard Smallwood were among those who played a part in a superb season which culminated in the Millers pipping Leyton Orient to promotion in agonising fashion. The exuberant Steve Evans partly shed his reputation for fostering Route One fitba in 2013-4 and polished a journeyman diamond in Alex Revell into a forward of real calibre. Evans has been busy in the summer too with his former Crawley charge Mat Sadler and Paul Green from Leeds the pick of 12 newcomers. It’s impossible to imagine the Millers rolling over and second tier away fans will revel in the chance to visit the ridiculously named New York Stadium for the first time.

Verdict: Middle of the Road

Sheffield Wednesday

Injuries to Jose Semedo and Kieran Lee in February put paid to Sheffield Wednesday’s mini mid-season resurgence while the impact of short term loanees Connor Wickham and Matty Fryatt became impossible to recreate. Manager Stuart Gray is a good organiser but is perhaps a little uninspired while the recruits reflect the straitened times as a takeover from Azeri businessman Hafiz Mammadov continues to falter – even if Tom Lees is a promising defender and Kieren Westwood a goalkeeper of experience and quality. Goals will again be an issue and an injury to Caolan Lavery makes that problem yet more acute. Whether the seemingly ironically nicknamed Gary Madine will be given another opportunity in blue and white stripes remains to be seen.

Verdict: Looking over their Shoulders

Watford

All football fans outside Bedfordshire will have been sad to see the demise of Watford under Gianfranco Zola last winter and the low key stewardship of Beppe Sannino restored stability to a team that had mysteriously lost its way – they were my tip for Champions this time last year. Now, the pick of the current crop remain (Almen Abdi after an injury hit season, Ikechi Anya, Fernando Forestieri) and have been supplemented by some eye-distracting acquisitions. Of these, central European duo Matěj Vydra and Dániel Tőzsér have been rehired, the latter after signing a permanent deal with Parma, while Ecuador’s Brasil 2014 full back Juan Carlos Paredes has jetted in from Granadaland and Heurelho Gomes replaces Manuel Almunia in goal. The Hertfordshire club will surely be in contention for a top two place again even if the need to keep hold of Troy Deeney is evident.

Verdict: Promoted

Wigan Athletic

If the bulk of opposing fans were sorry to see the back of Gianfranco Zola in 2013-4, most of us regretted the departure of Owen Coyle from Wigan, albeit for different reasons as the enjoyment to be derived from a passing team becoming a bunch of clodhoppers almost overnight was extreme. Then Uwe Rösler came in and almost secured an immediate return to the top rank for the Latics as well as a second FA Cup final appearance in a row. Arsenal put paid to that on penalties but Wigan still look very strong. In truth, not much meddling is required and most of the new signings can be expected to challenge for a place rather than go straight into the team – Grant Holt did prove to be something of a misfit however and Oriol Riera will be expected to serve up a serious contribution up front after the departure of Jordi Gómez.

Verdict: Promoted

Wolverhampton Wanderers

Business has been low key at Molineux as the club seeks to avoid hubris after that horrific double relegation – as one Wolves fan said to me last year when I mentioned the club’s turnaround under Kenny Jackett – ‘well they shouldn’t bloody be down there, should they?’ Youngsters like Danny Batth, Jack Price and Michael Jacobs have repaid Jackett’s faith while a few wizened veterans such as Sam Ricketts, Richard Stearman and Carl Ikeme also did their bit. One issue that explains the understated transfer policy is the presence on the books of a cluster of well paid players whose effectiveness has run its course and the west midlanders will be assessing the future of Kevins Doyle and Foley, Jamie O’Hara and Roger Johnson.

Verdict: Middle of the Road

Rob Langham (pen name: Lanterne Rouge) is co-founder of the defiantly non-partisan football league blog, The Two Unfortunates, a website that occasionally strays into covering issues of wider importance. He's 44 and lives in Oxford while retaining his boyhood support of Reading FC. He tweets as @twounfortunates and has written for a number of websites and publications including The Football Attic, Twisted Blood, In Bed with Maradona, A United View on Football and The Blizzard.

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11 Comments on "TTU Go Predicting: a Club-by-Club Championship Preview 2014-5"

  1. Matt Rowson says:

    Good stuff. Love the Lafferty quote, that’s brilliant. Lock up your daughters, Norfolk.

  2. Alex L says:

    An excellent run down as usual.

    To add more perspective on the Fulham situation – I don’t think anyone really knows what to expect from the team this year, probably for the first time since we last got promoted to the premier league. We’ve jettisoned the old and overpaid players, including some club stalwarts and started to (finally) promote the youth who had been doing so well over the last few years. The McCormack fee is the headline number, but other than that, we’ve not spent a great deal and go into the season with our two starting goalkeepers under the age of 22, neither of whom have made their debut for the club. Only one player remains at the club from last seasons opening day win at Sunderland (Stekelenburg) and he seems to be on his way, frozen out and allegedly training at 7am before the team arrives.

    Amongst all of this turmoil we have a manager with a very impressive CV but one whom seems to alienate players on a regular basis. Last season was an utter mess (talking one of the worst Prem defences of all time) so simply not being an embarrassment week in, week out will be an improvement. Promotion is certainly the aim, and if this new squad clicks we could be very exciting, but equally we could be languishing mid table as the team struggles to gel.

    In short, nobody knows what is going to happen, but it probably wont be dull

    • Lanterne Rouge says:

      cheers Alex – valuable comments as always. Certainly any jettisoning of old and overpaid players is always to be welcomed and Magath’s tough streak should be fascinating to observe.

  3. Tim Vickerman says:

    Surprised by the positive write-up about Huddersfield. Just to add some Yorkshire pessimism, I think it will be a very hard season.

    The defence looks little stronger than last season and lacks leadership. JV has already missed the last 3 pre-season games and won’t be fit to start on Saturday. Wells spent most of last season chasing lost causes and wasn’t given any decent service as we are reliant on inconsistent players like Ward, Hammill and Scannell. The possible emergence of Joe Lolley may help but he can’t be expected to deliver consistently. Have heard good things about Conor Coady but to rely on a 21 year-old to marshall your midfield is quite a punt.

    Regarding Robins, I think a lot of supporters have lost faith in him. The positive, open football we played for the first half of last season went out of the window in the new year, there were divisions within the squad (the training ground punch-up between Clayton and Paterson) and he was quick to discard any players he didn’t fancy (Stead and, again, Paterson). The fact they haven’t been offloaded shows how little has been achieved over the summer. He changed the make-up of the midfield, failing to revert to the most effective (IMO) combination of Clayton playing ahead of Norwood and Hogg.

    And the squad overall still looks very weak, the manager stubbornly refusing to give young players a decent chance despite being hired largely on the promise that he would create a ‘pathway’ to the first team.

    Turned into a bit of rant! Thanks for the preview. Much better than the ill-informed ‘Will this do?’ filler most national media are passing off.

    Verdict: Champions by April

    • Lanterne Rouge says:

      cheers Tim – you aren’t the first Terriers fans to be less optimistic than me and the pending departure of Clayton will be a blow. It is hard to get rid of under contract players even if they are unwanted but this comment is very useful in highlighting insider knowledge that I as an outside was perhaps not aware of.

  4. Scran says:

    Congratulations on the well written prose – it is a interesting and, at times, amusing read! :o)

    I’m a Forest fan and I think, whilst obviously hoping for automatic promotion, play-offs is perhaps more realistic. A good start and staying injury free is vital, as last season was horrendous in regard to the latter, but a shaky start could well lead to mid-table obscurity! Our infamously impatient, expectant and fickle fans need to hold there tongues if things do not always go to plan! Likewise our owner, Fawaz, needs to give Stuart Pearce two full seasons!

    Surprised you have overlooked Norwich for automatic promotion, especially given the glowing report you wrote on them. I’d certainly have them higher up the pecking order than Watford, who I too tipped for promotion last season, but perhaps you are determined to stick with them?!

    Derby will be an interesting one. Deserved to go up last year, but being a Forest fan obviously I am delighted they failed in such agonising circumstances (lol), but will they maintain their momentum or do a Watford and capitulate?

    Anyway, looks like being another exciting season – as ever, pretty much any team can beat any team and it is hard to pick any outright winners or losers. No easy games!

    Hope Coxy and Mackie have a good season for Reading if the deal goes through – just not against us on 23/08/14 and 28/02/15 !!

    • Lanterne Rouge says:

      Good point Paul. On the WAGU podcast on which I also appeared this week, David Cameron Walker of the pod read out the Canaries’ squad and it is frightening. The caveats would surround Adams and strikers who may have lost confidence but they will be in the frame for sure.

  5. Stanley says:

    Good stuff, as usual, even if I take issue with some of the predictions. (Watford for promotion? No chance.)

    One that I can’t take issue with at this stage, though, is Millwall. On the positive side, things behind the scenes are lot more harmonious and settled than under Steve Lomas. I still have a reservations about Holloway, but the players have responded to him and his demands, leading to the 8-match unbeaten run at the end of last season. Signings have been low-key, but targeted at the squad’s weak spots: Byron Webster is an improvement on the muscular but agricultural Danny Shittu and Paul Robinson; Carlos Edwards, though a bona-fide veteran at 35, is fitter and more dynamic than many of his younger team-mates; while a new contract for David Forde – one of few to emerge from last season with credit – completes a balanced back line. However, we are still seriously lacking in forward areas: Magaye Gueye is unfit and unpractised, if possessed of a raw talent; Lee Gregory looks the part, but has no experience of football above the Conference; and Ricardo Fuller is surely intended to be a back-up option to an as-yet-unsigned target man. On that front, it seems that Holloway put his meagre supply of eggs in a basket marked ‘Matt Smith’, and is now flailing around looking for someone, anyone tall as an alternative. Goals were a big problem last year and will potentially be our weakness again this. For that reason, I’d say that 15th or thereabouts would constitute success.

    On a not unrelated tangent, one thing that is only just touched on in the preview is the increasing division of the transfer market by parachute payments and by FFP. When the likes of Britt Assombalonga and Ross McCormack are going for £5.5m. and £11m. respectively, it seems that Millwall and clubs of a similar financial stature are operating in a parallel dimension. When Leagues 1 and 2 players cost £1m.+, from where do those clubs recruit?

    • Lanterne Rouge says:

      Absolutely Stanley – there is a sharp divide between a few ‘haves’ at the top and ‘have nots’ elsewhere and in this, the Championship is starting to resemble the Premier League. As I’ve said, it’s the deeply underwhelming record of most of the favourites’ managers that might keep things even. I’ll admit that Millwall are among my picks to struggle mainly because all three promoted teams look decent and perhaps only Blackpool look beyond the pale (even they might get something together now they have signed a few).

  6. Great post Rob (& really enjoyed your spot on WAGU podcast earlier.
    Pleased you’re tipping Derby for promotion, I reckon we’ve got a good chance of automatic, providing we don’t “do a Watford” (thanks Scran) Hopefully McClaren won’t lose his magic touch in both spotting excellent players and getting more out of the ones that Clough bought.
    I think the acquisition of Leon Best will be important in covering Chris Martin & perhaps providing a different option if we choose to revert to 442. Heard great things about the lad from Real Madrid we’ve just loaned for the season but time will tell. The holding midfielder role is crucial to our system, so let’s hope now that’s been put to bed.

    • Lanterne Rouge says:

      cheers Jonathan – best is a lithe thoroughbred but has been unfortunate to have had terrible luck with injuries but momentum will keep Derby up there while one of the new Spanish lads could be a new Idiakez!

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