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Season Preview 2011-12 Part 5 03/08/2011

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
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Tuesday.  The longest day of the week.  Cleaning the kitchen on a Tuesday evening.  Not a highlight.  Football on the radio from next week.  Thank the stars.

 

MILLWALL

INS: Darius Henderson (Sheffield United, Undisclosed), Ryan Allsop (West Bromwich Albion, Free), Thierry Racon (Charlton Athletic, Free), Jordan Stewart (Skoda Xanthi, Free)

OUTS: Steve Morison (Norwich City, Undisclosed), Theo Robinson (Derby County, Undisclosed), Andy Frampton (Gillingham, Free), Ashley Grimes (Rochdale, Free), Marc Laird (Leyton Orient, Free), Neil Harris (Southend United, Free), Danny Schofield (Rotherham United, Free), John Sullivan (Charlton Athletic, Free), Kiernan Hughes-Mason, Pat O’Connor

OUR EX-LIONS: Sean Dyche

THEIR EX-ORNS: Hameur Bouazza, Joe Gallen (Assistant Manager), Darius Henderson, Kenny Jackett (Manager), Jack Smith, Jordan Stewart, Darren Ward

RECENT ENCOUNTERS: A 6-1 tonking at the New Den at the start of last season during which Millwall had obviously lost a bet and were forced to play the entire game without defending a set piece. Then a less spectacular but nonetheless impressive 1-0 win at home in March, with Ross Jenkins and Don Cowie teaming up in central midfield.

POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:

Forde
Dunne         Robinson           Ward          Stewart
Henry      Mkandawire       Trotter        Bouazza
McQuoid       Henderson

VERDICT: The Lions come to us in late September, and rarely can a visiting side have as closely embodied an episode of  “This is your Life”.  With Jack Smith contesting the right-back spot with long-serving Alan Dunne, it’s conceivable that half of Millwall’s side (not to mention the management team) could be ex-Orns (although admittedly this would involve both Hameur Bouazza being fit and Darius Henderson being free from suspension, so perhaps unlikely).  Stewart is back in the country after a year in Greece at  Skoda Xanthi, half of which alongside Nathan Ellington;  Bouazza had an even briefer spell in Turkey before signing for the Lions last January and Big Doris spent most of last season injured, returning to fitness just in time to get himself memorably sent off on his return to Vicarage Road.

The focal point as far as summer dealings was concerned saw Steve Morison depart Millwall for Norwich;  Henderson is ostensibly his replacement but is a very different sort of striker, and significantly less prolific.  A side that didn’t score a lot of goals last season now looks particularly vulnerable up front, but we know that Henderson is a weapon whenever he’s fit and available and the promising McQuoid should benefit from playing alongside him.  In any case, the side is set up not to concede – despite our romp at the New Den in August, only QPR and Swansea conceded fewer over the course of the league season last term.  This is Millwall’s “difficult second season” of course after a momentum fuelled 9th place last term;  without Morison’s goals it’s hard to see them above halfway but in Henry, Trotter and Mkandawire there’s too much quality for the side to struggle.  Thirteenth.

NOTTINGHAM FOREST

INS: Jonathan Greening (Fulham, £600,000), George Boateng (Skoda Xanthi, Free), Andy Reid (Blackpool, Free)

OUTS: Dele Adebola (Hull City, Free), Julian Bennett (Sheffield Wednesday, Free), Mark Byrne (Barnet, Free), Rob Earnshaw (Cardiff City, Free), Paul McKenna (Hull City, Free), Nialle Rodney (Bradford City, Free), Nathan Tyson (Derby County, Free), Kelvin Wilson (Celtic, Free)

OUR EX-FOREST: Sean Dyche, Tony Loughlan, Ian Woan

THEIR EX-ORNS: None

RECENT ENCOUNTERS: A draw at Vicarage Road, with Lewis McGugan’s long-range effort squaring after Jordon Mutch’s header had given us the lead, and a 1-0 reverse at the City Ground thanks to a Marcus Tudgay goal.

POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:

Camp
Gunter         Morgan         Chambers        Cohen
Greening          Moussi
Anderson             McGugan                  Reid
Tudgay

VERDICT: On the face of it, a sacking was harsh.  Faced with the evidence, the track record.  Play-offs in consecutive seasons, albeit ultimately unsuccessfully, and these in only the second and third years back in the division after three years in the third tier.  An unbalanced, unfair decision from a club that retains a sense of its own significance that’s rather out of kilter with reality.  But the manager was Billy Davies.  Given which, the only question to ponder is how he lasted so long.

Forest become a somewhat less odious proposition with Davies’ departure;  into his seat comes Steve McClaren, a man with an eclectic CV.  Assistant to Jim Smith at Derby, Alec Ferguson (when DID he become Alex?) at Manchester United, then Middlesbrough, England, Twente Enschede and VfL Wolfsburg.  And now the City Ground, where if his track record keeps up its zigzagging form he’ll do well – certainly an interesting watch in the season ahead. Forest have a problem up front as it stands; Dexter Blackstock would be the main man, one suspects, but is still some way off returning from a cruciate ligament injury sustained last November.  There are options in Tudgay, Garner and Findley, but each is either unsuited to a lone striker role, or just not going to be a regular source of goals.  On the other hand, a team that shipped only 50 goals last season isn’t going to be any easier to break down with two of Jonathan Greening, George Boateng and Guy Moussi sitting in front of the defence;   Boateng and Greening may not have the legs but in this formation they won’t really need them.  Much will be asked of the full-backs, but otherwise the attacking three do most of the running around.  Forest don’t have the depth to compete for automatic promotion – although Steve McClaren’s track record at Boro would suggest that he’ll give rather more of an opportunity to his new side’s emerging talent – but are as well positioned as anyone to claim a top six spot (again) in what could be a wide open play-off race.

PETERBOROUGH UNITED

INS: Nicky Ajose (Manchester United, Undisclosed), Craig Alcock (Yeovil Town, Undisclosed), Paul Jones (Exeter City, Free), Ryan Tunnicliffe (Manchester United, Loan), Scott Wootton (Manchester United, Loan)

OUTS: Craig Mackail-Smith (Brighton & Hove Albion, £2,500,000 + clauses), Charlie Lee (Gillingham, Undisclosed), Chris Whelpdale (Gillingham, Undisclosed), Arron Davies (Northampton Town, Free), Rene Howe (Torquay United, Free), Seth Nana Ofuri-Twumasi (Northampton Town, Free), Dominic Green, Ronnie McCrae

OUR EX-POSH: None

THEIR EX-ORNS: None

RECENT ENCOUNTERS: We provided the Posh with two of their eight victories as they were relegated fifteen months ago; a 2-1 defeat at a frozen London Road in the December, and a lifeless 1-0 reverse at Vicarage Road.

POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:

Jones
Alcock         Zakuani         Bennett        Basey
Boyd         Tunnicliffe        McCann          Rowe
Ajose          Tomlin

VERDICT: At first glance, this ought to be the easiest outcome to predict.  The Posh were promoted through the play-offs in May having finished some thirteen points off automatic promotion, and eight points behind Huddersfield Town side that they vanquished in the play-off final.  You won’t find me criticising the play-off system, United won the game and deserved promotion, but it’s not as if they ripped up all in front of them in the division below;  in the play-off final Posh’s parlous defence (only relegated Bristol Rovers shipped more in the League) creaked and wobbled before the dam broke at the other end.  That they got promoted despite that defensive record was, of course, down to an extraordinarily prolific attack that averaged three goals a game at London Road (!!!).  37 of the 106 league goals departed, however, with first Aaron McLean in January and then Craig Mackail-Smith this summer; replacements as yet have come, inevitably, from Fergie Sr, but whilst there can be few better sources for loan deals than United this isn’t a strategy that was ultimately sufficient for either of the sides with who Fergie Jr started the last two seasons (although he left both Posh in 2009/10 and Preston in 2010/11 before the turn of the year).  Posh have since failed to convince fairly modest targets in James McClean and Nathaniel Mendez-Laing.  I’m not convinced by Fergie Jr despite another promotion, but I’m not sure that relegation’s a done deal – much as they’ve struggled to recruit and lost a very key man, there’s some quality in the side in winger Boyd, midfield general McCann and the hugely promising Bennett at centre-back.  They’re fighting gravity though and staying up, if not impossible, will be an achievement.

PORTSMOUTH

INS: Greg Halford (Wolves, £1,000,000 + clauses), Luke Varney (Derby County, £750,000), Stephen Henderson (Bristol City, Undisclosed), Jason Pearce (AFC Bournemouth, Undisclosed), David Norris (Ipswich Town, Free)

OUTS: Michael Brown (Leeds United, Free), Nadir Ciftci (Kayserispor, Free), Daryl Flahavan (AFC Bournemouth, Free), David Nugent (Leicester City, Free), Marlon Pack (Cheltenham Town, Free), Billy Goddard, Pete Gregory, Richard Hughes, Perry Ryan, Danny Webber

OUR EX-POMPEY: Carl Dickinson, Ian Woan

THEIR EX-ORNS: Guy Whittingham (First Team Coach)

RECENT ENCOUNTERS: A 3-2 defeat at Fratton Park which swung one way then the other, and a 3-0 victory on New Year’s Day featuring Andrew Taylor’s ridiculous goal, which didn’t.

POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:

Henderson
Ben Haim      Halford        Pearce              Rocha
Norris        Mullins         Ward
Lawrence               Kitson                   Varney

VERDICT: Another summer, another shady foreign owner for Pompey.  Still precarious financially – was it ever otherwise?  Is it credible that they boasted five current (at the time) England internationals a couple of years ago?  It’s not that you don’t sympathise with the support… going through the mill is bad enough, going through the mill when a character like Gaydamak (going back an owner or two) is involved just emphasises how impotent an individual supporter is.  It’s a little harder to sympathise when the root cause is such criminal overspending though, even though the Fratton faithful weren’t the ones controlling the purse strings.  How could that sort of squad at a club with Pompey’s (lack of) infrastructure ever have been considered credible in the longer term?

Steve Cotterill’s strategy appears to have been to trust to quality over quantity… Pompey got through last season with a bizarrely small squad, but a first eleven that looked pretty decent.  Not much has changed over the summer in that respect… ins and outs appear to roughly balance each other out and the lopsidedness remains – four centre backs across the back line, and a distinct lack of goal threat versus a decent looking midfield.  The first eleven, if they stay fit, won’t be anywhere near a relegation scrap, but going in with a squad of this size season on season does feel rather like playing russian roulette.  Sooner or later you’re gonna be unlucky with injuries;  if that happens to Pompey, they’re screwed.  Could plausibly finish anywhere in the bottom half.

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