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Newport County 3 Watford 1 (22/09/2020) 23/09/2020

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.
12 comments

1- So the most pleasing thing about this evening is the shade of amber of Newport’s shirts. It’s…. not quite as orange as Wolves, not quite as yellow as Bradford. It’s what Newport’s shirts should be.  I guess Shoot League Ladders have a lot to answer for, since we’ve not played Newport since 1978, so I’ve nothing really to base this instinct on.

And actually, it’s arguable whether we played Newport in 1978.  I don’t mean that in a if-Sam-Ellis-falls-over-in-the-penalty-box-and-nobody’s-there-to-hear-him-did-he-make-any-noise kinda way but… we played a Newport County in 1978.  But not this one.  Maybe.  That version of Newport County went out of business in 1989 having dropped out of the league nine months earlier.

They were reformed immediately, and consensus seems to be that this is the same club, which is surely true morally and spiritually, whether or not it would stand up to any legal scrutiny.  But such quandaries are a minefield I tell you… if Newport is a relatively clear cut case, what about Berko and Berko Town? Burton United and Burton Albion?  Folkestone Town became Folkestone in 1968 but there was an earlier “perhaps unrelated” Folkestone before WW2.  What are you supposed to do with that?  I hope your evenings are more productive than mine are.

2- Oh go on then.

The argument was made, more or less a week ago, that in the Current Circumstances a League Cup run would be a more useful thing than it might have been in previous years.  Clubs haven’t had a pre-season to speak of, no time to hone things, to try things out.  It’s like a pre-season with bells on, a competitive pretext.

Our line-up betrayed what we thought of that idea.  Daniel Bachmann, it appeared, was punished for generating another midweek fixture with the captaincy, and our selection was even more threadbare than it had been at Oxford a week ago.  We didn’t even bother to bring an extra body to fill the bench.

The wider question is the current treatment of the squad, which we’ve touched on but not really discussed.  We clearly have players that are injured.  We also have players that are “injured”, either than or we’ve been struck by a injury rampage that disproportionately disables players that want to move or who we want to move.  The commitment to only field “our” players, long-term players, is a bold one from Ivic.  Given the current state of flux, however, there was always the danger that it would lead to a shitshow like this.

3- Forgive me, but I really can’t be arsed to relive that miserable two hours.  I worked my nuts off all weekend, took Monday off to try and reclaim some brain space and saw Monday screwed over as well.  I could have done with something positive this evening.  Jesus.

The first half was as soporific and inadequate as anything we suffered under Pearson after the lockdown.  Different context altogether of course, far more forgivable here but a miserable viewing experience nonetheless.  Defensively we were a shambles;  Craig Dawson, nominally the wise head at the back, seemed to be perfecting the art of playing lazy, aimless passes into the midfield. All the poise of Marco Cassetti’s ball to Vyds against Leicester, none of the end product.  The loose balls were eagerly picked up by Newport’s focused and bullish side, everything that we weren’t, who quickly cottoned on to the fact that there was nothing much to fear here.  Nothing much at all, actually.  Toby Stevenson got caught on the wrong side of his marker, not for the last time, committed a foul in trying to retrieve the situation and the home side were ahead from the spot.

We were no better going forwards.  Glenn Murray, worryingly, looked leaden once again and we failed to build anything much off him – though significantly the one ball that he received to his feet saw him roll his marker and move the ball on.  What good stuff there was was sharp and aggressive but fizzled out like a firework as quickly as it started, Sinclair standing out from the morass with a surging run and then sinking back into it by committing a foul as the ball came back across.  The strongest performer in the first half was Derek Agyakwa in the middle of the three at the back, who had the confidence to surge forward and more finesse than his frame suggested, playing decent balls through Newport’s midfield to feet, our greatest success in navigating the home side’s aggressive press.  Nonetheless, by the break we were two down.

4- I didn’t rush back for the second half, deciding that I wasn’t desperate enough to see the first five minutes to spend brownie points on asking my wife to bring my dinner up when it was ready.  I had to piece together a change in formation to four at the back, Agyakwa now looking less comfortable at right back, and with two changes that saw Peñaranda and Perica replace Murray and the ineffective Hungbo.

Nacho Pussetto switched wings in the change, and looked dynamic and aggressive on the left in stark contrast to much that the team had offered in the first half.  His charge into the box brought a clumsy, ill-advised challenge and a Watford penalty. Peñaranda, keen for the ball but rather playing his own game for his own ends throughout, grasped the spot kick to the chagrin of Stipe Perica whose remonstration with the bench seemed to go unanswered. The Venezuelan’s successful conversion wasn’t celebrated by anyone, no congratulations offered.

Nonetheless, we were looking decent at this point.  James Garner began to look like the metronome that he’s been lauded as, dropping deep to receive the ball and spread it onwards far more fluidly than anything else we managed.  We were on top and suddenly looking like hurting the home side.   Until a loose Dan Phillips pass across the face of the area was seized upon by Padraig Amond and the game was over.

5- Harsh to be too critical of the kids, many of whom struggled.  If as much effort has been devotable to preparing the team as the chosen line-up would suggest they were on a hiding to nothing.  Tommy Mooney’s assertion that they will have benefitted from it is borne of experience, but feels like a very positive spin to me.  A humbling by a team two divisions lower, much the better side on the evening, doesn’t feel like a great preparation for anything much to my mind.

Most of all they were let down by the few senior pros around them;  Murray was quiet and ineffective, Dawson looked a lot happier in a back four in the second half but created all manner of problems for us in the first, Nacho Pussetto went from being our most potent threat to the likeliest recipient of a red card as the game ran away from us, yellow carded and several times told to calm down by the referee until he was subbed for a lively Crichlow.  The dismissal instead went to Stipe Perica for an idiotic, sulky and completely deliberate swing of the elbow into his marker’s jaw.  Once again looking a far more credible line-leader than Murray he will not now be available until beyond the international break.  Criminal, and far more expensive than this League Cup exit.  He knew it, too, his level of embarrassment and frustration at his own stupidity his one saving grace.

An almost entirely miserable evening.  If it’s followed by a win on Saturday of course nobody will remember by next week, unless it’s to praise the decision to bench the senior players that made it possible.  Right now, at 11pm two hours after the final whistle that possibility feels a long way off.

Ho hum.  Yooorns.

Bachmann 3, Sierralta 2, Agyakwa 3, Dawson 2, Pussetto 2, *Garner 3*, Phillips 1, Stevenson 1, Sinclair 2, Hungbo 1, Murray 1
Subs: Perica (for Murray, 45) 1, Peñaranda (for Hungbo, 45) 2, Crichlow (for Pussetto, 84) NA, Ngakia, Cathcart, Parkes

Sheffield Wednesday 0 Watford 0 (19/09/2020) 20/09/2020

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
18 comments

1- If, as has often been observed, and with relevance to the times when travelling to games was possible at all, you only went for the football you’d have a pretty miserable time of it.  There’s other stuff.  Lots of stuff.  Particularly for away games like this one.  The anticipation for one thing…  and, yes, I look forward to the games anyway but it’s not the same as the build up to a trip across the country.  There’s getting up early in the morning to facilitate such a trip, not remotely the same as getting up for work even if it boils down to essentially the same thing.  The sense of mission as you start your journey.  The Ginsters break on the motorway.  The conversation en route.  The visit to a local hostelry before the game, the burger or chips from a van on the way to the ground.  The anticipation as the ground fills up… and then the celebration or rumination and swearing at roadworks and 606 callers as you head back again.

We don’t get that right now, quite obviously.  Our experience is pared down to the focal point without any of the accompanying kerfuffle, and even then it’s on a screen and not in a stadium, with limited company rather than thousands of like-minded individuals.

Not the same, obviously.  Some have argued that football shouldn’t be played under these circumstances, “football without fans is nothing” and so forth. Leaving aside the likelihood that football without football won’t be retrievably football for very long…  I’d suggest that if said folk are lucky enough to have lives that are well-rounded and full enough not to have been compromised, butchered, restricted by circumstances such that they can take this version of football or leave it at the moment then good for them, but wish they didn’t feel that they had to deprive the rest of us of a bit of something that’s a bit like normal if you don’t stare too hard.  Cheers.

2- Given the tantalising talk of Ismaïla Sarr and Luis Suárez maybe coming into consideration and in the light of Liverpool seemingly filling their Sarr-shaped hole with Diogo Jota I won’t have been the only one the have been slightly disappointed by a line-up which saw one change, Glenn Murray effectively replacing Kiko Femenía with Ken Sema dropping to wing-back.  We were facing Wednesday at perhaps a slightly unfortunate time… a squad that has lost a large number of players over the summer will feel the pinch of numbers at some point but having recorded an impressive win in Cardiff will have a bit of tunnel vision in chasing down that twelve point deficit.

The start of the game was scruffy in the extreme.  We started slowly, and as at Oxford struggled to get much of a foothold for the first half.  The home side were pressing aggressively and we struggled for controlled possession all over the pitch.  For half an hour we scarcely ventured out of our own half, although Wednesday rarely looked like capitalising on their territorial advantage.  Their closest calls came from two generously awarded free kicks each taken by Izzy Brown on the edge of the box.  First Dominic Iorfa and then Tom Lees failed to take advantage of a free header in the box – Ken Sema, it appeared, the culprit on each occasion.   On another occasion Josh Windass went down in the area – described on comms as having anticipated a challenge, not found it and gone down because he didn’t know what else to do.  As an aside, I try to avoid other people’s opinions as far as is reasonable before writing this stuff – if there’s any value in these reports it’s not in reproducing second-hand verdict – but in the case of the Yorkshire Post’s hilarious “blatant penalty” I’ll make an exception.  Other than this however we again managed to navigate a period of inferiority without looking like being punished for it.

3- And having gotten a foothold towards the end of the first half we started to push on in the second.  Glenn Murray had a combative but largely ineffective hour or so with João Pedro alongside him starved of the ball, a problem since the Brazilian’s quick feet and nimbleness seemed as likely a way of navigating Wednesday’s press as any other option that we had.  With the introduction of Stipe Perica that balance of power shifted more absolutely and irretrievably;  the Croat succeeded in holding the ball up where Murray had been less effective, and suddely João Pedro was sparkling alongside him.

As we picked up steam the home side began to look ragged, and were relying increasingly on the sort of last ditch tackle that in-control defending ought to render unnecessary.  That Wednesday weren’t in control reflected our growing confidence more than any ineptitude in their part.  We were sparking into life with increasing frequency as the games progressed – it’s wasn’t enough, but it was something.  A breathlessly deft move saw four or five players combine, a blink-and-you-miss-it rattling attack that concluded with João Pedro playing a ridiculously deft flick into Chalobah who lifted a ball to the unmarked Perica.  Slightly ahead of the ball, Perica got the elevation to head downwards but straight at the keeper.  Another quick exchange, again involving Perica, saw Quina brought down on the edge of the area, Sema thumping the free kick over.  João Pedro juggled wide on the left to release Cleverley who put his shot too close to Dawson as defenders closed in.  Sema crossed from the left, Kabasele fired narrowly over.  Sema down the left again broke into the area with some clever footwork only to be denied by Rhodes. We ended the game well in the ascendancy, but over the piece while we looked solid enough and could have won the game we didn’t quite do enough in the final third to feel hard done-by with a point.

5- So what have we learned?  Hardly news given Ivić’s reported stylistic preferences but we look an awful lot better at stopping the other lot than scoring ourselves.  But for our marking at set pieces we looked pretty impenetrable today, as you’d hope from that extremely proficient back three with Cleverley and Chalobah sitting in front of them.  Chalobah, as an aside, is becoming a candidate for that all-but-forgotten mantle of boo-boy, a role largely unoccupied for a decade or so but was excellent today, strong defending and effective supporting attacks.  Better.  All that’s stopping him dominating football games at this level is a need for a bit more assertiveness.

Meanwhile wing-backs are a fine thing in general but particularly when one of them is Jeremy Ngakia, someone who only operates at full speed and puts in a beast of a cross.  On the other side, Kenzema remains a force for good and whilst it’s still not clear exactly where he fits someone who can whip in a cross like that with his left foot given no space to do it is always going to have a role if Stipe Perica is waiting in the centre.

This issues are further forward, where the periods of slower passing followed by lightning quick interchange to penetrate seem to demand Pedro’s ongoing inclusion.  Perica looks tidy and convincing. Quina was more effective today, Murray has a role but overall it’s not potent enough, not yet.

On the plus side, Deeney, Deulofeu, Welbeck and Sarr are waiting in the wings.  Each is likely to leave, but perhaps it’s unlikely that all four will, Sarr the name we’re watching as the clock ticks down.  Any one of them would render our forward line vastly more potent.  Then there’s the less familiar Suárez and the much maligned but still vital threat of Gray.

We’re not in a bad place, it’s coming together and we’re picking up results as we go.  Work in progress.

Yooorns.

Foster 3, Cathcart 3, *Kabasele 4*, Wilmot 3, Ngakia 4, Sema 3, Cleverley 3, Chalobah 4, Quina 3, João Pedro 3, Murray 2
Subs: Perica (for Murray, 58) 3, Garner (for Quina, 73) 3, Pussetto (for João Pedro, 88) NA, Sierralta, Dawson, Sinclair, Bachmann

Oxford United 1 Watford 1 (0-3 on pens) (15/09/2020) 16/09/2020

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
10 comments

1- I’m starting thunks at 22:08.  This is not going to be in-depth analysis…

2- So the thing is, the point at which I stop dwelling upon how weird it is and how different it is and how, you know, we wish things were the way they ought to be is the point at which the current state of affairs becomes normalised.  On the other hand, repeating these themes may become a little dull.  It’s a fine line, I tell you…

Pausing only briefly, then, to wonder what manner of Hornet lives in a Hive, Live or otherwise, it’s worth noting the pretty stunning job that the club have done of pulling this together.  No it’s not perfect and yes it helps to have terrific commentators and presenters on hand, not to mention the excellent Tommy Mooney…. and yes of course we’d rather be watching it in an actual stadium (or even a tree…great work lads…)

But to turn around an effort like this, even if not from a standing start, over a six week break or so is tremendous.  However inadequate watching a stream is vs, you know, actually being there not watching it would be far worse. On researching the season preview it was impossible to miss that the vast majority of Championship messageboards contain a thread entitled “iFollow” containing the same complaints about the standard provider that many clubs employ rather than doing it in house.  We’re not badly off I don’t think.

3- Some might question the wisdom of forking out a tenner for a stream to watch a single-camera view of the early stages of the League Cup.  Those same people would probably leave early at the end of a 6-0 pasting, or opt against long drives across the country to watch irrelevant end of season dead-rubbers in the rain.  This is a fundamental part of the process.  To skip it would be like skipping puberty.

Aside from which, those who didn’t fork out missed the spectacle of both sides apparently materialising onto an erstwhile empty pitch during Jon Marks’ intro, as if beamed down from the Starship Enterprise.  The Hornets were in the Sevilla-like all-white-with-red-trim away kit for the first time due to Oxford’s yellow and (dark) blue colours, which confused my instinctive desire to propel the yellows forward for the first half hour or so.  The side featured a predictable mix of youngsters, newbies and fringe players, in as much as these definitions mean a lot at the moment.

And we started OK.  Jerome Sinclair’s bullishness down the right set up a chance for Perica, his neat touch repelled by Oxford keeper Jack Stevens. Shortly afterwards a bomb of a cross from Toby Stevenson on the left, signed earlier in the day having been released from Charlton and perhaps with half an eye on Masina’s injury, again found Perica, who got slightly underneath it and crashed a header off the top of the bar.

This was a recurring pattern with Perica, incredibly tall without being ungainly but perhaps less of a bully than you’d like him to be.  Playing as we’re playing the width is generally coming from the wing backs and therefore the crosses often come from deeper.  Which isn’t easy for a target man, let alone one who’s not played competitively for months.

4- Defensively we looked wobbly, which was hardly surprising with three debutants and the other three of the back six boasting ten starts for the ‘orns between them before tonight.  Oxford, fielding a less-than-full-strength side themselves, were a good mix of tough and tidy, but there was all sorts wrong with their goal from our point of view… Sierralta, who had a shaky first half, Phillips and Chalobah could all have done better but Rob Hall surged onto his chance and thumped past Bachmann from range.

At which point we fell apart.  We had become a little apathetic anyway… standing off Oxford, not chasing down but without the resilience to allow the home side to run themselves into the ground.  Such a strategy is far less credible when you fall behind and we struggled for a foothold…  Quina continued his rather desperate flailing from Friday, Perica failed to hold the ball up and defensively we were a bit of a shambles.  Oxford went for the kill and weren’t very far at all from getting it, denied on one occasion by the post, on others by unkind bounces and more than once by the custodian, but we’ll get to him.

5- The half-time switch of Sema for Chalobah may have been pre-planned, but bringing Kabasele in for the Dutch youngster Derek Agyakwa was emergency surgery.  Agyakwa was no more culpable than anyone else in that first half and had put in one stout challenge to stem an early attack, but we needed someone in there who knew what they were doing and whilst acknowledging that Oxford already had the lead and that we didn’t exactly deny them any opportunities in the second half the Belgian’s impact was nonetheless pretty immediate and we looked an awful lot more solid.

And aggressive, thank heavens.  A game and a half in you’re wondering how we ever coped without Ken Sema, whose broad hunched shoulders are very un-wingery but yet who looks a pretty vital cog in this season’s squad.  Dom Quina got hold of the ball a bit and started to exert some control.  We pushed back on Oxford and Stevenson provided another superb arcing cross.  João Pedro came off the bench and is half-a-second here and a metre-or-so there away from being completely brilliant.  We looked better.  Credible.

But when Marc Navarro pulled first a shirt and then a hamstring in trying to snuff an Oxford attack it really did look like the jig was up.  Instead we seemed to get stronger… Sierralta became a very lanky but reasonably effective right-winger.  João Pedro sent an impossible pass through that didn’t quite find it’s target.  The biggest criticism was…  a lack of goal threat, despite Perica’s very obvious prominence and threat in the air.  You kinda feel that will come…  he got his head to everything.

And in the end, that’s how the goal arrived, another good ball from Stevenson and this time Perica’s cuhsioning it down at the far post, João Pedro should probably score himself but scuffs his shot to Sema who tucks home in the last minute of the 90.

6- And the rest is all about Daniel Bachmann.  He was already Watford’s man of the match before the penalty shoot-out, a number of saves ranging from an instinctive block with the legs to athletic stretched blocks to a quite impossible save to deny Hall a fine headed goal.


But the penalty shoot-out was ridiculous.  You hope we’ve not spent our perfect penalty shoot-out at too inauspicious a time but it was a perfect penalty shoot-out.  That vibe, that sense you get of which way it’s going to go as the first spot kick is lined up was screaming in his favour before the first kick after the game he’d had.  He made three saves, two to his right and one to his left, meaning that after Kenzema and Quina had converted confidently Stipe Perica was able to slide us into the third round and a trip to Newport.  Bachmann, undisputedly, the hero of the hour.  If there were any question regarding his ability to step into Heurelho Gomes’ shoes (and the rather desperate, unbecoming conduct of Robin Olsen’s agent notwithstanding) that question remains no longer.

As for the bigger piece…  after the first couple of games, if this were the end point you probably wouldn’t be banking on promotion.  But this isn’t the endpoint, or anything close to it.  We’re fumbling our way towards mid-October by which point, one way or another, we are likely to be significantly stronger and picking up results along the way.

So far so good.

Yooorns.

*Bachmann 5*, Navarro 2, Stevenson 3, Sierralta 3, Agyakwa 2, Wilmot 3, Chalobah 3, Phillips 3, Quina 3, Sinclair 3, Perica 3
Subs: Sema (for Chalobah, 45) 3, Kabasele (for Agyakwa, 45) 3, João Pedro (for Sinclair, 60) 3, Pussetto, Ngakia, Murray, Parkes

Watford 1 Middlesbrough 0 (11/09/2020) 12/09/2020

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.
16 comments

1- “Heidi’s climbing on my head.  She’s just got back.  She says she won at ballet”.

This was always going to be a season like none that went before it, and the pre-match conference with my brother is fittingly unusual.  By this time we’d seen the team, and blinked several times.  The Spurs eleven was already sparse but never felt consciously experimental… this is where we are, at least for now.  But from that side we lost Estupiñan, Dawson, Dele-Bashiru and hamstring victim Gray with Perica also missing despite his signing having been confirmed in the week.  Jerome Sinclair is on the bench for goodness sake, which is something that none of us thought we’d see again.  As of maybe three years ago.

The official justifications for our many, many absences – 17, reportedly… that it’s hard to keep track tells you everything – range from injured to ill to unfit, often vague and understandably so.  There’s injured and there’s “injured”, one suspects. Twitter rumour claims that Craig Dawson has refused to play, which if true given his miserable half-arsed effort against Spurs is comparable to Andy Cole’s notorious retirement from international duty.

As for whoever has had their agent whining to the Daily Mail about having to work too hard in training….  underperforming last season, being part of a relegated side is a stain on anyone’s reputation but far from beyond redemption.  Not at the very least being prepared to put a shift in whilst you’re still at the club, risking undermining the rebuilding of the side in the process by publicly clutching at your pearls at the prospect of hard work?  Weak.  Shut the door on your way out.

2- Back on the pitch, if the cast has changed then the set-up is unrecognisable from last season.  A back three, wing-backs, two sitting midfielders and two attacking midfielders loosely either side of the forward.

And we look OK.  We look get-attable certainly, at least initially…  Assombalonga and Fletcher have scruffy half-chances but too many of them, and scruffy half-chances can become scruffy goals if you concede too many of them.  Nonetheless… when Wilmot strides forward or Femenía screams down the left we attack like sandsnakes, wriggling into space and opening Boro up during this opening period.  From one of a number of corners Quina changes the angle by laying off to the dynamic Sema who is quickly closed down, but not quickly enough to prevent a beast of a cross. Cathcart thunders in, brutally exposing and ripping open a moment’s lack of concentration.  The merciless precision of the move made Hall’s transgression look worse than it was.

3- We’re going to be quite good at being a goal up, I suspect.  Here we are after the most chaotic of pre-seasons with a squad spinning like a mobile in the breeze, with a new boss running his first training sessions in a new language without his assistants in tow just yet.   And for the rest of the game… no, we don’t look significantly better than a tough, dogged Boro side but we don’t look significantly better whilst being one-nil up and rarely looking like being anything else.  That’s a hell of an achievement on the part of the new boss.

The second half sees us sit much deeper.  The occasional rapier runs are much less frequent, but so is any suggestion that Boro will equalise.  It’s not completely beyond the realms of possibility…  Hall sends a volley over, there are a couple of awkward bounces in the box and probably more set pieces than you’d like to be facing but Cathcart, Kabasele and Wilmot keep the visitors at arms length for the most part.  We concede a single yellow card when Britt Assomablonga tussles his way past Ben Wilmot via a grip on the most delicate of leverage.  You can’t unsee that, approach replays with caution. Rather that than being on the receiving end though, an understandable transgression on the young defender’s part.

4- Looking at individual performances, there’s a lot to like from the new(ish) faces.  Wilmot, as above, digs in and is much more robust than his 20 years and slim frame suggest.  Ngakia’s passing is wayward but his energy is tremendous, and he’s involved at both ends of the pitch.  Quina is mobile but gets smothered too easily, too often the point at which attacks break down.

But João Pedro is the surprise package.  Sort of, and not really, obviously… he’s been in our minds since long before he was allowed to sign, long before Liverpool and Barcelona were sniffing around but we got him anyway.  Just a surprise in that…  such prodigies haven’t always quite become the superstars that they were going to be in our heads.  The Brazilian still might not, but this wasn’t half a promising full league debut.  Eighteen and slim but somehow spinning and holding the ball up and battling and sweeping through balls and getting kicked but lasting ninety minutes.  If by some miracle we hang onto Sarr – and reports today suggest that Liverpool will have to save all their pocket money in order to sign him in January – then my word.  Sarr running off the Brazilian?  Yes please.

5- Whilst there are other strong performances from experienced players – Chalobah has his best game for what, given the last six months, pretty much equates to living memory, Tom Cleverley is again every inch a captain alongside him – the collective whole only works up to a point.  Defensively, as above, we look as good as could possibly be expected in the circumstances.  Going forward, the good bits – and there are good bits – don’t quite fit together.  Don’t all quite lock in place.

But good god.  This is the very definition of work in progress. We needed a win any which way today, a win with so much to admire about it is more than good enough in the circumstances.  We have a list of absentees that is, perhaps goalkeepers aside, vastly superior to the squad we were able to put out. We won the game anyway.  A team, playing a game, under a manager that was completely unfamiliar.  We won at ballet. For the timebeing, that will more than do.

Bring on the next one.

Yoorns.

Foster 4, *Cathcart 4*, Kabasele 4, Wilmot 4, Ngakia 3, Cleverley 4, Chalobah 4, Femenía 3, Quina 2, Sema 3, João Pedro 4
Subs: Murray (for Sema, 66) 3, Navarro (for Femenía, 76) NA, Phillips (for Quina, 89) NA, Sierralta, Pussetto, Sinclair, Bachmann

Season Preview 2020 – Part 6 11/09/2020

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
12 comments

STOKE CITY

INS: James Chester (Aston Villa, Free); Steven Fletcher (Sheffield Wednesday, Free); Morgan Fox (Sheffield Wednesday, Free); John Obi Mikel (Unattached)

OUTS: Mame Biram Diouf (Hatyaspor, Free); Adam Federici (Macarthur, Free); Stephen Ward (Ipswich Town, Free); Josef Bursik (Doncaster Rovers, Season Loan); Lasse Sørensen (Franchise FC, Season Loan); Ryan Woods (Millwall, Season Loan)

OUR EX-POTTERS: Daniel Bachmann

THEIR EX-ORNS: Billy McKinlay (Assistant Manager)

Season H A FAC LC OTH
2017-18 0-1 0-0
2016-17 0-1
2015-16 1-2
2007-08 0-0 0-0
2005-06 1-0 3-0
2004-05 0-1 1-0
2003-04 1-3 1-3
2001-02 1-2 2-1
1995-96 3-0

POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:

Davies
Smith             Chester              Batth              Fox
Mikel                   Clucas
Campbell            Powell                McClean
Vokes

BLUFFER’S GUIDE: We’ll get on to our lot further down.  But the danger in overestimating the difference between the bottom of the top flight and the Championship is most aptly demonstrated by the Potters.  When they went down two years ago I won’t have been the only one expecting a strong challenge the following season.  Potters fans closer to the day-to-day of the squad might scoff… but this looked like a squad retaining a lot of quality more than capable of pushing for a swift return.  It didn’t prove so, and that’s perhaps a warning against our own overconfidence.

City have finished 16th and 15th in their two seasons in the Championship, but don’t be fooled.  I’m putting together these pieces in the absence of much actual insight of my own by pillaging the messageboards of the clubs concerned, and “watch out for Stoke” has been a recurring theme.  In Michael O’Neill City have a manager who is pulling things together, and the squad looks ridiculously experienced and deep.   Indeed it’s a very very large squad with a huge number of experienced players not in the line-up above due to injury, or wanting outness… or sheer competition.  Ryan Shawcross and Joe Allen fall into the former category, but both will be in contention soon.  Benik Afobe, Peter Etebo, Tom Ince and Kevin Wimmer are amongst those who haven’t quite clicked.  But the line-up above also misses Jack Butland, James McClean, Bruno Martins Indi, Lee Gregory…  in particular with five attacking players in Vokes, Gregory, Afobe, Campbell and new signing Steven Fletcher City have lots of attacking options.

A sign of a club that’s on the right path is also the evidence of attention to detail off-pitch.  The clubs “red and white season ticket” which sees fans pay for half the season’s fixtures (by choice, the red half or the white half) and streaming of the other half is innovative, giving supporters the much missed ability to plan their lives around (at least some) football as and when.

Play-offs minimum, you’d have thought.

SWANSEA CITY

INS: Jamal Lowe (Wigan Athletic, Undisclosed); Korey Smith (Bristol City, Free), Morgan Gibbs-White (Wolverhampton Wanderers, Season Loan); Marc Guehi (Chelsea, Season Loan); Freddie Woodman (Newcastle United, Season Loan)

OUTS: Kees de Boer (ADO Den Haag, Free); Erwin Mulder (Heerenveen, Free); Courtney Baker-Richardson; Jefferson Montero; Brandon Cooper (Newport County, Season Loan); Jack Evans (Paphos, Season Loan)

OUR EX-SWANS: Ben Wilmot

THEIR EX-ORNS: George Byers, Andy Scott (Head of Recruitment); Julian Winter (Chief Executive)

REPORT ARCHIVE:

Season H A FAC LC OTH
2017-18 1-2
2016-17 1-0 0-0
2015-16 1-0
2010-11 2-3
2009-10 0-1
2008-09 2-0

POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:

Woodman
Cabango         Rodon           Guehi
Roberts               Grimes         Smith               Bidwell
Gibbs-White

Lowe           Ayew

BLUFFER’S GUIDE: Swansea fall into a similar box to Brighton for me…  decent club, well-run, good place to visit, happy if they do well as long as they don’t do anything uncivil like beating us.

Having crashed into the play-offs last season you’d expect something similar again I think, “there or thereabouts”.  The crown jewels – centre back Joe Rodon, right back Connor Roberts are still there for the moment, good experience in the likes of Ayew and Wayne Routledge (yes, really) and some decent loans, particularly Wolves’ highly-rated Morgan Gibbs-White.

The financial realities of being in the final year of parachute payments are beginning to bite however, and there’s a general distrust of the club’s American owners.  This underlying anxiety rose to new levels last week with the departure of experienced, popular and transformative chairman Trevor Birch to a senior role at Spurs.  His replacement is a former Watford face Julian Winter, who Swans fans ought to trust to do a decent job.  One of his first decisions might be to respond to any offer from our direction for skipper Matt Grimes, widely touted as a replacement for Doucs.  The club’s anticipated handling of any such approach seems to being a barometer of the ambition of those American owners which is revealing in itself.  There’s none of the “don’t be ridiculous” stuff that you’d expect if such a move was out of the question.

The Swans were terrible by all accounts with a fairly strong side in losing at Newport in the League Cup at the weekend.  They are expected to be chasing a striker and a centre-back, perhaps related to the losses of loanees Rhian Brewster and Ben Wilmot, and their squad isn’t the deepest.  No worse than mid-table, and a play-off shout with a prevailing wind.

WYCOMBE WANDERERS

INS: Daryl Horgan (Hibernian, Undisclosed); Uche Ikpeazu (Hearts, Undisclosed); Jason McCarthy (Millwall, Undisclosed); Curtis Anderson (Manchester City, Free); Giles Phillips (Queens Park Rangers, Free); David Stockdale (Birmingham City, Free); Ryan Tafazolli (Hull City, Free)

OUTS: Sido Jombati (Oldham Athletic, Free); Jamie Mascoll (Bolton Wanderers, Free); Jacob Gardiner-Smith; Craig Mackail-Smith

OUR EX-CHAIRBOYS: None

THEIR EX-ORNS: Uche Ikpeazu

REPORT ARCHIVE:

Season H A FAC LC OTH
2012-13 1-0
2003-04 1-2
1997-98 2-1 0-0
1996-97 1-0 0-0

POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:

Allsop
Grimmer              Stewart             Charles         Jacobson
Horgan              Pattison       Wheeler       Gape        Onyedinma
Ikpeazu

BLUFFER’S GUIDE: As I may have mentioned, my day-job is as a statistician.  Understanding and quantifying uncertainty, really.  Specifically…  do these results prove that I’ve improved the properties of this product?  Or might I have just got lucky.  For example.

Doing this job for 25 years tends to steer you away from absolute statements.  If there’s a fence, I’ll sit on it.  If there’s a caveat, I’m all over it.

The relevance here is that Wycombe Wanderers are in their first season at this level.  Indeed, since consecutive promotions out of the Conference and into the third tier in the early nineties they’ve not troubled the top end of the table since finishing 6th in that first season, despite spending more seasons in the third tier than the fourth.

So they’ll be high on everyone’s lists of teams to get relegated.  A small club, a small budget, punching above their weight, overreaching?  And such is a possible eventuality, sure.  But definitely and probably aren’t the same thing.  There’s a margin of error around any prediction this season of all seasons, and Wanderers have a shout.  For one thing you can guarantee at least a couple of basket cases in this division, Wednesday look early candidates (but only probably…) and a well-run small club unhampered by expectation ought to be fancied over a flailing one with loftier ambitions.

Then there’s Gareth Ainsworth, who has enough personality to fill an olympic swimming pool.  Any side managed by him and with Akinfenwa in the dressing room isn’t going to be short of personality, one suspects.  The football will be quite direct, the threat from set pieces and the wings.  Wycombe will probably struggle.

But only probably.

WATFORD

INS: Stipe Perica (Udinese, Undisclosed); Francisco Sierralta (Udinese, Undisclosed); Jeremy Ngakia (West Ham United, Compensation to be agreed); Glenn Murray (Brighton & Hove Albion, Season Loan)

OUTS: Abdoulaye Doucouré (Everton, £20,000,000); Dmitri Foulquier (Granada, £1,800,000); Lewis Gordon (Brentford, Free); José Holebas (Olympiacos, Free), Callum Whelan (Oldham Athletic, Free); Heurelho Gomes; Ryan Cassidy (Accrington Stanley, Season Loan); Cucho Hernández (Getafe, Season Loan)

POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:

Foster
Cathcart            Kabasele             Wilmot
Ngakia                    Hughes                 Cleverley             Estupiñán
Quina                                Sema
Suárez

VERDICT: And here’s where the veil is removed from the foolishness of the 23 bits of flannel that preceded this one.  Because, predicting what’s to come,?Who the hell knows, frankly.  And if I can’t make a call on the team that I, you, we spend half our lives ruminating about, what sort of insight is half an hour digging around for info on Rotherham likely to reveal?

The Spurs win was tremendous, obviously.  But as was emphasised in the report on these pages, it’s impossible to know which of the 18 (eighteen, Teleprinter fans) missing senior players will be back in the fold in the longer term.  Except Doucs, obviously, so that’s one fewer degree of freedom.  Good, ish.  I suppose.

Who do we know is staying?  Strictly speaking nobody, but I’d be willing to venture that the new signings, Bens Wilmot and Foster, Cleverley, Dom Quina are as nailed on as it gets.  Frankly the prospect of a side with the two wing-backs, Quina, Wilmot in it with Ben Foster behind, even if it ends up being you, me, your Mum, Harry the Hornet, one of the guys from Fry Days and a bollard filling the starting eleven, is unspeakably exciting.  Energy.  Drive.  Wanting it.  Bring it on.

Even our relegation no longer upsets me quite as much as it did.  I mean, that’s a lie, obviously…  the relegation was a miserable, pathetic, avoidable disaster.  But being in the Championship isn’t, or wouldn’t be if things were “normal” and we could revisit old haunts and gorge ourselves on midweek games (remember those?).

Which isn’t to presume that we’ll be successful.  “Ripping the division a new one” is a possible outcome, but only one possible outcome and certain much less enjoyable outcomes are also plausible.  Vladimir Ivić has got a job on to mould a cohesive unit amidst this chaos, more even that Gianfranco Zola did eight (yes, really) years ago in the midst of the major overhaul as the Pozzos moved in.  Now as then it might take a bit of time, even if everyone is in a bit of a state of flux after the briefest of summer breaks and given the current financial uncertainty.

But at the moment, at the very least, it looks like a load of fun.  And heaven knows we all need a bit of that.

Bring it on.   Yooorns.

Season Preview 2020 – Part 5 10/09/2020

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
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QUEENS PARK RANGERS

INS: Lyndon Dykes (Livingston, £2,000,000); Luke Amos (Tottenham Hotspur, Undisclosed); Rob Dickie (Oxford United, Undisclosed); Tom Carroll (Unattached, Free); George Thomas (Leicester City, Free)

OUTS: Eberechi Eze (Crystal Palace, £19,500,000); Grant Hall (Middlesbrough, Free); Toni Leistner (SV Hamburg, Free); Giles Phillips (Wycombe Wanderers, Free); Marc Pugh; Dillon Barnes (Hibernian, Season Loan)

OUR EX-RS: None

THEIR EX-ORNS: John Eustace (Assistant Manager), Les Ferdinand (Director of Football), Paul Furlong (U18s head coach), Mark Warburton (Manager)

REPORT ARCHIVE:

Season H A FAC LC OTH
2013-14 0-0 1-2
2010-11 0-2
2009-10 3-1
2008-09 3-0
2007-08 2-4
2005-06 3-1 2-1
2004-05 3-0 1-3
2000-01 3-1 1-1
1998-99 2-1 2-1

POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:

Lumley
Kakay                Dickie                 Barbet             Manning
Osayi-Samuel      Carroll   Cameron       Amos           Chair
Dykes

BLUFFER’S GUIDE: Rangers were relegated into the division as we left it five years ago, and have largely spent the interim in our old haunt of lower mid-table.  This last season’s thirteenth placed finish was a relative high, with expectations dramatically reined in since they were yoyoing in and out of the top flight five to ten years ago.

There’s a strong Watford presence in the management team, John Eustace had been managing Kidderminster but joined the Rs with Steve McClaren two years ago only to outlast McClaren and retain his position under Mark Warburton’s stewardship.    I suspect I’m not the only one who’d be quite happy to see Eustace back at the Vic at some point.

The team itself is unashamedly attacking and flamboyant, but has a habit of being exposed by full-backs – not least the attack minded Manning, who we were linked with earlier in the year – pushing up and being caught behind.  The goals against column has been pretty horrific, with the absence of a reliable midfield grafter cited as a major issue, American Geoff Cameron now being 35 and beyond doing such charging around twice a week.

The sale of Eberechi Eze was a significant development over the summer;  by all accounts one of the most talented players in the Championship last season Eze had been released by Millwall four years ago; his sale represents a success story, the sort of model that the club – who appear well-run now in contrast to previous eras – are desperate to emulate.  The likes of Bright Osayi-Samuel and Illias Chair are candidates to be the next cab off the rank, but Rangers have a job on first off of replicating the approach that has just about seen them score enough goals to counterbalance the goals against column and keep them in the division in Eze’s absence.  A lightweight side has been given a bit of aggro with the signing of Australian born Lyndon Dykes, newly capped by Scotland in the weekend’s internationals, who will need to be a success one suspects if Rangers are to avoid a relegation battle.  A 3-2 League Cup defeat to Plymouth might have been welcome in relaxing a frantic September schedule, but hasn’t allayed supporters’ concerns about that defence.

READING

INS: Ovie Ejaria (Liverpool, Undisclosed); Josh Laurent (Shrewsbury Town, Free)

OUTS: Mo Barrow (Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors, Undisclosed); Tyler Blackett (Nottingham Forest, Free); Tyler Frost (Crawley Town, Free); Danny Loader (Porto, Free); Akin Odimayo (Swindon Town, Free); Charlie Adam; Chris Gunter; Vito Mannone, Garath McCleary; Jordan Obita; Adrian Popa

OUR EX-ROYALS: Nathaniel Chalobah, Adrian Mariappa, Graham Stack

THEIR EX-ORNS: Andy Yiadom

REPORT ARCHIVE:

Season H A FAC LC OTH
2018-19 2-0
2014-15 4-1
2013-14 0-1 3-3
2011-12 1-2
2010-11 1-1
2009-10 3-0
2008-09 2-2 0-4
2006-07 0-0 2-0
2005-06 0-0 0-0
2004-05 0-1 0-3 3-0
2003-04 1-0 1-2
2002-03 0-3 0-1
1995-96 4-2

POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:

Rafael
Yiadom                     Morrison                 Moore             Richards
Swift             Ridomhota         Ejaria
Méïté                     João                   Pușcaș

BLUFFER’S GUIDE: Reading are just there.

There’s no problem with that.  There have been plenty of times in very recent history when the same has applied to us, depending on your perspective, both in this division and in the Premier League, when being just there has suited us fine thank you very much.  Nonetheless, Reading are just there.

Since we parted ways five years ago the Royals are onto their seventh permanent manager (that’s more or less the same as us, depending on how many times / whether you count Slav and Quique) and have also come under Chinese ownership.  When we visited in the League Cup two years ago – and whilst conceding that nowhere looks its best in the early stages of the League Cup – the place felt… neglected.  Crumbling.  A little unloved, though surely not by its patrons.  The latest managerial change saw Mark Bowen, having dragged the Berkshire side into mid-table, encouraged to take a seat upstairs to accommodate Veljko Paunović, a Serb who had been managing in the MLS.  Bowen declined, and there’s a wearied, unconvinced sound to the messageboards.

The Royals had finished third the season before the summer takeover.  Since then they’ve twice finished narrowly clear of the relegation places and if last season was slightly more comfortable there’s no great optimism here.  The first team has some decent players – Ivorian Yakou Méïté managed 17 goals last season – but the squad depth isn’t great.  Mid-table at best, but you wouldn’t bet against a tighter scrap with relegation.  Being just there in this climate isn’t a very healthy thing to be.

ROTHERHAM UNITED

INS: Wes Harding (Birmingham City, Undisclosed); Viktor Johansson (Leicester City, Free); Angus MacDonald (Hull City, Free); Mickel Miller (Hamilton Academical, Free); Kieran Sadlier (Doncaster Rovers, Free); Jamal Blackman (Chelsea, Season Loan)

OUTS: Jerry Yates (Blackpool, Undisclosed); Laurence Bilboe; Julien Lamy

OUR EX-MILLERS: None

THEIR EX-ORNS: Rob Scott (Head of Talent ID), Adam Thompson

REPORT ARCHIVE:

Season H A FAC LC OTH
2014-15 3-0
2004-05 0-0 1-0
2003-04 1-0 1-1
2002-03 1-2 1-2
2001-02 3-2 1-1
1996-97 2-0 0-0

POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:

Blackman
Olusunde         Ihiekwe          Wood            Mattock
Ogbene         MacDonald        Lindsay                    Sadlier
Ladapo               Smith

BLUFFER’S GUIDE: The Millers had come off the back of successive promotions when we played them in the promotion season, Slav memorably fielding four centre-backs across the back line to counterattack the visitors’ aerial threat at Vicarage Road.

After spending three consecutive seasons in the second tier for only the second time since the 1960s, Paul Warne’s side have bounced between tiers two and three for the past four seasons, culminating in last season’s promotion as the lockdown ground League One to a halt.

All the signs are that it will be a struggle to avoid that run being extended;  escaping relegation is the height of the messageboards’ ambitions.  They’re far from a basket case;  the likeable Warne, his assistant Shaun Barker and goalkeeping coach Andy Warrington are all former Millers players, the squad had enough about it to get promoted but the attack looks a little blunt and goalkeeper Jamal Blackman, now 26, has made an anxious start to his ninth loan exile from Chelsea.  Saturday’s defeat at Salford City was the side’s first competitive football in around six months and if the 1-1 full time score before penalties decided the issue flattered City, United nonetheless managed to lose the game.  Relegation candidates, but good enough to take advantage of concerted rubbishness elsewhere.

SHEFFIELD WEDNESDAY

INS: Fisayo Dele-Bashiru (Manchester City, Undisclosed); Josh Windass (Wigan Athletic, Undisclosed); Chey Dunkley (Wigan Athletic, Undisclosed); Elias Kachunga (Huddersfield Town, Free); Izzy Brown (Chelsea, Season Loan)

OUTS: Steven Fletcher (Stoke City, Free); Fernando Forestieri (Udinese, Free); Morgan Fox (Stoke City, Free); Connor Kirby (Harrogate, Free); Sam Hutchison; Kieran Lee; Atdhe Nuhiu; Fraser Preston; Jack Stobbs; Sam Winnall

OUR EX-OWLS: None

THEIR EX-ORNS: None

REPORT ARCHIVE:

Season H A FAC LC OTH
2014-15 1-1
2013-14 0-1
2012-13 2-1 4-1
2009-10 4-1
2008-09 2-2
2007-08 2-1
2005-06 2-1 1-1
2002-03 1-0 2-2
2001-02 3-1 1-2 0-4
2000-01 1-3 3-2
1999-00 1-0 2-2
1997-98 1-1/0-0

POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:

Wildsmith
Iorfa                     Lees                 Borner
Odubajo      Luongo             Brown            Bannan        Harris
Kachunga           Windass

BLUFFER’S GUIDE: Having made a couple of stout play-off challenges in the two years after our promotion, with varying levels of help from a wide range of ex-Hornets.  Since then the wheels have fallen off somewhat with a series of unconvincing mid-table finishes.

The most dramatic recent development is a twelve point penalty, imposed for breaching profitability and sustainability rules with regard to the sale of their stadium in respect to their accounts.  Controversial both in regard of the penalty itself, but also the timing…  as anyone with an interest or a Wednesday-supporting mate will know this thing dragged on and on last season and throughout lockdown until it became pretty transparent that imposing a penalty for this coming season rather than effectively relegating the Owls last season carried far less risk of litigation;  Charlton, the wounded party as it turned out, briefly considered legal action and then gave up on the idea.

Nonetheless this leaves the Owls on a sticky wicket this season (cricketing analogy there, sports fans…).  Ignoring Wigan’s points deduction they finished seven points clear of the drop last time round and so a twelve point penalty isn’t necessarily game over.  However that seven point buffer was achieved with the help of a large number of experienced players that have since moved on…  Fletcher and Fox, two of the stronger players in last season’s side, have joined Stoke, Sam Hutchinson is speaking to us by all accounts and Fessi was too before joining Udinese having become the last of the ex-Hornets to exit Hillsborough.  Wednesday are left with a very young squad and precious little up front, although their recruitment has been better than I’d have expected in the circumstances – Tom Dele-Bashiru’s kid brother the standout name.

The psychological burden of that penalty will be a factor as well.  Every poor run, of which there will surely be some, will induce that little bit of panic as the chasm opens slightly wider.  Wednesday need a siege mentality and a good start, something that we will have a say in one way or another on our first Championship away trip next weekend.  Strong relegation candidates, obviously.

Season Preview 2020 – Part 4 09/09/2020

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
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MILLWALL

INS: Mason Bennett (Derby County, Undisclosed); Scott Malone (Derby County, Season Loan); Troy Parrott (Tottenham Hotspur, Season Loan); Ryan Woods (Stoke City, Season Loan)

OUTS: Jason McCarthy (Wycombe Wanderers, Undisclosed); Aiden O’Brien (Sunderland, Free)

OUR EX-LIONS: Graham Stack

THEIR EX-ORNS: Terry Bullivant (Chief Scout)

REPORT ARCHIVE:

Season H A FAC LC OTH
2016-17 0-1
2014-15 3-1 2-0
2013-14 4-0
2012-13 0-0 0-1
2011-12 2-1 2-0
2010-11 1-0
2005-06 0-2 0-0
2004-05 1-0 2-0
2003-04 3-1 2-1
2002-03 0-0 0-4
2001-02 1-4 0-1
1997-98 0-1 1-1
1996-97 0-2 1-0
1995-96 2-1

POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:

Bialkowski
Hutchinson            Pearce              Cooper
Romeo                Woods         Williams              M.Wallace
J.Wallace                 Smith                    Bennett

BLUFFER’S GUIDE: The Lions were relegated from this division the year we went up;  it took them two years to get back up via the play-offs and since then two eighth-placed finishes have sandwiched a struggle with relegation in 2018/19.  Gary Rowett took over as boss when local hero Neil Harris resigned in October last year;  the Lions were 18th at the time, but Rowett propelled the side upwards to finish within two points of the play-offs in a congested upper mid-table.

In as far as it’s possible to judge with the most vibrant Millwall forum – which informed my first preview for BSaD 23 years ago – now barricaded to new entrants and nothing beyond factual comment in the web coverage, you’d stick the Lions in a similar place this time.  The squad looks relatively solid, there’s been some sensible strengthening over the summer.  Rowett is a sound enough manager, and in Troy Parrott the Lions have a handy looking loan signing to supplement a forward line with plenty about it.  Not nailed on for the play-offs, but a solid top half at worst.

NORWICH CITY

INS: Jordan Hugill (West Ham United, £5,000,000); Przemysław Płacheta (Slask Wroclaw, £2,700,000); Kieran Dowell (Everton, Undisclosed); Bali Mumba (Sunderland, Undisclosed); Jacob Sørensen (Esbjerg, Undisclosed); Matthew Dennis (Arsenal, Free); Daniel Sinani (F91 Dudelange, Free); Sebastian Sono (Hannover 96, Free); Ben Gibson (Burnley, Season Loan); Xavi Quintilla (Villarreal, Season Loan); Oliver Skipp (Tottenham Hotspur, Season Loan)

OUTS: Jamal Lewis (Newcastle United, £13,500,000); Mason Bloomfield (Hartlepool United, Free); Billy Johnson (Stevenage, Free); Diallang Jaiyesimi (Swindon Town, Free); Sean Raggett (Portsmouth, Free); Tom Scully (Accrigton Stanley, Free); Rocky Bushiri (KV Mechelen, Season Loan); Carlton Morris (Franchise FC, Season Loan); Louis Thompson (Franchise FC, Season Loan); Isak Thorvaldsson (St Mirren, Season Loan)

OUR EX-CANARIES: None

THEIR EX-ORNS: None

REPORT ARCHIVE:

Season H A FAC LC OTH
2019-20 2-1 2-0
2015-16 2-0 2-4
2014-15 0-3
2013-14 2-3
2010-11 2-2 3-2
2008-09 2-1
2007-08 1-1 3-1
2005-06 2-1 3-2
2003-04 1-2 2-1
2002-03 2-1 0-4
2001-02 2-1 1-3
2000-01 4-1 1-2
1998-99 1-1 1-1
1995-96 0-2 2-1

POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:

Krul
Aarons        Gibson         Godfrey          Quintilla
Sørensen       Skipp
Buendia               Cantwell             Płacheta
Pukki

BLUFFER’S GUIDE: So.  City get promoted having ripped the Championship to bits.  Then spend the bare minimum in the transfer market, a bold/foolish decision to do a long term build, to all but sacrifice last season in the name of a steady improvement of the squad and facilities, all eyes on a more sustainable pitch at it the next time around.  They attracted a remarkable amount of praise on the opening day of last season when Liverpool were able to score four first-half goals without doing very much before City put some passes together and got a goal back after the break.  An irrelevant goal,  the lack of defensive shape, albeit against the team that would win the League, screamed warnings about their season.  So it proved;  there were brief sparks of life before the lockdown but the empty stadiums robbed City of what advantage there might have been in a relatively friendly looking run-in.  They went down with barely a whimper.  Now, though, the theory would go, is when they get the payback.  When they’re well set up to go again.

I think you’d be daft to bet against it.  Those preserved monies have been spent well on an impressive range of temporary and permanent signings, and whilst doubt remains as to where the likes of Lewis (sale to Newcastle confirmed last night…), Aarons, Godfrey, Cantwell and Buendía will spend this season the Canaries seem to have succession plans in place and will profit still further if they realise their young assets.

Coming off the back of a relegation season is never completely straightforward… City have lost a lot of games over the last twelve months but the stiffening of the midfield in front of the back four is critical and the influx of new players will provide impetus.  Wide margins of error on any prediction this of all seasons of course, but the Canaries have to be strong candidates for automatic promotion.

NOTTINGHAM FOREST

INS: Faouad Bachirou (Malmö, Undisclosed); Miguel Angel Guerrero (Olympiacos, Undisclosed); Tyler Blackett (Reading, Free); Jack Colback (Newcastle United, Free); Lyle Taylor (Charlton Athletic, Free); Luke Freeman (Sheffield United, Season Loan)

OUTS: Matty Cash (Aston Villa, £16,000,000); Tyler Walker (Coventry City, Undisclosed); Liam Bridcutt (Lincoln City, Free); Costel Pantilimon (Denizlispor, Free); Marcus McGuane (Oxford United, Season Loan); Danny Preston (Grimsby Town, Season Loan)

OUR EX-FOREST: Nathaniel Chalobah

THEIR EX-ORNS: Ben Watson

REPORT ARCHIVE:

Season H A FAC LC OTH
2015-16 1-0
2014-15 3-1
2013-14 1-1 2-4
2012-13 2-0
2011-12 0-1
2010-11 1-1
2009-10 0-0 4-2
2008-09 2-1
2004-05 0-2 2-1
2003-04 1-1 1-1
2002-03 1-1 1-0
2001-02 1-2 0-0
2000-01 3-0 2-0
1980-81 4-1

POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:

Samba
Darikwa         Worrall        Dawson          Ribeiro
Sow                Colback            Freeman
Lolley                       Grabban                    Ameobi

BLUFFER’S GUIDE: Since our relegation Forest spent three year fumbling around at the wrong end of the division, but in the last two years have been at the business end of the table culminating in a crushing slip out of the play-off positions at the last minute last season.

Since last summer the man at the helm has been Sabri Lamouchi, a one-time French international midfielder who almost made the cut for the 1998 World Cup winning squad, and on at least one occasion last season was linked with the Watford vacancy.  Following last season’s disappointment Forest have strengthened in midfield in particular and are another side who ought to be challenging.  Whether there’s quite enough for automatic is open to question – there’s not overwhelming confidence on the Forest messageboards – but the midlands side are well stocked in most positions.  Play-offs minimum you’d have thought.

PRESTON NORTH END

INS: None

OUTS: Jack Armer (Carlisle United, Free); Tom Clarke (Salford, Free); Michael Crowe (Viking FK, Free); Connor Simpson (Cork City, Free); Josh Ginnelly (Hearts, Season Loan)

OUR EX-LILYWHITES: Danny Welbeck

THEIR EX-ORNS: None

REPORT ARCHIVE:

Season H A FAC LC OTH
2010-11 2-2
2009-10 2-0
2008-09 2-1
2007-08 0-0
2005-06 1-2 1-1
2004-05 0-2 1-2
2003-04 2-0 1-2
2002-03 0-1 1-1
2001-02 1-1 1-1
2000-01 2-3 2-3
1997-98 3-1 0-2
1996-97 1-0 1-1

POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:

Rudd
Fisher               Bauer                 Davies             Hughes
Pearson             Ledson
Barkhuizen               Johnson                       Sinclair
Maguire

BLUFFER’S GUIDE: Preston were promoted to the Championship after a four year absence the same year that we went up, and have since established themselves in upper mid-table.  We’ve not played them in the League for almost a decade, and so the side itself isn’t familiar.   There are a few well-known faces…  former Swansea and Celtic winger Scott Sinclair, the hugely experienced Paul Gallagher and David Nugent who is guaranteed to trundle off the bench and score against us again if he’s still at Deepdale by the end of November.  Alex Neil, the boss, is also a familiar adversary having been in charge of the Norwich side that came up with us.

It would be wrong to dismiss the unfamiliar names as filler though, since in the likes of Daniel Johnson, Ben Pearson, Ben Davies and Darnell Fisher North End have players coveted by other clubs.  They fall squarely into the bucket labelled “no mugs”, and were praised pre-season by Chris Wilder after a competitive friendly draw with Sheffield United.  They’re not the best resourced club in the Championship and have a number of valued players precariously close to the end of their contracts which could upset the dressing room if agitation starts early.  Otherwise, have a good shout of the play-offs.

Season Preview 2020 – Part 3 08/09/2020

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
3 comments

DERBY COUNTY

INS: David Marshall (Wigan Athletic, Undisclosed); Mike te Wierik (Groningen, Free); Matt Clarke (Brighton & Hove Albion, Season Loan)

OUTS: Max Lowe & Jadon Bogle (Sheffield United, £11,000,000 joint); Mason Bennett (Millwall, Undisclosed); Chris Martin (Bristol City, Free); Ikechi Anya; Tom Huddlestone; Scott Malone (Millwall, Season Loan); Jonathan Mitchell (Northampton Town, Season Loan)

OUR EX-RAMS: Will Hughes

THEIR EX-ORNS: Craig Forsyth

REPORT ARCHIVE:

Season H A FAC LC OTH
2014-15 1-2 2-2
2013-14 2-3
2012-13 2-1
2011-12 0-1
2010-11 3-0
2009-10 0-1
2008-09 3-1
2005-06 2-2 2-1
2004-05 2-2 2-2
2003-04 2-1 2-3
2002-03 2-0 0-3
1999-00 0-0 0-2
1995-96 1-1

POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:

Marshall
te Wierik      Bielik       Clarke
McDonald     Bird             Lawrence      Shinnie       Buchanan
Sibley          Waghorn

BLUFFER’S GUIDE: Since our promotion Derby have managed three play-off finishes in five seasons, reaching the final two years ago under the guidance of Frank Lampard with a couple of his future Chelsea charges on loan.  Last year, under the no less illustrious guidance of Philippe Cocu and player-coach Wayne Rooney, the Rams slipped back into mid-table with the threat of an (ultimately unrealised) Sheffield Wednesday-style points deduction hanging over their heads throughout.

As ever it’s difficult to make judgements with a lot of the transfer window to go (let alone having been a bit distracted for the last five years…) but County’s side looks solid but stodgy to me.  A lack of pace all round, despite the promise of youngster Sibley playing behind the forward, and a lack of depth in attacking positions in particular.  Derby aren’t flush for cash and so won’t be spending big between now and the end of the season;  any half-decent team has a shout of the play-offs in this division, but that’s the best they’ve got, a shout.  Unobtrusively mid-table seems more likely.

HUDDERSFIELD TOWN

INS: Danny Ward (Cardiff City, Free); Joel Pereira (Manchester United, Season Loan)

OUTS: Herbert Bockhorn (VfL Bochum, Free); Joel Coleman (Fleetwood Town, Free); Jan Gorenc-Stanković (Sturm Graz, Free); Elias Kachunga (Sheffield Wednesday, Free); Rekeil Pyke (Shrewsbury Town, Free); Collin Quaner; Danny Simpson; Reece Brown (Peterborough United, Season Loan); Scott High (Shrewsbury Town, Season Loan)

OUR EX-TERRIERS: None

THEIR EX-ORNS: Leigh Bromby (Head of First Team Operations), Jonathan Hogg

REPORT ARCHIVE:

Season H A FAC LC OTH
2018-19 3-0
2017-18 1-4 0-1
2014-15 4-2
2013-14 1-4
2012-13 4-0 3-2
2000-01 1-2 2-1
1998-99 1-1 0-2

POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:

Pereira
Hadergjonaj       Schindler        Kongolo            Toffolo
Bacuna             Hogg         O’Brien
Grant                     Ward               Mbenza

BLUFFER’S GUIDE: The Terriers were promoted to the Premier League against all expectation three years ago.  After defying expectations by staying up in their first top flight campaign the wheels came off in the second and they were relegated, following up by struggling badly in the Championship last year.

In that time boss David Wagner has moved on and both Jan Siewert and Danny Cowley have been and gone.  The new incumbent is Spaniard Carlos Corberán, a former goalkeeper who has been managing Leeds’ U23s.  He inherits a side that has been losing far more games than it’s been winning for three seasons now, which is heavily reliant for goals on Karlan Grant, subject of approaches by West Brom according to reports, that is low on cover having lost a large proportion of last season’s senior squad over the summer and low on funds, loans having been repaid to former chairman Dean Hoyle leaving Town with ostensibly little to show for their Premier League escapade.

It’s difficult to see anything but a difficult season ahead.  Relegation candidates.

LUTON TOWN

INS: James Bree (Aston Villa, Undisclosed); Tom Lockyer (Charlton Athletic, Undisclosed); Rhys Norrington-Davies (Sheffield United, Season Loan); Jordan Clark (Accrington Stanley, Free)

OUTS: Donervon Daniels (Crewe Alexandra, Free); Jake Jervis (SJK, Free); Frankie Musonda (Raith Rovers, Free); Marek Stech (Mansfield Town, Free); Donervon Daniels (Crewe Alexandra, Free); Lloyd Jones

OUR EX-HATTERS: Andre Gray

THEIR EX-ORNS: None

REPORT ARCHIVE:

Season H A FAC LC OTH
2005-06 1-1 2-1
2002-03 1-2
1997-98 1-1 4-0
1996-97 1-1 0-0
1995-96 1-1 0-0
1993-94 1-2
1982-83 5-2

POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:

Sluga
Bree                Lockyer                 Bradley          Galloway
Rea         Berry          Mpanzu             Lee
Collins             Cornick

BLUFFER’S GUIDE: No, it’s not bloody exciting.  And yes, maybe I am getting old and grumpy but I could really have done without this.  If there’s a joy to be had in having local rivals it’s surely best realised by looking down a division or two.  It was very nearly two again, of course, but that’s not how things turned out and so here we are.  As I say, maybe I’m getting old…  but the bile and hatred of the worst of the (most) recent encounters I can do without.

Anyway.  The Hatters left it late but managed to preserve their second tier status with a little to spare in the end, if abetted by the bizarre goings on at Wigan.  Nathan Jones is back in charge after an unsuccessful secondment at Stoke and managed four wins in nine after the restart but doesn’t seem to have the full confidence of the Luton support judging from messageboard verdicts.  Ambitions don’t stretch much higher than lower mid-table, staying up would seem to do for most, but having made some crowd-pleasing defensive signings over the break they should at least be hard to beat.  Particularly, one suspects, on September 26th.

MIDDLESBROUGH

INS: Grant Hall (Queens Park Rangers, Free)

OUTS: Adam Clayton (Birmingham City, Free); George Friend (Birmingham City, Free); Daniel Ayala; Rudy Gestede; Ryan Shotton

OUR EX-BORO: Nathaniel Chalobah

THEIR EX-ORNS: Britt Assombalonga

REPORT ARCHIVE:

Season H A FAC LC OTH
2016-17 0-0
2014-15 2-0  1-1
2013-14 1-0
2012-13 1-2  2-1
2011-12 2-1
2010-11 3-1
1999-00 1-3 1-1  0-1

POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:

Stojanovic
Dijksteel        Hall             Fry
Spence     Tavernier         Howson     Saville    Johnson
Assombalonga             Fletcher

BLUFFER’S GUIDE:  In the three years since relegation Boro’s fortunes have followed their parachute payments…. play-offs in 2018, narrowly missing out in seventh a year later and then coming horribly close to the drop last time out under Jonathan Woodgate before Neil Warnock arrived in typically understated fashion to haul yet another side away from trouble.

It looks a bit dicey again for Boro, who have lost an awful lot of experience over the close season with Warnock chuntering in the local press about players and agents with unreasonable expectations in the current climate as he struggles to bring players in.  No doubting that there’s an awful lot in that, but these are revealing comments and cast an angle on our own squad… both that we’re perhaps lucky to have so many assets desirable to the relatively limited number of clubs with actual money, and that those in our squad beneath that top tier might find that they’re not going to match the money of their current contracts and might actually stay put.

So Boro have some useful players and some decent kids coming through by all accounts but they’re short on numbers as it stands and will be vulnerable to a bad run of injuries.  Probably too much about them to struggle badly, but only probably.

Season Preview 2020 – Part 2 07/09/2020

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
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BRENTFORD

INS: Ivan Toney (Peterborough United, £5,000,000 rising to £10,000,000); Charlie Goode (Northampton Town, Undisclosed); Lewis Gordon (Watford, Free)

OUTS: Dru Yearwood (New York Red Bulls, Undisclosed); Justin Shaibu; Julian Jeanvier (Kasımpaşa, Season Loan); Jaakko Oksanen (AFC Wimbledon, Season Loan); Luka Racic (Northampton Town, Season Loan)

OUR EX-BEES: Andre Gray

THEIR EX-ORNS: Lewis Gordon

REPORT ARCHIVE:

Season H A FAC LC OTH
2014-15 2-1 2-1
1997-98 3-1 2-1
1996-97 2-0 1-1

POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:

Raya
Dalsgaard     Jansson          Pinnock      Henry
Jensen             Da Silva          Nørgaard
Mbeumo                  Watkins                Benrahma

BLUFFER’S GUIDE: The Bees have been solidly mid-table since our departure from the Championship up until the season just gone.  They won their first seven straight after lockdown to propel themselves into automatic promotion contention but then lost their last two to Stoke and Barnsley to finish third, losing out in the play-off final to neighbours Fulham.

What the fallout is out of that lot is anyone’s guess.  They have a talented side built, it is reputed, off statistical analysis as much as conventional scouting (which ticks boxes for me…) but are likely to lose, in Ollie Watkins and Saïd Benrahma, two attacking jewels with further interest in the likes of left-back Rico Henry and keeper David Raya from top flight clubs.  Ivan Toney, who we and about a dozen other clubs were also linked with, has been brought in ostensibly to fill one of the gaps to be created in the forward line and the Bees have done a very fine job in recent years of buying low and selling high whilst making steady progress.  Quite how successful they are at doing this again in the wake of the briefest of pre-seasons in which to reshuffle the pieces and overcome the disappointment of yet another play-off defeat (their ninth failure of nine to navigate a promotion play-off), plus the move to a new stadium which could go either way (particularly whilst empty) in being a Good Thing or a Bad Thing as it affects their form and that of their visitors will determine whether they are contending for automatic promotion or another play-off tilt.

BRISTOL CITY

INS: Joe Williams (Wigan Athletic, Undisclosed); Chris Martin (Derby County, Free); Alfie Mawson (Fulham, Season Loan)

OUTS: Rory Holden (Walsall, Undisclosed); Korey Smith (Swansea City, Free); Matty Taylor (Oxford United, Free); Bailey Wright (Sunderland, Free); Robbie Cundy (Cambridge United, Season Loan); Owura Edwards (Grimsby Town, Season Loan); Saikou Janneh (Newport County, Season Loan); George Nurse (Walsall, Season Loan); Cameron Pring (Portsmouth, Season Loan); Jonny Smith (Swindon Town, Season Loan); Marley Watkins (Aberdeen, Half Season Loan)

OUR EX-ROBINS: None

THEIR EX-ORNS: Mark Ashton (CEO), Rene Gilmartin, Andi Weimann

REPORT ARCHIVE:

Season H A FAC LC OTH
2017-18 3-0 2-3
2013-14 1-1 / 2-0
2012-13 2-2
2011-12 2-2 2-0
2010-11 1-3 2-0
2009-10 2-0
2008-09 2-4
2003-04 0-1
2001-02 3-2
1998-99 1-0 4-1
1997-98 1-1 1-1
1996-97 3-0 1-1 2-1

POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:

O’Leary
Mawson        Kalas         Baker
Eliasson          Patterson     Morrell             Nagy         Dasilva
Diédhiou        Weimann

BLUFFER’S GUIDE: Three cup encounters in the interim, one of which going to replay, disguise the fact that we’ve not played City in the league since 2013.  They were promoted back to the Championship the year we went up, and have gradually settled into mid-table occasionally but not sustainably flirting with the play-offs, which they’ve not reached since losing to the Hull City side that had seen us off in the semis in 2008.

The Robins are another side under new management, Dean Holden being the erstwhile assistant to former Hornet Lee Johnson whose father, Gary, had also been a long-time manager at Ashton Gate.  The squad looks useful but imbalanced;  an apparent move to 3-5-2 ought to capitalise on City’s surfeit of midfielders and provide a little bit of robustness – a criticism of Johnson’s sides being that the defence was getting precious little protection.  City aren’t overburdened with central defenders however, and have strengthened this area with another mooted Watford target, Alfie Mawson, on loan from Fulham.

Elsewhere City have a number of decent forwards which will prove useful as the fixtures come thicker and faster than ever – although Player of the Season Famara Diédhiou is in the last year of his contract – but patched up their side with a number of loans last season and so will need to either repeat this trick or hope that injuries don’t take too much of a toll.   One of the large number of sides that could either trouble the play-offs or slip into trouble depending on which way the wind blows for them.

CARDIFF CITY

INS: Kieffer Moore (Wigan Athletic, £2,000,000); Jordi Osei-Tutu (Arsenal, Season Loan)

OUTS: Danny Ward (Huddersfield Town, Free); Omar Bogle; Matthew Connolly; Jazz Richards; Ciaron Brown (Livingston, Season Loan)

OUR EX-BLUEBIRDS: None

THEIR EX-ORNS: None

REPORT ARCHIVE:

Season H A FAC LC OTH
2018-19 3-2
2014-15 0-1 4-2
2012-13 0-0
2011-12 1-1
2010-11 4-1
2009-10 0-4
2008-09 2-2
2007-08 2-2
2005-06 2-1 3-1
2004-05 0-0 3-0
2003-04 2-1 0-3

POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:

Smithies
Osei-Tutu             Morrison                 Nelson                 Bennett
Murphy                   Tomlin                  Ralls                Hoilett
Moore         Glatzel

BLUFFER’S GUIDE: A year after relegation Neil Warnock may have moved on but his legacy remains both in the form of an aggressive forward line in particular – new signing Kiefer Moore supplements 6’4″ German striker Robert Glatzel and the abrasive Callum Patterson – and a number of unsuccessful signings perceived with retrospect as short-termist, leaving City with one of the oldest squads in the division.

Creativity is in short supply with the squad over-reliant on Lee Tomlin in central midfield and the squad’s possession stats amongst the lowest in the division.  Neil Harris’ side did make the play-offs and will remain stiff opposition, but they were closer to mid-table than to automatic promotion in points terms and the squad isn’t getting younger.  Can’t see them troubling the play-offs this time.

COVENTRY CITY

INS: Gustavo Hamer (PEC Zwolle, £1,400,000); Marcel Hilssner (SC Paderborn, Undisclosed); Tyler Walker (Nottingham Forest, Undisclosed); Julien Da Costa (Chamois Niort, Free); Callum O’Hare (Aston Villa, Free); Ryan Giles (Wolves, Season Loan); Leo Østigård (Brighton & Hove Albion, Season Loan); Ben Sheaf (Arsenal, Season Loan)

OUTS: Zain Westbrooke (Bristol Rovers, Undisclosed); Jack Hickman (Bolton Wanderers, Free); Callum Maycock (Solihull Moors, Free); Dexter Walters (Tamworth, Free); Reise Allassani; Bouwe Bosma; Junior Brown; Jordy Hiwula

OUR EX-SKY BLUES: None

THEIR EX-ORNS: Brandon Mason

REPORT ARCHIVE:

Season H A FAC LC OTH
2019-20 3-0
2011-12 0-0
2010-11 2-2
2009-10 2-3
2008-09 2-1 3-2
2007-08 2-1 3-0
2005-06 4-0 1-3
2004-05 2-3 0-1
2003-04 1-1 0-0
2002-03 5-2 1-0
2001-02 3-0 2-0
1999-00 1-0 0-4
1987-88 1-0

POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:

Marosi
Dabo    Østigård      Hyam         Rose    Giles
Hamer                 O’Hare                    Kelly
Walker       Godden

BLUFFER’S GUIDE: Rare heady days for City, who have been promoted twice in three years having barely finished top half in whatever division they’ve been in since the eighties prior to that.  The Sky Blues may still be without a permanent base, playing “home” games at St Andrews this season, but they have a young, likeable side that hasn’t lost a game since before Christmas last year, going fourteen League games unbeaten before the League One season was curtailed in March and beating Franchise in their League Cup opener at the weekend.

That they’d not played a competitive game in almost six months prior to that will be a rare situation to start the season in, but with the further potential boost of a sell-on in Callum Wilson’s pending transfer things are as good for City as they’ve been for a while.  Unlikely to trouble the play-offs – those of us of a certain age will remember how hard it is to push on after promotions in quick succession – but won’t struggle either.

Season Preview 2020 – Part 1 06/09/2020

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
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Right.  Five years on.  I did pay attention after we got promoted, for a bit.  But then, you know, we stayed up and you kinda felt that should have been that and that should have been that and yet here we are.  We’ll get to that.  Anyway, the upshot is that I am less informed than I once was, so I’ve been looking at the opinions of people who ought to know what they’re talking about.  Four today, four tomorrow and so on…

BARNSLEY

INS: Dominik Frieser (LASK, Undisclosed); Kilian Ludewig (Red Bull Salzburg, Season Loan)

OUTS: Cameron McGeehan (KV Oostende, Undisclosed); Mallik Wilks (Hull City, Undisclosed); Jordan Barnett (Oldham Athletic, Free); Samuel Radlinger (SV Ried, Free); Toby Sibbick (KV Oostende, Season Loan); Kenny Dougall; Dani Pinillos; Mamdou Thiam; Jordan Green (Southend United, Six Month Loan)

OUR EX-TYKES: None

THEIR EX-ORNS: Martin Devaney (U23s Head Coach)

REPORT ARCHIVE:

Season H A FAC LC OTH
2013-14 3-0
2012-13 4-1 0-1
2011-12 2-1 1-1
2010-11 1-0
2009-10 1-0
2008-09 1-1 1-2
2007-08 0-3
2001-02 3-0 0-2
2000-01 1-0 1-0
1998-99 0-0 2-2

POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:

Walton
Sollbauer        Andersen          J.Williams
Ludewig         Mowatt         Oduor             Styles
Woodrow
Brown               Chaplin

BLUFFER’S GUIDE: Barnsley have been promoted to the Championship twice and relegated out of it once since we were last in the division five years ago.  It was very nearly two relegations… the Tykes dropped into the relegation zone in mid-September last season and only vacated it on the final day and then with the help of Wigan’s points penalty being confirmed.

Key in the Tykes’ revival was Austrian head coach Gerhard Struber, who replaced the sacked Daniel Stendel in October.  He has introduced a flexible but typically high-pressing style and was, according to rumour, Vladimir Ivić’s main competition for our head coach role in the summer. He’s talked of needing to bring in new players, his sort of players, but has already added three Austrians at the time of writing – centre-back Michael Sollbauer and midfielder Marcel Ritzmaier in January, and winger Dominik Frieser in this transfer window.

Key men include skipper Alex Mowatt and forward Cauley Woodrow, though the latter hasn’t flourished under Struber having often been fielded in a link-role between the midfield and the forwards.  Given the direction of travel you’d fancy Barnsley to be a little less precarious this time around, but there are problems off the field;  disagreements between shareholders are yielding suggestions of legal action, no-nonsense defender Bambo Diaby remains under suspension following a protracted investigation into a doping allegation and Welsh wing-back Ben Williams has upset transfer plans, as constipated at Oakwell as everywhere else, by suffering an ACL injury that will keep him out for much of the season.

Candidates for relegation then, but Struber looks like a trump card for as long as Barnsley hang onto him.

BIRMINGHAM CITY

INS: Jonathan Leko (West Bromwich Albion, £1,000,000); Adam Clayton (Middlesbrough, Free); George Friend (Middlesbrough, Free); Andres Prieto (Espanyol, Free); Iván Sánchez (Elche, Free); Jon Tural (Hull City, Free)

OUTS: Jude Bellingham (Borussia Dortmund, £20,700,000); Álvaro Giménez (Cádiz, £2,400,000); Wes Harding (Rotherham United, Undisclosed); Kerim Mrbati (KV Mechelen, Free); Corey O’Keeffe (Mansfield Town, Free); Jonathan Grounds; Cheick Keita; Jacques Maghoma; David Stockdale; Remeao Hutton (Stevenage, Season Loan); Connal Trueman (AFC Wimbledon, Season Loan); Fran Villalba (Almeria, Season Loan); Craig Gardner (retired)

OUR EX-BLUES: Ben Foster, Jerome Sinclair

THEIR EX-ORNS: Josh McEachran

REPORT ARCHIVE:

Season H A FAC LC OTH
2014-15 1-0
2013-14 1-0
2012-13 2-0
2011-12 2-2
2008-09 0-1
2001-02 3-3 2-3
2000-01 2-0 0-2
1999-00 0-1
1998-99 1-1 2-1 1-0 / 0-1
1995-96 1-1 0-1
1983-84 3-1

POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:

Prieto
Colin                    Dean         Friend             Pedersen
Clayton        Sunjic
Bela               Crowley          Sánchez
Leko

BLUFFER’S GUIDE: The last four seasons have seen the Blues finish between 17th and 20th in the Championship, under the guidance of six different managers.  Far be it for us to comment on such an atrocity of course, but the advent of a high profile seventh has led to some rare optimism in the West Midlands.

Áitor Karanka is the man, an old adversary from our last time in the Championship who has already brought George Friend and Adam Clayton in from his former charges.  Karanka isn’t known for his free-scoring sides of course, and the paucity of striking options is a real issue at the time of writing.  Nonetheless, the sale of prodigy Jude Bellingham to Dortmund is helping fund a strengthening of the squad.  This might lead to City pushing a bit higher up the table this time around, but mid-table would still be a result you suspect.

BLACKBURN ROVERS

INS: Thomas Kaminski (KAA Gent, Undisclosed)

OUTS: Matty Platt (Barrow, Undisclosed); Jack Evans (Forest Green Rovers, Free); Richard Smallwood (Hull City, Free); Danny Graham; Sam Hart; Jayson Leutwiler; Dominic Samuel; Tom White (Bolton Wanderers, Season Loan)

OUR EX-ROVERS: None

THEIR EX-ORNS: None

REPORT ARCHIVE:

Season H A FAC LC OTH
2014-15 1-0
2013-14 3-3
2012-13 4-0
2000-01 0-1 4-3
1995-96 1-2

POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:

Kaminski
Nyambe          Lenihan        Wharton         Bell
Dack        Johnson       Evans
Gallagher         Brereton           Armstrong

BLUFFER’S GUIDE: Since we last met Rovers have dropped into the third tier for the first time since 1980 (which is when football started as far as I’m concerned, so part of my brain still lodges them as a third tier club) but bounced back at the first time of asking.  Otherwise they’ve been settled in lower mid-table for the most part with a squad to match.  Tony Mowbray has been in charge since 2017 and his grim, determined visage is kind of fitting for a side who have enough about them to stay clear of trouble but not enough resources to trouble the top of the table.

A bad season with injuries might see them struggle, and this seems more likely than a promotion push with a prevailing wind.  The side has bits that are strong and bits that need patching up – Rovers have a couple of highly rated defenders in Irish stopper Darragh Lenihan and Namibian right-back Ryan Nyambe, but the team as a whole does better going forwards than backwards and this seems likely to continue, although at the time of writing the number of attacking options has been reduced by the departures of Dominic Samuel and veteran Danny Graham who joined Rovers at the age of 30 but managed 57 goals for the Lancashire club.  Inconspicuously bottom half would be my best bet, but a massive margin of error on all predictions this season for obvious reasons.

 

AFC BOURNEMOUTH

INS: None

OUTS: Nathan Aké (Manchester City, £40,700,000), Aaron Ramsdale (Sheffield United, £18,500,000); Matt Butcher (Accrington Stanley, Undisclosed); Shaun Hobson (Southend United, Undisclosed); Artur Boruc (Legia Warsaw, Free), Jermain Defoe (Rangers, Free); Charlie Daniels, Simon Francis, Ryan Fraser, Jordan Ibe, Brad Smith, Andrew Surman; Tyler Cordner (Scunthorpe United, Season Loan)

OUR EX-CHERRIES: None

THEIR EX-ORNS: None

REPORT ARCHIVE:

Season H A FAC LC OTH
2019-20 0-0
2018-19 0-4
2017-18 2-2
2016-17 2-2
2015-16 1-1  1-1
2014-15 1-1
2013-14 6-1 2-0
2003-04 1-0
1997-98 2-1 1-0
1996-97 0-1 2-1
1995-96 1-1

POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:

Travers
Smith          S.Cook               Kelly         Rico
Brooks         L.Cook           Lerma           Stanislas
Solanke         Wilson

VERDICT: So this may come as a shock, but there are one or two similarities between our position and Bournemouth’s once again. Yes, really.

Both, most obviously, relegated from the top flight with squads that might reasonably have expected not to have been.  Both had injury situations that contributed significantly to said state of affairs.  Both are left with talented squads that might not be entirely suited for the Championship and are frantically playing the juggling, plate-spinning game of working out who wants to leave, who they can afford to keep and who they can get how much cash in for.  And both will be starting the season under new management.

Here, perhaps, the similarities end.  Eddie Howe had been at the club a very long time, and whilst Jason Tindall might represent a degree of continuity he’s also on a very sticky wicket… needing to replace a hugely successful figure but tweak the things that got Bournemouth relegated in the first place.  Another big difference is in the wage bill, an issue for any relegated club notwithstanding parachute payments, but the Cherries’ wage bill-to-income ratio was rumoured to be eye-wateringly high in the Premier League, much higher than ours.  A different degree of urgency to get back up again, one wonders whether they’ll be tempted to stick everything on black and try to get back up first time at all costs (and high risks).

At the time of writing, whilst crown jewel Aké has gone along with Ramsdale, who leaves an open question in the goalkeeping department and a number of senior players have left at the end of their contracts but Wilson, King, Lerma and the semi-ostracised Begovic are amongst those who remain on big salaries, and whilst the Cherries have picked up a couple of tidy looking youngsters in the likes of Kelly, Stacey and Mepham their transfer record in the Premier League was not the source of particular admiration.

Bournemouth will be top half.  Quite how much higher than that remains to be seen.  Won’t be dull.