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Watford 0 Leeds United 1 (28/08/2010) 29/08/2010

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.
19 comments

Five thunks from the first League reverse of the season

1- The sort of game, frankly, that I was dreading in the summer. Leeds weren’t particularly better than us – but they were bigger, stronger and, crucially, one goal up for most of the game. An equaliser was never beyond the realms of possibility… indeed, our second half flurries constituted the most convincing spell of pressure from either side – but nor did it look overwhelmingly likely. Pre-match discussion had suggested that this game would help inform whether the season was to contain unexpected revelry on a par with Norwich, or whether we were to be a soft touch as suggested a couple of times since. Unfortunately, one suspects that there will be further frustrating afternoons in store… we don’t have the physical presence to win a battle, or the depth of options to change a game that needs changing.

2- Having said which, it’s difficult to fathom Swash Buckley starting on the bench. The source of so much of our positive attacking play this season, if his selfless running and bringing other players into the game sometimes resembles the contribution of Danny Graham, Graham’s enforced absence made Buckley’s omission all the more mystifying. The frustration was exacerbated by a shambolic performance from replacement Jordan Mutch, whose showing was an exaggerated pastiche of one of Henri Lansbury’s early, less convincing games. Clearly a talented player – his one or two good moments were amongst our best – he largely struggled to contribute in his role at the front of the diamond, often needing too much time in possession and consequently losing it, shying away from the physical confrontation and too frequently shooting optimistically from distance. As with Lansbury, we have to hope that player and team work out how to benefit from each other in time.

3- Troy Deeney. Lots to love and lots to agitate over already… strong as an ox, great touch, worked hard, but (as I may already have suggested) recalls Gifton Noel-Williams in his ability to antagonise a referee (an irritating little nerk in this case) by being big and awkward. His strength will be a massive asset, we just need to suss out how to use it, and that involves Troy working out how not to give cheap free kicks away. Significantly, having been at fault in the calamity that preceded Naylor’s goal, Deeney subsequently proved very adept at dropping back to support his defence at set pieces. Plenty of raw material here.

4- Kasper Schmeichel was amongst the most demoralising aspects of the afternoon, plucking even the better of our highly variable crosses with what might have been a yawn. He has also inherited his father’s enormous kick, and only once looked troubled when a right-wing second-half cross left him exposed but unpunished as our forwards weren’t alert enough to attack the far post. One particularly aggravating moment came when Schmeichel came out bravely to pluck the ball from Martin Taylor’s head… I’d maintain that Taylor’s showings thus far constitute a big improvement on what we saw last season, but he’s still not nasty enough. Given the obstacle that Schmeichel was providing, forgive me, but I’d quite like to have seen Schmeichel flat on the floor and the ball in the net, even at the cost of a free kick. Taylor had every right to claim the header, but didn’t do so.

5-I’m completely in favour of the pragmatic use of the East Side of the ground; in the absence of a stand, the erection of commentating gantries and the like can only be interpreted as sensible, whilst the benches enjoy their long-awaited roof safe in the knowledge that nobody’s view is being obscured. It does feel rather… resigned though. Much as I know that nothing’s doing there any time soon, I’d like to be able to prolong the illusion of progress – semi-permanent constructions kinda forbid this….

Watford 1 Notts County 2 (24/08/2010) 25/08/2010

Posted by Ian Grant in Match reports.
2 comments

1. So much a game of two halves that using more than a pair of thunks – good thunk, bad thunk – seems a little wasteful. Unless you count this as a thunk in its own right, of course. Ah.

2. Anyway, we were thoroughly luxurious for forty-five minutes. Improbably luxurious, given the combined price tag (Troy Deeney’s slightly incongruous signing aside). One year on, Malky’s managed to surprise us again: whatever struggles inevitably lie ahead in the winter months, you have to applaud the bravery of trying to assemble another team to play fast, energetic, absolutely bloody charming pass-and-move football when everyone else just phones up Neil Warnock and asks what he’d do. Under this manager, any success feels like a genuine reward for endeavour.

But you do have to claim that reward. Our second-choice – then, anyway – strike pairing combined touch, strength, pace and awareness with a comprehensive inability to stick the ball in the net; our midfield flicked passes hither and thither happily, making the most of the smoothly grassed pitch before it all turns into a battlefield again. At various times, County’s six yard box resembled a rugby try-line, forwards attempting to force themselves over by sheer weight of numbers. We looked like we could score at any moment…and we very nearly did…and we didn’t….

3. The rest was so predictable that you shouldn’t get depressed about it. What happened is what usually happens: our opponents spent the interval transforming themselves from a bewildered shambles into a vaguely competent football team, whereas we’d have been much happier carrying on without a break. County were galvanised by an early set piece goal; we discovered that glossy football is much easier when you’re not under pressure, physical and mental, and looked around forlornly in the hope that John Eustace would pop up out of nowhere to shout, point and kick things until it was all right again. He didn’t. You half-expected to see Malky striding over towards the County bench to open negotiations with Jon Harley…

4. A slightly undignified exit, then…but with a squad that already feels stretched, it’s hard to have too many regrets. The youngsters will get more than their fair share of first team experience by May; forty-six league games will last quite long enough.

5. As if to demonstrate the point, Danny Graham’s injury during a short and questionable substitute appearance was the real low point of the night, a reminder of the thin ice that separates us from drowning. You can only do so much with these resources before you have to trust to luck: lose two or three of the core first team to injuries and no amount of tactical tweaking or desperate pleas for whoever fills Will Hoskins’ boots would be able to save us. The manager would still get the blame, everyone would pick out a scapegoat to howl at…but there’d be precious little anyone could do.

It’s going to be a long season. We’re going to need some good fortune. But cling onto this: if fortune does indeed favour the brave, then we have every right to put our hands up high.

Watford 2 Coventry City 2 (14/08/2010) 15/08/2010

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.
38 comments

Five thunks from a home point in a rainstorm. I was supposed to be in a hot air balloon this mornng. Mid-August, I ask you. Anyway…

1- I guess that the thing to cling to is that being mugged by Coventry, being in a position where only drawing at home feels like daylight robbery, is something of an improvement on what many feared at the start of the season. We’ve won six of our last eight against this lot, and the two that we didn’t – this fixture, and the corresponding one last season – should both have been won also. But we were positive, bright, incisive, dominant for big chunks of the game. I didn’t envisage performances like this.

2- Whilst City getting back into it never exactly looked on the cards, it was always a possibility. We know from experience that Boothroyd sides will tend to keep scrapping for the duration, that points will never be given up on however lame the performance (and it was pretty lame). City’s first was well struck but Loach should have had it, it wasn’t remotely in the corner and owed a lot for it’s passage to Loach’s slip. Whilst we’ve not looked shambolic at the back, we have looked brittle and it was clear that we’d be under pressure once City got one back. And then of course the critical refereeing decision, the like of which was always a possibility in the light of a nervous, erratic performance by the stand-in referee. Never a penalty in a million years, of course, but these things happen… we’ll learn a lot about our young side from how they respond at Hull next weekend.

3- Some thoroughly encouraging performances from our new and recent recruits. Substitute Deeney looked fantastic with his back to goal, holding the ball up, fighting players off many of whom just bounced, linking the play in a fashion which recalled Gifton’s better performances. Loan-signing Jordon Mutch looked immediately comfortable, confident, unflustered. One month already feels insufficient. Stephen McGinn… whilst he drifted in and out of the game, and he can’t do that from centre-midfield, he looked a whole lot more confident than last season, a decent performance. Best of all Will “Swash” Buckley, direct, positive, quick, honest. This Watford side will be far from dull.

4- Boothroyd. Still can’t bring myself to like him. Didn’t boo him, but…. in accepting, revelling in the reception of the crowd at the end of the game, he should have stopped short of the fist-waving celebration. You were welcomed back Aidy, but we support Watford, not you. We weren’t going to share in your celebration. Perhaps old habits die hard.

5- There aren’t going to be many uglier central midfields in the division than Michael Doyle and Lee Carsley. Carsley, as my co-editor observed, looks mis-cast as a footballer… he should be a drill instrcutor, bawling in the face of some scrawny recruit. You wouln’t mess, anyway…

Norwich City 2 Watford 3 (06/08/2010) 06/08/2010

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.
15 comments

Five thunks from my sofa. Yes, I have small children… brownie points carefully spent, and this one was on the telly…

1- On a whim, I experimented with a bottle of Chianti, a break from the regular diet of bottled lager or diet coke, depending on whether I’m “on duty” or not. The Chianti experiment proved successful and will be repeated, although not sure whether I’ll get a bottle into the ground next Saturday.

2- And who saw that coming, frankly, because I have to say I didn’t. No, Norwich weren’t perfect; even at nil-nil in what emerged as an open start to a very open first half, City were leaving all sorts of gaps as they attacked… Elliott Ward looked pretty much just as I’d remembered him playing for Coventry. And they were slow to the ball, ponderous. But stuff it, we won 3-2 away from home on the opening day against a team who should have been flying, you take it any way it comes.

3- Plenty of plusses for the Golden boys, not least what looks a pretty convincing spine of Mariappa, Eustace, Graham, all superb on the night. The departure of erstwhile captain Demerit may turn out not to do Mariappa any harm at all. Despite Taylor’s stature and experience, Mariappa is the leader at the back now, and played like it.

4- Bold substitutions from Malky, almost impetuous at the time but ultimately effective. It’s questionable whether an outlet in Buckley would have been more useful than the destructive job done by Jenkins, but he made the decision early and we didn’t suffer for it. Bloody hell though, what a young bench… Gilmartin the veteran at 23?

5- It’s still going to be difficult. One win, however impressive, doesn’t change that. But bloody hell, bring it on. Football’s back, and the ‘orns are top of my league ladders, if only until tomorrow afternoon…. 🙂

Season Preview 2010-11 01/08/2010

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
17 comments

Here we are again, after a summer hiatus. Yes, we should have probably done something on the World Cup but were frankly too busy watching it. In summary: England, rubbish. Germany, excellent. Vuvuzelas, fantastic. Video Technology, inane. Holland, shameful. Spain, worthy winners. That’s it, done and dusted.Right. Proper football…

BARNSLEY

INS: Liam Dickinson (Brighton & HA, £150,000), Jeronimo Morales Neumann (Estudiantes, Undisclosed), Jason Shackell (Wolves, Undisclosed), Jim O’Brien (Motherwell, Tribunal), Goran Lovre (Groningen, Free), Jay McEveley (Derby County, Free), Diego Arismendi (Stoke City, Loan)

OUTS: Daniel Bogdanovic (Sheffield United, Free), Michael Coulson (Grimsby Town, Free), Simon Heslop (Oxford United, Free), Rob Kozluk (Sheffield United, Free), Darren Moore (Burton Albion, Free), Anderson de Silva, Mounir el Haimour, Jon Macken, O’Neil Thompson (Hereford United, Loan)

OUR EX-TYKES: None

THEIR EX-ORNS: Martin Devaney

POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:

Steele

Hassell Foster Shackell McEveley

O’Brien Colace Lovre Hammill

Hume Neumann

VERDICT: Mark Robins converted Barnsley from a side that looked destined for the drop to an inconspicuously solid mid-table outfit quite effectively last season. “Solid, mid-table” might not be the sexiest of monickers but it’s a deal more attractive than certain alternatives as we know – I’d take “Solid, mid-table” this season with both hands, frankly. A revamp of the side has seen five six-footers brought in at the time of writing, so no reason to expect Barnsley to be any softer touches this season than last; however with Andy Gray in the Nathan Ellington role of highly paid makeweight the Tykes look short up front. Robins has stated his intention to sign a striker, but even a successful recruit would be burdened with considerable responsibilty; interpretation of Michael Boulding’s return, offering to play for nothing in search of a contract, has been focused on Barnsley’s implied desperation in re-signing a veteran who failed to convince a division below the first time round. Robins has recruited, in loan-signig Diego Arismendi from Stoke, an example of what will surely be this season’s fashion accessory, a player from a smaller South American state (Uruguay here) but overall lack of firepower and a lot of chopping and changing throughout the side make it difficult to see Barnsley finishing above halfway.
  

BRISTOL CITY

INS: Kalifa Cisse (Reading, Undisclosed), Damion Stewart (Queens Park Rangers, Undisclosed), Albert Adomah (Barnet, Tribunal), Nicky Hunt (Bolton Wanderers, Free), David James (Portsmouth, Free)

OUTS: John McCombe (Huddersfield Town, Undisclosed), Bradley Orr (Queens Park Rangers, Undisclosed), Frankie Artus (Cheltenham Town, Free), Paul Hartley (Aberdeen, Free), Lee Trundle (Neath Athletic, Free), Brian Wilson (Colchester United, Free), Stephen Collis, Ashley Kingston, Tristan Plummer

OUR EX-ROBINS: Sean Dyche

THEIR EX-ORNS: David James, Lee Johnson, Keith Millen (Assistant Manager)

POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:

James

Hunt Carey Nyatanga McAllister

Campbell-Ryce Cisse Skuse Adomah

Haynes Maynard

VERDICT:
It’s thirty years since Bristol City were in the top flight; I know this; because even at the age of seven I had an instinct that Gerry Gow and co in Football 80 felt like a bit of an anomaly. A city that size, and a club as well-poised as City with a decent-ish top-half second-tier team makes their attractivenes to Steve Coppell understandable; he now has an opportunity to once again turn a half-decent bunch of players into a more than half-decent team.

City returned to the second tier three years ago with a run to the play-off final fuelled in part by the previous season’s momentum, and abetted by a weak division (we were shocking for half the season and still finished sixth). Since then, consecutive tenth-placed finishes have concealed a squad that has been built up in depth; if City can hold on to Maynard, don’t rule out a strong challenge for the play-offs this time around.

 
BURNLEY

INS: Chris Iwelumo (Wolves, £500,000), Dean Marney (Hull City, £350,000), Lee Grant (Sheffield Wednesday, Undisclosed), Ross Wallace (Preston North End, Undisclosed)

OUTS: Steven Fletcher (Wolves, £6,500,000), Robbie Blake (Bolton Wanderers, Free), Joey Gudjonsson (Huddersfield Town, Free), Steven Caldwell, Ben Hoskin, Stephen Jordan, Adam Kay, Jonathan Lund, Nicky Weaver

OUR EX-CLARETS: None

THEIR EX-ORNS: Clarke Carlisle, Chris Eagles

POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:

Grant

Mears Carlisle Bikey Fox

Elliott Marney McCann Wallace

Iwelumo Patterson

VERDICT:
On the face of it, Burnley have done it what might be perceived as “right”. Or, prudent anyway… blessed with what can only have been a slightly unexpected windfall, they’ve spent quite carefully, built relegation clauses into such new contracts as were offered, spent a big wedge on Stephen Fletcher but sold him on for a profit. Tick, tick, tick. One’s almost tempted to hope that they do well, which would be a novel experience and a theme that might repeat itself further down this preview. Can’t say I’m overly convinced by Brian Laws though, and one senses that there’s still an element of needing to justify his existence following his slightly surprising appointment in succession to Owen Coyle. Wallace and Grant are terrific signings, Iwelumo functional but effective; like many of his new colleagues, he’s been promoted from this division before. Burnley will be up and around the top six again, and this time this won’t be a surprise to anyone.

 CARDIFF CITY

 INS: Tom Heaton (Manchester United, Free), Daniel Drinkwater (Manchester United, Loan)
 
OUTS: Mark Kennedy (Ipswich Town, £75,000), Josh Magennis (Aberdeen, Free), Darren Dennehy (Barnet, Free), Warren Feeney (Oldham Athletic, Free), Joe Ledley (Celtic, Free), Aaron Morris (Aldershot Town, Free), Tony Capaldi, Peter Enckelman, Riccardo Scimeca (retired)

OUR EX-BLUEBIRDS: None

THEIR EX-ORNS: Michael Chopra, Neal Ardley (Academy Manager), Terry Burton (Assistant Manager), Paul Wilkinson (Reserve Team Manager)
 
POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:

Marshall

Matthews Hudson Gerrard McNaughton

Burke Rae McPhail Whittingham

Bothroyd Chopra

VERDICT:
Just as every season seems to see the Bluebirds strengthen their squad despite an apparently perilous financial situation, every summer that they fail to get promoted leaves one wondering whether this is the year that it all goes pear-shaped and chickens come home to roost, so to speak. And kick the Bluebirds out of their nests or something (better abandon that analogy now – Ed). At the time of writing a transfer embargo is preventing Dave Jones from adding to his squad… an embargo first put in place due to money owed to the taxman, then kept in place due to non-filing of annual accounts. With Charlton and Motherwell making angry noises about money owed in respect of Mark Hudson and Paul Quinn’s transfers last summer, Cardiff’s ability to defy logic and recruit looks like being tested to the full.

All of which looks like challenging Jones’ motivational skills somewhat… should he hang around long enough to have to cope with it. City were arguably the most impressive visitors to Vicarage Road last season, but Joe Ledley has already moved on – and denied City a “development fee” by moving to Scotland and therefore abroad, and much of the side are out of contract next summer. Getting performances out of those that remain, approaching end of contract or otherwise, will be a very big ask if the transfer embargo lasts until the end of August. It’s difficult to conceive of an outcome that would be entirely surprising.
 

COVENTRY CITY

INS: Lukas Jutkiewicz (Everton, Undisclosed), Richard Keogh (Carlisle United, Undisclosed), Clive Platt (Colchester United, Nominal), Lee Carsley (Birmingham City, Free), Roy O’Donovan (Sunderland, Free), Stephen O’Halloran (Aston Villa, Free), Gary McSheffrey (Birmingham City, Free)

OUTS:Ashley Cain (Mansfield Town, Free), Marcus Hall (Northampton Town, Free), Clinton Morrison (Sheffield Wednesday, Free), Adam Walker (Nuneaton Town, Free), Elliott Ward (Norwich City, Free), Dimi Konstantopoulos, Stephen Wright, Curtis Wynter

OUR EX-SKY BLUES: John Eustace

THEIR EX-ORNS: Aidy Boothroyd

POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:

Westwood

Keogh Wood Crainie McPake

Bell Gunnarsson Carsley McSheffrey

Eastwood Jutkiewicz

VERDICT:
Right, so this is the bit where I talk about Coventry then. Yup. OK. Coventry. Play in Sky Blue. Easy away trip. Always finish inconspicuously bottom half. End. Right. Palace. What, did I miss something? Oh yes…

Cov will be the first visitors to Vicarage Road on August 14th, and there’s only one man that that particular game will be all about. Less than two years (yes, really) since departing Vicarage Road, Aidy Boothroyd is back, and at the helm of a side who seem in need of the whopping great big broom that his relentless positiveness will constitute after a grim spell under the increasingly charmless Chris Coleman. Skimming City messageboards is like entering a time warp, with familiar-feeling references to obscure triallists, trips to forge links with exotic partners, and plenty of discussion of Boothroyd’s personality which is likely to split City fans as it splits everyone else. From a safe-ish distance, it will be interesting to watch and observe whether Boothroyd can recreate the dramatically effective surgery he performed on our side in the summer of 2005 (based on what appears to be a more limited budget), or whether the grim lack of variety that tarnished his third season at Watford and reportedly followed him to Colchester becomes a recurring trend. Boothroyd is without doubt a hugely talented manager; our time under him was anything but dull. My reservations are perhaps best summed up by the uncomfortable memory of him planting himself at the centre of the players’ celebratory melee at Cardiff after beating Leeds, wresting the trophy from Gavin Mahon. No grace, no letting the players enjoy their moment. The centre of attention, a man in love with his own image and reputation, sharing a grating tendency to refer to himself in some sort of detached commentary with his successor at Vicarage Road. City will hope for less of that and more of the inspiration that propelled us to promotion in 2006. In any event, Coventry won’t be dull this time around, even if their football is. Top half.
 

CRYSTAL PALACE

INS: Adam Barratt (Southend United, Free), Andy Dorman (St.Mirren, Free), Lewis Price (Derby County, Free), David Wright (Ipswich Town, Free)

OUTS: Jack Randall (Aldershot Town, Undisclosed), Danny Butterfield (Southampton, Free), Nick Carle (Sydney FC, Free), Shaun Derry (Queens Park Rangers, Free), Johannes Ertl (Sheffield United, Free), Clint Hill (Queens Park Rangers, Free), Michael Ablett, Hakeem Adelakun, James Comley, Matt Lawrence, Matthew Wright

OUR EX-EAGLES: None

THEIR EX-ORNS: Dean Austin (coach)

POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:

Speroni

Clyne McCarthy Barrett Wright

Ambrose Dorman N’Diaye Danns

Lee Andrew

VERDICT:
Palace dodged a bullet by the narrowest of margins in May. Much reflection at the time focused on the fact that but for a ten point deduction, Palace wouldn’t have been in that predicament… and prior to it, they were on the edge of the play-offs and looking upwards. Well, weren’t we all, at some point, in a reliably chaotic division. I don’t hold with the “but for the ten point deduction “thing either… Palace were deducted ten points for going nto administration, meaning they spent money – or committed to spending money – that they didn’t have. They’ve been suffering the consequences, and on the back of the sales of Moses and Fonte, and with George Burley’s stock unrecognisably lower than when he was leading Ipswich to unheralded heights a decade ago, I can’t see Palace finishing above halfway. The first choice midfield doesn’t look bad, but unless a reliable striker can be found Palace could be looking at another relegation struggle. And no mitigation or excuses this time.
 

DERBY COUNTY

INS: Dave Martin (Millwall, £200,000), James Bailey (Crewe Alexandra, Undisclosed), John Brayford (Crewe Alexandra, Undisclosed), Tomasz Cywka (Wigan Athletic, Free), Gareth Roberts (Doncaster Rovers, Free)

OUTS: Paul Connolly (Leeds United, Free), Jay McEveley (Barnsley, Free), Henrik Ojamaa (Alemannia Aachen, Free), Lewis Price (Crystal Palace, Free), Gary Teale (Sheffield Wednesday, Free), Mike Dudley, Alex Forde, Lee Hendrie, Jermaine Johnson, Graham Kelly (Bray Wanderers, Loan)

OUR EX-RAMS: Nathan Ellington, John Eustace, Danny Graham

THEIR EX-ORNS: None

POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:

Bywater

Brayford Anderson Barker Roberts

Cywka Green Savage Bailey Commons

Hulse

VERDICT:
It’s not often that a side with Robbie Savage in the middle of it can have been accused of keeping a low profile… but beyond not winning away for ages until an effective (Savage-inspired) away performance at Vicarage Road in December, one struggles to recall how Derby actually did last season. I mean… I can look at the league table and see that they finished seventeenth and think “okay”, and I guess that feels about right, suitably anonymous. But I don’t remember noticing them very much. All of which might not bode well for Clough, whatever his ancestry, at a place thats perception of its status has always felt rather out of step with reality. Is the softly, softly gradual building that Clough practised at Burton really going to cut it with the less patient Derby faithful? Is it going to cut it in the Championship, which drifts further away from the Premiership with every season like a rowing boat set loose from its mooring? Looking at the signings, for a second summer running you can’t help but feel that Derby would do well to stick by their man: Gareth Roberts looks as sound a purchase as Shaun Barker did a year ago, and picking up kids from Crewe has generally done people OK, as Savage and Hulse would testify. There’s a distinct lack of grandstanding in the signings, nothing to pander to the masses, just very sensible. The side is short of options up front, and perhaps a little creativity… and I’ve always had my doubts about Stephen Bywater. No assault on the play-offs for the Rams. But I would expect Derby to do better this season than last. Fifteenth, then…
 

DONCASTER ROVERS

INS: Billy Sharp (Sheffield United, £1,150,000), George Friend (Wolves, Free), Simon Gillett (Southampton, Free), Josh Payne (West Ham United, Free)

OUTS: Lewis Guy (Franchise FC, Free), Paul Heffernan (Sheffield Wednesday, Free), Sean McDaid (Carlisle United, Free), Gareth Roberts (Derby County, Free), Ben Smith (Shrewsbury Town, Free), John Spicer (Notts County, Free), Charles Fisher

OUR EX-ROVERS: None

THEIR EX-ORNS: Steve Brooker, James Chambers
 
POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:

Sullivan

Chambers Martis O’Connor Friend

Coppinger Stock Woods Oster

Hayter

Sharp

VERDICT:
So Donny Rovers have spent a million quid on a player? The world’s gone mad, I tell you. And actually, a million quid to sort of stand still, given that Sharp spent last season at the Keepmoat on loan. Not a criticism, mind… I don’t doubt that if we thought we had a cat in hell’s chance of securing Tom Cleverley for the same outlay we’d be moving heaven and earth…

There’s not a lot to sat about Donny really. The first team looks a bit iffy at the back, but basically more than good enough to hold it’s own in the division, and to beat just about anyone else on a good day. But the squad is painfully thin, and the loss of Roberts at the end of his contract to a side with deeper pockets demonstrates that running to stand still is what it’s all about for Donny really, until Sean O’Driscoll finally tires of the limitations, gets a better offer and hops it. At which point Donny will probably appoint some muppet like Peter Taylor and slip back whence they came. Mind you, I said that about Blackpool last season. Thirteenth.
 

HULL CITY

INS: James Harper (Sheffield United, Free), Nolberto Solano (Leicester City, Free)

OUTS: Stephen Hunt (Wolves, £3,000,000), Steven Mouyokolo (Wolves, £2,500,000), Boaz Myhill (West Bromwich Albion, £1,500,000), Dean Marney (Burnley, £350,000), George Boateng (Skoda Xanthi, Free), Yann Ekra, Geovanni, Nathan Hanley, Ryan Kendall, John Leonard, Bernard Mendy, Darragh Steele, Kamel Ghilas (Arles-Avignon, Loan)

OUR EX-TIGERS: None

THEIR EX-ORNS: None

POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:

Duke

Solano Zayatte Gardner Dawson

Garcia Olofinjana Cairney Halmosi

Fagan Cousin

VERDICT:
Looking at things at the end of last season, the prospect of two basket cases coming down from the top flight did feel rather reassuring, from the point of view of a side who, if we’re honest, will be doing more of the staying up than of the chasing the play-offs. Somehow, however, Hull’s financial calamity doesn’t appear to be quite at the level of Pompey’s, despite suggestions of cataclysmic holes in the budget from returning Adam Pearson. For one thing, at the time of writing, they still have a bloody good side at this level, even if they manage to convince someone to take on Jimmy Bullard at the asking price. Strength in depth, too… the likes of Harper, Kilbane and Caleb Folan don’t make the line-up above, whilst good things are being said about young striker Mark Cullen. They perhaps need a bit more up front to be chasing the top two, but should be in and around the play-offs if wholesale departures aren’t on the cards. Still don’t like them, though. Phil Brown takes a lot of getting over.
 

IPSWICH TOWN

INS: Mark Kennedy (Cardiff City, £75,000), Conor Hourihane (Sunderland, Undisclosed)

OUTS:Alex Bruce (Leeds United, Undisclosed), Liam Trotter (Millwall, Free), Ed Upson (Yeovil Town, Free), David Wright (Crystal Palace, Free), Pim Balkestein, Richard Wright, Kevin Lisbie (Millwall, Loan)

OUR EX-BLUES:David Kerslake

THEIR EX-ORNS: Tamas Priskin

POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:

Murphy

Peters MacAuley Delaney Kennedy

Walters Norris Leadbitter Civelli

Wickham Priskin

VERDICT:
I have to confess to being surprised that Roy Keane’s still there. Actually, my surprise runs deeper than that… I think I was surprised when Ipswich started climbing into mid-table last season. It had felt like a disaster on an inevitable and unspectacularly tragic route, like a soap opera plot that’s telegraphed and then drawn out so’s one ends up thinking oh just get on with it.

I don’t think I’ve changed my opinion. Ipswich don’t look like a side destined for greatness at the moment; it’s not a bad side, and the emergence of Connor Wickham is a big plus. More than good enough, then, to trot along in mid-table, occasionally convincing themselves thaty’ve a shot of the play-offs without actually ever having a shot of the play-offs, generally clear of the scrap at the bottom. I can’t see Roy Keane hacking that though, I can’t see him as patient enough, or tolerant enough. This Ipswich team is good enough to finish about tenth. But I’m going to put money on a great big upheaval in the middle of the season, after which pretty much anything could happen.
 

LEEDS UNITED

INS: Alex Bruce (Ipswich Town, Undisclosed), Neill Collins (Preston North End, Undisclosed), Federico Bessone (Swansea City, Free), Paul Connolly (Derby County, Free), Billy Paynter (Swindon Town, Free), Lloyd Sam (Charlton Athletic, Free), Kasper Schmeichel (Notts County, Free)

OUTS:Jermaine Beckford (Everton, Free), Casper Ankergren, Rui Marques, Andrew Milne, Tom Elliott (Rotherham United, Loan)

OUR EX-WHITES:Danny Graham, David Kerslake

THEIR EX-ORNS: Leigh Bromby

POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:

Schmeichel

Connolly Kisnorbo Collins Bessone

Sam Howson Kilkenny Snodgrass

Paynter Becchio

VERDICT:
So. Leeds are back, then. And if the last time we met, at Cardiff in 2006, was a decisive game for us, it was all the more so for United. Relegated the following season, they spent three years in the third tier and promotion hardly propels them back into the division with much momentum; a nine-point lead over Norwich at the turn of the year was whittled away as United’s form collapsed in the wake of the eye-catching Cup victory at Old Trafford. Ultimately they slipped into second place almost apologetically; with Beckford gone and player-of-the-year Patrick Kisnorbo out until Christmas – one of several already on the injury list – Leeds don’t look altogether convincing. Leeds will probably be OK, and might make it up into mid-table if they make a reasonable start, but my guess would be that they’ll struggle badly early on, and pull themselves away from the bottom three towards the end of the campaign. Nineteenth.
 

LEICESTER CITY

INS: Tom Kennedy (Rochdale, Free), Alie Sesay (Arsenal, Free), Miguel Vitor (Benfica, Loan)

OUTS: James Wesolowski (Peterborough United, Undisclosed),
Wayne Brown (Preston North End, Free), Billy Kee (Torquay United, Free), Nolberto Solano (Hull City, Free), Harry Worley (Oxford United, Free), Astrit Ajdarevic, Robbie Burns, Alex Cisak, Stephen Clemence, Carl Pentney, Levi Porter, Yann Kermorgant (Arles-Avignon, Loan)

OUR EX-FOXES: None

THEIR EX-ORNS: Chris Powell

POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:

Weale

Morrison Hobbs Vitor Berner

Gallagher King Wellens Dyer

Fryatt Howard

VERDICT:
Here’s the thing. Leicester were relegated to the third tier in 2008 despite not being all that bad. On gaining promotion straight back up again, they got themselves into the play-offs despite not being all that good. With Nigel Pearson having made the apparently high-risk hop across to Hull, Paulo Sousa is now in charge at the Walkers’ Stadium. Paulo Sousa who, fine player though he was, has managed to get to his third managerial appointment in this division without leaving much of an impression on anyone other than those directly impacted. Perhaps not even them. Other than looking Mediterranean, swarthy and kind of distracted in TV interviews, as if conducting the conversation whilst trying to remember whether he’d paid the milkman. So… Leicester have a first team that’s comfortably good enough to finish in the top half of the table and, therefore, to finish in the play-offs in this most evenly balanced of divisions. My money’s on not, though; Sousa’s appointment at Swansea a year ago was similar in the sense that here was some very good raw material and a side ready to push on which didn’t really do so. The conversion to Sousa’s passing game might also be less comfortable at Leicester than it was at Swansea. Inconspicuous, then. Twelfth.

MIDDLESBROUGH

INS: Kevin Thomson (Rangers, £2,000,000), Stephen McManus (Celtic, £1,500,000), Nicky Bailey (Charlton Athletic, £1,400,000), Tarmo Kink (Gyori ETO, up to £1,000,000), Andy Halliday (Livingston, Undisclosed), Kris Boyd (Rangers, Free)

OUTS: John Johnson (Northampton Town, Undisclosed), Emmanuel Pogatetz (Hannover 96, Free), Jeremie Aliadiere, Chris Killen (Shenzhen Ruby, Free), Chris Riggott

OUR EX-BORO: Danny Graham

THEIR EX-ORNS: None

POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:

Jones

Hoyte McManus Wheater Taylor

Robson O’Neil Thomson Bailey

McDonald Boyd

VERDICT:
One has to worry when a manager relies so heavily on recruiting from his recent charges and contacts. Whilst, logically, the manager in question would have had direct experience of working with many such recruits, and much as the players’ willingness to link up again with their erstwhile boss can’t be a bad thing… you kind of lose the mystery. A player with no obvious connection is plucked out of the blue and you can kid yourself that this is our demon scouting network in action. Someone has been “spotted”… identified, watched, evaluated, selected, club approached, player approached, deal done, sorted. Then you see the guy play of course and the illusion of a crack recruitment network goes up in smoke… but at least the illusion was there, if only temporarily. Since arriving on Teesside last October, Gordon Strachan has recruited five former Celtic charges (including the since departed Chris Killen), as well as two from Rangers and one from Aberdeen. I guess Strachan was successful enough at Celtic Park for his judgment to be relied upon but, goodness, does the man not fancy a bit of variety? It’s like moving house and steaming all the wallpaper off the walls to take with you.

They’ll win the league at a canter, mind. Admittedly I thought the same a year ago; I’d happily be proven wrong again, since Middlesbrough’s status as the division’s big spenders by an enormous distance sets them up as targets to be shot at. But they weren’t that far away from the play-offs in the end last year despite being a bit rubbish. The keeper might be a worry, the defence not infallible, but there are so many options in midfield and up front (Lita, Arca, Miller, Flood, Kink are senior options in addition to those listed) that it’s difficult to see them doing anything other than running away with it.

MILLWALL

INS: Shaun Batt (Peterborough United, £300,000), James Henry (Reading, Undisclosed), Steve Mildenhall (Southend United, Free), Tamika Mkandwire (Leyton Orient, Free), Liam Trotter (Ipswich Town, Free), Kevin Lisbie (Ipswich Town, Loan)

OUTS:Dave Martin (Derby County, £200,000), Adam Bolder (Burton Albion, Free), Jason Price (Carlisle United, Free), Ali Fuseini, John Sullivan (Yeovil Town, Loan)

OUR EX-LIONS:Sean Dyche

THEIR EX-ORNS: Kenny Jackett, Jack Smith, Darren Ward

POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:

Forde

Dunne Ward Robinson Craig

Henry Trotter Abdou Schofield

Morison Harris

VERDICT:
It’s supposed to be healthy to do things that you’ve not done before. Everyone should do something every day that constitutes a new experience, or so the theory goes. This season, a good number of Watford fans of a certain vintage will find themselves rooting for Millwall, an experience unfamiliar enough to jolt anyone out of whatever rut they’re in. Of the three ex-Watford managers that we appear scheduled to come up against this season, Kenny Jackett is the only one beyond any criticism or reproach; thirteen years after his difficult season in charge of us, he’s managed to take a side into the second tier.

It’s difficult to call quite how well Millwall will do, but in the experienced Harris and prolific Morison the Lions have goals, which should put them at an advantage over at least three other sides come May. One has to suspect that the squad is a little thin, although Jack Smith is someone that I would have liked us to hang on to, dependable and versatile if never quite nasty enough. Got to worry a little if Darren Ward’s propensity to head the ball straight upwards isn’t prohibiting him from getting a starting berth, although there is in fairness reasonable competition for places at centre-back. Safe, but not much more.

NORWICH CITY

INS: Andrew Surman (Wolves, £1,200,000), Simeon Jackson (Gillingham, £600,000), Andrew Crofts (Brighton & Hove Albion, Undisclosed), David Fox (Colchester United, Undisclosed), John Ruddy (Everton, Undisclosed), Elliott Ward (Coventry City, Free), Steven Smith (Rangers, Free)

OUTS:Michael Spillane (Brentford, Undisclosed), David Stephens (Hibernian, Undisclosed), Rhoys Wiggins (AFC Bournemouth, Undisclosed), Gary Doherty (Charlton Athletic, Free), Danny Kelly (Barnet, Free), Damon Lathrope (Torquay United, Free), Phil Roberts (Arsenal, Free), Jamie Cureton, Darel Russell, Paul McVeigh, Tom Adeyemi (Bradford City, Loan), Cody McDonald (Gillingham, Loan)

OUR EX-CANARIES:Malky Mackay

THEIR EX-ORNS: Anthony McNamee

POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:

Ruddy

R.Martin Ward Nelson Drury

Crofts

Hughes Surman

Hoolahan

Jackson Holt

VERDICT:
Oh bloody marvellous. Just splendid. Just what the doctor ordered. Or not.

I know that it’s not logically feasible for everyone to play their first game of the season at home. But it kind of should be. Perhaps there could be a vote amongst second-tier clubs and the least popular (ummm, hello again Leeds) could play away in game one, a single game played on the opening Saturday; the following midweek could see the hosts in game one travel away to a side who then travel away themselves the following Saturday in game three and so on. This way, everyone except Leeds gets to start the season at home, the only slight inconvenience (and that’s merely a matter of perspective) being that the season needs to start as soon as the last one ended to fit everything in.

Failing that, we should be at home and bugger everyone else. And if we ARE away from home, we certainly shouldn’t be travelling to the newly promoted Third Division champions, annual holders of the “probably a bit unlucky to have gone down in the first place, bloody hell look at them now” mantle. Brimming with confidence, a big crowd behind them, AND on the telly, AND before we’ve sorted our loans out. They’ve even got bloody McNamee to come off the bench and be inconsequentially tricksy on the wing when the game’s already finished. Hrrmph.

Norwich will do pretty well. Ruddy’s an unknown quantity, but was solid enough to be signed by Everton at one point. I’ve always thought Elliott Ward was a bit rubbish, but then he’s not a definite starter. Lots of goals up front in Holt, Martin and new signing Simeon Jackson. Tidy, well balanced midfield. Chasing the play-offs, at the very least.

NOTTINGHAM FOREST

INS: Radoslaw Majewski (Groclin Grodzisk, £1,000,000)

OUTS: James Perch (Newcastle United, Undisclosed), Jean Biansumba, Tony Diagne, Danny Elliott, Jordan Fairclough, Tim Hopkinson, Sean McCashin, Shane Redmond, Carl Sibson, Matthew Sykes, George Thomson, Max Wright, Mark Byrne (Barnet, Loan), Joel Garner (Huddersfield Town, Loan), Brendan Moloney (Notts.County, Loan)

OUR EX-FOREST: David Kerslake

THEIR EX-ORNS: None
POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:

Camp

Gunter Wilson Morgan Chambers

Tyson Majewski McKenna Cohen

Blackstock Earnshaw

VERDICT:
It’s hard to imagine Billy Davies ever presiding over a happy camp. Had Forest won promotion in May… well you just can’t picture the man’s face with a smile on it. A valedictory sneer, perhaps, with a knowing glance at the voices in his head.

But Forest didn’t win promotion, and since the memorable semi-final defeat to Blackpool appear to have imploded somewhat. Third place slightly flattered their squad last time around, and with no new signings at the time of writing (beyond the previously loaned Majewski), with gaps in the squad (particularly at left back), a miserly production line and with as many rumours about further departures as about players coming in, the City Ground feels like a far from happy camp. This is all exacerbated by the fact that it’s taking place at Forest, for whom “Delusions of Grandeur” might as well be a club motto. Might all get worse before it gets better. Tenth.

PORTSMOUTH

INS: Ibrahima Sonko (Stoke City, Loan)

OUTS:Nadir Belhadj (Al Sadd, Undisclosed), Florent Cuvelier (Stoke City, Undisclosed), Papa Bouba Diop (AEK Athens, Undisclosed), David James (Bristol City, Free), Lennard Sowah (SV Hamburg, Free), Luke Wilkinson (Dagenham & Redbridge, Free), Jamie Ashdown, Angelos Basinas, Tal Ben Haim, Steve Finnan, OJ Koroma

OUR EX-POMPEY:None

THEIR EX-ORNS: Tommy Smith, Danny Webber

POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:

???

Wilson Sonko Mokoena Hreidarsson

Smith Brown Hughes Ritchie

Nugent Webber

VERDICT:
Erk. Where to start, really. We’ve been in a vaguely similar position to Pompey a couple of times, most obviously in 2002… overburdened with an unmotivated squad that we couldn’t afford to pay and basically needed to ship out as soon as. I vaguely remember an analogy along the lines of keeping a boat moving forward as people saw down the mast for firewood, bang holes in the hull and eat the sails. Or something.

But only vaguely similar, and to a less dramatic, precarious degree. I could come out with some statistic about quite how few players Portsmouth have at the present time but I’d be guessing, and in any case the situation is ill-defined and seems to change by the minute. With senior professionals (including Tal Ben Haim, reputedly earning £35k/week) on semi-official leave of absence in pursuit of mututally beneficial moves to other clubs, with David Nugent, once discarded, now the man on whom all hopes are pinned, with a court hearing addressing HMRC’s appeal against Portsmouth’s CVA this coming week and the prospect, of another points deduction if things go badly… suffice to say that it’s hard to see Pompey pushing for a quick promotion. The Premiercentric lads in my office don’t agree… Pompey are almost top flight establishment now; yeah, ok, money problems, but still too good for Scunthorpe and Barnsley and that, surely?

Not for me. The first team ought to survive, as it stands now (although one assumes that a goalkeeper’s on the agenda, with the previously released Jamie Ashdown widely anticipated) but there’s no cover. At all. A second relegation for my money, with or without a points deduction. Whilst Harry Redknapp continues to charm the pants off everyone at Tottenham, which makes me feel rather uncomfortable.

PRESTON NORTH END

INS: Craig Morgan (Peterborough United, £400,000), Andreas Arestidou (Shrewsbury Town, Free), Wayne Brown (Leicester City, Free), David Gray (Manchester United, Free), Paul Hayes (Scunthorpe United, Free), Matthew James (Manchester United, Loan)

OUTS:Neill Collins (Leeds United, Undisclosed), Ross Wallace (Burnley, Undisclosed), Liam Chilvers (Notts County, Free), Michael Hart (Hibernian, Free), Chris Sedgwick (Sheffield Wednesday, Free), Youl Mawene, Veliche Shumilikoski, Neil Mellor (Sheffield Wednesday, Loan), Eddie Nolan (Scunthorpe United, Loan)

OUR EX-LILYWHITES:None

THEIR EX-ORNS: None

POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:

Lonergan

Jones St.Ledger Brown Davidson

Mayor Coutts James Treacy

Hayes Parkin

VERDICT:
Is it permissable to state that I’m yet to be convinced by Darren Ferguson? I know he did extraordinarily well at Peterborough, I know who his Dad is, I know that he’s perfected that on-the-edge-of-irritated air that suggests that his plane of thought is several levels above that suggested by his interviewer… but, I dunno. A big broom to Preston’s squad, fine. But announcing that a large number of in-contract players are no longer required and effectively writing them off during a summer when there’s not really been a lot of player movement always felt like a big risk. Wallace is a big miss, a number of senior squad players have gone… one assumes that the United loanees are quality, but we know that Wayne Brown is both a bit rubbish and, apparently, a bit of a pratt. Preston finished last season poorly, have very little up front… relegation candidates.

QUEENS PARK RANGERS

INS: Paddy Kenny (Sheffield United, £750,000), Jamie Mackie (Plymouth, Undisclosed), Bradley Orr (Bristol City, Undisclosed), Leon Clarke (Sheffield Wednesday, Free), Shaun Derry (Crystal Palace, Free), Clint Hill (Crystal Palace, Free), Jordan Hibbert (Unattached)

OUTS:Damion Stewart (Bristol City, Undisclosed), Ed Harris (AFC Wimbledon, Free), Angelo Balanta (Franchise FC, Season Loan), Rowan Vine

OUR EX-RANGERS:David Kerslake

THEIR EX-ORNS: Lee Cook, Heidar Helguson, Gavin Mahon

POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:

Kenny

Orr Connolly Gorkss Hill

Buzsacky Derry Faurlin

Mackie Helguson Clarke

VERDICT:
What looks like a sea-change at QPR… after a parade of short-lived managerial appointments who appeared to have to contend with considerable boardroom involvement in team affairs, Colin pitches up… and whatever else one might accuse him of, it’s difficult to picture him tolerating a situation that he’s not completely in control of.

On the basis of which, one has to regard QPR quite seriously this season. Warnock has always been one to bring a bodyguard of trolls with him when he moves club, so no surprise to see Paddy Kenny, Shaun Derry and Clint Hill pitch up, the latter two in particular likely to give Rangers a bit of nastiness and afford protection to the likes of Faurlin and Buzsacky. Heidar is also likely to flourish under Warnock, one suspects – Colin’s arrival probably stuffed the mooted agreed transfer in the summer – but QPR are probably a little short up front as it stands. Still solidly top half though; they’ll be chasing the play-offs at worst for me.

READING

INS: Andy Griffin (Stoke City, £250,000), Marcus Williams (Scunthorpe United, Free)

OUTS:Kalifa Cisse (Bristol City, Undisclosed), James Henry (Millwall, Undisclosed), Marek Matejovsky (Sparta Prague, Undisclosed), Oliver Bozanic (Central Coast Mariners, Free), Andy White (Gillingham, Free), Liam Rosenior

OUR EX-ROYALS:None

THEIR EX-ORNS: Nigel Gibbs (Assistant Manager), Brynjar Gunnarsson, Jobi McAnuff, Gregorz Rasiak

POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:

Federici

Griffin Mills Pearce Williams

Kebe Tabb Sigurdsson Howard McAnuff

Church

VERDICT:
Twelve months on, and Reading are no longer realistic candidates to be “the new Luton”. Indeed, hilarious as Rodgers’ collapse under the weight of too many sideways passes was last season (steady… Swansea preview still to come…), the prevailing attitude towards the Royals is surely closer to sympathy than antagonism.

Although in fairness, it doesn’t look as if they need much sympathy. Under the unpretentious guidance of Brian McDermott (and his assistant, whoever that might be…) Reading racked up forty points from the last twenty games of last season, which is promotion form that should see them start this one on the front foot. Whilst attacking options are perhaps a little thin there are plenty of goals in the midfield, and Marcus Williams is a very good signing to supplement a solid defence, marshalled by Matt Mills. I’m also lead to believe that Andy Griffin’s embarrassing disaster at Vicarage Road in April isn’t typical of the veteran full back.

Of perhaps greater concern is the suggestion that players might move on before the end of August as yet another club looks to balance the books. The “McAnuff to QPR” rumour has been around all summer, whilst top flight clubs are surely watching Sigurdsson. Looking good so far though… edge of the play-offs would be my guess.

SCUNTHORPE UNITED

INS: Bobby Grant (Accrington Stanley, up to £260,000), Michael Collins (Huddersfield Town, Undisclosed), Chris Dagnall (Rochdale, Free), Jim McNulty (Brighton & Hove Albion, Loan), Eddie Nolan (Preston North End, Loan)

OUTS: Gary Hooper (Celtic, £2,400,000), Paul Hayes (Preston North End, Free), Grant McCann (Peterborough United, Free), Matt Sparrow (Brighton & HA, Free), Marcus Williams (Reading, Free), Peter Winn (Stevenage Borough, Free), Ben May, Kenny Milne, Jake Picton, Josh Lillis (Rochdale, Loan), Ian Morris (Chesterfield, Loan)

OUR EX-IRON: None

THEIR EX-ORNS: None
POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:

Murphy

Nolan Mirfin Jones McNulty

Forte O’Connor Wright Woolford

Thompson Dagnall

VERDICT:
Laziest prediction of the close-season? Scunthorpe for relegation. After all, Scunny are a lower division side playing above their station. Analyse their playing staff? Don’t be silly, it’s Scunthorpe, they’re rubbish. Ask any fan of any team expected to struggle to name the three sides that will finish below their side and the response will start “Well Scunthorpe, and…”. Lazy, lazy, lazy.

Nonetheless, Scunny are clearly going down. A squad that was barely good enough last season lost a number of players at the end of contracts, most significantly Paul Hayes and Marcus Williams, and have since sold the impressive Gary Hooper. Whilst we’re hardly in a position to criticise as regards trawling the lower divisions for signings, Scunny’s new recruits will need to go some to match the contribution of Hooper and Hayes last season in particular, 28 goals for starters. Probably not a good sign, either, that the more optimistic voices on Scunthorpe messageboards cite the potential for rivals to enter administration and incur points penalties as United’s likeliest route of escape. There are certainly sides you’d rather go down, although Nigel Adkins won few fans with his rather one-eyed take on the draw at Glanford Park last season. Preference doesn’t come into it of course – Scunny are going down.

SHEFFIELD UNITED

INS: Daniel Bogdanovic (Barnsley, Free), Leon Britton (Swansea City, Free), Johannes Ertl (Crystal Palace, Free), Steve Simonsen (Stoke City, Free), Nyron Nosworthy (Sunderland, Loan), Simon Walton (Plymouth Argyle, Loan)

OUTS: Billy Sharp (Doncaster Rovers, £1,150,000), Paddy Kenny (Queens Park Rangers, £750,000), Liban Abdi (Ferencvaros, Undisclosed), Justin Haber (Ferencvaros, Undisclosed), Jordan Stewart (Skoda Xanthi, Undisclosed), Ian Bennett (Huddersfield Town, Free), Henri Camara (Atromitos, Free), James Harper (Hull City, Free), Glen Little (Aldershot Town, Free), Gary Naysmith (Huddersfield Town, Free), Kyel Reid (Charlton Athletic, Free), Sam Wedgbury (Macclesfield Town, Free), Jon Fortune, Derek Geary

OUR EX-BLADES: None

THEIR EX-ORNS: Sam Ellis (Assistant Manager), Darius Henderson, Lee Williamson
POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:

Simonsen

Lowton Morgan Nosworthy Taylor

Montgomery Ertl

Ward Britton Yeates

Cresswell

VERDICT:
There’s not an awful lot to say about United. A little bit thin on options at the back, but otherwise a squad packed with second-tier experience that ought to be pushing the play-offs at worst. They won’t, though. In all honesty it’s difficult to reconcile Kevin Blackwell with anything going right. I find myself surprised every time I see him interviewed after a United win, as if even a single victory challenges my mental image of the man in charge. Perhaps I’ve got things slightly out of proportion. Very difficult to see him masterminding promotion though. Somewhere between eighth and tenth.

SWANSEA CITY

INS: Neil Taylor (Wrexham, £40,000), Scott Donnelly (Aldershot Town, Undisclosed)

OUTS: Federico Bessone (Leeds United, Free), Leon Britton (Sheffield United, Free), Marcos Painter (Brighton & HA, Free), Daniel Sheehan (Salisbury City, Free), Guillem Bauza, James Burgin, Kieran Howard, Besan Idrizaj (Deceased)

OUR EX-SWANS: None

THEIR EX-ORNS: Brendan Rodgers

POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:

de Vries

Rangel Monk Williams Tate

Cotterill Pratley Lopez Gower Dyer

Dobbie

VERDICT:
Another summer change of management for the Swans; last season’s incumbent Paulo Sousa had City treading water on the edge of the play-offs, missing out on a play-off spot to Blackpool at the death. He’s since jumped ship to Leicester, his post mortem largely revolving around criticism of the defensive approach he introduced… a difficult adjustment in the wake of the expansive style preferred by Roberto Martinez.

So quite what they’ll make of the new man is anyone’s guess. Messageboards occasionally trot out the Mourinho thing (someone’s been doing research, since it’s inconceivable that Rodgers himself would have highlighted his employment history) and there’s an underlying trend of cautious optimism… and relief that he isn’t Paulo Sousa.

Which strikes me as a little short-sighted. Seventh place isn’t bad going for a side that had just emerged from twenty-something seasons in the lower divisions, there’s certainly scope for things to get worse. The Swans have a reasonably large squad but, in common with many others, aren’t flush with cash. Already short on options up front, Blackpool continue to sniff around last season’s loan Stephen Dobbie and are reportedly on the verge of signing full back Angel Rangel, impressive at Vicarage Road last season. One of Rodgers’ Watford’s most convincing performances came against Swansea at Vicarage Road, but putting him in charge of a squad with a surfeit of ball-playing midfielders, largely Martinez’s squad, feels like a dangerous thing. Reports from pre-season friendlies already infer nice passing but little penetration. Too much quality to struggle, but bottom half nonetheless.

…and finally…

WATFORD

INS: Tom Aldred (Carlisle United, Undisclosed), Rene Gilmartin (Walsall, Nominal)

OUTS: Jon Harley (Notts.County, Free), Will Hoskins (Bristol Rovers, Free), Richard Lee (Brentford, Free), Jordan Parkes (Barnet, Free), Lewis Young (Burton Albion, Free), Jay Demerit, Billy Gibson, Jonathan North, Mat Sadler (Shrewsbury Town, Loan), Jure Travner (St.Mirren, Loan)
 


POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:

Loach

Hodson Mariappa Taylor Doyley

Bryan Eustace McGinn Cowie

Buckley Graham

VERDICT:
I think the first thing to say is that one has to be very happy with what we’ve got. John Eustace, for starters… his re-signing in the wake of interest from (and a rumoured departure to) Leeds was the fist-punching “cmoooon” moment of the summer. Of the players that have gone… Demerit deserves to be lauded in the annals of Watford’s history but needed a move, Harley was a decent option but no more than that, Richard Lee would have been nice to keep but understandably wants games… in Gilmartin we’ve recruited a replacement, and I’d trust our recruitment guys, frankly, given their recent record. And the kidz… the kidz are alright. Much as we are in a position where more of them have been getting a run than might previously have been he case, we have a much larger number of plausible options than I ever remember us having, at varying stages of development from the established (Loach, Jenkins, Hodson) to the breaking through (Bryan, Bennett, Sordell) to those on the very edge who most of us have at best heard about (Mingoia, Murray, Massey, Whichelow). It’s great stuff, and much as they won’t all make it, this characteristic of bringing kids through surely makes ANY club more likeable. Even at the top level, where one suspects that Manchester City’s apparent abandonment of what was arguably the top flight’s best production line in favour of a blank chequebook hasn’t endeared them to many, whatever else it does.

The problem at the moment of course is what we haven’t got. Which would be… well, all sorts of things. Depth. Experience. Physical presence. Creativity in midfield. Goals. A leader at the back (although Mariappa may develop into the answer here). You won’t find many objections on these pages to the club’s stated intent to live within its means but if this is the downside, if this is the consequence, it’s a bitter pill. Malky has suggested that he’s looking at bringing in four or five, and as such this is the wrong time, an unfair time, to judge the squad. Those four or five are going to need to hit the ground running mind; a few of them, undoubtedly, will be loans and as such might not be expected through the door for another month or so. Getting experience on loan isn’t particularly easy either, H was an exception; and before the loans do get here we’ve got a difficult looking opening run, starting next Friday.

Malky didn’t have the easiest set of circumstances to deal with on his first season in management. Rookie managers rarely do, of course… but to my mind he did extraordinarily well, the brush with relegation as the season ended notwithstanding. We’ve got a good man in charge, a fact that might be shrouded to the rest of the world by the resources he’s working with. We’ve got good people running the club, a great recruitment team, a terrific bunch of kids. We badly need our experienced players to stand up… we need everything we’ve got to be working, or it’s going to be a real struggle.

 


Still. Football. Brilliant. Bring it on.