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Season Preview 2011-12 Part 1 30/07/2011

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
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Football.  Splendid.  A slight change to the usual format this year;  I’m figuring that if I release this out in easier-to-digest chunks, more of you might get round to reading it.  Part 2 tomorrow.  Let us begin…  

BARNSLEY

INS: Matt Done (Rochdale, Undisclosed), Jimmy McNulty (Brighton & Hove Albion, Undisclosed), Scott Wiseman (Rochdale, Undisclosed), Craig Davies (Chesterfield, Free), Rob Edwards (Blackpool, Free), David Perkins (Colchester United, Free), Miles Addison (Derby County, Six Month Loan)

OUTS: Jason Shackell (Derby County, Undisclosed), Liam Dickinson (Plymouth Argyle, Free), Matt Hill (Blackpool, Free), Steven Bennett, Conor Branson, Hugo Colace, Martin Devaney, Danny Fearnehough, Kern Miller (Accrington Stanley, Six Month Loan)

OUR EX-TYKES: Carl Dickinson

THEIR EX-ORNS: None

RECENT ENCOUNTERS: Four points off the Tykes last season; the last win of the season at Vicarage Road, if only barely, which saw John Eustace score early for the ‘orns who featured little as an attacking force thereafter, and an equally fortunate point at Oakwell in December that preceded a seven-match winning run.

POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:

Steele
Wiseman         Edwards           Foster         McEveley
Addison           Doyle
O’Brien                      Perkins                        Done
Haynes

VERDICT: Before I launch recklessly into this, I should point out that I know that Watford are hardly the sexiest ticket in the division. Not under any illusions on that score. Nor, in all honesty, am I particularly interested in sexy. I’d far rather… unsexy, if sexy means the unblinking, stultifying, arms-length plasticness of the Premiership. Nonetheless… Barnsley aren’t very sexy, are they? It’s not just inertia that has seen me put off writing the first of these pieces. Hell, such is the disconnect between me writing and you reading that I went to the TV to try to watch Argentina vs Uruguay in the Copa America, realised it was on ESPN, went to bed and got up again since I started the last sentence, rather than drag together an opinion on Barnsley.
No more provarication… Barnsley come into the season under new management, Mark Robins having resigned in June ostensibly following a disagreement with the Tykes’ board over the budget for the forthcoming campaign. New man Keith Hill looks like a sensible, pragmatic appointment; he’ll certainly have his side fit and working hard. However there are causes for concern. It’s not atypical of a manager to return to his previous club for key men, but one has to wonder quite how many more potential stars the previously infertile pastures of Spotland had to offer after at least five upwardly mobile outward transfers over the last few years. Several of the familiar characters in the side (Steele, McEveley, Haynes) are names one might have had question marks against whenever we’ve faced them at previously, and there’s little doubt that there’s a shortage of firepower as it stands (with Haynes, a little surprisingly, being touted as hot property himself earlier in the summer). Perhaps of greatest concern is the fact that Robins was concerned enough about the budget of a side that was solidly bottom half for most of last season to resign, despite not having anywhere to go; in the last week (as I write), the board suggests that Hill is happy with his squad whilst the man himself says he’s after a couple more – not altogether reassuring. The Tykes are in the group that could struggle rather than being certainties for the drop – there’s still a solid look about the side – but certainly more likely to be looking downwards than upwards at the business end of the season

BIRMINGHAM CITY

INS: Chris Burke (Cardiff City, Free), Steven Caldwell (Wigan Athletic, Free), Morgaro Gomis (Dundee United, Free), Marlon King (Coventry City, Free), Adam Rooney (Inverness Caledonian Thistle, Free), Boaz Myhill (West Bromwich Albion, Season Loan)

OUTS: Barry Ferguson (Blackpool, Undisclosed), Craig Gardner (Sunderland, Undisclosed),  Roger Johnson (Wolverhampton Wanderers, Undisclosed), Lee Bowyer (Ipswich Town, Free), Martin Jiranek (FC Krasnodar, Free), Sebastian Larsson (Sunderland, Free), Jay O’Shea (Franchise FC, Free), Kevin Phillips (Blackpool, Free), Dan Preston (AFC Telford United, Free), Robin Shroot (Stevenage, Free), Marcus Bent, James McFadden, Mitchell McPike, Stuart Parnaby, Luke Rowe, Maik Taylor, Ben Foster (West Bromwich Albion, Season Loan)

OUR EX-BLUES: Martin Taylor

THEIR EX-ORNS: Marlon King, Jordon Mutch

RECENT ENCOUNTERS: Two single-goal defeats under Brendan Rodgers; the first, a 3-2 defeat at St Andrews, saw Ross Jenkins’ first senior goal, and Martin Taylor lining up for the Blues.

POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:

Myhill
Carr         Davies           Caldwell       Murphy
Burke         Fahey           Gomis          Beausejour
King          Rooney

VERDICT: All about timing, these previews.  A few weeks ago, forced to write this piece, I’d have had the Blues up there competing for automatic promotion;  a little unfortunate to go down in the end, suffering from injuries to what looked a very solid defensive unit and in King, Burke and Gomis a very good, pragmatic start in building a squad capable of bouncing straight back up.

Since then it’s all gone belly-up. Carson Yeung, City’s largest shareholder and front-man of a protracted take-over two years ago, was arrested in Hong Kong at the end of June and is facing money laundering charges.  Trade in City’s holding company BIHL has been suspended, and as the exit door starts to spin increasingly quickly suddenly City don’t look much like promotion favourites.  A snapshot in time is of bugger all value at this point, frankly;  City’s fate is the hardest to predict of any team in the Division and the line-up guessed at above assumes the departure of Ridgewell, Dann, Zigic, Jerome and Michel.  Vice chairman Peter Pannu has attempted to dismiss talk of administration (and, presumably, optimistically, talk down the possibility of a fire sale) whilst conceding that difficult decisions will have to be made, and high earners sold.  As we know, that’s rather dependent on someone being prepared to take them, which suggests that the departure of Ridgewell might be rather more imminent than those of the injured Dann and Zigic.

Where will they finish?  At this point, your guess is as good as mine…  I would say anywhere from play-offs to lower mid-table is possible, but even with a points penalty City will retain, in the short term, too many good players to be involved with relegation.

BLACKPOOL

INS: Gerardo Bruna (Liverpool, Undisclosed), Barry Ferguson (Birmingham City, Undisclosed), Angel Martinez (Girona, Undisclosed), Craig Sutherland (North Carolina State Wolfpack, Undisclosed), Bojan Djordjic (Videoton, Free), Bob Harris (Queen of the South, Free), Matt Hill (Barnsley, Free), Kevin Phillips (Birmingham City, Free)

OUTS: Charlie Adam (Liverpool, £8,500,000), Danny Coid (Accrington Stanley, Free), Ishmel Demontagnac (Notts County, Free), Rob Edwards (Barnsley, Free), Marlon Harewood (Shenzhen Phoenix, Free), Malaury Martin (Middlesbrough, Free), Paul Rachubka (Leeds United, Free), Andy Reid (Nottingham Forest, Free), David Vaughan (Sunderland, Free), David Carney, Jason Euell, Richard Kingson, Saleheddine Sbai

OUR EX-SEASIDERS: None

THEIR EX-ORNS: Craig Cathcart, Kevin Phillips

RECENT ENCOUNTERS: Two high-scoring encounters two seasons ago; a 2-2 draw at the Vic in what was both Tom Cleverley’s home debut and Tommy Smith’s last outing for the ‘orns, and a 3-2 reverse at Bloomfield Road in which we shipped twice in the closing minutes.

POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:

Gilks
Eardley         Evatt         Baptiste      Crainey
Southern      Ferguson        Bruna
M.Phillips      K.Phillips  Taylor-Fletcher

VERDICT: It was, of course, quite ridiculous that Blackpool got promoted at all.  Not undeserved, a massive achievement clearly.  But extraordinary that a club with such limited recent experience in the second tier, a patchwork stadium and no great bankrolling should gatecrash the top table.  For a brief period it looked as if they might even stay up, too, but as with Burnley a year earlier (except perhaps more so…) once the trundle downhill started it did rather feel as if nothing was going to stop it and last-day drama or otherwise the Seasiders’ relegation was no surprise in the end, much as many fingers were crossed for them.  Ian Holloway’s demeanour had been rather free of sparkle since at least January;  there were suggestions that Charlie Adam’s head had been turned (and whilst I’m veering towards the subject, if we’re going to crack down on something then why not the tapping up/discussing of other club’s in-contract players?).  Whatever.  Down they are, and if they stand to benefit from the first season of even-more-ridiculous parachute payments (despite, entertainingly, being just the sort of oiks that the ramped up monies are surely designed to exclude), they suffer on the other hand from the complete decimation of their squad on relegation with Adam, David Vaughan and, one anticipates, DJ Campbell amongst the departures leaving a great big hole in the Blackpool side.  They’ve got the means to at least try to replace them of course and had made a start at the time of writing – Barry Ferguson, on a free, kept Adam out of the Scotland side for a long time so that’s a bit of a coup, and Kevin Phillips is surely worth his corn for any side at this level, even at 37.  It’ll take a while for new players to adapt to Holloway’s 4-3-3 though, and I can see Blackpool stuttering at first, putting a decent late run together, but falling short.  Top half, with a shout of the play-offs.

BRIGHTON & HOVE ALBION

INS: Craig Mackail-Smith (Peterborough, £2,500,000 + clauses), Will Buckley (Watford, £1,000,000), Will Hoskins (Bristol Rovers, £500,000), Romain Vincelot (Dagenham & Redbridge, £100,000), Roland Bergkamp (Excelsior, Undisclosed), Anton Rodgers (Chelsea, Free), Kazenga LuaLua (Newcastle United, Six Month Loan)

OUTS: Elliott Bennett (Norwich City, Undisclosed), Chris Holroyd (Rotherham United, Free), Radostin Kishishev (Chernomorets Burgas, Free), Jimmy McNulty (Barnsley, Undisclosed), Glenn Murray (Crystal Palace, Free), Fran Sandaza (St.Johnstone, Free), James Tunnicliffe (Wycombe Wanderers, Free), Agustin Battipiedi, Cristian Baz, Gary Hart, ?Alan Navarro?

OUR EX-SEAGULLS: Chris Iwelumo, Mark Yeates

THEIR EX-ORNS: Liam Bridcutt, Will Buckley, Will Hoskins, John Stephenson (Head of Recruitment)

RECENT ENCOUNTERS: Last season’s cup tie, in which an early Rene Gilmartin error and a lightweight Watford midfield allowed Brighton to kill the game. Prior to that, a 1-1 draw at Vicarage Road and Chris Eagles’ ridiculous long-range strike finally giving us a win at Withdean in our promotion season.

POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:

Ankergren
Calderon       Greer           Dunk          Painter
Bridcutt        Dicker
Noone        Hoskins          Lua Lua
Mackail-Smith

VERDICT: There’s a lot to be said for momentum.  We’ve seen in recent seasons how a successful side can gallop through the division (Norwich last year, nearly Leicester the season before, ourselves not so very long ago) and not only were Albion comfortably the top side in Division Three, they also have the added bonus of the new stadium at Falmer, finally.  Not just your bog standard move to an idetikit out of town shell, this one, as anyone who hasn’t had their head underwater for the last fifteen years or so will be aware (as, um, much as they’re aware of anything. poor analogy, perhaps…).  It would be a cold-hearted bastard that begrudged the Seagulls their long-awaited home.  A new stadium can sometimes be a mixed blessing as a club moves in, redecorates, replaces the dodgy lampshades and so forth and altogether takes time to get settled in.  No danger of that here, one suspects.

So… momentum, new stadium.  And a side that made mincemeat of the division below.  Two senior players out of the door in Murray and Bennett;  Buckley may prove to be an adequate replacement for the latter, we’ll see, but at any rate Albion have options that don’t guarantee their million-pound man a starting place.  But in recruiting Craig Mackail-Smith they’ve certainly traded up;  an extraordinary, eye-catching signing.  Would have loved to have seen the Watford-born Hornets fan in a yellow shirt;  that was never on the cards this time, but he could prove to be the perfect striker to operate at the apex of a side so adept at keeping possession.  The one thing you don’t want to do is to give a side like Brighton the ball… and in CMS you have, perhaps, the ultimate possession-winning centre forward, and a prolific one at that.  That defence might get asked a few more questions at a higher level, but comfortably top half at any rate, Brighton; they could well make the top six.

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Comments»

1. Gaffer - 30/07/2011

I’d be lying if I said I had read every word of this article given that I was mainly interested in your views on Barnsley (as a Barnsley fan), and generally I agree with you.

No Barnsley fan expects the team to be at the top end of the table but so many similar blogs have taken the lazy approach of looking at the bookmakers odds (where you find Barnsley as relegation certainties) and assuming that is how the league is going to end up.

We’ve been amongst the bookies relegation favourites every season since returning to the Championship in 2006 and never really been in a proper relegation battle – last season our safety in the league was never a concern as we sort of dropped down the league to a 17th placed finish rather than climb to it.

A slightly worrying thing this season is the fact that we have lost our best defender as well as a number of other players at the end of their contract which has made the squad rather thin – the replacements have generally been recruited from the lower leagues. It’s also fair to say that most Barnsley fans had never heard of these players either. But we are prepared to give Keith Hill the benefit of the doubt as he knows all of his signings so far very well.

If Hill can achieve 70% of what he did last season at Rochdale then we should be looking good for a finish around mid-table again this season.

One thing hanging over the club which needs to be rectified is the ownership issue – Patrick Cryne is ready to hand the club over to someone else and obviously isn’t willing to put any more of his own money in. If we are struggling at Christmas and need to buy reinforcements in January, it’s unlikely that Cryne will be putting his hands in his pockets!

2. Miles Anderson - 01/08/2011

Thank you Matt, just long enough for an afternoon coffee break!

Matt Rowson - 01/08/2011

jolly good. more of the same every day until Thursday.

3. Nicos - 01/08/2011

Great stuff, will enjoy the next few posts, keep up the good work, and look forward to the pre-match beers with some of your boys in Bushey again this season.

Nick (Brighton fan)


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