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Season Preview 2011-12 Part 4 02/08/2011

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
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What a scorcher yesterday?  It’s got to last until Saturday of course, first day of the season has to be a hot one.  It’s The Law.

IPSWICH TOWN

INS: Jay Emmanuel-Thomas (Arsenal, £1,500,000 + clauses), Michael Chopra (Cardiff City, £1,500,000), Aaron Cresswell (Tranmere Rovers, Tribunal), Lee Bowyer (Birmingham City, Free), Nathan Ellington (Watford, Free), Ivar Ingimarsson (Reading, Free), David Stockdale (Fulham, Season Loan)

OUTS: Connor Wickham (Sunderland, £8,100,000 + clauses), Troy Brown (Rotherham United, Free), Tom Eastman (Colchester United, Free), Gareth McAuley (West Bromwich Albion, Free), Rory McKeown (Kilmarnock, Free), Ian McLoughlin (Franchise FC, Free), Josh Meekings (Inverness Caledonian Thistle, Free), David Norris (Portsmouth, Free), Luciano Civelli, Pablo Counago, Brian Murphy, Alan Quinn

OUR EX-BLUES: Alec Chamberlain, Tony Loughlan

THEIR EX-ORNS: Michael Chopra, Nathan Ellington, Tamas Priskin

RECENT ENCOUNTERS: Two wins last season, obviously. Two goals in two minutes were enough at Vicarage Road in October; Danny Graham scored two in a 3-0 tonking at Portman Road in March.

POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:

Stockdale
Edwards   Ingimarsson     Delaney        Cresswell
Drury             Bowyer     Leadbitter        Martin
Emmanuel-Thomas
Chopra

VERDICT: Cards on the table, I find it very difficult to be objective about Ipswich.  Perhaps more difficult than I find it to be objective about our lot, although you may beg to differ. Just so’s you know.  But I can’t believe I’m the only one aggravated by the misplaced but persistent sense of entitlement (from fans of a side who, with 23 of the last 25 years spent at this level, are as close to Second Division fodder as it gets).  Or particularly vexed by the fact that they snuck ahead of us at the death last season, irrelevant as that was in the grand scheme of things.  Or cussing out loud at the predictably presumptuous bollocks on Ipswich messageboards that greeted the rumoured bids for Marvin Sordell (rumours which, accurate or not, will only have served any Ipswich interests by being in the public domain).

Ipswich have been recruiting heavily over the summer, and whilst there’s no doubt that experience can help an awful lot in getting a side out of this division one has to wonder about the wisdom of a policy that’s quite so focused on older players, particularly in a season where there are at least two very strong candidates for automatic promotion places.  Bowyer, Ingimarsson, and even the slightly younger Chopra and Ellington are unlikely to be better players in a year’s time, and will all be on a healthy wedge.  Nor, it must be said, are all the new signings the safest of bets… Ellington we know all about, as does Paul Jewell of course having managed him at Wigan and not quite lasted long enough at Derby to take him off our wage bill permanently.  Chopra is a poacher of course, but from recent photos Town appear to have bought quite literally twice the striker that played for us on loan eight years ago.  Emmanuel-Thomas has been trumpeted but made little impact at Cardiff and has never quite found his best position, despite his imposing physical bulk.  Stockdale is a coup, but available on a 24 hour recall by his home club Fulham.  Bowyer is a provocative character, to be diplomatic, although admittedly this has rarely prevented him from being a first pick in whichever side he’s been signed to.  The fact is that it’s unlikely that they’ll all bomb out, so much as I’d like to predict what would be a disastrous bottom half finish, I suspect that’s unlikely.  Seventh it is, then.  And that’s not a prediction that’s dished out lightly. Quite where that leaves them in a year or so is somewhat open to question.

LEEDS UNITED

INS: Andy Lonergan (Preston North End, Undisclosed), Michael Brown (Portsmouth, Free), Paul Rachubka (Blackpool, Free)

OUTS: Kasper Schmeichel (Leicester City, Undisclosed), James Baxendale (Doncaster Rovers, Free), James Booker (Guiseley, Free), Bradley Johnson (Norwich City, Free), Neil Kilkenny (Bristol City, Free), Richard Naylor (Doncaster Rovers, Free), Shane Higgs

OUR EX-WHITES: Carl Dickinson

THEIR EX-ORNS: Leigh Bromby, Neil Redfearn (Reserve Team Coach)

RECENT ENCOUNTERS: We were bullied out of a 1-0 defeat at Vicarage Road at the start of the season; Lee Hodson’s goal and Danny Graham’s splendid assist for Andi Weimann took us within a whisker of a win at Elland Road before Troy Deeney’s late own goal.

POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:

Lonergan
Connolly       Kisnorbo          O’Brien          Parker
Snodgrass         Brown           Howson         Gradel
Nunez
Becchio

VERDICT: Of all supporters, you’d have thought that Leeds United fans might not dismiss prudence out of hand.  Few have fallen so far, so dramatically and so absolutely in recent years.  Six years from the Champions’ League (sic) semi-finals to the third division, and any number of other bizarre associated statistics.  Now, I’m no fan of Ken Bates, wouldn’t wish him on anybody.  And admittedly I’m not the one watching the team but… but…  having spent three years in the third tier, to get promoted and finish seventh, OK, missing out must have been a disappointment but really.  Not that bad, in the grand scheme of things.  And whilst there was certainly a feeling of a squad reaching the limits of its capability last season, it’s a source of some surprise that quite so many voices on Leeds messageboards are rallying against Leeds’ wagecap, using words like “ambition” and “competing with West Ham” and “disgrace”.  Really?  Do none of you remember Peter Ridsdale?  Seth Johnson being offered a stupid amount of money per week, asking for an evening to discuss a move from Derby with his partner and being offered another £10k/week by phone on the way home as a “clincher”?  Really?  ‘Cos there’s no straight line relationship between investment and success, how could there be?

There are certainly gaps in the Leeds side.  Full back positions don’t look the strongest, with injury-prone Ben Parker meaning that the left side is a particular issue.  With Becchio and Somma starting the season injured, goalscoring might be a problem in the short term.  On the other hand, United are probably better off after the exchange, effectively, of Michael Brown for Bradley Johnson…  Brown is a nasty bastard, but that’s less of an issue if he’s in your team and he’s something that United badly needed even if at 34, he’s not a long-term fixture.  Kisnorbo’s return to fitness, apparent testimony to which suggested by the two-year deal he signed over the summer, is a massive plus assuming he recovers his sharpness, a leader at the back.  So…  Leeds look solid enough, if short in several departments of a challenge for automatic.  Definitely in the top-half mix, possibility of a play-off shout.  Which given Leeds’ recent history, should be more than enough.  You don’t get bonus points for “bigness”, after all.

LEICESTER CITY

INS: Paul Konchesky (Liverpool, Undisclosed), Matt Mills (Reading, Undisclosed), Lee Peltier (Huddersfield Town, Undisclosed), Kasper Schmeichel (Leeds United, Undisclosed), Sean St.Ledger (Preston North End, Undisclosed), Neil Danns (Crystal Palace, Free), David Nugent (Portsmouth, Free), John Pantsil (Fulham, Free), Michael Johnson (Manchester City, Season Loan)

OUTS: Jack Hobbs (Hull City, £850,000), Ashley Chambers (York City, Free), Craig King (AFC Telford, Free), Michael Lamey (Wisla Krakow, Free), Luke O’Neill (Mansfield Town, Free), Aman Verma (Kettering Town, Free), Robert Ambrusics, Nathan Hicks, Jorrin John, Ben Milnes, Robbie Neilson, Ricardo, Adi Yussuf, Conrad Logan (Rotherham United, Six Month Loan), Tom Parkes (Burton Albion, Six Month Loan)

OUR EX-FOXES: Mark Yeates

THEIR EX-ORNS: None

RECENT ENCOUNTERS: Danny Graham’s dramatic late winner sparked our crazy run in December; a see-saw game at the Walkers Stadium in April saw Marvin Sordell score twice off the bench but the ‘orns flag badly in the second half as the home side won 4-2.

POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:

Schmeichel
Peltier            Bamba            Mills        Konchesky
Danns         Abe           King
Vassell                      Nugent                  Gallagher

VERDICT: I still maintain that the pies were the big giveaway.  When we visited their place in April… the pies.  In a nice cardboard finger-insulating holder.  The sort of small detail that suggests that a club has got its shit together.  Yes, yes, I know they’ll have contracted out the catering.  You’re missing the point.  This isn’t a catering contract that’s been put out to the cheapest, tightest deal, where the unused pies are heated up again if you’ve got a midweek home on the Tuesday… this is aiming for quality.  Of course, drawing any other conclusions from Easter Monday’s encounter is quite difficult;  lots has changed since then.  Including the name of the ground:  what was the Walkers is now the King Power Stadium.  I can’t imagine, incidentally, that it’s very easy to warm to a stadium named after a sponsor, something slightly impersonal about it and I’m surprised that more of the stadia carrying sponsors names haven’t evolved a rebel alternative name independent of sponsorship for use by sane people.  Not my problem, I suppose… anyway, finding a new sponsor with the initials KP is obviously tremendous.  Next up:  The Kettle Chips Arena, presumably.

On the pitch, Easter Monday’s game featured half a dozen loan players no longer at the club, and a good few more who won’t be first choices in the coming season.  What was instructive was the venom with which Leicester came at us in the second half;  not suggestive of a manager struggling to adapt to the second division after experience in loftier climes.  Significantly, whilst you won’t need me to tell you that Leicester have been doing a bit of shopping over the summer, what’s interesting is that the purchases are, with a few exceptions, not top-flight hand-me-downs, players who might not adapt.  No Ramon Vegas here.  Schmeichel, Mills, Danns, Nugent, St.Ledger are all top, proven players at this level.  Konchesky has played in Div 2 before, too.  No grandstanding here, just a lot of very pragmatic, very solid signings.  Evidence of Eriksson’s previous life, too… Gelson Fernandes was hotly tipped to join at the time of writing, and former Man City team mate Michael Johnson, if he recaptures anything like his pre-injury form, will be an excellent signing on his own.  They perhaps look a bit short up front as it stands, but strikers are clearly still on the shopping list with bids for Nicky Maynard having been rejected, and Leroy Lita, Robbie Keane and Shane Long also linked.  Will be interesting to see if Steve Howard is retained after all this recruitment, as a very large mascot or something…. in all seriousness, two players for each position still leaves City with a large number of players apparently out of contention, a list that could be worth scouring.  As for City’s chances this season?  You know that even if an injury crisis hits, or neither of the options in a position work out, that loans or January signings will plug the gap.  The pies have it.  Champions.

MIDDLESBROUGH

INS: Luke Dobie (Everton, Free), Curtis Main (Darlington, Free), Malaury Martin (Blackpool, Free)

OUTS: Didier Digard (Nice, Undisclosed), Kris Boyd (Eskisehrispor, Free), Willo Flood (Dundee United, Free), Andrew Taylor (Cardiff City, Free), Julio Arca, Maxi Haas

OUR EX-BORO: John Eustace, Josh Walker, Mark Yeates

THEIR EX-ORNS: None

RECENT ENCOUNTERS: Danny Graham’s early goal set us galloping towards a 3-1 home win at the start of the season; at the Riverside in March, Boro came from behind to seal a 2-1 win thanks to an Andrew Taylor goal.

POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:

Steele
McMahon       Bates           McManus         Bennett
Robson        Bailey         Williams         Zemmama
Lita         McDonald

VERDICT: Last season for Boro was one of two halves.  The first, featuring Gordon Strachan making a complete pig’s ear of it to an unprecedented and extraordinary degree, really could have lasted a little longer.  Had we been able to buy Andrew Taylor, as we surely would have if Strachan had only made it to January, then I fancy we’d have finished significantly higher than fourteenth.  It wasn’t just Taylor’s ability, of course, but the balance that he brought to the side… being able to pin teams in via a left-footed threat from that flank made all the difference.  But Strachan didn’t survive, and Tony Mowbray is clearly not a complete idiot, bringing yer man back (although Taylor’s spell under Malky clearly did Cardiff no harm at all in the longer run).  And under Mowbray Boro recovered to finish top half (just about), with a run of form that should see them well set this time around.

Not sure it’s going to work like that, though.  Mowbray has been promoted from this division before, playing open football that might have failed to pay dividends in the top flight but has generally been more than enough for Division Two.  Much as he’s got the added credits of legend status on Teesside from his playing days, this situation is a little trickier .  In particular, he’s living with the legacy of long contracts issued to the wrong players under his predecessors… a similar situation to that inherited by Keith Millen at Bristol City (and with parallels to what Ray Lewington had to cope with post-Vialli here) but more so.  Despite, as I write, having already stripped bigger earners from the wage bill this summer, Boro need to shift more players before they can start recruiting in anger again… and as we know only too well, when you’re in that boat people are much more likely to offer to take the players you’d rather hang on to than the big salaries that aren’t performing.  Perhaps alarmingly given Mowbray’s sides’ traditional tendency to ship goals, he’s hardly inheriting the most solid of backlines; the imposing presence of McManus is not, seemingly, a remedy for the side’s vulnerability at set pieces, whilst first-choice keeper Steele misses the first couple of months of the season with a wrist injury.  Going forwards, Boro scored a lot of goals in the second half of last season but none of Emnes, Lita or McDonald are guaranteed to be at the Riverside come the end of August and none have proven a steady source of goals over time in any case.

Boro have too much quality to struggle badly again, I suspect… there are kids coming through to supplement what looks an OK first team.  But they won’t finish above halfway again.  The goal this season, surely, realistically, must be to stay in the division long enough to outlast the legacy of earlier recklessness.

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Comments»

1. Robert - 02/08/2011

Matt, your stat about Ipswich bein in the Championship for 23 of the last 25 years is wrong. They had three seasons in the beginning of the premiership, they also had two years at the beginning of the last decade. You also need to add to Leicester’s players out list: Cian Bolger (Bristol Rovers, 6 months loan). These are a few minor criticisims of a fantastic article.

Matt Rowson - 02/08/2011

Good grief. You’re right, of course…. had forgotten all about the first spell. The 9-0 defeat to Man U, on the day that Kevin Phillips scored his first league goal for us IIRC.

Point still stands, tho…

Van Patten - 02/08/2011

Hard to believe it’s 25 years since the 1985/86 season (25 years since Wimbledon went into the top flight – hadn’t thought about that) – still seems fresh in the memory even now. I was going to point out the early stint in the top flight, but Robert beat me to it. I think the intially startlingly successful foray into the Premiership second time round has given them a distorted sense of perspective – they’ve been underachievers for some time now – One wonders how long the mysterious Mr.Evans will continue to bankroll a second tier team….

2. thescratchingshed - 02/08/2011

Leeds fan here; totally agree with you regarding our fans expectations. You’d honestly think the Ridsdale era had never happened.

I welcome financial caution personally, but it is frustrating to see Ken Bates blitz £7m on a pointless vanity project on the side of a stadium we don’t own, then tell us we can’t afford Players X wages or the fee Club X is demanding.

I’m realistic, but if we can waste cash on a stadium we don’t own, you have to question the so called ‘financially cautious’ approach we’re taking nowadays.

Matt Rowson - 02/08/2011

Thanks mate. Didn’t know about Bates’ spending elsewhere. Would have expected more comments along your lines tho, rather than “Why aren’t we buying players”. But it sets the wage cap in a slightly different light, I’ll grant you.

Enjoyed your site btw. Scoured at length in preparing this piece.


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