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Season Preview Part 1 06/08/2012

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
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OK.  Here we go… four today, four more Wednesday morning.

BARNSLEY

INS: Ben Alnwick (Tottenham Hotspur, Free), Lee Collins (Port Vale, Free), Kelvin Etuhu (Portsmouth, Free), Jacob Mellis (Chelsea, Free), Mido (Zamalek, Free), Toni Silva (Liverpool, Free)

OUTS: Jacob Butterfield (Norwich City, Undisclosed), David Cotterill (Doncaster Rovers, Free), Nathan Doyle (Bradford City, Free), Andy Gray (Leeds United, Free), Jay McEveley (Swindon Town, Free), David Preece, Alastair Taylor

OUR EX-TYKES: Carl Dickinson

THEIR EX-ORNS: None

RECENT ENCOUNTERS: Two inconspicuous games last season… a 1-1 draw at a damp but sunny Oakwell in September, followed by a 2-1 victory courtesy of a John Eustace brace in February.

POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:

Steele
Wiseman         Edwards           Foster         Golbourne
Perkins           Dawson
Dagnall                      Mellis                        Etuhu
Davies

VERDICT: On the face of it, of course, it’s a brilliant plan for a smaller club with aspirations.  The Pozzo plan, the plan that involves recruiting rough diamonds, polishing them and selling them on when their market value nears tipping point.  You need to get past that romantically foolish notion which sees you gradually assembling a brilliant team of players that are both hugely talented and simultaneously unflinchingly loyal, of course.  But once you’ve got your head around that… it’s a no brainer. Thing is, it’s that first two bits that are tricky.  Shipping your best players is easy.

Ask Barnsley. Ricardo Vaz Té went in January, Jacob Butterfield – out of contract but under 24 – has gone to Norwich in this transfer window.  They left a side that looked solid if unspectacular in our games last season but  significantly, dropped like a stone after Vaz Té’s departure and were rather fortunate that time ran out when it did.  Coming in there are… well, punts really.  Mellis has a good reputation at junior levels but not enough potential for a Prem side to give him a contract after his ignominious exit from Chelsea.  Etuhu has looked kind of promising at a few clubs now without delivering and, at 24, really needs to establish himself.  And of course Mido;  a big name for an increasingly big man, never the most consistently motivated of players when turning out in the top flight one wonders how the Egyptian, who looks to be carrying a colossal amount of timber from pre-season pics, will take to wet January evenings in, well, Barnsley.

There are some tough, experienced players here; Barnsley shouldn’t be written off altogether.  Playing with an ever more limited hand, however, keeping Barnsley up would be a big achievement for the erratic Keith Hill.

BIRMINGHAM CITY

INS: Darren Ambrose (Crystal Palace, Undisclosed), Peter Lovenkrands (Newcastle United, Free), David Lucas (Rochdale, Free), Hayden Mullins (Portsmouth, Free), Ben Gordon (Chelsea, Six Month Loan)

OUTS: Ben Foster (West Bromwich Albion, Undisclosed), Jordon Mutch (Cardiff City, Undisclosed), Luke Hubbins (AFC Telford United, Free), Caleb Folan, Cian Hughton, Ashley Sammons, Enric Valles

OUR EX-BLUES: Martin Taylor

THEIR EX-ORNS: Marlon King

RECENT ENCOUNTERS: A2-2 draw in Jonthan Hogg’s August debut (this fixture the August bank holiday game once more this season) at the end of which two goals dug out by Marvin Sordell glossed over a rather lumpy performance.  And a 3-0 tonking at St Andrews in January; our third league reverse on the hop and the week before Spurs in the Cup, this was arguably our lowest point of the season.

POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:

Butland
Carr         Davies           Caldwell       Gordon
Burke         Mullins           Gomis          Ambrose
King          Zigic

VERDICT: Clubs in crisis.  Clubs in post-crisis meltdown.  Clubs that aren’t quite in crisis but that everyone knows are avoiding an issue and hoping it goes away.  Clubs that were once in crisis but have come through and are now scraping a living together.  Clubs that were once in crisis but have found a new benefactor.  Hell, I’m not sure I know where we fit in that list any more, let alone anyone else.

So, Birmingham then.  A year or two ago they’d be in the stick-or-twist position that clubs relegated from the top flight inevitably faced if they failed to secure immediate promotion; nowadays, a thicker slab of parachute payments is spread over four years so, whatever is going on in Hong Kong, the pressures from the domestic football infrastructure aren’t there.

The Blues made the play-offs last time round;  that’s got to go down as a decent outcome given the turbulent backdrop they faced.  Since then they’ve replaced their manager and brought in Lee Clark, who was the recipient of public sympathy when dumped by Huddersfield last season but significantly and interestingly seemed to be regarded rather less warmly by correspondents from West Yorkshire.  His signings so far this summer have been solid cogs but not game changers;  Hayden Mullins is hugely experienced but is 33 and was relegated amidst the Pompey chaos last season.  Darren Ambrose has done for us often enough, but is more used to being a star player in a poor team than he is to chasing promotion;  the last four years have seen him relegated with Charlton and struggling with Palace, it’s not since the early years of his career that he spent a year at the right end of any division. Overall…  the Blues’ first team looks strong, of course, and there are kids like Nathan Redmond and Jack Butland, if he stays, bubbling under.  I just can’t see the Blues being any stronger or more convincing than they were last year.  Play-offs with a prevailing wind, but my money would be on top half but no cigar.


BLACKBURN ROVERS

INS: Leon Best (Newcastle United, £3,000,000), Dickson Etuhu (Fulham, Undisclosed), Edinho Junior (Olhanense, Undisclosed), Paulo Jorge (Porto B, Undisclosed), Fabio Nunes (Portimonese, Undisclosed), Nuno Gomes (Braga, Free), Danny Murphy (Fulham, Free)

OUTS: Yakubu (Guangzhou, Undisclosed), Junior Hoilett (Queens Park Rangers, Undisclosed), Matty Pearson (Rochdale, Free), Michel Salgado, Ryan Edwards (Rochdale, Six Month Loan)

OUR EX-ROVERS: Joe Garner, Martin Taylor

THEIR EX-ORNS: None

RECENT ENCOUNTERS: A first win in eleven during the last Premiership season during which Jay DeMerit scored the winner and Robbie Savage broke his leg, and a comprehensive defeat of a bedraggled Watford side at Ewood Park at the end of the season, the week after both sides had lost in the FA Cup Semi Finals.

POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:

Robinson
Orr         Dann           Hanley         Henley
Etuhu           Murphy
Pedersen                   Dunn                        Nunes
Gomes

VERDICT: Well who the hell knows, frankly.  Looking at the squad list, and even guessing that a few of the names that remain at the time of writing will be on their way by the end of August, Rovers should be as strong as anyone.  The recruitment doesn’t look too shabby either (even if, as someone suggested elsewhere, it looks as if their strategy has been determined in part by a ten year old version of Football Manager).

Thing is… it’s difficult to envisage success for a club so obviously in turmoil, where the ferocity of distrust between supporters and owners/management is so palpable.  And that’s without even considering the bases for this disquiet – far more than mere on-field underperformance.  Newcastle were promoted comfortably a few years back, of course, when Mike Ashley had started the season as the focus of no small vitriol.  But this feels different… remote ownership, appalling communication and rash decision making at a club that was until recently so well run that you kind of forgot that they were really punching above their weight as a solid, mid-table top flight side.

Based on the names on the roster alone you’d be predicting a play-off place for Rovers, but the last couple of years have seen well-run clubs dominate squads with more illustrious names, by and large, and the serious injury to Leon Best, who looked a surprisingly pragmatic signing, won’t help matters.  Given the backdrop at Ewood Park, this is one of those situations where it’s difficult to conceive of an outcome to the season that doesn’t feel plausible at this point in time.  I’ll say ninth.

BLACKPOOL

INS: Isaiah Osbourne (Hibernian, Undisclosed), Jake Caprice (Crystal Palace, Free), Tiago Gomes (Hercules, Free), Scott Robertson (Dundee United, Free)

OUTS: Keith Southern (Huddersfield Town, £300,000), Daniel Bogdanovic (FC Mosta, Free), Matt Hill (Sheffield United, Free), Stephen Husband (Dunfermline Athletic, Free), Lomano Lua Lua (Karabukspor, Free), Brett Ormerod (Wrexham, Free)

OUR EX-SEASIDERS: None

THEIR EX-ORNS: Craig Cathcart, Keith Millen (Head of Coaching & Development), Kevin Phillips

RECENT ENCOUNTERS: A point won at Bloomfield Road in December and our only defeat of the final two months of the season on Good Friday to a deserving but irritating Blackpool side.

POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:

Gilks
Eardley         Evatt         Baptiste      Crainey
Robertson      Ferguson        Angel
M.Phillips      Taylor-Fletcher       Ince

VERDICT: Comfortably the most impressive visitors to Vicarage Road last season not to have gained promotion, the Seasiders missed out in the play offs but Ian Holloway nonetheless takes huge credit for riding the loss of key players last summer, coping with the inevitable turbulence brought about by relegation and rebuilding his side which came out looking competitive and credible the other side.  Plenty of clubs have failed to respond as positively to a season in the top flight, we should know.

The cost of failing to gain promotion, of course, is increased attention on the Seasiders’ bigger name players with Alex Baptiste and Matt Phillips linked with a move (albeit still at Bloomfield Road at the time of writing).  Blackpool forums suggest that Phillips Jr isn’t quite the world beater that transfer tittle-tattle suggests just yet; nonetheless, the pace of Phillips and Ince on the break was a key part of Blackpool’s lethal counter-attacking at Vicarage Road at Easter and wouldn’t be trivial to replace.  With Stephen Dobbie, who spent a significant second loan spell at Bloomfield Road at the tail end of the season, back at Swansea and Lua Lua, a popular sub last term, another departee it’s the attacking positions that look weakest.  It’s tempting to suggest that the Seasiders’ best chance went last season with a strong set of sides entering the division from either direction, but Ian Holloway’s pre-season tone is chipper.  You wouldn’t write them off – there or thereabouts.

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