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Season Preview Part 5 01/08/2013

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
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Part Five. Still in Addis Ababa.  Expecting the climate to be far more agreeable than back home…  a more civililsed twenty degrees, with a bit of rain.  Yes, really.  No, any dramatic developments at QPR over the last few days aren’t covered, sorry…

MILLWALL

INS: Nick Bailey (Middlesbrough, Free), Stephen Bywater (Sheffield Wednesday, Free), Richard Chaplow (Southampton, Free), Jermaine Easter (Crystal Palace, Free), Lee Martin (Ipswich Town, Free), Scott McDonald (Middlesbrough, Free), Steve Morison (Leeds United, Season Loan)

OUTS: Shaun Batt (Leyton Orient, Undisclosed), Connor Wilkinson (Bolton Wanderers, Undisclosed), Steve Mildenhall (Bristol Rovers, Free), Tamira Mkandwire (Shrewsbury Town, Free), Chris Taylor (Blackburn Rovers, Free), Therry Racon, Maik Taylor, Sean St.Ledger (Leicester City, End of Loan), Adam Smith (Tottenham Hotspur, End of Loan), Nathan Tyson (Derby County, End of Loan)

OUR EX-LIONS: None

THEIR EX-ORNS: Glenn Roeder (scout), Danny Shittu, Jack Smith

RECENT ENCOUNTERS: The only team we failed to score against last season; a 0-0 draw at Vicarage Road has to be set in the context of a month in which the Lions won their other five games.  Far more disappointing was defeat at the New Den in April, the Lions’ only victory in their last ten games, which features high in any post-season list of if-onlys.

POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:

  Forde
Dunne     Beevers      Shittu      Lowry
Henry        Chaplow       Trotter      Martin
McDonald     Morison

VERDICT: Millwall really weren’t very far from going down last season.  After a strongish start their form tailed off, and nobody who saw us contrive to lose at the New Den in April would have been terribly surprised to see the Lions drop into League One.  Shaun Batt’s late goal in that game, securing the only victory of Kenny Jackett’s last ten games in charge, proved to be the difference between the Lions staying up and not – and was of course one of any number of such incidents that one could point to in lamenting our third place finish, should one be minded to do so.  Since then, Millwall have brought in former West Ham stalwart Steve Lomas to replace Molineux-bound Jackett, an appointment that hasn’t been greeted with unanimous acclaim anywhere other than West Ham messageboards, but have also brought back Steve Morison and Richard Chaplow to give the Lions’ first team, at the very least, a more credible look.  The more recent additions of Nicky Bailey and Scott McDonald, ostensibly too expensive for Middlesbrough, have raised more eyebrows.  The Lions still look too short on cover and quality to do any better than mid-table… none of their signings played a significant role for a successful side last season.  But mid-table and a comfier time of it should be doable.

NOTTINGHAM FOREST

INS: Djamel Abdoun (Olympiakos, £1,700,000), Jamie Mackie (Queens Park Rangers, £1,500,000), Jamie Paterson (Walsall, Undisclosed), Dorus de Vries (Wolverhampton Wanderers, Free), Gonzalo Jara Reyes (West Bromwich Albion, Free), Eric Lichaj (Aston Villa, Free), Jack Hobbs (Hull City, Season Loan)

OUTS:  David McGoldrick (Ipswich Town, Free), Lewis McGugan (Watford, Free),Matt Regan (Tamworth, Free), Dimitar Evtimov (Nuneaton Town, Three Month Loan), Billy Sharp (Southampton, End of Loan)

OUR EX-FOREST: Lewis McGugan

THEIR EX-ORNS: Bobby Downes (Head of Recruitment), Darius Henderson, Henri Lansbury

RECENT ENCOUNTERS: Two comprehensive victories either side of Christmas in which Vydra scored four of our five goals to none against.

POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:

Darlow
Lichaj      Halford       Hobbs         Cohen
Guedioura
Paterson         Lansbury          Abdoun
Cox           Henderson

VERDICT: Maybe it’s a sign of getting old, but I don’t hate teams any more.  Not like I used to.  Or maybe it’s just the mellowness of the close season, for all the excitement of our incoming players.  There was a time when I used to hate everybody.  Even us, a lot of the time.  Do you remember what a dirty bunch of bastards the mid-eighties Spurs team were, Glenda and all?  An extraordinary distance between the media portrayal and reality from my low vantage point in the Family Enclosure, watching Lee Sinnott being taken out by a flying kick to the back from Paul Allen…  then at different times and perhaps to varying extents Luton, Palace, QPR, Burnley, Birmingham, Sheffield United…  now… meh.

I still hate people though.  And the teams I want to lose the most are increasingly defined by who’s in charge of them.  That means you, Pardew.  And the charming Billy Davies of course… peevish, aggressive, he’s the nutter in the pub with a chip on his shoulder who wants to start a fight.  He’s Francis Begbie.

He’s also done a fair job of making teams competitive in this division of course, and Forest should certainly be that after we caught them at a good time, twice within a month and the penultimate games in charge of first Sean O’Driscoll and then Alex McLeish.  Forest’s run from Davies’ take over to the end of the season was a revelation… but not quite  the cake-walk that your mind’s eye remembers.  Six wins on the hop were followed by an expensive run of one win from eight games.  Lots of draws in there too, and that could be the story this season… difficult to beat, but not enough goals in the team to challenge for automatic.  Chance of the play-offs, no better.  And don’t worry, that “not hating other teams” thing will last about twelve minutes into the season…

QUEENS PARK RANGERS

INS: Karl Henry (Wolverhampton Wanderers, Undisclosed), Richard Dunne (Aston Villa, Free), Danny Simpson (Newcastle United, Free)

OUTS: Christopher Samba (Anzhi Makhachkala, £12,000,000), Jamie Mackie (Nottingham Forest, £1,500,000), Tal Ben Haim (Standard Liége, Free), DJ Campbell (Blackburn Rovers, Free), Djibril Cissé (Kuban Krasnodar, Free), Troy Hewitt (Walsall, Free), José Bosingwa, Jay Bothroyd, Radek Cerny, Frederick Champion, Adam Francis, Rob Hulse, Taylor Parmenter, Tomasso Trani, Ryan Nelsen (retired)

OUR EX-RANGERS: None

THEIR EX-ORNS: Kevin Hitchcock (Goalkeeping Coach)

RECENT ENCOUNTERS: The high point of Malky Mackay’s tenure, a glorious 3-1 victory at Loftus Road which was Rangers’ first league defeat of the season in early December… and a less fondly remembered defeat at Vicarage Road at the end of the same season.

POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:

  Green
Simpson       Onuoha      Dunne          Yun
Park         Henry       Jenas     Hoilett
Zamora     Johnson

VERDICT: I’m a statistician.  That’s my job.  Part of that job involves quantifying the uncertainty in things… not just how big we think something is, but how accurate that estimate is likely to be.  Like the margin of error in an election poll, for example, the plus-or-minus three percent.

And the margin of error, speaking as a professional, in any estimate of how QPR are going to do this season is the size of Richard Dunne’s arse.  The magnitude of the estimation challenge is summed up in the contrast between the bookies making Rangers pre-season favourites and the prevailing mood on QPR messageboards still shivering at the memory of the shapeless spiritless shambles that got relegated. Conscious that the most high profile names on the squad roster will either be off before they get a chance to get involved or, worse, still be around but not contributing.

Rangers fans will also have read the reports of Adel Taarabt, ace in the pack in the promoted side three years ago, being sent home from the summer camp for being persistently late for training and linked with a loan move to former boss Mark Hughes at Stoke.  Loïc Rémy, talked of in terms of a move to Newcastle but also under investigation in conjunction with a gang rape, having been arrested in May.  Jamie Mackie, one of few honest-to-goodness triers in the squad whatever his limitations, demanding a transfer, and seeing his request granted.

Harry Redknapp clearly recognises some of his team’s deficiencies…  a lack of bite in midfield, so in comes Karl Henry.  An organiser at the back, in comes Richard Dunne.  A pair of injury-prone strikers, hence the doomed attempts to recruit Gary Hooper (stop sniggering at the back). But it’s still short-termism, it’s still just looking at the immediate objective of getting the team promoted. There’s no plan. Karl Henry is 30, Richard Dunne nearly 34.  The squad is huge but many of the players are, frankly, old and on high wages – the average age of the side above is 30. Rangers clearly can’t afford to fail… but what would they do if they did get promoted?

They might do that, of course.  A season or two’s worth of panic buying in the Premier League does buy you quality, whatever else it does.  But equally, the prospect of “doing a Wolves” is not beyond the realms of possibility, as recognised on those messageboards and tacitly by Robert Green in a cautious interview last week. The toughest job of Redknapp’s career, either way….  my bet would be a ghastly start until he finds a formula that works, and then roaring up the table to finish in the play-offs.  But as previously stated, all predictions at this time to be treated with caution…

READING

INS: Danny Williams (Hoffenheim, Undisclosed), Wayne Bridge (Brighton & Hove Albion, Free), Royston Drenthe (Alania Vladikavkaz, Free)

OUTS: Ian Harte (AFC Bournemouth, Free), Jay Tabb (Ipswich Town, Free), Noel Hunt (Leeds United, Free), Uche Ikpeazu (Watford, Free), Nick Bignall, Simon Church, Charlie Losasso, Alex MacDonald, Nick Shorey, Joshua Webb, Brett Williams, Nick Arnold (Wycombe Wanderers, Season Loan), Daniel Carrico (Sevilla, Season Loan), Ryan Edwards (Perth Glory, Season Loan), Mikkel Andersen (Randers, End of Loan)

OUR EX-RS: Uche Ikpeazu

THEIR EX-ORNS: Brynjar Gunnarsson, Adrian Mariappa, Jobi McAnuff

RECENT ENCOUNTERS: An innocuous win at the Madejski early in Sean Dyche’s season, and a defeat at Vicarage Road when the visitors came from behind to take the points through Adam le Fondre’s late winner.

POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:

  McCarthy
Gunter        Mariappa       Pearce        Bridge
Karacan            Williams
Kébé                 Robson-Kanu            Drenthe
Le Fondre

VERDICT: The most striking contrast between the relegated top flight clubs and (most of) the rest is simply the depth of their squads.  That’s what parachute payments and Premier League money buys you of course… better players, sure, up to a point, but you’ve still got to persuade great players to drop a division, or to join you at all if you’re in the Hull or Palace boat of needing to convince people that you’re a good punt before you even get going.  The star players, the players that a Reading or a Wigan can attract or retain are either the very good Championship players (Holt) or the damaged goods (Royston Drenthe).  But in the depth of the squad, the contrast is much starker.  Scan through Reading’s squad list and you can come up with a side almost as plausible as the one above from omitted players.

Since the perhaps surprising decision to sack Brian McDermott last season (and not forgetting his heroic sidekick), Nigel Adkins has won friends by switching to a less direct brand of football. He was onto a reasonably good thing, it seemed… the R’s were already seven points adrift when he arrived in March, and if his eight games in charge yielded fewer points-per-game than McDermott had accrued earlier in the season (and a single win, at Fulham) then Adkins was still very much in a honeymoon period. Time to get his feet under the table.

It’ll be different this season, there’ll be expectation.  He’s dealt with that before in getting Southampton out of the third tier… but I wonder whether he’ll cope when results go against him, which they surely will at times in a competitive division.  Reading will be challenging, but with Pogrebnyak looking to be on his way out they appear reliant on Adam le Fondre for goals, albeit supported by an excellent array of midfield options.  Play-offs for me.

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Comments»

1. Mr Anderson - 01/08/2013

As usual Matt, your Season Preview is absolutely excellent – thank you for taking the time to write it. And the liking of Billy Davies to Francis Begbie is a stroke of genius 🙂

2. Nick - 02/08/2013

Nicky Bailey has signed for Millwall. If ever a player and club belonged together I think its those two.

3. Lanterne Rouge - 03/08/2013

Not far off with your Reading assessment although the pessimist in me feels that midtable might actually be more realistic. As with many a relegated club, the squad is too large and how do you convert the habit of losing 20+games a season into winning 20+ – with extreme difficulty. The joker in the pack could be Pogrebnyak who received a ridiculously small amount of service last season and who did seem to be able to finish when presented with a chance. He’s also rumoured to have a very good attitude (see Michael Calvin’s new book, The Nowhere Men) and certainly works hard on the pitch. I’m hoping he can be a Tzvetoslav Todorov kind of player – not quite good enough to shine in a poor Premier League side but someone who can thrive a level down on better service.


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