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Southampton 0 Watford 3 (18/10/2008) 18/10/2008

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
18 comments

Just for a change, here’s a match report…

It’s not quite the case that this was my first experience of an executive box. I vaguely remember a similar set-up at Old Trafford in 1987 (and one of those occasions when Worrell Sterling played well – he only ever did so as a straw to cling to in a defeat) although I can’t remember why or what justified the exalted environment on that occasion.

But certainly my first visit for 20 years or so, and much as it would take some getting used to there’s something about free food and an assistant to bring you free drinks from the bar that tends to win one over.

Thanks are due to Joons and his employers for access to this box. This thought was bubbling around somewhere near the front of my mind as we shuffled out to our padded seats at around 2.45 – it doesn’t take much alcohol to affect my sensibilities these days, and I was conscious of not wanting to embarrass or cause ructions for my host as I took my pew above the Southampton directors’ box. Any celebration, berating of officials and general raucousness to be kept to a minimum.

The deceptive chill that defied the bright sunshine helped me retain a degree of self-awareness. So too the discovery that the “Lawrie” who had given his name to the adjacent executive box was indeed Southampton’s celebrated ex-manager (and one time GT-sidekick). His schoolmasterly demeanour, even at the age of 72, demanded a straightening of seating position and attentiveness to matters in hand.

Not that there wasn’t quickly enough going on to grasp the attention, as a chaotic forty-five minutes ensued. Form and a glance at the teamsheet suggested that a painfully young Southampton side might cause us a few problems going forward, but a back four with an average age of nineteen was there to be pressured and bullied. Heaven knows what Doris will do to them on Tuesday…. both suggestions were proven accurate beyond dispute within the first half.

And the home side started on the front foot, making us look very clunky indeed at the back as we endured our now customary stupid first five minutes. We’d been put under pressure – and looked far from comfortable – even before the second minute, but the first pivot of the game came when a ball from deep towards the lively McGoldrick saw the Saints’ youngster, Ward and Lee collide on the edge of the area.

It’s beyond dispute that McGoldrick was fouled. It wasn’t obvious to me who had committed the foul or even – based on an admittedly addled memory alone – whether it had been in the area. But a penalty having been given, and our keeper having been held responsible, we can probably consider ourselves fortunate to have retained his services. Not a clear cut decision – Darren Ward clearly in attendance – but we’d have been looking for red had the roles been reversed. A long thirty seconds was endured before the yellow card appeared.

Thing is, as the Reading game illustrated, sometimes it bounces for you, and sometimes against you. Wittering about refereeing inadequacies or otherwise continues to miss the point. What differentiates a strong mentality from a weak one is the ability to deal with the situation. And both in the Reading game and here we overcame the impact of a refereeing decision – against us a month ago, for us today – to push on regardless and get a result.

Although admittedly we were helped by both a weak penalty from McGoldrick and a confident stop by our goalkeeper. Not for the last time we jumped around in isolation in our pocket of the main stand under a particularly stern glare from our right.

The game remained open, and we were under pressure again as a wicked ball in from the right found McGoldrick attacking the far post and only a fine block from Mariappa prevented us from going behind. It was hairy, and it might have got hairier still but for the sudden discovery that Southampton couldn’t defend to save their lives.

Darren Ward on the scene or otherwise, it won’t have escaped your notice that we’re hardly a threat from set pieces any more in these post-Shittu and post-Doris days. That didn’t prevent an almost complete failure to deal with a ball into the box as Harley received Williamson’s short corner from the right, flicked it rather aimlessly into the middle where it cannoned around for a bit before finding Hoskins and Priskin playing scissors-paper-stone at the far post for the right to drive the loose ball past the unprotected Kelvin Davis. The Hungarian won, and delivered emphatically.

Good job, because whatever story the final score tells we were under pressure again quickly. John Eustace put himself under unnecessary but increasingly traditional pressure by picking up a yellow for executing a Southampton midfielder on the halfway line. And then the home side won another penalty.

At the risk of “The Championship” making me look silly tomorrow morning, no doubt about this one for me. A shove in the back, only questionable because it was so unnecessary (he can’t have bloody pushed him, can he?). Paul Wotton, one of only two of Saints’ starting eleven able to ride a bicycle without stabilisers, grabbed the ball early and took responsibility, but several of our number called the outcome before it transpired. A long run up heralded a smack down the centre of the goal where the ball met Richard’s legs and cannoned away to more celebration and another stern glare from our right.

More hurly-burly followed… we seemed to be under instruction to bully Southampton’s youngsters and deny them the space on the ball which had already hurt us. Referee Kettle wasn’t having any of it, pulling up anything approaching a physical challenge. This isn’t basketball you tart. Lee Williamson, however, is paid not to lose his cool in the face of a stupid refereeing decision, so his yellow for dissent was somewhat irritating, the non-foul that he’d just been penalised for notwithstanding. Jon Harley’s own yellow minutes later was slightly harder to understand, and perhaps prevented him from picking up a booking by the traditional means of a petulant hack on his marker later in the game.

You’ll notice that our attacking forays aren’t featuring much here. The truth is that there weren’t many of them, with those that we did carve out coming the way of an increasingly purposeful and aggressive Priskin, who won a corner with a bullish drive down the left that probably ought to have resulted in a clear shot on target but for his customary hesitation.

At which point I must confess to availing myself of the facilities… such are the perils of a free bar before a football game. As I returned into our suite an “oooooh” from the noisy Watford contingent to our right caused me to rush to the window in time to see John Eustace nod home. Given the chaos that preceded our first goal, it wasn’t difficult to imagine how the second had come about.

Particularly as a similarly preventable third followed ten minutes later. Southampton displayed the twin vices that would cost them the game – the inability to finish off a couple of bright breaks followed by utter refusal to deal with a ball bouncing aorund the box, Tamas Priskin grabbing his second with a smart backheel of all things.

The mood in the box at half time was one of cheerful bemusement. We hadn’t played particularly well, and had the bases loaded against us in the number of yellow cards already assembled. We had in fact defended like idiots for much of the half, hadn’t attacked particularly expansively, and were 3-0 up.

It’s tempting to dismiss the second half as a non-event. Compared to the first half of course, very little wouldn’t have been a come down and it’s fair to say that the slow down in the passage of events suited us rather better than it suited our hosts.

But they gave it a good go, and we had both our goalkeeper and no small fortune to thank for our clean sheet.

This was Richard’s sort of game, of course. No big strikers to compete for high balls with, little in the way of crosses from the touchline into the box, and no real demands on his sometimes wayward distribution given how easily we’d picked up a convincing lead… but plenty of shot-stopping and handling which he managed pretty much immaculately. There were chances in the first fifteen minutes of the half that, had an outstretched leg connected, Lee wouldn’t have been able to do anything about – and the Bromby/Ward pairing, on this evidence, isn’t one you’d want to test again against more bullish opposition.

As it was Southampton’s failure to break the deadlock resulted in the rest of the half being more comfortable than it might have been. We had a few more chances of our own – Priskin twice chasing and harrying (yes really) to generate a couple of chances to complete his hat-trick, one of which resulting in a snap shot that Davis did well to stop, the second in an astonshing shank wide that would have attracted derision but for the sterling display and two goals that had preceded it. Rasiak is supposedly back in contention on Tuesday. Improbably, he’s far from a shoe-in on this evidence.

Will Hoskins, after a disappointingly incidental first half, was much more significant in the second, working hard to occupy Southampton’s young defenders with little reward. As the game petered out, Saints fans stirred themselves to sing about how quiet the Watford support was, which probably passes for irony on the south coast. Our subs wandered on… a feisty cameo from the likeable Henderson and a less eyecatching ten minutes from John-Joe O’Toole, followed by a welcome return for Lloyd Doyley, giving us proper options at the back for the first time in a while.

We won’t always have it as easy as this. And it was easy, however much of the rub of the green we got. Southampton’s plight serves as a warning of the perils of NOT living within your budget. Here but for the grace of God go we. If you can’t deal with the most inoccuous of balls into your box, you’ve got a serious problem.

Watford move up the table, but there are tougher challenges to come. Starting Tuesday.

*Lee 4*, Mariappa 3 (Doyley NA), Sadler 3, Ward 2, Bromby 2, Smith 3, Eustace 3, Williamson 4, Harley 3, Hoskins 3 (Henderson NA), Priskin 4 (O’Toole NA)

Watford 1 Plymouth Argyle 2 (16/09/2008) 17/09/2008

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.
34 comments

Thunks from the defeat to the Argyle…

1- What it all boils down to is that we don’t have enough goals in the team. By a long chalk. So going behind will always leave us with a bit of a problem, dramatic victories over Ipswich notwithstanding. We weren’t great in the first half hour last night but we were doing OK, by some distance the better side. After going behind we looked increasingly desperate and clueless, borne of not quite knowing where one goal, let alone two, was going to come from. Nothing that we didn’t fear and expect; that’s what you get for (having to be) selling all your leading goalscorers.

2- That said… it doesn’t help when one injury causes a domino effect that disrupts every area of the team with players moved out of their strongest positions. So we miss Rasiak, as far as we’ve been able to judge. But arguably Sadler has been missed more, given that Harley has been moved out of the midfield slot that seems to suit his energy so well, McAnuff has been moved onto his weaker left side with an effect on his form that makes you wonder how and why so many managers at different clubs have seen fit to play him on “the wrong flank”, and then first Tommy Smith and last night Lee Williamson are forced into positions that chuck a blanket over their hitherto positive contributions to the team. Away at Wednesday, fine. But home to Plymouth, a side not blessed with great wide players, why not Aidy Mariappa at left back and leaving the rest where it was, working kind of ok….?

3- And whither Damien Francis? Not that he hasn’t been a huge let-down, but he’s still a big bloke (which we now sorely lack), an experienced player (ditto, esp off the bench) and has a goal in him (ditto again). Is it possible that we need to force him to agree to a loan in order to bring in options in less well-covered positions?

4- Priskin. Whatever his limitations – discussed ad nauseam – it’s hardly his fault that he finds himself first choice striker (which he is on merit, despite Hoskins’ increased mobility) given the fire sale, rather than the position of youngster in the wings who needs some work. He struggled again last night, but cheering the substitution (through injury, not that you noticed) of a 22 year old who we really really need to come good is moronic.

5- Timewasting. Not a criticism of Argyle, who after all were bottom of the league with no wins and leading away from home. But what’s the bloody point of cajoling players to get a shift on if you neither enforce the issue by showing a card (how right-back Doumbe got away without a booking for so long is a mystery) and then add on a laughable three minutes at the end. Good. Smegging. God.

Season Preview 2008-09 02/08/2008

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
54 comments

BARNSLEY

INS: Ian Hume (Leicester City, £1,200,000), Hugo Colace (Newell’s Old Boys, Undisclosed), Mounir El Haimour (Neuchatel Xamax, Undisclosed), Darren Moore (Derby County, Free), Luke Steele (West Bromwich Albion, Free)

OUTS: Istvan Ferenczi (Ferencvaros, Undisclosed), Dwayne Mattis (Walsall, Free), Paul Reid (Colchester United, Free), Luke Waterfall (Tranmere Rovers, Free), Simon Heslop (Grimsby Town, Loan), Rhys Meynell

OUR EX-TYKES: None

THEIR EX-ORNS: Martin Devaney

POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:

                   Steele

          Foster             Souza             Moore                Kozluk

Campbell-Ryce      Howard            De Silva         El Haimour

                 Macken               Hume

VERDICT:
Having not known what to write about Barnsley a year ago, an F.A.Cup run’s worth of TV coverage has made Brian Howard and Kadoye Odejayi household names. The biggest worry is probably where the goals will come from – the likes of Odejayi are only loveable antiheroes in someone else’s team – but there are sides in the division with bigger problems in this department as we know only too well. Meanwhile Simon Davey clearly has something about him, not least a scouting network with a broad perspective, and the squad looks sturdier than a year ago. Comfortably mid-table.

BIRMINGHAM CITY

INS: Marcus Bent (Charlton Athletic, Undisclosed), Lee Carsley (Everton, Free), Kevin Phillips (West Bromwich Albion, Free), Kemy Augustien (AZ67 Alkmaar, Loan)

OUTS:Patrice Muamba (Bolton Wanderers, £5,000,000), Olivier Kapo (Wigan Athletic, £2,500,000), Daniel de Ridder (Wigan Athletic, Free), Mickael Forssell (Hannover 96, Free), David Howland (Port Vale, Free), Adam Legzdins (Crewe Alexandra, Free), Rafael Schmitz (Lille, End of Loan), Asa Hall, Richard Kingson, Stefan Milojevic, Franck Queudrue

OUR EX-BLUES:Mat Sadler

THEIR EX-ORNS: Stephen Kelly, Kevin Phillips

POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:

Taylor

Kelly         Ridgewell        Jaidi         Murphy

Larsson       Carsley     Augustien         McSheffrey

Jerome          McFadden

VERDICT:
Much as many will have chuckled as the charmless Blues dropped out of the top flight, the unfortunate consequence will quite plausibly be a steamrollering of the division by a side with strength, cover and perhaps critically second division experience in each position. With five strikers each capable of scoring a lot of goals at this level (Bent, Jerome, Phillips, McFadden and O’Connor, plus McSheffrey at a push) and sensible replacements brought in for the bigger names that have been shed, those who enjoy a bit of schadenfreude at Birmingham’s expense when the opportunity presents itself are likely to have to pin their hopes on a dramatic conclusion and fallout from the investigations into alleged corruption involving senior figures at the club.

BLACKPOOL

INS: Matt Gilks (Norwich City, Exchange),Alex John-Baptiste (Mansfield Town, Undisclosed), Joe Martin (Tottenham Hotspur, Undisclosed), Marlon Broomes (Stoke City, Free), Daniel Nardiello (Queens Park Rangers, Free), Jermaine Wright (Southampton, Free), Adam Hammill (Liverpool, Loan), Steve Kabba (Watford, Loan), Zesh Rehmann (Queens Park Rangers, Loan)

OUTS:Wes Hoolahan (Norwich City, Exchange), Kaspars Gorkss (Queens Park Rangers, Undisclosed), Marcus Bean (Brentford, Free), Michael Flynn (Huddersfield Town, Free), Michael Jackson (Shrewsbury Town, Free), Keigan Parker (Huddersfield Town, Free), Phil Doughty, Lewis Edge, John Hills, Matt Lawton, Phil Marsh, Paul Tierney, Andy Welsh

OUR EX-SEASIDERS: Matt Jackson, Dan Shittu

THEIR EX-ORNS: Steve Kabba

POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:

Gilks

Barker        Broomes          Rehmann          Crainey

Green           Southern           Wright          Hammill

Nardiello         McPhee

VERDICT:
Blackpool’s difficult second season follows a first in which they weren’t too far from going down despite looking half decent for much of the time. Remove Hoolahan and Gorkss, both as a consequence of unhelpful but presumably necessary release clauses, as well as much of the side’s experience and you have a team that is going to seriously struggle to stay up. Central midfield and up front look like particular problems, but the Seasiders share the latter problem with half of the division. With a small budget and small crowds, Blackpool will do well not to finish bottom.

BRISTOL CITY

INS: Nicky Maynard (Crewe Alexandra, £2,250,000), Gavin Williams (Ipswich Town, Undisclosed)

OUTS: Nick Carle (Crystal Palace, Undisclosed), Darren Byfield (Doncaster Rovers, Free), Alex Russell (Cheltenham Town, Free), Alex Russell (Cheltenham Town, Free), Tamasz Vasko (Ujpest Dosza, End of Loan), Martin Slocombe

OUR EX-ROBINS: None

THEIR EX-ORNS: Steve Brooker, Lee Johnson, David Noble, Gary Johnson (Manager), Keith Millen (Assistant Manager)

POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:

Basso

Orr           McCombe        Carey         McAllister

Williams      Elliott          Johnson        McIndoe

Maynard           Adebola

VERDICT:
Last season’s top six was really a damning indictment of the second tier. West Brom, much vaunted “best team in the division”, couldn’t defend to save their lives. Hull and Palace made the play offs based on bursts of form rather than sustained quality. Stoke went straight up despite being abysmal for big chunks of the season and, perhaps most conclusively of all, we finished sixth. In amongst that lot were Bristol; that they were there on merit despite being no better than a solid mid-table side tells you all you need to know about the rest. Two seasons worth of momentum is unlikely to carry them to such heights again – and you have to worry when a striker with no experience above Division Three comes in at over two million. But City are solid defensively and have quality in midfield… top half, with an outside chance of the play-offs.

BURNLEY

INS: Martin Paterson (Scunthorpe United, £1,000,000), Kevin McDonald (Dundee, £500,000), Diego Penny (Coronol Bolognesi, Undisclosed), Chris Eagles (Manchester United, Undisclosed), Christian Kalvenes (Dundee United, Free), Remco van der Schaaf (Vitesse Arnhem, Free)

OUTS: Kyle Lafferty (Rangers, £3,000,000), James O’Connor (Sheffield Wednesday, Free), Andrew Cole (Nottingham Forest, Free), Jon Harley (Watford, Free), John Spicer (Doncaster Rovers, Free), Gareth O’Connor, David Unsworth

OUR EX-CLARETS: Jon Harley

THEIR EX-ORNS: Clarke Carlisle, Chris Eagles

POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:

Penny

Alexander           Carlisle             Caldwell            Kalvenes

Gudjonsson         Van der Schaaf          McDonald

Elliott                   Paterson                Eagles

VERDICT:
The Clarets were the ultimate mid-table side last season – good enough to beat anyone with a prevailing wind (although that goes for most of the division) but without the squad or consistency to challenge for promotion. Owen Coyle has spread a wide net in recruiting over the summer as well as picking up a couple of players from his native Scotland – and it would be unreasonable to criticise the signing of strikers from relegated sides, a strategy that’s worked for us in the past even if Paterson is a nasty little oik. Solidly mid-table at worst; if Coyle can pick them as well as Clarets must be hoping then the play-offs are a realistic target.

CARDIFF CITY
INS: Ross McCormack (Motherwell, £120,000), Miguel Comminges (Swindon Town, Free), Darren Dennehy (Everton, Free), Mark Kennedy (Crystal Palace, Free), Tom Heaton (Manchester United, Loan)
OUTS:Aaron Ramsey (Arsenal, Undisclosed), David Forde (Millwall, Free), Robbie Fowler, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, Michael Oakes, Trevor Sinclair, Warren Feeney (Dundee United, Loan), Willo Flood (Dundee United, Loan Extension)
OUR EX-BLUEBIRDS:Jobi McAnuff
THEIR EX-ORNS: Neal Ardley (Academy Manager), Terry Burton (Assistant Manager), Paul Wilkinson (Reserve Team Manager)
POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:

 

Heaton

McNaughton          Loovens           Johnson           Capaldi

Ledley            McPhail              Rae            Whittingham

McCormack           Parry

VERDICT:
Much depends on how adequately the Bluebirds do in the pan-division “find a goalscorer” competition. The rest of the team looks pretty sound, and if Tom Heaton is half as good as the last keeper that United loaned out, the central three at the back look intimidating. Marcus Bent would have been a handy signing for them, but it’s asking a lot to expect converted winger Parry and supposed erstwhile Watford target McCormack to score the goals to fire a promotion push. Find that goalscorer and Cardiff look a decent bet for the play-offs. Fail – or if injuries kick in to a thinnish looking squad – and it’s mid-table stodge again.

CHARLTON ATHLETIC

INS: Stuart Fleetwood (Forest Green Rovers, Tribunal), Mark Hudson (Crystal Palace, Free)

OUTS: Madjid Bougherra (Rangers, £2,500,000), Marcus Bent (Birmingham City, Undisclosed), Chris Iwelumo (Wolverhampton Wanderers, Undisclosed), Patrick McCarthy (Crystal Palace, Undisclosed), James Walker (Southend United, Undisclosed), Osei Sankofa (Southend United, Free), Darren Randolph (Hereford United, Loan), Cory Gibbs, Chris Powell, Ben Thatcher

OUR EX-ADDICKS: Matt Jackson, Dan Shittu

THEIR EX-ORNS: Mark Robson (First Team Coach)

POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:

Weaver

Moutouakil          Hudson        Semedo          Youga

Ambrose           Holland             Zhi              Thomas

Gray                Varney

VERDICT:
Whilst not wringing hands about our own predicament, it’s been noticeable that similar – if perhaps less drastic – goings on have befallen Alan Pardew at Charlton. Whilst many of the senior departures were “only” squad players, the squad that finished eleventh last season now looks a lot thinner and Pardew has implied that more players might also be on their way out. The Addicks have a good crop of kids coming through by all accounts, but they’ll do well to match last season’s finish, let alone challenge. Bottom half.

COVENTRY CITY

INS: Freddy Eastwood (Wolverhampton Wanderers, £1,200,000), Keiren Westwood (Carlisle United, £500,000), Aron Gunnarsson (AZ67 Alkmaar, Undisclosed), Guillaume Beuzelin (Hibernian, Free)

OUTS:Ellery Cairo (NAC Breda, Free), Liam Davies (Northampton Town, Free), Colin Hawkins (Brighton & Hove Albion, Free), David McNamee (Plymouth Argyle, Free), Wayne Andrews, Arjan de Zeeuw, Stuart Giddings, Lee Hildreth, Michael Hughes, Stephen Hughes

OUR EX-SKY BLUES:John Eustace

THEIR EX-ORNS: None

POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:

Westwood

Birchall            Dann              Ward              Fox

Tabb             Beuzelin          Gunnarsson        Gray

Eastwood            Best

VERDICT:
I don’t give a monkeys who Cov’s manager is, what amount of backing they’ve got or who they’ve signed (although there’s a one-liner to be written about Eastwood and Westwood). It takes something cataclysmic for the Sky Blues to finish anywhere other than anonymously bottom half whichever division they’re in. Got a bit carried away last season and nearly did something halfway interesting by getting relegated. No such excitement this time. Seventeenth.

CRYSTAL PALACE

INS: Calvin Andrew (Luton Town, £80,000), Nick Carle (Bristol City, Undisclosed), Johannes Ertl (Austria Vienna, Undisclosed), Jose Fonte (Benfica, Undisclosed), Patrick McCarthy (Charlton Athletic, Undisclosed), Simon Thomas (Boreham Wood, Nominal), Darryl Flahavan (Southend United, Free)

OUTS: John Bostock (Tottenham Hotspur, £700,000), Tony Craig (Millwall, Undisclosed), Jeff Hughes (Bristol Rovers, Undisclosed), Mark Hudson (Charlton Athletic, Free), Mark Kennedy (Cardiff City, Free), Lewis Spence (Wycombe Wanderers, Free), Aaron Fray, Ryan Hall, Ben Kudjodji, Clinton Morrison, Moses Swaibu

OUR EX-EAGLES: Steve Kabba, Jobi McAnuff

THEIR EX-ORNS: Carl Fletcher

POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:

Speroni

Butterfield            McCarthy           Fonte            Hill

Derry             Carle              Soares

Ifill             Scowcroft             Moses

VERDICT:
Palace’s extraordinary turnaround under Neil Warnock’s tutelage threatened to mirror that of 2004 under Iain Dowie, which propelled a side that had looked feeble at the start of that season into the top flight. They should be well placed to challenge again – the loss of Bostock for a disappointing tribunal-set initial fee, is less of an immediate blow than the departure of the more physically developed Moses might have been. The latter’s new contract in the light of reported interest from Arsenal and Chelsea will have reassured many in Croydon. Defensively they look strong, particularly with fierce competition for keeper Speroni, but a lack of goals might be the issue although the way this preview’s going you’d wonder whether there’ll be any goals in the division this season. Lots of good kids coming through, although don’t be fooled into thinking Palace are suddenly in any way likeable. Edge of the play-offs.

DERBY COUNTY

INS: Rob Hulse (£1,750,000), Liam Dickinson (Stockport County, £750,000), Steve Davies (Tranmere Rovers, Tribunal), Martin Albrechtesen (West Bromwich Albion, Free), Kris Commons (Nottingham Forest, Free), Paul Connelly (Plymouth Argyle, Free), Paul Green (Doncaster Rovers, Free), Jordan Stewart (Watford, Free), Ruben Zadkovich (Unattached), Nathan Ellington (Watford, Loan), Przemyslaw Kazmierczak (Porto, Loan)

OUTS: Rob Earnshaw (Nottingham Forest, £2,650,000), Kenny Miller (Rangers, £2,000,000), Craig Fagan (Hull City, £750,000), David Jones (Wolverhampton Wanderers, Undisclosed), Ben Hinchcliffe (Oxford United, Free), Lee Holmes (Southampton, Free), Michael Johnson (Notts County, Free), Darren Moore (Barnsley, Free), Jason Beardsley (Notts County, Loan), Marc Edworthy, Andy Todd

OUR EX-RAMS: Lionel Ainsworth, Mart Poom, Tommy Smith

THEIR EX-ORNS: Nathan Ellington, Jordan Stewart

POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:

Carroll

Connelly           Albrechtsen            Davis             Stewart

Sterjovski             Green                 Barnes            Commons

Ellington               Hulse

VERDICT:
Derby’s season in the top flight was miserable, even by the standards of the growing number of play-off winners who’ve struggled to bridge the gap. Paul Jewell hasn’t so much revamped that squad as replaced it, with few of the side likely to kick off the season pre-dating his November arrival. One suspects that it might take time to come together but the Rams are well on the way to accumulating options in each position that are good enough to do well in this division, if not improve radically on last season should Derby get promoted. Paul Jewell has previously struggled at this level when managing a club with impatient expectations, and there are rumblings of boardroom nonsense running up to the season. It would take something monumental to stop Derby making the play-offs though.

DONCASTER ROVERS

INS: Matthew Mills (Manchester City, £300,000), Tomi Ameobi (Leeds United, Undisclosed), Darren Byfield (Bristol City, Free), Stuart Elliott (Hull City, Free), John Spicer (Burnley, Free), Jos van Nieuwstadt (Excelsior Rotterdam, Free)

OUTS: Paul Green (Derby County, Free), Graeme Lee (Bradford City, Free), Mark McCammon (Gillingham, Free), Stephen Roberts (Walsall, Free), Matthew Noble

OUR EX-ROVERS: None

THEIR EX-ORNS: None
POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:

 

Sullivan

O’Connor           Mills               van Nieuwstadt            Roberts

Spicer                      Stock                     Wellens

Coppinger                  Hayter                  Elliott

VERDICT:
Well we haven’t played Donny for thirty years, and even if I’d been at that one it wouldn’t provide a great insight into the current side. Based on the play-off games and the make-up of the team however they look a tidy bunch with a manager who knows what he’s at. They’re perhaps a little short of experience at this level, but like Blackpool a year ago you’d fancy them to have more than enough about them to stay up. Lack of goals might be a problem, although the signing of Byfield, journeyman or not, could be a canny one. Bottom half, but clear of trouble.

IPSWICH TOWN

INS: Pim Balkestein (Heerenveen, Undisclosed), Richard Wright (West Ham United, Undisclosed), Kevin Lisbie (Colchester United, Free), Gareth MacAuley (Leicester City, Undisclosed)

OUTS:Gary Roberts (Huddersfield Town, £250,000), Gavin Williams (Bristol City, Undisclosed), Nick Colgan (Sunderland, Free), Matt Richards (Brighton, Loan), Jason de Vos (Retired), Sylvain Legwinski, Luis Sito, Fabian Wilnis

OUR EX-BLUES:None

THEIR EX-ORNS: None

POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:

R.Wright

D.Wright            MacAuley             Bruce             Balkestein

Norris             Garvan               Shumulikoski         Quinn

Lisbie             Walters

VERDICT:
Jim Magilton is attracting some stick in Suffolk for his track record of re-signing Ipswich old boys, but it’s a couple of pragmatic recruitments with no previous link to Portman Road – the rugged centre-back and instant captain Gareth MacAuley and journeyman goalscorer Kevin Frisbee – that suggest that Ipswich should be better equipped this season than last to make an impact on the promotion shake-up. They still look a bit flimsy in central midfield, and will miss the someone with the ability to put a foot in away from home (again). Play-offs, nonetheless.

NORWICH CITY

INS: David Bell (Luton Town, Undisclosed), Dejan Stefanovic (Fulham, Undisclosed), Wes Hoolahan (Blackpool, Exchange), Sammy Clingan (Nottingham Forest, Free), Ryan Bertrand (Chelsea, Loan), John Kennedy (Celtic, Loan), Omar Krumah (Portsmouth, Loan), Arturo Lupoli (Fiorentina, Loan), Stuart Nelson (Leyton Orient, Free), Elliott Omozusi (Fulham, Loan)

OUTS:Matt Gilks (Blackpool, Exchange), Steven Arnold (Grays Athletic, Free), Andrew Cave-Brown (Leyton Orient, Free), Darren Huckerby (San Jose Earthquakes, Free), Ryan Jarvis (Leyton Orient, Free), Paul McLean (Falkirk, Free), Bally Smart (Kerkyra, Free), Patrick Bexfield, Dion Dublin, Matthew Halliday, Rossi Jarvis, Jose Velasco

OUR EX-CANARIES:Aidy Boothroyd, Leigh Bromby, Damien Francis, Martin Hunter, Matt Jackson, Malky Mackay

THEIR EX-ORNS: Glenn Roeder (Manager)

POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:

Marshall

Omosuzi            Kennedy           Stefanovic             Bertrand

Bell               Fotheringham            Clingan             Hoolahan

Cureton              Lupoli

VERDICT:
Like Derby, a comprehensive looking overhaul at Carrow Road over the summer prompted in no small part by the departure of senior players. Unlike Derby the funds aren’t really there to back up the required revamp and the Canaries look short of attacking impetus in particular. There’s also Glenn Roeder’s second season syndrome to cope with – at each of his last three clubs a promising-but-no-cigar season was followed immediately by a season of huge disappointment and, in the cases of ourselves and West Ham, with relegation. Norwich ought to have too much to avoid getting sucked into a struggle but it doesn’t bode well – and rings more than a few bells – that Roeder is blaming injuries for defeats in pre-season. Very bottom half.

NOTTINGHAM FOREST

INS: Rob Earnshaw (Derby County, £2,650,000), Joe Garner (Carlisle United, £1,140,000), Mickael Darnet (AS Cannes, Undisclosed), Andrew Cole (Sunderland, Free), Guy Moussi (Angers, Free), Paul Anderson (Liverpool, Loan)

OUTS: Grant Holt (Shrewsbury Town, £170,000), Junior Agogo (Zamalek, Undisclosed), Matt Lockwood (Colchester United, Undisclosed), Sammy Clingan (Norwich City, Free), Kris Commons (Derby County, Free), Alan Power (Hartlepool United, Free), Felix Bastians

OUR EX-FOREST: Will Hoskins, Gareth Williams

THEIR EX-ORNS: None
POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:

 

Smith

Chambers            Wilson               Morgan                 Bennett

McGugan                  Moussi                   Cohen

Anderson                Earnshaw                 Davies

VERDICT:
Having been a little bit fortunate to sneak into an automatic promotion place by all accounts, Forest’s summer spending ought to have brought in the goals to keep them up comfortably. Commons is a loss, and a side that flattered to deceive in the third tier is going to require a year or so of consolidation before thinking about challenging again, but Earnshaw has always scored freely in Division Two and has an enviable supporting cast. Comfortably mid-table.

PLYMOUTH ARGYLE

INS: Jason Puncheon (Barnet, £250,000), Yaala Bolasie (Floriana, Undisclosed), Karl Duguid (Colchester United, Undisclosed), David McNamee (Coventry City, Free), Graham Stack (Reading, Free)

OUTS:Peter Halmosi (Hull City, £2,000,000), Nadjim Abdou (Millwall, Free), Paul Connolly (Derby County, Free), Lilian Nalis (Swindon Town, Free), Reuben Reid (Rotherham United, Free), Paul Wotton (Southampton, Free), Nick Chadwick, Lee Hodges, Luke McCormick, Jake Moult

OUR EX-ARGYLE:None

THEIR EX-ORNS: None

POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:

Larrieu

McNamee      Timar          Seip           Paterson

Duguid            Summerfield            Clark             Puncheon

MacLean             Easter

VERDICT:
Difficult to see Argyle teasing the play-offs again; whilst they’ve mae a couple of sound looking signings they largely amount to like-for-like replacements for departing players. It would be expecting too much of Jason Puncheon to step into the considerable hole left by Peter Halmosi though, and in general the midfield looks particularly flimsy. A bad season with injuries could see Argyle in trouble – but unspectacular mid-table at best.

PRESTON NORTH END

INS: Barry Nicholson (Aberdeen, Free), Ross Wallace (Sunderland, Loan)

OUTS:Kevin Nicholls

OUR EX-LILYWHITES:Matt Jackson, Tamas Priskin

THEIR EX-ORNS: None

POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:

Lonergan

Jones          Mawene              St.Ledger             Davidson

Sedgwick             McKenna             Chaplow             Wallace

Mellor              Brown

VERDICT:
A quiet summer on the transfer front for North End but Wallace in particular looks a terrific signing. Looking at the side it’s difficult to understand how they spent so much of last season struggling. You’d still be a little bit worried about the attacking options, but the quality surfeit in midfield has resulted in Gareth Whaley looking decent in trials up front and if Neil Mellor has finally shaken off his injury problems North End could even challenge for the play-offs. Otherwise, mid-table.

QUEENS PARK RANGERS

INS: Matteo Alberti (Chievo, Undisclosed), Kaspars Gorkss (Blackpool, Undisclosed), Radek Cerny (Slavia Prague, Free), Peter Ramage (Newcastle United, Free), Lee Cook (Fulham, Loan), Samuel Di Carmine (Fiorentina, Loan), Emmanuel Jorge Ledesma (Genoa, Loan), Dani Parejo (Real Madrid, Loan)

OUTS:Stefan Bailey (Grays Athletic, Free), Daniel Nardiello (Blackpool, Free), Jake Cole (Oxford United, Loan), Zesh Rehman (Blackpool, Loan), Aaron Goode, Andrew Howell, Matt Pickens, Sean Thomas

OUR EX-RANGERS:Matt Jackson, Dan Shittu

THEIR EX-ORNS: Lee Cook, Gavin Mahon

POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:

Cerny

Ramage            Hall               Gorkss               Delaney

Rowlands              Parejo                 Mahon

Buzsacky               Agyemang            Cook

VERDICT:
QPR acquiring a team of sugar daddies is a bit of a random one. Whilst there are harder places to attract footballers to than West London it’s not as if the area’s not already well catered for in the top flight. An immediate consequence, of course, ought to be the hope that they fall on their arses but whilst money has been spent on transfer fees – particularly in the January window – the rebuilding has been incremental and sensible thus far. Gavin Mahon, bless him, is nobody’s glamour signing after all, much less Iain Dowie a trophy manager. There are concerns; the rather odd removal of Luigi De Canio after an encouraging eight months at the helm, the rumoured golden handshake already promised to Dowie if he gets them up, and the possible identity of whoever’s picking the legion of foreign, particularly Italian, signings. An in-depth knowledge of squad players and promising youngsters in Serie A is not something that Iain Dowie has suggested in the past. Nonetheless, if these imports are half as good as their pedigree suggests Rangers will be right up there. Actually they have a bit of a team without them. Add the presumed facility to invest further to cover any awkward injuries in January and you’re looking at candidates for automatic promotion.

READING

INS: Noel Hunt (Dundee United, Undisclosed)

OUTS:Dave Kitson (Stoke City, £5,500,000), Glen Little (Portsmouth, Undisclosed), Adam Bygrave (Weymouth, Free), Graham Stack (Plymouth Argyle, Free), Scott Davies (Aldershot Town, Loan), Emerse Fae (Nice, Loan), Ben Hamer (Brentford, Loan), Aaron Brown, Ulises de la Cruz, John Halls, John Oster

OUR EX-ROYALS:None

THEIR EX-ORNS: Nigel Gibbs (Coach), Brynjar Gunnarsson

POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:

Hahnemann

Murty             Duberry               Sonko              Shorey

Kebe                Harper             Matejovsky            S.Hunt

Doyle             Lita

VERDICT:
Now I know that Steve Coppell’s had-enough face is exactly the same as his happy, miserable, angry and excited faces. But you can’t help but feel that whatever his achievements at Reading (and they are considerable), a line could perhaps have been drawn before now for the benefit of all concerned. As it is, the squad that Reading bring down looks surprisingly similar to the one that got promoted two years ago… minus Steve Sidwell, Dave Kitson, Glen Little, and maybe Nicky Shorey. Oh, and a couple of years older. Reading may have been a little unlucky to be relegated last season, but even a burning sense of injustice didn’t help Sheffield United after a similarly last-minute drop a year earlier. Expectation levels are high, and Reading’s fans are unlikely to be the most patient. A good recovery after a slow start, but short of the play-offs for the Royals.

SHEFFIELD UNITED

INS: Darius Henderson (Watford, £2,000,000), David Cotterill (Wigan Athletic, Undisclosed), Justin Haber (Haidari, Undisclosed), Sun Jihai (Manchester City, Free), Greg Halford (Sunderland, Loan), Matthew Spring (Luton Town, Loan)

OUTS: Rob Hulse (Derby County, £1,750,000), Luton Shelton (Valerenga, £1,000,000), Ryan Cresswell (Bury, Free), Lloyd Kerry (Chesterfield, Free), Chris Lucketti (Huddersfield Town, Free), Ben Starosta (Aldershot Town, Loan), James Ashmore, Martin Donnelly, Paul Gerrard, Stephen Hernandez, Geoff Horsfield, Dean Oliver

OUR EX-BLADES: Leigh Bromby, Jon Harley, Steve Kabba

THEIR EX-ORNS: Sam Ellis (Assistant Manager), Darius Henderson, Matthew Spring, Danny Webber
POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:

 

Kenny

Halford              Kilgallon                 Morgan               Naysmith

Cotterill               Speed                 Quinn                   Tonge

Henderson               Beattie

VERDICT:
On the face of it, the Blades look well placed for a challenge. A strong finish to the last campaign, significant squad strengthening over the summer (sigh), plenty of attacking options (sigh again). Thing is, Kevin Blackwell is a fucking idiot, and has demonstrated so repeatedly. Not quite the astonishing appointment that Bryan Robson was a year ago, but not far off. If the Blades squeaked the play-offs – and to be honest if last season’s a template then they and most of the division have a shout – you wouldn’t back them, Blackwell having seemingly the same bottle-it gene as Trevor Francis in this respect. My money’s on just below halfway, and trouble at t’Lane.

SHEFFIELD WEDNESDAY

INS: James O’Connor (Burnley, Free), Jimmy Smith (Chelsea, Loan)

OUTS:Rob Burch (Lincoln City, Free), Burton O’Brien (Falkirk, Free), Jason Bradley, Lee Bullen, James Kay, Dave McClements, Ronnie Wallwork

OUR EX-OWLS:None

THEIR EX-ORNS: None

POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:

Grant

Simek            Wood               Beevers                Spurr

Johnson             Smith              O’Connor               Esajas

Jeffers             Sodje

VERDICT:
Ouch. Amidst takeover shenanigans a side that struggled badly last season has scarcely strengthened. Reasonable at the back but flimsy as anything in midfield and with only the occasionally fit Jeffers a reliable source of goals up front. With no funds available for strengthening, relegation beckons for the Owls.

SOUTHAMPTON

INS: Morgan Schneiderlin (RC Strasbourg, £1,200,000), Tommy Forecast (Tottenham Hotspur, Undisclosed), Lee Holmes (Derby County, Free), Chris Perry (Luton Town, Free), Paul Wotton (Plymouth Argyle, Free)

OUTS: Youssef Safri (Qata Sports, £300,000), Cedric Baseya (Lille, Free), Mario Licka (Banik Ostrava, Free), Jermaine Wright (Blackpool, Free), Josh Dutton, Inigo Idiakez, Claus Lundekvam, Alexander Ostlund, Darren Powell, Jhon Viafara

OUR EX-SAINTS: None

THEIR EX-ORNS: David Hockaday (Academy Coach)
POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:

 

Bialkowski

James           Svensson               Davies              Thomas

Dyer               Surman                Gillett               Holmes

Rasiak            John

VERDICT:
Another side undergoing something of a fire sale. Saints have a record of bringing good kids through, and hamstrung by lack of funds or not you’d suspect that there might be three worse teams around. However in Jan Poortvliet they have a rookie manager with no experience in the English game; it could be an inspired pick, but seeing as Rupert Lowe’s doing the picking you’d have your doubts. More assets, probably at least one of Rasiak and John, need realising before the Saints can spend any more and Poortvliet has admitted that he’s under orders to cut the wage bill. Relegation a real possibility.

SWANSEA CITY

INS: Ashley Williams (Stockport County, £400,000), Gorka Pintado (Granada, £100,000), Albert Serran (Español, £80,000), Federico Bessone (Español, £70,000), Febian Brandy (Manchester United, Loan), Jordi Gomez (Español, Loan), Mark Gower (Southend United, Free), Stefan Morrison (West Bromwich Albion, Free)

OUTS: Darren Way (Yeovil Town, £50,000), Kevin Amankwaah (Swindon Town, Free), Kevin Austin (Chesterfield, Free), Darryl Duffy (Bristol Rovers, Free), Andy Robinson (Leeds United, Free)

OUR EX-SWANS: None

THEIR EX-ORNS: None

POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:

de Vries

Rangel               Monk             Williams              Bessone

Britton               Bodde               Pratley              Butler

Scotland             Pintado

VERDICT:
It’s twenty-five years since we last faced Swansea, during our first season in the top flight. The Swans have spent much of the interim in the fourth division (“or equivalent”) until Kenny Jackett signalled a revival with some legs, at last, by leading City to promotion to the third tier in 2005. I won’t have been the only Hornet to score a black mark against Swansea following Jackett’s departure last year but a fat lot of good that did, as new boss Roberto Martinez led them to promotion at a canter. The margin of their triumph – even the return of Leeds’ much disputed deducted points wouldn’t have cost Swansea the title – suggests that they will have at the very least enough momentum to carry them clear of the drop zone. How far clear kinda depends upon whether their army of Spanish recruits is borne of a very good eye during Martinez’s years of punditry on Sky’s Spanish coverage, and how reliable his network of Spanish contacts is after thirteen years in the UK. Best guess – and it is a guess – would be bottom half, but well clear of trouble. And at least one win over Cardiff.

WOLVERHAMPTON WANDERERS

INS: Chris Iwelumo (Charlton Athletic, Undisclosed), David Jones (Derby County, Undisclosed), Richard Stearman (Leicester City, Undisclosed), Sam Vokes (AFC Bournemouth, Undisclosed)

OUTS: Seyi Olofinjana (Stoke City, £3,000,000), Freddy Eastwood (Coventry City, £1,200,000), Charlie Mulgrew (Aberdeen, Undisclosed), Matt Bailey (Burton Albion, Loan), Elliott Bennett (Bury, Loan), Lee Collins (Port Vale, Loan), Gary Breen, Keith Lowe, Kevin O’Connor

OUR EX-WOLVES: None

THEIR EX-ORNS: Tony Daley (Fitness Coach), Darren Ward
POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:

 

Hennessey

Foley              Craddock              Stearman                 Elokobi

Kightly               Henry                 Dv.Jones                    Jarvis

Keogh                Ebanks-Blake

VERDICT:

One of the few fond memories that will linger from last season will be that of Steve Kabba’s ludicrous goal against Wolves. Not only the manner of the goal itself, false dawn or otherwise (Leigh Bromby’s throws never led to another goal, and the Kabba avalanche never materialised), and not just the celebration, but the knowledge that but for this goal we wouldn’t have made the play-offs, and Wolves wouldn’t have finished seventh. (In fact any one of five goals could claim this consequence, but I’m choosing this one…). Wolves look a good bet to do better this season though, with a young side with a bit more experience, and potentially a full seasonsworth of Ebanks-Blake (signed in January), Kightly and Jarvis (both injured for long spells last term). Play-offs at worst; good shouts for promotion in any event.

…and finally…

WATFORD
INS: Jon Harley (Burnley, Free)
OUTS: Darius Henderson (Sheffield United, £2,000,000), Toumani Diagouraga (Hereford United, Undisclosed), Ian Joyce (Southend United, Free), Jordan Stewart (Derby County, Free), Nathan Ellington (Derby County, Loan), Steve Kabba (Blackpool, Loan), Alex Campana, Kieran Forbes, Douglas Rinaldi

POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:

Loach

Mariappa             Demerit              Bromby                Sadler

Williamson               Eustace                Harley

Smith                Priskin                      McAnuff

VERDICT:

Well it doesn’t look terrific, does it? Last season’s sixth place flattered our campaign as a whole, and completely fails to reflect the performances and results since January. There has been much talk of our revamped style of play, but as my co-editor has pointed out more eloquently elsewhere this would appear to be something of a red herring. Rudderless, punchless, spartan football is a joyless thing as we have witnessed, but rudderless, punchless tippy-tappy football is scarcely an improvement. When looking back to the promotion team, a team in which the component elements almost seemed to have been genetically engineered to suit a ruthlessly exhilarating style of play it seems inconceivable that last season’s shapelessness was borne of the same manager. It wasn’t altogether clear what the plan was, the almost total reliability on brawn and brute force more a consequence of lack of confidence, slumping back onto the easiest option, than a conscious gameplan. And so playing more football would be nice, sure. Not being completely awful comes first.
Meanwhile, the quite necessary and sensible cloth-cutting over the summer nonetheless leaves us with one particularly obvious problem as far as manpower is concerned. Gone since January: Marlon King, Nathan Ellington, Darius Henderson and perhaps less consequentially Steve Kabba and Collins John. In: nobody, not up front. Which leaves us with a number of rough diamonds, four in particular of whom were probably always going to need to buff up this season or move on, but none of whom you’d be at all confident hanging chief goalscoring responsiblity upon whatever squad number you give them. We are advised that Aidy’s still after a striker, but it’s difficult to picture who he might be able to recruit in the circumstances. We found attracting a striker hard enough in January 2007 when we may have been bottom of the Premiership but at least had some funds and, hey, were in the Premiership. Now… top flight clubs might lend us a useful kid, but it’s not really a useful kid that we need, we have a few of those (god I hope we have a few of those).
Perhaps most alarmingly, all of the characteristic zip has gone from Aidy’s repertoire. It grated at times, sure, but at least suggested a positiveness, a conviction that may have been faked and may have been misplaced, but conviction nonetheless that everything was in hand. That’s categorically not the case any more.
There are straws to be clung to, naturally. Harley looks like a fine catch, albeit our only one. There is still quality in the team, albeit lopsided, and a leader in the shape of Eustace. But even he… reminds me of the signing of Andy Hessenthaler. Like him, a great catch without question but… almost heralding in a fallow period, a warrior to defend a leaking, tilting ship to the death, not to lead the assault on the top flight armada.
Still. Football. Bring it on….