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LFW Season Preview 08/09 - The Dog Fight
LFW Season Preview 08/09 - The Dog Fight
Monday, 30th Jun 2008 22:18

The general consensus seems to suggest Blackpool, Barnsley and Doncaster have most to fear from the coming nine months, but we reckon there's one or two other clubs that will be nervously looking over their shoulder come May.

Last season – 18th What a season for Tykes fans. Having been written off by everyone, Barnsley had a far better start to the season than expected and spent most of the first half of the season looking at the play-off places. Even as reality kicked in and they started to slip out of contention, they went on the kind of cup run that most fans dream of, dumping Liverpool and Chelsea out of the FA Cup before losing to Cardiff in the semi-final at Wembley. Unfortunately, while the cup run was exciting the nation, the club’s Championship form dipped even further and at one stage close to the end of the season Barnsley looked to be in free-fall. They recovered at the death and live to spend another season above Leeds, although they may regret putting all their players on national TV in the cup run. Brian Howard has had any number of teams sniffing around Oakwell, deservedly so after a great season in charge of the midfield, while winger Jamal Campbell-Ryce caught the eye by embarrassing defences all season.

Bookies’ prediction: 23rd (last season 24th) – Shortest odds to win the league 66-1 (Betdirect, Betfred Ladbrokes, Stan James), longest 100-1 (Various)

The manager: Simon Davey achieved god-like status amongst Tykes fans last season and deservedly so. In his first full season, and with a squad that he’d completely rebuilt during the close season, Davey had his side playing neat and incisive football. He came to Barnsley, his first managerial job, in November 2006, having been the club’s academy manager, and cemented his place by keeping them up. Davey is one of a young breed of coaches who aren’t afraid to take chances and who are pretty open in the way they talk about their teams. Barnsley’s biggest problem this season may not be choosing when to sack him but keeping hold of him. If he loses some of his stars, however, his team will struggle and the chairman’s patience might dwindle.
Survival chances: 5/10

The squad: All of the superlatives have gone Brian Howard’s way since the cup run. Possibly a little slow in an Andy Reid kind of way but he has bags of talent, a fierce shot and a great eye for a pass. At the time of writing he was reputedly being tailed by Bolton, Wolves, Wigan, Stjoke and Hull (what? Not the Rs?) and had a price tag of £2m. The other player that caught the eye last season was Jamal Campbell-Ryce. I have to say if he was at Rangers he’d drive me spare, because he has a Tricky Trevor like talent for running down blind alleys. He is quick, though, and when he gets it right it can be spectacular.

Much is made of former-West Brom keeper Luke Steele, whose heroics whilst on loan at Barnsley were so much of the cup run. He is a good shot stopper but there must have been a reason for him being the number two at so many clubs until now. I can’t quite pin the feeling down, but I suspect he’ll be found out some time this season. Barnsley also have striker Jon Macken, a busy centre forward type, who has played at Premiership level, albeit not that effectively, and for Northern Ireland.

Davey’s signings so far look as though he’s already spotted he has some work to do. Having let centre back and former-captain Paul Reid go to Colchester on a free, although he wasn’t a regular in the side last season, Davey has signed 34-year old Darren Moore from West Brom. We’ve seen plenty of Moore over the years. He’s big and he’s brave and you won’t win much in the air from him, but he has the turning circle of a rudderless super tanker and tackles with all the finesse of a rusty Sherman tank, so he could end up a bit of a liability.

The Tykes have also lashed out £1.2m on striker Iain Hume. He is one of those players who has been on the verge of making it big for years, but he’s only 24. Hume can hit it with either foot, is a great striker of the dead ball, and is a very intelligent, if slightly lightweight, player. He also loves QPR, having scored against us for fun throughout his career at Tranny and, last season, Leicester.

Barnsley’s other two signings so far have more than a dash of the unknown about them. Hugo Colace is a 24 year old defensive midfielder from Newell’s Old Boys in Argentina. Davey makes much of the fact that Colace was captain of the under-21s side that Carlos Tevez played for but, you have to ask, what’s he been doing since then? Mounir El Hamir is another 24-year old, but this time a left winger from Neuchatel Xamax (didn’t Don Givens go there many moons ago?).
Likely Star Player – Iain Hume (striker) – if only against Rangers

Ins and Outs: Defender Paul Reid (Colchester, undisclosed), striker Kim Christensen (Midtjylland, free) and midfielder Dwayne Mattis (Walsall, free) have already gone while Sam Togwell, Andy Johnson and Istvan Ferenczi have been transfer listed and Blackkpol are trying to nick Martin Devaney for £150k because of a release clause in his contract – tch tch, such terrible behaviour. Former QPR man Rohan Ricketts was one of five players released in May. Defender Darren Moore (Derby, free), midfielder Hugo Colace (Newell’s Old Boys, free) winger Mounir El Hamir (Neuchatel Xamax, undisclosed) and Iain Hume (Leicester, £1.2m) are the additions so far.

Head-to-Head: We turned out in numbers for the home game last season, as the new Rangers ran out comfortable 2-0 winners in January thanks to goals from Dave and Vine. As a result, Rangers climbed to within a point and a place of Barnsley, standing 17th. A month later we were up at Oakwell and drawing 0-0 on a classic horrible Tuesday night oop north. Rangers held on to their goal difference advantage over Barnsley, standing 15th. This season we open our season with the Tykes at home and travel to Oakwell at the end of February, on a Saturday Sky allowing.
QPR 2 Barnsley 0
Barnsley 0 QPR 0

Prediction: Everybody’s expecting Barnsley to struggle next season but they weren’t that bad a side last season and Davey clearly has a knack for persuading not-bad sides to play like good ones. Add the signings they’ve made and, even if they do lose Howard, I think they’ll surprise a few. That said, an awful lot of others have improved by even more than Barnsley so they’ll struggle to keep up generally. A bottom half finish looks favourite but the relegation that the bookies are promising seems a bit harsh.
Verdict: Bottom half, sometimes flirting with relegation sometimes with the top half
- DP

Last season - 19th Like Barnsley, Blackpool surprised everybody last season, having a decent first half, albeit in the bottom half, and only finishing where they did after going into freefall in the run-in. We all expected a nice soft touch for us all to roll over but they came up playing football, with Wes Hoolahan collecting plaudits for his performances on the wing. Tangerines fans will be well aware of the potential for things to go wrong this season though, what with second season syndrome, Hoolahan’s and Gorkss’s departures and the manager looking to replace them with limited cash.

Bookies’ prediction: – 24th (Last season 18th) – Shortest odds to win the league 66-1 (BETFRED), longest 150-1 (BoyleSports)

The manager: Simon Grayson has been with Blackpool since November 2005, keeping them up in League One in his first season, winning them promotion in his second and keeping them in the Championship last season. He built his chairman a much better Championship side than he had any right to expect last season, given how little cash there was for the squad. What makes things worse for this season is that two of last season’s stars have gone, pretty well condemning the squad to a season of struggle, while other chairmen are sniffing around Grayson himself. He can’t have been happy to see his squad’s best players go, especially as cheaply as they have, and Karl Oyston may have his work cut out to keep him.

If he does go, whoever picks him up will gain a fine coach who focuses on playing football. Blackpool were hard-working last season, but they passed well and they broke quickly and they scored for fun – only two other sides in the bottom half, Burnley and QPR, scored more than Blackpool last season. Perhaps the big concern for Blackpool fans is the run they had at the end of the season. They won just one out of their final 11 games and, although they drew quite a few of those, they never really looked as though they were up for a fight against relegation, leaking goals far too easily. Grayson will almost certainly face a much bigger struggle this season and must know that. It’ll be difficult motivating a squad in such circumstances, especially if he’s feeling pretty de-motivated himself.
Survival chances: 5/10, may well jump long before Oyston thinks of pushing him

The squad: We’re beginning to know more about the ins and outs at Blackpool than we do about Rangers, thanks to the long drawn out Kaspar Gorkss transfer saga. Suffice to say that Wes Hoolahan has gone to Norwich and Gorkss to QPR, with Nardiello and Rehman heading the other way. Meanwhile Grayson has gone to somebody else with an escape clause and courted, but so far failed to sign up, Barnsley’s Martin Devaney.

Of the players Grayson has signed, Joe Martin is an interesting capture from Spurs yoof. A 19-year old left winger and son of West Ham lurch Alvin, if he’s got the bottle for Championship football he’s Hoolahan’s replacement. Stepping in to cover Gorkss is Alex Baptiste, who some may remember as a reasonably impressive looking centre back during Mansfield’s cup run last season. Keeper Matthew Gilks has arrived as a part of the Hoolahan deal. Another defender to arrive is former QPR loanee Marlon Broomes, released on a free by Stoke, and of course out own beloved Zesh Rehman.

Of the squad that’s left from last season, Rangers fans will remember the slow but willing Ian Evatt at centre back. He missed half of last season through injury but will surely be keen to play against Rangers. Up front Stephen McPhee showed good form last season after signing from Hull but Blackpool look very short of forwards with both Andy Morrell and Ben Burgess looking as though they might move on.
Likely Star Player: Paul Rachubka (Keeper)

Ins and Outs: We know all about Hoolahan (Norwich, £250k plus one player) and Gorkss (QPR £250k plus two players) leaving but Blackpool have also lost Jade Goody conquest Keigan Parker (Huddersfield, free) defender Michael Jackson (Shrewsbury, free) and striker Phil Marsh (Bury, free). Former QPR midfielder Marcus Bean (Brentford, free) was one of seven other players released at the end of the season. Coming in QPR pair Daniel Nardiello (free) and Zesh Rehman (loan) and defenders Alex Baptiste (Mansfield, £75k) and Marlon Broomes (Stoke, free). They are joined through the entrance door by winger Joe Martin (Spurs, free), keeper Matthew Gilks (Norwich, part ex), midfielder Jermaine Wright (Southampton, free), striker Steve Kabba (Watford, loan) and midfielder Adam Hammill (Liverpool, loan).

Head-to-Head: We didn’t have one of our best days in early December last year, when we suffered the embarrassment of having Ben Burgess score against us in an injury time 1-0 defeat. We turned up with half a side and then lost Nards in the warm-up, so it wasn’t looking good. By March, at Loftus Road, we were a different prospect, moving quickly to a 3-0 lead before Burgess and then Gorkss made it a nervous finish for the home crowd. This season both games are on a Tuesday night which, given the travelling distance between the two is just barking. Rangers host the Tangerines on September 30 and then travel to Bloomfield Road on a no doubt balmy January 27.
Blackpool 1 QPR 0
QPR 3 Blackpool 2

Prediction: It doesn’t look good for Blackpool. Where everybody else has developed a bit since last season, the Tangerines haven’t even kept hold of last year’s players, while the replacements look second rate in comparison top those who’ve gone. Pre-season defeats against the likes of Tranmere, St Mirren and Shrewsbury Town should have alarm bells ringing.
Verdict: Bottom three
- DP

Doncaster Rovers
Last season –3rd in League One and up through the play offs Rarely can a victory by a team you don’t support cause such pleasure. Doncaster Rovers delighted a nation by beating Leeds United in last season’s play off final and taking their place in the Championship. I watched the last half hour of that game standing up in front of my television and praying – Doncaster not only deserved promotion for the quality of their football and the way in which manager Sean O’Driscoll and Chairman John Ryan go about their business but they were up against a side who just when you think you can’t hate them any more they find a way to make you. One time QPR transfer target James Hayter headed the winner and across the channel Frenchmen looked up from their baguette making wondering what that earth shattering cheer was all about from every football supporter in England. I think I speak for every Championship supporter when I say thank you Doncaster, and welcome. Donny really shouldn’t have had to bother with Leeds in truth, they were the second best team in the league for me and were only pipped to automatic promotion because of an improbable late run and last day win by Nottingham Forest. They took their frustration out on Southend in the most one sided play off semi final you’re likely to see and then came the Leeds win. This season promises to be tougher though.

Bookies’ prediction: 22nd, longest odds to win the league 80/1 (BoyleSports) shortest odds 50/1 (various)

The manager: Sean O’Driscoll was Mr AFC Bournemouth before moving to Doncaster in a move that surprised just about everybody at both clubs. O’Driscoll played for Fulham and the Republic of Ireland before 11 years and 423 appearances at Bournemouth, five years as a coach and six years as manager. Known to be a very quiet and private man whose teams play attractive football he built an exciting, young team at Dean Court that included current Burnley star Wade Elliott on the wing and won promotion from Division Three in 2003. His appointment in South Yorkshire showed a knowledge of the lower leagues from chairman Ryan and a willingness to take a risk on more of an unknown with the likes of Keegan linked and Peter Reid sniffing around as usual. With comments already being made about the difficulty to attract players to Doncaster with the available budget this season promises to be very, very difficult for them and O’Droscoll stands a better chance of surviving than the team do in my opinion. Survival chances: 6/10

The squad: Still looks like a good League One group of players rather than a Championship set up truth be told. The loss of Paul Green to Derby is a blow. That Darren Byfield is the most high profile capture of the summer says a lot about the difficulties they’ve had attracting players. Byfield is joined in attack by Paul Heffernen formerly of Notts County, Gareth Taylor formerly of everybody and youngster Tomi Ameobi from Leeds. Doncaster fans probably got quite excited at the headline “Ameobi signs” only to find out it wasn’t quite what they expected. As I said earlier QPR tried to sign James Hayter from Bournemouth when Holloway was in charge so it will be interesting to see how he does at this level. Further back Richie Wellens is an uncompromising central midfielder/dirty bastard and Matthew Mills looks like a good signing from Man City – he was on loan at the Keepmoat last season. QPR fans will know former Hull man Stuart Elliott – he scored twice in injury time against the R’s in a 2-1 defeat at the KC Stadium the season before last. Keep an eye on James Copinger as well, he’s a player I like a lot. Overall though there’s nothing to write home about here and it will need either serious activity in the transfer market over the next few weeks or all of O’Driscoll’s know-how to keep them up.
Likely Star Player: Neil Sullivan (goalkeeper) – likely to be very busy

Ins and Outs Not enough comings and a key going. Stuart Elliott (Hull City, free), Matthew Mills (Man City, £300k) Darren Byfield (Bristol City, free), Tomi Ameobi (Leeds, free) and John Spicer (Burnley, free) are the incomers. Stuart Green (Derby, free), Graeme Lee (Bradford, free), Matt Noble (released), Stephen Roberts (Walsall, free) and giant cart horse Mark McCammon (Gillingham, free) are the departures.

Head-to-Head Doncaster is this season’s “how will he cope on a cold Tuesday night at…” fixture taking place, as it does, on a cold Tuesday night in March. The teams haven’t met since January 1985 when Dony won 1-0 in the FA Cup at Belle Vue. England were world champions the last time we met in the league, QPR won 6-0 at home and drew 1-1 away.

Prediction: I have so much time for Ryan and O’Driscoll and their victory against Leeds was one of the highlights of the summer for me but I can’t see this being anything other than a struggle. They don’t have the quality or quantity of players to make a decent fist of this level and they don’t have a Freddy Eastwood like Southend did when they suffered the same shortcomings but still made a decent attempt at staying in. Pending further transfer activity they are, with regret, one of my bottom three.
Verdict: Relegated
- CW

Plymouth Argyle
Last season – 10th: A very creditable finish for the Pilgrims and it could have been better still. They were chasing the play offs throughout the first half of the season but things started to unravel for them during the winter when Ian “anybody who thinks I’m going to Leicester is an idiot, anybody who knows what Plymouth means to me knows I’d never go there” Holloway went to Leicester and took Barry Hayles with him. Hungarian playmaker Akos Buzsaky, promising youngster Dan Gosling, midfielder David Norris and top scorer Sylvain Ebanks Blake all jumped ship at the same time and it needed Paul Sturrock to return to the club for a second spell and just steady things down a little bit.

Bookies’ Prediction: 21st (last season 20th), shortest odds for the title 40/1 (various) longest 80/1 (William Hill)

The Manager: Paul Sturrock probably has more important things than Plymouth Argyle on his mind at the moment following his diagnosis with Parkinson’s disease earlier this summer. He played with distinction for Dundee United and Scotland before moving into management first at St Johnstone, who he guided to promotion in 1997, and then back at Tannardice where he had enjoyed such great success as a player. Sturrock shocked Dundee by resigning in 2000 and moving the Third Division Plymouth but the transformation of that club on and off the pitch during his time there was quite something and by the time he was picked up by Premiership side Southampton three sides of the ground had been redeveloped and Plymouth were about to pip QPR to the League One title. He was very harshly done to at St Marys and didn’t even make it to the end of Sugust in his first season there but he quickly got back on the horse and won promotion through the play offs with Sheffield Wednesday just seven months after replacing Chris Turner in the hot seat. He was again harshly trated at Hillsborough, sacked just over a year after his play off final win, but he bounced back once again by promoting cash strapped Swindon from League Two before returning to Plymouth for a second spell.
Survival Chances: 6/10

The squad: Plymouth have lost a lot of quality players over the past 12 months and it’s easy to see why the bookmakers have them as one of the favourites for the drop. With Ebanks Blake, Buzsaky, Gosling, Norris and Hayles all departing during the last campaign the last thing they needed was another load of departures this summer but Paul Connolly’s move to Derby, Paul Wotton’s to Southampton and the £2m sale of Peter Halmosi to Hull coupled with the release of Nick Chadwick and Lilian Nalis and the unfortunate situation with keeper Luke McCormick who awaits a death by dangerous driving trial means they’ve lost 11 players from their matchday squad of 16 this time last season.

They haven’t gone unreplaced though. Steve McClean once of Sheff Wed and Cardiff looked a canny signing back in January although he’s never quite hit the goal scoring heights that he attained at Scunthorpe. Karl Duguid was one of the few Colchester players to come out of last season with any credit at all and he’s a handy free transfer while £250,000 on Jason Puncheon from Barnet may be a risk, Puncheon is unproven at this level and was released by MK Dons with talk of an attitude problem before turning up at Underhill, but he’s a hugely promising left winger and an exciting talent. Watch out for his free kicks. Graham Stack is a steady pair of gloves between the post and would have been an improvement on McCormick even before his incident on the M6 earlier this summer and we’ve just sold them Simon Walton.

Giant centre half Krisztian Timar has also signed a new contract which is a big boost. Having said all of that the squad is desperately low on numbers and quality and a tough season awaits.
Likely star player: Krisztian Timar

Ins and Outs: Simon Walton (QPR £700k) is about to join Graham Stack (Reading, free), Karl Duguid (Colchester, free) and Jason Puncheon (Barnet, £250k). Going out Paul Connolly (Derby, free), Paul Wotton (Southampton, free), Nick Chadwick (released), Lee Hodges (released), Nadjim Abdou (Millwall, free), Peter Halmosi (Hull £2m) and Lilian Nalis (Swindon, free).

Head to Head:
Plymouth did the double over QPR last season, winning with embarrassing ease at Loftus Road towards the end of John Gregory’s reign and then scoring one of our infamous last minute heart breakers at Home Park on Boxing Day. QPR are now without a win against the Pilgrims in seven attempts dating back to 2004.
QPR 0 Plymouth 2
Plymouth 2 QPR 1

Prediction:Bottom half certainly, and a relegation struggle is likely, but I always fancy their home form to serve them well such is the unique experience of travelling that far for an away game - nine wins and nine draw at Home Park last season suggests teams once again struggled to come to terms with the long trek south west.
Verdict: Fourth bottom, surviving by the skin of their teeth

Sheff Wed
Last season – 16th: Wednesday were tipped by many for a tilt at the top six after a sparkling end to the 2006/07 season that saw them fall just short despite winning seven and drawing one of their last nine matches. Francis Jeffers had shown good form on loan at Ipswich while Wednesday were doing that and Brian laws spent the thick end of a million to bring him to Hillsborough as a result. Jeffers and Wednesday though remained true to form – the former picking up a bad injury before the ink was even dry on the contract and the former under achieving.

In the end 16th masks what a struggle last season was for Sheff Wed. Hated chairman Dave Allen confirmed he would be selling up after years of protests from fans but with nobody showing much interest in taking over from him Brian Laws was pretty much left to it when Wednesday have sacked managers for much less heinous offences than the ones he committed last season. They lost their first six matches of the season and ultimately crawled their way to safety with seven successive draws through March in April. A takeover still hasn’t been completed and Laws has so far wasted what little money he has to spend on the likes of Jeffers and Leon Clarke. Decent loan acquisitions like Michael Johnson and Graham Kavanagh provided just enough quality to keep them up.

Bookies’ prediction: 20th (last season 8th), longest odds for the title 50/1 ( shortest 33/1 (various)

The Manager: Brian Laws would probably have been sacked as Wednesday boss long before now if there’d been anybody to sack him. In the end Dave Allen’s decision to step down and the lack of a replacement probably saved him. If Laws was half as a good a manager as he thinks he is Wednesday would be a real threat this season but he’s not. Two promotions with Scunthorpe hide a history of struggle with team selections, transfers and especially in game substitutions. If Wednesday do eventually get a new owner it’s likely a new manager will be high on their priority list.
Survival Chances: 4/10

The squad: Wednesday go in with pretty much the same mediocre squad they had last season. Sodje provides power and height up front and the Hillsborough faithful will hope for a full season from Francis Jeffers. At the back in Lee Beevers and Tommy Spurr they have two very promising young defenders but they lost Glenn Whelen and Chris Brunt from the midfield last season and consequently look very, very ordinary in that department. Expect to see them pushing the boundaries of the loan market throughout the campaign and Jimmy Smith from Chelsea already looks like a canny signing if he can reproduce the goal scoring form he showed at QPR the season before last.
Likely star player: Lee Beevers

Ins and outs: Jimmy Smith (Chelsea, loan) is in. Rob Burch (Lincoln, free), Burton O’Brien (Falkirk, free), Lee Bullen (Falkirk, free) and four released players including Ronnie Wallwark have left.

Head to Head: The teams played out the most entertaining goalless draw I’ve seen for years at Loftus Road , both hit the woodwork twice, but the R’s came unstuck at Hillsborough. After dominating the first 40 minutes and taking the lead the R’s were pegged back when Wednesday made two changes before the break and equalised just before the oranges. In the end a 2-1 win was no more than they deserved and Hogan Ephraim was stupidly sent off in injury time.
QPR 0 Sheff Wed 0
Sheff Wed 2 QPR 1

Prediction:Same as last season really. Expect the form to peak and trough depending on who they’ve managed to snare on loan at the time and ultimately they’ll just about have enough to stay in the league but it won’t be by much
Verdict: Successful struggle against the drop.
- CW

Last season – 20th Lucky. Really, really lucky. Southampton started the season as one of the promotion favourites under George Burley following their narrow play off semi final defeat against Derby the season before. Marek Saganowski, who’d been on fire for them during a loan spell in 2006/07, signed on a permanent deal and with Rasiak joining him in attack they looked to have plenty of firepower about them. Alarm bells should have been ringing after week one when they were beaten by Palace (4-1) Peterborough (2-1) and Norwich (2-1) but a victory against Stoke followed by a thumping 3-0 success and terrific performance at QPR settled things down a little.

By the time Burley left to become Scotland manager midway through the season the Saints were safely ensconced in mid table - disappointing considering their pre-season ambitions but not in any degree of trouble. Things started to turn sour though. A narrow 1-0 win against Scunthorpe in January turned out to be their last success in the league for two months and when they did eventually win again, eleven games later against Leicester, they followed it up with another three games without a win, or a goal, including a 5-0 annihilation up at Hull.

By the time April began they were in real trouble. Nigel Pearson, former Newcastle assistant, was the rookie charged with saving them from another relegation and he just about managed it – they beat Bristol City at home and got a draw at West Brom when defeat would have relegated them. That sent them into the final day against Sheff Utd with a fighting chance and with James Beattie typically crying off injured they were able to win 3-2 and relegate Leicester instead.

Bookies prediction: 17th (last season 6th) shortest odds for title 33/1 (various) longest 40/1 (various)

The Manager: Nigel Pearson, despite misgivings from the Southampton fans and me thinking that he was crap, did very well to keep Southampton up last season and it was therefore very surprising to see him given the push as soon as the season was over. Southampton are a club sinking under the weight of things happening off the field rather than on it – despite two years of parachute payments and £30m worth of transfer fees coming into the club over the past three seasons they are absolutely skint and have just come through yet another boardroom takeover that has seen Rupert Lowe return as chairman. Lowe always wanted a foreign style coaching set up at St Mary’s and by appointing the unknown Dutchman Jan Poortvliet he now has that – a plethora of coaches will link the Southampton first team with the youth academy with, in all likelihood, disastrous consequences.
Survival Chances: 4/10

The squad: A pale shadow of what they had even just 18 months ago and really has the look of a team that’s going to struggle this season. Andrew Surman and John Viafara apart there’s very little quality here and even the latter has been left out of pre-season activities while he tries to find a way off the sinking ship. Nathan Dyer isn’t too bad when he’s not lifting mobile phones’ from waitresses’ hand bags and in Wright Phillips, Rasiak and John they should be able to score goals but that wasn’t enough last season and with the likes of Safri, Idiakez and others leaving from last season’s near miss squad and Chris Perry one of their summer signings it’s almost impossible to see them doing anything other than ‘having one’ again this season.
Likely star player: Andrew Surman

Ins and Outs: Tommy Forecast (Spurs, undisclosed), Lee Holmes (Derby, free), Chris Perry (Luton, free), Paul Wotton (Plymouth, free), Morgan Schneiderline (Strasbourg, £1.2m) are the new faces. (Yousef Dafri (Qatar, free), Jermaine Wright (Blackpool, free), Cedric Baseya (released), Darren Powell (released), Inigo Idiakez (released), Claus Lundekvam (released), Mario Licka (released), Chris Makin (released), Josh Dutton-Black (released), Alex Ostlund (released), Lucien Mettomo (released) leave the club.

Head to Head: Southampton took QPR apart at Loftus Road in the aftermath of Ray Jones’ death and they looked a long way away from being relegation fodder that day. At St Mary’s it was all change as QPR scored three to win and were thoroughly good value for the three points.
QPR 0 Southampton 3
Southampton 2 QPR 3

Prediction: A long hard season awaits. When a club is closing parts of the stadium down because they can’t afford to steward them you know they’re in trouble and Southampton are certainly up to their necks in it. Poor quality squad, bizarre coaching set up, unknown manager, Rupert Lowe. It’s a recipe for disaster.
Verdict: Doomed
- CW

Last season – 6th Watford won nine of their first eleven matches to soar away at the top of the division and then basically fell apart. Boothroyd inexplicably decided to change a winning side, leaving Gavin Mahon out altogether and dropping Danny Shittu before bringing him back as a makeshift striker. Watford never recovered their early season form and eventually had to settle for the last play off spot, only holding off the challenge of Wolves by virtue of one goal.

One win in ten home games during the winter was covered up by impressive away form but they looked like a spent force come the end of the season and they shipped six in two play off semi finals against Hull to go out with a whimper. They lost their last four games at Vicarage Road without scoring a goal against Hull, Scunthorpe, Palace and Barnsley. By the close of play Boothroyd’s ramblings on the highlights programme, which had always been a bit full of it, were coming across increasingly as the ramblings of a mad man fresh out of ideas.

Bookies prediction: 14th (last season 4th) best odds for the title 14/1 (Sportingbet) worst price 33/1 (Bet365)

The Manager: Rent a quote Boothroyd can be found every Sunday morning on your television screens. Talking nonsense. Now that was all well and good when he was leading Watford to promotion against all the odds, he looked like some kind of mad genius. However towards the end of last season as teams like Barnsley, Scunthorpe and QPR came to Vicarage Road and left with thumping victories you could have been forgiven for thinking he didn’t know what he was doing – especially as he had a winning team at the top of the table after 11 matches and changed the spine of it. Watford look like a club heading in the wrong direction on and off the pitch and Boothroyd must return to his mercurial methods that took them up three seasons ago if he’s to reverse the decline and survive himself.
Survival Chances: 4/10

The squad: Watford have allowed Darius Henderson, Nathan Ellington and Steve Kabba to leave already this summer with only Jon Harley arriving from Burnley. With Jordan Stewart also joining Derby and Danny Shittu likely to be on his bike this summer the squad looks light on both numbers and quality. Genuine goal scorers seem to be absent from the Hornets’ squad and as it stands Tamas Priskin, who spent part of last season on loan at Preston, will lead the line along with youngsters Lionel Ainsworth, Moses Ashikodi, Will Hoskins and Theo Robinson. Tommy Smith is likely to be bumped up from wide midfield into attack and he’s a steady player but they desperately need a new arrival at that end of the pitch.

In defence they don’t seem too badly off with Shittu, De Merit, Jackson and Bromby providing a solid base but there’s no telling how many of them will still be at the club come kick off. Even if they all remain their goals against totals last season, particularly at home, did them few favours. In midfield Jobi McAnuff always catches the eye but there’s little else to cause the division any real problems.
Likely star player: Jobi McAnuff

Ins and Outs: Jon Harley (Burnley, free) is the only addition. Darius Henderson (Sheff Utd, £2m), Nathan Ellington (Derby, loan), Steve Kabba (Blackpool, loan), Toumani Diagouraga (Hereford, free), Jordan Stewart (Derby, free) leave the club and Danny Shittu isn’t likely to be far behind them.

Head to Head: QPR took four points from Watford last season in unlikely circumstances. At Loftus Road Watford came into the game with five wins from their first six games while Rangers were yet to win. A rare committed and high energy performance from the R’s yielded a 1-1 draw thanks to a late equaliser from Stefan Moore, no really. At Vicarage Road over Christmas the R’s came in with an experimental line up as De Canio targeted a crucial six pointer with Leicester two days later. With Balanta and Rowlands to the fore Rangers won 4-2 and were thoroughly good value for it.
QPR 1 Watford 1
Watford 2 QPR 4

What do we think: A club in real trouble. Rumours of financial troubles caused by relegation from the Premiership and a failure to return are backed up by a fire sale this summer and a 3-1 pre-season defeat at Wealdstone doesn’t bode well. The momentum from the end of last season is all one way and while there’s been plenty of quality heading out there’s little evidence of any coming in. Boothroyd looked increasingly like yesterday’s man last season and this could be a very tough season for Watford – one which he may not see out.
Verdict: Surprise relegation strugglers
- CW

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