|LFW Season Preview 08/09 - Mid Table Mediocrity|
Monday, 30th Jun 2008 22:24
Mediocrity is often the watch word at Championship matches and, with due respect, it's hard to foresee anything better for the likes of Burnley and Charlton while Swansea, Forest and others will probably be glad if we're right about them.
Last season – 13th Burnley were firmly mid-table last season, flirting with the business ends of both halves of the table but never really looking as though they were going to become involved in any excitement. The Turf Moor faithful had a brief frisson with a League Cup run that ended with a 1-0 home defeat by Pompey and then filled the old stadium to watch Arsenal cruise past them in the FA Cup. Behind the scenes, Steve Cotterill paid for Burnley’s poor form up to November by falling on his sword and was replaced by St Johnstone manager Owen Coyle. The Scot has not yet had time to work the magic he applied north of the border but will be expected to produce the goods now.
The bookies’ prediction for this season: 18th (last season 17th) – Shortest odds to win the league 28-1 (Bet365), worst 50-1 (Various)
The manager: Owen Coyle came to Burnley at the end of last November, so he hasn’t had that much time to get his feet under the table. He arrived after a good run with St Johnstone, who almost won promotion to the Scottish Premiership twice under his stewardship. Coyne has a reputation as a good coach and has certainly won the Burnley fans over since his arrival. He’s made some interesting signings for the coming season and he’s let some of the OAPs in the squad go, so we will now see a squad he can call his own taking the field.
Survival chances: 8/10
The squad: The first half of this close-season was dominated by the sale of striker Kyle Lafferty. He was a decent player for Burnley, scoring plenty, but £3.25m? Well, that’s the concern of the other Rangers now. However, the cash he brought in has allowed Coyne some room to shop around and he clearly loves to shop, because he’s been to every PlayersRUs in the world picking up a Dutch midfielder, a Peruvian keeper, a Northern Irishman from Scunthorpe and a brace of his fellow Scots.
We’ll all spot his new keeper, Diego Penny, when he comes to Loftus Road. The guy’s a 6’5” Peruvian, who has been signed from Coronel Bolognesi. He hasn’t yet played for the side because he’s only just got a work permit, but he’s Peru’s first choice keeper and looks a decent signing. Let’s see how he copes with that Ben Burgess moment though. Meanwhile, Matalan man Gabor Kiraly looks as though he is the man on the sidelines, with Penny getting the number one shirt and Jensen next in line.
The marvellously named Remco van der Schaaf will be the only defensive midfielder in the league to have been named after a cheap electrical appliance. He is a defensive midfielder who has played in the top flight in Holland for PSV and Vitesse, so you’d expect him to know what he’s about. Chris Eagles looks a good signing along side him in midfield. They look like the pick of Coyne’s signings so far. I have to confess to having sniggered a bit when it came out that Coyne had paid Scunny £1m for Martin Paterson, a run of the mill and not especially effective centre forward. Midfielder Kevin McDonald comes from Dundee with a good reputation and plenty of years to learn in. Defender Christian Kalvenes, from Dundee United, has been described by Coyne as the best left back in Scottish football – I know.
Of last year’s squad, gritty centre back Steve Caldwell remains a formidable presence, while we can carry on taking the piss out of Clark Carlisle for another year. In midfield, Wade Elliott always impresses with his trickery, although the midfield still looks a bit lightweight to me. Up front, the dreaded Ade Akitwidey will attempt to maintain his run against Rangers but, thankfully, last year’s hat-trick scorer Andy Cole has gone, to Forest.
Likely Star Player: Remco van de Schaaf (midfielder)
Ins and Outs: Christian Kalvenes (Dundee United, free), Kevin MacDonald (Dundee, £500k), Martin Paterson (Scunthorpe, £1m), Remco van der Schaaf (free, Vitesse), Diego Penny (Coronel Bolognesi, undisclosed) and Chris Eagles (Man Utd, undisclosed) are the new additions. Andy Cole (Forest, end of loan), David Unsworth (fat bastard, released), James O’Connor (Shef Wed, free), Kyle Lafferty (Rangers, £3.25m), Jon Harley (Watford, free) Garreth O’Connor (released) and John Spicer (Doncaster, free) go the other way.
Head-to-Head: Our game at Burnley last year was a poignant affair, since it had been cancelled initially on the day Ray Jones died. Maybe it was that which inspired second-bottom Rangers because they took the game to play-off chasing Burnley from the off in December, with Stewpeas scoring from a corner and then Vine memorably running the ball in from his own half after the keeper had come forward for a last minute corner. In the second game, also an evening one, Rangers were looking for the home win that would almost certainly mean that they were definitely, no really, safe from relegation and, after half an hour we were cruising at 2-0. So, obviously, we buggered it up. And how could we fail to do so with two such nemesis players as Akinbyi and Cole playing for the opposition. Burnley put four past us, with Cole scoring a hat trick and Akitwidey getting the other.
Burnley 0 QPR 2
QPR 2 Burnley 4
Prediction: Burnley look a stronger outfit than last year apart from one thing – who is going to score the goals? Defensively they look very strong but in midfield they are a bit lightweight and inexperienced in places. But at least they look secure defensively. Up front, however, they just don’t look the part and I can’t see them scoring many. And if you don’t score many, it falls on the defenders not to let in any, which can be a real confidence sapper – remember Rangers in 2000/01.
Verdict: Bottom half unless they buy a proper striker
Last season – 12th, FA Cup Finalists Not one the Cardiff fans will forget in a hurry. For any side at our level to reach the FA Cup Final has to be a bit special, even if the end result was a fairly comfortable win for Pompey, and Cardiff fans will remember this season for years. In the league, 2007/8 wasn’t that exciting for City. They struggled for consistency all season, finishing well off the pace in 12th. Although the side plays a decent style of football, scoring goals from all over the park, they lack penetration at times and always threatened to leak goals. Manager Dave Jones has clearly identified the need for a new striker, judging by the way Cardiff have been linked with just about every one that has been talked of as available this close season, but he may still have other signings to come.
Meanwhile, the behind-the-scenes stuff continues to look worrying. Cardiff have big debts and they have big commitments ahead of them as the new stadium goes up and, with Peter Ridsdale the man in charge, you have to worry for them – assuming you haven’t had your view of them tainted by their braying fans five years ago. Whether or not they can actually afford any of the big deals they’ve been linked with this summer who knows? Apparently they can afford to make a £5m trading loss and still pay Ridsdale a £0.5m/yr salary and a £0.5m bonus.
Bookies’ prediction: – 12th (last season 12th) – Shortest odds to win the league 18-1 (Bet365), worst 28-1 (WilliamHill)
The manager: This is going to be a difficult season for Dave Jones, unless his side gets off to a flyer. He’s been at Cardiff for three years now and, although he took them to the Cup Final last season, he looks a long way from giving the fans the return to the top flight that they crave. With Peter Ridsdale at the helm and not averse to passing the buck to a manager if it suits him, Jones looks vulnerable if City underachieve this season. He’ll know all about the skulduggery of chairmen, having been shafted royally by a few. He’s been in the management game since 1995, doing well at Stockport, Southampton and Wolves. He’s managed to leave one job, losing the Saints job after he was accused, falsely, of skulduggery of his own, and losing the second when the two very good years he gave Wolves weren’t enough to outweigh the pain of coming back down from the Premiership. With a pillock for a boss, he’s not in a strong position.
Survival chances: 5/10
The squad: Cardiff fans sound a bit like us at Rangers at the moment, taking an influx of youngsters and free transfers with a pinch of salt and demanding to know where the real signings are. Jones and Ridsdale have been a bit more obvious in their efforts to sign someone than our lot have, though, being linked with a string of strikers. The most recent of these was Charlton’s Bent, snatched from under their noses by Birmingham. The rumour mill says that Glasgow Rangers’ Kris Boyd is another potential target, but Cardiff would have to let Dutchman Glenn Loovens, easily their best defender, go in a swap deal if it were to happen.
Of those in already, Rangers eyes will have spotted midfielder Mark Kennedy’s move from Palarse on a free. The guy only played about four games for us, on loan from Wimbledon, but was so impressive then that some of us still hanker after signing him. He’s a bit long in the tooth now at 32, sheesh that hurts, but Jones has also picked up three youngsters. The most interesting of these is 22-year old striker Ross McCormack, from Motherwell for £100k. He scored ten last season, in 36 appearances, which doesn’t sound great, but Jones is highly praising of him. Former-England under-21 keeper Tom Heaton has arrived on a season-long loan from ManUre, presumably to offer some serious competition, or at least to stand in for TV games, for the gloriously gaffe-prone Peter Enckleman. Darren Dennehy, a 19-year old centre back from Everton, must be one for the future while Miguel Comminges, a 26-year old full back, was Swindon’s player of the year last season, before joining Cardiff on a free.
These additions go some way to flesh out a squad that still looks a bit thin and Jones will presumably continue to wheel and deal. Squad players to look out for include Joe Ledley and Paul Parry, each scoring more than their fair share, and defenders Loovens and Roger Johnson. Tony Capaldi should put in another decent season at left back and there are still youngsters coming through.
One of the reasons Cardiff fans are becoming impatient for a big signing is that the club has actually earned some money on one of its promising youngsters. Aaron Ramsay made such a good impression last season that Arsene Wenger, no mean reader of young talent, handed over £5m for him – he might do just as well by finding out who the decent coaches are in Cardiff’s youth set up and poaching them as well because the stream of young talent shows no sign of slowing.
Also on the way are the club’s two oldest players, each of whom has enjoyed a decent year’s pay for very little and is now leaving under acrimonious circumstances. All those who were saying Paul Ince should be Rangers manager have received their answer. Yes. Ince has just signed Robbie Fowler to waddle about for Blackburn Rovers. Meanwhile Jimmy-Floyd Hasselbaink has also departed, complaining loudly that City have wronged him – couldn’t happen to a more obnoxious person. Our old favourite Tricky Trevor Sinclair has also gone, a lot more quietly than the other two oldies.
Likely Star Player: Joe Ledley (midfielder)
Ins and Outs: Mark Kennedy (Palace, free) striker Ross McCormack (Motherwell, £100k), keeper Tom Heaton (Man Utd, loan), full back Miguel Comminges (Swindon, free) and centre half Darren Dennehy (Everton, free) are in. Robbie Fowler (Blackburn, free), Trevor Sinclair (released), Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink (released), Warren Feeney (Dundee United, loan), Willo Flood (Dundee United, loan) and Aaron Ramsey (Arsenal, £5m) are out.
Head-to-Head: Cardiff did the double over us last season, beating us comfortably both times: 2-0 at Loftus Road early on and then 3-1 at their place last January. The two sides normally share the points, the exception being the play off final at the Millennium back in 2003 – having the piss ripped out of us on the way home still rankles – when they won 1-0 in extra time after Carlisle gifted that ginger haired twat Cambell the winner.
QPR 0 Cardiff 2
Cardiff 3 QPR 1
Prediction: Even with the major signing that Cardiff are devoting so much time and effort into finding, this doesn’t look like a promotion side to me. I’d say the bookies have got it about right, which means that Jones had better watch his back from about November.
Verdict: Mid-Table obscurity
Last season – 11th Having been tipped to run away with the division last season, not by us though, Charlton had a pretty poor year. You see, these Championship types just didn’t know their places and they would keep duffing the poor Addicks up. A half-decent start to the season ran into the rocks after 11 games with a defeat at Molineux followed by home losses to Plymouth and the R’s. Confidence looked as though it was being restored with a couple of wins to follow that before it happened again, this time Sheff U and Burnley each putting three past them at the Valley. And that was the pattern that became established, with each steady revival shot down in flames after only a few games.
While all this was going on, manager Alan Pardew’s face grew longer and longer and those of the fans ever more mystified. By January, with the play-offs the best hope for the club, Pardew pulled off a master stroke, signing Burnley’s lumbering Andy Gray. He was rewarded with two goals from ten appearances. If you wanted to put together a better picture of Charlton’s return to the Championship, think of us in 1996/97. A side nobody believed was bad enough to lose its Premiership status and expected to walk straight back up has turned out not to have the necessary steel. In addition, the best of the remaining players from the Premiership era, having put up with a season down, are gone and the management is finding there are limited funds available for replacements. At least we finished ninth when we came down first season.
Bookies’ prediction: – 9th (last season 1st) – Shortest odds to win the league 14-1 (BetDirect and StanJames). Longest 25-1 (Ladbrokes)
The manager: God’s gift to football management had a bit of a stumble last season, failing to impose a playing pattern on his squad and seeming to be at a loss at the side’s failings. The surprising bit about last season was that Charlton never really looked like the sort of structured side that you come to expect from a Pardew team, although the big lump up front and the scurrying midfield were in place. It was almost as though the players just didn’t believe in the system they were being asked to play. Either that or everyone else has sussed Pardew. It doesn’t look as if things are going to get much better for him either. Although he’s lost strikers Marcus Bent and Chris Iwelumo, he shows little sign of replacing them, or even adding seriously to the squad elsewhere, preferring to scour the non-leagues and talk up the kids coming up through Charlton’s prolific academy. That sounds like a man who’s been told that there is no money in the coffers and he’ll have to make do. Pardew has run clubs on the cheap before, and very well, but does he have the stomach to go back to those days now?
Survival chances: 4/10
The squad: The slow decline of Charlton’s squad continues, with little sign that there will be significant replenishments this close season. Marcus Bent wasn’t a great striker for Charlton and neither was Chris Iwelumo but both are better than what’s been left behind. Pardew has signed a 22-year old striker from Forest Green, Stuart Fleetwood, but the signs aren’t good if Addicks fans are expecting a goal machine to appear on the scenes. The defence welcomes Palarse journeyman Mark Hudson, a combative player right in the Pardew mould, but it still looks pretty thin after the departure of Paddy McCarthy in the opposite direction. The midfield features ex QPR loanee Jerome Thomas, but again there’s not a lot special about it.
Alan Pardew is presumably about to embark on a spree of loan signings, or has a host of Premiership cast-offs waiting in the wings, because Charlton’s squad looks threadbare. The Charlton sites are already asking questions along the lines of “can we win anything with kids?” and, Man U aside in the 1990s, the answer to that is, no you can’t.
Likely Star Player: Luke Varney again (striker)
Ins and Outs Conference top scorer Stuart Fleetwood (Forest Green, undisclosed) and Mark Hudson (Palace, free) are the only additions so far although they apparently lead the chase for Portsmouth’s Martin Cranie who we know all about of course. Marcus Bent (Birmingham £1m), Chris Iwelumo (Wolves, undisclosed) and Paddy McCarthy (Palace, undisclosed), Osei Sankofa (Southend, free) have all departed. Darren Randolph has joined Hereford on loan. James Walker and Corey Gibbs were released.
Head-to-Head Rangers won both games 1-0 last term, our only double of the season. The first was a real hightlight, and a rare televised win, because it gave us the first inkling that we’d be OK after an appalling start. Adam Bolder drove home in a thoroughly deserved first away win of the season which helped us secure second-bottom, on the same points believe it or not as Palarse. In the second game Rangers were all over Charlton, with a Paddy McCarthy cock-up gifting a goal to Dexter.
Charlton 0 QPR 1
QPR 1 Charlton 0
Prediction: There’s more than a hint of weakness about this squad. Alan Pardew may be about to sign a host of players, three and a half weeks of window left, but even then it’s difficult to imagine who could bail the Addicks out of a season of mediocrity at best. Charlton’s opening game against Swansea is one they’d normally expect to win but then there is a tough month ahead with visits to Vicarage Road and Deepdale and home games against likely promotion contenders Reading and Wolves. If those games go badly, expect a pattern to become established, although the Addicks should still be too strong for relegation – I think.
Verdict: Bottom Half
Last season 21st: Coventry were a pretty desperate side to watch last season. Occasional flashes of brilliance at Man Utd and Blackburn in the cups struggled to hide the mediocrity and the ball acheing goalless draw between QPR and the Sky Blues at the Ricoh Arena seemed to be typical of the dire standard of football the dwindling crowds in that part of the world became used to. Coventry started the campaign under the guidance of Iain Dowie and many people were actually tipping them for a tilt at the top six – we agreed, sticking them in with our ‘chasing the play offs’ group of teams. All looked good with success in the league cup and the team safely midtable but a poor run of form over the winter saw Iain Dowie sacked. Sadly for QPR that poor run of form came just after Coventry had won at Loftus Road – consecutive league wins against Colchester, Stoke and Rangers were followed by a run of two wins from 13 league games. Coventry were eight points away from the relegation zone at that point and ended up just a single point shy of League One football with Chris Coleman at the helm which brings into question the wisdom of changing manager midway through. In fairness they were safer towards the end of the season than the final league table suggests but it was still a very, very poor season and a near miss for the Sky Blues.
Bookies’ prediction: 15th (last season 15th), shortest odds to win the league 25/1 (Sportingbet) longest 40/1 (Boylesports)
The manager: Chris Coleman was a classy Welsh international centre half who played in the top flight for Palace and Blackburn before becoming part of Al Fayed’s revolution at Fulham. A horrific leg injury sustained in a car crash ended his career and he turned his hand to coaching, getting the ultimate break when Al Fayed trusted him to takeover from Jean Tigana despite his youth and inexperience. By the time he got the push at Craven Cottage more than four years later the Fulham fans seemed to have turned against him but for me he did a fantastic job keeping them in the Premiership while slowly his side was dismantled in front of his eyes – expensive purchases like Saha, Marlet, Malbranque, Boa Morte and others signed by Jean Tigana were all sold and Coleman had to learn quickly in the transfer market to keep Fulham going in the top flight. Fulham’s struggles and near miss since his departure back my theory I think. Strangely he went to the Spanish Second Division and Real Sociedad for his next post but resigned after six months after a change of president. He replaced Iain Dowie at Coventry halfway through last season but only won four of his final 15 matches. For me Coventry are a club going the wrong way on and off the pitch, and one that’s very quick to point a collective finger at the manager when the problems are more deep seated. Coleman has made good signings on paper this summer but he’ll need them to gell and hit the ground running if he’s not to follow Dowie, Adams, Reid, Black and others through the exit door.
The squad: It’s up front where Coleman has worked hardest this summer. The big money buy of the close season is Freddy Eastwood, whose poor form at Wolves last season was put down to him not settling in the Midlands so clearly geography isn’t a strong suit of his. In fairness I always thought Eastwood was inhibited more by Mick McCarthy’s policy of buying only strikers and wingers and then not having room to accommodate all of them rather than any fear of the Brummy accent that may have Eastwood waking up in the night in a cold sweat after a nightmare about Jasper Carrot. Eastwood is likely to be joined in attack by Clinton Morrison who is training with the Sky Blues after his release by Crystal Palace and if those two can get it together up front there’s certainly goals in that partnership. There needs to be, Coventry’s top scorer last season was Michael Mifsud with 19, but 18 of those came in the first half of the season and after spending the latter months playing wide on the right he requested a transfer this summer. Coventry don’t seem to bothered about him leaving and moves to Bristol City and Crystal Palace seem to have fallen through raising questions about his attitude. Still with Leon McKenzie, Leon Best and that useless, lumbering tosser Kevin Kyle still in tow they’re not short of fire power this season – good job, only relegated Leicester scored less home goals than Coventry last season.
At the other end Coventry are set to profit both on the pitch in the short term and in the bank in the long term by Iain Dowie’s last two signings as manager. Daniel Fox and Scott Dann both moved to the Ricoh Stadium from Walsall and by the end of the season were England Under 21 internationals and seriously hot property. They’ve also picked up young Carlisle goalkeeper Kieran Westwood who impressed in the Cambrians’ assault on the League One play offs last season. All in all the squad looks stronger than it did last season and should be good enough to move into midtable on paper.
Likely Star Player: Daniel Fox (defender)
Ins and Outs Eastwood (Wolves, £1.2m) is joined through the entrance door by Aron Gunnarsson (Alkmaar, free) Kieran Westwood (Carlisle, £500,000) and Guillaume Beuzelin (Hibs, free). Veterans Michael Hughes and Srjen De Zeeuw joined former Arsenal man Stephen Hughes and QPR favourite Wayne Andrews and five others being released at the end of last season. Liam Davis (Northampton, free) and Colin Hawkins (Brighton, free) have also left. Michael Mifsud should be leaving shortly if he can manage to discuss terms with a club without falling out with them. Clinton Morrison is training with them and should sign soon.
Head-to-Head: Kevin Kyle’s last second header gave Coventry the win at Loftus Road. QPR had initially taken the lead through Akos Buzsaky but when Martin Cranie, Mikele Leigertwood and Marc Nygaard all got injured before half time Coventry roared back into the game and nicked a win at the death. There was no such drama at the Ricoh Arena – a goalles draw in front of a quarter full and almost totally silent stadium. It was embarrassing for the home side really, and for the QPR fans who struggled to understand our lack of ambition against such an obviously limited side.
QPR 1 Coventry 2
Coventry 0 QPR 0
Prediction: Coventry may have been taken over last season but they are a club with no assets and one that loses money. The Ricoh Arena is not theirs and is never full and the team has been in decline for some time now. Like Southampton, Leicester and other former Premiership sides in sparkling new half full soulless stadiums they only seem to be heading one way. Coventry’s team looks a little better than it did at this point last year, particularly if Morrison signs, but I’d back them for another lower mid table finish and probably another managerial sacking given half the chance.
Verdict: Bottom Half
Last season: Last in the Premiership and relegated Derby were an embarrassment to themselves and the Premier League last season as they finished bottom of the league with only one win in the entire campaign. They spent the last three months of the season shipping goals at a rate not seen since Doncaster Rovers collapsed and fielded Sunday league players in the Third Division culminating in a farcical 4-0 defeat at home to relegation colleagues Reading at home on the final day of the season. The writing was on the wall within seconds of the final whistle in their play off final victory against West Brom when manager Billy Davies spent every post match interview speaking exclusively about himself, his new contract and his desire to get David Kelly in as his assistant. It’s no coincidence that Davies, finally put out of his misery in November, hasn’t been touched with a shitty stick by any club since and rightly so. The arrogance and delusion of the man was quite astounding and set Derby up for a dire campaign. Having said that Paul Jewell faired little better when he took over and in my opinion is lucky to still be in a job himself. He spent the first few weeks of his appointment talking about the need to get his own players in during the January transfer window and then, having brought in seven new faces, conveniently switched that to the need to bring in new faces in the summer. Derby’s last win in the league was on September 17. Last year. Derby’s opening day match with Doncaster Rovers will be Jewell’s 28th attempt to get off the mark with Derby, he has lost 20 of those. With a fraud trial taking place with former directors, Premiership records shattered and a midfielder that Jewell bought currently ostracised from the squad but still picking up wages of £25k a week this is a club in a mess.
Bookies’ prediction: 7th, shortest odds for promotion 10/1 (various) longest 14/1 (BetFred)
The manager: Paul Jewell has a terrific reputation in the game after leading unfancied Bradford City to the Premiership in his first job and keeping them there against all offs with a memorable last day victory against Liverpool at Valley Parade. His next appointment came at Sheffield Wednesday which, after Danny Wilson had stuck an irreparable hole in the hull, was an impossible job for any manager and he joined Terry Yorath, Chris Turner and others in getting the premature sack in that part of the world. His achievements with Wigan, like Bradford promotion and survival, cemented his reputation and after being chased for all manner of jobs following his departure from the JJB it seemed strange that he decided wallowing in Billy Davies’ filthy mess was the best career move for him midway through last season. Some 27 games later he is yet to win a match, has cost the club a huge amount of money with duff January signings like Robbie Savage and Danny Mills and dragged the name of Derby County further through the mud by appearing at the wrong end of the News of the World earlier this year. To be honest I’d have sacked him in the tunnel after the Reading match and started afresh this summer but Derby have kept the faith, and he’s been the Championship’s busiest manager this summer. For me though there’s something not right at Derby – a malaise and losing mentality around the place. Jewell’s my tip along to win the sack race. Survival chances: 2/10
The squad: Derby have signed a whole new side this summer and those that had the misfortune to see anything of them last season will tell you it was much needed – whether the quality of those coming in is enough to turn the club around remains to be seen but I remain sceptical. Nathan Ellington and Rob Hulse have been bought to play in attack but both have questionable fitness and goal scoring records in recent years. Giles Barnes getting back to full fitness should mean they have the league’s outstanding midfield talent but with Robbie Savage already in an expensive dispute with the club, Eddie Lewis not getting any younger and the protracted signings of Davies from Tranmere and Bodde from Swansea dragging on deep into the summer there are still gaps to be filled across the middle of the park. Kris Commons was highly rated in League One but will always face accusations about his weight and is very one footed. Dean Leacock is quality at this level in defence but with Jay McEveley, Claude Davis, Paul Connolly, Alan Stubbs and Mo Camara to play around him the back four looks; 1 – heavy, 2 – old and 3 – accident prone. Martin Albrechtson looks a steady signing having said that. That’s without even starting on the goalkeepers, Stephen Bywater seems incredibly, unbelievably and suspiciously set for a deal at Spurs but that still leaves Lewis Price and Roy Carroll who I frankly wouldn’t trust to carry my shopping home.
Likely Star Player: Giles Barnes (winger). If he stays fit until January expect an auction.
Ins and Outs Deep breath… Rob Hulse (Sheff Utd, £1.75m) Liam Dickinson (Stockport, £750k), Martin Albrechtson (West Brom, free), Steve Davies (Tranmere, tribunal yet to rule) Kris Commons (Forest, free), Paul Green (Doncaster, free) Jordan Stewart (Watford, free), Paul Connolly (free) and Nathan Ellington (Watford, loan with a view to a perm) are the new faces. Przemyslaw Kazmierczak (Porto, loan) should make them some money on shirt name and number sales if nothing else. Michael Johnson (Notts County, free), Rob Earnshaw (Forest, £2.6m) Lee Holmes (Southampton, free), Kenny Miller (Rangers, £2m), David Jones (Wolves, free) Marc Edworthy (released), Laurent Robert (released) Craig Fagan (Hull, £700k) Darren Moore (Barnsley, free) and Ben Hinchcliffe (Oxford, free) are the departures with Robbie Savage soon to follow.
Head-to-Head: No game last season of course but in Derby’s promotion season the Rams’ took four points from QPR. The first three came in a 2-1 win at Loftus Road which, despite Jimmy Smith’s fabulous goal for Rangers, could have been more comprehensive. The tables were turned at Pride Park in march when QPR took the lead through Martin Rowlands, had a second from Paul Furlong incorrectly ruled out for offside and were ultimately unlucky to concede a goal to Darren Moore five minutes from time.
QPR 1 Derby 2
Derby 1 QPR 1
Prediction: You may have gathered I expect this to be a bit of a disaster. I just don’t think a club recovers that quickly from a season like the one they’ve just had. Their pre-season results have been patchy, their performances consistently awful, and Jewell is already moaning about the amount of players he has injured – injury prone players he has brought to the club it must be said. It looks like a car crash waiting to happen to me but we’ll see. They’ll drag this preview up for years to come if they do well and win promotion!
Verdict: Bottom Half, manager sacked
Last season – 17th Started almost as badly as we did and in fact when the R’s finally recorded their first win at the eleventh attempt it came at the expense of Norwich and dumped them onto the bottom of the Championship in our stead. Out went Peter Grant, an un-ambitious and cheap option appointment in the first place, and in came Glenn Roeder. It was always likely to be a tough campaign for Norwich with the likes of Robert Earnshaw and Dickson Etuhu leaving during the previous summer but with a quarter of the season wasted by Grant on top of that it looked like an impossible job for Roeder to complete.
He used his knowledge of the Premiership youth and reserve set ups to great effect - signing Matty Pattison from Newcastle and loaning Martin Taylor from Birmingham, Ched Evans from Man City, Ryan Bertrand from Chelsea, Matthew ‘put the camera away’ Bates from Middlesbrough and Keiren Gibbs from Arsenal.
The team enjoyed a resurgence. After beating Coventry 2-0 at the end of October, their first win in 13 matches, they then went on an incredible run of one defeat in 17 matches and were actually threatening a tilt at the play offs prior to a shock 4-0 defeat at Leicester in February. A subsequent run of just one win from seven matches dragged them back down the table but relegation never looked likely and in the end a thumping 3-0 victory against QPR at Carrow Road sealed their status in the Championship for another season at least. Man of the match and scorer of the first goal that day Ched Evans was the outstanding player for City last season scoring ten goals in 20 starts and eight sub appearances but like so many of City’s players at the back end of the season he was only on loan and the trick is to carry on the momentum now the temporary signings have returned home.
Bookies prediction: 12th (last season 13th) shortest odds for the title 20/1 (William Hill) longest odds 33/1 (various)
The Manager: Glenn Roeder was a QPR favourite in his playing days and cut his managerial teeth, with little success, at Gillingham and Watford. He found his niche behind the scenes as a coach at West Ham where he nurtured some of the country’s best young talent through the Upton Park system. Still it was a surprise when the Hammers turned to him to replace Harry Redknapp full time and while it appeared a master stroke after 12 months with the hammers 7th in the Premier League and pushing for Europe another year down the line Roeder was seriously ill and a West ham team with the likes of Joe Cole, Paulo Di Canio and Jermaine Defoe in tow were surprisingly relegated. Roeder was kept on over the summer despite his brain tumour and the West Ham board used that break to sell all his best players from under his feet before sacking him after about a quarter of an hour of the following season. Humiliated and not fully recovered he had a bit of a break and then went back to what he was good at – coaching the academy at Newcastle. Again the team turned to him as a full time manager after a successful caretaker spell once Souness had been lynched by a baying mob. Roeder guided Newcastle to a mid table finish in his first full season and contrary to what the over inflated sense of self importance that lingers around St James’ Park like a bad smell might tell the “faithful” fans up that way that’s as much as they can ever hope for. Still a takeover later and Roeder was replaced by Sam Allardyce. At Norwich Roeder did a super job keeping them up last season and will aim to avoid the second season syndrome that has dogged his managerial career thus far.
Survival Chances: 7/10
The squad: After loaning in some quick fixes to a desperate problem last season Roeder has set about building something a little more permanent at Carrow Road this summer and has already made some eye catching signings. Chief amongst them Wes Hoolahan who had a terrific season on the wing at Blackpool last term and has been snapped up for £250k because of a clause in his contract. Another exciting winger David Bell has escaped the Luton meltdown and in Fulham’s Dejan Stefanovic Roeder has added experience, steel and class to his back line. Ryan Bertrand has returned on loan from Chelsea and centre half Elliot Omozusi is another loan from Fulham. Northern Ireland midfielder Sammy Clingan was chased by many for reasons that sadly escape me but Roeder won the chase to add him to his midfield.
The problem remains the same as this time last season though - goals. Twelve months ago the Canaries were lamenting the departure of Rob Earnshaw and now with Ched Evans back at Man City and unlikely to return they again look short of firepower in attack. In Hoolahan and Bell Roeder has provided a great supply line, but just what exactly they’ll be supplying is as yet unclear. Jamie Cureton can still finish at this level but with Huckerby and Dublin both departing this summer as well a partner for him must be top of the to do list with a month of the transfer window still remaining.
Ins and outs: In through the entrance door are Wes Hoolahan (Blackpool, £250k), David Bell (Luton, free), Dejan Stefanovic (Fulham, free), Ryan Bertrand (Chelsea, loan), Elliot Omozusi (Fulham, loan) and Sammy Clingan (Forest, free). Big clear out last season with Dion Dublin (retired) and Darren Huckerby (USA, USA) the headline acts among nine players released at the end of the campaign. In addition Ryan Jarvis (Orient, free), Matthew Gilks (Blackpool, free) and Andrew Cave-Brown (Orient, free) have also left. Likely star player: Wes Hoolahan (wide midfield)
Head to Head: A win each last season - QPR won 1-0 at Loftus Road in a match up between the bottom two sides screened live on Sky Sports, Martin Rowlands got the crucial goal from the penalty spot. At Carrow Road Damion Stewart was sent off with the time still in single digits and Norwich romped home 3-0, in truth it could have been two or three times as bad. QPR 1 Norwich 0
Norwich 3 QPR 0
Prediction: About the same as last season really, better if they strike it lucky in the loan market as they did with Evans, worse if they get a particularly bad run of injuries. I just don’t think there are enough goals in the team to push on for the top ten.
Last season – 2nd in League One and promoted Made another one of my famous predictions look thoroughly stupid. Three weeks out from the end of the season, despite four consecutive wins, I said on this site that I didn’t fancy them and thought they would remain a League One side as long as Colin Calderwood remained manager. Three weeks and three more wins later and they’d pipped an attractive Doncaster team and my tip Carlisle to the second spot. With the Premiership standard ground and support Forest have been every lazy pundit’s tip for success ever since they were relegate to League One and with the likes of Tyson, Agogo, Commons and others to select from it was always likely they’d go close. They failed to win their first six matches last season though and it needed an incredible run of seven wins from seven games, culminating with a 3-2 success on the final day against Yeovil, to first cement their play off spot and then pinch an unlikely promotion at the death – a 1-0 defeat at Doncaster in March seemed to have killed all hope for them. Chances are their form would have been good enough to win the play offs if necessary anyway.
Bookies’ prediction: 13th, longest odds for the title 33/1 (SkyBet), shortest 22/1 (Ladbrokes)
The manager:We all remember Colin Calderwood as a centre half with Tottenham and Aston Villa but he moved into management lower down the league structure with Northampton Town. After two unsuccessful play off campaigns in League Two he brought them into League One at the third time of asking. Reputation built he was given a bigger break, albeit in the same league, at Nottingham Forest. In his two years at the City Ground so far he’s never seemed to be more than two games away from the sack at any time. He’s done it in the end though, and now takes on the Championship for the first time. Money has been spent and expectations will be high despite being new boys – he should be able to live off the promotion for 18 months at least barring a disaster but I don’t trust the fans not to forget about that very quickly and get back on his back at the first possible opportunity.
Survival chances: 7/10
The squad: Compare Forest’s pre-season transfer activity to Doncaster’s and you can see why I’m predicting them for very different seasons after promotion. Forest have goals in them, simple as. Robert Earnshaw struggles with Premiership football and people skills and £2.5m looks like a big gamble after his dire season at Pride Park but in this league he scores goals – always has done, always will do. The same can be said of Andy Cole, who showed at Loftus Road last season that he’s not a spent force just yet and with Nathan Tyson still knocking around that trio should be enough to keep them in the league almost single handedly. Further back Forest have quality players picked up during their time in the lower division, like Yeovil’s Chris Cohen and Arron Davis, quality youngsters from their youth set up like Wes Morgan and Kelvin Wilson and Frechhman Guy Moussai who former Plymouth midfielder David Friio recommended to Calderwood. Carlisle’s Joe Garner represents another substantial summer outlay. Add in former Southampton keeper Paul Smith and there’s a team not only capable of surviving, but of pushing on into the top half and possibly beyond as well. With Ben Watson possibly still to come from palace this could be a very good season for Forest though the loss of Kris Commons, Sammy Clingan and Junior Agogo may have some effect.
Likely Star Player: Rob Earnshaw (striker) you may not like him, not many people do, but I’ll bet you if he stays fit he scores 20 at least.
Ins and Outs Joe Garner (Carlisle, £1.1m) Andy Cole (Sunderland, free), Guy Moussai (Angers, free) and Rob Earnshaw (Derby, £2.65m) represent a substantial outlay with the promise of more to come. Junior Agogo (El Zamalek, free), Kris Commons (Derby, free), Matt Lockwood (Colchester, free), Alan Power (Hartlepool, free), Sammy Clingan (Norwich, free) and Grant Holt (Shrewsbury, £170k) have left.
Head-to-Head: QPR have never won at the City Ground and despite Forest being relegated last time the teams shared a league that didn’t change then. Rangers lost 2-1 in Nottingham and 3-0 at home to Forest in the FA Cup but they had the last laugh when Marc Bircham and John Curtis (own goal) meant a 2-1 win for the R’s at Loftus Road and relegation for the visitors.
Prediction: I fancy Forest to do quite well this season. They’ve got goals in their team and that should make up for the loss of key midfielders Clingan and Commons. If Earnshaw stays fit and fires and Cole chips in along with the big handful that his Nathan Tyson they’ll cause teams problems. If they were to add Ben Watson or a midfielder of his ilk they’ll be very well set.
Verdict: Upper mid table, possible better
Preston North End
Last season – 15th Preston defied the critics in 2006/07 and chased the play offs when many expected them to flounder after the departure of Billy Davies to Derby. They only missed out through a catastrophic collapse in form over the closing two months of the season and when Paul Simpson lost David Nugent to Portsmouth from his attack 2007/08 looked like it would be much tougher for the Lilywhites. So it proved - just three victories through to the start of November at which point Simpson was sacked following a 3-0 defeat by Hull City. In the end the loss of Nugent, and the poor use of the transfer fees that move freed up, cost him his job. Preston followed recent history and appointed another Scottish manager to replace him, following in the footsteps of his fellow Jocks Billy Davies, Craig Brown and David Moyes who all managed at Deepdale with varying degrees of success. Irvine was highly rated as an assistant and coach at Newcastle and Everton but Preston represented his first managerial post and after just one win from his first five matches, that included a derby defeat against Blackpool, it looked like an opportunity he probably should have turned his back on. In the end Preston’s season bore a striking resemblance to our 2006/07 campaign when Gary Waddock was replaced by John Gregory in the autumn - a combination of loans and cheap signings improved PNE’s form and after a poor week when they lost at Colchester and went out of the FA Cup against Portsmouth they displayed play off form through February and March - six wins and two draws from 10 matches - and although they failed to win in their final four matches safety had long since been secured and Irvine’s mission was complete.
Bookies’ prediction: 19th (last season 9th) longest odds for title 50/1 (Canbet.com) shortest 25/1 (Bet365)
The manager: Irvine had a steady playing career with Dundee United, Crystal Palace, Everton and Doncaster Rovers. He returned to Ewood Park as an academy coach and also worked in the role at Newcastle United before joining Everton as assistant to David Moyes. Sooner or later though they all want a crack at being a number one and in Preston North End Irvine has a found a club willing to give him a bit of a shot. He’s a guy I quite like, and he got Preston playing decent football last season, but I think this is a very tough job and another season of struggle awaits. The Preston board showed with Simpson that a poor start can easily lead to the axe – I fancy him to last the campaign, but I’m not expecting much from his team.
Survival chances: 6/10
The squad: Chris Brown, Karl Hawley, Brett Ormerod and Neil Mellor are the striking options available at Deepdale and I can’t see a lot of goals in that lot although Mellor looked pretty impressive at the end of last season and particularly at Loftus Road. Still a big lad for a footballer though. In midfield Paul McKenna and Kevin Nicholls take few prisoners, Richard Chapolow is a steady player whose career has stalled somewhat since leaving Burnley and Simon Whalley is a very good attacking winger who is likely to be courted by bigger clubs. Sean St ledger anchors the defence and is a lot better than his cleverly edited appearances on ‘Big Ron Manager’ might suggest. There’s a clear lack of additions this summer though and therefore it’s hard to see much change in Preston’s performance – struggling but ultimately surviving.
Likely Star Player: Simon Whalley (winger)
Ins and Outs: Seriously quiet summer. Barry Nicholson in from Aberdeen on a free is just about it so far.
Head-to-Head: Possibly the worst game I’ve ever seen in my life finished 0-0 at Deepdale – Trevor Kettle was in charge so the less said about it the better. It was all change at Loftus Road though was Preston played QPR off the park and went into stoppage time two to the good. Four minutes later it was 2-2 and the ground was rocking.
Preston 0 QPR 0
QPR 2 Preston 2
Prediction:No departures, one arrival, hard not to just envisage more of the same for PNE.
Verdict: Bottom Half
Last season – League One Champions Swansea’s ascent to the second tier for the first time since 1984 turned into a bit of a procession by the end of the season. Promotion was sealed four games before the end of the season with a 2-1 win at Gillingham and although the legal action against the league by Leeds United could have reversed that it all turned out alright in the end and Swansea were deservedly promoted as champions - they were clearly the best side in the division all season despite losing two and drawing one of their first four league matches.
Manager Roberto Martinez has the Swans playing fast, attractive, attacking football and they rattled up some big scores last season against the likes of Doncaster (4-0), Cheltenham (4-1), Orient (5-0 and 4-1) and Bournemouth (4-1). They did have a few aberrations though, conceding four in defeat to Northampton and Havant & Waterlooville. Jason Scotland caught the eye and took the headlines for a 24 goal campaign but Swansea looked a good all round outfit whenever I saw them and won the division relatively easily.
Bookies Predictions: 16th, longest odds for the title 40/1 (Bet365) shortest price 28/1 (tote)
The Manager: The success was sealed under the guidance of former player Roberto Martinez who is quickly forging a reputation as an excellent young manager. Martinez initially signed for the Swans midway through the 2002/03 season and played a part in saving them from relegation from the Football league altogether. he’d previously played for Wigan, Walsall and Motherwell on these shores and went onto feature for Chester City after leaving the Vetch Field but he returned to lead the club as manager at their new stadium after Kenny Jackett’s sacking in 2006. Led Swansea to promotion inside 18 months and has had them playing some superb football that certainly won’t look out of place at the higher level. Linked with every job going at the moment, including the assistant manager’s position at Man Utd, but has denied all knowledge and said on the pitch after the Gillingham game last season that he’ll stay as long as Swansea want him.
Survival Chances: 9/10
The squad: Again it’s all eyes on Jason Scotland after his exploits last season, Football 365 bizarrely named him in their Championship dream team recently despite him never kicking a ball at this level so he’s got plenty to live up to. It remains to be seen whether this big, powerful lad can score as many in the Championship as he did in League One, a transition the golden boot winner the season before, Billy Sharp, has struggled to make. Sharp and Scotland are different types of players though - the former relying almost exclusively on loose balls in and around the penalty area for him to seize on, the latter scoring many different types of goals from all over the field. Obviously Sharp doesn’t have as many errors to profit from at this level but Scotland looks capable of carving out his own luck, and a couple of fantastic goals against Bristol Rovers at the end of last season when I last saw him play bodes very well.
This is no one man team though. Ferrie Bodde is a tidy midfield player although Derby County have been moaning and stamping their feet about how unfair it is that they can’t have him all summer so expect him to move sooner or later. In defender Dennis Lawrence and midfielder Leon Brittan they probably have the tallest and shortest players in the league. It was a surprise to see them allow chunky midfielder Andy Robinson leave, and equally eye brow raising to see him turn down Championship football to sign for Leeds, and additions have been few and far between with only Stefan Morrison (West Brom) and Albert Serran (Espanyol) added permanently and Fabian Brandy (Man Utd) loaned in. We know how difficult it can be to start with if a promoted manager decides to try and stick with those that brought him up and I’d expect to see Swansea add two or three more new faces before the end of August, particularly if Bodde does move to Derby.
If not then with Martinez at the helm, a vociferous home crowd at their backs and six Spaniards in the squad I’m expecting good football and results from the Swans.
Likely star player: Jason Scotland
Ins and Outs: Stefan Morrison (West Brom, free), Albert Serran (Espanyol, £80k), Fabian Brandy (Man Utd, loan), Ashley Williams (Stockport, £400k) and Mark Gower (Southend, free) come in. Daryl Duffy (Bristol Rovers £100k) Kevin Austin (Chesterfield, free), Darren Way (Yeovil, free) and Kevin Amankwaah (Swindon, free) are on their bikes.
Head to Head: No game last year of course with Swansea being a division lower. On our last trip here we were beaten 4-0 on a Saturday night televised FA Cup horror show in 2002.
Prediction:A club on the up and well capable of making an impact at this level this season. The lack of strengthening so far is a worry and may restrict progress but few teams will relish a trip to south Wales and I fancy them to finish in the top half.
Verdict: Comfortable mid-table, possible surprise play off push.
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