Season Preview 21/22 – Contenders
Monday, 2nd Aug 2021 07:47 by Clive Whittingham
LFW’s annual semi-serious look ahead to the Championship season in waiting starts, as always, with the eight teams the bookies think stand the best chance of winning the thing.
Fulham 5/1 (title odds)
Last Season: Up and down like a bride’s nightie. All the same problems of their previous brief stay in the top division were there again, chief among them the recruitment being led by the chairman’s part-time-wrestler son Tony Khan with predictably incoherent, scatterfire results. Already have Joe Bryan? Why not sign Antonee Robinson too? They can hold hands. Fit couple. It’ll be a bromance. Scott Parker’s bland, rather boring, cautious style of football yielded just nine goals at home in the entire season, and made you wonder why Bournemouth have retained such a big stiff hard on for him. Fat and distinterested Mitrovic turned up, rather than committed beast mode Mitrovic, which rather doomed them from the start. All three teams that were relegated from the Premier League last season were hamstrung by bad starts of record breaking proportions – Sheff Utd didn’t win a league game at all until January 12, West Brom had only won once by then (against Sheff Utd), and Fulham won only twice prior to February 14 and only another three times after that. That, and Norwich and Watford’s immediate return the other way, suggest the gap is widening – Championship fans with ambitions of more for their club will pray that is simply a short-term effect of the pandemic rather than a permanent feature.
Ins >>> Harry Wilson, 24, RW, Liverpool, £12.6m >>> Paulo Gazzaniga, 29, GK, Spurs, Free >>>
Outs >>> Stefan Johansen, 30, CM, QPR, £600k >>> Marcus Bettinelli, 29, GK, Chelsea, Free (what a fucking world this is) >>> Kevin McDonald, 32, DM, Released
Manager: Marco Silva Polo.
This Season: One of the more intriguing themes you’ll feel coming through in this year’s season preview is the different ways clubs are waking up to more progressive, analytics-driven, modern ways of recruiting players. There are of course still clubs in this backwards-thinking, dog of a league that simply appoint an experienced manager and let him get on with it, and we’ll talk about Neil Warnock’s fourteenth annual farewell tour and the rather uninspiring summer recruitment to prepare for it later in this piece. But more and more we’re seeing situations like at Luton where they’ve hired analytics bods who made their names on social media; the hybrid model QPR run with director of football, manager, CEO and head of recruitment all involved; the entirely youth-focused scouting operation at Barnsley which Nottingham Forest have tried to poach for themselves; even a club like Cardiff with a self-professed proud dinosaur picking the team have done some eye-catching, smart pieces of business with younger players from lower leagues of late. With the Brexit points system moving the sort of Bundesliga 2, Segunda Division, Eredivisie and Danish Superliga markets, that had been fertile hunting grounds for the likes of Norwich, Huddersfield, Swansea and Brentford to build success from, off limits, the need to be one of the smarter fishermen at an ever smaller pool is paramount. Or, you know, just get the your rich American chairman’s wanky privileged son to do it in between running the All Elite Wrestling competition.
Look, they’ll have more than enough to challenge this year – Hector, Bryan, Reed, Robinson, Knockaert, Cairney… there’s too much ability for them not to at this level. Marco Silva’s record in this country is mixed, but a more positive and attacking outlook will suit the team and its fans after Scott Parker’s rather too staid and cautious approach. Mitrovic is apparently looking sharper and vaguely interested in what he’s doing again across the pre-season, which is bad news for defenders of Championship standard because he plundered 34 goals in 46 appearances across 2019/20. Flamengo’s Brazilian striker Rodrigo Muniz is incoming, having fended off interest from Boro. But all the same problems will be there waiting for them should they make it back, and forever more, while they persist with this ‘model’, if you can even call it that. Paying £12.6m for Harry Wilson in the week you sell Stefan Johansen for £600k tells you everything you need to know about the guy pulling the strings here.
Local Knowledge – @FulhamishPod “Last season was frustrating for Fulham fans, issues both on the pitch with flat and turgid tactics at home combined with some questionable recruitment decisions ultimately resulted in another disappointing season in the top flight. The failure to capitalise on the huge win at Anfield changed our season, and ultimately we went down with a whimper.
“I’m excited for this season, reading up on Silva’s tactics the fast flowing football is something that should give Fulham fans something to be excited about for the season ahead. The only concern will he his patchy defensive record at Watford and Everton, although those two spells aside this Silva is clearly a young and very talented manager. The summer business so far has been good, Wilson and Gazzaniga are both good appointments who will fit right in as well as offering long term solutions if we were to secure top flight football. We do anticipate that there will be more signings, but also that some of the players who have been around the fringes of the squad for a while will move on.
“I’m willing to stick my neck out and say we will do well, we’ve got a strong with quality and experience in abundance along with a talented attacking manager. We should get promoted, anything else will be considered a failure by the board and manager.”
Konk: “It wasn’t a great side that got promoted, so we needed to make quite a few signings to have any chance of staying-up. We made some decent signings, but they were made at the last moment, by which time we’d tossed away the first few games. Under Parker we were generally a risk-averse, slow-motion, sideways side, and struggled all season to produce any sort of goal threat. Two wins and nine goals at home, tells you all you need to know. Burnley scored more goals in one game at the Cottage (three) than we did between Christmas and the end of the season. We had a spell in the middle of the season when we were really solid defensively, looked decent and were difficult to beat, but we just couldn’t turn draws into wins or hold onto leads, and then completely collapsed over the last ten games. Still, at least Chelsea didn’t win the Champions League…
“Lovely eyes and he wouldn’t look out of place at an EU summit. Other than that, I’m open-minded. He did well at Hull, was seemingly doing fine at Watford until his head was turned by Everton. Obviously underwhelmed at Everton, but then again, most managers seem to struggle there. Not sure we were going to get anyone better without taking a massive punt on an overseas manager who hadn’t coached in England or someone who hadn’t managed outside the lower divisions, so I’m happy enough. Should be a steady appointment. From his press conferences and comments from the players, it sounds like we’re aiming to play a more attacking, energetic style of football than under Parker, which will be very welcome.
“As things stand, we look to have one of the strongest squads in the division. Depending on who’s sold, a team with Rodak, Bryan/Robinson, Tosin, Mawson, Tete, Reed, Cairney, Wilson, Decordova-Reid and Mitrovic, ought to be aiming for the top two spots. Obviously Johansen’s gone (sob), Bettinelli's gone (not fussed)and I would be surprised for differing reasons, if all of Anguissa, Robinson, Tete and Reed are around when the window closes; all ought to represent decent sales if they go. Of those, I would love to keep Tete and Reed. I’d expect 5-6 players to leave or go out on loan, as we have a large squad, and plenty of players such as Fabri, Le Marchand and Seri, that you just can’t see contributing at this level.
“So far we’ve only signed Harry Wilson and Paolo Gazzaniga. My Spurs supporting family all rate Gazzaniga, so with Rodak, we should be fine with keepers. Wilson had a great season on loan at Derby a couple of years ago, and looks to be someone who’s happy running at players and takes a good free-kick, so should be contributing with goals and assists. We’ve also been heavily linked with Matt Grimes at Swansea, which would enable Reed to get forward a bit more. I’d like to see that come off as long as it didn’t clear the way for Reed to go. We’ve also been linked with a young CF, Rodrigo Muniz at Flamengo – he’s 20, and has barely played, so absolutely no idea what sort of a signing that would represent.
“If Mitrovic can rediscover his mojo, then he should be good for 20+ goals at this level. He’s widely known to have had a poor relationship with Parker, and Silva has been very quick to talk-up Mitrovic and his importance to the team. Silva’s apparently twice tried to sign him at other clubs – so I’m hoping we have a happy Mitro at the Cottage this season. With the caveat of not having a clue who’ll be on our books in a month’s time, and at the risk of sounding a bit Brentford, it doesn’t look a particularly strong Championship, so I think we should be aiming for automatic promotion. I’m going to go for top two or up via the play-offs at the least. We’ll finish ninth now.”
Prediction: 2nd We’re very lazily backing two relegated teams to go back up, as they did last year, because Covid-19 is really exacerbating the gap between the haves and have nots. This squad has one more yo in it, almost certainly to be followed by another straight back in the opposite direction.
West Brom 6/1
Last Season: The Baggies weren’t overly convincing in winning promotion from a poor Championship in 2019/20, and they struggled badly upon return to the Premier League. Like Sheff Utd, it was over before it really began, with 11 goals conceded in the first three league games, and just one victory recorded in the first half of the season through to the middle of January. Slaven Bilic jettisoned, Big Fat Sam honed into view a week before Christmas, pint of mulled wine in hand, but didn’t look or sound convinced/arsed at any point and his latest rescue act/pension top up brought in just four wins from 26 games played. He goes back to Alicante an even richer, fatter blob, the Baggies come back our way requiring a significant rebuild.
Ins >>> Alex Mowatt, 26, CM, Barnsley, Free >>> Matt Clarke, 24, CB, Brighton, Loan >>>
Outs >>> Rakeem Harper, 21, CM, Ipswich, £500k >>> Sam Field, 23, CM, QPR, Undisclosed >>> Charlie Austin, 32, CF, QPR, Free >>> Kieran Gibbs, 31, LB, Inter Miami, Free >>> Lee Peltier 34, RB, Boro, Free >>> Hal Robson Kanu, 32, CF, Released >>> Ahmed Hegazy, 30, CB, Ittihad, Loan >>> Kamil Grosicki, 33, RW, Released >>> Andy Lonergan, 37, GK, Released >>> Branislav Ivanovic, 37, CB, Released >>> Kyle Edwards, 23, LM, Released
Manager: Valerian Ismael Fire, and lots of it.
This Season: Infrastructure, Premier League pedigree and parachute payments. West Brom know all about bouncing back to the top flight after a relegation and should, in theory, have been an attractive job for many managers. But the days of Dan Ashworth’s stellar puppeteering behind the scenes are long gone from The Hawthorns. Sporting director Luke Dowling’s signings came under fire last season and he has departed this summer, leaving behind Chinese CEO Xu Ke and question marks over how much the current ownership really wants to invest in a club they’re actively trying to offload. Chris Wilder was linked, David Wagner was actively pursued, Michael Appleton and others had a sniff, but they got quite a long way through a protracted search before landing on Barnsley’s Valerian Ismael. From a near miss with relegation, and then seven-game winless start to 2020/21, to play-off semi-finalists was a remarkable achievement at Oakwell, but the manner in which Barnsley breathed fire over the Championship wheatfields certainly divided opinion among those who had to sit and watch it. Alex Mowatt, the Tykes’ outstanding central midfield player, is a superb first signing and Matt Clarke is as good as centre backs at this level come, on loan from Brighton. But Ismael has come from a club with a stated policy of only signing young players, and consequently the lowest average age of any squad in the division, to one where years of incoherent transfer dealings have left them nursing a squad in which Grady Diangana, Dara O’Shea and Karlan Grant are the only first team players under 24. Diangana and Grant are dangerous at this level, and in Pereira, Sawyers, Johnstone, Ajayi, Livermore, Phillips and Robinson there’s certainly no shortage of Championship quality. But Ke’s talk of a “healthy budget” for the season ahead seems to include the contracts already on the books, the team is short in key areas, particularly up front, and Ismael will need to sell some of that talent before he can buy - Johnstone and Pereira the most likely departures, - or face the prospect of trying to instil his unique, bracing, perpetual motion-style of football on a creaking, ageing squad. That doesn’t sound like a recipe for immediate success.
Local Knowledge – Matt Graham “Where do I start on last season? Everything went wrong. I’m very happy to see the back of the 2020/21 campaign, which was abysmal in so many ways, encompassing the absentee ownership and lack of investment, terrible recruitment, major squad deficiencies, poor management (appointing Sam Allardyce, is a case in point), and terrible football. It started even before promotion as the team limped across the Championship finish line after project restart, and the form never really picked-up again. Things didn’t get much better, as the recruitment team, led by the now departed Luke Dowling, did a random trolley dash of players that did little to plug the huge problems in the squad, and instead stocked up on £30 million (thankfully in yearly instalments) of left-sided attackers in Karlan Grant, Grady Diangana and Callum Robinson, none of whom really lit up the Premier League. The team looked off the pace from the very start, and leaks about how unfit the squad were, began to ring true within early season matches and meant the team couldn’t compete. The main problem was the inability to defend, which saw the Albion concede 76 goals in 38 games, and it would have been a lot more if it hadn’t been for the heroics of Sam Johnstone. The sacking of Bilic, after one win in 13 wasn’t much of a surprise, but replacing him with Allardyce and the media circus that comes with him, actually saw the Albion get considerably worse, before a late upsurge in the spring. Relegation was thoroughly deserved, in a season which had very few highlights, apart from beating Wolves, and absolutely walloping Chelsea.
“I think the absentee ownership of the club by Guochuan Lai certainly is a big factor in struggling to find a manager this summer. It is well known he wants to sell, but is seeking to recoup his near £200 million purchase, and while waiting for a suitable offer, has refused to invest in the club. Essentially our transfers and playing budget need to be self-sustaining, and even with parachute payments, it isn’t that attractive a proposition given that a rebuild is needed and promotion within the next two years is a must. When looking to install a new manager, with their own ideas, it had to involve working largely with what the club has rather than signing lots of new players, which in all likelihood wasn’t an ideal proposition for many. Furthermore, despite Lai’s distant approach to the club, he pulled the plug on Chris Wilder, who the board had identified as the preferred candidate, because when leaving Sheffield United, Wilder had publicly criticised the Blades owners, and this was deemed an unacceptable slight. From the outside looking in, I can see why some might regard the Albion project as a basket case.
“Valerien Ismael was by far and away the standout manager the club was linked with over the summer, of a list that included David Wagner, Derek McInnes, Michael Appleton, and Chris Wilder. There is a lot of excitement about his appointment, because for the first time in the best part of a decade, the club has got someone who doesn’t appear to be a short term panic signing, but rather about installing and implementing a much longer term plan and philosophy. The fact they shelled out £2 million to activate his release clause is a huge statement about a forward thinking plan, and for that fee, I doubt the club will be sacking him anytime soon. I know that Barnsley played some direct football last season, but the high-press and high-intensity style is something that many Albion fans are crying out for, and this philosophy, along with the undoubted Championship level quality in the squad, should mean an exciting season ahead. Ismael has come in and after a month in charge galvanised the squad, and there have been lots of encouraging signs in pre-season. I’m looking forward to his tenure at West Brom.
“Despite whining about how poor the squad was at the start of the review, we do have the bedrock of a good Championship squad. There are some proven Championship players already in the team, with Diangana who ripped the league apart last time out, Grant who scored plenty for Huddersfield, Connor Townsend has come on leaps and bounds, and solid defenders in Semi Ajayi and Kyle Bartley. There are also plenty of very good academy players now near the first team squad, which Ismael has pledged to use, which should be something different to the usual, because West Brom has not really utilised its youth team, and many have simply left for first team opportunities, or are currently being poached by Aston Villa. The signings so far have been very encouraging with Matt Clarke on loan from Brighton (who has had two loans with Derby County) and Alex Mowatt on a free from Barnsley, whose fans seem extremely upset he’s gone, which can only be a good indicator. The team is still slightly unbalanced, and requires cover at wing-back, one more midfielder at least, and a couple of strikers.
“The biggest questions surround the futures of our two stars who are almost certainly leaving this summer: Sam Johnstone and Matheus Pereira. In fact, much of the transfer budget and our ability to refresh the squad revolves around selling the pair for an anticipated £30 million, although in a covid affected market, I can see it being much less. However, if they don’t go, it means more loans and freebies will be needed, although I wouldn’t be too upset (although the players might be). They are both excellent and would light up the Championship.
“As an eternal optimist, I think we’ll be in the play-off places this season.”
Prediction: 10th Of the three relegated sides, West Brom look to be in the worst shape to me. Mind you, won 4-0 at Birmingham at the weekend. Cue league title.
Sheff Utd 7/1 (title odds)
Last Season: For a while there, the self-proclaimed ‘best league in the world’ was absolutely flummoxed by a team playing David McGoldrick as a lone striker because its centre backs occasionally crossed the halfway line with the ball at their feet. More than 5.8 million people play the Premier League’s official Fantasy League product, and every single one of them had John Lundstrom in their team. But, like the notion Leicester’s remarkable 2016 league championship could be sustained by Claudio Ranieri walking around the training ground ringing an imaginary bell, so the “we’re SheffUtd maaaaaaate we’ll train in t’park” Chris Wilder schtick lost its magical power in year two. They did that Bournemouth thing of paying eye-watering sums for promising young British talent purely because it’s promising, young and British – Rhian Brewster cost £20m and is yet to score, the Aaron Ramsdale money laundering scam turned another healthy profit and he let in 63 goals. The well oiled machine of the season before became lopsided to the right with Jack O’Connell injured out of the famed ‘overlapping centre backs’ formation. Lundstrom went from fantasy land to dog house almost overnight. They didn’t win a league game at all until January 12, losing 15 and drawing two. It was, nevertheless, still a surprise to see Wilder sacked, given the meteoric ascent from League One he’d overseen – however bad your results are, if you’re sacking a manager who would be his own best replacement it’s probably wise to stick with.
Ins >>> Niente
Outs >>> Simon Moore, 31, GK, Coventry, Free >>> John Lundstram, 27, CM, Rangers, Free >>> Phil Jagielka, 38, CB, Released (training with Derby) >>> Jack Rodwell, 30, CM, Released
Manager: Slavisa Jokanovic Take my wallet just don’t hurt my face.
This Season: Ending Championship specialist Slavisa Jokanovic’s well remunerated exile in the Qatari league looks like a potential masterstroke. Twice, at Watford and Fulham, he built very adept footballing sides that won promotion from this league into the Premier League. Since then though, the Blades have been strangely dormant. They are yet to make a new signing this summer despite bringing two years of Premier League riches and parachute payments down with them. While you’d expect several players who struggled in the top flight to find the going much easier at Championship level – particularly a front line of Brewster and Tartan McPartick, and our own former emperor penguin Luke Freeman – there is still that nagging doubt that a team that’s become used to losing and carries that baggage around with it doesn’t suddenly just switch to winning overnight. The Blades lost 30 of 43 competitive games last season, with losing sequences of six and eight consecutive games and a four month stretch where they lost 15 and drew three of 18 games. Mind you, a similar crash and burn at that level didn’t bother Norwich unduly the following season.
Local Knowledge – @TheShorehamView “The loss of Jack O’Connell was key to our downfall last season. Jack was instrumental in our successful style of play previously! A rock and colossus at the back, but also a fearless threat going forward, the key overlapping centre back in that system that was on the lips of every pundit in the country the season before. Without him Stevens had no cover if he lost the ball and he hesitated getting into positions, this cut off the Fleck, Jack and Steven’s triangle, it meant our only outlet was to the right. This in turn affected Norwood who usually had the option to get the ball and quickly ping it left or right, but with only one flank realistically available he held the ball and hesitated, meaning he got caught on possession. And whilst the right did create goals previously the threat and creation usually came from the left leaving the right side to cause chaos, disrupt, be a goal threat etc! Last season without him, without the cover to replace him adequately and without any real attacking venom up front (many theories abound on why that was) we simply didn’t win or even draw the games we had to opportunity to do so in.
“I’m still hurting at Wilder’s sacking. I back Slav, he has my full support, but it’s like moving on from a divorce, the pain still lingers for a long time, even when you’re moving on. On paper Slav is perfect. Attacking, intense, stable and aggressive… everything a Sheffield United fan wants. My only problem is I don’t know what to expect as we’ve only ever heard from him once and that was the day we signed him. We don’t know what to expect from him, the team or anything, it’s all a bit like being in limbo. Other than rejecting bids and seeing that lazy fuc,,,,,,, I mean, former player John Lundstram leave, nothing’s happened.
“My prediction is we’ll lose in the play off final, because we’re Sheffield United and that’s what we do.”
Prediction: 1st Another lazy prediction maybe, but shake off the hangover, bring back O’Connell, add a couple of tidy signings between now and the end of August, and this squad, with this manager, and those strikers, should be too much for this league.
Bournemouth 10/1 (title odds)
Last Season: The relegated side we trusted the least, and with good reason. Predictably, a whole load of Callum Wilson, Nathan Ake and Aaron Ramsdale types fucked the fuck off immediately, but an enormous overhanging bill for historical transfer fees owed on roaring successes like Jordan Ibe and Dominic Solanke meant much of the money received, and parachute payments, went on fending off bailiffs. Arnaut Danjuma turned out to be one of the signings of the season and they kept hold of David Brooks who should be the best player at this level by a street but has knees made of custard. The clean break with a decade of Eddie Howe wasn’t clean, or really a break, at all, with his long serving assistant Jason Tindall parachuted straight into the big chair. Essentially they tried to return to the Premier League by default under one caretaker manager, and when that failed they appointed another in Mastermind champion-in-waiting Jonathan Woodgate. A seven-match winning blast through April restored flagging play-off credentials, but Woodgate then killed that momentum stone dead with a whole load of ponsing about with the team that saw them finish the season with three straight defeats. Notorious play-off chokers Brentford awaited in the semi-final, Bournemouth led 1-0 after the home leg, and when a typical bit of Thomas Frank hubris saw the Bees send all ten outfield players up for the first corner of the second leg presenting Danjuma with a clear run the full length of the pitch for 2-0 they looked to be on their way. Their approach to the remaining 80 minutes (can we essentially shithouse an entire play-off semi-final away?) was so disgustingly cynical, so flagrantly transparent, so tactically inept, and so dreadful to watch that by the end there was a little bit of me quite glad Spartak Hounslow inflicted the 3-1 defeat they so sorely deserved. Only a little bit mind.
Ins >>> Emiliano Marcondes, 26, AM, Brentford, Free >>> Leif Davis, 21, LB, Leeds, Loan
Outs >>> Diego Rico, 28, LB, Real Sociedad, £450k >>> Nnamdi Ofobohr, 21, CM, Rangers, Free >>> Asmir Begovic, 34, GK, Everton, Undisclosed >>> Jack Wheelchair, 29, CM, Le Tabac, Free
Manager: Scott ‘Scotty’ Parker Proper sorry frown.
This Season: Bournemouth have had a weird fixation with The Streets frontman Scott Parker for a while now, and finally got their man this summer after a protracted to and fro between them and Fulham. It leaves both clubs rather rushing to catch up with pre-season preparation and squad building. Marcondes looks a steady signing from the play-off conquerors Brentford, but Danjuma is currently flashing thigh at any half decent club that wanders by and he’d be a hard act to replace at late notice this transfer window. Bournemouth have a few things going for them. Firstly, it’s a poor league, again, full of clubs in varying degrees of crisis, and we’ve had real trouble picking clubs we think capable of challenging for promotion. Secondly, they do have a good squad of players for this level – Lerma, Brooks, Lewis Cook, Stacey, Kelly, Billing, Danjuma… this is a collection of players with little business being in this league if they’re fit, firing and most importantly interested. Thirdly, they underperformed last year, were poorly managed throughout, at times had a pretty lousy attitude, and still made the play-offs, so with a better manager in charge and all the stuff about ‘standards’ and ‘ethos’ that Parker hangs his hat on there’s room for big improvement there. And finally, Ben Pearson The Goblin Boy, exactly the sort of shrewd signing Bournemouth desperately needed to make last January, but rarely fit through the second half of the season, is sure to make more of an impact this time around, helping to knit together a collection of disparate individuals. Expect them to be functional, which is more than you could say for them for much of 2020/21.
Local Knowledge – @TomJordan21 @afcbpodcast “Last season we definitely continued in the same way as we ended with our relegation the previous season. Some top individuals, but couldn’t connect as a team. Struggled with the expectation and bringing in a number 2 as the gaffer is never an easy one.
“Parker is an intriguing appointment. To go from Fulham to us shows we must have sold the club to him well. Definitely see it as a long term project, highly thought of considering a short time in management. Its a ‘remains to be seen’ one, but I think most fans are excited. Marcondes from Brentford is the only incoming thus far, and we’ve loaned left back Leif Davis from leeds to replace Rico, but expecting to do more business. We’ve lost Begovic so I expect a new goalkeeper to be brought in. Squad is still strong at this level, although still lacking in certain areas.
“With the current squad I’d still expect top six minimum. But that may change once the window closes.”
What We Said Last Season: 9th Actually finished 6th, +3.
Prediction: 3rd Plenty of obvious improvements on last season, when they weren’t a million miles away from promotion despite being a bit of a rabble.
Swansea 16/1 (title odds)
Last Season: Once again set about proving that while you may be progressive, and forward thinking, and have the ball on the ground, you can still be a ball-aching watch. Steve Cooper’s Swansea reign was often boosted by superb use of the Premier League loan market, through his connections and reputations gained while managing England at youth level. Marc Guehi, a 21-year-old centre back from Chelsea, was absolutely imperious and led a defence in front of Newcastle’s Freddie Woodman that the Swans could lean back and rest on for hours at a time. Only the top two, Norwich and Watford, conceded fewer than their 39 goals against. Twice against Luton and also against Barnsley, Cardiff and Wycombe they scored with essentially their first attack of the game, and then just sat there and saw out a win to nil. As a means to an end it’s fine, as long as you get that end to justify the means, but it’s no easier or more pleasurable to watch than a Neil Harris side assaulting the senses with wheeled cannon football. Then, like so many bright, young, progressive managers, Cooper got caught over-thinking and second-guessing his strategy on the big day. A change of formation for the Wembley final against Brentford saw the Swans blitzed out of the game by half time, and left to face another season of Championship football with a now rapidly declining budget.
Ins >>> Joel Piroe, 21, CF, Eindhoven, £1.8m >>> Kyle Joseph, 19, CF, Wigan, Undisclosed >>> Liam Walsh, 23, CM, Bristol City, Free
Outs >>> Andre Ayew, 31, CF, Al-Asad, Free >>> Declan John, 26, LB, Bolton, Free >>> Kieron Freeman, 29, RB, Portsmouth, Free >>> Barrie McKay, 26, RW, Released
Manager: Russell Martin Squeezing in under the wire.
This Season: If you were to buy Steve Cooper at Swansea fans’ valuation of him, and sell him at his, you’d probably turn enough profit to keep Andre Ayew on at the Liberty for another season. Having taken a squad with the £80k per week centre forward in it, along with the always brilliant Connor Roberts marauding in from the right wing back spot, and been allowed to add the best of the Premier League loans over the past two seasons – Rhian Brewster, Connor Gallagher and Marc Guehi have all impressed here – Cooper lost in the play-offs to Brentford twice. This, it seems, in his mind, marks him out as some sort of catch, and staying to manage Swansea when they no longer have the money to pay one centre forward £4m a year in salary, or prop his team up with excellent young boys on loan from the Premier League, is apparently completely beneath him. Having spent the summer farming out dick pics to Crystal Palace, Fulham, West Brom and others, and receiving nothing but blank looks, he’s walked away from the job to focus on his modelling career. Swansea, rather bizarrely, boasted that they’d known about this for a couple of weeks before it actually happened, which presumably sounded calming and “it’s all under control lads” in their heads, but is in actual fact completely batshit mental with the season now a week away and a tug of war underway with MK Dons for Russell Martin after QPR’s John Eustace turned them down. An assistant manager at a club that finished below you in the league the season before, who has only previously managed Kidderminster Harriers, turning down your Championship manager role would suggest Eustace foresees a perfect storm here of a squad shorn of much that made it good over the last couple of years, a rapidly declining budget to replenish it, an indifferent ownership, and high expectations. As we’ve seen, if you get relegated, don’t go straight back, and the parachute money starts to dwindle, it can be a long road back. Looks a tough gig.
Local Knowledge – Phil Sumbler, Planet Swans “Just your typical quiet Welsh summer really. Manager makes it clear in May he wants to leave, we wait for someone to appoint him. Nobody does. He still wants to leave, we let him leave, spend ages appointing a new manager. Very few new players come in, season is a week away. No panic here needed. Move along now.
What We Said Last Season: 10th Actually finished fourth, +6
Prediction: 15th We’ve underestimated Swansea in this preview for the last two summers, and may be making that a hat trick here, but Eustace turning them down rings a big, fat alarm bell for me.
Cardiff 16/1 (title odds)
Last Season: Highly fancied after a pipping QPR to the summer signing of Kieffer Moore then spending the debt of a small African country for a loan of occasional free kick enthusiast Harry Wilson, but Neil Harris’ spit-on-it-and-call-it-foreplay “style” of football was non-dimensional, predictable and easy to neutralise. I’ll often push back against this idea that there’s one true way to play football, and if you’re not passing it around and working out from the back you’re a philistine, because it’s simply not true and there are direct teams that I find exciting to watch (like last season’s Barnsley) and purist teams who bore me rigid (like last season’s Swansea), but the simple fact is you’ve got to have a bit more in your locker than simply shouting “WALLOP” and chasing after wherever you’ve walloped it to. There was a little run of five wins in six games in December which threatened to cough the season into some form of life, but it was followed by a six-game losing streak and for the second season in a row Harris lost his job after a home defeat to QPR. Happy to be of service. It’s testament to just how entrenched Harris is in his dire ways that even Mick McCarthy was something of a breath of fresh air, winning all of his first six games and seven of his first eight as the Bluebirds threatened an unlikely to play-off tilt after all. They’d left themselves too much to do, and after all the praise that went McCarthy’s way it’s worth noting that Cardiff actually only won three of their final 12 fixtures.
Ins >>> Mark McGuinness, 20, CB, Arsenal, Undisclosed >>> James Collins, 30, CF, Luton, Free >>> Ryan Wintle, 24, CM, Crewe, Free >>> Ryan Giles, 21, LW, Wolves, Loan
Outs >>> Robert Glatzel, 27, CF, Hamburg, £1m >>> Joe Day, 30 , GK, Newport >>> Max Watters, 22, CF, MK Dons, Loan >>> Sol Bamba, 36, CB, Released >>> Jonny Williams, 27 (seriously), AM, Released >>> Joe Bennett, 31, LB, Released >>> Junior Hoilett, 31, LW, Released
Manager: Mick McCarthy I said to TC get his number up, he said who, I said you know who.
This Season: James Collins is exactly the sort of square-arsed, bruising, experienced centre forward you knew McCarthy would have in here at the first opportunity. Cardiff will, as has been the case for a number of years under Neils Warnock and Harris and now Big Mick, pose a physical challenge to whoever plays for them, with Sean Morrison a persistent threat at set pieces. Difficult to see how most Championship centre back pairings are going to wrestle the dual threat of Collins and Moore unarmed. They have also, however, rather quietly been doing some other more progressive recruitment, bringing down the average age and wage of a creaking squad from the Warnock era, and adding more technicality to the team. Perry Ng was a lovely acquisition from Crewe in January and has since been followed by Ryan Wintle who I love. They’ve also secured the much coveted loan of Wolves’ Ryan Giles, so good in struggling Coventry and Rotherham sides last season. A similar punt on Crawley’s Max Watters hasn’t worked out so well so far, but he has time on his side. Their biggest problem may be another slow start – Moore, Ng, Leo Bacuna and Rubin Colwill all have Covid-19 while Morrison, Josh Murphy, Tom Sang, Joel Bagan and Curtis Nelson are all in the early stages of comebacks from serious medium term injuries and ops. They lost 4-0 to Southampton in a pre-season game last week and the season starts on Saturday.
Local Knowledge – Gareth Scriven @Scrivs25 “We started last season under Neil Harris, following a successful spell, where we reached the play offs the previous season . We lost out to eventual winners, Fulham. The majority of the fanbase were hoping Harris could continue the good work from the previous season but things didn't go according to plan. The early part of last season was poor, really poor. I'd even go as far as saying it was some of the worst 'Cardiff Championship' football I'd witnessed. A January defeat to QPR saw Harris relived of his duties. After Harris's sacking the club appointed Mick McCarthy, more or less straight away. Personally, and to many, this was a surprise appointment. However, McCarthy did appear to 'steady the ship' and results started to improve. This resulted in him being rewarded with a two-year contract.
“When McCarthy was appointed, Cardiff sat an alarming nine points above the relegation zone. This was a concern, as we all know what the Championship is like. His first 10 games saw seven wins and three draws. An impressive return to say the least. Speaking to fellow fans, I would say he has won some of the Cardiff fan base over. He has improved Cardiff (compared to Harris) but I would say others are less convinced (me included), despite his long managerial record at this level.
“I like the look of the summer transfer business. Cardiff have seemed to have adopted a different approach and have gone young, hungry players. Perry Ng came in from Crewe in January, he's been excellent. I'm hoping something similar will come of Ryan Wintle. James Collins arrived from Luton. I've always liked Collins. He's a goalscorer and will provide excellent back up for our star man, Kieffer Moore. I don't mind the look of the squad overall. The midfield does concern me. There's little pace in there and we don't appear to have much creativity bar Lee Tomlin, who does have his fitness issues. Maybe it could be young Rubin Colwill's season? Colwill came into the squad last season, and he made the Welsh nation squad for the Euro's. Cardiff have had a recent history of spending big money on transfers and high wages, for very average players. I hope to see an end of this and more of a focus on bringing younger players through and looking at the lower leagues, which it looks like Cardiff are now doing.
“I think Cardiff will be ok and should be aiming for the playoffs. We've got one of the best strikers in the Championship in Kieffer Moore. Defensively, we are sound and will be hard to beat. Having the passionate fans back in the Cardiff City Stadium will be huge. I can’t wait. Realistically, I think Cardiff will finish between sixth and tenth....... or maybe even the play-offs.”
What We Said Last Season: 5th Finished 8th, -3.
Prediction: 4th We overrate Cardiff as often as we underrate Swansea. Again, maybe repeating that mistake again here but I like their transfer business.
Forest 18/1 (title odds)
Last Season: When you’re trying to churn 23 of these pithy season preview pieces out in three weeks through July, Nottingham Forest are a godsend because they allow you to simply copy and paste everything you wrote about them the previous summer. Several owners, multiple managers, and the population of a moderately sized Home Counties new town in signings have come and, mostly, gone, but the storyline remains as steadily predictable as a season of The X Factor.
It will principally, always be Forest’s year. Whatever state their squad and bank balance is in, whoever the manager is, whoever else is in the league, it will be Forest’s year, because they won the European Cup back when this country still had a coal mining industry. There will be a new manager – make it through nine months in this job you get a nice watch – and he will be showing promising early signs of being “The New Cloughie™”. There will be signings; more signings than you could ever possibly need; more signings than it’s physically possible to incorporate in a matchday squad; signings in positions they’re already stocked in; signings that aren’t any better, and frequently worse, than what they have already; signings for the sake of making signings; so many signings they could go to two away games at once. Not at all unusual for somebody signed at the beginning of the window to have been replaced again by the end of it. Theirs is a squad built for the Royal Ashbourne Shrovetide form of the sport, not the modern 11-a-side version. There will then follow some form of catastrophe necessitating this whole process to begin again, sometimes twice in the same season.
The little scamps did make us do some work last summer by taking the unprecedented step of sticking with the same manager as they’d finished the previous campaign with. However, the manner of their complete collapse out of the play-off picture in 2019/20 (losing 4-1 at home to a talentless Stoke team on the final night when even a 3-1 loss would have been fine) had already blown the flimsy foundations out from underneath Sabri Lamouchi. Maverick Greek owner Evangelos Marinakis was openly hostile to his manager and much of the squad in pre-season Zoom calls staged specifically to provide copy for a long read in The Athletic. There was, I predicted a year ago, more chance of me being the Nottingham Forest manager by May than Lamouchi, and sure enough he didn’t even make September when they took five games of the new season to score a goal and six to get a win on the board. In total, 16 summer signings were made, and they screamed absolute blue murder about not being allowed to make Kamil Grosicki the seventeenth after the deadline had passed. Loyal Taylor’s disgraceful desertion of Charlton Athletic marked him out as the right kind of character for a £30,000 a week contract to go with the £45,000 already being paid to Lewis Grabban. Both were then replaced by Glenn Murray in January. Only Derby, Birmingham and Southend scored fewer goals than Forest in the whole EFL. They agreed to meet the whole 100% of our former favourite Luke Freeman’s Sheff Utd wage as a loan deal, then replaced him with Anthony Knockaert in the same window. Right back Gaeten Bong, signed the previous January and dropped after one appearance, was replaced by Cyrus Christie, then on the opening day at QPR Tobias Figeuredo played that position instead of either of them and gave away a penalty in a 2-0 defeat. Carl Jenkinson is also on staff here, in case you were working on a ‘how many full backs does it take to change a lightbulb?’ bit. Nikolas Ioannou arrived from Cyprus to much fanfare (HE PLAYED FOR MAN UTD YOU KNOW) and was back there on loan by Christmas at which point Forest had won three times, including two home victories against newly promoted Coventry and Wycombe which they followed with an eight-match winless run in which they failed to score for five consecutive games.
Chris Hughton was the man charged with grinding them out of the shit they’d worked themselves into, and James Garner’s arrival from Man Utd in January enlivened a comatose midfield. Nineteen-year-old Alex Mighten caught the eye in his first full season but when one of the best things about your season is the exciting emergence of Brennan Johnson on loan at Lincoln City you know it’s been a(nother) complete shitstorm.
Ins >>> Cafu, 28, CM, Olympiacos, Undisclosed >>> Ethan Horvarth, 26, GK, Club Brugge, Free
Outs >>> Sammy Ameobi, 29, LW, Boro, Free >>> Michael Hefele, 30, CB, Huddersfield, Free >>> Nikolas Ioannou, 25, LB, Como, Loan >>> Yuri Rebeiro, 24, LB, Released into the wild >>> Glenn Murray, 37, CF, Retirement home >>> Michael Dawson, 37, CB, Different retirement home >>> Samba Sow, 32, DM, Released >>> Abdoulaye Diallo 29, GK, Released
Manager – Chris Hughton Don’t move Chris, their vision is based on movement.
This Season: It’s Forest’s year again, of that we can be very sure. There are some vague hints of them finally getting their act together off the field, and so far only one signing and the conversion of a loan to a permanent transfer. Barnsley’s 35-year-old American CEO Dane Murphy has been poached to lead exactly the sort of more-with-less recruitment and retention policy that has transformed the Tykes and been the polar opposite of how Forest have gone about their work. He’s been joined by trendy new analytics enthusiast George Syrianos from Stuttgart, and a more formalised role for comedy own goal specialist Chris Brass who Forest are keen to credit with the Jamal Lowe/Kieffer Moore Wigan recruitment that had Paul Cook’s side trucking along nicely before the financial rug was pulled out from under them. There’s talk of a ban on signings over the age of 26, which has worked well at Oakwell, and the return of James Garner is understandably priority one, two and three, though they’re also reportedly about to be the latest club hypnotised by the myth of Tottenham winger Jack Clarke. Currently though, all the issues this team had last season, particularly a gummy attack, are waiting for it when it returns next week. There is, also, an underlying sense that Forest may have simply swapped hoarding footballers for hoarding football executives. Above and around this new trio remain Greek owner Marinakis, chairman Nicholas Randall QC, technical director Francois Modesto, and Ioannis Vrentzos who was the CEO previously and in charge of the scattergun recruitment along with a role at Olympiakos. Hughton was hired with, and expects to continue to have, a promise on the final say on transfers. Who exactly reports to who, at a club that doesn’t hold monthly board meetings, could be fun. As ever, there are as many as a dozen unwanted bomb squad members, signed by the club’s four most recent managers, who have to be moved on. That includes Carvalho and Da Costa, Spanish players signed at enormous expense, who spent last season out on loan and are free to anybody driving past. Several others - Harry Arter, Fouad Bachirou, Ioannou –only signed last summer. They’re making the right noises, but then that’s never been a problem before.
Local Knowledge – Jack McCormick “Thanks to the wonders of modern technology I watched more Forest games than I ever have last season (there wasn’t much else to do) — but I’ve never been so bored by it all. We can probably all agree that 2020/21 across the board was a total mess and not the game we love. As most people know, we missed out on the 2019/20 playoffs on goal difference. We were on a horrible run of form, but only really needed a tweak here and there to turn that squad into at least top six contenders. Instead, we gave Sabri Lamouchi free rein to sign a million players over the summer, presumably with a promotion push in mind, then sacked him after four games and hired someone with a completely different outlook and style of play in Chris Hughton. Yes, we’d lost all of those games and, yes, this was a worrying continuation of the kind of form that would’ve seen us relegated had it carried on much longer. But you’d think the financial backing we’d shown Sabri might warrant giving him at least until Christmas.
“Hughton didn’t exactly inspire a revival and we’d written the season off by mid-September, but we ground out enough points in the end to stay up relatively comfortably — although for a time we did look like we were in real trouble. Thankfully it would’ve taken something special to have been worse than teams like Wycombe and Derby, while Rotherham were screwed by Covid and Sheffield Wednesday had a points deduction. Of all the signings we made last summer, I think only centre-back Scott McKenna can emerge with any respect. Cyrus Christie wasn’t a bad loan, but we haven’t looked at him again since he went back to Fulham. And there lies probably the main thing that went wrong, as it so often does at Forest: recruitment. We ended up with a load of overpaid under-performers at the tail end of their careers, with no loyalty to the club, and no fans to give them a hard time when they were phoning it in week after week.
“There’s hope that, if nothing else, we’ve fixed our approach to recruitment. Dane Murphy has joined from Barnsley as CEO, known for his unwillingness to sign players over 26 with little re-sale value. We’ve also added a data specialist from Stuttgart and someone from Wigan with an eye for cheap talent. Those appointments probably tell you we’ll be taking a very different route in the transfer market, at least. From those we’ve been linked with so far, we’re targeting players who will immediately improve the team, but who we can also sell on for profit within a couple of years. Otherwise, we’ve got a few exciting young players coming through who should at least give the fans something to get behind after yet another year of dross. We’ve the bones of a solid team and, if nothing else, it’s looking like an even weaker league than last time. Who knows what might happen if a team can put a decent run together.
“Most people seem happy to give Hughton a full season, and appreciate that he inherited a bloated squad that needed a lot of work. His style of play isn’t the most attractive and that won’t help him win over his detractors, but he’s probably got a better track record at getting out of this division than anyone else managing at this level right now. If he can sort us out and get us winning matches again, those calling for his head now will no doubt be the ones starting the “Chris Hughton Statue” GoFundMe. Interestingly, he had a similar start to life at Brighton. Came into a club on the decline, kept them up in his first season, then made the playoffs. The season after, they came second. I’m not suggesting we’re a serious bet for the playoffs this year, but I think if we give him enough time and a few seasons to drag us up to a good enough standard, he’ll at least get us close to promotion. After 23 years in the wilderness and counting, I’d be happy enough with that.
“We could see the back of 17 players this window, with most of those already gone. I don’t think we’ll miss a single one, which is another good illustration of how terrible our recruitment has been. As for incomings, we’ve signed Ethan Horvath, a US international ‘keeper who will probably be second choice. That’s your lot. We’re in the market for a few others — most urgently a full-back for each side of the pitch, as we have one senior player in those positions and he’s out injured for a month. Lee Buchanan from Derby is our number one target for left-back, and it’d be hilarious if we rubbed salt in their wounds by signing one of their best (and only) players. But it’s not going to be one of those 10+ signing summers we’re used to. Which is a bit of a relief. We’ve had a few young players back from loans — most notably Brennan Johnson, who looks ready for Championship football after a cracking season at Lincoln — along with the return of the messiah/waste of a squad number, depending on which side you’re on, in attacking midfielder and record signing Joao Carvalho. Like I said, we have an almost-good-enough team, and a few smart additions should see us comfortably in mid-table. I’d like to see us bed in some of those promising young players — including winger Alex Mighten, who got a fair bit of game time last season — then make a proper go of it next year.
“It feels like a season for transition, and expectations for the majority of the fanbase are rightly far lower than they have been in recent years. Anywhere in the top half of the table should be seen as a success. Perhaps a brief flirtation with the playoffs to get everyone’s hopes up for a few weeks, before fizzling out into mid-table obscurity. I’ll go with 10th.”
Last season we said: 4th Actually finished 17th, -13.
Prediction: 13th Chris Hughton has been promoted in his last three full seasons as a manager at this level, and if it were anybody but Forest we’d probably back them for the six, but they’ve burned us in this preview before. Steady progress more likely for a team that only secured three victories (against Cardiff, QPR and Millwall) against top half teams in the whole of last season, maintains many of the problems that hamstrung it through 2020/21, and hasn’t managed to bring Garner back yet.
Boro 22/1 (title odds)
Last Season: When the managerial dream team of Jonathan Woodgate and Robbie Keane somehow, miraculously, failed to get the right/any results, it was time for Neil Warnock’s latest last job in football and having carted Boro away from any potential relegation worries in 2019/20 the annual chat with Sharon about whether he could/should do a thirteenth “last season this” for 2020/21 was held over tea and viscounts. Of course he could, I’m not convinced he likes Cornwall as much as he lets on you know, and a record of nine previous promotions immediately marked Boro out as one to watch. There was, through the winter, some flirtation with the top six, but it didn’t sustain. The Teesiders were coming from a low starting point, and many of the issues that faced Warnock’s predecessors remained – chiefly the enormous wedge of money committed to a Britt Assombalonga and Ashley Fletcher strike partnership that couldn’t terrorise an U8s side. When your strikers aren’t good enough and your goalkeepers are either Marcus Bettinelli or Jordan Archer that’s a pretty serious handicap for the defence and midfield to overcome, and eventually they drifted off into a midtable finish that you could at least say represented significant progress from the year before.
Ins >>> Martin Payero, 22, MF, Banfield (Argentina), Undisclosed >>> Uche Ikpeazu, 26, CF, Wycombe, £800k >>> Matt Crooks, 27, CM, Rotherham, Undisclosed >>> Sammy Ameobi, 29, LW, Forest, Free >>> Joe Lumley, 26, GK, QPR, Free >>> Lee Peltier, 34, RB, Cardiff, Free
Outs >>> George Saville, 26, CM, Millwall, Undisclosed >>> Jordan Archer, 28, GK, QPR, Free >>> Britt Assombalonga, 28, CF, Adam Demirspor (Turkey), Free >>> Ashley Fletcher, 25, CF, Watford, Free >>> Lewis Wing, 26, CM, Sheff Wed, Loan >>> Nathanial Mendez-Laing, 29, RW, Released >>> Marvin Johnson, 30, LM, Released
Manager: Neil Warnock He’s said to Sharon this is his last season in football.
This Season: Boro have moved to solve last season’s goalkeeping woes with the addition of our own Joe Lumley, a potentially very canny free transfer addition and certainly an upgrade on who was keeping goal for them last year. It would be tough not to do better for Boro than misfiring pair Assombalonga, now in Turkey, and Fletcher, enhancing the miracle-working reputation of his agent by somehow securing a move to Premier League Watford, but whether giant Wycombe forward Uche Ikpeazu is the man to fire a play-off push is doubtful. Another striker signing is apparently imminent though Warnock’s enormously successful career does contrast with a speckled record in signing forwards. Argentinean midfielder Martin Payero is a potentially impressive addition if he settles and adapts while Matt Crooks is a big, physical, Warnock-style midfielder in from Rotherham, though the decision to let George Saville go back to Millwall, and the continuing lack of time for Lewis Wing who is now somehow on loan in League One, puzzles me as an impartial observer. Dael Fry and James Tavernier are the other stand outs. As we stand, with a month of transfer window left to go, there don’t look to be the goals in this team to push them into contention. Even the Neil Warnock factor which may overcome that is tempered by the fact that Boro, as you can see clearly from their transfer activity, are pursuing a very traditional model of having an experienced manager and letting him get on with it, while the rest of the division, and even a club like Cardiff with Mick McCarthy in charge, is ditching that and recruiting in a much more scientific, forward-thinking and progressive way. The manager is understandably, unashamedly, hugely short-term in his approach to this job, and if he gets them up then that’ll work for them, but if he doesn’t then where are Middlesbrough this time next year, or the year after?
Local Knowledge – James Boothby @jamesyboz “Last season was a season of two halves for us really. First half we performed well, looked defensively strong and harboured hopes of play-offs. We faded badly in second half though, we had a few costly injuries and the size of our squad couldn't really cope with that. A definite improvement on the year before, but still showed we have plenty of work to do if we want to be looking towards the play offs.
“I think the general feeling is that Warnock has done well so far, despite the disappointing end to the season. He has improved some of the players like Bola and Dijksteel who looked to be on their way out of the club but have now become key players. Debates will always rage about his 'style' of football, but as long as results come people will be generally happy. Warnock will be gunning for play-offs at least this season, otherwise I don't think he would have committed to another season of mid-table nothingness.
“There has been a good amount of business, both in and out so will be a much changed squad. We have lost Assombalonga, Fletcher and Saville with the likes of Bolasie, Kebano and Bettinelli returning to parent clubs after loans so we have some gaps to fill. Business so far seems to have been solid enough filling some key areas we were lacking. New keeper who you will know well in Lumley, Matt Crooks in midfield from Rotherham, Uche Ikpeazu up front who looks like he will be the physical presence Warnock likes. Sammy Ameobi has come in to add a bit of creativity and Lee Peltier to provide cover across the back. Argentinian midfielder Martin Payero sounds like he will join us after the Olympics and have been heavily linked with a couple of other South American attackers so expecting a busy few weeks until deadline day. At this moment we still look short in attack, but if we get a couple in then we look in decent shape.
“I am always on the more optimistic side, so think we might just steal into the Play-Offs. That is reliant on us getting the last few pieces of the puzzle in and keeping hold of players like Fry and Tavernier.”
What We Said Last Season: 8th Actually finished tenth, -2.
Prediction: 6th As with last season that’s several places higher than we’d have them with a different manager, and rather pending some more transfer activity between now and the end of the month.
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When Saturday Comes #11 by wessex_exile
This blog is a little earlier than usual, to give me and Alfie time to load up the car and sally forth for our first awayday of the season together, on the road to Vale Park – “He who would valiant be, 'gainst all disaster, let him in constancy follow the Master”. Not quite sure who the master is in that analogy, but let’s hope it’s Hayden Mullins on Saturday. All being well, I’m looking forward to catching up with fellow U’sual boarders (Noah, Durham maybe?, anyone else) when I get there. I won’t be meeting up with Clampin (Covid) or Judge (calf injury) who will miss out on making the trip, nor of course Tchamadeu (see below).
When Saturday Comes #10 by wessex_exile
So here we are again, still looking for that elusive first home league win of the season, only this time against high-flying (and recently non-league) Harrogate Town. That isn’t meant to be in any way disrespectful for Harrogate Town, they should be applauded for what they have achieved so far, but it is nevertheless a measure of how far our stock has fallen in recent years that we find ourselves in this situation. I have no doubt that today will be a difficult game, but it’ll be even more so if Hayden Mullins doesn’t take anything from recent performances and realise that what he’s trying just doesn’t seem to be working – he simply has to change things around. Whether he will or not remains to be seen – maybe he will, maybe won’t and the old guard will finally come good? I guess we’ll know one way or another by 5pm.
When Saturday Comes #9 by wessex_exile
After the complete horror-show that was U’s v Salford last Saturday, we find ourselves desperately clinging on to our away form like a drowning man to a lifebuoy…and I have no doubt Tranmere will be seriously stamping on our fingers in that regard. As a Friday night kick-off, I can look forward to the live match stream, which I was fortunately spared for the Salford game (it sounded bad enough). Swings and roundabouts though, if this hadn’t been rearranged to a Friday night, I may well have joined my Tranmere mate Chris and his family for the weekend – Prenton Park is always a good visit for an awayday, so safe travelling and good luck to Durham and the rest of the U’s faithful who make the trip.
When Saturday Comes #8 by wessex_exile
I’ve gone back through my archive, and the last football match I attended before last Saturday at the County Ground was U’s at Cheltenham on 29th February 2020 (and covered in LfW11) – In other words a 574 day wait. Others have mentioned about finding other things to do, losing their love for live football, things like that, and certainly my bank balance has appreciated the break from costly awaydays for the best (worst) part of 18 months. If I’m honest, I was slightly worried that I would go the same way, that the attraction would fade after so long, but I needn’t have been. As a result, it’ll be a slightly different format to this When Saturday Comes blog.
When Saturday Comes #7 by wessex_exile
Well that didn’t go as planned at all – after a stirring battling performance full of grit, character and togetherness with the small band of travelling supporters at Barrow, the U’s then finally returned back to the JobServe and completely failed to turn up against bogey side Crawley. They weren’t the only ones either, Hayden Mullins was absent as well, and we have since learned he has Covid-19 and will also miss tomorrow’s game at Swindon too – I know we all wish Hayden a speedy recovery. Fortunately, I won’t be missing the match, with tickets arriving last weekend – first live game for best part of 18 months, and I can’t bloody wait!
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