Season Preview 21/22 – Strugglers
Wednesday, 4th Aug 2021 06:04 by Clive Whittingham
The third and final part of our preview of the forthcoming Championship focuses on the teams the bookies think will be going down with Derby.
Derby County 5/6 (relegation odds)
Last Season: If there’s a harder working writers' room in the world of drama than the one currently penning Derby County then that’s going to be a hell of a show. Line Of Duty? Here’s a series with some chest hair.
The addiction to paying enormous transfer fees and eye-watering wages to mediocre footballers, to a man all later to be released on free transfers, was never a sound business plan. Krystian Bielik stands alone among them as a good Championship player, and even he’s only physically able to do that for 12 games a season. For that alone Derby paid £8m. The increasingly flagrant cheats, work-arounds, loophole ducking and outright ignorance of both the spirit and the letter of the league’s financial rules - culminating in the idea that a brownfield site on the edge of a retail park, suitable and usable only as a home ground for Derby County, could be sold from the club’s right hand to its left hand for £80m - was only ever sustainable if they could be promoted away from the governing body. Instead they botched two play-off finals, one against ten-man QPR, another in a season when they somehow didn’t make the top two despite having Mason Mount, Fikayo Tomori and Harry Wilson in a Championship team and were then so busy bitching and moaning about Marcelo Bielsa, and taunting him with hilarious binocular celebrations, that they were swept aside by Aston Villa at Wembley. Bielsa, and Leeds, now an established Premier League manager, and team.
The constant rotation of managers, including the sacking of Paul Clement while in the play-off places for not playing “the Derby way”, culminated in players downing tools on the experienced and previously successful Phillip Cocu so their mate Captain Spud could have his first swing at the big job in between writing columns about what the England manager should be doing, shagging around behind his wife’s back, and peddling the wares of the online casino that paid for him to come to the club in the first place – another FFP work-around that included the laughable claim that Wayne would be “coaching the academy” in something other than the best of the baked goods at Greggs and why smoking anything other than Marlboro Red is like puffing on fresh air. Sacking permanently startled club captain Richard Keogh for riding around in the passenger seat of Tom Lawrence and Mason Bennett’s drunken attempt to qualify for The World Rally Championships, while standing by the cunts who were actually risking all the killing and maiming, was an obvious employment tribunal waiting to happen – another £2m owed. Attempting a truncated Championship season with one recognised senior centre forward, and that recognised senior centre forward being the much travelled/dined, 34-year-old Colin Kazim Richards, another poor choice. Steve ‘Shteve’ McClaren plays the Kat Slater role of mixing tearful exits with dramatic returns, often within the same fortnight. Botched takeovers by Instagram influencers, court cases and legal hearings, transfer embargoes and fire sales, dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria. There is, it’s fair to say, a lot going on, and for a quarter of an hour or so on the final day of last season, on the cusp of a seventh consecutive defeat, you could have added a relegation to League One to the list. Few club owners would have deserved it more.
Ins >>> …
Outs >>> Scott Malone, 30, LB, Millwall, Free >>> Martyn Waghorn, 31, CF, Coventry, Free >>> Scott Carson, 35, GK, Man City, Free >>> Jack Marriott, 26, CF, Peterborough, Free >>> Henrich Ravas, 26, GK, Senica, Free >>> Florian Jozefzoon, 30, RW, Released >>> Jonathan Mitchell, 26, GK, Released >>> Jordan Ibe, 25, RW, Released >>> Curtis Davies, 36, CB, Released >>> Andre Wisdom, 28, RB, Released >>> Emmanuel Idem, 22, GK, Released
Manager – Mr Potato Head During the journey I did pull over into a nearby alleyway so I could safely lean over and reach into the glove compartment to take out a Murray Mint…
This Season: As it stands, Derby are the easiest call on the coupon. They could, and perhaps should, have gone down last season and they’re going into this one with the same maniacal owner whose “Melnomics” - that had “the Championship on strings” according to the club’s gleeful online brethren whenever competent chairmen like Steve Gibson dared ask “da fuck they doing over there?” - have driven this club into the dirt. Rooney made an impassioned plea for help post a pre-season loss to Salford last week, then went out and got smashed off his face (again), featured in some compromising photographs (again) and had to apologise to his wife on the television (again). This guy is the manager.
They have just 13 contracted senior players and one of those, Jason Knight, is now out medium term having been crocked by Rooney in training. Not joking. Although a historic debt to another club has been repaid that was just one reason for an ongoing transfer embargo – lack of audited accounts and HMRC debt the others. Season tickets are yet to go on sale. Picking a team of kids for a Covid-affected FA Cup game at Chorley last season means they now count as “players with a first team appearance” so technically they have a squad of 19 and are battling to be granted special dispensation to sign players under embargo. Mind you, once it is lifted, they only intend to show just how many lessons they’ve learned from all of this by playing the 134th round of Obvious Fucking Waste of Space Ravel Morrison Isn’t An Obvious Fucking Waste of Space At All – expect to hear that story about Alex Ferguson rating him as the greatest 17-year-old OF ALL TIME a lot. Phil Jagielka, Richard Stearman, Sone Aluko, Sam Baldock, Little Tom Carroll, Davis Love III and Mr Bun The Baker among the other luminaries waiting to join on a free but they’re already locked in yet another dispute with the EFL over whether Curtis Davies (36) counts as a new signing, having released him but now thought better of it.
One points deduction for failing to pay player wages has been suspended for a year. Another will surely be due when three years of accounts are refiled, without all the unicorn sales and wax crayon scribblings, except they’re now attempting to backdate the already outrageous £80m sale of Pride Park as a £124m sale to magic up another non-existent £34m for the bottom line. Incredibly, there is still a prevailing attitude that this club is being unfairly persecuted and chased by the EFL. Morris is so desperate to shed himself of the mess he, and he alone, has created that every dodgy chancer in the world is being linked and they had a near miss with Instagram’s Erik Alonso. Do we still have Paladini’s number?
Tom Lawrence (Tom. Lawrence.) is the new club captain.
It’s a bin on fire, rolling down a hill, at speed. Of course, writing season previews in July, with the transfer window still open, means that by August 31 they could have been taken over by somebody of sound body and mind, made good signings, won their first games, and be off to the races. This prediction destined to look almost as stupid as our idea that they might make seventh last season. Without that though expect to see this sorry mess, long in the making, crash through the side wall of League One well ablaze sometime in early April. Had they played anybody but Sheffield Wednesday on the final day of last season it would already have happened.
Local Knowledge – Ollie Wright @DerbyCountyBlog “Last season was absolutely calamitous, easily one of the worst in the club’s modern history. In any normal year, we would have been relegated. To quote the indie band Clap Your Hands Say Yeah!. Wayne Rooney escaped that fate “by the skin of his yellow country teeth” and even then, only due to the failings of others.
“I’ve actually just completed a book compiling my writing from 2010 - 2015 (so yeah, it includes what became the Zamora final) and that is what we can call the “pre-Mel Morris era”. From 2015/16 onwards, the financial restraints were thrown off and the club became truly “ambitious”, in terms of spending much more than it earned in pursuit of promotion. The manoeuvres Mel pulled in order to work around the reality of profit and sustainability rules soon became too blatant to go unnoticed and we know that Middlesbrough started complaining bitterly to the authorities about alleged financial misconduct from the point when we pipped them to the play-offs in 2018/19. Although a legal fight over Mel’s sale of Pride Park to himself was won, a seemingly more trivial matter relating to the way transfer fees were ‘amortised’ (written down over the length of a player’s contract) was won on appeal by the EFL and that verdict is at the heart of the current crisis. Derby are now obliged to resubmit three years’ worth of accounts which had previously been signed off and complex wrangling over that continue. A transfer embargo remains. To add to that, an unspecified but clearly significant debt is owed to HMRC and those twin issues have left the club completely paralysed.
“It’s been reported that Mel has been ill, although how seriously, we don’t know. Whether it’s primarily down to his health, or simply that he is sick of pouring cash down the drain, he wants out. Three attempted takeovers have failed, one just before the pandemic, two during, the third of which was fronted by a Spaniard who never seemed remotely credible, never submitted the funds to complete the deal and was eventually unmasked as a total charlatan by a bright young fan who simply did his due diligence on TikTok. Since that entirely predictable (and frankly, entirely welcome) collapse, things have only gone from bad to worse. As it stands, the club has no senior centre backs on its books and with a week to go until we are supposed to play Huddersfield in the Championship as I write this, no progress has been confirmed on removing the embargo.
“The club is so dysfunctional that Rooney remains in charge solely because he wants to be. In my opinion, he should have gone just before the end of last season, when it became clear that the crisis had got beyond the point where he could cope with it. However, with Mel effectively checked out and no takeover in sight, there was and remains no-one to countenance negotiating a costly severance package. Unless he walks of his own volition, he’s going nowhere. After a team packed with trialists lost a friendly to Salford, he made it clear that resigning was an option unless the club managed to get the embargo lifted, then proceeded to go out on a bender in Manchester, awaking the next day to find ‘compromising’ images of himself plastered all over the internet (and on the front cover of the S*n before long). That, I suppose, is what being involved with Derby County does to a chap.
“Best case scenario… A takeover is concluded and the new owners have the competence, stamina and frankly funds to complete a top-to-bottom rebuild of the club. That process needs to begin very soon for the club to have any chance of avoiding relegation this season. Prediction… 24th. Unless things change drastically and quickly, we will be unable to compete.”
What we said last season: 7th, actually finished 21st (-14). Our worst call.
Last Season: The Terriers made a mockery of the idea that the teams relegated from the Premier League are always the favourites to bounce back by taking their enormous parachute payment and failing to win any of their first eight games of 2019/20. That put them in rather the predicament and to extricate themselves Huddersfield decided to be that Championship club that took a chance on The Cowley Sisters, Danni and Nikki, who’d been doing jolly well at Lincoln City for quite some time and were therefore attractive to fans of second tier teams who a) fancied a change of direction and b) had never seen that Matt Rhead-led Lincoln team play. Safe, but bored, Town decided to pivot again, not intimidated by the Covid-shortened summer, and went for Bielsa-bud Carlos Corberan to lead a Leeds-style revolution in a different corner of West Yorkshire. Problem one: Huddersfield didn’t have the players for it. There were some initial signs of life – a 3-0 win at Millwall, an absolute demolition job on QPR at home – but they quickly followed that with a 5-0 loss at ropey Bournemouth. Problem two: they didn’t do much to rectify that in January. If you thought watching Richard Stearman try and play the Bielsa way was amusing, their attempt to correct that was dragging permanently terrified sitcom trope and friend of the site Richard Keogh out of League One. Well, that was only ever likely to go one way, and having kicked off with five defeats in a row through January, including an FA Cup exit to Plymouth, the Terriers went on to win just three of their final 25 matches of the season. Ridiculously, in the midst of QPR’s brilliant run, one of those was another to-nil success against Rangers at Loftus Road – their one double of the whole season. Their final ten matches featured one win, a 7-0 loss at Norwich and a 5-2 loss at Blackburn. Nobody, including the bottom three, conceded as many as Huddersfield’s 71 goals. The were incredibly fortunate not to be relegated.
Ins: >>> Josh Ruffels, 27, LB, Oxford, Free >>> Lee Nicholls, 28, GK, MK Dons, Free >>>Matty Pearson, 27, CB, Luton, Free >>> Tom Lees, 30, CB, Sheff Wed, Free >>> Jordan Rhodes, 31, CF, Sheff Wed, Free >>> Ollie Turton, 28, RB, Blackpool, Free >>> Levi Colwill, 18, CB, Chelsea, Loan >>> Danel Sinani, 24, AM, Norwich, Loan
Outs: >>> Jaden Brown, 22, LB, Sheff Wed, Free >>> Christopher Schindler, 31, CB, Nuremburg, Free >>> Jayson Leutwiler, 32, GK, Oldham, Free >>> Alex Pritchard, 28, AM, Sunderland, Free >>> Richard Keogh, 34, CB, Blackpool, Free >>> Yaya Sanogo, 28, CF, Released >>> Richard Stearman, 33, CB, Released >>> Tommy Elphick, 33, CB, Released >>> Oumar Niasse, 31, CF, Released >>> Demeaco Duhaney, 22, RB, Released
Manager: Carlos Corberan White chinos, at a funeral?
This Season: There has been a much needed clear out of expensive, ageing, underperforming players. That includes son-of-Warbs Alex Pritchard heading off to Sunderland at an £11m loss on transfer fee alone (never mind wages) over three and a half years, and our old favourite nuclear-holocaust-waiting-to-happen Richard Keogh choosing to go around again at Blackpool rather than take the fucking hint. There has not, however, been a recruitment drive to match either the club’s needs or the manager’s style. Creaking centre backs Stearman, Keogh, Schindler and Elphick have all been released but, in Sheff Wed’s Tom Lees and Luton’s Matty Pearson, Corberan is again being asked to imprint a distinctive and tricky style on players ill-suited to the job. Karlan Grant was a terrific signing for Huddersfield, and they were rewarded with that with a £14m fee from West Brom, but they didn’t replace him then, and although the return of Jordan Rhodes is romantic, and potentially exactly the career boost he needs, his record in recent years suggests they haven’t replaced him now. Like QPR under Steve McClaren, the second half of last season was a total collapse – three wins in 25 matches, one win in 13 home games, a 7-0 loss against a good team, a 5-2 defeat to a shit one. You make your own mind up whether this summer overhaul on the cheap is as good as the one Mark Warburton subsequently did at Loftus Road, or even adequate to keep them in this league.
Local Knowledge: Brady Frost @Brady0894 “A great first half of the season that saw Town six points off the playoffs, and a second-half to the season which saw us in a desperate relegation battle. Good 2020, bad 2021. Our squad was ravaged by injuries due to the condensed fixture schedule and Corberán’s intense training methods which meant our bench was full of youngsters where some hadn’t played more than 90 minutes of Championship football. The gap in quality was there to see and that’s why we suffered but the manager can’t make excuses when three wins in five months is just not good enough at any level.
“I have my doubts about the manager, which is only natural after the terrible run. Initially, I was disappointed to see the Cowleys dismissed but excited for Corberán and the exciting style of football and we saw in the first half of the season. The caveats for the collapse were a lack of squad depth and injuries to key players. The new signings address the issues in the squad and we nearly have a clean bill of health for all players so we can’t really make excuses. I think he deserves a crack but he’s starting under pressure and if we get off to a bad start I can’t see him lasting. We don’t talk a lot in football about whether managers and clubs are the right fit for each other and I hope I’m wrong but I have concerns about whether Corberán and Huddersfield complement each other. Corberán is a young coach that needs time to develop and if the target is to remain in the division where every point counts, he’s not going to get that time. Huddersfield are not going to spend big money on players anymore and now seem to be reverting to type, battling to stay up on a tight budget, and I’m not sure you can deliver exciting, attacking football and work with limited resources. The hope is Corberán has learnt a lot from last season and now with a better squad can improve our league position, we’ll wait and see but of course I’ll back him and the team.
“The only signings that, on paper, seem to match up the style are Danel Sinani, an attacking player who’s joined on loan from Norwich and Levi Colwill, an exciting ball-playing centre back from Chelsea on loan. I agree that the recruitment doesn’t seem to correlate, but when a team concedes the most goals in the division last season, it’s not surprising that the majority of their summer recruitment focuses on defence. After shipping in 71 goals in 46 games we have now signed two full backs, three centre backs and a goalkeeper. We made the most errors leading to goals in the league and we were the team that lost the most points from winning positions last season, so, hypothetically if we turned three narrow losses into wins then we’re maybe 15th, 16th and having a different conversation. For the blood pressure of every fan, I pray that we don’t have another defensive performance like we did last season.
“I like some of the signings and having experienced professionals in the squad rather than inexperienced kids can only be a good thing. This season will be an improvement on last but not by much, we’ve added to the squad but I’m still concerned by the lack of creativity, although Danel Sinani could make a big impact. We finished 20th last season, the league looks a bit more wide open from fifth downwards, which could throw up a few surprises so I’m going for eighteenth.”
What We Said Last Season: 21st Finished 20th, +1
Last Season: The Posh have been scouting football’s nether regions, buying low, negotiating hard and selling high since the @analytics types were at their mother’s teat. Craig Mackail-Smith from Dagenham and Redbridge, Aaron McLean from Grays, George Boyd from Vidal Sassoon and others contributed to three Championship seasons out of four between 2009 and 2013. The latter, rather infamously, ended with them relegated on 54 points, enough for safety in every post 1992/93 season at this level before and since, and four more than they got when finishing eighteenth the season before. This is still, a decade later, held up as proof that QPR aren’t safe from relegation until they get to 70 points each season by those who like to enjoy supporting QPR through the medium of doom.
It’s been a long eight seasons in League One since, with only one play-off qualification. The well-scouted gems have kept coming, and the “bigger” clubs don’t mind the trip out of town to come here and buy their meat – some have walked away with a Britt Assombalonga or Ivan Toney, others a Conor Washington or Jack Marriott – but through it all a promotion back to the second tier has very rarely looked likely. Outspoken chairman Darragh MacAnthony has worked his way through half a dozen managers and plenty of online flak trying to find the combination, and I think most outside Wycombe would suggest their 2019/20 side, led from the front by Toney, was incredibly unfortunate to be booted out of sixth by an out-of-form Wanderers side on the points-per-game Covid-19 solution simply because Gareth Ainsworth’s eighth-placed team had played a game fewer and voted for curtailment.
No surprise to see some hot attacking talent in Peterborough blue again in 2020/21. Jonson Clarke-Harris, a nomadic non-scoring striker until a prolific spell at Bristol Rovers parted MacAnthony with £1.2m in return for 33 goals in all comps last year. Siriki Dembele was an inconsistent maverick at Grimsby, now finding that persistent effectiveness at London Road. And Sammy Szmodics was surely worth more than the cursory four appearance glance Bristol City gave him after signing from Colchester. The difference this time was a more pragmatic approach to the defence. Mark Beevers, with 130+ appearances for Sheff Wed, Millwall and Bolton respectively and yet still somehow only 31, was a great addition at centre half. The 46 goals conceded was the worst total of the top four, but better than the rest of the league, and only six more than they’d conceded in the truncated 35-game season in 2019/20. They had big winning runs through October, January and February, and then cruised home with seven wins and four draws from the final 13 fixtures.
Ins: >>> Joel Randall, 21, MF, Exeter, Undisclosed >>> Kwarme Poku, 19, AM, Colchester, Undisclosed >>> Jorge Grant, 26, MF, Lincoln, Undisclosed >>> Josh Knight, 23, CB, Leicester, Undisclosed >>> Emmanuel Fernandez, 19, CB, Ramsgate, Undisclosed >>> Joe Tomlinson, 21, LB, Eastleigh, Undisclosed >>> David Cornell, 30, GK, Ipswich, Free >>> Jack Marriott, 26, CF, Derby, Free
Outs: >>> Mo Eisa, 27, CF, MK Dons, Undisclosed >>> Flynn Clarke, 18, AM, Norwich, Undisclosed >>> Frazer Blake-Tracy, 25, LB, Burton, Free >>> Bradley Rolt, 18, CF, Brackley, Free >>> Archie Jones, 20, CM, Bishop’s Stortford, Free >>> Ryan Broom, 24, RM, Plymouth, Loan >>> Serhat Tasdemir, 21, RM, Barnet, Loan >>> Louis Reed, 23, CM, Released >>> Niall Mason, 24, RB, Released >>> Sam Cartwright, 20, CB, Released >>> Mark Tyler, 44, GK, Retired
Manager: Darren Ferguson Third time’s the charm.
This Season: A more Peterborough summer’s transfer business you’ll rarely see. Jorge Grant, so good in Lincoln’s near miss in League One last season, and young centre back Josh Knight, on a permanent from Leicester after his impressive loan in tough circumstances at Wycombe, excellent business. Likewise Joel Randall and Kwarme Poku who arrived yesterday. Another DM is due before the window is out and there are a couple of other lower league captures in there, including Joe Tomlinson who bagged a dozen goals from left back in a single season at Eastleigh. Knight and Tomlinson join a defence that already includes impressive Frankie Kent, keen to test himself at this level after superb showings in the one below. Jack Marriott is also back after a weird spell away where he seemed to impress whenever he was picked at first Derby or Sheff Wed, including for a memorable play-off semi-final win at Leeds, but neither ever played him regularly, despite descending rapidly down the league. Back at the ground he made his name if he can’t cut it here then the Championship days are probably numbered. Darren Ferguson fits well here, is popular with the fans, gets on with the notoriously difficult to please chairman, but has failed at this level before with Peterborough and Preston and could be the weak link.
I have to say, I’m not convinced there’s sufficient quality in either this side, Hull or Blackpool to be certain of any of their chances. Posh bring in a squad thin on numbers and senior experience before we even get to whether it’s actually good enough. Bournemouth pocketing silly money for Sam Surridge leaves them vulnerable to the late poaching of Clarke-Harris. But this is a great year to be a promoted side with several established clubs all in states of strife. It wouldn’t be that much of a surprise at all to see three bright, young, confident promoted teams survive while the respective messes at Derby, Bristol City, Preston, Blackburn and/or Huddersfield all take a bath.
Local Knowledge: James Mayley @ReportPosh “It was very hard to pin down just one reason why last season was different but there's a number of things the club got right having seemingly learnt from previous seasons and mistakes. Notably, following a large amount of squad churn prior to the 19/20 the team remained almost identical for 18 months, with JCH coming in for Toney the only major change. The recruitment in all areas has been superb, whereas previously Posh recruited well up front but struggled to build a balanced team. The side looked far better defensively. Posh also had experience (Beevers) and a big game clutch player in Clarke-Harris which perhaps were missing in previous seasons. They closed the season out brilliantly, going back to basics and focusing on getting the ball early into runners in behind which played to the strengths of the attacking players
“The transfer business has been about as good as could have been expected. Josh Knight and Jorge Grant look like key additions while Jack Marriott is a big gamble which could pay dividends if he recaptures his previous form at the club. Posh have also brought in talented youngsters in Emmanuel Fernandez and Joe Tomlinson as they continue to plan for the future. Despite the additions the squad still looks short in a number of areas. Both Marriott and Clarke-Harris are yet to feature in pre-season which is a worry, while Clarke-Harris and Dembele could still leave and would be very difficult to replace at this stage. Posh look a little short at centre-back in my opinion (although not the club’s). They lack a natural left-sided centre back in the back three formation the played last season and apart from Beevers who is far from a guaranteed starter they also lack aerial dominance. The need a natural defensive midfielder. Up front much will depend on the fitness of Clarke-Harris and Marriott is a risk which could backfire horribly. Posh have a very talented group of youngsters who will provide cover to the first team, how these players cope with Championship football could also be a key factor. The squad was very strong in League One last season and has been improved further but another three or so additions would be very welcome.
“The relegation in 2012/13 was horrible and had a lasting impact on both the club and Darren Ferguson which both appear to have finally overcome. Despite comments from the ever bullish MacAnthony to the contrary, mere survival should be the goal and would constitute a very successful season. Whether Posh achieve that could well depend on the state of some other sides with a number of teams going through significant squad overhauls or difficulties. I'm predicting and hoping for 21st, anything more is a bonus.”
Last Season: A feel-good story we can all get behind as Blackpool recover from years of being deliberately bled out by the Oystons and start making their way back up the ladder under local businessman Simon Sadler. In search of a forward-thinking, modern manager they were one of several clubs to have a sniff around our own John Eustace and the decision to eventually go with Liverpool academy coach Neil Critchley looked to be on dodgy ground after one win from the first seven matches. A run of nine wins in 11 league and cup games followed though and Pool ripped into the second half of the League One season, winning 15 games and losing just three out of their final 25 fixtures to roar up behind early pace setters Hull and Peterborough. Falling short of the automatic spots didn’t seem to bother them greatly, with the momentum they carried into the play-offs leading to an all out ambush of Oxford on their own patch in the first leg – Everton loanee Ellis Simms running all over the top of Rob Atkinson, who’s since had a big money move to Championship side Bristol City. They were much better than fancied Lincoln in the final too.
Ins: >>> Sonny Carey, 20, RM, Kings Lynn, Undisclosed >>> Oliver Casey, 20, CB, Leeds, Undisclosed >>> Josh Bowler, 23, RW, Everton, Free >>> Reece James, 27, LB, Doncaster, Free >>> Daniel Grimshaw, 23, GK, Man City, Free >>> Shayne Lavery, 22, CF, Linfield, Free >>> Callum Connolly, 23, DM, Everton, Free >>> Richard Keogh, 34, CB, Huddersfield, Free >>> Tyreece John-Jules, 20, CF, Arsenal, Loan
Outs: >>> Ben Garrity, 24, CM, Port Vale, Undisclosed >>> Nathan Shaw, 20, LM, Fylde, Free >>> Liam Feeney, 34, RW, Tranmere, Free >>> Ollie Turton, 28, RB, Huddersfield, Free >>> Sullay Kaikai, 25, LW, Wycombe, Free >>> Alex Fojticek, 21, GK, Bardejov (Slovakia), Free >>> Ethan Robson, 24, CM, MK Dons, Loan >>> Jordan Thorniley, 24, CB, Oxford, Loan >>> Adi Yussuf, 29, CF, Released >>> Jack Sims, 22, GK, Released
Manager: Neil Critchley Clever girl.
This Season: In stark contrast to Huddersfield, where you look at the manager and the gospel he’s preaching and you look at the signings they’ve made and it doesn’t compute, Blackpool’s entire strategy is from the same page. If you’re hiring the Liverpool academy coach to play a Klopp-press then you tap into his knowledge of the academy educated boys and you go shopping in that market. Twenty-four-year-old lower league journeyboy Jerry Yates top scored last season with 24 and remains, but Ellis Sims was the star of the play-offs and has returned to Everton. Expect lots of vague guesses about how they might cope without him, but Pool have moved on and added Arsenal forward Tyreece John-Jules on loan for the new campaign. He headlines a list of academy loans and drop outs that also includes our one time starlet Josh Bowler, resuming his career where he ill-advisedly left it three years ago, another Everton lad Callum Connolly who has plenty of loan experience in this division, Oliver Casey from Leeds, Daniel Grimshaw from Man City, and others. I’d dearly love this to work for them, and as I repeat several times in this column it’s potentially a great year to be a promoted side.
Richard Keogh is a grave mistake.
Local Knowledge: @OneDaveBamber “When Simon Sadler took over in the summer of 2019 and stated he wanted promotion “hopefully in two years and I’ll be gutted if we don’t do it in three” it was the ambition we all wanted. The last five years of the Oystons’ ownership was particularly challenging and they left a mess behind - a rank average squad, a poorly-maintained stadium and a training ground you’d be ashamed to have a school team using. Achieving the on-the-pitch target against that backdrop is an incredible feat and with stadium and training ground improvements also underway the club is a much different place.
“Last summer’s heavy recruitment took a while to click. There was growing unrest after 10 games and pressure was mounting on Critchley but the arrival of assistant Colin Calderwood and midfielder Kenny Dougall in October seemed to kickstart us and we never looked back. The form after that was worthy of automatic promotion and by the time the play offs came we were the team to beat. To see us handle that in such commanding fashion was great, especially as the lucky ones among us got to enjoy it in person for the home leg and Wembley final.
“It’s quite hard to pin down Critchley’s overriding style. As the season went on he proved to be quite adaptable and willing to try different systems. The key word seems to be ‘control’ and the off-the-ball organisation resulted in the league’s best defence. I believe we’ll be set up and prepared very well, but it’s whether we can cause problems for other teams. For a promoted team we didn’t score many goals and that’s something that could be even more difficult at a higher level.
“Right now I have to say the summer recruitment has been a little underwhelming, but we obviously don’t have the budget of others. It feels like we’re trying to go about our business in a sustainable way. Reece James (not that one) from Doncaster is probably the most impressive arrival, Shayne Lavery from the Northern Irish league the most intriguing and Richard Keogh the most head-scratching. The best signings might be the ones that haven’t happened yet, as Critchley is sure to use his academy connections to try and land some Premier League loanees before the end of August.
“I think we’ll be competitive for sure, but with the squad as it is right now you can’t rule out a season battling it out at the bottom. It feels like the Championship could be wide open this season and potentially there’s lots of teams we can hope to finish above. Derby are obviously in a mess but the likes of Huddersfield, Bristol City, our local rivals Preston and the other promoted teams could all be in trouble too. It’s just important we stay up this first season and give ourselves a platform to build on. I think we can do it but it might get a bit nervy next spring.”
Last Season: One of the weird points-per-game intake from the prematurely finished League One campaign, Coventry faced a tough challenge trying to maintain their progressive football and back three formation in a higher division having only recently played in League Two. Another year away from their home city didn’t bite as much as it might – nobody had a home crowd last season, and the Ricoh Arena is a monstrous shithole anyway – but trying to complete two Championship campaigns on one St Andrew’s pitch in seven months doth not render the playing surface pleasurable to mine eye and Mark Robins was left to try and play passing football on a rutted battlefield. In their favour, a collection of excellent young players, led by but not limited to Callum O’Hare who took 60% of the vote in the club’s Player of the Year poll, and Gustavo Hamer who proved to be a superbly scouted budget addition to the midfield pre-season. One defeat in ten games through December was impressive but it got a little hairy after that and like so many of the promoted teams the struggle to win away from home was real – just four victories, and two of those in the final four games. Those successes at Rotherham and hapless Stoke were part of a sequence of five wins and a draw from the final eight games that secured safety which had looked in doubt after they’d been torched 3-0 at Loftus Road in April. Very much mission accomplished, celebrated in style with a 6-1 final day win against Millwall.
Ins: >>> Viktor Gyokeres, 23, CF, Brighton, Undisclosed >>> Ben Sheaf, 23, CM, Arsenal, Undisclosed >>> Martyn Waghorn, 31, CF, Derby, Free >>> Simon Moore, 31, Sheff Utd, GK, Free >>> Bright Enobakhare, 23, CF, East Bengal, Free >>> Ian Maatsen, 19, LB, Chelsea, Loan
Outs: >>> Marko Marosi, 27, GK, Shrewsbury, Undisclosed >>> Amadou Bakayoko, 25, CF, Bolton, Free >>> Gervane Kastaneer, 25, LW, Zwolle (Netherlands), Free >>> Morgan Williams, 21, CB, Yeovil, Free >>> Maxime Biamou, 30, CF, Released >>> Jordan Thompson, 22, CB, Released
Manager: Mark Robins Scored a goal for Man Utd once.
This Season: Sides recently promoted from League One out of a salary capped league (no longer the case following a legal challenge) into the financial black hole of the Championship have found the first season immensely difficult, but if they are able to survive there’s no reason they can’t thrive thereafter – Luton, Barnsley etc etc. Coventry could easily do the same. The return of crowds will bolster all sides to varying degrees, but theirs goes hand in hand with a return to their home city which will come with a powerful feel-good factor to go with the year of experience at this level. Hamer, O’Hare, and the attractive and effective style of play that eventually came good for them in 2020/21 remain. Martyn Waghorn isn’t getting any younger/slimmer, Viktor Gyokeres hasn’t impressed overly, and Bright Enobakhare is a loose cannon – though one that has done well here before. However they do, it’s difficult to believe they won’t be an upgrade on the now departed Maxime Biamou. There’s another collection of three promoted clubs now facing the same challenge they did 12 months ago, to go with a clutch of other established names at this level now in varying degrees of crisis. However… Brighton’s Leo Ostigard and our own Sam McCallum were impressive loanees in the defence and haven’t returned, nor has Matty James who’s now at Bristol City, and they lost Wolves’ Ryan Giles midway through the last campaign too. Summer transfer activity has been frustrating, particularly in goal where their quest to upgrade Marko Marosi has only landed perennial third choice Simon Moore. They should have enough about them, with that first year done and out of the way, but wouldn’t take much for problems to manifest.
Local Knowledge: Dominic Jerrams @SideSammy “All’s well that ends well. Last season was a pretty grim struggle for periods of last season, but the team finally seemed to figure out at the end of it what was required to compete in the Championship. That 3-0 defeat at Loftus Road back in April proved to be the kick up the backside that this team needed to become more assertive and competitive in their approach. A move towards a front two, pressing teams higher up the pitch, and making the best of Sam McCallum’s long throws was the formula that kept Coventry in the Championship.
“Having become accustomed to being proactive in the transfer market under Robins, this has been quite a difficult summer of, seemingly, missing out on almost all of the preferred targets and having to settle for second, third, or possibly even lower, choices. An improvement in goal was desperately needed, but Simon Moore – who has played two games in three years – doesn’t exactly promise that. Elsewhere, Ben Sheaf was signed because we had to, and Martyn Waghorn and Viktor Gyokeres represent marginal improvements in attack. Bright Enobakhare is potentially very exciting, he can dance through defences and should help take the attention away from Callum O’Hare. However, there are question marks surrounding his professionalism and he’s more of a gamble than was hoped for in the summer recruitment.
“The first challenge for this side will be in maintaining the formula that was stumbled upon towards the end of last season. Matty James, Leo Ostigard and Sam McCallum were key in that run and have gone without being replaced. Beyond O’Hare and Hamer – along with Enobakhare, potentially – there is a shortage of standout quality in this side and we’re going to need to see players such as Michael Rose, Fankaty Dabo, Ben Sheaf and Tyler Walker, who flattered to deceive a little last season, to step up. Whether Moore is an improvement on Marosi and Wilson remains to be seen, it would make a big difference if he was. Finding a leader in central defence who isn’t as slow as Kyle McFadzean would also be nice. The creative and goalscoring side of the team should be okay, without being spectacular.
“I’m expecting a repeat of last season. There will be periods where this side really struggles, Robins will make the adjustments he is always capable of finding, the team will pull away from danger but never be quite enough clear of it to be comfortable. I would hope that there is enough about us to stay up, but it could be a close-run thing.”
What We Said Last Season: 18th Finished 16th, +2.
Last Season: Preston have only had two managers in eight years, bucking the Championship trend, and throughout the Simon Grayson and Alex Neil reigns at Deepdale they, like Bristol City, made a useful outside play-off bet for this column. They scouted well, picking up the likes of Daniel Johnson and Callum Robinson from Premier League reserve teams, Jordan Hugill from lower divisions, and Alan Browne and Sean Maguire from Ireland. For Robinson, Hugill and others they received the much-needed large transfer fee, which could be reinvested in other well-scouted gems. The play-offs, though, have remained an arm’s length away throughout, with finishes of 11th, 11th, 7th, 14th, 9th and now 13th since their return to this level from League One in 2015. We liked the January signing of Ben Whiteman from Doncaster, pipping QPR at the post, a lot, but his arrival did little to arrest a slide and improve a malaise that had set in in the weeks leading up to the Covid-19 pandemic and really manifested itself in 2020/21. Neil was relieved of his duties in March in the midst of another run of one win from nine games.
Ins: >>> Liam Lindsay, 25, CB, Stoke, Undisclosed >>> Izzy Brown, 24, AM, Chelsea, Free >>> Matthew Olosunde, 23, RB, Rotherham, Free
Outs: >>> Jayden Stockley, 29, ST, Charlton, Undisclosed >>> Billy Bodin, 29, LW, Oxford, Free >>> Josh Ginnelly, 24, LW, Hearts, Free >>> Graham Burke, 27, AM, Shamrock Rovers, Free >>> Louis Moult, 29, ST, Burton, Free >>> Paul Gallagher, 36, AM, Retired >>> David Nugent, Old as fuck, ST, Released
Manager: Frankie McAvoy Or so it says here anyway.
This Season: Preston are in trouble. Their recruitment, so sharp and shrewd for so long, has gone astray. There’s an ongoing perception that chairman Trevor Hemmings is trying to do this on the cheap but PNE had an average attendance of just 13,579 even before Covid-19 on season tickets priced between £400 and £535. In the year they sold Hugill and Greg Cunningham the club turned a small profit, just north of £2m, unheard of in the Championship, but it lost £14.3m in its 2019 accounts and £7.7m in 2020 even with the £8m sale of Robinson to Sheff Utd. His is the only big money sale here for four seasons now, and a couple of their more recent lower league punts, Billy Bodin and Jayden Stockley, have been cut loose as failures this summer. They have developed an unhappy knack of allowing their best players and most sellable assets to reach the last year of their contract unsold and unrenewed – Ben Pearson The Goblin Boy left an enormous chasm when he decamped to Bournemouth for a packet of ready salted nuts in January.
As at Blackburn, the figures simply don’t add up, and you can see that in their summer recruitment. Liam Lindsay is a really good addition from Stoke, he impressed on loan last season, and Matthew Olosunde you may remember for getting repeatedly struck in the bollocks in our away defeat at Rotherham last season. But Izzy Brown, brought in on a free from Chelsea, is already out for the season which, while trying not to be a total arsehole about this, Sheff Wed, Leeds, Brighton and Luton would happily testify is always likely to happen with Izzy Brown. Without him the attack consists of Scott Sinclair (32), Ched Evans (32) and Emil Ris (three goals in 19 starts and 21 sub apps last season). Love Whiteman, love Ryan Ledson, and Sean Maguire is ever dependable – but he’ll fucking need to be. The permanent appointment of Frankie McAvoy as manager will not do much to dissuade the penny-pinching critique. Yes, PNE did uptick at the back end of 2020/21, but look at who they beat – abysmal Derby and Forest teams, Barnsley who were already secure in the play-offs, Swansea who were collapsing and a poor Coventry. Won 1-0 at Celtic in pre-season but, again, look at the state of Celtic.
Local Knowledge: @DeepdaleDigest “Last season was pretty frustrating - the home form was dismal, we never really strung results together until Neil's exit. I think the football had regressed, but there really is so much you can do when you lose your best players and they're not replaced properly. I see him doing well elsewhere.
“I think McAvoy was convenient more than being the cheap option. He did well in his limited games and the players seem to like him, but it's also hard to see him being the man to take us to the Premier League or even the playoffs. We've only brought in two 'new' faces - Izzy Brown and Matthew Olosunde. Brown is injured until 2022 and Olosunde has only managed one appearance in pre-season. It doesn't feel like enough work has been done on the squad that finished last season.
“I think we’ll finish around 13th to 16th.”
What We Said Last Season: 12th Finished 13th, -1.
Hull City 9/2
Last Season: Believing they were already safe in the Championship for another season (such is the extent of their ambition) Hull’s malignant Allam ownership took the Jarrod Bowen and Kamil Grosicki table an already shaky house of cards had been standing on and sold it without replacement in the January just before Covid-19 struck. What followed was entirely predictable to anybody who had suffered through City games even with those two in the team, and left them relegated in a worse state than a team has gone out of this league in in many a long year with, among other things, the division’s worst defensive record of 84 goals conceded including eight in a ridiculous late season loss at Wigan. To come back from that immediately, with the same manager in charge, as champions, playing good football, with a relatively exciting young team, personally I find absolutely remarkable. There was no hangover at all – ten wins from the first 13 league games. Wobbles (three straight defeats and five without a win in December, two wins in nine through February) were overcome swiftly. They won five in a row in March, six out of seven in April, and only spoiled an unbeaten run of 14 with a final day loss at Charlton, by which point it was all over anyway.
Ins: >>> Andy Cannon, 25, CM, Portsmouth, Free >>> George Moncur, 27, CM, Luton, Free >>> Randell Williams, 24, RM, Exeter, Free >>> Ryan Longman, 20, RW, Brighton, Free >>> Di’Shon Bernard, 20, CB, Man Utd, Loan >>> Nathan Baxter, 22, GK, Chelsea
Outs: >>> Jordy De Wijs, 27, CB, QPR, Undisclosed >>> Martin Samuelsen, 24, LW, Haugesund (Norway), Undisclosed >>> Max Clark, 25, LB, Fleetwood, Free >>> Reece Burke, 25, CB, Luton, Free >>> George Long, 27, GK, Millwall, Free >>> Jordan Flores, 25, CM, Northampton, Loan
Manager: Grant McCann He’s a survivor…
This Season: Frees and loans only this summer for Hull under the terms of a loan they took out from the league to cover their Covid shortfall (needn’t think the Allams will be shouldering that thank you very much indeed). They include among their number Nathan Baxter from Chelsea, which will have our own former Bad Luck Brian, Matt Ingram, concerned that having successfully seen off George Long to Millwall with an impressive League One showing he may yet have his dream of being a regular at this level denied him again. George Honeyman has thrived after dipping out of the Sunderland circus, but is injured for the big kick off. Sheff Utd youngster Regan Slater is tipped to return on loan prior to the weekend opener at PNE, as well as an unnamed youngster on loan from Man City. They won’t want for youthful enthusiasm, there’s been a Barnsley-style focus on that in both the recruitment and the progress of YT graduates such as Keane Lewis-Potter who scored 13 last season. There have also been some canny acquisitions – Greg Docherty from Rangers via a successful loan at Shrewsbury, Alfie Jones from Southampton via a similar spell at Gillingham – who will court attention if they make the step up to this level for the first time. They have, however, lost Reece Burke from a defence that already wasn’t good enough for this level previously, and as it stands I don’t see sufficient threat at the other end to keep them out of trouble. Mallik Wilks top scored with 19 last year and is worthy of attention but Josh Maggennis (he used to be a goalkeeper you know) was second with 18 and has not been good enough when tried on this ground before. It cannot be overstated what an incredible turnaround Grant McCann oversaw last season – even keeping hold of his job in the first place was fairly miraculous – but this club will not progress under this ownership and they are front and centre of a long list of problems waiting here right where they left them 12 months ago.
Local Knowledge: @HullCityLive “Last season was a tremendous achievement after the capitulation the previous season but, like everywhere, was tinged with the disappointment of not being able to attend the games. It was a great distraction from the monotony of the two lockdown periods but seeing our team win a league title for the first time in 55 years, or rather not seeing it, was hard to take.
“The poor recruitment was a key factor in us going down in 2020 but was also key in bouncing back. The club paid good money for Coyle and Docherty, while Alfie Jones and Emmanuel were great free signings and Slater and Whyte were good loans. All were key players along with those who'd stayed after relegation and some top youngsters in Lewis-Potter and Greaves.
“I think for most, it's a clean slate with McCann now. He was incredibly lucky to survive last summer but he then had an excellent season and justified the faith in him. He was consistent in his approach, never waivered from what he believes is the way to play, didn't panic during a couple of blips and lifted everyone after a, frankly, humiliating few months.
“It's been a pretty quiet summer. We've secured a long-term target in Randall Williams for free as well as Andy Cannon but the only player with real Championship experience who has come in is George Moncur. Baxter (Chelsea), Bernard (Man Utd) and Longman (Brighton) are decent loans but it's clear that we're working under restrictions as a result of taking the EFL loan and the we can't pay fees and have a cap on the squad size.
“We'll need that luck with avoiding injuries and to get a lot of games out of the starting front three, Wilks, Magennis and Lewis-Potter, Honeyman and Docherty in midfield and the regular back four of Coyle, Jones, Greaves and Elder. A good start will be important otherwise we'll start hearing horrendous stats about our record in the last 20-30 Championship games and we need to carry the momentum from last season.”
Bristol City 11/2
Last Season: What rather got lost in all the gnashing and wailing about QPR’s “ambishon” when they failed to secure the permanent signing of Nahki Wells was exactly how much money Bristol City had been willing to commit to a 30-year-old striker who, even just a month prior, many of that same angry mob in West London would have happily taken or left. A handsome three-and-a-half-year contract, a transfer fee and player exchange for a player in the last six months of his Burnley deal, meant north of £5m was committed to Wells who will be 33 and all but done and dusted by the time the deal ends. Resale value nil, and in the meantime you’re getting a 14-goal-a-season striker who can’t take penalties, and certainly can’t play wide where Bristol City are repeatedly trying and failing with him. City have had more than their fair share of Eze-style player sales in recent years – in the region of £50m received for Webster, Flint, Kodija, Kelly, Reid and lovely Joe Bryan – to cover the expenditure but it wasn’t just last summer’s rumours that misfiring Wells was already being touted around to QPR and other potentially interested parties for a loan move that suggested the Robins may have gone in over their heads.
A protracted search for a manager seemed certain to lead to steady old Chris Hughton before eventually landing on, checks notes, Dean Holden, amidst much talk of socks being blown off in the interview process while Hughton bored everybody rigid (this bit I can believe to be fair). Cheap. That’s all Holden was, coming in with all the usual guff about a renewed focus on bringing through academy players. This fear was dispelled slightly by six wins from the first seven in league and cup, but look at the teams they beat – Exeter, Coventry, Northampton, Stoke, Sheff Wed, Forest. They continued in that vein, doing enough to beat poor teams every now and again – Huddersfield, Preston, Derby, Wycombe, Neil Harris’ Cardiff, first-half-of-the-season QPR – but nobody else. After Christmas they didn’t even do that, losing seven in a row, failing to score in six of those, and getting done 6-0 at Watford. Holden out, in came deep-thinking wolf wrestler Nigel Pearson, and although a couple of quickfire wins at Boro, Swansea and Aitor Karanka’s festering Birmingham followed, his impact was rather summed up by a comprehensive loss to QPR at Ashton Gate where he hooked Tyreeq Bakinson in a huff after 20 minutes only to then lose Adam Nagy and Zach Vyner to separate injuries before half time. Still with two subs in the bank as long as he did them at the break, Pearson made neither, and City limped to a pathetic 2-0 defeat after which he bullied Michelle Owen for daring to enquire in interview whether the egotistical early humiliation of Bakinson had been tactical, injury or publicity stunt. City lost nine and drew three of their last 13. Since beating Huddersfield at Ashton Gate on January 26 they haven’t won in ten home games – Cardiff, Reading, Barnsley, QPR, Rotherham, Brentford, Luton and Bournemouth all won here, six of them to nil, while Forest got Chris Hughton’s favourite 0-0 draw. Following a 4-1 loss at Millwall on the first Saturday in May, home goalkeeper Bartosz Bialkowski said: “Bristol were gone, they looked like they wanted to go on holidays already. They didn’t care, I’m sorry. I think they were the worst team we’ve played against this season.”
Ins: >>> Matty James, 29, CM, Leicester, Free >>> Andy King, 32, CM, Leicester, Leuven, Free >>> Rob Atkinson, 22, CB, Oxford, £2m
Outs: >>> Tommy Rowe, 32, LM, Doncaster, Free >>> Famara Diedhiou, 28, CF, Alanyaspor, Free >>> Jack Hunt, 30, RB, Sheff Wed, Free >>> Henri Lansbury, 30, CM, Luton, Free >>> Liam Walsh, 23, CM, Swansea, Free >>> Hakeeb Adelakun, 25, RW, Lincoln, Free >>> Joe Woollacott, 24, GK, Swindon, Free >>> Marley Watkins, 30, RW, Released >>> Adrian Mariappa, 34, CB, Released >>> Jamie Paterson, 29, AM, Released >>> Zac Smith, 20, CM, Released >>> Rene Gilmartin, 34, GK, Retired
Manager: Nigel Pearson Are you an ostrich?
This Season: Sports teams run in cycles and it’s been clear that Bristol City have been on the downward trajectory of theirs since the highs of a play-off push and upset-riddled run to the semi-final of the League Cup in 2017/18. Big money received for half a dozen high profile sales has not been reinvested wisely and it’s no surprise to see a dozen first team squad members cut loose this summer. If you’ve long been confused that Leicester central midfielder Matty James and Leicester central midfielder Andy King are the same person, fear not, Bristol have signed both. A shiny new training ground is open, and a collection of academy graduates got good gametime last season. A biblical injury list, headed by Andi Weimann, has subsided. Han-Noah Massengo could be anything he wants to be. In too comes centre back Rob Atkinson, who had a spectacularly successful first year at Oxford United after stepping up from Eastleigh, making the League One team of the season, and will hopefully provide some of that hot Rob Dickie-style action for the Robins. Atkinson, though, was rather torn to shreds by Blackpool’s Everton-loanee Ellis Simms in the play-off semi finals and is not some sort of miracle worker.
Neither is manager Nigel Pearson. A good manager, certainly, far more creative and forward thinking than his now outright weird public persona perhaps lets on. But not a fucking soothsayer and the best anybody can say about Bristol City this season is “it’ll be alright, Pearson will sort it”. Will it? Will he? Last season’s injury list was biblical, and a clutch of youngsters forced into action will be better for that experience, but City won none of their last ten matches last season under him, losing seven, scoring seven goals and conceding 20. They won just three of their last 22 games, losing 16, including all of the last four, scoring 19 and conceding 42. No team had as few shots in the league last season as the Robins, and out of that has gone main striker Diedhiou for nothing. They did score three in a training ground friendly with Portsmouth last month, but having leant the visitors young Marlee Francois to make up the numbers for the second half he then scored against them in a 3-3 draw. They have Blackpool first up at home which looks important because after that it’s away trips to Boro, Reading and Cardiff and a home match with Swansea.
Local Knowledge: @TheExiledRobin “We made the wrong appointment in Dean Holden as manager when there were better options to step in. Appointing a guy with almost zero managerial experience at any level to a team that was challenging for promotion hitherto and had just started to wane seems crazier and crazier the more you think about it. We looked short of serious cover at centre-back and across the full-back positions throughout the summer and with a catalogue of injuries, failed rehabilitations and a long stretch of poor form, this came back to haunt us. Ultimately, we just weren’t good enough and, personally, I have had a feeling we were punching above our weight somewhat for the last two seasons (I still believe Lee Johnson did a better job than many gave him credit for, even when we started to drop off). Last season felt a bit like us “averaging to the mean”, albeit with an injury list that even whinging Liverpool fans admitted was worse than theirs. The severity and lack of any sort of improvement in our injury list was best summed up by a player admitting they couldn't even remember who was out injured as we'd run out of space on the whiteboards, and the fact there were fan celebrations when it was announced our fitness and conditioning manager was leaving for Ipswich with outgoing CEO Mark Ashton.
“I think the overwhelming view of supporters right now is if Nigel Pearson isn’t the right man for the job, who is? We desperately need some added steel and organisation, someone to come in and make a few shrewd signings and someone to get us back playing some sort of football that actually brings fans through the turnstiles. The football, at home especially, has been dire now for two years and on many of the myriad analysis graphs you see shared, we’re miles off the chart in terms of shots taken, attacking intent and similar elements. Last season we had fewer shots than any other team in the history of the Championship – which says all you need to know.
“Most of the business has been focused around bringing in some of Pearson’s generals – Danny Simpson re-signed after a short stint last season, whilst the midfield axis is likely to involve both Andy King and Matty James, who also served with him at Leicester. The squad has been naturally trimmed, with the likes of Famara Diedhiou, Jamie Paterson and Jack Hunt allowed to run their contracts down and leave, amidst nearly a dozen others. The squad is now a mixture of experienced players and a clutch of youngsters who are promising to various degrees. It appears a few of them will need to truly blossom this season. Personally, I feel we’re still short of left-back cover for Jay Dasilva, who has spent a fair chunk of the last 18 months injured, some pace, skill and creativity in wide positions and an additional striking option. We’re a touch heavy in central midfield in terms of numbers, and there remain whispers over the future of the Czech’s star defender in Euro 2020, Tomas Kalas, so it will be interesting to see if any of them will be moved on to accommodate a few more Pearson signings.
“This season really depends on how much of last season’s dreadful form was down to the volume and severity of our injuries, as the more positive of fans maintain is the case, or how much is down to a core of senior pros who simply aren’t quite good enough. We’ll hopefully find out this season under the tutelage of the no-holds-barred Pearson that it was the former, but having seen one Football League tipster predict us finishing 16th, I’ll be honest and say I’d shake hands on that here and now if we had the option – providing that’s aligned with progress in terms of performance, style and further integrating some of the youngsters.”
What We Said Last Season: 13th Finished 19th, -6.
Photo: Action Images
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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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