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Season preview 22/23 – Contenders
Monday, 25th Jul 2022 09:10 by Clive Whittingham

With an earlier start than ever before and five weeks of transfer window left, it’s an even more impossible task than normal to call this season’s Championship – but here we go regardless, starting with the seven sides the bookies fancy most.

Norwich City 6/1 (title odds)

Last Season: Has anybody ever seen Norwich and Fulham in the same room at the same time? This will be a fifth consecutive season in which those two have passed each other going up and down between the top two divisions – both too good for the Championship, with a cheat sheet centre forward, neither remotely good enough for the Premier League. For a while that seemed part of the grand Norwich plan – go up, bank money, build squad, invest in infrastructure (new training ground secured), until eventually in a position to properly compete up there again despite the lack of a billionaire owner. That mask started to slip slightly last season. The Canaries spent north of £60m on 11 new players and looked further away from Prem standard than ever before. Serious questions started to be asked for the first time about Delia Smith’s ownership and Stuart Webber’s DOF role – Webber’s performance and status in particular divides the town like no issue since the pedestrianisation of its High Street. Promoted from a zombie Championship in the Covid-year, Todd Cantwell cratered having been key to that success, they made a fatal mistake in failing to replace Spurs loanee Oli Skipp who’d made them tick, Chelsea loanee Billy Gilmour flopped in comparison, and Norwich were effectively dead on arrival. It took them ten matches to get one of only five wins managed all year –a sequence in which they scored just three times and conceded 25 goals. Allo Allo’s Daniel Farke got a handshake and the portrait of the fallen Madonna with the big boobies, weirdly after that first win had been secured at Brentford – who of course showed it is possible to go up, and stay up, at the first time of asking, without a Sheikh to bankroll you.

Ins >>> Gabriel Sara, 23, CM, Sao Paulo, £9.45m >>> Isaac Hayden, 27, DM, Newcastle, Loan

Outs >>> Pierre Lees-Melou, 29, CM, Stade Brestois, £2m >>> Akin Famewo, 23, CB, Sheff Wed, £54k >>> Josip Drmic, 29, CF, Zagreb, Free >>> Christoph Zimmermann, 29, CB, Darmstadt, Free >>> Rocky Bushiri, 22, CB, Hibs, Undisclosed >>> Daniel Adshead, 20, CM, Cheltenham, Free >>> Christos Tzolis, 20, LW, Twente, Loan >>> Przemyslaw Placheta, 24, LW, Birmingham, Loan >>> Bali Mumba, 20, RB, Plymouth, Loan >>> Lukas Rupp, 31, CM, Released >>> Aston Oxborough, 24, GK, Released

Manager: Dean Smith Justice League title winner 2016, 2017, 2018.

This Season: Fulham were one of those we called spot on in this column last summer and in predicting the Whites would be promoted straight back I said it felt like their squad had ‘one more yo left in it’. I’m less convinced by Norwich this year but such are the advantages provided by Premier League TV revenue and parachute payments in the current Championship climate that you’d be foolish to back against at least one and probably two of the relegated teams to go straight back – last year one did, one lost in the play-off semi-final, and one crashed and burned but six of the last 12 promotions spots from this league have been taken by Watford, Norwich, Bournemouth and Fulham by themselves. Norwich have been quiet thus far in the transfer market, though that changed last week when £6m (rising north of a club record £9m potentially) was shelled out on 23-year-old Sao Paulo midfielder Gabriel Sara – brought in to play right in the heart of Dean Smith’s 4-3-3, and a belated attempt to replace the influence of Skipp in their last promoted team. If he settles and fires (and turning up with an ankle injury isn’t a terrific start) and Pukki is retained despite mumblings earlier in the summer that he wanted out up front that will probably be enough. Christoph Zimmermann’s departure means Norwich start a season without a German in their squad for the first time since the 2016/17 season. Further reinforcements apparently depend on a fee being received for Max Aarons, but if not that’s another player in this team a cut above most others at this level. There’s been some pretty uninspiring teams promoted from this pathetically average division over the past few years purely through the financial advantages the system provides – Bournemouth 2022, Watford 2021, Fulham 2020 – and I can see Norwich adding their name to that list.

Local Knowledge – Connor Southwell @CJSouthwell1902 The obvious answer to last season’s woes is they got the recruitment majorly wrong. It was always going to be a tall order to replace the mesmerising Emi Buendia and outstanding Oliver Skipp, but Norwich spent nearly £60m on nine signings and it’s debatable whether any actually made the squad stronger. Of those nine, only three remain after the departures of Christos Tzolis and Pierre Lees-Melou in recent days. That is a damning indictment on their shortcomings in that particular area. Often, there is a perception that Norwich don’t spend when they reach the top-flight, on this occasion they did but got those signing badly wrong.

There was plenty of on-pitch struggles as well. Daniel Farke lost his way and even Harry Houdini would have struggled to keep Norwich in the Premier League after one win in their opening 11 matches. It’s amazing that Dean Smith managed to get them out of the bottom three at one stage. Everything that could have possibly have gone wrong did go wrong. By the end, the team was devoid of confidence, Carrow Road was a sea of yellow seats come 60 minutes at every home game and they were far too easy to play against. After months of attempting to fight against the narrative that was building up in the national media questioning their mere existence at this level, they ended up conforming to it. It has left a bitter taste in supporters' mouths. They will want to see a fast start to the new campaign and a sign that the narrative has shifted. Don’t even get me started on the Premier League. Survival at that level, rightly or wrongly, feels like a pipe dream at present.

Stuart Webber took the brunt of the criticism. It was his recruitment. His decision to opt for quantity over quality in terms of arrivals. His decision to sack Daniel Farke on the basis that the squad was good enough to survive – clearly that statement has been proven to be false. But there is also an acceptance that this is the part he is very good at. He can construct Championship title winning sides with adept recruitment. The questions then arrive when he is faced with the Premier League challenge. His standing among Norwich fans have definitely fallen. There were small protests against the running of the club towards the end of the campaign. A minority was calling for him to be dismissed. Fans were also angry with an interview he conducted with the Times towards the end of the season. But he has signed a new rolling deal and there is no suggestion that he is moving on. It does feel like a fast start is necessary to help shift the narrative and ease the pressure. On the ownership front, I think many supporters want to believe that the self-financing model spearheaded by Delia Smith and Michael Wynn Jones can lead to them becoming an established top-flight side – but reality is painting a totally different picture.

It’s somewhat of an existential crisis, because the Premier League has been consumed by multi-billionaires and attempting to compete at that level as a modest club who cannot spend vast sums in the grand schemes of things makes life very tough. Football needs a club like Norwich to get it right. I still believe if they utilised their resources then perhaps they could get it right. But it would take every signing coming off and luck being on their side. The top-flight is an unappealing place. That has been shaped by City’s experiences, admittedly, but it is a cash cow being milked frantically in pursuit of more finance. Add the questions around various ownership groups and it is a league that doesn’t care for morals or running a club effectively. But – if Norwich want to survive and stabilise – it does feel like there might be a requirement for external investment. It is a debate that will rage on should they return to the Premier League.

It's been an interesting summer. Just two additions in so far in Isaac Hayden, loan to buy from Newcastle United, and Brazilian midfielder Gabriel Sara. With Danel Sinani, Sam McCallum, Todd Cantwell, Jordan Hugill and Onel Hernandez returning, Norwich have a bloated squad and the focus has been on trimming it whilst giving Smith some signings that will help him implement his own playing style. Hayden was Smith’s first signing as City boss. It arrived after nine months of his tenure; I can’t think of too many head coaches who had been forced to wait that long. They will add another midfielder before the end of the window but that’s your lot. I think many supporters wanted to see more business and a bigger churn to a squad that woefully underperformed last season.

Bounce back again? The honest answer? Who know? Daniel Farke, who was a serial winner at this level, is gone. Smith is still somewhat of an unknown quantity. There are major questions around the squad. Teemu Pukki is still here. I think internally the aim will be a top two finish. Supporters may lower that to a top six finish. Nobody is really sure how scarred this squad is from last season or how quickly Smith and Webber can change the dial. They have players in the group who know the level. Signings who, although currently injured, feel like a significant upgrade in an area of the pitch that was pretty dysfunctional come May. All of that creates doubt. But Norwich have a knack of getting things right at this level. So yeah – I think I’m talking myself into an immediate return. I’m not sure if I believe it yet, though.

Prediction: 2nd Boring.

Watford 7/1

Last Season: It’s ten years of Pozzo family ownership at Watford now and last season it just felt like the shine came off the whole arrangement slightly, really for the first time. Whether you like them, their multi-club set-up, or their Martin Prince “the manager is essentially ballast” soapbox derby racing approach to hiring who picks the team at the weekend, it’s been hard to judge their Vicarage Road tenure as anything other than a success. Having inherited a struggling Championship club, Watford have since been in the Premier League for six of the last ten seasons, and reached an FA Cup final. Sixteen permanent managers in that time grabs the headlines, but it generally hasn’t mattered – they got through four in their 2014/15 promotion season, and sacked Vladimir Ivic halfway through their last year at this level which again resulted in a second place finish. Their scouting, analytics and recruitment has turned up dozens of starlets, sold for enormous profit, and even what I’m about to say notwithstanding they’re still able to pick up somebody like Emmanuel Dennis for a fee reported outrageously as low as £3.6m from Club Brugge – needless to say he ain’t worth that now. They inherited a financially destitute club on the verge of collapse, with a derelict stand down one side, and now through a mixture of parachute payments and the Pozzo set up (62 separate transactions with Udinese over the ten years, 53 of them listed as a loan or undisclosed fee) those worries are a thing of the past. There’s also plenty of post Covid mitigation, with survival in the Prem after promotion from the Championship now harder than ever before to achieve with five of the last six relegation spots filled by a team that had been promoted within the previous two seasons. BUT… Watford felt oddly toothless, rudderless and really rather pointless last season.

Relegated, almost, it felt like, before they’d even begun, chock full of Moussa Sissoko and Ozan Tufan types just phoning performances in and picking up easy money. Even in the era of 25-man squads, 33 players got a senior first team appearance at Watford last season. The impression of a lazy, half-arsed effort manifested further when the predictable changing out of Xisco Munoz as boss brought first Claudio Ranieri (okkkkkkkkkkk) for two wins in 14 games and then Wibbly Roy Hodgson out of retirement for two in 12. I mean, they do change manager a lot, and sure there’s been the odd Nigel Pearson along the way, but the appointments do tend to suggest a coherent train of thought, similar style and ethos… Roy Hodgson? Deary me today. An appointment summed up by him soaking up the applause of the Crystal Palace fans at Selhurst Park on the day another defeat saw his team relegated, but failing to go across to the away end and acknowledge his own fans because they were “a long way away”. When you’ve got an increasingly accident prone goalkeeper filming his various calamities with a GoPro camera in the back of the net, posting jolly upbeat YouTube vids on his own channel through a relegation season, and nobody anywhere at the club is getting hold of him and shoving the fucking thing straight up his arse, that would be a bit of a worry for me. Dan Gosling’s excoriating deep dive on how bad things were behind the scenes, published in the Watford Observer last week, is like few I’ve ever read. They lost 21 of their last 27 games and won two. No surprise to see them back.

Ins >>> Vakoun Bayo, 25, CF, Charleroi, £5.2m >>> Rey Manaj, 25, CF, Barcelona, Free >>> Ben Hamer, 34, GK, Swansea, Free >>>

Outs >>> Cucho Hernandez, 23, Columbus, £8m >>> Moussa Sissoko, 32, CM, Nates, £1.8m >>> Philip Zinckernagel, 27, AM, Olympiakos, £1.8m >>> Adam Masina, 28, LB, Udinese (of course), Undisclosed (naturally) >>> Josh King, 30, CF, Fenerbahce, Free >>> Andre Gray, 31, CF, Aris Saloniki, Free >>> Jorge Segura, 25, CB, Medellin (Colombia), Loan >>> Ben Foster, 39, GK, Released >>> Rob Elliott, 36, GK, Released

Manager: Rob Edwards Don’t get too comfortable.

This Season: The first thing Watford desperately needed was to clear wood more petrified than dead. There were dozens of players here last season picking up big money not arsed about their output in return. Andre Gray, Ben Foster, Josh King, Sissoko and others were sucking up enormous wages and contributing less than fuck all. The second question, and the reason it’s so hard writing these things with five weeks of transfer window left, will be how many of the Ismael Sarr and Emmanuel Dennis types are sticking around for a Championship slog, because if the answer is most or all of them then Watford should be able to walk a promotion without even playing that well, just as they did last time. Rob Edwards felt like a left-field choice as manager despite his promotion at Forest Green last season – as I wrote when we were pursuing MK Dons’ Liam Manning, beware getting too doe-eyed over a lower league manager achieving things at a well-run club, with a great budget for their level, shrewd chairman, small crowds and zero expectation if those things don’t apply to you too. Of course usually assessing the Watford manager is as pointless as weighing the merits of the education secretary – don’t worry about it, there’ll be another along in a minute – but the club have been making the right noises about it being “different this time” with Edwards given more control over signings and promised time. They’ve been cautious in the market so far, two additions to the attack and with the nine shirt left vacant it looks like there’ll be another to come up there. Hopes will probably hang more on who stays rather than who’s new – Joao Pedro, Sarr, Dennis, all way too good for the Championship and should be enough to guarantee the six regardless of anything else that happens if they stick around.

Local Knowledge – Richard Segal “Well for the second season in a row at the top level Watford used the trusted method of three managers in a season and it failed miserably. At least when we went down in 2020 there was a bit of fight and passion but under the two geriatrics there was none of that in 2021/22.

“Rob Edwards is certainly a bit different to our normal type of appointment and the club acted fast and got him appointed in May. Let’s hope, even if we have a rocky start, that perseverance and patience are upheld by the owners this time.

“The transfer business has been interesting. As I sit here with one week to go to the Sheff United game our two prized assets in Dennis and Sarr are still working for the club - my thoughts might be different come the September 1 if they’re not. In terms of players brought in it has been quiet and you get the sense that unless one (or both) of the aforementioned players are sold that not a lot of money will be spent. We have purchased Ben Harmer who looks like he will be fighting for the number 2 keeper spot. When Rey Manaj and Vakoun Bayo were purchased you sensed that a lot of Watford fans were using their search engine to actually find out who these players are.

“I have absolutely no idea how this is going to go. Thinking back to when I did this preview for the last time we played at this level it was rather bullish from me saying we should go up with the calibre of players we have in the Championship. The squad is not as strong as that and we will probably be starting with the trusted players in Cleverly, Cathcart, Sema, and Gosling. There lies the problem with clubs like Watford and Norwich when they are trying to stay in the Premier League, those players will help you win 19 out of 23 home leagues games but when you get up you end up winning 2 out of 19.

I would like to think that at worse will we be around the play off’s positions, with quality in Joao Pedro and the injured Imran Louza we should still be winning most games at this level. It’s only the championship lads, right?”

Prediction: 4th This year’s Sheff Utd. Coughing, spluttering, plenty good enough to make the play-offs, debatable whether they’ll have enough to win them.

West Brom 9/1

Last Season: Spent all summer being knocked back by managerial candidates rightly worried about walking into a club with an ageing team, an aggy support, and a Chinese ownership desperate to rid themselves of the thing if only they could find somebody daft enough to buy it. Eventually persuaded Barnsley’s flavour of the month Valerian Ismael to jump ship, but he left behind the division’s youngest team at Oakwell to take over its oldest at The Hawthorns, and even with star man Alex Mowatt coming with him this was never likely to be a quick fix, certain to take a good deal of time and several transfer windows of trading to get right.

Added to all of that, part of Barnsley’s fire and brimstone approach to Championship football was aided by the five subs rule, which Ismael used routinely to have his forwards charge around on a relentless close-down operation for the first half before replacing three of them on 60 minutes and starting the process over again with two subs still in the bank. None of that – the subs, or the players capable of running like that – existed in 2021/22 at West Brom. They gave him seven months and 31 games – ridiculous, obviously, though in slight mitigation we did always say about that abrasive Barnsley team that it’s all fine and well when it’s winning but patience wouldn’t last long with aesthetics like that if it wasn’t. West Brom, even when they initially were winning in August and September, were a frightful watch, which made Sky’s decision to stick them on television every Friday night even more unfathomable. Jordan Hugill’s lean-back-and-pray approach to finishing sitters was found to be far less endearing in the West Midlands than it had been at Loftus Road.

After that West Brom did what West Brom do – they picked the biggest, fattest (literally and figuratively in this case), most uninspiring old soak on the managerial merry-go-round and let him, Steve Bruce in this case, spend the remainder of the campaign firing long throws out of a wheeled cannon at Andy Carroll. Won eight of their last 24 games missing the play-offs by eight points and four positions having started the season unbeaten in ten.

Ins >>> Jayson Molumby, 22, CM, Brighton, £900k >>> Jed Wallace, 28, AM, Millwall, Free >>> John Swift, 27, AM, Reading, Free >>> Okay Yokuslu, 28, DM, Celta Vigo, Free

Outs >>> Sam Johnstone, 29, GK, Palace, Free >>> Romaine Sawyers, 30, CM, Cardiff, Free >>> Cedric Kipre, 25, CB, Cardiff, Loan >>> Andy Carroll, 33, CF, Glue Factory, Free

Manager: Steve Bruce This a support base that has now had to sit through the whims and styles of such footballing luminaries as Gary Megson, Tony Pulis, Sam Allardyce, Pards Pardew and now Steve fucking Bruce. I’d say let’s send them a muffin basket or something but that’s the last thing he needs.

This Season: This is a critical season for West Brom. Remarkably, last year’s final finish of tenth was the first time they’ve ended up lower than sixth in the second tier since 2000/01 – more than 20 years of either competing at the top end of this league or playing in the one above. There isn’t a great deal to show for that though. The days of Dan Ashworth’s revolutionary planning and forward thinking are long gone, with the club now run day to day by CEO Ron Gourlay – hot footing it to The Hawthorns leaving behind the smouldering wreck of his previous gig at Reading. The club’s Chinese owner, Guochuan Lai, far from putting money into the club to try and get it back to the Premier League, actually took £5m out of it last season by way of a loan to prop up his other pandemic-addled businesses. He promises that this will be repaid in the coming season, and available for players, but if that passes the smell test for you then do take an adult with you when going to buy a used car. Parachute payments start declining dramatically towards zero after this second season in the Championship so things will start to look very Stoke/QPR indeed in these parts if they don’t go back right now. To do so they’re trying their hand at offering once-in-a-lifetime contracts to decent Championship players with no future sell-on value, which worked so well for Gourlay at Reading he’s gleefully overseeing it all over again and hoping for better results. Nobody would doubt the ability at this level of either Jed Wallace or John Swift (if he can stay fit) but don’t go up, and have those parachute payments decline, and it’s difficult to see how you find another buyer to take them on these deals at their age. Besides, that sort of steady, reliable, Championship stalwart isn’t the thing this squad lacks. It lacks youth, and pace, and legs, and energy. Do any of their summer signings so far provide that? They tried to cheat their way out of the mess they’d made for themselves last season by spending £8m on Daryl Dike on deadline day, only for him to contribute two appearances and one smash of Yoann Barbet into the advertising hoardings before being ruled out for the rest of the campaign – a good No Guarantee case study for the “sign a fucking striker” brigade to consider each January when they’re haranguing our board to bust the budget for a forward. Much will depend on him and Karlan Grant forming the division’s best striking partnership and covering up the multitude of cracks elsewhere with all the goals.

Local Knowledge – Matt Graham I think most Albion fans were surprised by how fast everything unravelled last season. After four wins in the first five games, and a ten-game unbeaten start to the season, it looked inconceivable that the club would not be contenders for promotion come May. However, a combination of factors led to the slide into mid-table. First, is that Ismael’s high-tempo vertical football strategy was quickly found out by opposition managers, and with no deviation from Val-Ball, the team was nullified, which continued to do the same thing over again, but with the same outcomes. Secondly, the players did not buy into Ismael’s tactics and/or were simply unsuited to this radically different style, not helped by an incoherent squad which was the legacy of a number of piecemeal transfer windows going back to the days of Pulis. Thirdly, there was no creativity from midfield after the sale of Matheus Pereira which meant the team laboured to create chances or break down stubborn opponents. Fourthly, beyond one or two standout performances (eg Sheffield United) it was simply very poor and dull to watch, and the support soon turned against Ismael and the players. By the time Steve Bruce was appointed because he was mates with CEO Ron Gourlay, the team was in free-fall, and the atmosphere at the Hawthorns was toxic. In all honesty the change of manager really didn’t work out. There was no new manager bounce, Bruce chopped and changed formation and personnel, and there was no consistency in the results. Overall, a very disappointing season after such a promising start - it was the clubs lowest league position in 20 years.

“Did Steve Bruce deserve to get an extension based on the performances and results under his watch? The answer is no. However, Bruce has the backing of the CEO and the board who believe he is the manager to turn around Albion, and perhaps most importantly, there is a need for some sort of consistency at the club. Bruce now knows the squad’s capabilities and was in a position to start surgery on each element of the team as soon as the season ended. The playing style and the way the team is set up isn’t the most exciting, so I’d not say I’m enamoured by Bruce still being our manager. However, Bruce will have had a full pre-season with the team and has signed some good players so far, so I’m more than willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.

“The transfer window so far has been pretty savvy from the Albion. The club made quick acquisitions of the much sought after and out of contract pair of John Swift and Jed Wallace, who will add much needed flair, creativity and goals from midfield which was badly missing from the team last season. They should make an enormous difference to the team and have proven Championship experience too. The fan pleasing signing of Okay Yokuşlu is a bit of a risk given that he hardly played last season, but will hopefully add some much needed steel in the DM position and is certainly an upgrade on what we had. The Albion need to get promoted because the parachute payments end next summer, and therefore quality Championship players and largish wages are required to give the best possible chance. Moreover, if you look across the Championship not many teams have sold players for big money, so there must be a focus on the here and now rather than thinking about future resale. I would say Albion still need two full-backs to challenge Connor Townsend and Darnell Furlong both of whose form fell off a cliff. Also, a back-up striker for the returning Daryl Dike is needed urgently, perhaps through a loan signing. As it stands, the summer transfers have shown an obvious effort to address the inadequacies in the team from last season and give the support base something to get behind.

“With the new creative additions in the midfield, and if the returning Dike can start scoring at the rate he did with Barnsley and Orlando, I think West Brom should be in a good position for a promotion challenge. The division has some very good sides, so I think we’ll be in the playoffs at the end of the season.”

What we said last season: 10th (finished 10th) – correct all the way down to the exact league position not to fancy a creaking squad, skinted ownership, and manager that suited neither.

Prediction: 6th I’ll be honest, I’ve bottled this to some extent. I didn’t see it with West Brom when everybody was tipping them last season, and I don’t see it this, but literally every other preview has them winning the thing so I’ve relented and moved them up three places from ninth which is where I had them originally.

Middlesbrough 10/1

Last Season: More farewell tours than Cher, and in truth this was a season too far for Championship manager Neil Warnock. Relying on Joe Lumley to keep goal went as well as we expected and Boro were light in attack all year – a typical Warnock hire of Uche Ikpeazu from Wycombe in the summer not a conspicuous success, attempts to cover it with Aaron Connolly from Brighton and an expensive loan of Folarin Balogun from Arsenal in January only marginally better. But there were, and are, good players here: Matt Crooks proved a great pick up from Rotherham; the emergence of speedy Isaiah Jones covered the mistake of falling out with Djed Spence and loaning him to a play-off rival where he became the £15m divisional talent of the season; Dael Fry and Paddy McNair are very handy for this level; Jonny Howson put in one of the seasons of his career. They were, however, poorly coached.

Our 3-2 win at the Riverside in August was one of the highlights of QPR’s campaign, but it screamed ‘time’s up’ for the man in the home dugout. Boro set about Rangers with a flamethrower but when that shock and awe start only yielded one goal from a controversial penalty they were a beaten side. QPR scored three in reply, two of them after being reduced to ten men, with the space between the lines of the Boro side more chasms than gaps, and the acres in front of the back three making exposure a matter of simple routine. To go with the harsh first half penalty award, and the early second half red card for Moses Odubajo, referee Steve Martin added the best part of a quarter of an hour onto the end of the game to cover injuries and QPR’s obvious time wasting – something we didn’t see any other referee do anything about for the rest of the season. Warnock, nevertheless, set about mauling the official at full time, and afterwards in the dressing room. Short of taking Boro’s free kicks and penalties for them it’s difficult to know what more he wanted.

Chris Wilder was a magnificent appointment, that for a long time looked like carrying Boro into a play-off spot – they were the best team we played at Loftus Road, let down once again only by Lumley’s incompetence. But with the Connolly and Balogun loans not really working out, even a manager I rate higher than almost any other at this level couldn’t get them above the dotted line in time, and a weird hammering on the final day at Mykonos-bound Preston ended their campaign. Disappointment tempered by a brilliant run to the FA Cup quarter finals.

Ins >>> Darragh Lenihan, 28, CB, Blackburn, Free >>> Liam Roberts, 27, GK, Northampton, Free >>> Zack Steffen, 27, GK, Man City, Loan >>> Ryan Giles, 22, LWB, Wolves, Loan

Outs >>> Djed Spence, 21, RB, Spurs, £13m >>> Dejan Stovanovic, 28, GK, Regensberg (Germany), Undisclosed >>> Nathan Wood, 20, CB, Swansea, Undisclosed >>> Toyosi Olusanya, 24, LW, St Mirren, Undisclosed >>> Martin Payero, 23, CM, Boca Juniors, Loan >>> Grant Hall, 30, CB, Rotherham, Loan >>> Joe Lumley, 27, GK, Reading, Loan >>> Neil Taylor, 33, LB, Released >>> Sammy Ameobi, 30, AM, Released >>> Lee Peltier, 35, RB, Released >>> Sol Bamba, 37, CB, Released

Manager: Chris Wilder Yes please.

This Season: When I took my first job as the cub reporter at the prestigious Ripley and Heanor News the locals would tell tales of this mythical miracle working manager who’d turned up at unloved, unsupported, unbacked Alfreton Town and won four trophies in 27 weeks. Since then he’s promoted Oxford back to the Football League, no mean feat given the calibre of manager who’d been there and failed to do so prior, and won League Two with 100 points despite the financial collapse of the club around him at Northampton Town. At Sheff Utd he piled through two divisions double lively, from League One to Premier League and impressive survival in his first year. However it ended at Bramall Lane, you don’t back against Chris Wilder sides if you value your bank balance, and he’s the prime reason I’m making them my lock of the week for this season. Reason two – there’s some money to spend. They received £15m for Djed Spence without weakening their team – in fact with Isaiah Jones down one side and Ryan Giles recruited down the other that’s probably their strongest attribute. There may yet be a similar fee for Marcus Tavernier, with Forest and Bournemouth among those sniffing, which would be more damaging to the side, but still Chris Wilder with this squad and £30m to improve it could be quite something. They’ve already, prior to receiving those fees, moved to correct the obvious problem in goal, with Liam Roberts already in the building and Man City’s Zach Steffen shortly to be – not having a keeper who costs you a goal a fortnight is reason four. Reason five would have to be still to come – they were weak up front last season and remain so at this point, but correct that with the Spence money and I think they’re going to go very close.

Local Knowledge – James Boothby @jamesyboz “Last season overall was a good one for us. I think if we would have had Wilder in from the start we would have finished top six, but the slow start maybe gave us too much to do. At one point in February/March I would have said we were play-off certainties, but we did peter out a little towards the end – I think a combination of a pretty small and unbalanced squad, plus the fact that most times knew that if you stopped Jones we found it hard to create anything. Some real highs in the season though, especially the FA Cup run and wins over Man United and Spurs.

“Transfer business started off really well - we brought in Darragh Lenihan from Blackburn, Ryan Giles on loan from Wolves and Liam Roberts in from Northampton. Lenihan is a commanding centre back and a leader which we have missed over the last couple of seasons, and seems comfortable playing anywhere across the back three. Giles is an attacking left wing back who should complement Jones well - had a great loan spell at Cardiff in the first half of last season although did not fare quite as well at Blackburn. Should hopefully mean if teams double up on Jones again, we now have an option on the left hand side who can do the same thing. With Joe Lumley’s brief Boro career now over, Roberts has come in from Northampton after winning their player of the year last season. He has come in to be number two (with Zack Steffen from Man City all but confirmed as number one) but has impressed and with those two should definitely strengthen up what was a problem area for us last season. The one big area of concern at the moment is up front - with only Watmore and Coburn as recognised strikers. We have been linked with pretty much every striker going, with the consensus seeming to be we have a couple of Premier League players lined up but just waiting on the clubs to give the go-ahead when they have sourced replacements. The big departure has been Djed Spence, which seems to have dragged on all summer.

“Assuming we bring in a couple of strikers, I think we should be up and challenging for top six at least. A pre-season for Wilder to build up the players fitness, and get his ideas across should hopefully see an improvement on last season. There is certainly a bit of a buzz about the place it feels like, but without the quality additions up top it could be a bit of a slog. Also depends on keeping hold of our better players - Tavernier is the latest to be linked with a Premier League move and whilst he has some detractors amongst Boro fans, he is key to the way we play so losing him would be a big blow. I'm going to put my neck on the block and say second for us this season - it kind of feels like now or never.”

What we said last season: 6th (actually finished 7th, -1)

Prediction: 1st I like Geronimo, he’s got a classy swing.

Sheff Utd 10/1

Last Season: The considerable millstone of being the LFW tip for the title weighed heavy as ever, and really United never looked likely of sustaining a serious challenge despite Covid and bad weather stacking a whole load of extremely winnable home games in hand at the end of their campaign leading to the evangelists creaming their spreadsheets about them all the way through the spring. Slavisa Jokanovic teams are notoriously slow starters, but if you lay motionless to the extent of five wins from the first 24 league games the suspicion grows that rather than resting or lulling the rest of the division into a false sense of security you are, in actual fact, dead. He was binned a third of the way through the season. Paul Heckingbottom came in as the man the board had probably wanted to appoint in the first place – a point exemplified by the award of a million year contract. There was a revival significant enough to push into the top six picture, and there can be fewer bigger examples of the advantages the relegated Premier League teams have over the rest in this division at the moment. For the vast, vast majority of the season, Sheff Utd were bang average. Their 1-0 home win against beleaguered QPR in April was a prime example – a win, a clean sheet, three points, play-off push maintained, about as interesting to watch as Sarah Beeney’s New Life in the Country. And yet for all that, and despite their complete and utter destruction by Nottingham Forest in the first leg of the play-off semi-final, they were only two remarkable Brice Samba saves away from a Wembley final.

Ins >>> Anel Ahmedhodzic, 23, CB, Malmo, £4m >>> Tommy Doyle, 20, CM, Man City, Loan >>> Ciaran Clark, 32, DF, Newcastle, Loan

Outs >>> Oli Burke, 25, AM, Werder Bremen, Free (who is this cunt’s agent?) >>> David McGoldrick, 34, CF, Derby, Free >>> Luke Freeman, 30, AM, Luton, Free >>> Michael Verrips, 25, GK, Fortuna Sittard, Undisclosed >>> Jake Eastwood, 25, GK, Ross County, Loan >>> Lys Mousset, 26, CF, Released

Manager: Paul Heckingbottom A contract so long that, in theory, Heckingbottom will be the Sheff Utd manager long after global warming has laid waste to swathes of the country.

What we said last season: 1st (finished 6th, -5)

This Season: I was a bit non-plussed about the Blades chances this season, once bitten twice shy perhaps, until last week when they loaned in Man City midfielder Tommy Doyle, absolutely outstanding at this level in a piss weak Cardiff team last season, and Malmo defender Anel Ahmedhodzic, who at just £4m is a total steal and has no business wasting his time at this level of football really. If they’re to do what Bournemouth did and make good on promotion at the second time of asking they will have to solve two problems. The first, is their rally through to the play-off positions from the bottom half of the table last season was driven in no small part by the form and performances of Wolves’ loanee Morgan Gibbs-White, head and shoulders the best player in their team and one of the top three performers across the whole league for me. He’s gone and isn’t coming back, it’s left a hole the size of the Democratic Republic of Congo in their attack – whether Blackburn’s Reda Khadra is the answer to that I’m not sure. The second, related, point is this team is still too reliant on Billy Sharp, now 36, for its goals. We thought carrying Sharp, David McGoldrick, Rhian Brewster, Roddy McScotsman, Lys Mousset, up and comer Daniel Jeberson and others into a Championship season had the potential to blow the division away. Sharp scored 14, Gibbs-White 11, the rest didn’t make double figures collectively – Tartan McPartick had more stamps on errant Forest fans than he did goals from 28 appearances across the season. Sharp will go around again, McGoldrick and Mousset have gone, the rest have to step up, or a new face must emerge. If they do, then a spine that includes Ahmedhodzic, Doyle and Sander ‘this enormous child will devour us all’ Berge will be a significant threat.

Local Knowledge – @ShorehamView “If I’m honest last season wasn’t too much of a disappointment. From where we were towards the beginning under Slav and the poor football were playing, to get all the way to the play-off semi-final and only go out on penalties was an achievement of sorts. However, being one of the bookies favourite to go straight back up the pressure was always on us so I guess it has to be classed as a disappointing season.

“Transfer business this window has been unremarkable in places with a few highlights. Anel Ahmedhodzic for £3m rising to £5m could be the absolute steal of the window because he looks a great player. Clark from Newcastle could offer great options as a rotation player and has bags of experience – though whether he’ll be classed as just a rotation player on the wages he’s probably on… A big part of the window will be whether we get Blackburn’s Reda Khadra over the line because he’s the kind of player we need to replace Morgan Gibbs White who’s going to be massively missed as he gave us so much creativity.

“We’ve got so many strikers but they all fit the same mould which can be a problem. They all like to be the proverbial ‘fox in the box’ hanging around on the last man and you can’t have two strikers doing that. Billy Sharp is the master of it and even at 87,000 years old he’s out best chance of goals when fit. McBurnie we treat as a target man which is so frustrating when you look at the goals he’s scored at every other club. If we’re going to do well this season we need a pacey striker to go along with these poachers.
“We’re a bit of an enigma to me this season. If I say we’re finishing bottom half we could go up top two, and if I say top two we could crash into the bottom. One thing for sure, if we make the play-offs we’ll be staying down, because we never win those.”

What we said last season: 1st (finished 5th, -4)

Prediction: 3rd Another squad I think we might be assessing a good deal more enthusiastically if we were writing at the end of the transfer window rather than halfway through it.

Burnley 12/1

Last Season:With every twiddle of Laurence Bassini’s micro-penis in the direction of another poor, unsuspecting football clubs comes fresh debate about football’s biggest marzipan dildo – the fit and proper owner test. If convicted rapist Owen Oyston can own a Football League club, it’s time to stop pretending there’s a functioning rule in any sense of the term. Personally, I think football clubs are community assets and should be treated more like listed buildings – with very strict rules and regulations about who can own them and what they can do with them, overseen by an independent arbitrator. While we continue to treat them like a business as any other, it’s very difficult to stop businessmen and companies swapping and trading them between each other and doing as they please with them. But football is exempt from the rules of everyday capitalist business in so many ways – start applying any form of standard employment law to the sport and the transfer market collapses overnight, start applying ‘restraint of trade’ rules to it and things like FFP and “players can’t play for more than two clubs in the same season” turn to dust. Hell, the NFL operates a positively communist draft system in the biggest capitalist economy in the world to the benefit of one of the biggest and most successful products in global sport. It is open to the industry to do more and it must.

One rule you could change immediately, to the benefit of everybody except people and companies who really shouldn’t be buying football clubs in the first place, is not allowing leveraged buy-outs of clubs. You want to buy a football club? You want to borrow money to do that? Fine. But it goes against your house, not the football club’s. It’s how the Glazer’s bought Man Utd, for wholly transparent reasons, and it’s how another group of American’s, ALK Capital, bought Burnley – a £60m loan secured against the club, and £40m of the club’s own reserves built up over years of notoriously careful planning and investment while the sun was shining used to pay departing directors. From a set of accounts with zero borrowings and £40m in cash reserves, to a £90m debt with interest to go with it. Burnley were a profitable, well resourced, relatively well-run, financially secure, established Premier League club – now they’re none of those things. A last gasp attempt to avert relegation by firing exactly the manager every other club in that situation would have been, and will be in the future, looking to appoint got the result it deserved. Never a particularly loveable or watchable member of the Premier League, but a model club to give outfits like ours hope and aspiration that it can be done despite everything. Now a precarious financial house of cards.

Ins >>> Posh Scott Twine, 22, AM, MK Dons, £4m >>> Josh Cullen, 26, CM, Anderlecht, £2.7m >>> Arijanet Muric, 23, GK, Man City, £2.3m >>> Luke McNally, 22, CB, Oxford, £1.6m >>> Samuel Bastien, 25, CM, Standard Liege, £720k >>> CJ Egan-Riley, 19, CB, Man City, Free >>> Taylor Harwood-Bellis, 20, CB, Man City, Loan >>> Ian Maatsen, 20, LB, Chelsea, Loan

Outs >>> Nathan Collins, 21, CB, Wolves, £21m >>> Nick Pope, 30, GK, Newcastle, £10m >>> James Tarkowski, 29, CB, Everton, Free >>> Ben Mee, 32, CB, Brentford, Free >>> Wayne Hennessey, 35, GK, Forest, Free >>> Wout Weghorst, 29, CF, Besiktas, Loan >>> Aaron Lennon, 35, RW, Released >>> Dale Stephens, 33, CM, Released >>> Erik Pieters, 33, LB, Released >>> Phil Bardsley, 37, CB, Released

Manager: Vincent Kompany Alright Phil, how’s your wife and my kids?

This Season: All is not lost yet. Like Bournemouth and West Brom before them, things are not good, but parachute payments and a handy bunch of player sales led by an eyebrow-raising £20m from Wolves for Nathan Collins means they’re not catastrophic yet as long as the Clarets go back this season or next. It’s after that things become very difficult, as West Brom may be about to find out. After ten years of Sean Dyche, who is owed anywhere up to £15m himself depending on which rag you read, the team is very set in its ways and in need of a refresh. Whether hiring Vincent Kompany and his 4-2-2-2 witchcraft, and going after the best of the EFL in the transfer market, turns out to be too much change too soon we’ll find out in time. Oxford have done a nice line in ball playing centre backs of late and after QPR’s Rob Dickie and Bristol City’s Rob Atkinson, Burnley’s Luke McNally looks the best of the lot. Watch out for him driving out of danger with the ball at feet and setting things moving. But Burnley have gone from a settled back four of veterans in front of Nick Pope, to completely tearing that part of their team up and starting again with youngsters, which is a risk. Anderlecht’s Josh Cullen for just £2.7m is outrageous value but they’re balking at a bigger fee for Coventry’s Callum O’Hare. Scott Twine made the whole Championship look rather silly for turning their nose up at him as a free kick/long range novelty act when he was available cheap from destitute Swindon by going to MK Dons, having a 20 goal season and becoming a £4m player. I’m in love with him, I think he’s terrific, but he doesn’t fit into the system here as it stands, seven of those 20 goals came in just two League One games (three v Fleetwood and four v Plymouth) and he took A LOT of shots to get there – ten on his own in the play-off semi-final second leg at home to Wycombe alone. That’s before we even get to the point where new assistant manager Craig Bellamy finds out he talks like Mr Cholmondeley-Warner. Shades of Patrick Bamford’s violin lessons at Turf Moor once more. Pray for Posh Scott.

I don’t know. Easily the most fascinating of the three relegated teams. I wonder if all this might take so long to settle down and bed in that they might be a better bet next season rather than this. But there’s still a month of transfer window left, and all the advantages we’ve already spoken about for clubs with parachute payments apply.

Local Knowledge – Ian Brookes “The 2021/22 season ended with us losing our place in the Premier League after six consecutive seasons. Although we’d finished in the lowest safety position of 17th in the previous season, we were comfortably safe with 39 points. We had new American owners who were talking a good game and we made some strides in the summer transfer window. Nathan Collins had kicked it all off, coming in from Stoke, but the only other addition ahead of the big kick off was goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey. Whatever the reason for this lack of adding to the squad, it was obvious that we couldn’t keep playing with the same tactics and same players, season after season, and continue to survive in the Premier League. But that’s what we tried, and it failed spectacularly.

“There really was just turgid, stale football with no excitement and no goals. Tactics that previously saw is eeking out 1-0 and 0-0 results had been worked out, our players looked sadly bereft of confidence, other teams had moved on in physicality, pace, nouse and gameplans. Lack of fresh blood and new ideas, we resorted to hoofball and for the first time in the decade under Sean, he started to lose the crowd. The end was sadly predictable. Lack of our own investment and the Saudi takeover of Newcastle showed clearly we could no longer compete in the Moneybags league. Fear and trepidation set in, we all still went home and away and shouted our hearts out for the team, but the joy had gone and the fans were disillusioned. Something had to change.

“It was Good Friday when Sean was fired. I half expected him to return to Turf Moor on Easter Sunday. We respected him so much for what he’d done for us. It might not have been our best performance, but what proved to be Sean’s final home game in charge against Everton was a typical game under his leadership. The passion in the stands that night helped drive on the players to a 3-2 win from a 1-2 half time position. He started with a win, against Wolves at the start of November 2012 and at least his final home game was a win.

“When his predecessor Eddie Howe left, we were sixteenth in the Championship. We’d had an amazing almost out-of-body experience with him. We beat Blackburn for the first time in 34 years. We beat Man C at home, Liverpool at home, Chelsea away, then European football – I loved my trip to play Olympiacos in Athens but what a night at Aberdeen. Thousands of Burnley fans there, able to take in a competitive European game. It might have only been a draw but that, and Athens, will live with me forever. Burnley in Europe. We’ll get used to it, that’s how football works. It will be strange when we see him on the touchline wearing a different club tie and that’s bound to happen although I can’t imagine he’ll ever enjoy such an amazing decade as he’s done at Burnley where you can drink in the Royal Dyche, a pub named in his honour some seasons ago, next to the ground.

“There’s a huge divide in the Burnley fan base views on the timing and decision, but for me it was the right thing to do. It was time to make a fresh start, he’d become too loyal to the same group of players and tactics – that had given us success - but it was obvious it no longer worked.

“The sale of the club revealed some clashes with the previous chairman and gave credence to the story that Sean’s hands were tied on introducing change. What we thought was smart housekeeping was actually Mike Garlic’s (previous chairman and majority owner) personal agenda to amass a war chest of £80m cash to enable a leveraged buy-out. So whilst I do think Sean had been found out my more progressive managers, our demise was more down to the personal agenda of the previous chairman.

“Vincent Kompany is a coup, to attract someone with such a reputation, the new chairman and owner must have sold him on our vision and financial capability to meet his own ambitions. The first six weeks under Kompany looks to be a huge departure from previous style, age and formation in the recruitment. He’s taking us to 4-2-2-2, something alien to Sean’s fixed 4-4-2 style, and with players with potential and in their early twenties.

“His communication with the fans has been refreshingly open, talking about the debt and the need for existing players to move on if they want to play in the Premier League. He’s a proven leader and I’ve been very impressed with his ideas, his appetite to succeed and his focus on how to play the game. His philosophy and approach are obviously shaped by Guardiola, a polar opposite of Sean’s, building from the back.

“It remains to be seen what the repercussions will be for the loss of Pope, Tarkowski, Collins and Mee in this respect. Having said that, Nick Pope was an awesome goalie but his distribution was his weakness, so with Kompany’s preference for a goalkeeper who can instigate starting from the back, his move wasn’t much of a surprise.

“We’ve brought in some very promising young talent – Twine would never have been a Dyche signing – and Kompany is backing himself to make these young players better and give them confidence. There are parallels between the attractive possession-based approach that Kompany will instil and the shift Jackson started at Burnley where he brought some of the U23 players into the first team squad for the run in post-Dyche.

“With ten players leaving and debts to repay from the leveraged buyout, it had to be a fresh start but I don’t fear a bleak future. After six years in the Premier League, the home defeat to Newcastle on the final day consigned us the Championship for the first time since the 2015/16 season, but I’d become jaded with the Premier League circus, VAR, our style of play. Kompany will bring fresh ideas, a different philosophy and I’m sure stamp his own persona on the club, and I’m really looking forward to the new season more than I have for some time. We’ve also sold 15,000 season tickets compared to 13,000 last season, which tells you something too.
“A significant proportion of a £65m loan owners ALK Capital took out when buying the club must be paid back following relegation due to a clause inserted in the deal, so these are far from ideal circumstances that Kompany has inherited. Yet he’s used to handling turmoil as a manager - when he took the Anderlecht post, the club were coming to terms with there being no European football for the first time in 56 years as unrest reigned off the pitch. There were fan protests, crowd trouble, flares and banners protesting against the ownership

“Patrick Vieira arrived at Palace last year with a similar reputation and had a good first season at Selhurst Park, changing people's perceptions, and I hope Kompany will do the same for us. Dyche was synonymous with Burnley just as Kompany is with City, I hope his four-year contract as a statement of medium term intent to build will be fruitful.

“Kompany's ambition to succeed can make Burnley's return to the Championship a short stay. I’m not fixated on promotion this season, more interested in the frequency of derbies and games with Northern compatriots, and building a new team – we could easily have eight debuts for the opening game versus Huddersfield, so for me I think a top six finish and whether we go up or not, let’s enjoy the fresh start.”

Prediction: 7th A lot of change, all at once, to a system, style and ethos that had been embedded over ten years. Might be a better bet next season.

Huddersfield 18/1

Last Season: Nearly an all time classic of the LFW season preview genre as the team we said would finish third bottom and be relegated, after a disastrous end to 2020/21 and a summer of transfers led by a recruitment team who’d apparently never met the manager, finished third from top and should have been promoted. Carlos Corberan’s reputation soared from Bielsa-bud to little short of miracle worker as a team with Matty Pearson, Tom Lees and Nabby Sarr as its three centre backs played the ball out from the back attractively, and effectively, reaching the play-off final with one part used Danny Ward as its main striker.

What happened next was little short of a scandal, which shames the EFL and the PGMOL, about which precious little has been said or done because they were playing Nottingham Forest when it happened.

The coverage of last season’s Championship play-off final was a fawning disgrace before the thing had even kicked off – Huddersfield’s outstanding achievement in going from one of the relegation favourites to 90 minutes from the Premier League on a miniscule budget, Sorba Thomas from non-league to Championship wunderkind, completely swept aside and ignored by some romantic notion that it was written in the stars that Forest would ascend back to their rightful spot at English football’s top table and they were merely cannon fodder. Like that time a West Ham-heavy media anointed jobbing midtable midfielder Scott Parker Football Writers’ Player of the Year, a chunk of the division’s coverage being provided by children of Clough’s 80s skewed it horribly. The Athletic’s Championship output through the season’s latter months essentially boiled down to three boyhood Forest fans turning up at their desks for a wank each day. Their “Championship manager of the year debate” consisted of two reporters arguing between Wayne Rooney and Steve Cooper – or “the man they call Coops” as they’d taken to referring to him in articles by that point – with bare passing mention to Corberan or Luton’s Nathan Jones. One of the many, many, many deep dives pre-Wembley consisted of them wheeling out friends and family members of various Forest players to talk about how proud they were of their boys, including giving Sam Surridge’s rabid conspiracy theory-pedalling dad 600 words of his own to slag off Stoke City without reply. The excellent Wizard’s of Drivel podcast referred to it as “client journalism” and some of it was worse even than that – I’d have hesitated to publish boot-licking so egregious on a club’s official website. Needless to say, a similar 10,000 words talking to the girl who noshed Huddersfield’s star keeper Lee Nicholls’ off at his school leavers’ prom saying how much she hoped he did really, really well on the telly was not forthcoming. I cancelled my subscription in the end, couldn’t stand it any more, and if I’m not The Athletic’s target audience then who on earth is?

The final was given to Jon Moss to referee. A match sickeningly and yet proudly billed as “the richest prize in world football” forked over to a 51-year-old man who was never a very good referee in the first place, and has been embarrassingly miles short of the physical capabilities to keep up and control the modern sport for years now, as a retirement gift. VAR was in use for the first time ever at this level to keep an eye on him, but again trusted to a thoroughly unremarkable official in Paul Tierney. Between them they contrived to botch not one, but two cast iron penalty decisions against Huddersfield in a farcical second half. The first saw Harry Toffolo booked for diving, when he’d clearly and obviously been clipped by Jack Colback – three minutes and multiple replays later Moss and Tierney still fucked it between them. The second was missed entirely, by both. Had these decisions been the other way around, costing Forest, the outpouring of rage would still be going on now. Instead Forest are spending millions building a team in the Premier League, including nicking Huddersfield’s two best players; Moss walks straight into a management job at the PGMOL; Steve Cook stands on the balcony at Nottingham City Hall and encourages the crowd to salute the referee (“what a fucking guy”); and Daniel Taylor, arguably the best football reporter in this country when he’s not fellating the team he supports, reduced himself to publishing a story saying this was simply the beauty of football, and evened up Roger Milford fucking up their 1991 FA Cup final.

Huddersfield accepted the whole thing with far more grace and calmness than I ever could or would.

Ins >>> Jack Rudoni, 21, CM, Wimbledon, £850k >>> David Kasumu, 22, CM, MK Dons, Undisclosed >>> Yuta Nakayama, 25, CB, Zwolle, Free >>> Connor Mahoney, 25, RW, Millwall, Free >>> Will Boyle, 26, CB, Cheltenham, Free >>> Tino Anjorin, 20, AM, Chelsea, Loan

Outs >>> Lewis O’Brien, 23, AM, Forest, £5.3m >>> Harry Toffolo, 26, LB, Forest, £5.3m >>> Pipa, 24, RB, Olympiakos, £900k >>> Reece Brown, 26, CM, Forest Green, Free >>> Romoney Crichlow, 23, CB, Bradford, Loan >>> Matty Daly, 21, AM, Harrogate, Loan >>> Carel Eiting, 24, DM, Released >>> Naby Sarr, 28, CB, Released >>> Jamal Blackman, 28, GK, Released >>> Fraizer Campbell, 34, CF, Released >>> Alex Vallejo, 30, DM, Released

Manager: Danny Schofield Never been quite as good without Gordon the Gopher for me Clive.

This Season: Those two refereeing decisions look like they’re going to shaft Huddersfield Town for years to come. Star men Toffolo and Lewis O’Brien have both moved to The City Ground to rub salt in wounds. Three weeks away from the start of the season Corberan walked away, publishing a typically intricate statement that boiled down to him not agreeing with the direction of travel and wanting to go before things turned nasty. That, to me, sounds like any funds generated from those sales were not going to go back into the team to the extent he felt was required, though Jack Rudoni is an absolute steal at sub-£1m from Wimbledon and I like Kasumu from MK Dons as well. Rudoni will be this summer’s Scott Twine – available for buttons to a division that in 12 months’ time won’t be able to afford him and wondering why they didn’t take the chance when it was sitting there, QPR included. Nevertheless, for all the links to the club, and promises that Schofield had turned down managerial jobs in Europe to stick around, his parachuting straight into the role feels like a cheap option. Once bitten twice shy and all that, but this season looks very tough for them from here.

Local Knowledge – Brady Frost @Brady0894 “Yeah it really stings, but time has helped. The worst thing was I had made peace with the result and then came out of the ground and saw the penalty decisions later and it was just gutting. Would we have scored those penalties if they were given? We’ll never know but the frustrating thing is it feels like the final has an asterisk on it because of that. I will say though, it was a terrible game, we didn’t turn up, I don’t think Forest did really either and it felt like it was heading to penalties. Also, I’ve never seen a group of fans so happy to rub the result in my face rather than celebrate but we would have been battered every week in the Premier League so that’s some consolation.

“It’s hard to say why Carlos Corberan has left to be honest. The official line seems to be he felt he’s taken the team as far as he could, some fans think it’s because the owner isn’t investing enough and not replacing key players with adequate replacements. Personally, I think it’s somewhere in the middle. He performed amazingly with limited resources in comparison to other sides and maybe feels he needs more control and the club don’t want to give him that, who knows? Corberan’s not gone to another job, his reputation is at a high currently and I think if he stayed or not, it was unlikely we’d improve on a third place finish. We’ll see where he ends up next.

“The idea with the club appointing Leigh Bromby as head of our football operations means that if our head coach moves on, we have a style that can continue without major disruption. Danny Schofield is in a similar position as Carlos Corberan was when he joined the club, having not managed a team in any of England’s divisions but I have my concerns as we developed well under Carlos and it’s another time for us to be patient and restart again. The club have faith in him and he was loved by fans as a player so I hope they can build that connection but I’d be lying if I said there aren’t better options out there.

“Signing Jack Rudoni feels like it could be a coup. From reports it seems like he has a knack for getting in the right positions to score, so hopefully that can carry on in the Championship. 12 goals last season in League One for a relegated AFC Wimbledon side shows his quality and he’s still just 21 years old. He can play multiple positions either on the wing or in the no.10 role too. I think Yuta Nakayama might go under the radar too, signed from PEC Zwolle and can play left back and centre back, statistically he was one of the best defenders in the Eredivisie so it’ll be interesting to see if that can translate to this division.

“In terms of what needs to be done, finishing third was a fantastic achievement last season but if there’s one criticism about the team, it struggled to score goals from open play at times. Danny Ward and Jordan Rhodes performed admirably but we need more chances being created for them to finish and more midfield players to chip in with goals. The only way a club like Huddersfield Town can get those difference makers is to make the most of the loan market. A Premier League youngster is where we can add quality and I’d ideally like a young striker on loan, Cameron Archer would be amazing if there was any chance. There’s been rumours like Tino Anjorin returning to the club which a full season of him would be positive. James McAtee, an exciting attacking midfielder from Manchester City has also been mentioned but I imagine we won’t see much in regards to loans until the end of the window.

“Time will tell but at the time of writing, Carlos Corberan resigning three weeks before the season starts and Lewis O’Brien and Harry Toffolo being sold, it feels like any momentum built from last season has been dramatically removed. Finishing third in the league last campaign was a minor miracle and with a rookie Head Coach in charge in Danny Schofield and key players gone, it feels like a season where we’ll go backwards. It’s difficult to say but I don’t think we’ll be in the playoff picture. The Championship resets every year and other clubs have done impressive business, so I think mid-table awaits for Huddersfield, 12th place.”

What We Said Last Season 22nd – finished third (+19) our worst ever prediction

Prediction: 18th Beware. Barnsley showed what can happen to a play-off team if you take its inspirational manager and two best players away.

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