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Season Preview Revisited – Bottom Half
Friday, 28th Jun 2024 09:24 by Clive Whittingham

The concluding part of our season preview revisit looks at the teams at the foot of the 23/24 Championship – we got two of the bottom three correct but there were some other big misses here too.

24th – Rotherham (we said 23rd, -1)

Shit we said: Looks difficult. Blackpool, Burton, Barnsley and Rotherham once before have all found that a survival against the odds in the first season after promotion isn’t necessarily the hard bit out of the way, and relegation peril can still lurk in year two. I’m not sure I quite buy into this being the “toughest Championship for years” just because some of the abysmally run Premier League teams coming down are relatively big names, but with two of the three promoted teams from League One looking very good for survival it’s not a year to be poor, or shit.

Money for Ogbene would have helped, but he ran his contract down to a free move to Luton. Former Wycombe man Fred Onyedinma has effectively come the other way, but Ogbene and Fosu were absolutely brilliant on either wing in our 3-1 loss at the New York Stadium and that pace and threat will be sorely missed if not adequately replaced. Jordan Hugill often needs a few chances to score once, and luckily for him those two were providing that for a haul of five in 18 appearances (two against us, because of course) but where’s that supply line this time?

Viktor Johansson is arguably the best goalkeeper in this league, always outstanding against QPR and unreal at Loftus Road last August. He finally got an overdue Sweden call up for his efforts and him sticking around when there surely must be interest from elsewhere is a big plus. The defence in front of him, with our own brave boy Grant Hall now permanently added, looks ropey, and slow, to me though bar break out star Cameron Humphreys who’s being eyed by big spenders elsewhere.

One curious move has been the capture of Brazilian midfielder Cafu (not that one etc) from Nottingham Forest on a free transfer. Looked an odd fit for the Millers, and now the wrong side of 30, but his banger in a 3-0 win at fancied League One outfit Lincoln capped a fine personal start to life here. The locals who have chosen to read into pre-season – which can be a bit of a fool’s errand but with another win against Sheff Utd among the results who can blame them? - are purring.

The survival was secured despite a host of injury problems which they might reasonably expect to avoid this time. Sadly, though, there tends to be no better predictor of league finishes over time than salaries paid, and Rotherham are always going to be right down the bottom of that list in this league. Even pushing the boat out to the extent they did in January only secured a narrow survival. If they’re to do so again it’ll likely depend on loan signings still to come.

Our Prediction: 23rd “We did say this about them last season and were wrong.”

How it went down: Not wrong this time though. We actually tried long and hard not to include Rotherham in our bottom three. They’d stayed up the previous season with an impressive, progressive manager Matt Taylor succeeding Paul Warne, and by their standards had actually spent a bit of money doing it on proven Championship players like My Chemical Hugill. That looked like continuing last summer when veteran Forest midfielder Cafu was signed on a free transfer – a most un-Rotherham-like pick up – and played well in pre-season.

Problems soon mounted, however. Hugill, as we know, misses a lot more than he scores. You have to create a lot of chances for that guy, and Ogbene the supplier in chief had not only departed for Luton but done so on a free transfer. Without him Hugill scored five goals all season – two of them on the final day after a scoreless run of 28 games. Cafu was a very strong contender for the worst player in the whole division. A reshaped defence was not at the races – not helped by (wait for it, you won’t believe it) Grant Hall only managing eight appearances all year (seven of those in October and November) because of a variety of different problems with his fringe. Another mid-season attempt to inject Championship game smarts proved disastrous - Daniel Ayala was sent off twice in his first two games, the second at Plymouth the most obvious pitch for a Christmas off on full pay we’ve seen since Joel Lynch was lolloping about at this level, and was invited to leave the club almost as soon as he’d arrived. Taylor, rather harshly, lost his job but when several targets rejected the chance to replace him a prolonged ‘search’ set in which was delayed further by chairman Tony Stewart going on holiday. Wigan also-ran Leam Richardson eventually got it, mainly to lead the League One rebuild we were told, only for him to be sacked in April to pave the way for the triumphant return of Jabba the Hutt in a Mexican hat.

A mess really. A whopping 24 points adrift of safety, the Millers were barely even competitive. They made it through an entire season without winning on the road which means they’ve won two of their last 46 away games at this level and nine of their last 115.

23rd – Huddersfield (we said 22nd, -1)

Shit we said: Warnock joined Huddersfield on February 13. In the 2015/16 season he arrived at apparently League One-bound Rotherham on February 11. The Millers also survived courtesy of two, separate quick-fire bursts of three consecutive wins. Warnock, though, did not stick around, and the following year was a disaster. That looked to be the narrative here at Huddersfield too – and, by narrative, I mean that’s what Neil Warnock himself was saying. Joking about being too old to do a full season, Uncle Neil insisted he’d be off back to his farm come May and just wait by the phone in February for another club on the bones of its arse to call him in. It’s never a surprise when Warnock goes back on something he’s said, nor when he takes his latest “last job in football”, they’ll end up carrying him out of a football ground in a box, but I must say I did raise half an eyebrow when he decided he was going to go around again for a full season at Huddersfield.

At one point in 22/23 there was talk stricken Town were going to dip into administration to make them a more attractive proposition for a new buyer, take the ten point deduction and inevitable relegation on the chin and prepare for life in League One. The finances here were not good. In the end Warnock’s rescue job gave them a fighting chance they didn’t believe they had, and now American Kevin Nagle has bought the club despite admitting he’d “never heard of the place” ten days beforehand.

It’s an odd squad this one. Certainly no shortage of bodies, thick end of 30 players still listed on their official website despite an exodus of 12 seniors, but a desperate lack of Championship quality. A lot of stodge basically, and not a lot of finance to do much about that. The two signings made so far – goalkeeper Chris Maxwell from Blackpool and right back Tom Edwards from Stoke – only add to that, rather than improve it.

There were bad, season-ending injuries to key men like excellent keeper Lee Nicholls and Japanese defender Yuta Nakayama just as he was about to head to the World Cup, so their returns will improve matters. Jack Rudoni from Wimbledon and Michal Helik from Barnsley were great captures last summer, and both remain and are raring to go again. It looks like a slog at this point though. It’s a whole rebuild, rather than a rescue mission. You just wonder whether Warnock might regret not following through on his first idea of taking the summer and autumn off and then just popping up somewhere else next spring.

Our Prediction: 22nd “But, then, who you putting your money on – Warnock, or our rabble?”

How it went down: It went down.

Probably our most spot-on call of the whole coupon, Huddersfield’s season played out almost exactly as we’d expected it to. Neil Warnock should, indeed, have called it a day at another rescue mission and walked away. Following an opening day battering at Plymouth, he said he’d only stuck around so the new owner had one less thing to worry about. He finished the season in the TV studio after a bizarre 20 minutes with Aberdeen. It turned out the exact location of Huddersfield wasn’t the only thing new American owner Kevin Nagle struggled with – he also couldn’t find his own arse with both hands. He replaced Warnock with Darren Moore, then recorded a weekly YouTube video diary detailing how much he hated his football and team selections. Moore was fired in January after Kenneth Paal’s sliding doors equaliser in the last second of the 1-1 at Loftus Road – if you’d have kept the manager with a win but then decide to sack him because you concede a wholly underserved 95th minute equaliser it doesn’t suggest a lot of coherence in your plan.

Rudoni and the amazing goalscoring centre back Helik were indeed very good – Helik top scored with nine. But in his online rambles Nagle constantly seemed to labour under the misapprehension that the players were better than they were. An eclectic group of January signings were led by £2m striker Rhys Healey, who’d spent the first half of the campaign showing you he wasn’t up to the level after signing for Watford from Toulouse. Manager number three, Andre Breitenreiter, never looked like turning the ship around and three games out from the end, in a must-win home match against a Swansea team that hadn’t been much cop even when there was something riding on their games, they lost 4-0 in shambolic circumstances.

Technically it went down to the last day, but Town were down from that moment on. It’s been coming really from the moment Jon Moss torched their play-off final in 2022.

22nd – Birmingham (we said 12th, -10)

Shit we said: A new owner. At last. Few clubs needed one more. American Tom Wagner has immediately set about blitzing the place, getting the stadium back up to spec and fully open, and communicating with the supporters like grown ups in 2023 rather than comrades in 1980s Soviet Russia.

As we know, having a multi-millionaire owner means nothing in the world of FFP, but they’ve received a couple of timely boosts with the sell-on clause on Jude Bellingham’s move to Real Madrid, and around £6m brought in through a quick turnaround profit on Chong going to Luton, and Bellingham the Younger heading to Sunderland. With those funds they’ve moved quickly in the summer transfer market with a collection of deals that have marked them out as a dark horse for many a Championship watcher.

Previously it’s been about loans, free transfers and stop gaps to try and stay in the league with no money to spend. They’re now starting to be ushered off towards the glue factory: Brain of Britain Harlee Dean is yet to secure a club; George Friend will go around again at Bristol Rovers; Maxime Colin is back in France; and Troy Deeney is doing a nice line in fantastical third person podcast stories about how Wenger told Troy he wanted Troy at Arsenal but was worried about Troy surpassing Thierry Henry’s goalscoring record and wrecking a club legend and so Troy didn’t get Troy move to Arsenal in the end but it was definitely happening honest.

Now it’s very much a focus on building an exciting, vibrant team of early and mid-20 players with high development ceilings and plenty of growth left in them. Dion Sanderson, Lee Buchanan, Ethan Laird, Tyler Roberts, Krystian Bielik, Siriki Dembele, Keshi Anderson and Koji Miyoshi were all brought in double lively, all on permanent deals, and for less than they received for Chong and Bellingham. It’s set a few tongues wagging. The capture of Derby academy graduate Buchanan, in particular, for £1m after 21 outings in the Bundesliga at Werder Bremen, looks super shrewd and the prospect of him and Ethan Laird bombing on from both wing back positions should excite Blues fans. Dembele was unlucky, or perhaps naïve, to get caught up in Scott Parker’s annual January “get me six more players or else” nonsense at Bournemouth and deserves a chance to excel at this level at a club that will actually pick him.

A couple of caveats to all of this. Chong and Hannibal were very influential in the Blues midfield last year, and both will be missed - though they'll save a bundle in drain cleaner now. Also to get players at these ages and prices, Brum are having to take one or two chances on people. Many of them have chequered injury records. Bielik, for instance, will be an absolute steal for that money if he stays fit, but we said the same of him at Derby and the 35 starts he managed last year was by miles and miles the most he’s ever done in his whole career. Ethan Laird is another who looks cheap at twice that price, but as we found ourselves he’s a good time guy – all funny little clown dances and bombing on down the wing when the team’s doing well, all refusal to track back and suspiciously timed “tight hamstrings” the moment things get a little tough. Tyler Roberts didn’t even wait for the going to get difficult at QPR before checking out and moping about like a obnoxious twat.

Our Prediction: 12th “An enormous opportunity for Eustace to show what he can really do, although conversely if he hits another rocky patch with form and injuries mid-season don’t expect there to be anywhere near as much sympathy or as many excuses for staid, boring football and poor results.”

How it went down: In our defence, few saw the meltdown coming at Birmingham. After what was widely seen as quite a proactive, progressive summer under new ownership there was even some money floating around for this lot as an outside play-off bet. They’d also likely have rallied to around the 12th place we tipped them for had their attempt to arrest a mid-season slide by appointing the safe hands of Tony Mowbray not been brought to a premature end by the sad news about his health.

Nevertheless, I’m pissed off with myself over this one. The signs were all there. While Blues’ summer recruitment was widely praised for its focus on aesthetically better football, and young players with plenty of potential growth and re-sale value in them, it included Dion Sanderson, Tyler Roberts and Ethan Laird. These three had not only been part of the two-year collapse at QPR, from automatic promotion contenders to seemingly League One certainties, they had all three of them been some of the biggest problem children within it. Sanderson was added to Mark Warburton’s team when they were fourth in the table and wanted Steve Cook – they finished eleventh, and Sanderson was best remembered for headbutting Blackpool’s Rees James and putting in a performance in a cataclysmic home defeat to Peterborough that made me think I should be playing professional football somewhere. Laird was on fire in the warm days of late summer, honeymoon period, Mick Beale in charge, team at the top of the league, all funny little clown dances and big adventurous attacks down his wing – the moment the going got remotely tough, and the weather slightly cold, he checked out and phoned in the rest of his season. Roberts is almost a parody of himself these days. He’s completed 90 minutes twice since December 2021, and it’s now summer 2024. He hasn’t scored a goal for anybody since January 2023, and he’s supposed to be a striker. On top of this they came back in January and added Andre Dozzell – the creative, ball playing midfielder, who’s registered two goals and two assists in three years, along with two daft red cards.

What kind of moron watched QPR 2022-2024 and thought ‘these guys are making all the right moves?’. The recruitment was one of our biggest problems. These four gimps were four of our biggest problems within that. And yet here came Birmingham waving four-year contracts around. Sanderson was wildly erratic – sent off in a home game with Southampton that Brum led at half time and then lost 4-3, bullied by Sinclair Armstrong for Jimmy Dunne’s extraordinary winner at Loftus Road. Laird had Birmingham fans uttering those immortal words about “best full back in the division” by the end of August, then played only six games from October to February – shock. He gave a late season interview to the club channels about accountability while clutching a £500 Louis Vuitton washbag. Roberts, hilariously, missed an absolute sitter at Loftus Road. He managed just eight starts all season, didn’t complete a single game, and is yet to score. Now on another fancy holiday with the other ‘ballers’ #artthroughpain. Andre Dozzell left Ipswich in League One, they’re now in the Premier League. He left QPR in the relegation zone, they stayed up. He joined Birmingham in midtable, they went down. By the time manager number six, Gary Rowett, rolled around, he wasn’t even picking him for his bench.

There were other signs too. With new money has come Garry Cook, the mealy mouthed, egotistical face of Thaskin Shinawatra’s farcical reign as Manchester City owner. Cook’s really good at spending other people’s money, but not so hot on producing results for the outlay. The decision to bin off John Eustace mid-season, while sixth in the league, to appoint Wayne Rooney was a vintage bit of hubris which holed Blues below the waterline. They only very belatedly realised the extent to which this decision had fucked them, and never looked like recovering from it. The Mowbray situation was indeed tragically unlucky, but you had a perfectly functional manager here and he had you sixth in the league – you’ve finished it in League One, six permanent or temporary bosses later.

There’s still unbridled optimism around St Andrew’s that they’re going to steamroller League One and come roaring back better than ever. Perhaps they will. But the QPR/Tony Fernandes comparisons don’t stop at Tyler’s top-knot. Slinking into a wide-ranging executive role… Mike Rigg. My word. Only three headless horsemen left to account for.

It’s all well and good having money, having a personable owner, having ambition, being wide open in communication with the fans, signing players… you’ve got to know what you’re doing with it, or at least employ people who do. This is a sport riddled with vultures, who can smell a pot of easy new money a mile away. Birmingham seem to think they can keep a few of them as pets.

21st – Plymouth (we said 18th, -3)

Shit we said: Here are the three problems Plymouth have straight away, and why they’re so many people’s tip to go down despite last season’s heroics.

Firstly, finance. While they’ve left their days of instability and worry behind thanks to Hallett’s careful custody of his local club, there isn’t a great deal to spend here. Euphoric and full of promotion cheer/beer, Schumacher was perhaps exaggerating when he claimed his club had done the whole League One title win on little more than £4m – that’s transfer fees, wages, accommodation, travel, food, the lot – but if it is anywhere close to that figure and they try and replicate it again in the Championship they’ll come rapidly unstuck. For comparison, QPR’s wage bill alone at the last set of accounts was kicking around the £28m mark, and Sheff Wed spent at least that in finishing third. Over time there are few better indicators of long-term performance than salaries paid, so while Plymouth may be able to ride feel-good momentum to survival in year one, clubs operating on similarly stringy budgets like Blackpool, Rotherham, Barnsley, Wigan and Burton will tell them the Championship finds you out eventually.

Secondly, Plymouth’s success rate with their loan signings was insane. Sam Cosgrove from Birmingham, Finn Azaz from Aston Villa and Morgan Whittaker from Swansea scored 25 goals between them. Norwich right back Bali Mumba was a revelation. Wolves’ Nigel Lonwijk was a key part of the defence. Are you going to be able to replicate that sort of hit rate at a higher level? Villa’s 20-year-old right back Kaine Kesler-Hayden, Everton midfielder Lewis Warrington, and the return of Azaz are there first three of five swings this transfer window. Niall Ennis, second top scorer, has left on a free for Blackburn.

Thirdly, they were a good deal more porous at the back (47 conceded), and faced a hell of a lot more shots, than Ipswich and Sheff Wed. Goalkeeper Michael Cooper has been unreal for two seasons running, winning League One’s keeper of the year prize twice in a row. They won’t get away with that in this league, and Cooper starts the new term injured which is less than ideal.

There’s plenty of reason to think they’ll be absolutely fine though. Firstly, for reasons I simply cannot fathom, Norwich and Swansea have allowed both Mumba and Whittaker to move here permanently for £1m apiece. Sent them out to develop, they developed into two of the best players in League One, and so you sell them for a knockdown price - not like either Norwich or Swansea have great options in their positions either. Two great signings, that I’d absolutely have loved at QPR, and would have thought were all set for breakthroughs at their parent clubs in 23/24. Perhaps Plymouth crashing and burning will show what I know but that looks terrific business to me, and also suggests there will be a bit more cash to spend this time. Twente’s Julio Pleguezuelo moving here is one of those ‘how on earth have they got him?’ moments. Or, more to the point, where exactly were we on that free transfer of a player who wanted to be closer to London? Signing sodding Morgan Fox from Stoke is where. Sigh.

They’ve also, unlike Wednesday, done that thing of putting together a bright, enterprising, attractive young side that won’t need major surgery on its playing style or staff to compete in a more technical, skilful league. They looked a good deal better than the majority of Championship teams I’d seen last season, and if they keep playing like that they’ll bloody a few noses. It is, I’m afraid to say, another seriously smart, shrewd club, doing a lot more than we seem capable of doing, while spending far less. Having waved goodbye to Brighton, Brentford, Luton and others on their way past, the mood at QPR at the moment could well do without another one of them now appearing in green.

Our prediction: 18th “It’ll be tough, but they’ve got enough goals in them to be ok.”

How it went down: Initially, exactly as we said it would. Plymouth conceded a lot of goals, and didn’t win an away game until February 3. They remained fine in lower midtable despite this because they scored by the bucketload, especially at Home Park. Huddersfield, Blackburn, Sheff Wed, Norwich, Sunderland and Stoke all lost on the South Coast before Christmas. Plymouth scored three goals at home to Cardiff, Blackburn, Rotherham and Sheff Wed, and a cool six against Norwich. Whittaker got a hat trick in that latter match and had 18 to his name by Valentine’s Day. Mumba was, as predicted, terrific. Their loan signings did big business again – Azazz’s performances got a January move to Middlesbrough, Luke Cundle from Wolves ended up being bought by Stoke.

Things went awry when manager Stephen Schumacher was poached by Stoke City, reportedly for five times his salary. Difficult to turn moves like that down, even to a basket case like the Potters who he subsequently nearly got relegated with. An attempt to repeat the recipe – using the director of football’s connections in Scouse Land to bring in another promising young coach in England youth manager Ian Foster – did not work. The football became too cautious and staid, which did not play to the team’s strengths – Whittaker stopped scoring altogether, just two goals in the final three months. A series of January additions based on his work with the England junior set ups were too lightweight and inexperienced for the cut and thrust of the division. Plymouth won three of his 16 games in charge. Any hope they could crawl through to the summer and sort it all out then kyboshed by everybody at the bottom of the league bar Rotherham suddenly starting to run on play-off form. They ended up sticking Neil Dewsnip and Kevin ‘Evil’ Nancekivell from the Monty Python School of Funny Names in caretaker charge and getting a big win against Leicester at Home Park to flop over the line… just.

But don’t worry, here comes Wayne ‘pee comes out of the balls’ Rooney to sort it all out.

20th Sheff Wed (we said 24th, +4)

Shit we said: And then somebody woke fucking Derek Chansiri up didn’t they? Fuck me, sit yourselves down kids.

We’ve spoken already, in the Ipswich and Sunderland sections of the preview, about how the differing FFP rules between Championship and League One mean it’s imperative you do your spending and your squad building for the second tier while you’re in the third. Put a young, vibrant, exciting team together under a good manager in the league where losses can simply be written off by the owner and not count, then when you do get into the higher league all you need is one or two trinkets, possibly on loan, to finish decorating the tree. Wednesday, like Wigan before them and Derby since, didn’t like the sound of that one bit. Having ended up relegated in the first place by chucking ridiculous money at extortionate wages for people you’d heard of, they just did exactly the same all over again. Aden Flint, Lee Gregory, Barry Bannan, Josh Windass, Will Vaulks, Dominic Iorfa… Plymouth say they spent £4.2m on everything, including wages, transfer fees, and travel expenses. Estimates on Wednesday’s wage bill alone approach £30m. And all of it on a slow, ageing, cumbersome outfit revolving entirely around Bannan and wholly unsuited to the league above.

An overhaul is now needed, but there’s no FFP headroom to do it. They’ve essentially spent two years downstairs to bring the same team and situation that got them relegated in the first place back with them. Chansiri’s back down The Moor peddling his multi-year tickets again trying to clear some capital – a ten-year season ticket, which only starts counting down once they’re in the top flight, yours for £8,000 and they’ll even let you have a picture with the Premier League trophy when they win it. Small catch, they can’t get the insurance to process £8,000 card payments at the box office so you’ll have to take a large holdall stuffed with non-sequential cash down there on your lunchbreak. You’ll need nearly that to get into the away end this year, where tickets are retailing up to just shy of £60.

Moore is gone. Chansiri published an article so ridiculously long and rambling on the Wednesday official website I was amazed they hadn’t copied and pasted it from here. Essentially Moore wanted a big pay rise. The only thing you can say in the megalomaniac club destroyer’s favour is that Moore – at West Brom and at Doncaster previously – does do a nice line in leaving a job just before the shit hits the fan with his reputation enhanced and everybody else taking the blame. Wednesday began pre-season with 14 contracted players, no manager, no coaches, no fitness staff, no recruitment or scouting heads…

Into that chaotic vacuum has ridden a couple of headless horsemen. Xisco Munoz previously managed at this level with Watford, which says to me here is a chap who can sniff out an opportunity to earn a few months of easy money and a chunky pay off for a sacking the rest of the sport will immediately discount because the owner’s a 64 carat mentalist. He’s never completed an entire season at one club, and sat quietly by while the chairman turned his unveiling into a prolonged rant about Carlton Palmer (hit Les, demand it Les, perhaps he hasn’t heard you). More damning still, the miracle-working agent of Ashley Fletcher has once again found a Championship outfit desperate, stupid and clueless enough to collude in the allusion that his client is a professional footballer and pay him accordingly. That signing, more than anything else that’s happened at Hillsborough this summer, surely a sign of a coming apocalypse.

Our Prediction: 24th “You want hope and optimism for QPR this season? Here it is.”

How it went down: Basically exactly like that, to begin with at least. Xisco Munoz was, predictably, an absolute joke. To be fair to him, though, it felt like Brian Clough might have had a tough time getting a tune out of the ageing squad he’d inherited and the shambolic summer of recruitment that went in to strengthening it (Fletcher, eight starts, 20 sub appearances, zero goals, look forward to him failing upwards again next season). They won none of their first 13 league games and were eliminated from the League Cup by Mansfield. Derek, when he wasn’t cranking up the ticket prices (cash only), took to responding personally to individual fan emails with illuminating observations such as “you very thick”. There’s a kids backpack in the club shop here for £55.

What happened then was even more miraculous than the job Marti Cifuentes did in turning Gareth Ainsworth’s QPR into a functioning unit. Danny Rohl, 17, handsome, more hair on his head now than I’ve grown cumulatively since birth, a coaching career at Red Bull Leipzig, Bayern Munich and the German national team, was not only identified by the worst run club in the division, but persuaded to take the job. In a state of shock, Wednesday quickly won five of eight, including their dramatic comeback against QPR at Hillsborough.

From there it became a race against time. Were there enough games left to recover from a start that had left the Owls double digits adrift at the bottom? When they were done 4-0 at Huddersfield in a six-game winless streak it appeared not, but five wins in six quickly followed and they won their final three of the season to stay up with something to spare. How he did it, I’ll never know. Even in victory at Loftus Road, Wednesday looked ropey as hell. But, as we discovered, managers matter, and this lot, perhaps accidentally, have got themselves a good ‘un.

19th Blackburn (we said 17th, -2)

Shit we said: Blackburn over achieved last time out, Blackburn have lost key players since then, Blackburn haven’t replaced the outgoings with either quality or quantity, Blackburn are financially mismanaged, Blackburn didn’t get a fee at all for Brereton-Diaz who’s gone to Villarreal as predicted and they’re going to have FFP issues as the Armstrong sale disappears into the distance… Blackburn, we confidently predict this year, will plummet down the league to one degree or another and struggle.

With only a couple of free transfers, including Plymouth’s Niall Ennis, and a Scandi loan from Tomasson’s little black book among the incomers so far it feels like the manager might agree with us: “It's a difficult situation. When I started this project, it was a different project. The project has changed now, we need to be realistic about that. I really feel sorry for the fans that there is no clarity because they are the soul and the heart of the club. I think they should never be kept in the dark. It is a totally different situation from when I started the project, which was a great project and we need to be totally different about it. The ambitions need to change a lot with a different budget at the moment. We lost Dack and Brereton Diaz, two great players, and 23 goals. We lost experience with Daniel Ayala. These are all kids that want to learn but it's a young team. We saw last season where it was really important and we had a great season, it was terrible not to have a senior striker when it was all about winning and getting a goal in the end. Now the situation is probably even worse, but that is the situation. The fans need to know that. I am not the right person to ask about the financial things because I don't know exactly, I am the head coach.”

Brereton-Diaz and Bradley Dack depart, taking 23 goals out of last year’s line-up. Sam Gallagher remains somebody you’d like your daughter to bring home, not your head of recruitment. A lack of replacement has been blamed on some sort of tax problem for the Venky’s back home in India, but the simple fact is they face the same FFP three-year rolling problem that we do with the big sale of Armstrong to Southampton rolling out and no other significant fees received to offset the substantial annual loss the club makes. Consequently, doing business this summer is proving tough and there was even talk of Tomasson walking away from the job, reputation enhanced, last month. Like us with Ebere Eze, they may be saved by a chunky percentage of any potential sale of David Raya by Brentford this summer – lots of clubs you’ve heard of are sniffing.

There’s still a very steady Championship team here – Travis, Wharton, Buckley, Gallagher, Brittain, Hyam and others always seem to play well against us, though perhaps that says more about us - well good enough not to have the sort of problems at the wrong end of the table we’re surely facing. Unlike us there’s also a good academy here, from which prolific striker Harry Leonard may end up solving all sorts of Brereton-Diaz shaped holes in the attack on the cheap – he’s signed a long term deal to 2027 and scored against Girona at the weekend.

Nevertheless, at the risk of repeating ourselves, I’d expect a serious dip on last year’s final finish of seventh.

Our Prediction: 17th “But then we would say that, wouldn’t we?”

How it went down: Every year the same thing happens: Blackburn overachieve again; Blackburn find new key players; Blackburn do smart little bits like Dom Hyam and Callum Brittain because of scouting and that while we do dumb shit like Tyler Roberts because Mick Beale was there to cut his fucking umbilical cord; Blackburn’s financial mismanagement doesn’t matter; Brereton-Diaz sticks around and scores lots of goals instead… Blackburn, contrary to our prediction, compete and hover around the play-off zone regardless. Usually, it should be added, with a couple of comfortable wins against QPR thrown in for good measure, just to make us look extra stupid.

Not this time. There was the obligatory whitewash at Loftus Road, the 4-0 defeat one of the worst QPR performances in living memory, but Rangers won at Ewood Park for the first time since 1999 as Rovers cratered through the second half of the season. They successfully replaced the goals they’d lost by getting a surprising 27-goal season out of Sammie Szmodics, who’d only scored 27 goals in five years prior, but they were a mediocre side before Adam Wharton departed for Palace in January and pretty dreadful after that. No surprise at all, given his pre-season comments, that Jon Dahl Tomasson didn’t stay the course.

18th – QPR (we said 21st, +3)

Shit we said: I placed QPR outside the bottom three in our season preview purely out of a sense of duty. I thought we’d finish bottom. I thought we’d finish bottom by a long, long way. I didn’t expect this to be close, or competitive.

The pre-season tour of Austria was a glorious use of eight days of annual leave, in a beautiful country. After three schnitzels in three days the food situation very quickly became find the nearest Italian restaurant, and I’m still ashamed at myself for not intervening in the drowning of that naked lesbian, but as a way to spend time travelling around central Europe by high speed rail in the height of summer was glorious. Let’s be honest though, when it came to the football, they were laughing at us. Slobbing about on the village Power League pitch, dad bods pressed up against the fence behind the goal, losing 3-0 to Slavia Prague’s children’s team, whacking long balls at Hamzad Kargbo, while 500 Czech’s pissed themselves laughing at the travelling QPR support of eight was… a long afternoon. The only thing we achieved out there was fucking Leon Balogun off once and for all, and discovering Andre Dozzell was afraid of heights along with everything else.

But who wants to pay a Patreon sub for that? We decided to set out on an exercise of finding three worse teams. Even as a stated lesson in faux optimism it was made to look preposterous within 20 seconds of the season beginning – QPR conceding straight away at Watford, in a game they kicked off, and shipping four before half time. Ainsworth said he thought the Hornets might be champions. They won only five more times at home all season.

Our Prediction: 21st “Honest guv”

How it went down: With only two wins in the first 16 games, and the team apparently abandoning all ambition to even cross the halfway line in the latter of those, a long winter stretched out ahead. Two nil down in ten minutes at eventually relegated Huddersfield, Ainsworth said it had statistically been one of the team’s best performances of the season. We said in FourFourTwo’s season preview it would be like this, and that around the time of Rotherham away we’d replace Ainsworth with his polar opposite from the continent leaving Ajax Youth Bot 3.6 to teach four-box-two systems to Josh Scowen. Enter miracle working Cruyffian disciple Marti Cifuentes.

There were plenty of troughs and challenges to come. Defeats at Millwall and Stoke were pretty dire. Just when you thought Rangers had escaped they’d phone in some slop like the 2-0 home loss to Sheff Wed and play themselves back in. But against West Brom at Loftus Road they showed how far they’d come as a team. Two big wins over Easter, including Jimmy Dunne’s last minute goal of the season winner against Birmingham, finally laid a platform for survival. The opportunity was seized in magnificent style – walloping Leeds 4-0 at Loftus Road in front of the Sky cameras, destroying their automatic promotion hopes into the bargain.

Things might be looking up again.

17th Stoke City (we said 9th, -8)

Shit we said: Welcome to TGI McScratchey’s, where it’s constantly New Year’s Eve. Here we go again…

Neil spent the back half of last year promising a much-needed overhaul of a dysfunctional and ineffective squad. And so, guess what guys? Yes, that’s right, it’s a whole load of new signings for Stoke City. Ten at the last count, and absolutely no sign that they’ve finished yet under new head of recruitment Jaden Dublin. Squeezing a stadium sale under the wire before the change of rule, and getting Leicester to part with £18m for a part-used Harry Souttar last January, keeps the FFP wolf well away from the door here, but their approach to recruitment remains a little bit taking a machine gun to a partridge shoot. Technical director Ricky Martin more loco than Living La Vida Loca. Sorry, God that’s horrendous.

Let’s have a look at what they’ve done. Morgan Fox, too old and sluggish down the left side of their defence, has been replaced with even older and slower Enda Stevens on a free from Sheff Utd. I would say it’s the most Stoke City signing I’ve ever seen, but they’ve then surpassed that by bringing in one-capped Brazilian international Wesley Moraes, a player Villa paid £22m in 2019 after 48 goals in 151 outings for Club Brugge but who’s only scored 11 times in 88 appearances for four clubs over four years since. You’d think a big, powerful forward like that, still only 26, would be plenty good enough for this level. They go into day one with him, Gayle, Tyrese Campbell, D’Margio Wright-Phillips, Ryan Mmaee, Vidigal, Chiquinho… we go in with Lyndon Dykes. Jacob Brown and Lewis Baker offer the sort of drive and goal threat from midfield we can only dream of. But, like I say, we look at Stoke’s squad, and particularly its forwards, and say the same every year.

Bournemouth’s Mark Travers is a very good keeper in this league – a position Stoke shared out between three different stopers last term. Neil has also reunited his horribly effective Preston central midfield of Pearson and Daniel Johnson. Michael Rose has shuffled across from Coventry. So far, so stodgy. Totally uninspiring. But when Neil was at Sunderland he was part of a club that, through first Jack Clarke and later Amad Diallo, played the loan market successfully to add genuine, game-changing stardust to the line-up. The success or otherwise of Wolves’ 22-year-old winger Chiquinho on loan, Maritimo’s 24-year-old wide man Andre Vidigal for an undisclosed fee, and a £3.5m capture of Moroccan forward Ryan Mmee from the Ferencvaros side he’d scored 25 goals for in 45 league appearances with nine assists into the bargain, will be the difference between Stoke finally pushing on into the top half of the division or not.

Our Prediction: 9th “I rate Neil, and actually think this could be the year they do start to make some forward progress and be a big climber, but when writing a preview you can’t have a lot of faith in a team that’s gone 16th, 15th, 14th, 14th and 16th to do anything massively different to that.”

How it went down: Listen to your own advice Clive.

It’s the circle, the circle of Stoke. They run a “manager led model”, and you’ll never guess what – manager wants some new players. They eventually stopped at 17 permanent and seven loans. That’s a lot, isn’t it? Wouter Burger was pretty decent, but you’d want that for a £4m outlay wouldn’t you? Success stories elsewhere were few and far between. Chiquinho, who had them all rolling out the HMS Piss The League memes in July, was returned to sender by the end of August. Vidigal scored five times in the first month, and then twice more all season. Wesley Moraes was, in fact, Diabeto, the world’s most enormous footballer. For it all, they came to Loftus Road in December with a back four containing Enda Stevens (32) and Ciaran Clark (34) – QPR only scored more than two goals in a game once in 78 games, and that was it. Neil was sacked shortly afterwards, and deserved it.

Steven Schumacher was then poached from Plymouth on a very typically-Stoke five times salary increase. Like hiring Lewis Hamilton to drive the Hammersmith and City Line. A team assembled for an entirely different manager and way of playing, completely unsuited to the guy you’ve now put in charge. Schumacher himself would likely have been sacked had QPR not gone and phoned in an insipid 1-0 defeat at whatever their ground’s called now on Valentine’s Night.

In the end they rallied to safety. One defeat from the last eight games, and three big wins to finish. And so we begin again with a summer rebuild, another dozen signings (at least), another wave of optimism, and almost certainly a seventh consecutive bottom half finish in the Championship.

16th – Sunderland (we said 3rd, -13)

Shit we said: The x factor provided by Diallo is unlikely to return this season, and Burnley are presently increasing derisory offers for Jack Clarke in increments of 50p. Both will/would be missed, and that difficult second album is definitely a factor for League One teams coming up – Burton, Blackpool and Barnsley were all relegated back to the third tier the year after initially confounding expectations when they first arrived in the Championship.

Here's the thing that should alarm the rest of the division though: Sunderland made the play-offs despite multiple setbacks that would have derailed most other clubs’ seasons. Alex Neil, who to read our oppo interview in this column last year you’d think was the second coming, bizarrely left them for Stoke (shrewd move Moley) after five games. While QPR blamed a six-month collapse on Mick Beale walking out on them, Sunderland picked up our old mate Moany Towbury in a marriage of convenience and piled on regardless.

They brought with them Ross Stewart, a rangey 27-year-old striker they picked up in League One from Ross County, and he took to the division immediately – he’s now got 40 goals in 62 starts and 13 sub apps for the Mackems. He, initially, formed a partnership with loanee Ellis Simms that proved a real handful but, by the end of January, Everton had recalled Simms in a panic and Stewart’s season was over with an Achilles blow out. They were forced to do the back half of the campaign with Leeds’ to-this-point-overrated ruddy-faced child Joe Gelhardt as their main striker – three goals in 20 games, they’d probably have got that out of Macauley Bonne.

The injuries didn’t begin or end there. Dan Ballard, who I rated as the best defensive signing in the league last transfer window when they picked him up for less than £2m from Arsenal after a successful loan at Millwall, got crocked during our game up there in August in a challenge Albert Adomah was lucky not to be punished more harshly for. Danny Batth soon followed him to the treatment table. Loveable toerag Luke O’Nien, already converted to a right back from his midfield role at previous club Wycombe, ended up playing in the middle of a back three and four that frequently took the field without a recognised centre back at all. For their play-off semi-final with Luton O’Nien was partnered in the middle by 21-year-old right back Trai Hume, a £200k punt from Linfield, with attacking midfielder Patrick Roberts at right back and Lyndon Gooch on the left. They won 2-1 regardless.

They have the likes of 16-year-old Chris Rigg, who’s already playing first team, breaking through. Another summer of aggressive youth recruitment - silky defender Jenson Seelt, 20, PSV; midfielder Jobe Bellingham, 17, Birmingham; giant forward Luis Semedo, 19, Benfica, three goals in pre-season already - is well underway. They have departed from the plan enough to let Towbury cuddle up with Bradley Dack again, mind.

Southampton are one of a number of clubs sniffing around Stewart which could prove problematic but, with a better run of luck this season, the Championship could be laughing on the other side of its face.

Our prediction: 3rd

How it went down: Our biggest miss of the season, and that despite them keeping hold of Jack Clarke which felt unlikely at the time of the preview. He did spend the majority of the season injured, mind you. Removing his contributions along with those of Diallo, Simms and, as predicted, Stewart from the previous year’s numbers was always going to have some effect, and Sunderland’s recent acquired tendency to do smart business in the loan and European markets seemed to desert them.

There was talk last summer that Moany Towbray would be dismissed despite taking a young team to the play-off semi-finals in fairly swashbuckling style after Alex Neil’s desertion. Cue much howling and wailing about how the game’s gone. If Sunderland genuinely wanted to do that, they should have had the courage of their convictions. Instead, this awkward impasse developed where sporting director Kristjaan Speakman an the board want to run an effective youth development programme, bringing in excellent young boys like Edourd Michut to hopefully sell for massive profit, and Big Tone wants to sign Bradley Dack. They made it as high as sixth in the fledgling league table – Mowbray’s a good manager, let’s be honest here – but then decided to press the button on a departure mid-season.

What’s that coming over the hill? Honest Mick. Third in a two-horse race in Scotland, PowerPointing the fuck out of the Sunderland hierarchy and talking his way into another very decent job. A magnificently banterous three months ensued. He said the Sunderland fans hated him because of his cockney accent despite the fact he “hasn’t worked in London for ten years”. Mick, you were the QPR manager, people saw it on the television. He hauled Trai Hume off in a defeat at Birmingham, and then blanked his handshake on the touchline. Amidst the fall-out, an anonymous Twitter account appeared with a wide video shot of the incident that told a different story. That account had plenty of other defences for Beale as well. Little wonder, it turned out it was him running it. Sunderland and QPR may be at opposite ends of the country, but they’re united in a penchant for high farce. Little wonder they’ve both been taken in by the same charlatan.

Having sacked him in disgrace, the Mackems embarked on a 122 day search for a new manager. During this time they cratered through two wins from the final 15 games. They were the worst team QPR played after Christmas.

After a period in which it seemed this club was getting its act back together, chaos returned in earnest.

15th Watford (we said 14th, -1)

Shit we said: The Valerian Ismael revolution baby.

This is a bold choice. Ismael came to notable attention on these shores during the Covid lockdown by taking unfancied Barnsley into the play-offs playing an unusually high octane style of football, with a defence pushed so high it spent most of its time in the opposition half, a goalkeeper who played as sweeper, and three hard working strikers encouraged to drop back and condense whatever space was left by tearing about the place safe in the knowledge that the new five sub rule would allow them all to be replaced after an hour. It was effective, exhilarating at times, but could you watch it every week? At Barnsley he had the division’s youngest squad capable of keeping up with his extreme demands, he had zero expectation, and there were no crowds in the ground to intimidate one of the division’s lesser lights. Lightning in a bottle from a perfect storm.

It won him the job at West Brom, but problems surfaced almost immediately. West Brom are a bigger club, recently out of the Premier League, at that point still with money to spend, and with a notoriously aggy crowd back in the ground riddled with expectation. He inherited the division’s oldest squad, and it couldn’t run to the ridiculous level his football requires. He was binned by February. Besiktas picked him up – resources, crowd, expectation, older team, eight wins from 19 games, sack.

Watford need an absolute rocket up their arse. This is a dressing room long since resigned to tossing things off and doing its own thing. In theory Ismael is perfect for that, and their grossly unfair FFP workaround (Domingos Quina and Christian Kabasele’s undisclosed moves to Udinese this summer the 67th and 68th transfers between the two clubs in a decade, 57 of them a loan or undisclosed fee) along with big money sales of Pedro and Sarr will mean funds won’t be a problem. A whole clutch of 30-somethings have belatedly been tossed overboard. But, as at The Hawthorns, he inherits a squad unsuited to a method and style which requires enormous buy in from the players. Once more it’s an expectant and increasingly grumpy support base, who are going to be asked to go along with a fashion of football that is a brutal watch when it’s not clicking.

The early summer arrivals highlight the problem perfectly. Watford need experience, good pros, Championship nouse, to inject discipline, professionalism and steel into a broken dressing room – Tom Ince has arrived from Reading on an eyebrow-raising three-year deal, Jake Livermore from West Brom. But Ismael’s style requires youth, pace, and legs – Livermore himself has already proven unsuited to it once. Goalkeeper Denenenenenenena Bachmann, who also doesn’t seem suited to this style at all, getting a five-year deal and the captaincy is mad stuff. Jamal Lewis looks a better bet and it’ll be fascinating to see what Rhys Healey does returning to the UK after a successful spell with Toulouse. But the biggest problem of all is everybody – players, fans, other teams – know Ismael will only get a dozen games maximum to get it all turned around and motoring or he’ll be out.

Our Prediction: 14th “Three more managers, and at least that many transactions with Udinese.”

How it went down: From our biggest miss to one of our biggest hits. In trying so very hard not to be Watford, Watford were the most Watford that ever did Watford.

The Hornets started the season with Valerian Ismael’s murder-ball. Stocks and trades were stocked and traded with Udinese to continue the FFP dodge. They were 4-0 up by half time on day one against a hopeless and hapless QPR. Gareth Ainsworth said they’d be champions. They finished it with just five more home wins – the division’s lowest total along with ourselves. When an initial downturn would ordinarily have seen the trigger-happy Pozzos bin the manager off, they instead extended his contract. Ahaha he says, I’ve caught a geezer peeping. This, in fact, only increased the cost of sacking Ismael which they inevitably did in February. Tom Cleverley took over on an interim basis, got a couple of results, and now he’s the manager. Fair enough, it was probably his turn.

Six home wins all season, only Rotherham managed fewer. We had them right to within a place, but I can’t pretend it was a particularly difficult one to call.

14th – Swansea (we said 10th, -4)

Shit we said: Michael Duff won League Two with tiny Cheltenham, and with it the divisional manager of the year award, in 2021. It was the club’s first ever automatic promotion in the EFL, and he followed it up by comfortably consolidating them at the higher level in 15th. That was enough to persuade relegated Championship outfit Barnsley to take him on, and he took them into the play-off final with a fast, exciting brand of attacking football that was one last second Josh Windass goal away from taking Sheff Wed to a Wembley penalty shoot out. This is much more my style of football, and manager. It’s watchable and exciting, but the fundamentals and basics are looked after too. I think it’s an upgrade.

The loss of player of the year Manning, off to Southampton with Martin, is a blow, but former Birmingham full back Krystian Pedersen is inbound and is fine as a replacement there. On the opposite side, Exeter’s energetic, attacking full back Josh Key is, at 23, the sort of signing other clubs make that have me sucking my teeth and wishing we’d been in there fighting for the signature. Mind you, I said that about Forest Green’s Kane Wilson going to Bristol City last summer and he lasted ten months and has now dipped down to Derby in League One.

Up front the whole show hangs on Piroe. Will he stay? And if not, how much will they get for him, how much time will be left in the window to spend it, and who will they get for the cash? The tiresome nonsense with Obafemi has concluded with the move he was so obviously desperate for, and Blackpool’s Jerry Yates is a reasonable stab at a replacement there. If they’re expecting Yates to replace Piroe, however, that’s a stretch. I have to say, I also remain perplexed at their apparent keenness to offload Morgan Whittaker so cheaply following a successful loan at Plymouth.

In midfield, there aren’t many better in this division than Matt Grimes.

There’s still work to do here. The central defenders are not to be trusted. Goalkeeper Steven Benda (stop it) seems to play a lot better against us than he does everybody else. And that summer to do list gets exponentially longer if Piroe departs. The January transfer window went so badly the club had to send executives out to face the music in specially convened interviews, while Martin held press conference vigils flanked by his coaches as if standing by the fading body of a dying loved one. The Swans were only three points shy of the play-offs in the end, though I felt that flattered them a bit because they stuck a load of results on the board near the end when the pressure was off and the season over. But then I would say that wouldn’t I, because it suits my agenda on this one.

Our prediction: 10th Keep Piroe, and have Duff make the same impact he did in his prior two jobs, they might be an interesting bet this year. While we wait to see I’ll go same again.

How it went down: Duff didn’t work out for the Swans at all. They didn’t like him, or his football, and he was already making barbed comments towards the fans in interviews by the time they got to Loftus Road in September. He was thrusting in the direction of the exit door by the first week in December. Enter Notts County’s total football fanboy Luke Williams – a much more Swansea fit.

Losing Piroe was always going to be tough on the Swans. Williams started getting a bit of a tune out of the team towards the end – 3-0 at home to Stoke, 4-0 at Huddersfield, the standard home win against Cardiff in the derby – but it was an instantly forgettable season overall and QPR’s low quality 1-0 win there on easter Monday was more typical. Felt like they were desperately trying to get involved in the relegation battle for much of the campaign.

13th – Millwall (we said 6th, -7)

Shit we said: Let’s do the problems first, before I predict them to finish sixth anyway.

First, Wawll have been casting admiring glances towards West Bromwich Albion’s attempts to do a whole Championship campaign without a goalkeeper at all, and thought it looks fun and adventurous enough to give it a go themselves. Their version of David Button is George Long, and frankly the guy may as well not be there at all for the all the use he is. Bartosz Bialkowski, who himself always used to proffer up tasty treats whenever QPR came to town, is 36 now and down the pecking order. There’s ten points-worth of improvement just dying to be made to this team just with a loan pick up of someone like Bournemouth’s Mark Travers, who has instead gone to Stoke with everybody else.

Second, while the loss of Ballard was covered with the loan of Cresswell, neither are here this year and as yet there is no replacement. Whether it’s another loan of that ilk, or a permanent deal, it’s something that needs addressing because currently their centre back options lack depth and ball playing ability. As Nick London said on coms there during our 2-0 victory, there’s got to be more to life than walloping the ball at Benik Afobe. The rest of the team is so much better in a back three set up, with two big boppers and a ball player in the back line, but they don’t have that personnel at their disposal currently. The Blackburn collapse was induced, in part, by having to go back to a flat four in defence.

Third, this summer has brought the sudden death of benevolent American chairman John Berylson, one of the best, shrewdest and liked owners in the entire EFL. Millwall have, by their standards, been spending some money in the last couple of summers, and have done so again this. Where that funding, direction and leadership comes from after this sad loss will probably take a while to filter through but it’s a tragedy on all levels.

And fourth, they really did finish 22/23 in poor form – two wins from the last nine with the play-offs there to be taken, culminating in the shemozzle on the final day. Will doubts from that linger in the mind of the team and over the ability of Gary Rowett and bleed into the new year?

Let’s look at what they have got though. Joe Bryan has arrived from Fulham on a free transfer – one of the signings of the Championship summer. His lung-busting runs down the left, and quality of delivery in open play and from set pieces, with these sorts of targets to aim at, is a frightening prospect, particularly the way we defend. One-time QPR target Danny McNamara can do the same down the right, though his form tailed off badly through the spring.

The likes of George Honeyman, George Saville and Eastenders’ Billy Mitchell fit this team and club perfectly and make for a very dependable midfield, into which Belgian Casper De Noore (a title winner with Genk in 2019) looks a very easy fit. Again, a not insignificant £2mish has been invested there.

Money has been spent, too, up front where Scottish forward Kevin Nisbet arrives from Hibs having initially turned down the move in January – leading the Lions to briefly look at adding our own Lyndon Dykes instead. Nisbet scored 39 goals in 101 appearances for Hibs, and has hit the ground at high speed in South London with five already in pre-season including a hat trick against League Two Sutton.

With him and Bradshaw up front, Flemming just behind, Bryan supplying the service, the whole thing anchored by Honeyman, Mitchell, De Noore et all through midfield, and the likes of Duncan Watmore and youth team starlet Romain Esse on standby, there won’t be many more settled, functional, threatening set ups in this division outside the parachute payment clubs. Obviously if Flemming attracts bids late in the window then that’s a different kettle of fish altogether but, for now, add a Ballard/Cresswell type on loan for the middle of the three centre backs, and a goalkeeper with some hands (and it would help if you brought your fucking gloves as well) and they can do it this year. They can. Honest.

Our prediction: 6th “well what did you expect us to say?”

How it went down: This is actually a much bigger miss than seven spots. Millwall were a very rare thing – 13th, narrowly avoiding relegation.

Our summer opinion that they were settled and solid under Gary Rowett was bollocks, they were stale and stodgy. The dramatic implosion of their push for sixth the previous season had clearly sapped the last of their reserves and his time as manager. Zian Flemming failed to fire again, often benched. Rowett and club parted ways amicably/wearily in October. Step forwards Chelsea puppy farmer Joe Edwards for his first managerial role. Well, everybody else is going trendy youth coach and play out from the back, why not Millwall? Because Maxism that’s why. Absolute meltdown. Second worst team behind Sunderland we played after Christmas.

Drifting to what we felt looked a certain relegation, bereaved and bereft of leadership following the death of chairman John Berylson, there was only one thing for it. Neil Harris won eight of the last 13 games, including all of the last five (four of them 1-0) by spitting on it and calling it foreplay. It’s the Harris way, it’s the Millwall way, and it worked for them. The xG evangelists will tell you this lot, along with Preston and Cardiff, were the most out-of-position finishers in the division last season.

For a rescue job, fine. For a full season, and with now another horrendously tragic death of goalkeeper Matija Sarkic, there may be trouble ahead.

Links >>> Season Preview – Strugglers >>> Season Preview – Mid-Table >>> Season Preview – Contenders

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