Season Preview 2020/21 – Midtable
Tuesday, 8th Sep 2020 06:19 by Clive Whittingham
Part two of our annual look ahead to the Championship season focuses on those teams the bookies believe will bob around midtable. In several cases, we don’t necessarily agree with them.
Derby County 22/1 (title odds)
Last Season: Began with a managerial change as Frank ‘serious point, light-hearted point, but no seriously serious point’ Lampard was rewarded for taking a Championship team containing Mason Mount, Harry Wilson and Fikayo Tomori and not getting promoted with it by walking into the top job at Chelsea where he won fewer games than Sarri, lost more games, conceded 77 goals, finished lower in the league with fewer points, won no trophies and was, naturally, nominated for the Premier League’s manager of the year prize.
In came Dutchman Phillip Cocu which represented a significant coup for a Championship club as, quite apart from his illustrious playing career, he’d already won three Dutch league titles ahead of Ajax in charge of PSV. Derby, as is customary for an EFL club that’s spaffed many millions of pounds up the wall and got nowhere for it, started making noises about developing youth prospects rather than trying to buy success, and then immediately went out and added sprightly youngster Wayne Rooney to their number – all the chips on red there then, which is rather apt as it was an online casino that paid for the move, and insisted on his squad number, as football continues the long drawn out process of eating itself alive. While awaiting the January arrival of their big ticket item, Derby’s existing senior players set about mentoring the young uns in just the manner Wayne himself would have approved of - going out on a team building night out, getting tanked up, and attempting to drive home in high-powered vehicles, inevitably resulting in a horrific crash that left QPR legend Richard Keogh’s legs and Derby career in tatters and Mason Bennett and Tom Lawrence fleeing the scene before the police, or ambulance, had arrived. Lawrence would later say being a bit sad about the death of his mother had made him decide to drink his bodyweight in lager and then take a course of action that could have easily left somebody else bereaved. The Rams, rather shamelessly, took the opportunity to terminate the contract of now long-term injury absentee Keogh, while retaining the services of Lawrence and Bennett, who’d caused the crash, but remained sellable assets. Welcome to England Phillip.
The football, by comparison, was far less interesting – slow, methodical, pedestrian, frequently quite boring. Rooney, inevitably, made a difference when he arrived. The Rams won six league games in the first half of the season and 11 in the second, with Rooney scoring six times, winning 11 and drawing five of his 24 outings. Although, the wisdom of just letting him wander around at quarterback doing whatever he liked was perhaps called into question by his ridiculous crossfield pass that set up Ilias Chair for a goal against at Loftus Road. Naturally the coverage of his arrival has been sycophantic to the point of vomit-inducing, with far too little said about a gambling company paying for a player a club with existing FFP issues would never otherwise have been able to afford, by way of a marketing exercise to try and tempt more young people who idolise England’s record goalscorer into draining their savings into animated roulette. But the Sky commentators crawling so far up his hole they’re still picking bits of his anal thicket out of their teeth days later has enabled Derby to quietly bring through an exceedingly promising collection of youngsters relatively unheralded. Louie Sibley, 18, came back from lockdown with a hat trick at Millwall and finished the season with five goals from nine league starts and two sub appearances. The always impressive Jayden Bogle, 20, and Max Lowe, 23, are about to go to Sheff Utd for £10m. Max Bird, Jason Knight and Morgan Whittaker have broken through and there are others waiting in the wings. Rooney distracting the attention and hype, allowing them to bloom quietly, every bit as valuable as any mentoring he can give them on playing football into your 30s while sucking down 20 Marlboro Reds a day.
Ins >>> Mike te Wierik, 28, CB, Groningen, Free >>> David Marshall, 35, GK, Wigan, Free >>> Matt Clarke, 23, CB. Brighton, Loan
Outs >>> Max Lowe, 23, LB, Sheff Utd, £10m* >>> Jayden Bogle, 20, RB, Sheff Utd, £10m* Mason Bennett, 24, AM, Millwall, Undisclosed >>> Chris Martin, 31, CF, Bristol City, Free Scott Malone, 29, LB, Millwall, Loan >>> Jonathan Mitchell, 25, GK, Northampton, Loan >>> Ikechi Anya, 32, LM, Released >>> Tom Huddleston, 33, DM, Released
* - Joint fee
Manager: Phillip Cocu Has dealt with a hell of a lot in his first year in charge with quiet, calm dignity and authority for which he hasn’t received nearly enough praise outside the city. Has introduced a clutch of promising youngsters into the team and developed them, shovelling out some of the ageing high earners, as was his brief. But his football can be a little staid, and a gruelling watch, which won’t leave him with as much credit in the bank as he probably should have should injuries or the inconsistencies of youth lead to any kind of prolonged loss of form.
This Season: Derby have a few things going for them this season. They have Rooney from the beginning this time, and as much as we take the piss and question the legitimacy of the deal that got him here, they were a far better team with than without last season. The crop of youngsters that emerged last season, with Sibley the headline act among them, are another year and set of Championship appearances wiser than they were last season and there are others – Festy Ebosele, Eiran Cashin, Archie Brown, Jahmal Hector-Ingram – chomping at the bit. And it looks a weaker league than last year. QPR’s five permanent signings is, relatively, a lot with 17 of the teams signing fewer than that, two of them (Bournemouth and Preston) yet to sign a player at all and Middlesbrough, Cardiff, Huddersfield, Watford, Reading and Bristol City making just a couple of additions or less. Almost every club in the division has sold and released more players than they’ve brought in. Derby’s form in the second half of last term suggests an improvement on tenth in this environment should be well within their grasp.
However… While problems at centre back have potentially been solved by the return of Matt Clarke and signing of Mike te Wierik, I’m not convinced David Marshall from Wigan is going to correct their goalkeeping deficiencies to the extent they are. Now 35, he looked done at Hull two seasons ago to me. They’re also, it seems, about to lose talented pair Bogle and Lowe to Sheffield United for what looks, again in my humble opinion, a pretty cheap double deal. I know what I’d prefer for my £10m given a choice between those two and Ivan Toney, for instance. They are, also, lacking options in attack with Bennett and Martin moved on and Lawrence too inconsistent and unreliable on and off the pitch. Cocu says wingers and strikers are en route though and if they’re good ones, with these kids, and the defence tightened, who knows…
Local Knowledge: Ollie Wright @DerbyCountyBlog “Cocu gets maximum credit from the fanbase, chiefly because of the nature of the season he has just endured. Even by Melvyn Morris-era Derby County standards, it was absolutely batshit and could easily have been a lot worse than it eventually was. There are definitely some reservations about the football we’ve produced under Cocu in terms of the attacking output, but I for one can see what he is driving at and the team’s form in the second half of last season was excellent.
“The development of the young players is hugely significant for Derby and there is now a big crop of kids born around the turn of the Millennium who are proper first-team regulars. Louie Sibley, in particular, is frighteningly talented and for him, the sky’s the limit. Max Bird has already captained the side aged 19 and was the players’ player of the season in 19/20. Jason Knight was the top-scoring teenager in the Championship last season from midfield… I could go on, as there are three more players in the same age range who can be expected to feature regularly in the matchday squad this season. It’s remarkable, really.
“Derby were under a ‘soft’ transfer embargo until the EFL charges were finally dismissed earlier this summer. David Marshall, the Scotland goalkeeper, has come in from Wigan, adding vital experience and stability and hopefully fixing what was a glaring weak spot in the squad last season. Matt Clarke, last year’s fans’ player of the season, has signed for a second season-long loan from Brighton, which is excellent news. A free transfer for Mike te Wierik, a centre back from FC Groningen, was tied up back in February.
“The outs have also been very important, to help cut the wage bill by shifting largely non-productive high earners. Scott Malone and Mason Bennett went to Millwall in a double deal and neither will be particularly missed. Scott Carson will stay on for a second season of ‘Richard Wright’ duty at Manchester City. Ikechi Anya, Tom Huddlestone and Chris Martin all left at the end of their contracts. Anya, it is presumed, has retired; Martin signed a two-year deal at Bristol City and we’re all very curious to see where Huddlestone ends up. Winger Florian Jozefzoon, who failed to settle after being signed from Brentford by Frank Lampard, has not been rehomed as yet, but has also not been given a squad number. Unless one of the young players is sold on, I doubt Derby will be spending much money this summer and any additions will most likely be Premier League loans, albeit rumours are persistently swirling about Polish winger Kamil Jozwiak. Without a doubt, we need to add some attacking players.
“The depth is in midfield, where we have Wayne Rooney, Graeme Shinnie, Bird, Knight, Duane Holmes and Krystian Bielik, who will be returning from a serious knee injury in the coming weeks. Where we are undeniably light, however, is up front and in wide areas. With Martin having left, Jack Marriott and Martyn Waghorn are the only recognised strikers in the squad. Tom Lawrence has been an automatic pick on the left when fit and not suspended, which is not a healthy situation, while on the right, there hasn’t been a natural choice at all, so Knight and Waghorn were regularly asked to ‘do a job’ there last season. There’s hope that yet another academy product, Morgan Whittaker, can grab the open right wing slot, but he has not developed as rapidly as his contemporaries Knight, Bird and Sibley so far.
“As it stands, we don’t have enough firepower to be confident of finishing in the top six, but Cocu has stated that he is hoping to bring in three new players (two wingers and a striker). So, assuming that can be fixed and the new recruits hit the ground running, we have a real chance of improving on last season’s tenth place finish.”
What we said last season: Tenth. Actually finished… tenth. Yay cake for us.
Prediction: Seventh. Three caveats: it’s pending additions to the attack; we’d written it before the two departures this week; they were already only that high partly because we just don’t like anybody else this season.
Last Season: Now, I want you to be sitting down for this, because I could scarcely believe it myself, but it turns out that taking somebody whose football career was best known for an infamous debut own goal, injuries, booting Asian lads up and down Leeds High Street, and shagging Big Brother contestants, and making him your manager because he lives in the town is not an immediate route to success. Even with life-long Middlesbrough fan Robbie Keane filling a childhood dream as his assistant, Jonathan Woodgate looked like a bit of a daft idea, and was. There were injuries in mitigation, not quite as many injuries as he made out prior to a 2-2 draw at Loftus Road in December, but injuries all the same. But let it never be forgotten the resources that have been spent on this Middlesbrough team. Misfiring strike pair Britt Assombalonga and Ashley Fletcher cost north of £20m between them. After four wins in the first four months Woodgate did then, briefly, threaten to get a tune out of them with four successive victories over Christmas and a manager of the month magnum of champagne to see in 2020 with. But they won none of the next 12 and when they returned from lockdown with a 3-0 loss at home to Swanselona which left them in serious relegation trouble, Steve Gibson admitted defeat.
In stepped 71-year-old Championship specialist Neil Warnock for another “last job in football”, further stretching his farewell tour total advantage over Cher. Short of taking over at Inverness Caledonian Thistle - and don’t rule that out in the future - it’s difficult to imagine how he could have gone any further from the Cornwall farm he insists he’s determined to retire to and still remain in the country. Half the French league is closer than this, but back he came all the same because “it’s a great club this” and “you need a good chairman as a manager and Steve’s one of the best” and “everybody’s got to do perhaps just a little bit more than they have been doing”… Rudy Gestede was jettisoned immediately: “Go and gerrin bath Rudy, out the way, make me feel sick if I look at ya.” Honestly, you couldn’t write this shit. Martin Allen will be the fucking Barnet manager again in a minute. You didn’t need a second viewing of Mark Kermode’s Secrets of Cinema on heists to know what was coming next, as Neil quickly assembled a crew, getting a call out to Kevin Blackwell, who was decorating a kitchen extension, and Ronnie Jepson, who was leading a new life as Margate bed and breakfast owner Keith, to bring the band back together one last time. “You son of a bitch, what’s the job?”.
It was all designed to make sure Boro stayed safe, and it worked – they won four of their last five away games at Stoke, Millwall, Reading and Sheff Wed to survive with plenty to spare. However, even with Warnock’s Midas touch, Boro still lost all three of their remaining home games against QPR, Bristol City and Cardiff and were the only team in the whole second half of the campaign to lose to Hull. The problems run far deeper here than simply plonking Uncle Neil in charge and waiting for the good times to roll back in.
Ins >>> Grant Hall, 28, CB, QPR, Free
Outs >>> George Friend, 32, LB, Birmingham, Free >>> Adam Clayton, 31, CM, Birmingham, Free >>> Daniel Ayala, 29, CB, Released >>> Ryan Shotton, 31, CB, Released >>> Rudy Gestede, 31, CF, Released
Manager: Neil Warnock I’m starting to wonder whether he really likes Cornwall as much as he says he does.
This Season: Warnock’s “come in to help Steve out until the end of the season” has, shock horror, turned into “I’m going to have one last crack at it, oooooo I’m like Red Adair me” and most of Boro’s prospects this season hang on the extent of the Neil Warnock Effect. They’ve shifted a number of big earners from an exorbitant wage bill, but Ayala, Friend and Shotton were all regulars in a defence that had already lost Ben Gibson and Aden Flint in recent times and it remains to be seen whether injury prone Grant Hall, part of a QPR defence that’s shipped 70+ goals a season for three years in a row, is the stellar free transfer addition and leader-in-waiting they believe him to be. He remains Boro’s only signing so far, despite a steady stream of links to players who’ve gone elsewhere, including QPR targets Charlie Goode, Rob Dickie and Luke Amos. How many of those links were genuine and how many were simply agents and lazy hacks sticking Middlesbrough into stories because both club and manager are rather prone to a trolley dash I’m not sure – certainly Amos never rang true as a target. He seems relaxed, and there will inevitably be more arrivals, but a legitimate question was raised during the week about why a player would move himself up to the North East when he knows the manager is likely a one-season thing and then who knows what beyond? Besides the obvious of course.
Local Knowledge: James Boothby @JamesyBoz “Last season was a bit of a disaster really. The Woodgate gamble backfired spectacularly and for a while relegation looked a very distinct reality. Warnock came in and we definitely improved, although very hit and miss and without some players after not extending contracts. I do think the squad is better than the league position suggests, but they just did not perform for whatever reason and at the end of the day the league table does not lie (despite what Woodgate claimed..)
“Everyone was pleased to see Warnock stay I think, he did fairly well under a strange end to the season and I think he will be able to manage the squad much better. Warnock has been making plenty of noises about looking up the league, but with the current squad I think any talk of promotion is wide of the mark. He will fancy himself to do it no doubt, but would need massive improvement from current squad and some new faces to contend.
“Grant Hall (a man you will know well) is the only incoming so far - but he seems tick the boxes we needed at CB. We badly needed some leadership in the side which it sounds like he will provide. A number of outgoings, with the likes of Ayala, Shotton, Clayton and perhaps most surprisingly George Friend all leaving. We badly need numbers in before the deadline, with two strikers, a midfield and probably a GK most likely to come in. We have missed out on a number of targets so far though, although Warnock seems relaxed that he will get what he needs.
“The team is OK. Fletcher and Assombalonga up top seemed to click towards the end of last season and have done well in the limited pre season. Tavernier in midfield has looked sharp and Djed Spence impressed in his debut season. Once you get passed the first 14/15 we look weaker though, and we need some creativity in midfield and out wide. I would be hoping for a fairly stable mid table finish. Whilst the Premier League money has gone, we have got a number of big earners off the wage bill and the feeling is there is money to spend. We are definitely being more careful with it though, which is no bad thing after the mistakes in the Monk era.”
What we said last season: Ninth. Actually finished seventeenth.
Prediction: Eighth. And that’s five or six places higher than I’d be predicting with any other manager.
Last Season: Over two spells as a player, a cancer diagnosis, and a five-year managerial stint in which he took a shambolic Millwall side from chaos under Steve Lomas and Ian Holloway out of League One, back into the Championship and up to the cusp of the play-offs, Neil Harris could fully justify the often over-used moniker of club legend. It’s a pretty short list of people who’ve made a more positive contribution to the modern day Millwall Football Club than him. So the opportunity to have another swing at it after 2018/19 had ended with just two wins in the final 14 games was always going to be afforded him, and rightly so. A good clutch of new signings were made, including our own Big Posh Matt Smith who Harris had been after since birth, and Ipswich goalkeeper Bartosz Bialkowski. They beat Preston on day one with a goal from Jed Wallace – a super player who’d get far more attention if he played for somebody else – and then Big Posh Matt scored in a draw at West Brom and home win against Sheff Wed. Miiiiiiiiiiiiiillllllllllllllllllllllll.
But as August melted into September and wins melted into a thrashing by Fulham and accident-riddled loss to QPR so a lot of old failings and criticisms resurfaced. Millwall, as QPR had been prone to do themselves, were punting long balls down the middle for Smith, which contrary to his physical appearance he’s not very adept with, rather than crossing it for him to attack. Harris’ steadfast belief in, and defence of, the “Millwall way” was starting to wear thin even on his disciples. No, it’s not really going to work at The Den if Aitor Karanka turns up and starts trying to churn out technical 1-0 wins after letting the opponent dictate the game with 80% of the ball, nor would Steve Cooper proclaiming a home defeat a success because they held 75% possession and moved through the thirds nicely go over awfully well. But this idea that Millwall could and should only play Daily Sport football for the English Defence League, pumped high and long and constant, British football from British footballers, none of this foreign muck, phwoooooooar get that into you, they don’t like it up ‘em, phwooooooooooooar, fackin ‘ell Wawll, what the fack Wawll, you mug, you mug, you slag, you muppet, you mug… had worn rather thin. Harris knew it too and resigned, mercifully relieving him and the locals of the grisly prospect of them having to turn on him. A rare amicable parting at exactly the right time, reputations and friendships cemented intact.
Gary Rowett looked, sounded and felt like a good fit. No previous connection, so a welcome break, but not such a radical departure that a solid enough team would need to be ripped apart and started again. They weren’t that different, but they were noticeably better, improved results with a less attritional style of play while still solid and difficult to beat. They lost only three times in 20 matches through to the middle of January at which point they recruited very smartly indeed, adding former Brentford star Ryan Woods who remains a perfect Championship midfielder, an ideal solution to many of our own midfield failings, despite a personal failure at Stoke. Form was fair to middling through the second half of the season – W6 D6 L6 – but Millwall were still in with a technical play-off shout with two games to go despite operating on one of the league’s lowest budgets.
Ins >>> Mason Bennett, 24, AM, Derby, Undisclosed >>> Scott Malone, 29, LB, Derby, Loan >>> Ryan Woods, 26, DM, Stoke, Loan >>> Troy Parrott, 18, CF, Spurs, Loan
Outs >>> Jason McCarthy, 24, RB, Wycombe, Undisclosed >>> Aiden O’Brien, 26, LW, Sunderland, Free
Manager: Gary Rowett Right man, right place, right time.
This Season: Rowett, much like Gary Monk, has been threatening to be a big breakout managerial success in the Championship for some time. Erudite, thoughtful pundits with notable early success on their CVs, they’ve both since done well in certain places, and less well in others, failing having spent money at Stoke and Middlesbrough respectively, both getting chewed up and spat out by the farce that is Birmingham City. While Monk looks to have landed himself in a fine mess at FFP-afflicted Sheff Wed, Rowett looks and sounds like a perfect fit for Millwall. The budgetary restrictions are well known but Millwall have a good, solid team, well drilled and aware of its strengths and weaknesses, that didn’t need major surgery but had perhaps just been underperforming a bit. There’s some talent here too, Jed Wallace chief amongst it, and in a truncated summer that other clubs have found tricky to recruit in, Millwall look to have done extremely shrewd business, albeit mostly on loan. I love Woods, as if that wasn’t obvious enough already, and would walk over broken glass in my bare feet to get him to Loftus Road. If they get the extremely promising youngster bit of Troy Parrott’s reputation rather than the difficult to handle gobshite then theirs is a varied, difficult to mark attack which will cause teams problems – Matt Smith’s 15 goals in 23 starts and 21 sub appearances looks remarkably like the record we bombed him out to get Hugill and Wells in on loan for.
Local Knowledge: James Blewett @MillwallJDB “We started badly last year and Millwall fans feared we were in for another season of struggle. However the arrival of Gary Rowett saw an upswing in our fortunes and as we went into lockdown we appeared to be on a strong run with the possibility of the play offs, winning 3-0 at Forest. The disrupted season and lack of crowds really affected us and we lost momentum, Nevertheless finishing eighth , two points off the play offs was a great season for Millwall and we go into the new campaign with (for us) an unusual sense of optimism
“Neil Harris did a tremendous, stabilising and rebuilding the club after the disastrous reigns of Lomas and your old friend Holloway. However, after five years he appeared to have run out of steam and I was pleased that he jumped rather than was pushed and left with his head held high. I think most Lions fans are pleased he has done well at Cardiff. Tactically he’s limited though with a narrow view of the "Millwall way" (which incidentally led to him releasing Eze). Gary Rowett has been a breath of fresh air. Less invested in Millwall, he was taken a more dispassionate and professional approach building a much more tactically sophisticated team. We are more mobile and play in a more flexible way.
“It is obviously a very strange transfer window with so much uncertainty around. Rowett has recruited shrewdly. He has brought back the impressive Ryan Woods on loan and also addressed our weakness at left back by bringing in Lions old boy Scott Malone. Up front he has added the injury prone but impressive Mason Bennett from Derby but most excitingly added Troy Parrot from Spurs who according to their fans is a genuinely terrific prospect. If I was being greedy it would be good to get Jayson Molumby back on loan from Brighton to strengthen our midfield and perhaps a bit more pace up front. I think we have a very strong spine to the team, a rock solid defence and possibly more attacking options up front, including of course our top scorer Matt Smith. Our main weakness is that we have a small squad and not much strength in depth so are vulnerable to injuries.
“Normally Millwall fans consider survival in the Championship to be a job well done but this season we have that unlikely sense of optimism that the play offs are a realistic prospect. On our day we are a match for anyone in this division and with a bit of luck we could break into the top six. Realistically though we will have a season of more ups and downs but because of our small squad will fall just short again, perhaps finishing seventh or eighth. I'll be quite happy with that though and to be honest it will just be great to get back to the Den and watch live football.”
What we said last season: Fifteenth. Actually finished eighth.
Prediction: Sixth. I like them,and I think they’ll be in the six. Manager suits them. Recruited well.
Last Season: Preston always strike me as perennially underrated in the pre-season promotion betting picture. One of the division’s lower budgets, sure, and definitely a selling club rather than a buying one, but their managerial appointments are shrewd and seldom changed, the signings are frequently well scouted and picked up for cheap money from lower divisions or Ireland, and they’ve several times brought in transfer fees waaaaaaay over the odds of what the player was actually worth – Jordan Hugill, Callum Robinson. They rarely attract any attention, you’re more likely to find a negative comment about Brentford on Sky than you are a live Preston match, but they’re always there or thereabouts each season, frequently bloodying the noses of and finishing higher in the table than clubs with bigger resources, wage bills, transfer budgets and expectations. They’re persistently difficult to play against, and not just for Ben Pearson’s flamethrower approach to winning friends and influencing people.
Initially this looked spot on. They lost only two, and won nine, games through to the start of November when three consecutive victories against Blackburn, Charlton and Huddersfield put them top of the table. Of course that was never likely to be sustained and they lost the next four without scoring before embarking on a rather streaky winter – four unbeaten, then six without a win, then six without defeat, then seven defeats in nine, and so on. With expectations perhaps heightened, and only Scott Sinclair by way of January reinforcement – and even he looking like a rare expensive misstep – there was some disquiet starting to bubble when QPR won 3-1 at Deepdale with ten men in the final match before the Covid-19 shutdown. That was a fourth defeat in five games and in lockdown they won none of their first four and then only two of the nine games behind closed doors to fall out of the play-off picture entirely.
You think the QPR support base is divided online, treat yourself to PNE Twitter. This is either a well-run club, with a talented manager, punching above its weight; or a skinflint shitshow, penny pinching and lacking ambition, failing to invest and passing up clear opportunities for a Premier League promotion into the bargain. Alex Neil, linked with Stoke last season, is either one of the league’s best managers, or on his last legs before the season even begins. If they can’t decide themselves, what hope have we got?
Ins >>> N/A
Outs >>> Connor Simpson, 20, CF, Cork, Free >>> Tom Clarke, 32, CB, Salford, Free >>> Jack Armer, 19, LB, Carlisle, Free >>> Josh Ginnelly, 23, LW, Hearts, Loan >>> Michael Crowe, 24, GK, Released
Manager: Alex Neil Moley, moley, moley, moley.
This Season: Preston have not had a good 2020 so far. They won only two of their final 12 matches either side of the lockdown and fears they may have stagnated will not have been eased by a summer transfer window which so far shows no new additions. They beat Mansfield 4-0 in the cup at the weekend, and former Oxford man Ryan Ledson has hinted in lockdown that he might finally be finding the form that got him noticed in League One in the first place which would be a marginal gain on last season. Likewise Tom Bayliss, signed to great fanfare and promise from Coventry a year ago but remarkably only used twice from the start and twice from the bench since.
Preston, like QPR, have suffered in the striker market, unable to turn Bristol Rovers’ Billy Bodin, Exeter’s Jayden Stockley or Motherwell’s Louis Moult into another Hugill or Robinson-type success story and taking uncharacteristically silly punts on David Nugent and Scott Sinclair as a result. They’ll need an existing squad member to step up in attack, or a new option to materialise in the permanent or loan market in the next month, if they’re to avoid the drift at the end of last season to turn into a permanent midtable malaise in 2020/21.
Local Knowledge: @DeepdaleDigest “We started so well and went top of the league in November, but couldn't hang on to a top six place, never mind anything else. The addition of Scott Sinclair couldn't secure a playoff spot, and the season somewhat faded with a whimper. A campaign that showed so much promise ended in disappointment – as it so often does with Preston.
“I'm personally a big Alex Neil fan. He has worked wonders on a budget, he has lost key players without having considerable funds to reinvest and still continues to make Preston competitive in the playoff race. He is a talented young manager that will likely have a future at a higher level than North End can offer, which is why he is so regularly in-demand, and yet some of ours fans think he is to blame for us not being in the top six. It's baffling to me, given the quality of players he has lost in his three years at Deepdale.
“It won't take long to talk about our summer business – there hasn't been any. At the time of writing, Preston still haven't managed to make a single signing, despite certainly needing at least one new striker. North End have just over a month to get one in, and time is running out. New contracts have been given to Ryan Ledson, Josh Harrop and Seani Maguire, and we haven't lost any key players yet so it isn't a complete nightmare.
“I would imagine it will be more of the same – threatening to break into the top six and have a real go for promotion but ultimately falling short due to a lack of quality in the final third. A top half finish probably awaits.”
What we said last season: Sixth. Actually finished ninth.
Last Season: The Terriers were by far and away the most difficult team to write up in this preview a year ago following their relegation from the Premier League. They’d won only three games in the top flight in 2018/19 and director of football Stuart Webber, manager David Wagner, and chairman Dean Hoyle who’d masterminded the meteoric rise in the first place had moved on. However, they’d done that supposedly pretty shrewd thing of accepting their fate rather than chasing their losses, bringing in Wagner-a-like Jan Siewert from, you’ve guessed it, Dortmund’s reserves, and setting sail on Championship preparations months before they actually got there. We plonked them in the middle and sat back to see how it went for them.
Not. Well. Huddersfield’s 2019/20 initially resembled Pride Rock after Skar had taken over. Charity Park Rangers chipped in with a point for them in the second week, but that was all they got from their first nine games – eight defeats and a League Cup exit to Lincoln. Bar talented former Charlton striker Karlan Grant there was the dank, depressing odour of basic inadequacy about them and with three quarters of the season still to play they basically looked dead on arrival. Siewert, inevitably, was shown the door, and they then became the Championship club to finally take the plunge and reward Cowley sisters Danni and Nikki for their fine work with Braintree and Lincoln. Their reward was safety in the Championship, and while that shouldn’t be anything for a team fresh from the Premier League with a maximum parachute payment to crow about, given they went into their tenth game of the league season on the first Saturday in October with just two points to their name it was not to be sniffed at.
It was a grind. Thirteen wins were plundered but only three of them (QPR H 2-0, Charlton H 4-0, Birmingham A 3-0) were by more than a single goal margin. There were five 0-0 draws, including three in four games during lockdown against Preston H, Reading A and Sheff Wed A. The Cowleys' miraculous achievements at their previous clubs were always tempered rather by any time spent watching their teams play, led from the air at Sincil Bank by 30-something-year-old Matt Rhead who’d previously worked in the JCB digger factory. Once more, at Huddersfield, they’d got the results, rescued an apparently desperate situation, motivated and organised a complete rabble. But would you want your daughter to come home with a season ticket? Apparently not. Their reward, for doing everything asked of them, in trying circumstances, was the sack, two days after beating Premier League-bound West Brom in their final home game.
Ins >>> Danny Ward, 28, CF, Cardiff, Free >>> Joel Pereira, 24, GK, Man Utd, Loan
Outs >>> Jon Goren-Stankovic, 24, CB, Sturm Graz, Free >>> Herbert Bockhorn, 25, RB, Bochum, Free >>> Reece Brown, 24, CM, Peterborough, Loan >>> Joal Coleman, 24, GK, Fleetwood, Loan >>> Elias Kachunga, 28, CF, Sheff Wed, Free >>> Danny Simpson, 33, RB, Released >>> Collin Quaner, 29, CF, Released
Manager: Carlos Coberan Bielsa-bud.
This Season: There are three traits you often see in Championship football clubs who’ve fucked up, know they’ve fucked up, and are trying to extricate themselves from the enormous hole they’ve dug for themselves by rebelling against English football’s received wisdom. All are in play as the division returns this weekend.
Down at Bournemouth they’ve replaced a successful, experienced manager who reached the end of the road with an idealistic assistant who’s never had the top job before when convention would suggest a clean break and “proven Championship anaesthetist” like Chris Hughton or Tony Pulis might be an idea. At Bristol City they’ve spent all the Adam Webster and Jonathan Kodija money, loaded themselves up on chunky four-year contracts for midtable Championship footballers and started nervously eyeing the arrival of the morning post. The talk there now is all about youth and young and youngsters and academy and stuff under progressive coach Dean Holden.
And then there’s Huddersfield, for whom a survival they were lucky to achieve after two years of solid shit was tainted by the way in which it was attained. Pragmatic, effective, Championship channel-ball has been replaced by new fangled Johnny Foreigner think tank, this time in the form of Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds coach Carlos Coberan whose only previous number one jobs have been in Saudi Arabia and Cyprus. I smell the sticky finger of an agent poking around in here somewhere. Expect much sucking of teeth and fretting about the apparently many varied complex intricacies of this dog league from learned scholars Don Goodman and Danny Higginbotham as they shuffle their feet and shake their heads and bemoan the lack of opportunities in the game for hard working British coaches like Paul Hurst and Aidy Boothroyd.
This looks a tough job for anybody. Huddersfield have essentially been a bad team playing very poorly and losing most weeks for more than two years now. But is this shortened close season, with a transfer window open deep into the new campaign, money scarce without crowds and declining parachute payments, really the time to embark on a complete overhaul of team, squad and style with a left field appointment? In a week’s time are we expecting 30-something centre backs Christopher Schindler, Tommy Elphick and Richard Stearman to suddenly turn into ball players? Perhaps Town will be rewarded for taking a radical approach to solving their problem, or more likely punished further for taking a huge risk handing a job that even the most experienced managers at this level would struggle with. If you nailed me to the wall and made me bet on it, I’d say four of these experiments go wrong for every one that goes right, and they’re in the shit.
Local Knowledge: Brady Frost @Brady0894 @takesthatchance “Last season was dire. A terrible start under Jan Siewert which meant it was only about survival. Hindsight’s a wonderful thing, but if Siewert wasn’t in charge at the start, we probably wouldn’t have been in such a mess. The Cowleys did a great job to help us avoid relegation and should be credited with that, but there are not too many highlights to choose from, apart from the emergence of academy player Lewis O’Brien. A terrible season that I’m pleased to see the end of. I hope it’s a blip rather than a sign of things to come.
“I was very disappointed in the Cowleys departing. After beating West Brom to avoid relegation, to get rid of them just two days after seemed to come out of the blue. A lot of fans have criticised the style of play, but they joined with the club having just two points after the first nine games, results were the priority, not the style of play. Given how much the club has gone through in the last four years, an unexpected promotion to a gut-wrenching relegation, I think Huddersfield need some stability and the Cowleys provided that. The style of play from Corberan’s team has been better from the brief glimpses we’ve seen in pre-season, but I have no doubt that the Cowleys’ will be Premier League managers at some point and I hope it doesn’t come back to bite us.
“He’s a very left-field appointment but the club’s reasoning was to bring a better style of play to the team. Carlos Corberan came across very well in his interview and the pre-season games have been encouraging, but apart from spells as a manager in Cyprus, he’s never been a head coach for too long. Our start looks tough too, with Norwich, Swansea and Brentford in the first five games, so it’s not going to be an overnight transformation. As well documented, he was Leeds’ Under 23s Coach and was already at the club when Marcelo Bielsa arrived and impressed him enough for him to be welcomed in Bielsa’s inner circle. If we get anything like Leeds’ performances levels, then that’s incredibly exciting. If he is given the time and provided the right support in terms of transfers by the board, then I think we’ll see something special, but it might be the 2021/2022 season when we see it.
“The transfer business at the time of writing hasn’t been too inspiring. We signed a former player Danny Ward from Cardiff, who although I think will prove useful and wouldn’t be surprised if he ends up doing well, it’s not one to get you off your seat. We’ve also signed goalkeeper Joel Pereira on loan from Manchester United, who was on loan at Hearts last season and did terribly, judging the responses from Hearts fans. The squad, in general, looks bare, and if Karlan Grant leaves, we’ll be lacking some firepower, but the rumoured £16m would be good if we reinvest. We still need a right-back and some quality in midfield, and a replacement for Grant, but I imagine we’ll just try and get further loan signings to bolster the team and we won’t see much movement until the end of the window. I’m hoping that they back the new manager with players he wants, but I think he’ll have to work with former bad eggs, Issac Mbenza, Terence Kongolo, who downed tools for us previously and I’m not confident that they won’t down tools for us again.
“I’d take anywhere between 12-16th if we show progress and the club has something to build on for the season after. I look at teams like Norwich for example and see how Daniel Farke didn’t click until his second season in charge and think it could be the same for Huddersfield. We’ll see more stylish football under Corberan, but the same frustrations of individual errors and inconsistency remaining. The new style of football means it will take time for the players to adapt and it’s clear the club is going to bring more young players through, so it’s going to be a season where we will have to be patient. I can see us having some eye-catching unexpected wins that help boost the feel-good factor around the club, but I wouldn’t underestimate the mental fatigue that still hangs around Huddersfield Town from the dreadful relegation and if we start badly, it might be another long season in-store at the wrong end of the table. Here’s hoping I’m more positive when I speak to you next.”
What we said last season: Twelfth. Actually finished eighteenth.
Prediction: Twenty first. Another narrow escape, ground out with three wins and a draw in their last eight fixtures under new manager Mick McCarthy.
Last Season: One of the oft-returned to stories on the excellent Under The Cosh podcast is the Nottingham Forest squad of 1997/98 renting a flat-bottomed boat to tour the backwaters and canals of Miami Beach as part of a week-long promotion celebration, then ill-advisedly taking to the open seas in it, swiftly capsizing, dumping the city’s supply of canned lager and several very expensive Premier League footballers into the shark-infested Atlantic Ocean, almost drowning non-swimmer Geoff Thomas in the process. That used to be Blackburn. Really bad ideas, recklessly executed, with disastrous results, amidst a lot of arm waving and panic.
In July this year, BBC4 aired an uninterrupted journey down the Kennet and Avon Canal on a narrow boat for two hours straight “featuring the sights and sounds of wildlife and the towpath as the boat passes by”. Channel editor Cassian Harrison described it as “an antidote to the conventional grammar of television in which everything is getting faster and faster”. That’s Blackburn now. Just sort of plodding along down the middle of the road, occasionally winning five out of six (Barnsley, Brentford, Stoke, Derby, Bristol City all vanquished in November) to get the blood moving around a bit and dispel the latent DVT threat, but also equally capable of taking the same set of fixtures in reverse later in the season and winning one from seven.
They’re like an over parented child. Immediately reined in with a 0-0 draw at home to Wigan and cautioned about “getting a bit carried away” at the mere mention of play-offs – “ooh, somebody’s had a bit too much sugar I think.” But similarly soothed with a nice 3-2 away win at Cardiff just when the season seems to be completely unravelling and shit is starting to be lost – “ooh, somebody’s a bit tired aren't they? Have this Adam Armstong goal from the halfway line. Then bed.”
The campaign was basically over as a contest when Bradley Dack’s knee exploded live on the tellybox two days before Christmas, but it hadn’t really been up to much before that and they drifted through to an eleventh placed finish largely unnoticed bar one 5-0 win at Sheff Wed the brought puzzled glances from the outside world. They do have Lewis Holtby to look at though.
Ins>> Thomas Kaminski, 27, GK, Gent, £450k
Outs >>> Richard Smallwood, 29, CM, Hull, Free >>> Dominic Samuel, 26, CF, Released >>> Danny Graham, 34, CF, Released >>> Sam Hart, 23, LB, Released >>> Jayson Leutwiler, 31, GK, Released
Manager: Tony Mowbray Insert paragraph about him being one of football’s good guys.
This Season: In the same way the Connor Washington transfer caused QPR problems long after the player had failed and moved on, Blackburn are rather hamstrung by the ongoing underperformance of two players who represent significant outlay in the transfer market. Unlike Washington, who was bought from the division below after one hot streak at Peterborough, Ben Brereton and Sam Gallagher looked like reasonable, if rather over-priced, punts having both played well at this level before and, in Gallagher’s case, enjoyed a productive season on loan at Ewood Park. Neither has fired though: Brereton has only started 14 games and come on as a sub that many times again, scoring twice, while Gallagher scored seven times in 44 appearances last season. With Danny Graham’s Indian summer now over it’s left Rovers heavily reliant on the enigmatic Bradley Dack, who they need to come back good and strong from a season ending knee injury, and Adam Armstrong, finally fulfilling his undoubted potential but now being linked with moves back upstairs, even potentially back to boyhood club Newcastle. With the money, some £12m of the money, spent, the Covid-19 pandemic biting into club finances, and FFP limits already being pushed close, new arrivals have been thin on the ground for a squad that looks short. Tony Mowbray really needs more than a couple of those four players to stay, play, and play well if a terminally leaky defence isn’t to get them into a few difficulties in 2020/21. Do like Lewis Travis though.
Local Knowledge: Ian Herbert @IanHerbert @BRFCS.com “Last season ended up being another season of consolidation but it threatened, albeit fleetingly, just before Christmas and once again right after lockdown, to deliver a play-off finale. Instead, all that was on the matt behind the front door was a red & white docket of doom, indicating that as we were out, our package of opportunity had been left with Swansea. A place in the play-offs would have been an incredible achievement, especially given the loss of our talisman, Bradley Dack, for over half a season. But in the end, the combination of a brittle defence and a pair of expensive, goal-shy (wide) strikers resulted in an eleventh-placed finish, four places higher and three points better off than 2019.
“As is usual, the final league table rarely lies and in this instance, it would have survived the close scrutiny of an enthusiastic prosecution barrister in a court of law. Rovers were not as good as we had hoped, but not as bad as we had sometimes feared. Some notable highs, including a 5-0 victory at Hillsborough were balanced out by some extraordinary lows. Kenilworth Road, for the final game of this extended season, proved the point admirably, as Rovers contrived to lose 3-2; despite Luton registering only a single shot on target during the game. Never change Rovers.
“With Tony Mowbray there are certain phrases, which upon first hearing, sound like compliments but with the benefit of mature reflection, can also be interpreted as being somewhat back-handed. A prime example is “he’s a safe pair of hands”. Solid, stable, reliable, dependable - much like a footballing Volvo estate. Functional, but unlikely to raise the pulse rate significantly or cause an endorphin rush as you run a red light. Mowbray is a safe pair of hands, a decent man of principle, but extraordinarily given his pedigree, seems to have a blind-spot when it comes to organising a defence. His other main weakness seems to be when given unfettered use of the club credit card. The signings of Brereton and Gallagher have rightly cast a shadow over his judgement and it seems will forever influence his enduring legacy. The examination he will face summer is the biggest test of his ability since he came to Rovers and in the Championship, there is no algorithm to rescue his grades.
“At the time of writing, precious little business has been done, addressing only one of the many gaps in the squad, a new goalkeeper; the Belgian, Thomas Kaminski. Rovers defence at the start of last season consisted of three loanees plus Lenihan & Nyambe. Those two remain (for now) but centre-back, left back, midfield and forward line all are short following the departures of Walton, Adarabioyo, Downing and Graham amongst others. That might mean opportunities for some of our promising youngsters but as a wise pundit once said... In a post-COVID world, Rovers finances have taken a battering and the headline profit & loss numbers indicate that Rovers are sailing close to the FFP wind. If anyone from Derby or Sheffield fancies buying some prime East Lancashire real-estate for say, £80m and leasing it back on a peppercorn rent, please make yourselves known at reception on Nuttall Street.
“We have only one senior goalkeeper and he is new to English football; we have only two “regular” centre backs (& we are trying to sell one of those to Swansea), one left back (we signed a loanee last season to replace him, until the self-same loanee got injured and returned to his parent club) so you might say that our defence is threadbare but in reality, it’s not as strong as that. Unless we complete a shopping spree as manic as a lackadaisical husband rushing round the perfume counter at Selfridges at 15.00 on Christmas Eve, it seems highly likely that our goals against column will define our season. We have collected midfielders under Mowbray, hopefully we can assemble three or four in some combination to provide adequate service to our expensive strikeforce. At some point in the opening couple of months, Bradley Dack’s return will be hailed as being “like a new signing” and the midfield will remain our crowning glory. Adam Armstrong though, now there’s a little diamond.
“Based on the current squad at time of writing, I’d shake hands on seventeenth right now. One can only assume that at least two defenders and a midfielder will arrive before deadline day and dependent upon their quality, that prediction can be revised upwards.”
What we said last season: Fourteenth. Actually finished eleventh.
Prediction: Fourteenth-ish again. Personally I much preferred this lot when they were chucking live roosters at each other.
Bristol City 40/1
Last Season: We had the Robins down for second place last season and, apart from the fact that we always like Bristol City as an outside tip, here was the reasoning. This felt like a project that had been building towards this for several years. There’d been investment in infrastructure, including a complete stadium rebuild. The team had been moulded and crafted by a bright young manager for several seasons, developing a clear ethos and style of play. They had good players, and although two of those – Adam Webster and Lloyd Kelly – were sold last summer, they were sold for a great whopping pile of cash which could be invested further in the team to push it over the top.
Alas, the City cycle had probably peaked some time a year or so prior, and was now on a more downward trajectory. The swashbuckling, attacking side that had gone through Watford, Palace and Man Utd into a League Cup semi-final 18 months’ prior had morphed into a more cautious, plodding, counter-attack orientated team that struggled to put teams away at home. Far from reinvesting the Webster money intelligently, they started doing silly things, like paying several million pounds for Nahki Wells six months before he’d have been available for free, saddling themselves with a 30-year-old striker who doesn’t fit their system on a highly lucrative three-and-a-half-year contract.
They always had been a streaky team under Johnson. Their 2017/18 season remarkably contained an unbeaten run of 12 games, another sequence where they lost one and won ten of 12, a seven game losing run, a run of one win in eight games, and another sequence of one win in 13. In 2018/19 they had one run of four consecutive wins, two sets of four consecutive defeats, and nine wins in a row through January and February. So when they lost only one of their first 12 and two of their first 18 in 2019/20 they probably should have known there was some shade to go with their light just around the corner. Four straight defeats for Christmas was recovered rather in January, but as the country locked down for the summer they’d taken two points from a possible 15 and they returned in June to four quickfire losses that killed their play-off hopes and ended the tenure of Johnson.
Ins >>> Joe Williams, 23, CM, Wigan, £1.5m >>> Chris Martin, 31, CF, Derby, Free >>> Alfie Mawson, 26, CB, Fulham, Loan >>> Steven Sessegnon, 20, RB, Fulham, Loan
Outs >>> Rory Holden, 22, CF, Walsall, Undisclosed >>> Matty Taylor, 30, CF, Oxford, Free >>> Bailey Wright, 28, CB, Sunderland, Free >>> Korey Smith, 29, DM, Swansea, Free >>> Robbie Cundy, 23, CB, Cambridge, Loan >>> Marley Watkins, 29, RW, Aberdeen, Loan >>> Cameron Ping, 22, LB, Portsmouth, Loan >>> Niki Maenpaa, 35, GK, Released
Manager: Dean Holden About as welcome as a Nazi float at the Notting Hill Carnival when his appointment was announced, but not the first time City have looked close to home for a new manager.
This Season: A protracted search for a new manager led them through interviews and links with Championship perennials Chris Hughton and Alex Neil, a leftfield suggestion Steven Gerrard was on his way, and a conspiracy theory that the Cowley sisters had been trying to engineer a move here from Huddersfield, hence their surprisingly abrupt sacking in West Yorkshire. With City talking up a new direction of travel, with a focus on youth, and improved style of play, the only surprise was that the grifter’s grifter Pep Clotet didn’t get involved somewhere along the way. Weeks this went on for before they appointed Lee Johnson’s coach Dean Holden into the full time role instead, which had the sorts who keep a spare pile of bed sheets on retainer should an angry message need putting across at short notice arise reaching for the black poster paint.
As is customary in these scenarios, helpful bits and pieces started to leak out about the process to make the Holden appointment seem like absolutely, definitely not just the cheap option. Ooooooh you should have sat in on Hughton’s interview. Dreadful it was. Dreadful. Bored the crap out of people. Holden had indoor fireworks at his, and some vague promise about promoting youth and playing faster, more attractive, attacking football, while presumably not advocating for this approach when he was coaching the team previously.
I don’t know, it just feels like City have been on the cusp of something for a while and missed the boat. The threat of Diedhiou leaving amidst ongoing contract negotiations to be replaced by Chris Martin lingers after they agreed to pick up his McDonalds tab from Derby. Joe Williams looks a shrewd pick up from stricken Wigan but Alfie Mawson will need to find his first injury-free season in four to stiffen a defence that’s suffered from a talent drain of Flint, Webster and Kelly in recent years. They’ve got players I like, but as we said with Bournemouth we’re never likely to put too much faith in a club promoting an existing assistant or coach to manager. Having tipped them for second last year when they ended up twelfth, maybe they’ll reverse it this year and make us look daft again – wouldn’t be the first time.
Local Knowledge: @TheExiledRobin “Last season really did tail off. Like everyone else we were excited by the return of football and the realistic chance of finishing in the top six, but instead of rocketing out of the blocks we stumbled out like a drunk swigging his can of Superstrength Skol en route to his local Wetherspoons for a boozy breakfast. We looked apathetic, devoid of ideas and simply boring to watch. It was such a let-down after two months of hype and build-up to the restart and we all - from the owner to the most occasional of fans - felt let down. Ultimately it had probably been coming, with a season where results had generally outperformed both performances and the infamous xG stats, so perhaps there was an element of levelling out to the norm. But even so, to give up without a fight was inexcusable.
“Ultimately the time had come to sack Lee Johnson. Although we were always in the mix the football, at home especially, was fairly dire a lot of the time, and the fast, energetic, attacking football of his first three years had been replaced by a stodgy, counter-attacking approach that resulted in quite a few 1-0 away wins, but failed to threaten the opposition enough of the time. He'll always be able to point to a few years of sustained (relative) success and £70m+ of player sales which meant he had to replace his top players summer after summer, but the fact that he left with the good wishes of fans suggested they got the timing spot on.
“The replacement is probably a bit of both blue sky thinking and cost cutting, as well as a willingness of the Lansdown family to trust what's in front of them rather than rocking the boat too much. We've done this before, on more than one occasion with Brian Tinnion and Keith Millen both being given the main job because they were "known and trusted" by the Lansdowns - and even Lee Johnson falls into that bracket to a large extent. It's a big test for Dean Holden, who's making a lot of the right noises and understands he isn't the fans first choice, his mantra of hard work and an increased pace to our play will certainly help win fans over. Bringing in two former England age group coaches in Paul Simpson and Keith Downing has helped too, with an assumed focus on youth and potentially a couple of loan signings heading our way with their connections. I also suspect that those inside the club feel we're not far away and evolution, rather than revolution is what is required. We have a plethora of youngsters who have been out on loan to league one and two clubs over the last two seasons, and the expectation is that we will start to blood some of them into the first team rather than signing lots of new players that a new manager might have wanted to do. But make no mistake, it's a big job for him, and whilst there is a groundswell of support for Holden as he seems a decent fella, if results don't match expectations there will quickly be a lot of criticism of the decision and the lengthy process they went on to appoint LJ’s right-hand man.
“It's been a slow summer but building nicely now. We are one of the vultures who have circled Wigan and snapped up Joe Williams for a bargain £1.25m. Chris Martin has arrived on a free from Derby and I think we're all shocked to know he's still only 31, whilst this weekend we took Alfie Mawson from Fulham on a season-long loan. He should complement our existing defenders nicely. We're still after a right wing back, possibly another centre-back as cover and maybe one more attacking player. But the mantra this year appears to be to bring through the youngsters, and in our case that's 22/23 year olds who have been out on loan and played 50-100 league games, so not as risky as chucking in a couple of younger lads. Liam Walsh was Player of the Year for champions Coventry last season, Joe Morrell has established himself in Ryan Giggs' Wales side ahead of other Championship players and has looked very composed and effective in their recent games, and others are in and around the squad too, so you hope they can come through and develop to be strong at this level. The main outstanding question is whether we can get Famara Diedhiou to sign a new deal - his expires in 12 months and we'll look to sell him before October if he doesn't. That would be a big blow.
“It's really tricky to say how we’ll do given the change of manager, approach and 7/8 players coming in/going out. I don't think the squad is any weaker than last season’s, so we've got to be hoping for top half, but how quickly Holden adapts and whether the loan squad can come in and have an impact will probably decide the season. If Diedhiou stays then with him, Nakhi Wells and Chris Martin we've got the firepower, we just need to work out how to feed them better and have to defend a lot better than we did for most of last season. If I had to place a bet I'd go with ninth place, with an outside chance of the play-offs but also a small risk of a struggle.”
What we said last season: Second. Sorry about that. Actually finished twelfth.
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Letters from Wiltshire #26 by wessex_exile
Well, after a piss-poor Xmas period so far for the U’s, culminating in the Roots Hall horror show on Boxing Day, let’s hope the U’s have burned off those festive calories and are raring to go. They’ll certainly have to be at their best against a Cheltenham side aiming to force their way into the automatic promotion places. In other news, we now finally have confirmation that there will be a trade deal in place with the EU once Brexit arrives in 2021. It remains to be seen whether it’s a good deal or not, and more to the point, who for, but at least it’s not the economic uncertainty of no-deal.
Letters from Wiltshire #25 by wessex_exile
A little earlier than usual, but as we approach the end of what has been a most difficult year for everyone, I’ll keep the introductory editorial brief, as I’m sure you will all be very busy in the coming days rescuing what you can from this pandemic-ravaged festive period. I simply wish you all peace on earth, goodwill to all (yes, even our South Essex cousins), and here’s to a happy, prosperous and most importantly healthy 2021 for us all.
Letters from Wiltshire #24 by wessex_exile
Welcome to our last match before Christmas. With South Essex going into Tier 3, by the time we take to the pitch at Roots Hall, it’ll be another behind-closed-doors match. With the Tier 3 boundary creeping inexorably closer, one wonders how long the JobServe will hold out and still be able to allow fans to attend. Robbie is doing all he can to make it possible for supporters to attend, and I confess I’m seriously considering our January 2nd match against Tranmere. In other news, I’m relieved to read that the FA will not take disciplinary action against Colchester United after a shameful minority chose to boo players and officials taking the knee, in the words of the EFL “as they highlight the inequality and injustice experienced by the Black Community”. I noticed a tiny minority chose to boo at our mid-week match at the Abbey Stadium, but I was pleased to hear they were immediately drowned out by the remainder of the 2,000 cheering and applauding. I admit I’m a little anxious about today…
Letters from Wiltshire #23 by wessex_exile
As I’ve been providing updates on the ongoing US presidential election, it is worth mentioning that the Electoral College votes have now been cast, which formally confirms Biden as the new President-elect. Normally a formality, as the losing candidate has usually long-since conceded defeat, but these are far from normal times, and America has far from a normal lame-duck President. Still, at least the threat of members of the Electoral College ignoring the popular vote in favour of an outcome demanded by Trump has failed to materialise. In the UK, new Covid tiers were announced this week, with London going into Tier 3. Colchester stays in Tier 2, but only just, with as far north east as Maldon, Braintree and Chelmsford also moving into Tier 3 – and as if you need reminding, Tier 3 means no supporters at matches.
Letters from Wiltshire #22 by wessex_exile
Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat…hence I’m a bit late today, following the inevitable Christmas tree hunt – the decorating will have to wait until later I reckon. In the news, despite my confident assurance several weeks ago that Trump appeared to be grudgingly starting to accept that he had lost the US presidency election, he’s since doubled-down on his baseless accusations of election fraud – without obviously providing a single shred of evidence to back it up (and how could he, there isn’t any). His latest apoplectic tirade, just today, follows the Supreme Court telling Texas just where they can stick their egregious lawsuit demanding that Biden’s victories in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and Georgia be thrown out in favour of Trump. From a global perspective, it is deeply troubling that no less than 126 republican congressional representatives signed an amicus brief supporting the challenge. Trump will leave the White House in January, but they will stay at the heart of the US government, and I don’t think that’s good news for democracy, nor even the rest of the world. Ho hum…
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