Fan Previews: Part One

WITH the new season almost upon us, Lucas Ball spoke to fans of six Championship clubs to gather their thoughts ahead of 2019-20.

Barnsley – John Taylor [@john00taylor]

What do you make of Barnsley’s chances of survival upon returning to the second tier?

I think we have given ourselves a chance by retaining our two front men who will always be a threat going forwards, something we lacked the season we went down, plus we have strengthened in the wide positions to give us some more depth. I think it will be very tight at the bottom of the table next season, unlike last season, which has to work in our favour too.

How would you rate your summer business so far?

I think we have had a good summer in terms of transfers. We've got rid of some dead wood and brought in some younger talent, a method which is all part of a long term project that seems to be serving us very well and putting the club in a great position financially. We lost a few of our star players (albeit for good money) who served us well in League 1 last season, but they are all completely unproven at a Championship level so we will never really truly know the impact of them leaving. Overall, I'm impressed with the way the club has gone about its business.

Any thoughts on the managerial situation at Oakwell?

Daniel Stendel has been superb from the moment he set foot in the town. He has embraced the culture, the locals, the fanbase and his style of play ensured that we topped the league in almost every metric least season (other than clinching top spot in the table). I'd like to see us tie him down with a longer term contract, but hopefully this is under negotiation right now.

What are your thoughts on Millwall?

I think Millwall will struggle again unfortunately. I don't see any reason as to why things will be much different to last season for you. That said, I'm a big fan of you signing Matt Smith from QPR. His age puts him well outside our transfer policy, but I think he will do really well for you and it must be a huge loss for QPR on the flip side.

Finally, your overall expectations for the season?

I think we will finish in the bottom third. Being optimistic, I'd hope we could end up around 17th position, but to be honest, staying up will be the aim, so I don't care if we finish 4th bottom. As I said before, I think it will be very tight at the bottom of the table next season, so would expect to see Luton, Charlton, Reading, QPR, Wigan and Millwall down there fighting it out with us.

Birmingham – Gabriel Sutton [@_FootbalLab]

Birmingham are another club being watched closely by the authorities with regards to FFP – has that made doing the required business difficult this summer?

Yes and no.

We haven’t gone mad and signed loads of players like we did post-Rowett, pre-Monk and I’m glad about that because we tend to do best when we build a squad steadily.

Dan Crowley I’m very excited about. He looks a very skillful, creative midfielder who we have signed from Willem II.

Jake Clarke-Salter was apparently world-class in youth football too and while his last spell in the English senior game with Sunderland was not fantastic, that would have been a difficult environment for a young player to come into so maybe if he’s learnt a few things, we’ve got ourselves a gem.

What have you made of Pep Clotet's appointment?

Although Clotet is an internal appointment, he sees the game slightly differently to Monk so he’s likely to move us towards a possession-based 3-4-2-1 setup.

Plus, Clotet – highly-respected as a coach – must learn about being a number one, something that didn’t go that well for him at Oxford.

The more I see of him, the more I like – he wants to evolve us tactically but he has also shown he understands that fans respond well to passion and commitment which is crucial to building bridges.

I just hope he’s given time to settle into the job.

Where else do the Blues need to strengthen?

I would say perhaps a deep-lying playmaker who can ping a pass – it’s great to have Crowley but it’s important we have the players to get him the ball.

Cheick Keita has not played as many minutes as he would have liked in pre-season and Kristian Pedersen is being used on the left of a back three, so maybe a wing-back to rotate with Steve Seddon, who has had excellent loan spells at Stevenage and AFC Wimbledon.

If Josh Cogley goes out on loan, we may need right wing-back cover for Maxime Colin, too.

Was Garry Monk leaving a surprise?

Initially, we were all very disappointed with Monk’s exit. He had shown appreciation for supporters in a way that Xuandong Ren hadn’t so was always likely to come out on top in any political conflict.

Since then, reports have come out that all might not have been as they seemed behind the scenes regarding Monk so we will have to wait and see on that.

We appreciate what Monk did for us last season, but much of his coaching team from last season remains in place.

Finally, what are your overall expectations for the season?

I would settle for comfortably avoiding relegation if we had the same man in charge for the whole season and gradually moved towards this new playing identity.

We need some stability.

Blackburn – Rovers Chat [@RoversChat]

Last season went quite well for your first back in the Championship – are you expecting a similar campaign?

In all honesty, I’m expecting a better season in terms of where we finish.

For me, there’s no real standout team this season in the league, and there’s fourteen or fifteen teams I could make a case for them reaching the top eight or nine spots, it’s a weird one.

It’s one of those seasons that it’s a tough one to predict, so it should be an exciting season.

Does Tony Mowbray remain the right man for the job?

Definitely, the man has played a large part in saving the club from languishing in League One and we’re slowly, but surely, making our way back to where we feel we belong.

He has the team playing for each other, the players genuinely love working under him and even if we struggle this season, I’d still keep him in the role as if we stand by him, I’m confident we’ll reach the Premier League in the coming years.

What have you made of Rovers’ business so far?

Very positive, we’ve used the market well in my eyes.

Stewart Downing on a free should bring some much-needed experience to our side, and the addition of Bradley Johnson – and somehow with no fee involved – is a brilliant move for the club. Johnson will bring the experience as well as the ability of a good centre midfielder at this level.

We brought Sam Gallagher back to the club permanently after his loan spell in 2016-17 and he’s the perfect replacement for Danny Graham when his influence starts to wear off.

Rovers did sell ‘keeper David Raya to Brentford for £3m but it’s given us a bit of room to still play in the market. Christian Walton was brought in on loan to replace him (for this season at least) and the deal is a positive one for us.

Tosin Adarabioyo – at the time of writing – is set to join the club on loan and he got experience in this league last season with West Brom so he’ll be a good asset at the back for Mowbray.

The best business of the window for me so far is signing young midfielder Lewis Travis up for a new deal. What a player we have on our hands!

Where do you still need to strengthen?

At the time of writing, I think we’re short still and need another centre-back and a more experienced ‘keeper to provide competition.

If we could add them two positions to our squad, a top-six dream may slowly move a little closer to reality if we get off to a good start.

Where do you expect Blackburn to finish?

Some supporters believe we’ll make the top six. It’s possible if we get off to a strong start, but I feel we’re another couple of transfer windows off being capable of having a real good go at promotion. I’ll go 9thand that would be a positive season.

Brentford – Billy Grant [@billythebee]

The departure of Dean Smith obviously impacted Brentford last season – but is Thomas Frank the right man for the job?

Thomas Frank didn’t start off on the best on notes. Taking over from Dean Smith who went on to guide Aston Villa to Promotion to the Premier League. Frank only won one match in his first ten – losing eight of those matches. OK prior to him coming in, Dean Smith had not won any games in his final six so a bit of a rot had set in. But still – it wasn’t looking good. But the football he was getting the team playing was at times exceptional. And all the games we lost (bar one) were only by one goal.

He changed our defence to a back three and that turned our fortunes around.

At the back end of the season, we had some spectacular victories playing some fantastic football. Hull 5-1 and Blackburn 5-2 were tremendous performances. But we were always subject to letting in the odd goal – even when we were winning. We shall see how good Thomas Frank is this season. He has had a massive say in the shaping of the 2019-2020 Brentford side. So no excuses now.

The Bees have sold Ezri Konsa and brought in a number of signings – but how much of a miss will the former Charlton man be?

Being totally honest. I don’t think we’ll miss him that much as we’re got a different policy at the moment when it comes to signings. And we picked up Pontus Jansson and Ethan Pinnock to play in the centre of defence – with Julian Jeanvier another very competent central midfielder we have in the pot.

I’m not saying he’s a bad player. Not at all. He’s a good player with bags of potential. And I’m sure he will go on to do great things at Villa.

But it’s all about timing. And he’s still very much developing. He makes mistakes (as most developing players do).  I’m guessing Brentford are looking to have more of the finished product in defence at the moment as it has been our achilles heel for a while. We have had a fairly porous defence ever since we came into The Championship. We got £12m for him plus add-ons. In Brentford terms, that is a lot of money. We can buy three or four players for that cash.

Saying that, when we sold Egan to Sheffield United last season because he was deemed ‘surplus to requirements’, he only went on and got himself promoted to the Premier League. So you just never know.

How do you rate the rest of Brentford’s business?

On paper it looks brilliant. Everyone is remarking how we seem to be spending big bucks. But we’re only spending money we got in last January.

We sold Chris Mepham (£15m), Nico Yennaris (£4.5m) and Ruan Woods (£6m) in January. That’s over £25m. On top of that, we also sold Dan Bentley for £2.5m this window, Konsa for £12m and just today have sold Sawyers for £3m. That’s another £17.5m in the pot we haven’t dipped into as yet.

With the January money, we bought goalkeeper Raya (£2.5m) from Blackburn. Central defender Nørgaard (£3m) from Fiorentina. Attacking midfielder Mathias Jensen (£3.5m) from Celta Vigo. Central defender Ethan Pinnock (£3m) from Barnsley. And of course central defender Pontus Jansson for around £4m. That’s a total of £16m. So basically we have money in the bank so we don’t have to be held to ransom by players who are sniffing gold at the end of the rainbow.

If we don’t want to.

The players we have bought in are meant to be a step up from the players we have been buying to date. Slightly more money. Slightly more ‘finished product’. Normally we get rough diamonds then spend a year or two developing them to be much better players.

Then they leave.

Pontus Jansson was Leeds’ player of the season according to their fans – until he signed for us. Then he wasn’t any more. A non-nonsense centre back who opposition fans love to hate. But his own fans love to love. We have been so fragile at the back – as Millwall are well aware – with teams realising we could be undone by attacking our Achilles heel. Roughing us up a bit and lobbing dangerous balls into the area to cause absolute mayhem.

Hopefully, with our new defensive pairing of Jansson and Ethan Pinnock – who was in the League 1 team of the year – that will change. Nørgaard was apparently a brilliant defensive midfielder who – after switching from attacking midfield – knows how to ping a pass. But his last stint at Fiorentina wasn’t good, so it’s a bit of a gamble.

Same for Mattias Janssen. He was brilliant in Denmark – setting up goals a plenty for Emiliano Marcondes who signed for us a couple of season ago. He went to Spain and didn’t get a sniff. It’s always a gamble with these players we bring in. The only player we really have any idea about is Jansson. And to an extent Pinnock – who only three years ago I saw play – with my Millwall mate – for Dulwich Hamlet in the play-off final at East Thurrock.

They lost.

3-0 down at half-time.

All goals from central defenders' mistakes.

It depends on who leaves in the next few weeks.

Sawyers leaving has left a grey cloud over Griffin Park. he’s a very very intelligent player. And plays some brilliant balls for his team-mates. But at 27 years old and with one year left on his contact, he’s gone for the ‘last big move’ contract. Maupay. Benrahma. Watkins. Who will still be here come August 9th? The signs are Maupay is off. I may be wrong but him not playing and training sporadically – with teams being linked with him every day – is not a good sign. He’s a brilliant player. And if he goes, will be sorely missed. But we’re Brentford. We’re still a small player in the bigger scheme of things.

And as annoying as it is seeing our players constantly leave the fold, I guess we’ve started to get used to it now – doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt though.

Where else does Frank need to strengthen?

Frank has been very active in choosing his team. We desperately needed a proper defensive midfielder and string central defensive options. That looks like it has been addressed successfully.

Now we need a backup left-back as Henry gets injured a lot. A back-up right back wouldn’t go amiss either although it is less important.

We have midfielders aplenty. But if Benrahma goes, we will need to replace him.

We also need another striker regardless of whether Maupay goes or not. Assuming no-one leaves. Striker, winger, left back and we’re done.

What are your overall expectations for 19/20?

Depends on who we keep. If there are no more changes to the team – we could finish as high as 4th I reckon. We’re stronger defensively than last season and we were three wins (roughly) off play-offs.

If we lose Maupay and/or Benrahma, depends on who comes in and how quickly they get up to speed. It could be another campaign of 'close but no cigar' for the Bees.

Bristol City – The Exiled Robin [@TheExiledRobin]

Lee Johnson has done well in recent years – I take it fans still believe he is the right man for this long term project?

Yes in the main. There have always been factions unconvinced by Johnson, partly due to his somewhat Marmite status as a player with his us when he played under his Dad, but I think last season won the vast majority around. We're building as a club and his approach and commitment to that is key.

How have you rated City's transfer business this summer?

We've done half of what we had to do in securing the permanent signings of loanees Tomas Kalas and Jay Dasilva from Chelsea, albeit at a cost of £10m, and brought in £4m Daniel Bentley from Brentford to become our long-term goalkeeper. We funded all that by selling England under 21 defender Lloyd Kelly yo Bournemouth for £15m+ so it's been pretty exciting! But ultimately, weirdly, we've almost ended up with the same team as last season despite the outlay, and we need a couple more…

Where do the Robins still need to strengthen?

We desperately need a striker to score the chances we create. We hit the woodwork more than any other team last season (what might have been!) and whilst I appreciate the fanntastic effort Famara Diedhiou puts in, we need someone who'll not miss from two yards out and just be that bit quicker and more clinical when the ball lands at his feet within range. Ideally we could also do with another option in midfield and a right back. And maybe cover at left back!

What do you make of Millwall's fortunes?

It looks like an interesting season for Millwall, with last April's reaction from Neil Harris to what he clearly saw as players not pulling their weight within the squad. He's clearly had a bit of a clear out and looked to bring in players to play 'the Millwall way', so it just feels like a big season. If that works, you could do well, but it can be hard to reshape a squad and get immediate success.

What are your overall expectations for City?

If we can sign that high quality striker then I'd say we would expect to make the play-offs. Even without there's a fair bit of hope and expectation, but I'd be concerned we still won't quite have the firepower to get us over the line.

Cardiff City – Scott Salter [@scottsltr]

Cardiff's venture back to the Premier League obviously ended in relegation – but fans must be hopeful of an immediate return?

Absolutely. Cardiff were smart with their transfers last season. We got a bit of slack for not spending big like Fulham, but the club strengthened with some top championship players. What that meant was if we stayed up, great we had some talented young players, but if we went down we would be set to have another stab at promotion. After keeping most of our squad, I think everyone is quietly confident of challenging for promotion. Who better to achieve that than Neil Warnock?

What have you made of the transfer business conducted this summer?

Classic Warnock, really. Joe Day and Curtis Nelson are typical Warnock signings. Free transfers from league one that few expected a team challenging at the top of the championship to go after. But like Neil Etheridge and Nathaniel Mendez-Laing two years ago, Warnock likes to pluck a lower league player that he can see potential in. Will Vaulks is a brilliant signing. I think you’d struggle to find a better fit for a Warnock midfield. Nice to see a Welshman in the squad too. Losing Bruno Manga was a huge loss, but the club moved quickly to replace him with Aden Flint who should fit in well.

What other business needs to be done?

Manga could play right back too so I think we need to bring someone in there. The priority now is a striker. It was a must-need position anyway but now that Ken Zohore has left for West Brom, it’s vital. The club had a rumoured budget of £10-15m this summer, so with the sales of Manga and Zohore bringing in close to £10m, there should be some budget to get a top striker in.

What are your thoughts on Millwall heading into the new season?

Millwall are always tough opponents and I like Neil Harris, who of course had a brief spell at Cardiff. I think Matt Smith is a good striker for you and I like Cooper at the back. It could really go two ways for you so it’s hard to judge. I don’t think you’ll be caught in too much of a relegation fight but could equally push to the top half with a good run.

Where do you expect Warnock's side to finish in what will probably be his final managerial season?

I’m very confident going into the season. I think a lot of people are underestimating us, but I think we’ve got a great squad for this level. If we can add a top striker, I think we’ll be top two. If we can’t, I still think play-offs is a minimum.

Image: Millwall FC