IN our next set of previews ahead the new season, Lucas Ball takes a look at four of the eight sides he expects to finish in lower mid-table.
The Lions’ transfer business this summer has been impressive.
Neil Harris promised fans an overhaul of the squad, and with the arrivals of Bartosz Bialkowski and Jason McCarthy this week, eight senior players have been recruited this summer.
Millwall are keen to avoid last season’s struggles when they limped over the line to avoid relegation, and will hope the added quality and depth will help their chances of moving further up the table.
A man key to any ambitions of pushing on will be Connor Mahoney. The former Bournemouth winger joined Millwall for a seven-figure fee and has looked excellent in pre-season, providing a number of superb deliveries for the likes of Matt Smith to attack.
With Jiri Skalak and Shane Ferguson also operating in those wide areas, Smith should have plenty of service. Mahoney will also hope to put chances on a plate for Jake Cooper at set-pieces, a combination that has already come to fruition when Cooper headed in Mahoney’s corner at Gillingham.
Harris will not accept last season’s off-the-field problems and has moved to add experienced players at this level, players that he hopes will be leaders both in the dressing room and on the pitch.
Promotion Odds [Sky Bet]: 18/1
Relegation Odds [Sky Bet]: 3/1
Ins: Jon Dadi Bodvarsson [£765k – Reading]; Frank Fielding [free transfer – Bristol City]; Alex Pearce [free transfer – Derby]; Harvey Bradbury [free transfer – Oxford]; Jayson Molumby [loan – Brighton]; Bartosz Bialkowski [loan – Ipswich]; Matt Smith [undisclosed – QPR]; Connor Mahoney [undisclosed – Bournemouth]; Tyler Burey [undisclosed – AFC Wimbledon]; Jason McCarthy [undisclosed – Wycombe]; James Brown [end of loan – Lincoln]
Outs: Sid Nelson [free transfer – Tranmere]; Ryan Tunnicliffe [free transfer – Luton]; David Martin [free transfer – West Ham]; Tom King [free transfer – Newport]; Lazar Stojsavljevic [free transfer – Newport]; Lee Gregory [free transfer – Stoke]; Conor McLaughlin [free transfer – Sunderland]; Danny McNamara [loan – Newport]; Steve Morison [loan – Shrewsbury]; Jordan Archer [released]; Ben Amos [end of loan – Bolton]; Ben Marshall [end of loan – Norwich]; Fred Onyedinma [undisclosed – Wycombe]
Jose Gomes came in last season and provided hope to the Madejski Stadium faithful, a missing ingredient for some time at Reading after years of incompetent management both in a footballing sense and away from the results on the field.
Coupled with new people running the show off the pitch, fans are hopeful that this season will be better than the last two since a play-off final defeat to Huddersfield on penalties the season before.
The Portuguese manager has now had some time to put his own stamp on his side and implement his tactics, as opposed to the make-shift counter-attacking set-up used in order to ensure Championship survival at the back end of 2018-19.
Gomes’ side will now look to dominate the ball in matches, and have players capable of doing that from the back – mainly in the form of new club captain Liam Moore.
The one area of concern will be the forward ranks – with last season’s top scorer Yakou Meite (13) not particularly suited to the adjusted set-up, meaning the Royals will have to be at their best defensively to earn a low mid-table finish.
Depth may still be an issue in a couple of positions – but Reading hope to move on some of the dead wood in their squad to bolster the side with more new signings.
Promotion Odds [Sky Bet]: 18/1
Relegation Odds [Sky Bet]: 3/1
Millwall record vs Reading: Won 38, Drawn 23, Lost 42
Last meeting: Millwall 1-0 Reading – Championship, December 26, 2018
Ins: Michael Morrison [free transfer – Birmingham]; Charlie Adam [free transfer – Stoke]; Matt Miazga [loan – Chelsea]; Joao Virginia [loan – Everton]; Sone Aluko [end of loan – BJ Renhe]; Adrian Pops [end of loan – Ludogorets]; Andrija Novakovich [end of loan – Fortuna Sittard]; Sam Smith [end of loan – Shrewsbury]; Tennai Watson [end of loan – AFC Wimbledon]; David Meyler [end of loan – Coventry]
Outs: Jon Dadi Bodvarsson [£765k – Millwall]; Liam Kelly [free transfer – Feyenoord]; Joey van den Berg [free transfer – NEC Nijmegen]; Anssi Jaakkola [free transfer – Bristol Rovers]; Marc McNulty [loan – Sunderland]; Danzell Gravenberch [released]; Paul McShane [released]; John O’Shea [retired]; Callum Harriott [released]; George Legg [released]; Saeid Ezatolahi [end of loan – Rostov]; Emiliano Martinez [end of loan – Arsenal]; Nelson Oliveira [end of loan – Norwich]; Lewis Baker [end of loan – Chelsea]; Ovie Ejaria [end of loan – Liverpool]
The departure of Garry Monk was unexpected, but Birmingham have enough quality in their side – just – to avoid being dragged into a relegation battle.
Pep Clotet’s tactics will come under the spotlight throughout the season, and he’ll need to start well to ensure Blues faithful stay right behind him.
Che Adams moving on will be the transfer that hits the St Andrews side the hardest, though he deserves a shot at the Premier League.
Under FFP pressure, the Blues have a net spend of -£12m this window, and will unlikely be able to make too many more big signings to avoid further punishment following last season’s nine-point deduction.
Strengthening the midfield had to be a priority, and the additions of Dan Crowley and Ivan Sunjic certainly provide improvements on those available to Monk last season.
Blues will need Lukas Jutkiewicz to be at his best to net the goals required to make it a comfortable finish.
Promotion Odds [Sky Bet]: 14/1
Relegation Odds [Sky Bet]: 4/1
Millwall record vs Birmingham: Won 13, Drawn 11, Lost 23
Last meeting: Birmingham 0-2 Millwall – Championship, March 13, 2019
Ins: Ivan Sunjic [£7.02m – Dinamo Zagreb]; Dan Crowley [£702k – Willem II]; Agus Medina [free transfer – UE Cornella]; Ivan Guzman [free transfer – UE Olot]; Gary Gardner [undisclosed – Aston Villa]; Jake Clarke-Salter [loan – Chelsea]; Cheick Keita [end of loan – KAS Eupen]; Jonathan Grounds [end of loan – Bolton]
Outs: Che Adams [£15.03m – Southampton]; Jota [£4.05m – Aston Villa]; Bez Lubala [free transfer – Crawley]; Michael Morrison [free transfer – Reading]; Greg Stewart [free transfer – Rangers]; Viv Solomon-Otabor [free transfer – CSKA Sofia]; Ivan Guzman [loan – UE Cornella]; Tomasz Kuszczak [released]; Cheikh N’Doye [released]; Connor Mahoney [end of loan – Bournemouth]
Without a new manager less than a week before the new campaign, Sheffield Wednesday will surely endure a season of struggle.
Whoever the new man in charge is, there will be no time for him to work with the players ahead of the big kick-off, which could be problematic – particularly given he will not have much available in the way of a transfer kitty before the end of the window given Wednesday’s FFP issues.
Almost all hopes are pinned on Fernando Forestieri and Adam Reach, who will need to be at their best for Wednesday to avoid a relegation battle. The lack of quality in the defence will be an issue throughout the season, and is unlikely to be countered.by strong defensive midfielders given the likely starting combination of Barry Bannan and Keiran Lee or Joey Pelupessy.
Whatever happens, the Owls’ board need to hurry up to appoint a new manager – and ideally one with experience of managing in this division.
Promotion Odds [Sky Bet]: 7/1
Relegation Odds [Sky Bet]: 8/1
Millwall record vs Sheffield Wednesday: Won 14, Drawn 14, Lost 19
Last meeting: Millwall 0-0 Sheffield Wednesday – Championship, February 12, 2019
Ins: Kadeem Harris [free transfer – Cardiff]; Moses Odubajo [free transfer – Brentford]; Julian Corner [free transfer – Arminia Bielefield]; Jordan Rhodes [end of loan – Norwich]
Outs: George Boyd [free transfer – Peterborough]; Daniel Pudil [free transfer – Mlada Boleslav]; Marco Matias [released]; Frederik Fisker Nielsen [released]; Almen Abdi [released]; Gary Hooper [released]; David Jones [released]; Connor O’Grady [released]; Rolando Aarons [end of loan – Newcastle]; Michael Hector [end of loan – Chelsea]; Josh Onomah [end of loan – Tottenham]; Achraf Lazaar [end of loan – Newcastle]
Image: Millwall FC