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Championship Team Previews In Their Own Words: Part 1

It feels like an age since we faced Burnley at the Madejski but here we are less than a week away from the new season. As ever we've reached out to our fellow fan sites and got views on each of the 23 teams from the people that know them best.

Michael Regan

Birmingham

Gabriel from The Football Lab

When we spoke to you before last season you were expecting a lower-half finish but did you expect to be scrapping it out on the final day just to survive?

Probably not. The survival at Bolton was just unbelievable, the kind of day you live for as a football supporter. I'm sure you have fond memories of playing Bolton yourselves!

On reflection, I feel we could have stayed up without that drama, just because the standard of the teams fighting relegation last season was poor. Relegation looked likely for Barnsley and Yeovil throughout - though neither of us could beat them at home - so realistically Blues just needed one team to get sucked in; thankfully that was Doncaster, after Millwall's late surge. We stayed up with 44 points, but the year before, Peterborough went down with 54 points, so other results favoured us hugely. Should we have been in a position where we were 15 minutes away from League One? No, but the pure joy and relief we all felt when Paul Caddis's header trickled in made up for that.

What changes has Lee Clark made so far this summer?

We'd completed our 9 signings by about mid-June, and 8 of those have been permanent transfers, which I'm quite pleased about. The players we've brought in aren't the most exciting names, with many of them having played in League One last season, but I feel it's better for us to stock up now with our own players. While it can be useful to dip into the loan market for a bit of quality here and there, an over-reliance on loanees can cause problems, as we found last season. For example, we had two strong centre-backs in Dan Burn and Kyle Bartley, both of whom were recalled by their parent clubs at the end of January, and this type of thing led to poor form. Grant Hall aside, all of our current players are on permanent contracts, and this could help build a more settled squad.

What changes does he need to make to improve your fortunes?

I'm starting to feel like a broken record saying this, but he needs to find his best team. We used 39 different players last season, and although this was partly due to using the loan system as mentioned, the starting XI would fluctuate wildly week by week. If you look at the most successful teams, Leicester and Burnley, it's no coincidence that they used the two fewest number of players in the Championship. They both had a very tight-knit, well co-ordinated group of players who knew each other's games inside out. I haven't seen any of that at Blues - Lee Clark's team selection 'bingo' is the most frustrating side of his management.

Which Birmingham player should we look out for this season?

Winger David Cotterill looks a very technical player, and seems to have a dangerous right foot. Clayton Donaldson scored 17 goals in League One last season, so hopefully he can step up to Championship level.

One younger player who might burst onto the scene?

18-year-old Reece Brown has started a few of the friendly matches, which may be an indication of the manager's plans. We've got a very good academy at Blues, but last season the home-grown players we had coming through didn't quite flourish as much as the year before. I'm hoping this season we'll see more of that.

Where do you expect to finish?

I think the standard of the teams fighting relegation will be higher than last season, judging by the number of points attained by those coming up from League One. While like most fans, I've been happy with the early transfer business and signs from pre-season, I still think we'll be in a relegation battle.

Finally what are your thoughts on Reading's prospects?

The uncertainty at boardroom level means you haven't got the same spending power as a lot of clubs. Looking through the squad, there aren't that many areas where a first team player could get injured, and you can pinpoint a proven, experienced player to rely on as backup. On the other hand, strength in depth isn't always needed if you can find a consistent starting eleven. Apart from Adam Le Fondre, Reading haven't lost any first teamers from last season, which creates some stability. I think the key will be luck with injuries, but I'll predict somewhere between 8th-12th for the Royals.

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Blackburn

Mikey Delap from Rovers blog The Wild Blackburn Rover.@MikeyDelap

Blackburn had an up and down campaign that seemed to end positively with a late play-off charge. What went right and what stopped you from breaking into the play-offs last year?

The late charge can be put down to a few things that started to click. Firstly the signings of Rudy Gestede and Craig Conway from Cardiff in January gave us an extra attacking dimension that we didn't have - the two year over reliance on Jordan Rhodes had been overcome with a couple of smart additions.

That 12 game unbeaten run at the back of the campaign also seemed to coincide with a metaphorical removing of the shackles from manager Gary Bowyer, the clean sheet first mentality which had produced mixed results up to that point had been replaced with an attack first policy... and it worked. Hopefully we'll see more of it this time around.

And being able to field a settled side at the end of another season of mass chopping/changing/long term injuries also contributed to a good late run.

We missed out simply because we didn't sort out our act out till late enough. If we'd have looked in the shape we did from say December or January instead of March onwards we'd have achieved a play spot, of that I'm fairly certain. But we weren't good enough for long enough and there were six better sides in the division than ourselves. So we missed out, probably deservedly so.

What has Gary Bowyer done to improve the side this summer?

Minor surgery rather than the mass revolving door transfer policy that has plagued previous attempts at strengthening. Due to mass overspend (largely on overpaid guff) during the ragingly inept 2012-2013 Shebby Singh era, Gary Bowyer has spent his tenure largely playing "firefighter".

This window however has seen a much more low key affair, with the wage bill cloggers now largely gone - still work to be done there mind - it has seen some squad additions rather than anyone that would significantly match the standard of what we already have in the starting XI.

Alex Baptiste has come in from Bolton to cover centre back and our problem right back areas, jury is still very much out on him judging by his Bolton days but chances have to be given. We've also bought Doncaster's Chris Brown and Leeds' Luke Varney to play second fiddle to Gestede and Rhodes up top.

So certainly nothing to get excited about but we did/do need the extra options in the areas of the field that we've bought.

What does he still need to do?

I wouldn't mind some keeper competition for Paul Robinson personally. Keeper wise, Simon Eastwood is pretty mediocre and Jake Kean had his confidence levels battered by his flappy blunder festival at the start of the previous season, not to mention that current number one could kindly be described as a tad portly. So something reassuring there wouldn't go a miss given your side is only as good as your goalkeeper.

A dedicated right back wouldn't hurt either, I get along with Adam Henley despite a poor, injury plagued campaign last time out, but a sturdier presence would be welcome with Alex Baptiste more suited to central dwellings than flank.

But other than that we can be largely content with what we've got heading into the new season.

Which Blackburn player should we be looking out for next season?

Other than the obvious chap with the regular stream of goals, I'd be inclined to suggest Craig Conway - a player who whilst lacking in pace that most wingers crave, is a player with a seemingly endless quest to be productive. Had an excellent end to the last campaign and seems ideally suited to the Championship with his eye for a cross and blistering work rate.

Elsewhere, if Mr.Bowyer decides to slot Johnny Bravo tribute act Tom Cairney into a more central role then I'd expect us to be a match most sides in midfield

Any younger player that might burst on to the scene?

The academy appeared to be a little light on any quality last season, but I'd keep an eye out for centre back Jack O'Connell - fresh from a successful loan spell at Rochdale.

He's a youngster who has been tipped for a first team breakthrough for a while now, and with our centre back options being decent but thin, it's reasonable to expect he'd be given a shot over the next 9 months.

Where do you think you'll finish?

Disclaimer - I never get this right.

Sod it, I'll go down my usual (if a little biased) route of erring on the side of optimism. 5th, and a place in the play offs... followed by glorious and richly deserved triumph at Wembley, basking in the sunshine and heavily intoxicated post match by a steady stream of Corona with lime. Err, sorry, I got a bit carried away there.

Finally what do you make of Reading's prospects?

At the moment, sadly not that great given the complete lack of transfer activity (takeover orientated one would assume?), From what I saw of you last term you looked decent, but to continue to hang at the right end of the division a few smart additions are always needed.

I quite like Reading (and this blog - shameless plug), so I hope the right circumstances arrive soon and that you can crack on.

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Blackpool

Chris Walker from Measured Progress@onedavebamber

Blackpool started last season like a house on fire but suffered one of the most dramatic collapses we've seen before a late surge to survival. Just what happened?!

Well, the good start was built on very shaky foundations, so it was never a real reflection of our true ability. Last pre-season was quite chaotic, although nowhere near as bad as this time around, but we were fortunate to get some kind fixtures early on, and we also rode our luck in some of the more difficult matches in August and September. Paul Ince had built the team on being very defensive, and hoping for a moment of magic from his son Tom to win games 1-0. For a couple of months, it just about worked, but it was soon sussed out and his sacking in January was long overdue. From there the leadership at the club failed to bring in much-needed playing reinforcements and the ad-hoc arrangement with Barry Ferguson was a misguided experiment that very nearly got us relegated. In truth, we were so awful for virtually the whole season that we didn't deserve to stay up, but thankfully those five wins out of six at the start just about saved us.

At the time of writing you've got only a handful of players on the books, has there been any movement so far this summer?

Well, with two weeks before the season we still only had eight players following a mass departure of players whose contracts had expired, but in recent days the players have finally started to arrive. The quality of these players is a concern however, as there seems to be a big reliance on ex-Barnsley players who got them relegated last campaign, as well as players in the twilight of their careers. We've also looked to sign some players from abroad, but while these could hold some promise, it's always a gamble to parachute foreign players into the Championship and expect them to settle straight away.

What does new boss Jose Riga have to do over these next few weeks?

Getting their fitness up will be vital, and with only two pre-season friendlies the team will be massively undercooked going into the season. The aforementioned lack of players resulted in us having to cancel a number of friendlies and some of the late arrivals won't have played any pre-season football outside of training, which is a big concern. There's also a significant task to integrate the new players and transmit his style of play in a very short space of time. With some tough opening fixtures, the last thing we need is to be playing catch-up and you have to worry what would happen if we're in a relegation scrap from the first game - the buffer we gave ourselves last season can't be underestimated.

Which Blackpool player should we be looking out for next season?

You tell me! There's been such a turnaround in playing staff it's hard to make any predictions in all honesty. Of the seven players who remain from the 13/14 season, none of them are what you'd describe as dangerous players. Some are arguably not up to the task at all, while others are hard-workers at best. It will be interesting to see how the incoming foreign players like Estonian international Sergei Zenjov and Costa Rican international Jose Miguel Cubero adapt, but to predict they will do well is a bit of a stretch without really seeing them in action. Cubero has a strong World Cup behind him though, which does make one wonder how on earth he has ended up at Blackpool.

Any younger player that might burst on to the scene?

With the squad still light on numbers, some of the youth team may get a chance to impress. One who shone at the end of last season was centre back Harrison McGahey, but a derisory contract offer meant he was snapped up by Sheffield United in the summer - a real frustration given a traditional lack of young players coming through at Bloomfield Road. Mark Waddington, a 2nd year academy scholar, may be one who could break through, but it will all depend on how many first team squad players are signed between now and the end of August which will decide if he gets first team opportunities or not.

Where do you think you'll finish?

Right now, it's hard to look past the bottom three and relegation to League One. This could change if the quality and quantity of players increases soon, but a disastrous pre-season combined with one of the lowest wage budgets in the division doesn't bode well. Riga will need to work a miracle to achieve anything of note this season.

Finally what do you make of Reading's prospects?

I expected Reading to make the play-offs last year, but it seems they never really put a good run together and obviously missed out on the final day. From the outside looking in, the squad seems a little weaker than last season, and I also think the top end of the Championship will be stronger this time around with all the relegated sides likely to be challenging. I'd expect Reading to be top half, but can't imagine a top six finish is likely.

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Bolton

Mark Yesilevskiy, former editor at Lion of Vienna Suite@MarkWhyy

Bolton came into the 2013/14 season riding a decent run of form that had seen you flirt with the play-offs but last season started miserably before a late rally. How do you look back on last season?

Last season was unbelievably demoralizing from a fan standpoint. For long stretches, Bolton couldn't score, couldn't defend, couldn't win, and couldn't inspire any sort of confidence. We never really flirted with any kind of measurable success and that was an issue following the high-flying finish of the 2012/13 season. The fanbase believed that all this team needed was a proper pre-season under Dougie Freedman and that would kick-start the side sooner. It didn't.

What has Freedman done so far this summer to change things?

Freedman has brought in a number of new signings while shipping out some of last year's problem players. The defense has hopefully been shored up with the return of Kevin McNaughton, who did very well in a loan stint last year, and the signings of Dorian Dervite and Dean Moxey. Neil Danns and Liam Feeney are also back in the midfield after impressing last season while the development squad was added to with Ross Fitzsimons and Quade Taylor, a pair of players from Crystal Palace.

What does he need to do?

Unfortunately, the front line still looks as bad as ever with consistently misfiring Jermaine Beckford leading the line and Craig "Can't Hit A Barn Door" Davies as his backup. Freedman had said that he would like to bring some new strikers in and hopefully he will be able to do that before the window closes. There is also some hope for the youngsters, especially Conor Wilkinson and Zach Clough with each seeing their fair share of minutes in the various summer friendlies.

Which Bolton player should we be looking out for next season?

I'm putting a lot of faith in Neil Danns to continue the form that he carried last season. The midfielder will run all day and is good for the occasional goal, having scored five for Bolton last season in the league. Mark Davies, who missed much of the 2013/14 campaign through an injury suffered at the tail end of last season, can really shine as well. He is perhaps Bolton's most creative option and one of the few that is willing to run at the opposition defense.

A younger player that might burst on to the scene?

I truly hope that Conor Wilkinson gets a chance. He was solid in his U21 appearances last season and with rumors that Freedman is set to ship out Tom Eaves, it seems that the former Millwall man has taken more than a few steps up the pecking order. Bolton are also short of inspiration on the wings in the first team and there's a good chance that Chris Lester, who has one appearance to his name, gets a shot in what's sure to be a long campaign.

Where do you think you'll end up.

Crossing fingers and toes that it's in the top six.

Finally what are your impressions of Reading heading into the new season?

I'm honestly not sure what to think. There's every chance that Reading begin to fire on all cylinders and end up where they arguably should have last year but the big blank space in the "Transfers In" column almost says otherwise. Plus, the fact that you have lost Adam Le Fondre and his solid goalscoring record without a replacement coming in, doesn't help. As an American, I look forward to seeing Danny Williams' continued progress and hope he carries on from where he started off last year.

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Bournemouth

Peter Bell from Cherry Chimes - @PeterBell19

Bournemouth were one of the surprise packages of last season and seemed destined for a play-off spot before a late faltering. What did Eddie Howe do to create such a good side?

Hard work is something that Eddie and his teams are noted for. He expects players to leave everything they have on the pitch and he never stops thinking about football and ways in which he can make the team play better. Eddie does his homework and there is a massive belief not only with the players as a group but also with the fans and the management and owners that the club is going forward.

What changes have you seen so far this summer?

On the player from we have made three first team signings to date. That includes Callum Wilson who is a striker and came from Coventry City (estimated to cost £2.5-3m) - big things are expected of him, midfielder Dan Gosling a free transfer from Newcastle Utd, winger Junior Stanislas another free transfer from Burnley. Our big player sale was striker Lewis Grabban to Norwich City.

What does Howe still need to do?

What needs to be improved is the number of clean sheets. AFCB also need to defend free kicks better.

Which Bournemouth player should we be looking out for next season?

Callum Wilson is the player on every one's lips as he did so well in League One with 22 goals and he needs to get off to a good start in the Championship. Personally, I think his strike partner Yann Kermorgant will be our lead goal scorer as he is such a good fit for the team.

Any younger player that might burst on to the scene?

Baily Cargill at 19 has played a number of pre-season games at centre back and could start some games. He is still behind Cook, Elphick and Ward but could make an appearance or two from the subs bench. Josh Carmichael and Sam Matthews are two midfield players who could also break into the squad if needed.

Where do you think you'll finish?

While many including myself will be hoping for top six I believe 11th is more likely.

Finally what do you make of Reading's prospects?

Reading are a strong squad but I think the delay over the club ownership change will damage Nigel Adkins' chances of buying as many quality signings as he needs to ensure a top 10 finish and I put Reading just below us in 12th spot.

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Brentford

Billy The Bee Grant writes and shoots fan videos for Beesotted fanzine. You can follow Billy on twitter on @billythebee99 or via Beesotted fanzine twitter @beesotted and if you're a fan of videos made by fans for the fans, they've got an excellent range of YouTube videos you can check out here.

After a string of near misses over the past decade you've finally made it back to the second tier. What finally got you over the line?

Decade? It's been 22 years to be precise since we were last in this league. And the string of misses to get back here that started in 1995 ... The year we finished 2nd and they decided for one year only to promote only one team from what was then the old football league 2nd division to division 1 (now the championship). Naturally we lost in the playoffs that year. And another 5 times since to make us the most unsuccessful playoff team (7 playoffs. 7 losses).

What finally got us over the line? Honestly. The takeover of Brentford by fan Matthew Benham a few years ago was key. His investment coupled with a change in strategy from the club with regards recruitment, style of play and development resulted in Brentford putting in a long-term plan for success. This included developing a top class academy which won the prestigious U15 Milk Cup final a couple of years ago .. And who beat Southampton in the final of their section of the milk cup again this year.

He also invested in forward thinking left-field managers (Uwe Rosler and Mark Warburton) who bought in young exciting players including Jake Bidwell, Harlee Dean, James Tarkowski and Adam Forshaw (who has recently been at the centre of a rejected bid from Wigan) to play "proper football".

We were unlucky the year we missed the penalty against Doncaster in the 94th minute of the final game of the 2012/13 season which would have seen us win the league as opposed to relegated to the playoffs again. But we realise now that year was a weak league in comparison to last season. We played fantastic football that year - sometimes having 70 or 80% possession in a match creating 30 or 40 chances at times but only scoring one or two goals quite often. We weren't clinical enough in front of goal.

The Brentford management team ensured that there were to be no slip ups last season. After managing to keep the core of the team together, they reinforced strategically bringing in key players like Alan McCormack and Alan Judge. There was also a touch of fortune where, after a shaky start to the season and having lost to p!ss poor Stevenage, then manager Uwe Rosler had a 90 minute dressing room lock-in with the team. Apparently they had it out in a major way and Rosler changed a few things after that meeting which saw Brentford go on a 4 month unbeaten league run (wwwwwdwwwwwwwwdwwdw) and Rosler poached to Wigan.

Victory at Brisbane Road against long-standing table toppers Orient in March pretty much sealed automatic promotion. We very much enjoyed that day out ... From the boat party to the after-party as can be seen on our fan video from the day out.

It was ironic that our promotion was sealed with a penalty against Preston on Good Friday from on loan player Alan Judge ... Almost exactly one year after on loan Marcello Trotta missed the decisive penalty against Doncaster. Judge also missed a penalty that day so some things don't change.

The fans celebrated after the match by going down the pub after the game .... With the whole team ... The manager .. And the owner ...

Brentford v Preston Promotion video No 2 PREVIEW (with Judge, Warburton and Benham interview) (via Beesotted Brentford)

As you do ....

What changes has Mark Warburton made so far this summer?

I think Warburton and his team (ex-Everton academy boss David Weir and ex-Liverpool academy boss Frank McParland) are right on the money. Brentford can't compete with the likes of the bigger teams out there splashing around £3m and £4m for a player and paying £15k a week in wages. So we have to box clever. Apparently we have the 2nd smallest playing budget in the division. That means, on paper, we should finish 23rd.

The players who Brentford have bought over the past few years were brought in with Championship football in mind. So the core of our team is there already. In addition, we have been very clever in picking up player unproven at Championship level but look great prospects. Warburton lobes developing youngsters so we're in the fortunate position of being much more relaxed on taken chances with so called unproven talent.

Moses Odujabo from Orient is a quality winger. He cost us £1m which is more than we have paid for anyone. But he's fast, agile, strong and skilful. And is cheaper by a few million than most average Championship midfielders. He's the one who scored that wonder-goal at Wembley for Orient in the playoff final.

We also have bought the top scorer in the championship - Andre Gray - from Luton. Gray scored 30 goals in 44 appearances for Luton last season. He's one for the future for sure.

You can check Gray and Odubajo's goals against Crystal Palace our 3-2 pre-season victory here. He also bought Scott Hogan - top scorer for Rochdale last season with 17 goals in 34 appearances, Marcus Tebar - a creative midfielder with an eye for a pass - from Almeria and Scott Pritchard on loan from Spurs (via Swindon) who all looked great in pre-season. We've nicknamed Pritchard "Tenacious P" ... Because he is ... He doesn't give up.

But one of the signings of the summer for the fans was Alan Judge. OK he's not exactly a new signing as we had him on loan from Xmas. But he was an instrumental player for us in the season run-in. And getting his signature was icing on the cake. His attitude is tremendous. And by christ he loves a shot.

What does he still need to do?

We still need one or two more strikers. Hogan is injured and will miss the first few weeks of the season. Also, it may be too much pressure for two "lower league strikers" to be asked to deliver immediately against Championship defences. We need back up so should have one striker come in this week.

We're also looking to bring in another centre back and a creative midfielder. And that's assuming that Forshaw doesn't go in this window.

Which Brentford player should we be looking out for next season?

I'm really sorry. I can't choose one. There are too many.
You will probably have heard of Adam Forshaw - division one player of the year last year. Great little midfielder. He joined Brentford with left back Jake Bidwell from Everton academy who has also come on leaps and bounds and has turned out to be a great little defender.

Alan McCormack joined from Swindon and was tremendous. Slipping from central midfield to right back after the "Rosler Stevenage shuffle", he shored up our defence enormously. Whereas Alan Judge came from Blackburn on loan after Christmas and his enthusiasm, energy and skill took us to another level.

However, I will have to flag up two of our new additions for ones to watch out for. Moses Odubajo looks quality. A winger in the traditional sense, Orient fans reckon he's worth 20 goals a season. And Alex Pritchard. He was brilliant for Swindon when they played us last season. And in the pre-season friendlies, he has already shown he is In a class on his own.

Exciting times.

Any younger player that might burst on to the scene?

We bought Stuart Dallas from Crusaders in Northern Ireland a couple of seasons ago. He started in the development team but found himself getting a fair bit of bench time over the past two seasons. He has been getting more and mor game time over the past six months or so and is looking lively and sharp. He will be making more appearances this season for sure.

And Montell Moore. Straight out of the academy - he got his first start pre-season a few weeks ago. Probably a bit too raw and green to make an impact in the Championship at the moment. But his running and enthusiasm and skill has surprised and impressed the fans. If he can keep in and around the first team, you may hear his name more in a year or two maybe.

Where do you think you'll finish?

Honestly. We'll get promoted to the Premiership after finishing 2nd pipping Fulham to an automatic place at the final post.

Seriously, I think we'll do better than the expected 23rd. I reckon we'll finish around 14th or 15th. We'll impress a few people. But we will also find it difficult in a some matches. The first four matches will be a good barometer. The Charlton home game will see us pipped against a team who narrowly avoided relegation last season and are under vast player and management restructure.

Bournemouth away is next and is where we would love to see ourselves pitched. Arguably we should have joined them in the championship last season as they have done remarkably well and their football is admired. That will be a very tough game.

Then we play Blackpool by the sea who are struggling to pull eleven men together we then take on Birmingham City at home who poached our top scorer Clayton Donaldson in the close season but who struggled last season and apparently have no money.

Finally what do you make of Reading's prospects?

Hard to say. Having spent most of my footballing life in Division 1, I can tell you almost anything you want to know about that division in an instant. The Championship is going to take a wee bit of hanging about in for a few months before I can get a real feel.

Obviously Reading must be gutted having just missed out on the playoffs last season by one place and one point! You know how to score but defensively you need to fix up it seems.

I remember Le Fondre well from his time in the lower leagues. He was good for Stockport, great for Rochdale and decent for Rotherham. Selling your top scorer to Cardiff in the close season with no replacement is a bit of a worry though.

You have a tough opening match against Wigan ... That will be a good barometer. Ipswich, Forest and Middlesborough will also be interesting. Again, you will have a good idea where the lie of the land is by the end of August.

How your self-imposed transfer embargo will or will not affect has to be seen. The bosses say players will be coming in soon. Not sure Anton Ferdinand is the solution to your defensive issues though.

Depends on how your new owners decide to go about their business. I would suspect at the moment, bottom half of the table for Reading would be a fair position taking into consideration you haven't had the greatest of pre-season build ups and you still have to bolster your side - with many of the key players being targeted months ago by rival clubs.

Thanks to all of our writers and we'll be catching up with them again before league and cup games throughout the season. Stay tuned tomorrow for Part 2.