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Championship Previews In Their Own Words: Part 1

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It's that time again where we turn over TTE to fans from 23 other Championship clubs to tell us how they're feeling ahead of the new season.

Matthew Ashton/Getty Images

We got in touch with our friends from around the Championship to get their opinions on how their sides are shaping up ahead of the 2016/17 season.

Aston Villa

James from our fellow SB Nation chums 7500 to Holte.

How would you sum up last season for Villa?

Beyond awful. I'm a season ticket holder and I'm proud of the fact that I never missed a game last year and never left early, but the Football was shocking.

The team was rocked by a stunning defeat to Leicester early in the season and never recovered. Confidence was low and the team couldn't perform at all.

Aston Villa were historically bad. We aren't a team that should be scraping by and we deserved to finish bottom. The season left a bitter taste in our mouths and you just knew Aston Villa wouldn't win.

We all know about your capture of Aaron Tshibola, what's been the early reaction to his signing?

Mostly positive. There's been a few dodgy comments here and there about his mannerisms and professionalism, but that's football. I like the guy, he's a solid player and will boost our team.

What else have you been up to transfer wise?

Not much to be fair. We've got a new owner who has brought in Tish, Elphick and Gollini but is wary of making new signings until we ship some dead wood.

Many fans aren't happy with this and would rather we spend because we've got the money. However, we've seen this exact maneuver become the downfall of many a team. We need to be sensible and spend wisely.

How do fans feel about the new team of Di Matteo & Steve Clarke?

Very confident. It's good cop & bad cop and these guys come to Villa with an outstanding pedigree in Football. There's simply no-one better for us right now that is available. Villa did well here.

What are the expectation levels heading into the new season?

I will say fairly tepid. Villa have a good team, a nice owner and a pretty decent management team,but a recovery from last season is the minimum expectation.

Promotion or a trophy would be nice, but honestly I want to see some goals. That's all!

Name one player we should keep an eye out for

Jack Grealish is a wizard who could quite be capable of emulating Zinedine Zidane or a Luis Figo. He's got a great control for a ball, an eye for a pass, can break ankles with fast jukes and loves to make runs and dictate play. He's also got a real toughness, if Jack goes down, he's hurt.

He's seriously an incredibly gifted talent and might tear apart this league if given the chance.

Plus one younger player who might make a name for himself down the line.

Just one? Bloody hell. Villa have a really promising academy coming through and the lead star would be Russian Hepburn-Murphy. He's Villa's own Thierry Henry and he's blown our pre-season wide open with a bunch of goals.

He's absolutely electric and could be a danger. Let's see. We all said that about Football Manager legend Gabby Agbonlahor.

Finally, give us your prediction on where the Villa will finish..

I'd like to say first, but I'd be really happy with a top four finish! Shall we say 3rd?

*****

Barnsley

Barnsley fan Ian Wilkinson

How would you sum up last season for Barnsley?

Overall. Miraculous. From bottom of the League in November to Wembley glory on two occasions, once in the JPT and of course as play-off winners, it's hard to compare last season to anything that has been much better in my (nearly) forty years of following the Reds.

What's been your main transfer business over the summer?

Retaining Hammill was our biggest challenge. We got our man in the end, despite offers for our talisman. Tom Bradshaw is a young, hungry striker, keen to make his mark at a better level and securing his signature is seen as an exciting step. Andy Yiadom is another, who is a proven talent and leader, albeit for Barnet. George Moncur and Elliot Lee provide other fresh options for the Reds with a fantastic pedigree. All young Tykes now. There are others, but all are significantly below the radar of your typical Championship chatter.

How do fans feel about Paul Heckingbottom?

He's one of our own. What more can you say?

An astute and intelligent coach. Speaks very well and represents our club and town very eloquently. Regardless of the image of Barnsley that may exist outside of our town, we all share an obsessive love of the place and the people we're connected to. Are we underdogs under his stewardship? Certainly. Is Hecky talented? You can bet he is. Paul, our team, our club, owners and supporters are on the same page. Long may it last.

What are the expectation levels heading into the new season?

To shock and surprise the opposition. We don't feel or look like the club that dropped out of the basement just over two year's ago. Observing the Championship from afar last season, the excitement was rarely apparent. Of course there are talented individuals involved, but to any neutrals watching the play-offs, it didn't look like 'Premier 2'.

Name one player we should keep an eye out for

Tom Bradshaw

Plus one younger player who might make a name for himself down the line?

An easy pick. James Bree to a decent Premier League club, à la John Stones.

Finally, give us your prediction on where Barnsley will finish..

Head says top 16. Heart says that we will be in or around the play-offs after a slow start.

*****

Birmingham

Gabriel from The Football Lab

How would you sum up last season for Birmingham?

A solid C+. We're in a league in which strikers are going for £10 million and it's a big deal for us to pay a fifth of that. For that reason, you have to be realistic about things. Having said that, there's part of me that's disappointed we didn't stay closer to the top 6, after being competitive for much of the campaign.

What's been your main transfer business over the summer?

I'm happy with the signings of Ryan Shotton and Robert Tesche. We needed a centre-back partner for Morrison - Shotton gives us a bit of height that the likes of Jonathan Spector and Paul Robinson perhaps lack. Tesche has had injury issues but was excellent for us at the back-end of the 14/15 campaign, and could be the play-switcher we need against the more defensive sides. We still desperately need a quick striker.

How do fans feel about Gary Rowett?

He's done lots of good things. His interviews always inspire confidence and he's organized us well. The last six months or so however has been the first time in which he hasn't been uniformly adored by fans. Some suggest his recruitment record hasn't been great, others claim he doesn't have a Plan B. If we had been offered two 10th place finishes when he first took over we'd have snapped that up, so in some ways he's a victim of his own success.

What are the expectation levels heading into the new season?

We'd like play-off push but that's more of a hope than an expectation. I'd aim for top half, a cup run - our style of play could work against Premier League sides - and the development of some academy graduates. I do miss having the Redmonds and Butlands in our squad.

Name one player we should keep an eye out for

Our best player is centre-back Michael Morrison, he's been outstanding since joining at the same time as Rowett. Diego Fabbrini can be a delightfully-skilful player on his day and he was excellent in his first spell with us. His close control and ability to accelerate sharply in tight areas could help us break down the bus parkers.

Plus one younger player who might make a name for himself down the line.

Possibly Viv Soloman-Otabor. There are one or two question marks surrounding David Cotterill and given the shortage of alternative wingers, Viv could get a run of games. He's still a bit raw but we need a winger with pace, capable of carrying the ball up the pitch to alleviate pressure. That was what we missed after Demarai Gray left last season.

Finally, give us your prediction on where the Blues will finish...

I said 11th last summer - pretty close! We've finished 10th in our two last seasons and I don't see too many major changes to the squad, in either a positive or negative sense. For now I'll say another 10th place finish - play-off chances depend on the quality of attacking players we bring in. Good luck to Reading.

*****

Blackburn

Rovers fan Mikey Delap - @MikeyDelap

How would you sum up last season?

Not the best (again). We won when we needed to, we lost too much and nothing was particularly inspiring.

Crowds continue to dwindle and enthusiasm seems to be charged at a premium.

Something please change...

What's been your main transfer business over the summer?

Securing the services of Danny Graham and selling Grant Hanley.

Danny is a good egg, he may not be well thought of in the top tier but he's a bleeding good Championship forward and our main hope for keeping our head above water this time around.

Selling Grant Hanley bought in some welcome money, but at the expense of an in form centre back. So that wasn't ideal in an on field capacity.

How do fans feel about new boss Owen Coyle?

Mixed. Very mixed. Some seem happy to give him a chance as he seems a nice enough sort and he's signed reasonably well on the face of it so far.

Some don't rate him which is fair enough as his recent track record isn't great (being kind).

And a minority won't take to him as he used to manage Burnley. Which is of course about as mature a toddler.

What are the expectation levels heading into the new season?

Not great.

Making the promotion and play off spots can be politely described as idealist/fantasy/dream like whereas if we were relegated it wouldn't be that unforeseen.

So I guess just to show some signs of quiet progress.

Name one player we should keep an eye out for

Jack Byrne. On loan from Manchester City and with some potential to boot.

Time will tell if he'll be up to task but he comes with some reasonable fanfare and some decent pre-season showings.

So here's hoping...

Plus one younger player who might make a name for himself down the line?

Connor Mahoney. Has been on the brink of making the first team "grade" for a while now. Looks the most likely to pop his head up above water given the lack of available funds currently.

Either that or Scott Wharton at centre back.

Finally, give us your prediction on where the Rovers will finish..

I'll go with a slightly optimistic 14th. On the basis that we do still have some players to avoid the worst happening. That and I'm an optimist (no really).

*****

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.

How would you sum up last season for Bees?

A bit topsy turvey but worked out OK in the end. Season started with the appointment of a new manager - Marinus Dijkhuizen - which the club admitted was the wrong appointment (hence the reason why we sacked him after 8 matches). His low point had to be the 3-1 loss to Reading. He would have probably have been gone after that match if we actually had someone to take over from him.

That coupled with losing important players like Andre Gray and Moses Odubajo, a stretcher load of long-term injuries a pitch that was so bad we had to have it relayed after two weeks (postponing the visit of Birmingham City and refunding their fans' travel costs who had already booked trains up), the appointment of Lee Carsley who said in his first press conference that he didn't actually want the job ... plus defenders going on strike to force a move - you couldn't really make it up really. It was like a comedy of errors. To be fair, our owner put his hand up and admitted it was in parts a bit of a sh!t show ... but we were brave enough to admit our mistakes, correct them promptly and move on.

We went from pretty bad (under Dijkhuizen) to very bad (under Carsley - 1st two matches against Birmingham and Derby) to very good (under Carsley) to OK (under Dean Smith) to very bad (under Dean Smith) to world beaters (under Dean Smith) - winning 7 and drawing 1 of our last 9 matches.

Ironically, our form really picked up when our player of the season Alan Judge had his leg recklessly brokenly an Ipswich player in March. The other players had to step up to the mark at that point. And they did.

To sum up - we tried to hard to move on quickly from the Mark Warburton era bringing in a new manager who was pretty clueless about the Championship (his Dutch total-football and low-intensity style of training just did not translate to the players) and a load of players who were very green to Championship football. Dean Smith steadied the ship by March and most of the players acclimatised to the league ... finally .. putting in some great performances.

What's been your main transfer business over the summer?

David Button (keeper) and Jake Bidwell (defender) refused to sign new contracts that had been on the table for a year. So we were ready for their moves to ‘bigger' teams (er ... F*lham and QPHaHa). We bought in highly rated keeper David Bentley (Southend) in the summer which forced David Button's hand and he moved sideways (backwards?) down the road. Lovely bloke Button and great keeper but that was a bit of a fluff.

At Left Back, we had been chasing highly rated players like Nico Henry but for whatever reason it never happened. So we recently opted for Callum Elder from Leicester - recently had a fantastic loan spell at Peterboro - on a season-long loan and in his first run-out against Millwall he looked decent.

We also bought midfielder Romaine Sawyers from Walsall (Dean Smith obviously knows him well) and John Egan from Gillingham. Both players were in the PFA Football League Division 1 team of the year. Both have looked very proficient in pre-season - if anything Sawyers looks tactically a couple of steps ahead of some of our players who will need time on the pitch with him to click.

On top of that, we have long-term injuries defender Andres Bjelland and midfielder Lewis McLeod (both who have never actually played a match in the Championship despite being signed for three seasons between them) returning ...

Scott Hogan also returned at the end of last season after nearly two years on the sidelines scoring 7 goals in less than 120 minutes of football (the only league match he played in before coming back, he was injured). He looks tremendous.

He was actually bought him from Rochdale as our main striker the same season we bought Andre Gray from Luton (who was meant to be the sub striker). He got injured and Gray had to learn fast to accelerate himself into the No 1 striker position. Being totally honest, he looks better than Andre Gray - more clinical in front of goal with a ridiculous burst of speed. One of those players that defenders HATE to play against.

So all these players will seem like new signings.

We're still chasing a couple of attacking midfielders. But all in all, much better than last year .. as we have been more focussed in who we bring in and integrate them into the team.

How do fans feel about Dean Smith?

The jury was really out on Smith at the beginning of the year. We were not playing great football and no-one seemed to know what our style of play was. It was a little bit all over the place. Fans were even calling for his head after a couple of months believe it or not.

To be fair to Smith, he came into a bit of a nightmare. He had to deal with internal politics. Players wanting to leave (Tarkowski, Diagouraga). Players being poached (Judge). Not being able to bring any of hs ‘own' players in (George Evans was poached from under our feet at the last minute in January. The deal for him was pretty much sealed before you guys stepped in). Plus dealing with a very young side who's confidence was shot (the average age was 24 yrs).

Fans gave him props for turning things around though.

However, this season we will really see what he is all about.

I met him briefy in Germany when we played VFL Bochum in our pre-season tour (we won 1-0 .. Hogan) and he seems like a really sound guy. But we have veered away from doing the olde ‘fanzine takes the manager out for a beer' trick as we did with previous manager Marinus Dijkhuizen. Lovely bloke we took him out for a few beers in his first week at Brentford. Two months later he was sacked. We still think it's all our fault. Can't have that happening again.

What are the expectation levels heading into the new season?

We chatted to Brentford fans appeared as guests on our Pride of West London Podcast in this Preview feature here and the general consensus is between 4th and 14th.

Most fans are happy with consolodation again as they realise that this season will be tough with a lot of strong teams and folk spending big.

Name one player we should keep an eye out for

I've mentioned Scott Hogan. Other than that, Maxime Colin is as good a right back as you can get in this league. Callum Elder looks decent at left back. Bentley looked quality in goal in Germany. Vibe finished off the season brilliantly. And Lewis McLeod has looked an absolute don in pre-season. Composed on the ball. With an eye for a pass. Skilful. And not afraid to take players on.

And of course Alan Judge when he returns from injury.

That's not one is it? Sorry.

Plus one younger player who might make a name for himself down the line.

Tom Field has looked very good as a stand in left-back at the back end of the season.

Dean Smith seems to like the idea of bringing the youth through - so he has throw on quite a few young players into the mix this pre-season including Field, Josh Clarke (right back/winger) and Jan Holldack (utility player/defender/midfielder).

Finally, what's your prediction for where you'll finish?

Presonally, I think we will surprise people if we can keep Hogan fit and Lasse Vibe returns from the Rio Olympics uninjured and inspired.

I'm saying we'll sneak into 6th place

*****

Thanks to all of our contributors and we'll be back with part two tomorrow!