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Championship Previews In Their Own Words: Part 2

Our Odyssey through the Championship continues as we turn over TTE to fans from across the league.

Mark Runnacles/Getty Images

If you missed part one of our quest to preview all 23 other teams in the Championship, you can check that out here.

Brighton

Jason from Brighton Only At Home@BHAFConlyathome

How would you sum up last season for Brighton?

Successful, frustrating, unexpected, disappointing, unfair, amazing, entertaining, pragmatic. To not go up with 89 points and only five defeats all season was a very disappointing way to end but statistically and in terms of how we played in so many of our games it was the best season I can remember.

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

It's been very quiet with the main story being the return of Glenn Murray on a season long loan. We weren't supposed to mention him any more according to one of our songs but we've done nothing but, in fact. I could probably write a small book chapter about him but we'll just leave it that I'm glad he's back and I think he'll score goals at this level.

There has naturally been a bit of interest in our players which we've managed to hold off at the time of writing and we seem to be remarkably deficient in the fit centre back department.

How do fans feel about Chris Hughton?

I think everyone's taken to him now. Some were worried about our need to scrap out results early in his stint but his professionalism, intelligence and ability to provide team spirit is shining through now. I've always been behind his appointment and he's easily my favourite ever Brighton manager.

What are the expectation levels heading in to the new season?

High. They might be even higher if we fill the missing centre back and centre forward spots by the big kick off and hang on to our big players.

Name one player we should keep an eye out for.

Anthiny Knockaert. Simple as that.

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

Hopefully Jack Harper given the hype when we signed him.

Finally where do you reckon you'll finish?

I have absolutely no doubt that we'll finish in the top six and go out in the semis of the playoffs to a team we don't get on with.

*****

Bristol City

Paul from The Exiled Robin @TheExiledRobin

How would you sum up last season for City?

Disappointing in the main. Having won the League One and Johnstone Paints Trophy double in the previous season, accumulating 99 points and looking imperious, hopes were high of good consolidation at the very least.

Unfortunately, we had a disastrous summer transfer window where only one permanent signing was made (six squad members had left, leaving us desperately short of any sort of cover) and the whole club, led by Steve Cotterill, seemed to struggle to adapt to life at the higher level.

Why? Who knows? We targeted the likes of Andre Gray and Dwight Gayle, presumably under Cotterill's ambitious guidance, whilst rumours abound that we were shocked by wage and agent financial expectations. Whatever the reasons, we had missed a huge opportunity by not building on our success.

Ultimately Cotterill paid the price for a ridiculously stubborn approach to games where he refused to switch from his wingback formation despite everyone knowing we were getting caught out in behind them on the flanks too often, didn't bring in fresh faces even when those playing were out of form, and rarely used substitutes, meaning many of our first team were visibly knackered.

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

Where to start! Lee Tomlin is the headliner, having had a hugely successful loan spell last spring, he was the one everyone wanted and takes top billing at £3m. Adding another of last season's loanees this week in full back Adam Matthews has strengthened the defence too, but a £1m signing from Oxford, young winger Callum O'Dowda and an Icelandic centre-half from Juventus have also excited fans.

Add to that the nous and experience of midfielder Gary O'Neil from Norwich and it's been a hugely, albeit very necessarily, exciting summer at Ashton Gate

How do fans feel about Lee Johnson?

I think the majority are behind him now, even if views were split at the time of his appointment. He is clearly hugely ambitious, ultra-modern and willing to innovate. A recent feature in the Guardian highlighted his approach which included time in an A&E ward to watch how the leading surgeons and doctors behave under pressure and how they stay calm in the adrenaline-fueled, high-tension moments, and that is indicative of his willingness to open himself up to improving as a manager.

His record so far can't be faulted. He took us (with not inconsiderable help from assistant John Pemberton) from the bottom of the league to comfortable safety in three months - we'd have been in the top six if the season had started in mid-January - so everyone's hoping he can continue that sort of progress.

What are the expectation levels heading into the new season?

In some ways, they've never been higher, but in terms of actual league position that might only mean a steady top half finish? If that sounds perverse then it's all to do with everything else around the club - maybe this feels like the start of something good, even if it doesn't mean promotion this season.

The newly-rebuilt stadium will be open in full for the first time and looks fantastic, we've spent some cash and brought in a lot of youthful, high potential, exciting players. We must have one of the youngest squads around, and certainly one of the youngest managers.

The Bristol Sport model is still taking some getting used to for some, but the benefits for having the additional revenue streams and stadium usage are obvious once you get beyond the initial scepticism.

It really feels like we're starting to get it right in all areas and if this season can be a great, solid platform for the future, then we'd all be happy.

Name one player we should keep an eye out for

Tomlin's the obvious one and has performed to a very high standard at this level previously, not least for us last season. He has an awful lot of talent and if he can continue to apply it with positional sense and hard work, he can be our star.

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

I know people at the club are very excited about Callum O'Dowda so put that name in your little black books. He was on the brink of the Ireland squad for the European Championships, and some at Oxford think we've stolen him at a fee which could rise to £1.6m, so as long as expectations don't get the better of him, he could be one to watch this season and in the future.

Finally, where do you reckon you'll finish?

I'd love to say top 6 is the target but there looks to be a lot of clubs who look better equipped than us so I'd be delighted with a top ten finish. To be threatened with relegation again would be massively disappointing after such an exciting, forward-thinking six months.

*****

Burton Albion

Despite attempts across social media, we couldn't find a willing Burton fan. So here's what we can make out!  If you do happen to be an Albion fan reading this, do get in touch to thetilehurstend@gmail.com

How did they get on last season?

Burton finished runners-up to Wigan in League One to seal a first ever season in the second tier. It's the latest step in a remarkable rise for the club who were playing Non-League football just seven years ago. The man who masterminded that promotion into the League was Nigel Clough who returned to Burton to replace Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink in December and steered them over the line to promotion.

Who are their star men?

The club's player of the season for the past two campaigns has been a name familiar to older Reading fans in Stuart Beavon. Born in our humble town, Stuart is the son of former Reading midfielder of the same name (how that works in his house is beyond me) and while his goal tally of 12 in 68 games seems unremarkable, he's won the hearts of Albion fans for unselfish player and the ability to create chances for others.

Lucas Aikins top scored last year with 12 goals while Mark Duffy chipped in with a handy eight from the midfield.

Who have they signed this summer?

They've bolstered their ranks with several experienced players including former Leicester winger Lloyd Dyer and Cardiff promotion winner Ben Turner. They also had Jay Tabb on trial but has offered not to give him a deal :(

What are expectations like?

Burton face the same challenges that have befallen many other smaller clubs to be elevated into the second tier in recent seasons, trying to keep up with the big boys. It's strange to think they're in the same division as a Newcastle team splashing the cash like nobodies business but clubs like Rotherham have shown you can survive. Sadly, there are far more examples of the dream dying at second tier level, just ask fans of Walsall, Yeovil and Colchester.

Yet without significant investment it's hard to see them being anything but relegation contenders and they're 11/10 favourites with the bookies to go straight back down.

Where do we predict they'll finish?

23rd

****

Cardiff City

Bluebirds fan Dan Lewis @Daniel_Lewis92

How would you sum up last season for Cardiff?

In one word: Boring. The adage that suggests the table never lies was clearly wrong last year - how Cardiff remained in contention for a top-six finish heading into the final fortnight nobody quite knows. It was by no means a terrible season under Slade, but the football was bland for large parts and there was always a sense that City were a huge margin away from those elite sides above them.

Too often the performances against lesser sides were lacking, with the club only picking up back-to-back wins once after the month of September. Goals were also a big problem - just 56 all season - which may or may not have been rectified this summer depending on how quickly the new faces settle in.

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

The permanent signing of Lex immers on the first day of the transfer window was a real positive. The Dutchman came in for the second half of last season and was a class above at times, scoring five goals to help prolong the outside hopes of a playoff spot. Jazz Richards has also come in, with the underwhelming Scott Malone heading the opposite way - another signing that has got supporters excited, even if it is a like-for-like swap in terms of quality.

It is up top where strengthening was really needed, though, and it remains to be seen whether that department has truly improved. Kenneth Zohore has also been captured on a permanent deal, while Frederic Gounongbe is an unknown quantity who has been hit-and-miss so far in pre-season. At this stage, it is looking likely that a midfielder - Immers or Anthony Pilkington - will be asked to plug the gaping hole.

How's our old chum Sean Morrison getting on?

It's a strange one in many ways. When handing over £5m for a player that the majority of the fanbase had never heard of, at a time when the club had an array of talented defensive options, the logic of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was called into question (not for the last time!).

Not a lot has changed since then - more than a few decent showings, and some goals at the other end to go with it, but not really enough to make him a particular fan favourite. He could thrive in the new five-at-the-back system this coming season but, having undergone an operation at the back end of the last campaign, fitness will be a real issue and he will now likely be playing catch-up for the opening weeks of the term. Incidentally, if you could take ALF off our hands - a free contract, say - that would be great!

How do fans feel about the appointment of Paul Trollope?

When the appointment was initially made it is fair to say that fans were left largely underwhelmed. Some were just glad to see the back of Slade, in truth, but it stank of a decision made to simply cut costs. Slade (manager) and Trollope (assistant) being replaced by Trollope (manager) and Slade (director of football) - a near-straight swap in roles.

Trollope has returned from Wales duty with plenty of fresh ideas, though, including this new system that worked so well for the national team in the summer. While you can never read too much into pre-season results, City have done brilliantly overall with a lot of the younger players particularly standing out. If nothing else, he will be given more time to succeed than the man he replaced at the helm.

What are the expectation levels heading into the new season?

That is largely down to how other sides perform. Cardiff always tend to be there or thereabouts, either knocking on the door or nailing down a spot in the top six, which will likely be the case once again. Trollope knows that the task is to at least match last season's eighth-placed finish, but fingers crossed the style of play will be a vast improvement on last time out.

Name one player we should keep an eye out for

A few obvious suggestions here - the likes of Peter Whittingham, Pilkington and Immers among them. I think this could be a huge season for Aron Gunnarsson in central midfield, though, on the back of the most memorable of summers for the Icelandic international.

Gunnarsson was a consistent performer for City in his first two season at the club but, much like at previous side Coventry City, has since faded away somewhat. Now is his chance to nail down a spot in one of the defensive midfield berths which will hopefully help propel the Bluebirds up another notch.

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

The biggest criticism of Slade's time in charge, which may seem harsh from the outside, was his reluctance to turn to younger players in time of need. A number of starlets are now beginning to shine during Trollope's early days at the club, with Declan John once again looking every bit like the player that made 20 appearances in the Premier League a couple of years back.

John was a little out of his depth back then in what was his first season as a regular first-team player in the senior fold, but having now been given another chance under Trollope, we could yet see the best from the flying full-back. Semi Ajayi, a former Arsenal academy player, may also start the season at centre-back due to injury problems - a real talent if early showings are anything to go by.

Finally, where do you reckon you'll finish?

As mentioned above, this really does depend on how the likes of Villa, Newcastle and Norwich adapt to life in the Championship. Throw Brighton, Derby, Sheffield Wednesday and big-spending Wolves into the mix, plus those who have consolidated and are now ready to push on, and you have the most competitive of divisions to call. I'll go with another near miss in seventh place.

*****

Derby County

Ollie from Derby County Blog - @derbycountyblog

How would you describe last season?

The phrase I've used before when asked was 'weird and uniquely painful'. It seems unlikely that we will ever fully understand what in earth happened with Paul Clement, or why he was replaced by Darren Wassall. The only thing to do is to close the book on it and look forward. You could drive yourself mad,otherwise.

What's been your main transfer business this summer?

Shifting out surplus defenders. Four senior players have left and none have been recruited at the time of writing, but Nigel Pearson was still able to name two separate and strong teams for mid week friendlies on consecutive nights.

What about our old chum Nick Blackman? How did fans view his first six-months?

I think it's fair to say that he had a bit of a nightmare. Clement was sacked almost immediately after Blackman signed and Wassall barely played him. He was brought on as a late sun against Sheffield Wednesday and missed a sitter,with his occasional bit-part performances failing to make any real impression. He badly needed a new manager to come in and the attendant fresh start.

How did fans react to the appointment of Nigel Pearson?

Good. It was important to get it done as early as possible, to draw a line under the Wassall fiasco and give the club the best chance of success for this season. He has his character flaws, but I haven't detected much concern about that yet - more just a general belief that he was the right man at the right time. I remember Pat Murphy, who famously clashed with Pearson after 'Ostrichgate', saying that while not much in football made sense, Pearson to Derby certainly did.

What are expectation levels like this season?

Expectations are very high. It would be a shock if Derby didn't at least make the play-offs. Top two always involves an element of luck with injuries and about who has come down. Automatic promotion this year is Newcastle plus one, in all probability,so that makes the job a bit harder.

Name one player who might stand out this season?

Tom Ince looks set to play in his preferred 'number ten' role this season and has the potential to be one of the stars of the division. I'll back the new coaching team to get the best out of him.

And one younger player who could burst onto the scene?

Max Lowe is a left-sided player who has played for England at youth level and has now graduated from the academy to the first-team squad. It'll be hard for him to get a look-in at this stage though, so he might well get a loan move to help his development.

Where do you think you'll finish?

I'd love to say second (behind Newcastle), but we don't do things the easy way, so it'll probably be third and then the purgatory of the play-offs. Again.

*****

Thanks again to all of our contributors and we'll be back tomorrow with more Championship-tastic previews.