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Championship In Their Own Words 2017/18 - Part One

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Who better to preview the 2017/18 Championship than fans of every single team? Here’s part one of our In Their Own Words series, featuring the views from Aston Villa, Barnsley, Birmingham City, Bolton Wanderers and Brentford.

Brentford v Aston Villa - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Justin Setterfield/Getty Images

Aston Villa - James Rushton, 7500 To Holte

How would you sum up last season?

In a word, poor. While there were some bright spots, it wasn't good enough. We finished low and even flirted with relegation when a promotion challenge was the expectation. Not good enough!

There's only one place to start with your summer business... what's been the reaction to John Terry's arrival at Villa Park?

Mainly positive. He's obviously a great footballer and a legend in the game, but it's slightly surreal. Of course, plenty have their doubts about character issues, but that's part and parcel of the game, isn't it? As long as he keeps his nose clean, helps Villa improve and makes an impact, he's done his job. Doesn't mean I have to be happy about it though?

What's the sentiment towards Steve Bruce at the moment? And what went wrong for Di Matteo and Clarke?

Mixed. Look, this is Bruce's big chance. Ignore last season. He's had a pre-season under his belt, he's signed his targets and it is up to him to deliver. I seriously believe he is gone by October if we're not pushing the top four. There are a lot of supporters for him at Villa, but he's not proven himself at the club just yet.

As for RDM and Clarke? They couldn't get it together in time. We played beautiful football, but we didn't win games and we suffered for that.

What are your expectations for this campaign?

I want us to win the league! But I expect we will finish in a playoff position.

Who's your player to watch out for?

One man - Jonathan Kodjia. He's electric and determined and when he's back, I expect him to do his best to blow the league apart.

One younger name who could break through?

Andre Green is on the cusp of the first team and he's a serious talent, one you'd really want to keep an eye on. Easah Suliman helped England win the Summer Euros with his youth setup, so I'd look out for him to get a few chances in defence, possibly.

And where are you going to finish the season?

I firmly believe fifth place is where we will end up.

James writes for ‘7500 To Holte’, which you can find here.

Barnsley - Ian Wilkinson, On The Ponty End

How would you sum up last season?

Overall it was a success. It was our highest league finish since 2000 and 14th place has to be considered a respectable position, especially in our first year back in the Championship. Unfortunately, we were vulnerable in the January transfer window and losing players like Bree, Hourihane and Winall ended any chances we may have had to make it much higher.

How big of a miss will Marc Roberts be to the squad, and do you feel you've done enough to strengthen for this season?

We will certainly miss his aerial ability and his masterful long throws. It's always good to have a local character in the team too, who understands the town and the fans. We can replace some of these assets and Liam Lindsay has been brought in to fill that void. Throughout the squad, we still need plenty of new faces and with just one week to go until the new season starts, Hecky is is still looking for the board to back him much further.

Last year you were absolutely glowing about boss Paul Heckingbottom - still feel the same?

Absolutely. We have the perfect coach in place. Providing he gets the right resources at his disposal, we can continue to surprise the bigger teams and push on as a club, with Hecky at the helm.

What are your expectations for this campaign?

I expect Barnsley to be competitive, but fear that it may be a transitional season in many ways. Davies, Hammill and a returning Isgrove are all that remain of the promotion team. Many of our new players will be experiencing the Championship for the very first time.

Who's your player to watch out for?

Cameron McGeehan. A recent recruit from Luton Town. As a goal scoring midfielder, supporters will be hoping he can fill the boots of Hourihane. Statistics suggest he can.

One younger name who could break through?

Louis Rowe. A powerful striker in our U23 set up. Currently scoring goals for fun at that level. If he keeps on knocking at the door, Hecky may have to throw him in at some stage.

And where are you going to finish the season?

As I have suggested previously, this could end up being a transitional season for the Reds in many ways. Barnsley need to benefit from, rather than be victims in the transfer windows. Another finish in mid-table would be a good return.

You can find Ian on Twitter @OnThePontyEnd

Birmingham City - Gabriel Sutton, The Football Lab

How would you sum up last season?

I would sum it up as a lesson of the limitations in our squad.

We were a touch fortunate to be up there at the beginning, often relying on Tomasz Kuszczak's goalkeeping plus Ryan Shotton and Michael Morrison defending our box well. I have great respect for Gary Rowett, but his tactics at times meant we invited unnecessary pressure on that trio and I didn't see results continuing.

Gianfranco Zola's record dictates that was the wrong choice, but his change of tactics also exposed limitations in the squad. The players weren't comfortable adapting to a more expansive style of play and that showed in the number of errors we made at the back.

The only way most of this team can play is with long balls and a compact midfield narrowly in front of the defence. That approach might keep you up briefly, but it is ultimately limited - therefore the squad must change.

Harry Redknapp kept you up last campaign - has his permanent appointment galvanized the fanbase?

Most fans are excited at having a man of his profile and experience at the helm. Singing 'Keep Right On' at a Meet the Manager event and wearing our badge while at a non-Blues charity legends match, has created the impression that he cares.

Personally, I have niggling doubts about his durability at 70 years of age, especially for a massive re-building job which will require a lot of patience. For now though, he has my support.

Happy with your transfer business so far, or is more needed to avoid another relegation scrap?

Goalkeeper David Stockdale looks a positive addition, after he had a good season for Brighton last year. In outfield positions, we've got reasonable depth - apart from out wide and up top - but without many changes to the squad, most of our players have a narrow skillset.

It would have been easier to have a proper overhaul this summer if we didn't have as big a squad and there was more scope to bring better-rounded players in. The club wasn't able to get rid of too many players and so we are stuck, largely, with the same group that can only play in the same way.

As a temporary measure, I hope we at least keep hold of David Cotterill. If, as looks likely we'll be reliant on an aerial striker in Lukasz Jutkiewicz, we might as well have somebody who can cross a ball. I want us to bring in a lot of new players, but that may necessitate losing old ones, a process which may have to wait until next summer.

What are your expectations for this campaign?

With our current squad, I would be happy with a season of modest progression. A cup run and a victory over Aston Villa would be good too.

Who's your player to watch out for?

Though I'm not a fan of the compact 4-4-2, David Davis can do a solid job on the right side of midfield in that system, as he proved in the last couple of games. Right-back Emilio Nsue is arguably our most complete player at present. We need a left-footed clone of Nsue to play left-back, because Jonathan Grounds has defensive awareness but can't attack and Cheick Keita is the polar opposite.

One younger name who could break through?

Che Adams had his breakthrough season last year after signing from Sheffield United but is still only 21. As a second striker, he's got a bit of pace and power about him and might better his tally of seven goals this year.

And where are you going to finish the season?

I hope I'm wrong, but right now I can only see another season of struggle. 20th.

Gabriel runs ‘The Football Lab’ website, and tweets from @_FootballLab

Bolton Wanderers - Chris Manning, Lion Of Vienna Suite

How would you sum up last season?

An emotional rollercoaster. Our first successful season in nigh on a decade, and it was great. Some fantastic performances and it was just nice to win again. The season before was so bad that we desperately needed this success to make us all fall back in love with football again.

Parky's always going to be a legend around these parts, but how have Bolton fans viewed his time in charge?

He wasn’t really on our radar at the time of his appointment, indeed I had money on your mate Nigel Adkins instead, but his brand of slow-and-steady has been exactly what we needed. He has wrought some excellent performances from previously shambolic players and this is a testament to his superb organisational ability. I really like him and think he is the right man to try and keep us up this season.

More Reading connections with Jem Karacan and Adam Le Fondre - how impressed were you with that pair last season?

ALF was just as I remembered – a little energetic whippet of a man with a real eye for goal. It took him a while to get going but once he hit his stride he was as good as before.

Karacan came in towards the end of the season and was a cut above the rest of the league which isn’t a surprise given his pedigree. With Spearing leaving I expect him to step up and be our main man in midfield.

What are your expectations for this campaign?

If I’m being honest it’s that we will likely be relegated. We are still in in the throes of a transfer embargo that seems like it has been around forever, so have had to survive on free transfers and loans, along with having more people on trial than the Old Bailey. It’s going to be a long slog.

Who's your player to watch out for?

Probably Josh Vela. A defensive midfielder who converted to makeshift right back before turning into a superb no.10 last year. He struggled in the Championship previously but the successes of last season should give him the thrust to kick on. If we can keep hold of him.

One younger name who could break through?

Connor Hall arrived on a free from Sheffield United and has really impressed in pre-season, but I’m going to go for Jeff King. He signed from Droylsden last year and is a quick and intelligent attacking midfielder who can play wide or central. Parky has already said that he would’ve played last season but we were restricted by the embargo to a certain number of players in the squad. Keep an eye out for him.

And where are you going to finish the season?

Give me 21st right now and I’ll be over the moon.

You can find Lion of Vienna Suite’s website here, and they tweet from @LionOfViennaSte

Brentford - Billy Grant, Beesotted

How would you sum up last season?

Decent season overall with a tad of disappointment. We started OK. Had an AWFUL November, December and January. Sold top scorer Scott Hogan to Aston Villa while Jota and Canos came home in January. Then we went on a brilliant run playing some quality football with Lasse Vibe scoring 14 goals at the back end of the season. If we had that same form all the way through, we would have hit the playoffs I reckon.

Happy with your transfer business so far this off-season?

We’ve done some great business and have two very good players (at least) for every position now. When we reached the playoffs three seasons ago, we had a pretty threadbare side. One or two injuries and we would have been in trouble.

We’ve signed striker Neal Maupay from St Etienne. Very highly rated. Scored 11 goals in 28 games for Brest last season in the French 2nd Division. Defensive Midfielder Kamo Mokotjo from FC Twente (€1m). We were after him two seasons ago. Striker – Ollie Waktins. EFL Young Player of the Year from Exeter (£1.6m). We tried to get him last summer but the price was too high. Goalkeeper – Luke Daniels. Was Scunthorpe’s No 1 in the playoff campaign last season. Right back - Henrik Dalsgaard from Zulte Waregem. Winger Emiliano Marcondes (pre-signed to come in January when his contract expires).

There are daily rumours about Jota leaving. Captain Harlee Dean (CB) hasn’t signed a new contract so there are rumours about him too. Plus Maxime Colin (RB). And Sunderland are reputedly interested in Ryan Woods – despite him having 3 or 4 years left on his contract. We could have a few leave but hopefully we will keep the bulk of the team together.

Are you confident Dean Smith is the right man to help Brentford make that leap from top-ten to top-six or top-two?

Dean Smith is a good, steady manager who has got us playing some fantastic football at times. He’s a good bloke. He’s great with the players. They like him. I don’t like all this chopping and changing of managers willy nilly. Teams should find someone and work with him over a period of time to also improve his game. It’s all about consistency. We need to be consistent and stop shipping goals. But if we play like we did at the back end of last season we will be a thorn in many team’s sides. We scored the 2nd highest number of goals (46) in the Championship in 2017. We were just a tad generous at the back.

So to answer your question. Yes. But this season will be a real tester.

What are your expectations for this campaign?

It depends on whether we can keep key players like Jota and if the new blood can settle into playing Championship football quickly. That can always be a problem. We saw that two season ago when we bought in over 10 new players and expected them to settle in immediately. They didn’t really get firing until the following April.

If we can keep the team together, the new players gel, we sort the defensive issues and we have good fortune with injuries, I do believe - after seeing the teams make the playoffs last season - that we could make the playoffs.

Who's your player to watch out for?

Too many. If he’s still there Jota of course. But you cant ignore Vibe when he’s banging in the goals. Canos is lively. In midfield McEachran is back. His threaded pass to Jota for our first goal against Celta Vigo shows exactly what he can do. We’re more of a team tbh now. When Scott Hogan was here, you would have pointed all fingers to him. Which meant if he had a bad match or was marked out of the game, we were scuppered.

One younger name who could break through?

Our team is young. I think our average age last season was 23 years. Left Back Tom Field (20) played a fair few seasons last season. But ironically our No 1 Left Back Rico Henry is actually 19. Winger Sergi Canos (20) is also a great prospect. Ryan Woods (23 yrs) and Josh Clark (22 yrs) look positively geriatric beside some of their team-mates.

And where are you going to finish the season?

I have to remain consistent to our Brentford predictions (bit.ly/2h1JRfi) where I said we would finish 4th.

You can find Beesotted on Twitter @Beesotted, and their website here.

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Thanks to all the blogs mentioned for giving their thoughts - stay tuned throughout the rest of the week for views from all the other Championship clubs.