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Championship In Their Own Words 2017/18 - Part Two

We continue our look at what opposing fans make of the Championship this season, as Bristol City, Burton Albion, Cardiff City, Derby County and Fulham come under the spotlight.

Photo by Justin Setterfield/Getty Images

Missed part one of Championship In Their Own Words? Read it here.

Bristol City - Paul Binning, The Exiled Robin

How would you sum up last season?

Exciting to start with, one hell of a depressing, disillusioning, dreadful mid-season slump where we lost eight in a row, and 13 in 15 (I think) going from 5th to 22nd and then a surprisingly reasonable finish, culminating in a win at Brighton at their, ahem, title-winning party.

Overall a frustrating and hugely disappointing season but as I keep telling anyone who'll listen, we won at Brighton, hammered Huddersfield and Fulham by four goals and led 2-0 at Newcastle, so when we were good, we were very good and showed we can compete with anyone.

Famara Diedhiou... tell us about your record signing! Confident he can make the desired impact?

That's the big question and could make or break our season.

I've only seen YouTube clips & highlights from friendlies, so who knows?! It's quite rare for a striker to make an immediate impact like Jonathan Kodjia did when we signed him from the same club, Angers, two years ago, but that's the hope, no, expectation, having splashed over £5m on his successor.

How are the fans feeling about Lee Johnson right now?

Lee Johnson somehow survived despite immense pressure from 95% of the fan base and has a massive season in his career to show he deserved that loyalty and can fulfil the promise we're told he's got. He's got to show he can turn around a bad run more quickly as he's had at two eight-match losing runs now in his career and somehow survived both.

If he can stick to his guns, set consistent tactics, formations and line ups like he did in the last dozen games of last season and allow the players to get used to what they're doing. It worked last March/April, so why not again?

What are your expectations for this campaign?

Anything that doesn't involve a relegation battle has to be seen as progress and I think, given the squad we have, most would be happy with something around the top of the bottom half.

Who's your player to watch out for?

Famara Diedhiou has to be key given his role and the price tag. How Bobby Reid and Jamie Paterson work in behind him could be critical, whilst it seems like Nathan Baker has been signed to fill the big hole left by a seemingly impending Aden Flint departure, so a lot rests on his shoulders.

One younger name who could break through?

Callum O'Dowda developed nicely last time around. Signed from Oxford for a fee that apparently could total over £1.5m, he's just broken into the Republic of Ireland squad and I like the way he carries the ball forward at pace. This could be the year he establishes himself as a top winger in this division.

And where are you going to finish the season?

15th.

You can find Paul on Twitter @TheExiledRobin, and he writes for his blog of the same name, The Exiled Robin.

Burton Albion - Colston Crawford

How would you sum up last season?

It was a brilliant adventure, especially for us older fans who’ve been around since Northern Premier League days. That our growth has been organic rather than with a wedge from a wealthy businessman makes it more special. Survival was success. Taking four points off the big club up the road, Derby, was priceless.

What was interesting was the reaction to us from other clubs. Supporters of the genuinely big clubs, like Newcastle, were gold. Supporters who think they follow a “big” club, like Bristol City, were much more patronising, such as (shake of head) “you’ve got to take your chances in THIS league!” What, so missing loads of chances is ok in other leagues?

Confident you've done enough in the transfer market to stay afloat again this term?

“Doing enough in the transfer market” is for other clubs. I like our signings but it’s far more about having the right approach and togetherness, since we’re never going to buy expensive players.

Nigel Clough's entering his second full season in his second spell at the Pirelli, have you been impressed by what he's done so far?

Clough sparks mixed views from supporters, mainly because he doesn’t play the game and trot out the usual clichés. He’s “unexciting”, tells it like it is and some don’t actually want to see it like it really is. But we wouldn’t be here without him, going back to the foundations he put down in his first 10-year spell, and, of course, our long-serving chairman. The realists know Nigel’s absolutely the best man for the job, although Gary Rowett ran him close.

What are your expectations for this campaign?

A more comfortable survival than last time. For the last 20 years, the club has been about the next season being better than the last, however marginally. Of course, to do that we’ve got overcome the dreaded “second season syndrome.”

Who's your player to watch out for?

If he doesn’t get snapped up by someone, it’ll be Jackson Irvine again. Otherwise, Liam Boyce, Scotland’s top scorer last season, who we’ve brought in from Ross County (where Irvine came from). They’re talking in the many millions for Dembele, who had the advantage of being at Celtic. Boyce scored more and cost us £500k.

One younger name who could break through?

Joe Sbarra. Promising young attacking midfielder, debuted against Reading in last game of last season.

And where are you going to finish the season?

I’ll take 16th, thanks!

Colston is a Burton fan of 40 years and is the deputy sports editor of the Derby Telegraph. You can find him on Twitter here.

Cardiff City - Dan Lewis, Sportsmole/Goal

How would you sum up last season?

After the terrible start made under Paul Trollope, when winning just two of our opening 12 games and finding ourselves bottom of the table, Neil Warnock took charge and more than steadied the ship. A play-off finish was always out of the question, but Warnock did at least ensure that relegation was never a fear in the second half of the season and has given supporters hope of a push for the top six this time around.

Neil Warnock certainly isn't the most popular man around these parts... but how are Cardiff fans feeling about him?

The thing with Warnock (or Colin W****r to give him the title many now refer to him as), you love him when he is at your club and hate him when he is elsewhere. What I will say, though, is that he is exactly the type of manager Cardiff City have been crying out for - if only we had appointed him immediately after Malky Mackay a few years back!

The transfer spending has been smart and individual performances improved, while the fanbase has also been engaged thanks to the odd pop-along discussion nights he hosts. It is all very basic but, as mentioned, it is exactly what was needed at the club after years of feeling disenfranchised.

Think Lee Tomlin and Danny Ward are the right signings to help you get more goals? Is more needed?

The jury will remain out on the latter for a good few months, though after spending upwards of £1m - a huge output for Cardiff these days - he will have to offer a lot more than previous acquisitions in his position over the past 18 months or so. In Tomlin's case supporters pretty much know what they are going to get - a player oozing attacking quality who can cut a defence open; a signing made all the more important following the loss of the great Peter Whittingham this summer. Warnock has already stated he is happy with his current group and I will go along with those thoughts.

What are your expectations for this campaign?

To challenge for the top six. Based on results from Warnock's appointment in October through to the end of the 2016-17 season, Cardiff found themselves ninth in the table, collecting just two points fewer than promoted Huddersfield Town. From January to March it is even better - 27 points from a possible 45, second only to Huddersfield. That is promotion form, but it must be sustained over the whole nine months.

Who's your player to watch out for?

Denmark Under-21s international Kenneth Zohore, who netted 11 goals in the final four months of the season. The young striker took his form into this summer's Euro U21 tournament, scoring twice for Denmark on his only start to earn links with Hull City. Warnock has already turned down one big bid and says he will not sell Zohore unless a Championship-record fee is offered. Talk of a £20m+ transfer may sound ridiculous at this stage, yet 12 months from now - if he continues his current rise - that will not be too far wide of what Premier League clubs will offer. He is the full package and is thriving under the management of Warnock.

One younger name who could break through?

The real shame about Cardiff City is the lack of players to have emerged from the academy in recent years. Only six players in the entire squad are aged 23 and under; only two of those - Joe Ralls and Zohore - will enjoy regular football in the first half of the season. Callum Paterson, aged 22, should really bolster the ranks upon returning from injury in November time, though, having lit up the Scottish Premiership with Hearts last season.

And where are you going to finish the season?

Warnock is going for a record-breaking eighth promotion and I would love him to achieve that with Cardiff. It feels like a match made in heaven and, on the basis of his first nine months at the helm, I genuinely believe he is building something special in South Wales. The play-offs will likely be out of reach this time around but I expect a finish between seventh and 11th.

Cardiff fan Dan writes for Sportsmole and Goal - you can find him on Twitter here.

Derby County - Ollie Wright, DerbyCountyBlog

How would you sum up last season?

A nightmare, plain and simple. The fact that we swapped managers twice and still finished ninth is a miracle, when you think about it, but the chaos at the club and the sense of yet more time wasted through self-sabotage was infuriating.

From Nigel Pearson, to Steve McClaren (again), to Gary Rowett... What went wrong for the first two, and is Rowett finally the right guy?

Pearson apparently believed that he could take a side which had played 4-3-3 for years and order them to play 4-4-2, without making any changes to the personnel. It was only at the very end of the August window, with poor early results having shattered his complacency, that he panicked and initiated a frantic round of wheeling and dealing, which backfired horribly.

Within a month, Pearson was suspended - reportedly after a blazing row with chairman Mel Morris and you can imagine that happening, given the two egos involved. By that stage, the team was flailing so badly that they could barely muster a goal, let alone win a game.

Steve McClaren was wheeled back in as a quick fix and succeeded in the short-term, simply by putting the players back into the shape which suited them and allowing them to play the way they did before. There was an immediate bounce, but in January, McClaren was unable to cancel the ludicrous loan deal that Pearson had agreed with Fulham for Chris Martin. The team's form swiftly hit the skids and the players were floundering again by February.

Rowett was by this time available and so Morris made his move, possibly fearing that Norwich might pounce otherwise. Rowett had been long linked with the Derby vacancy and as a younger, more dynamic figure than McClaren, he promised to be the "new broom" which the club certainly required - while also being very familiar with the club.

I believe that Rowett will get it right, given time. He is much more flexible and personable than Pearson, sharper and more pragmatic than McClaren and has a good record in the Championship. That said, this is by far his biggest challenge in management to date and to expect miracles from him overnight would be unfair.

You've lost the likes of Will Hughes and Tom Ince this off-season - how important were they, and have you done enough to replace them?

They were our most talented players and are not directly replaceable. My personal opinion is that the deal for Hughes was extremely poor and should not have been sanctioned. At least with Ince, the fee was reasonable and at 25, it's fair enough that he wanted the chance to play in the Premier League thus season. Hughes, on the other hand, will take me much longer to forgive.

The three signings Rowett has made at the time of writing - Andre Wisdom, Curtis Davies and Tom Huddlestone - were all eminently sensible and represented good value, while Chris Martin is back from Fulham. Now we're on tenterhooks waiting for Rowett's professedly "excellent" attacking transfer targets to materialise.

What are your expectations for this campaign?

I don't think it's fair to expect instant promotion from Rowett. While I believe we will be pushing for a top six place, at this stage, I'm not wholly convinced that we will quite crack it. Finances permitting, one or two more good additions are needed and with the right players on board, I would revise that prediction upwards.

Who's your player to watch out for?

Tom Huddlestone.

One younger name who could break through?

Mason Bennett played a prominent role in pre-season, but in Tom Ince's old position, which Rowett is seeking to strengthen. I don't see any of our youngsters breaking through this season, to be honest.

And where are you going to finish the season?

7th.

Ollie runs DerbyCountyBlog and can also be found on Twitter.

Fulham - Andrew Beck, Cottagers Confidential

How would you sum up last season? (Sorry about the playoffs...)

Before the season I thought Fulham were a top 10 side that could make the playoffs if everything went right. They played like a top 3 side throughout the year and improved as the year went on and Slavisa figured out his team. Realistically I'm disappointed that they didn't go up, but how mad can you really be when a team exceeded your expectations?

Is the Slavisa love affair still alive?

Yes, he's the best coach Fulham have had since probably Roy Hodgson. I'm extremely happy he's going to back next year. If there was one flaw with him, it could have been that he struggled a bit to decide exactly what his best lineup was last season. But the fact that Fulham turned over almost their entire squad kind of makes that understandable. He shouldn't have that problem this year.

It seems to have been a relatively quiet transfer window so far - so is this more about supplementing what you've got?

I think that's the idea. As of today, we can start 10 of the 11 players that were are best 11 at the end of the year, and the one that is missing will be being replaced by young phenom Ryan Sessegnon. The team has been linked to a few more options at striker (probably still the biggest weakness) and I expect something to happen there. However, I think Slavisa is going to prefer to play with a 4-3-3 that doesn't use a traditional striker.

They've fixed their depth issues in midfield (they had no depth last year) by signing Ibrahima Cisse and Oliver Norwood. I wouldn't mind another CB, but if the team likes Marcelo Djalo there, we seem pretty well set. Plus there is the real chance that Adetayo Edun, Dennis Adeniran, Stephen Humphrys, and Luca de la Torre are able to start contributing to the first team.

Other than that, the one big hole left to fill is at fullback. There are only three real fullbacks on the roster and while Tim Ream and Tomas Kalas are capable of playing left back and right back respectively, I'd really love to see some more fullback depth brought in (especially on the left).

What are your expectations for this campaign?

I think that anything less than the playoffs would be a disaster. Fulham were one of the top three teams by almost all statistical measure last year and in most seasons would have been challenging for the top 2. I don't feel like any of the teams that came down this year are particularly dangerous and the other big clubs left in the division haven't quite figured things out yet (I'm looking at you Villa).

Who's your player to watch out for?

This kind of steps on your next question, but I'm going to say Ryan Sessegnon. He just turned 17, was a star at the U19 Euros, and just signed his first pro contract. He managed 7 goals in 30 appearances across all competitions and Fulham were confident to let their starting left back from last season go to make room for him. He may very well be the best prospect in all of England.

One younger name who could break through?

Since I already named our best young player, could I interest you in our second best? Adetayo (Tayo) Edun just turned 19 and started every game in the midfield for the U19 England squad. He made three first team appearances last season, and was pretty spectacular playing for the U23 squad. He scored 3 goals and had 5 assists while creating 52 chances at that level. More impressively, he did that while playing out of position at left back.

And where are you going to finish the season?

The last time Fulham finished 6th and lost in the last round of the playoffs was the 1997/98 season. In the 1998/99 season they won the league by 14 points with a +47 goal differential. Could we expect a repeat of 2000/01 where Fulham won the league by 10 points with a +58 goal difference?

That might be aiming too high, but I think finishing top two should be the goal. I'm confident we'll be one of the highest scoring squads again and if the defense can hold, a top two finish is easily attainable.

Andrew is a contributor to Cottagers Confidential.

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