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Championship In Their Own Words 2017/18 - Part Four

Our writing counterparts from Norwich City, Nottingham Forest, Preston and QPR tell us how they think the 2017/18 season will pan out.

Queens Park Rangers v Nottingham Forest - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Harry Hubbard/Getty Images

Norwich City - Gary Gowers, Norwich City MFW

How would you sum up last season?

Hhmmm... given that there's no age limit on reading your site I'll keep it clean. Well, we were pretty good at home - that's the positive; so fairly obviously the reverse was true away from home. And we weren't just rubbish away from home. In fact rubbish doesn't even come close - Reading (away) being a prime example.

We were pretty poor all round (as you'd have witnessed) but it was those who liked to get in our faces and deny us time and space to weave those aesthetically pleasing passing patterns who really got on our pip. I mean, how dare they. Joking aside, that really was (or appeared to be) the attitude of some players.

You asked me to sum it up didn't you: Crap.

What are your expectations for this campaign?

Good question. Who knows? The summer has seen a turnover of playing staff like no other in these parts and in our final friendly (against Brighton) seven of the eleven were new players. In truth that was in part due to a whole host injuries that have been picked up in a pre-season regime that wouldn't be out of place in Special Forces training but the fact remains we'll have pretty much a new team.

And on that basis I really haven't a clue what's going to transpire. We've rid ourselves of some big earners (some willingly, some not) and replaced them at a fraction of the cost. Whether that's a model that will work is still to be revealed. Our new head coach, Daniel Farke, seems to know his onions (at least he does before a ball has been kicked).

Who's your player to watch out for?

Once he gets fit, Alex Pritchard will be massive for us this season. We still have Wes Hoolahan, but Pritchard (*cliche klaxon) is his 'heir apparent' and will hopefully use his extra class and creativity to unlock some stubborn Championship defences this season.

One younger name who could break through?

James Maddison is a young lad we bought from Coventry with one eye on the future and after spending a successful few months on loan at Aberdeen last season, now's his time to shine in yellow and green. Ironically the pre-season injury picked up by Pritchard has opened the door for him. See what you think we he comes to the Mad Stad.

Where are you going to finish the season?

Top six would be a result for all the reasons stated in the first question. Equally there are so many unknowns I really have no idea. Having said that I've illogically been predicting on various forums that we're going to come fourth. So I'd better stick with that.

Is Daniel Farke the right man to lead Norwich back to the Premier League? Is he the new David Wagner?

Well he's German, so he's like David Wagner on that score. And they were both junior coaches at Borussia Dortmund, so they also have that in common. Oh, and they were both employed by Stuart Webber, so on that basis it's incontrovertible that he's cut from the same cloth. I just prefer to think of Wagner as the new Farke. Is he the right man? Don't have my crystal ball any more, but he's made a decent start.

Reading were heavily linked with Nelson Oliveira this summer - what did you make of the rumours, and how important will he be to Norwich this season?

I think there was a bid, and I think it was provisionally accepted, but Oliveira was unwilling to make the move. I may have that completely wrong but it arrived at a time when book-balancing was key.

It's less of an issue now since we've ripped Newcastle off for £12m+ for Jacob Murphy, and so you've probably missed your chance. He'll be important no question - he's a quality player who scores goals; what's not to like?

Gary is editor of Norwich City My Football Writer, and tweets from @GaryGowers.

Nottingham Forest - Sean Hockett

Mark Warburton was appointed in March - what do you make of the job he's done so far?

Until we changed ownership, this was something of a poisoned chalice. You had to be nothing but surprised at his appointment, insofar as the perceived quality of the new manager, if nothing else. That was the first indication his appointment had nothing to do with our owner at that time.

For the nine games at the end of last season you could see what he was trying to do. While we took only 11 points from 27, our performances had improved. The aberrant home defeat at the hands of Blackburn was a real body blow, but he stuck with his convictions and we scraped through.

We now have the opportunity to hit the ground running with a full pre-season at the hands of a group of professionals running our club and coaching our team. I think he’ll do well. I think (as a club) we're alright now.

How would you sum up last season?

In a word, turgid. And quite franky, I don’t necessarily blame the players for that.

The trials and tribulations of NFFC in recent years have been well documented, so we won’t get into that again. What I will say is that a team which had 3 different managerial “teams” in the span of one season, isn’t generally going to do very well. Starting with a manager - and seemingly a very nice gentleman - who didn't have any Championship experience probably wasn't the best move. Add to that a playing environment populated by a myriad of loan singings and we didn’t really have a recipe for success.

You could point to your very own Jaap Stam as an example of a manager with no Championship experience (albeit with experience of English football), but he appeared to be able to create an environment of success despite that. So yes, experience isn’t necessarily key. But from the outside looking in, you appear/ed to have a stable football club. At that point last season, we did not and it permeated through the entire club, like a cancer.

We’re (hopefully) out the other side now. Thank God!

What are your expectations for this campaign?

Personally, I have no expectations. As a fan of Forest, the last five years have been particularly difficult and this has stemmed from how the club was run. This, in turn, affected how the team performed, so ending the season with the same manger that started it would be nice.

My glass is always half full. New owner, new and drastically improved professional club structure, new-ish manager and a decent pre-season in terms of the time to prepare (we haven’t had many of those recently either); so things are looking good.

Who's your player to watch out for?

Well, the turnover of players at Forest has been eye-watering recently, what with the number of loanees we’ve relied on in the past. Mark Warburton seems to be building a stable squad of permanent signings to compliment those we have and that are coming through our Academy.

So, for me, I’ll pick one of our seasoned pros. On his day, playing in front of the centre backs, David Vaughan can be a game-changer. He’s 34 now, but I’d like to think he’s improving with age. He can break up the play, provide an outlet when and where necessary and gives a stability to the middle of the pitch which allows his teammates to be able to get on with their own game and not have to worry about covering space.

One younger name who could break through?

One of the positives from Philippe Montanier’s tenure last season was his willingness to blood youngsters. Joe Worrall became a first team regular at 19 and just keeps getting better. He captained England to Toulon success in the summer as well.

The latter part of the season saw Ben Brereton make his breakthrough at the tender age of 17. Strong on the ball, willing to run the channels and a goalscorer. We’re very excited about him, although he may not get the chance to be an out-and-out striker this season, looking at how he’s been used in our pre-season games. And he scored three goals for the England U19 team which won the UEFA U19 Championship in Georgia this summer.

Where are you going to finish the season?

I’d be happy with a top 10 finish. If we didn’t achieve that but improved on last season (it wouldn’t be hard to do that to be fair), I’d be OK with that too.

Squad stability and a clear sense of how we want to play are key for me. We’re having to rebuild the reputation of our club and in turn build team performances that show we’re moving in the right direction, with the right sense of how football in this part of England should be played.

And finally, how big will the loss of Britt Assombalonga be?

Losing an out-and-out goalscorer will always be a blow. He started last season half fit and only showed what he was really capable of in the last half dozen games. Without those performances I think a fair few Forest supporters would have paid for his taxi to Middlesbrough. Clubs lose important players. The important thing is how you react to that, continue to move forward and try to improve.

Good luck to him I say. I won't miss him. I’ll be cheering for Messrs. Cummings, Murphy and Brereton.

Sean tweets from @Sean_a_h, and also creates football art which you can see on his Instagram @Seans_simple_art

Preston North End - John Cornall

How would you sum up last season?

Poor start, excellent middle and disappointing end.

What are your expectations for this campaign?

I’m expecting to see a more attacking team - especially the way pre-season has gone with only one defeat in seven games, scoring 23 goals and conceding eight. Saying that we’re also expecting some set backs along the way.

Who's your player to watch out for?

Ben Pearson. I believe he will be even better this season.

One younger name who could break through?

Ben Davies. His loan at Fleetwood will have given him the confidence to push on this season.

And where are you going to finish the season?


How well will Preston cope with the loss of Simon Grayson?

I believe Grayson had taken us as far as he could and I think the timing of his departure was about right. I expect us to continue to develop.

Are you happy with Preston's transfer business so far this window?

Yes and no.

We need a big commanding centre half and a hard-tackling enforcer. I'm happy that the new manager has given ALL the players a chance, but we do need a couple of quality additions before the end of the month.

Queens Park Rangers - Simon Skinner, QPRNet

How would you sum up last season?

A disappointment. Things started brilliantly with a high tempo, high pressing win over Leeds on the telly. It quickly became evident that JFH had run the players into the ground in pre-season and we never got close to that again. The football was pretty sterile and it wasn't long before the fans were calling for his head. Holloway came in and to call results mixed after that would be an understatement!

Won the first game, then lost six on the belt. Won the next three then no wins in five. Won five of the next seven then lost another six on the belt. Only winning against a terrible Forest side on the penultimate weekend saved us before a typically meek surrender at Norwich on the last day.

Has QPR's transfer business strengthened the team enough going into the new campaign?

We've only signed Josh Scowen from Barnsley on a free. I've not seen him yet but pre season reports have been encouraging. The cloth hasn't so much been cut accordingly at Rangers as slashed to pieces. The big fees are gone and it's very much a case of having to free up budget to get new players in now. That's fine of course, the club has lived so far beyond its means over recent times it's ridiculous. FFP has seen us reign it in but it has left us with an underachieving squad with little strengthening.

What are your expectations for this campaign?

I expect us to be scrapping for our lives unless there is a sudden clarity of thought about how we play and consistent team selection. More on that later.

What do you make of the job that Ian Holloway has done so far?

We've been wildly inconsistent under him. I'm not sure any other manager would have survived two six game losing streaks last season, but Ollie has credit in the bank following his previous exploits at the club.

It seemed to me that he didn't know the best formation or personnel from one week to the next. Too much tinkering. Sometimes we'd go through three formations every game and the players looked baffled at times. Good displays (our best of the season was the win at your gaff) would be followed by team changes.

When you win nobody bats an eyelid but when you lose it looks like tinkering for the sake of tinkering. I honestly couldn't tell you what our style of play is as most of the time it seems to be bash it at Matt Smith and hope for the best. We also cannot defend set pieces (second balls especially) and often get exposed on the counter despite not really committing that many men to attack! Incredible really.

A well respected Rangers tweeter recently said he needs to stick to being Ollie and stop trying to be Pep. I agree with that. If he does then maybe he'll surprise me. If not then I think come November/December the Rangers managerial merry-go-round will be back in action.

Who's your player to watch out for?

Alex Smithies, if we don't flog him, is one of the top keepers in this division and frankly deserves to play for a better team than us! Single handedly kept us in games last season when the defence melted away all too often. A master at saving pens. Sad state of affairs when your one to watch is the goalie!

One younger name who could break through?

Eberechi Eze is a young attacking player with all the tricks and seemingly the confidence to match. He made a brief cameo against Blackburn in the cup last season and raised plenty of eyebrows. If he gets a chance then he could be a surprise package. Ryan Manning made the breakthrough last year and is now an established first team squad man so the pathway exists.

And where are you going to finish the season?

I think we'll finish bottom third, and if I'm totally honest it could well be bottom three. We have a shocking first month on paper and I'm looking at it thinking if we have got one point on the board by the end of August it'll be a surprise!

Simon writes for QPRNet, and tweets from @SimonSkinner76.