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View From The Town End: 2018/19 Season Preview (Part One)

Aston Villa, Birmingham City, Blackburn Rovers and Bolton Wanderers.

Aston Villa v Birmingham City - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Nathan Stirk/Getty Images

Up to the start of the season, we’ll be talking to fans of teams from around the division to preview the upcoming campaign. What are their hopes and fears for how 2018/19 will turn out? In part one, we talk to fans of four clubs: Aston Villa, Birmingham City, Blackburn Rovers and Bolton Wanderers.

How confident are you about Villa’s financial position after the news that investment will be coming into the club?

How confident am I? Well, we’ll see. We might have to do some manoeuvring to comply with FFP. At the very least we can pay the bills, and I’m so grateful for that. We’ll have to see how it develops.

What’s the mood in the fanbase like at the moment?

The mood? It’s confident but hesitant. We’re happy and glad it’s all over but we’re all wary. Sawiris and Edens are legit, but how long will they stay interested in Villa? Will we push forward? Let’s see. At least we don’t have to worry about administration for a few months.

How would you sum up last season?

Last season? I loved the Football. I loved the squad, and there were more highs than lows. As you’ll well know, falling at the final hurdle was crushing. Still, I think we must define the season on a whole as somewhat of a failure. That doesn’t mean failure overall for Steve Bruce, but it does mean that we didn’t fulfil our potential last season. A lot of highs, but it was a sucker punch to lose out at the end.

What are your expectations for this season?

My expectation this season to stabilise and push for the play-offs. We’re not expected to be that good, with a new addition of former Premier League teams. Plus, we had the finance worries. Let’s see who we can keep on board and let’s gun for it.

Who’s your player to watch out for?

I’m going to go with Andre Green. It was about this time last year when many people had caved in on Jack Grealish and turned to Green for a new hope. He’s just turned 20, he was stricken by Injury, but he’s been electric on the left wing for Villa ever since he started.

Grealish in the middle and Green on the left? Yes please. It’s not just about pace with Green, he’s got a rabid direct form of play where any move he makes take him towards goal. He’ll cut defenses apart with his movement and he’s a lethal finisher at times.

A younger name who could break through?

As for the younger player, it’d be hard not to pick Green again. I’ll opt for Jake Doyle-Hayes. A skeletal slim build belies his ability as a rampant roaming midfielder. Able to deploy an array of first time passes in difficult situations and provide fluid movement for all three phases, I really think he could be a difference maker in the centre. That’s if Steve Bruce picks him.

Where will you finish the season?

I’d be happy with 10th after this disastrous summer, but who knows what this side can do if they knuckle down. Maybe greatness awaits?

James Rushton is editor of Aston Villa site 7500 To Holte.

What position are Birmingham City in behind the scenes?

Not the best! We’ve been placed under a transfer embargo due to FFP issues which means although our owners have money, they aren’t able to spend it. Although in some ways I’m glad we haven’t had a major overhaul like most summers, I still feel the squad is short of quality in a few areas so this isn’t ideal.

What have you made of the job Garry Monk has done so far?

Monk is doing a good job. We’ve looked more positive under him and created more chances which suggests he is capable of getting the best out of the squad. I also think he’s very focused and very ruthless, whereas his assistant, Pep Clotet, is perhaps a bit friendlier with the players and it makes for a nice combo.

They worked very well together at Leeds in 2016-17 but didn’t do so well individually at Boro and Oxford respectively - they have skills that means they compliment each other well.

How would you sum up last season?

In my opinion, a lot of our fans placed too much emphasis on our post-Christmas decline in 2016-17 on Gianfranco Zola’s failings and not enough emphasis on the general failings of the squad. The hope therefore was that we would magically turn into a top six contender under Redknapp but realistically, that was always going to be a tall order. Although we spent lots of money last season, it was a bit scatter-gun and we didn’t have a clear playing identity under ‘Arry or Steve Cotterill.

What are your expectations for this season?

I don’t blame our fans for being optimistic - that’s what football’s all about - but I think a play-off charge would be too much to ask, for now. We’ve got pace in forward areas in Jacques Maghoma and a number of battlers in midfield like Maikel Kieftenbeld, but we don’t yet have that composure required to truly control games - we need a goalkeeper, a deep-lying playmaker and a striker most urgently but as mentioned above, the embargo stops us from adding those players.

Given that we’ve gone into the final day in three of our last five seasons fearing the drop, a top half finish - with the same manager in charge come May - would go down nicely for me.

Who’s your player to watch out for?

Jota. He struggled for much of last season because he was normally playing in a long ball system but once Monk took over, he really got the best out of the wide man; him and Mags are given the freedom to drive in from the wings and link-up with the two forwards. Hopefully Jota can rediscover something akin to his Brentford form this term.

A younger name who could break through?

Technically Wes Harding already has broken through - he’s a very athletic right-back who was a breath of fresh air after coming into the side at the end of last season. There’s high hopes for winger Viv Soloman-Otabor after a productive loan spell at Blackpool while attacking midfielder Bez Lubala hasn’t done his chances any harm in pre-season.

Our fans love seeing one of our own come through the ranks and while we wouldn’t choose to have an embargo, the academy graduates have a real opportunity to make a name for themselves.

Where will you finish the season?

The optimist in me says top half.

Gabriel Sutton runs the website Football Lab, where we recently previewed Reading’s season.

Having bounced straight back to the Championship, can Blackburn establish themselves in the second tier once more?

I’d certainly like to think so yes. On the face of it, we return to the Championship a better side, in better shape and with renewed belief after an unexpectedly short yet tremendously enjoyable stay in the third tier last time. I’m not expecting miracles, but certainly a solid first season back is desirable and not a daft request either.

How’s the club looking behind the scenes with the Venkys?

They’re still here so everything that happens at Blackburn Rovers is conducted under a cloud of suspicion and with a lingering undertone of mistrust. But it’s safe to things look a bit brighter for the time being.

They seem to be doing little other than writing cheques and letting Tony Mowbray and his band of merry men get on with things on ground zero. Works for me. Long may it continue.

How would you sum up last season?

Last season in a word was revitalising. Rovers fans have suffered in recent years so to enjoy a season where we win a lot more than we lose, travel in numbers and ultimately achieve promotion was a 9 month period to savour. And savour we did.

Who’s your player to watch out for?

Of the ones you’ll likely already know - Bradley Dack. Never played football above League One level, but a fine footballer by any yardstick.

A younger name who could break through?

Lewis Travis. A youth team academy graduate with a lot offer, he just needs a platform to prove it.

Where will you finish the season?

Not near the top, not at the bottom. Somewhere in the middle. Which should be just about right.

You can find Mike Delap on Twitter right here.

After the recent players’ strike, how are things looking for the club off the pitch?

Things are looking fairly positive, though we still need to sign a few more players in important positions.

What’s the mood in the fanbase like at the moment?

Mixed. Mostly pessimistic. If we can finish 21st again, I think most fans will be happy.

How would you sum up last season?

Incredible in a peculiar way. The way we started the season, I don’t think anyone could see us staying up. Cue an incredible run that led to an unbelievable winner by Aaron Wilbraham, which will live in the memory of Wanderers fans forever.

What are your expectations for this season?

21st again would be fantastic.

Who’s your player to watch out for?

There’s a lot of hype around the signing of former Walsall midfielder, Erhun Oztumer. If he can replicate the form he showed in League One, then he’ll be a fan favourite.

A younger name who could break through?

Fans have been eagerly anticipating Connor Hall’s ascent into the first team. If he can continue scoring for the U23s, I’m sure he’ll be granted his chance with the first team.

Where will you finish the season?

Anything above 21st would be great.

Eddie Skelly tweets from @EddieSkelly, and writes for Bolton Wanderers site Lion of Vienna Suite.