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

Brentford, Bristol City and Derby County.

Derby County v Bristol City - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images

How do supporters from Brentford, Bristol City and Derby County think 2018/19 will pan out? We asked them.

With a new stadium on the way, are Brentford a club destined for the Premier League?

Lionel Road stadium – which is next door to Kew Bridge station… not even 15 mins walk from the current stadium – will be ready in either Dec 2019 or Summer 2020 (depending on how keen the bulldozer and crane crew are in getting stuck in).

With our owner Matthew Benham – lifelong Brentford fan who has invested heavily in the club not only financially but also injecting new ideas in enabling us to run differently – at the helm, if you ask him about promotion it’s not ‘if’ we get promotion but ‘when’. So whether it’s next season or in five seasons time, he truly believes it’s going to happen.

Having put over £100m into the club (including investing in the new stadium), last season was the first season which saw us pretty much break even over the year. The thought is Brentford will start becoming more self-sufficient over the next few years (money coming in will eclipse any money we spend). That’s important because if we can maintain our position as top half of the table Championship side without breaking the bank – which seems the be en-vogue in The Championship at the moment – then that puts us in a very strong position.

It also puts the owner in a pole position if he ever needs to attract investment which may take us up a few notches to compete for more expensive/better quality players when the time is right. Not that we’ll ever be splashing out £15m for a player in the Championship like Nottingham Forest have recently done.

But the way our scouting network works, when we buy a player for £1.5m, more often than not he’s worth £9m eighteen months later. So if we were to get any future cash injections, that would enable us to up the ante slightly – buying players for say £3m (as opposed to £1.5m) then go on to hopefully (and it’s worked for us numerous times in the past so no reason to think why it can’t continue) become £15m players.

Saying that, it’s not all about buying and selling. One season will come when I believe we will stick and not twist and really go for it.

Interestingly this season, we readily sold winger Jozefzoon (£3m to Derby) and central defender Egan (£4m Sheffield Utd) because we felt we had adequate replacements (Saïd Benrahma from Nice and Erzi Konsa from Charlton - who we bought for a fraction of the selling price) but then we have put a huge NOT FOR SALE sign over both Chris Mepham and Ollie Watkins – despite £10m+ bids from Premier League teams.

Maybe this is the start of Brentford not only building but also keeping together a side who feel they are going to challenge for the Premier League.

How would you sum up last season?

Exciting but also frustrating. The fact the play-off flame was still flickering during the penultimate game of the season up at Barnsley reflects the excitement. The fact that we didn’t win one of our first eight matches – despite pretty much playing all those teams off the park – was pretty frustrating. The only difference was Bees fans weren’t frustrated at the time as we felt the results would come eventually – which they did.

Looking back at it though, if Jota had scored against Wolves instead of having one eye on the blue money wad. If we had closed the game out against Bristol City when they equalised in the 97th minute. If we had taken just one of our endless chances up at Villa.

If .. if … if …..

We thought Harry Redknapp swiping three players (Harlee Dean, Jota and Maxime Colin) from under our noses to sign for Birmingham (a team we have a bit of history with going back to the 90s) on deadline day would hurt us. But as it goes, we just got on with it, used the £12m they gave us wisely and ended up smashing them 7-0 on aggregate over the season.

That was karma – especially after Harlee Dean told the Birmingham TV channel the Blues team he had just joined was 10 times better than the Brentford team that had got to the Premier League playoffs a few seasons ago.

Needless to say, we had a lot of fun with that.

On the plus side, we bought more fresh blood through last season. Striker Ollie Watkins signed from Exeter scored 11 goals in his 1st season in The Championship whereas Maupay – who we signed from St Etienne and is still learning the tricks of the trade in this division – scored 13.

We also had our first major B-team graduate gain a regular first team place with Chris Mepham stepping up from playing for our B team against QPR’s second string team to playing against QPR’s first team, rooming with Gareth Bale and starting for Wales in front of an 80,000 crowd in the Maracana Stadium – all within 12 months.

What are your expectations for this season?

I’m very much taking the approach I did with England this summer. I went into the World Cup knowing that England had set themselves up nicely for the tournament (winning eight and drawing two matches) but refused to be drawn into the usual “We’ll smash everyone off the park’ talk – opting more for a reserved ‘Lets take each game as it comes” and “Let’s get just behind the team”.

With Brentford, we know we have some great players, play some great football and can match any team in the division on our day. It’s just the consistency we sometimes lack.

Last season, picking up only one point from Barnsley and dropping points at home against the likes of Burton and (and please don’t take this the wrong way) Reading - teams who were fighting for relegation for a large part of the season - tells me that you’re ‘close but no cigar’ when it comes to being a solid playoff contender.

This season, if we can keep ourselves around the top 10, that sets us up nicely and I’ll take that. Also if you are in and around the Top 10, anything could happen in the last few weeks of the season.

Who’s your player to watch out for?

Neal Maupay got absolutely lambasted on social media when he missed that open goal against Cardiff last November. He still ended up scoring 13 goals last season. People seemed to forget that he’s completely new to English football and was still learning the ropes as he played.

As we have seen, it normally takes an overseas player (at Brentford anyway) a full season to acclimatise to English football. This season I feel Maupay will cause more problems than most people think. It would be great if he could break the 20 goal barrier.

A younger name who could break through?

The player who the management seem to be putting a lot of faith in is B-team graduate Marcus Forss. The 19 year old Danish U19 captain signed from West Brom. He’s Brentford’s third in line striker this season (so far) behind Ollie Watkins and Neal Maupay – with the powers-to-be opting to bring him through the B-team system and give him a chance rather than splash out on a new striker.

Another player who I’ve seen play quite a few times is Danish B-team centre back Mads Bech Sörenson. He’s only young – 19 years old – but is an absolute lump and a technically excellent ball-playing defender. It would be quite bizarre if by the end of the season we have a B-team back two of Sorenson and Mepham marshalling our defence.

Where will you finish the season?

Ah that olde chestnut. It’s a really tough question in the Championship. Last season there were six points between 10th and a playoff place. So if you say 8th then 9th or 10th or 7th or 6th are pretty similar (on paper).

I’m going safe and going to say 8th – one better than last season. But with a cup run to boot this time (a rare moment for Brentford fans as of late).

You can find Billy Grant on the Beesotted podcast.

How big will the loss of Aden Flint and Bobby Reid be for Bristol City?

To lose two stalwarts and regulars is always going be tricky, especially when they contributed 30 goals between them last season. Flint’s goals need replacing from around the team and if Joe Bryan joins them in exiting – as is expected – that’s a really big hole to fill in both footballing sense and around the club, no doubt about it. Reid and Bryan are both local boys who played south Bristol youth football together at the age of 11 so have been around a long time.

In the long-term, how much potential do Bristol City have - can they establish themselves in the Premier League?

I genuinely believe we are steadily setting ourselves up for exactly that. Everyone can see the stadium now and how impressive that is, but it’s all the stuff that goes around that too. The entire Bristol Sport model is set-up to help support Bristol City (and Bristol Rugby) in the top flight.

The entertainment and catering on matchdays means people now spend hours in and around the stadium on matchday instead of turning up just before kick-off. The facilities are being used every day of the year, with the Rugby, obviously, but also lots of corporate and business functions day and night. We recently hosted a small gig in the concourses which looked amazing and is testament to the creativity of the Stadium team, who are key to the long-term sustainability of the whole Bristol Sport venture.

City are investing money, time and effort in bringing our Academy players through and regularly signing players aged between 17-20 who have high potential – we’re almost replicating the Chelsea model in that sense although there’s a feeling our young players will actually have first team opportunities! We had around 16 players out on loan at various times last season, via a prescribed plan and method, and 11 have already gone out on loan ahead of the new season.

Players are slowly progressing up the pyramid through a series of ‘favoured’ loan clubs who we know and trust and are gaining match time and experience in men’s football that way to prepare them for the first team. The under-age teams are regularly watched and spoken to by Lee Johnson, who is instilling the same high-pressing, pacey style of play at all levels and bringing players in who fit his model.

Obviously, this all sounds great in theory – but ultimately success will be judged on the first team reaching the promised land. I’ve got an outstanding bet that we will be the 50th team to reach the Premier League (49 have played in it so far) and I have genuine hope that I can win that bet and that, once there, we have the infrastructure around the club to hang on for a while at least.

How would you sum up last season?

Apologies for the cliché, but last season was a genuine rollercoaster, a season of two halves! We had five months of fun, pace, goals, joy, excitement and real belief, followed by five months of what-might-have-beens, frustration, defensive lapses, throwing away leads and disappointment.

We had played a fast brand of football, attacking with freedom and pressing with tons of energy, high up the pitch, and it had borne results. Having beaten Man Utd in the Carabao Cup quarter-finals in the run-up to Christmas, with an hour gone on December 30th we were leading ten-man leaders Wolves 1-0 at Ashton Gate and looking at the prospect of getting within five points of them. Momentum was building in a seemingly unstoppable fashion…

Then a red card of our own followed, Wolves ultimately grabbed a 93rd minute winner and their celebrations – and Nuno Espirito Santo’s in the stands (he’d also been sent off) – told you what we all knew. They’d ridden out a stern challenge from a close rival and were going up from that moment. We, on the other hand, went into a tailspin and fell away so dramatically even the play-offs were out of reach with two games of the season to go.

Confidence drained, energy levels dropped and, a glorious first 45 minutes at the Etihad aside, from that point on we looked a shadow of the team that had taken Derby apart and beaten Fulham, Cardiff, Middlesbrough and Sheffield United, as well as four Premier League teams in the cup run.

What are your expectations for this season?

This season is a real unknown. Will we be bright and bold, attacking with pace and be able to keep enough energy in reserve to last the season, or will we be the team that stood off, retreated and lost ground in a lethargic fashion, looking like they’d run out of ideas?

Whilst goalscoring hasn’t been a big issue the last few seasons, we’ve got to find a 20-goal striker for the fourth consecutive season (Kodjia, Abraham, Reid have all departed after one scoring season) and our luck will surely run out at some point.

Keeping them out at the other end has been more of an issue, and serious questions remain over Lee Johnson and his coaching staff’s ability to organise defensively. What Johnson also needs to demonstrate this time around is he can stop the long winless streaks that have disrupted each of his seasons so much, causing such consternation and vitriol amongst the fanbase and naturally affecting confidence amongst the entire club.

In this summer’s transfer window, Johnson has upped the criteria from youthful promise and targeted a little more Championship experience - albeit in players who are still under 27 - and if a new goalkeeper follows Jack Hunt and Adam Webster through the ‘in’ door, and Joe Bryan leaves as expected, we could have four new faces in our back five come the opening day – you’ve got to hope Johnson and the scouting team have recognised the deficiencies and brought in players to gel together better and tighten up.

Who’s your player to watch out for?

Young Irish wide man Callum O’Dowda is my tip to drive us forward and be one of the stars of the Championship this time around. He’s improved with almost each month he has played and is now semi-established in the Republic of Ireland starting XI, performing well in their early summer friendlies.

A younger name who could break through?

The young player everyone is expecting big things from is England under-20 international defender Lloyd Kelly. Touted as the most promising youngster to come through our Academy in some time, Kelly could establish himself in the first team for years to come.

Where will you finish the season?

I think I predicted 10th-14th last season and we got there but the route was anything but mid-table obscurity! Given we ultimately finished 11th last season having been in the top six for most of the season, a no-frills, steady, almost boring 12-13th would probably be seen as reasonable by many fans who (mostly) understand what size gap losing Flint, Reid and Bryan will create.

You can find The Exiled Robin on Twitter here.

Is Frank Lampard the right man for the job?

When Gary Rowett left Derby in the lurch, there was an alarming dearth of obvious candidates for the job and the spectre of Mick McCarthy loomed large. So when Lampard’s name was floated, the idea seemed to immediately tickle the fancy of most supporters.

What we’ve seen so far is that his sheer stature makes him someone that players fancy playing for. It’s also clear that he has been drilling the team to play out from the back and dominate possession. As you know, this style can become a little stodgy and sterile if the passing isn’t progressive enough, but Lampard has recruited three attacking midfielders to ensure a bit of creativity and zip, while also restoring Craig Bryson to the fold. With the obvious caveat that this is Lampard’s first ever managerial job, potentially these are exciting times.

How would you sum up last season?

Not great. I know that might sound weird, given that we made the play-offs, but there were so many gripes with Rowett. Chiefly, his bizarre fixation with not having the ball and his equally bizarre mistrust of Matej Vydra at the crucial moment, at Craven Cottage. The bitterness generated by staggeringly awful defeats to Burton Albion and Sunderland at a crucial time in the season weighed heavily against Rowett and may well have been key to his decision to move on. With hindsight, it was probably the best move for all parties.

What are your expectations for this season?

I’m looking forward to a much more watchable style under Lampard and seeing plenty of exciting young attacking talent, backed up by an experienced rearguard and midfield.

Who’s your player to watch out for?

There is plenty of hype around our two loanees, Mason Mount and Harry Wilson, but one player who could become a key figure under Lampard is Bryson, the midfield dynamo. He is an enduringly popular figure and at 31, seems as energetic as ever.

A younger name who could break through?

Fitness allowing, Max Lowe could cement his place as first-choice left back this season. He has all the attributes to make it as a top class full back, just as long as he can avoid the injuries which have slowed his progress to date.

Where will you finish the season?

The window is still open as I write this, so things could change around us, but I see no reason why we shouldn’t finish in the top six. Whether that results in the promotion we crave is another matter!

Ollie Wright runs Derby County Blog.