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

Norwich City, Nottingham Forest, Preston North End and QPR.

Preston North End v West Ham United - Pre-Season Friendly Photo b Lynne Cameron/Getty Images

Our season preview continues apace, and we’re now onto the second half of the division; Norwich City, Nottingham Forest, Preston North End and QPR are the topics of discussion today.

How big a loss is James Maddison?

In a word? Huge. His quality on the ball coupled with his effortless ability to singlehandedly win games with a piece of mind blowing individual quality was essential to Norwich. Furthermore, looking at cold, hard facts, he was their greatest source of productivity offensively and without his goals, they would have flirted with relegation… They need to source a genuine goal threat this season.

What have you made of the job Daniel Farke has done so far?

It’s been neither or there really. He’s been operating with his hands tied by the financial implications the club have been dealing in and has sold a great deal of talent in order to keep the club afloat. His football hasn’t entertained nor been the progressive revolution Norwich fans craved.

On the flipside, indiviuals have improved and the bridge from the Under 23’s into the first team now seems like it can be crossed. He has a lot to prove if he wants a new contract.

How would you sum up last season?

Perhaps underwhelming is the most suitable definition. Much was expected and despite a couple of good runs during periods of last season, the revolution some Norwich fans were anticipating never quite developed in the way they’d hoped.

Supporters displayed patience but will demand tangible signs of progression this time out or could begin to call for blood.

What are your expectations for this season?

Norwich need to show progression and perhaps entertain more than they did last campaign, or they run the risk of being put under intense fan pressure. They’ve invested in a long term project and unless there tangible signs of improvement, things could turn and quickly.

Most supporters are realistic and understand the process being undertaken, mostly all the steps they’ve taken have been necessary, but of their own doing due to absurd spending in the Premier League. Norwich fans would be comfortable with a top 10 finish, but hopefully they can push the top six.

Who’s your player to watch out for?

New signing Moritz Leitner, who made his loan move from FC Augsburg permanent displayed glimpses of potential quality and adhered himself to the Carrow Road faithful with a range of passes and slick play on the ball.

Leitner was named on the bench in a Champions League final for Borussia Dortmund and was captain of the Germany U21’s side. He needs to add final product to his game however, despite displaying quality, he failed to register a goal or assist during his loan spell.

Honourable mentions go to Jordan Rhodes, Tim Krul and Grant Hanley also.

A younger name who could break through?

Most Norwich fans would identify Ben Godfrey as the best prospect in the squad, after a successful loan spell with Shrewsbury Town, most Norwich fans will hope the tenacious midfielder is given game time to fulfil his potential.

Louis Thompson has had two years out with a reoccurring Achilles injury but has impressed this season. Although he is 23, he feels like a new signing who could bring something to Norwich’s midfield.

Looking in the youth teams, 17 year old Adam Idah is exciting supporters with his free scoring record in the youth teams. He’s been linked with Manchester United, but this season could be a step too soon for Idah.

Where will you finish the season?

Impossible to predict, but I’ll try... I think Norwich will finish 9th.

Connor Southwell writes for Talk Norwich City and Norwich City MFW.

What have you made of the job Aitor Karanka has done so far?

He’s created a pretty good set-up in terms of back room staff; but then he always works with the same people, they pretty much come as a package. He was feeling his way in the second half of last season; working with players he hadn’t signed. We clearly had that “cull” at the end of January which would have ruffled a few feathers on the playing side, but it was certainly needed.

If you’re one of his players, he’ll stand by you, I’m sure, but if you don’t figure in his plans he’s ruthless enough to move you on and wish you well. I like that. You get the sense there wouldn’t be a problem with “player power” in the dressing room with him at the helm.

Insofar as the football side is concerned, I was never a real fan of his style of play at Middlesbrough, but I’ve seen enough now to dispel any concerns about that. He likes to play a possession based game and a high press when we don’t have the ball. We haven’t seen that aggressive side of game at the City Ground for quite some time. A team with bite. I like that too.

Forest have spent heavily this summer - can you recreate Wolves’ success?

Well, it’s all a bit foreign to us to be honest. In times of perceived austerity (FFP) we’ve still dabbled under our previous regime and been stung; unfairly so at times when you look at other clubs.

You’re right, we’ve spent heavily and that is a clear intent for the season. Watching the newcomers against Bournemouth in a pre-season friendly - especially the three Portuguese players - was exciting. They linked up well and had a quality and calmness about them that was pleasing to watch. But, yes, it was only a friendly.

It would be nice, clearly, to recreate the type of season Wolves had - and there’s a level of expectation now with regards to the business we’ve done in the summer - but it’s a long, hard season, so we’ll just have to wait and see.

How would you sum up last season?

It was a game of two halves, as they say. I was very disappointed to see Warburton go, so I think it was a case of get to the end of the season, support the new manager in the transfer market and go again. We finished higher than the previous season, which wasn’t difficult to do, played some entertaining games at times - QPR away springs to mind - and tried to create an ethos within the club that brought the fans and the club closer together.

As a Forest fan, with the rubbish we’ve seen and been through over the last few years, last season was quite pleasant in the end. No last day dramas, although the Bolton game was a bit mental at the end!

What are your expectations for this season?

I’m trying not to get carried away when looking at our summer signings and the way we played against Bournemouth. I think from the club’s point of view, the play-offs are a minimum requirement. Before our signings, I’d have said push for the play-offs this season and if that didn’t come to fruition, back the manager with a lot of money and shoot for the stars in 2019-20.

Now it looks like that’s been brought forward a season and we’re really pushing for success. I think with the squad Karanka has assemble so far, the play-offs are a reality.

Who’s your player to watch out for?

Of the new additions, I particularly liked the three Portuguese players. We signed João Carvalho and Diogo Gonçalves from Benfica - the former for €15m and the latter on a season long loan with a view to buy. Both are only 21.

And we signed Gil Dias on a season long loan from Monaco, yet another 21 year old signing. Dias looked great against Bournemouth; assured with the ball at his feet and willing to track back to carry out defensive duties too.

A younger name who could break through?

With regards to home-grown talent, look no further than Ryan Yates. Spent the first half of last season at Notts County and the second half at Scunthorpe. He was an integral part of the both teams and has played himself into contention for the first team this summer. We don’t like making lofty comparisons, but think of a taller Roy Keane; he could be that good. He’s very well thought of at the club and is only 21.

Where will you finish the season?

I’ll let my excitement get the better of me and say we’ll finish at least in the play-offs. We wouldn’t be fans if we didn’t think we’d win promotion and/ or have a good cup run would we?

Sean Hockett is on Twitter here, but also check out his cracking Instagram page: seans_simple_art

Are Preston capable of getting into the Premier League in the near future?

That’s always got to be the aim for any Championship team and Fan. The last few seasons we have come close to getting in the play-offs but have fallen short at the last hurdle. With the job that Alex Neil and Peter Risdale have done so far I think promotion is a realistic goal, and I can’t see any reason why, if we keep the squad together, we can’t go one step further than last year and get promoted.

What have you made of the job Alex Neil has done so far?

Under the circumstances in which Simon Grayson left on the eve of last season I was worried that his successor would struggle. When Neil was appointed, and hearing the views of Norwich City fans I was concerned, but to his credit he has done a fantastic job in taking over from Simon Grayson. He has made us harder to beat but more exciting in attack.

There were games last season where Grayson would’ve set up for a draw but Neil, confident in the players at his disposal, set up to win the game and that’s what led us to get closer to the play-offs. So far, I have been very impressed, and with a full pre-season behind him now I am very excited for the season ahead. One that hopefully ends in success!

How would you sum up last season?

Last season I wasn’t expecting much to be honest. We had a new manager who hadn’t had time to get to know his players, and with one of the youngest, and cheapest squads in the division I was expecting a rebuilding season. Neil however proved me wrong and we had a fantastic season and we nearly found ourselves in the play-offs.

His man management also impressed me as well, players like Alan Browne looked reborn under him and have quickly become indispensable members of the team. All in all, last season was a major success and hopefully we can keep the momentum going into this season and beyond.

What are your expectations for this season?

More consistency. We were fantastic at times last season, but also very poor and naive in some games. That comes with having a young squad though, and lessons will have been learned. If I was asked now I’d like to say I expect to get into the play-offs but in order to do that we need to be more ruthless in front of goal and more consistent as a team.

Who’s your player to watch out for?

Seani Maguire. It’s as simple as that really. Coming back from injury in March after six months out with hamstring issues was never going to be easy, especially having no summer break last season (with the scheduling differences between the Irish leagues and the Championship) but Maguire started to show glimpses of what he can do.

So far in pre-season he has found the net numerous times and has looked a real handful for opposition defenders. It’s no secret that we struggled to break teams down at times last season and that ultimately led to us missing out on the play-offs, so to have such a dangerous forward back fit and healthy only increases our chances this season. If he can stay fit I’d fully expect him to get at least 15+ goals this season.

A younger name who could break through?

I think the break-out player for us this season will be Ryan Ledson. We had been long-term admirers of Ryan’s for a number of transfer windows, and to finally get the deal sorted this summer has been extremely pleasing. So far in pre-season he has looked very comfortable in our midfield and adds much needed depth in the central areas.

The need to strengthen was clear last season as Paul Gallagher isn’t getting any younger and Ben Pearsons discipline continues to be an issue. I think Ledson will come to the fore this season for us and quickly establish himself as a vital player in our midfield.

Where will you finish the season?

As I said earlier, the play-offs have got to be the goal after coming so close last season. Neil has strengthened the areas that needed strengthening and we come into this season with a much more balanced squad this season. That being said other teams who had poor seasons last year have also strengthened, Nottingham Forest and Leeds being two names that jump out straight away.

Couple that with the fact that Stoke and West Brom have good experience in this division, then that makes for a difficult season on paper. Whilst I don’t think it will be easy by any means I think we have learned lessons from last season and improved the squad from where it was at this time twelve months ago so I’m fully expecting a good run at the play offs, and then who knows?

James Vickers is host of the Championship Roundtable Podcast

What did you make of the appointment of Steve McClaren?

Slightly underwhelmed, although I do understand the reasoning behind it. We’ve got a very promising crop of youngsters at the club for the first time in years, the director of football and head of recruitment set-up has been in place for a few years and is well established, and we’ve got a very shrewd CEO who’s getting the financial side in order – so we need a coach rather than a manager.

Our parachute payments end this season and we’ll be right up against it with FFP thereafter, as a club with two rented training grounds, one small and creaking stadium and about 8,000 season ticket holders so we need to start developing players and selling them for big money to become sustainable and survive – again, that calls for an improvement in coaching. The perception is that for all his failings as a manager, McClaren is a very good coach, so that’s the logic behind it.

Ian Holloway fulfilled the remit he was given and left the squad in a much better state than he found it. Fans were split on how he was doing but I think it was harsh to ditch him. However, the club felt his inconsistent team selections and frequent public outbursts weren’t helpful to that crop of young players we’ve got and it is hard to argue with that.

How would you sum up last season?

Long. We were never really in trouble but a total inability to win away from home (just three all season) meant we were never totally out of it either. We stayed 16th for what seemed like months. At home we were, by and large, pretty good, and there were some notable results including beating Wolves, hammering Norwich and so on.

We reduced the size of the squad and the wage bill and brought youngsters like Paul Smyth, Bright Osayi-Samuel, Ebere Eze, Ilias Chair, Darnell Furlong and Ryan Manning through to the first team. Holloway’s tendency to make four or five changes to his team every week frustrated, and he stuck with a back three system for too long after it had stopped working, but the remit for the season was to compete, promote the youth and cut the costs and he did all of that.

Like every club, we’ve got a section of the support rather prone to overreaction online – some of the stuff you’d see directed at Holloway after bad results from some quarters would make a casual observer think we were perilously close to disaster when in actual fact I think the closest we ever got to the bottom three was six points in January.

What are your expectations for this season?

Pretty nervous. We’ve lost both our centre backs (Nedum Onuoha and Jack Robinson) as well as Alex Smithies to Cardiff, who we believe was one of the division’s outstanding goalkeepers. We’ll sign another centre back to go with German Tony Leistner who we’ve already brought in, but with Darnell Furlong already out for the first two months the defence looks highly suspect.

If we can sort that out I think we’ll be ok but we’ve basically been 16th every week for two years now and I can’t see us moving much beyond that with this squad of players and this financial situation.

Who’s your player to watch out for?

Of several promising young kids coming through, we’ve got a lad Ebere Eze who’s starting to attract a lot of attention. He was taking the mickey out of Champions League players in a friendly with Hoffenheim last week and they basically enquired about his availability there and then. Can be inconsistent, can drift out of games, still a kid and might not make it, but we’re very excited about him at the moment.

A younger name who could break through?

Well, as above really. Of the other kids, we’ve got a tiny little boy called Paul Smyth who scored on his full Northern Ireland debut recently after arriving from Linfield last summer. Lightning quick, proper little niggly annoying so and so, can play as a wide man or a second striker. He’s old fashioned in a good way – he gets into the penalty area and has a shot, or he goes to the byline and delivers a cross.

Where will you finish the season?

16th. For this season, and the rest of time.

Clive Whittingham writes for QPR site Loft For Words.