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

Stoke City, Swansea City, West Bromwich Albion and Wigan Athletic.

Swansea City v Stoke City - Premier League Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images

We round off our look at all the other teams in the division by checking in on all the relegated clubs and one promoted side. Say hello to Stoke City, Swansea City, West Bromwich Albion and Wigan Athletic.

Are Stoke City well-placed to make a return to the Premier League?

I think so, there are certain areas of the pitch where we could do with some reinforcements but at the moment we’re in a very strong position. There’s been a positive mood since Gary Rowett’s appointment, and only Xherdan Shaqiri has been a significant departure so far. Add to that the signings of Peter Etebo – who had a storming World Cup, and Benik Afobe – proven at this level and we start to think about challenging for promotion. Joe Allen and Moritz Bauer signing new deals is great news as well. There’s still time for some big departures, but also time for the final pieces of the puzzle.

How would you sum up last season?

Dreadful. A squad that was way too weak being led by two men who didn’t really have a clue. Hughes was sacked way too late and Paul Lambert just didn’t have the nous to guide us out of trouble. Too many players did not step up to the mark, and a few were genuinely disgraceful. This had been coming from the season before, and it seemed like Stoke fans were the only ones who knew that this decline would inevitably end in relegation.

What are your expectations for this season?

Given our squad, you’d want to finish in the top six. I suppose there is a serious danger in under-estimating this league and very few teams who go down walk it straight away. There’s also some inexperience on Rowett’s part, too. I would love us to get promoted, but at the very least I’d want us to be challenging for it, and showing everyone that we’ve stopped the rot of the last couple of years.

Who’s your player to watch out for?

I’m tremendously excited by the signing of Etebo. He was a massive unknown quantity before the World Cup, but he was excellent in all three of Nigeria’s games. He’s got strength, stamina, a good eye for a pass and breaks through the lines really well. He could be the missing link in our midfield. However, he wouldn’t be the first player who couldn’t replicate their World Cup form at club level.

A younger name who could break through?

Young midfielder Lasse Sorensen made his debut on the final day of last season and provided an assist, so he could hopefully break into the first team this season. That said, Rowett may be reluctant to take a risk on younger talent. Sorensen is an 18-year-old Dane with bright blond hair, so he’ll be easy to spot.

Where will you finish the season?

I feel like saying first or second will only come back to haunt me. I’ll say third.

Wizards of Drivel is a Stoke City podcast that you can find on Twitter here.

What do you make of new manager Graham Potter?

I’m very happy about the appointment of Potter. He did brilliantly at Ostersunds taking the club from the fourth division to the first and also featuring in the Europa League. I do believe he’s the right man to oversee a fresh start for us and he feels more like a traditional Swansea manager than the last few. We must be patient and give him time though, he has a vision and hopefully he can see it through.

Are Swansea well-placed to make a return to the Premier League?

I wouldn’t say so. The club is going through a major transition at the moment with plenty of old faces out and new ones in. There’s also going to be a lot of transfer business within the playing squad during the next few weeks too. It seems as if Potter is very keen on giving youth a chance and is building his team around some of the cracking youngsters the Swans have in their ranks. With that in mind, I’d be surprised if we went straight back up to the Premier League but I’m not going to stress about it if it takes a couple of years - Potter has a long-term plan and I’m fully behind him.

How would you sum up last season?

It was a disaster for the most part. Current Reading boss Paul Clement did a good job keeping us up in 2016/17 but couldn’t carry it on into last season. He was sacked and replaced by Carlos Carvalhal who actually did a decent job considering we were rock-bottom at Christmas and quite a fair way behind everyone else.

Carvalhal gave us an excellent opportunity to stay up and one win from the last eight games would’ve sealed survival, however Swansea completely bottled it. We did have it coming though and if we did survive again, it would just be a case of prolonging the inevitable. Hopefully this can be the kick in the backside our chairman and owners desperately need.

What are your expectations for this season?

I can’t tell if I’m nervous or excited to be honest. It’s really hard to predict how we’ll do with such changes in the squad and backroom staff. Going back to ‘the Swansea Way’ is a big thing amongst the fans and most are just hoping we can enjoy going down to the Liberty to watch the Swans again as it’s been dire for the last two/three years. My realistic prediction is a mid-table finish and hopefully from then we can kick on in getting back to the top-flight when we’re ready.

Who’s your player to watch out for?

I think Leroy Fer could be big for us in the Championship. As a player he can be hot or cold but when he’s on his game, the Dutchman was a huge threat in the Premier League, so I’d love to see what he could do as a regular starter in the Championship. He seemed a lot more consistent last term and the team missed him massively when he was ruled out for the second half of last season.

Oli McBurnie coming back from a very impressive loan spell at Barnsley looks set to be our first-choice striker (we’re still unsure what’s happening with the injured Bony) and could make a real name for himself now he’ll be leading the line.

A younger name who could break through?

Swansea have signed young midfielder Yan Dhanda from Liverpool and he’s looked our best player in pre-season. He’s only 19 but he genuinely looks as if he’s ready and I’d love to see him used this season. He reminds me of Phillipe Coutinho with his low sense of gravity, the way he cuts inside to make space for himself and uses the ball very smartly. I think we’ve got a real player on our hands with Dhanda.

Where will you finish the season?

I don’t think we’ll go straight back up but I’d also like to think we won’t have too bad of a season. I think 10th is pretty reasonable for where we’re at right now - we haven’t automatically turned into a bad team just because of relegation and we’ve still got some players of real quality mixed in with some tidy youngsters. At the end I don’t think we’ll quite have enough to push back into the Premier League although there’s still a lot of transfer business to be done so we’ll just have to wait and see.

Declan Terry is editor of Read Swansea, and gave us an insight into Paul Clement when the Englishman was appointed Reading manager in March.

Are West Brom well-placed to make a return to the Premier League?

As it stands, I’m not sure. There is a big overhaul at every department of the football club. The playing squad has got to be re-built, we have no recruitment department and we do not have a technical director of football in place following the departure of Nicky Hammond. Furthermore, the man responsible for the contract negotiations (Richard Garlick) has now been snapped up by the Premier League. And to throw into the mix, we have an inexperienced head coach in charge!

How’s former Reading man Hal Robson-Kanu got on so far?

There is no doubting Hal Robson-Kanu’s effort but quality is severely lacking. He should ideally be a bit part player in this squad but such has been our poor recruitment he found himself to be a prominent member within the squad. I’m hoping we will be looking to ease him out, but he could still be a useful tool to us over the course of a long season. I hope.

How would you sum up last season?

Last season was a mess from start to finish - minus the spell of Darren Moore. There is not one party to blame and all deserve their equal share - the board, Tony Pulis, Alan Pardew, the players and the owner. We spent quite heavily last season but seemed to stockpile a bunch of defensive midfielders and, as result following Pulis’ departure, we found we could only play one style.

Pardew was quite frankly an embarrassment from the moment he walked into the building. His treatment of Sam Field was disgusting and the comments from senior members of the squad within the press speak volumes of the man (lack of preparation etc). He should have been sacked the moment after the Barcelona affair where four senior members were caught in a stolen taxi.

Had he gone at this point we may have saved ourselves but there is no doubting we deserved to go down. Darren Moore instilled some pride late on but the damage and board acceptance of our relegation in February (when they refused to sack Pardew) meant we needed a miracle.

What are your expectations for this season?

My expectations are that we will be competitive and in the mix for a play-off space. I don’t think we have the resources to go up automatically and there are still question marks over the futures of Salomon Rondon, Nacer Chadli, Craig Dawson and Ahmed Hegazi (three of whom have release clauses). Without knowing where they will be come the end of the transfer window (and who their replacements are), it’s hard to comment!

Who’s your player to watch out for?

My player to watch out for is probably Jay Rodriguez. Comfortable in possession, he can play with his back to goal and, providing he receives enough service, is more than capable of scoring at least 15 goals in this division. There are a few individuals from the academy but whether they get the game time is another question.

A younger name who could break through?

Sam Field - he is already in and around the first team squad and I fully expect him to nail down a starting place. A young, promising tidy footballer who needs the game time to continue his development.

Where will you finish the season?

I‘ll go with 5th.

You can find Liam Martin on Twitter here.

After a few seasons in the Championship and League One, are Wigan now in a position to stay in the second tier?

Since our relegation from the Premier League in 2013, we have indeed yo-yoed between the Championship and League One. The season before last when we were relegated, it wasn’t the defence that was the issue; we had the least goals conceded of all the clubs in the bottom 10 places in the league. The reason we went down was due to problems at the other end of the pitch.

That particular problem can be attributed to a number of factors - selling Yanic Wildschut in the January transfer window, Will Grigg being in and out of the team (he scored six in 10 games early on, then struggled to keep this up when he was in and out of the team due to injuries and a change in management.)

Whether or not we will fare better in that respect this time around, who knows; I wouldn’t necessarily say we are better equipped as this team has been put together by sourcing talent from the lower leagues, and therefore in terms of experience of Championship level within the forward line is scarce.

What we do still have, and what Paul Cook has built is a team that plays decent attacking football in front of a very solid defence. A defence that up until January last season was the best (least goals conceded / most clean sheets) of all 92 league clubs. A defence that managed to shut out eventual Premier League champions Manchester City, and one that finished the season conceding only 29 goals in 46 league games.

In summary, if that defence can perform to the same level it did last season, and if as expected, we are able to counter attack teams more this season rather than playing against 11 men in their own half, then (hopefully) we can stay up.

How would you sum up last season?

In the words of Paul Whitehouse’ The Fast Show character “It was brilliant.” We seem to really like League One, having won it the last two times we were in it. Last season was a three horse race for two automatic promotion places; Latics, Blackburn Rovers and Shrewsbury all neck and neck until the last few weeks of the season when Shrewsbury fell away.

That they managed to keep up with us and Blackburn for so long considering the difference in budgets/squad depth was to their credit. Pipping Blackburn to the title, and doing it playing some of the football we did was amazing. Away crowds were up again (strange what cheaper ticket prices can do for that, eh?) and there was a renewed vigour to the club. Both on and off the pitch, Wigan Athletic are doing everything right at the minute and all of the praise for that has to go to both Paul Cook (manager) and David Sharpe (chairman).

What are your expectations for this season?

Personally, I just want us to stay up. I’m not saying we shouldn’t aim for any higher, however after the up and down between Championship and League One of the last few years, ultimately survival has to be the goal and anything else a bonus. If we struggle, I’d like to see us stick with Paul Cook.

Part of the issue last time we were relegated was sacking Caldwell a little too early, in my opinion. So anything 21st and above, although also beating Bolton and Preston both home and away, and them both finishing in the bottom three isn’t too much to ask for… is it?

Who’s your player to watch out for?

I’m going to cheat here and say Nick Powell and Will Grigg. (Some) people question whether Grigg can do it at this level but last time here we saw that when given adequate supply “He will score goals”… and that’s where Nick Powell comes in. Not shy when it comes to goalscoring himself, Powell is the one player we have that can conjure something out of nothing; a through ball to release Grigg or a pinpoint cross for a Grigg header, and that’s why I’ve named them both.

Powell was linked with a move to Premier League Brighton last January, which was no shock to any of us who had been watching him since August, it was richly deserved. That Powell himself turned that down to stay at Wigan shows he’s happy here, and hopefully he can show his class in the Championship this season.

A younger name who could break through?

There hasn’t been a younger name that has broken through in recent years since Callum McManaman in our Premier League years. And I’m not sure of any at the minute who could make the jump, even more so now we’re a league above. Victor Maffeo, a Barcelona born academy prospect made a few appearances last season and looks like one to watch out for. (His brother Pablo is on the books at Man City).

Other than that, Leo Da Silva who we have just signed from Peterborough also looks like an exciting player. Only 19 and plays in the number 10 role, and has already made over 100 career league appearances. Hoping for big things from him.

Where will you finish the season?

21st or above, please.

The Pie At Night is an excellently-named Wigan Athletic podcast which you can find on Twitter here.