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Roundtable: Previewing The 2018/19 Championship Season

Ok then... what’s actually going to happen this season?

Wolverhampton Wanderers v Sheffield Wednesday - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

Having asked fans around the Championship about how they think the new season will turn out, we thought we’d do the same with some of our writers and podcast guests. We’ve asked them how Reading’s season will go, the players we should look out for and what might happen in the rest of the division.

Simeon Pickup edits the site, Olly Allen hosts the ‘weekend preview’ podcast’ that kicks off this week, Dave Harris appears on the site and podcast, as does Becki White, whilst Ben Greenwood is a podcast guest and is also behind some cracking animations done for us and the club.

How do you expect Reading to get on this season?

Ben Greenwood: I think realistically our squad is capable of a top 10 finish and that would show clear improvement from last year. I’m optimistic that the players won’t just wait to come good eventually (the attitude we seemed to have much of last season).

They will want to grab the bull by the horns and dispel the gloom of last season as quickly as possible. That being said, I always get carried away this early in the season and fancy a sneaky sixth placed finish.

Simeon Pickup: The quality’s there in our squad to have a decent mid-table season, but it’s another matter as to whether or not we can get turn that into an effective team. Paul Clement has a tough job on his hands, and it may take him - and Reading - a few months before we start to hit our stride. When we do, we should be arm’s length from both the bottom three and the top six.

Becki White: I definitely don’t think it’ll be as bad as last season, but also don’t think it’ll be a memorable season. All I want to see this season is competitive football, more passion, more goal scoring chances and just more things generally to get excited about. I think I’d be happy with anything above 15th.

Olly Allen: Being brutally honest, I think we’ll really struggle. Preparation for the new campaign couldn’t have gone much worse in terms of pre-season games and the transfer window, and things aren’t boding well at all. This squad doesn’t inspire me much, and I’ll say we’ll get relegated so then we can only overachieve.

Dave Harris: Despite the signing of the last few days, I believe we’ll struggle. I think the signing of Sam Baldock just nudges us safe from relegation, but there won’t be much in it. Pre-season has been thoroughly underwhelming which plays to the narrative of 2018 - not much to get excited about.

If the friendlies are anything to judge then we have the same old problems as last season festering within the team, although having said that, new season, clean slate. These players must feel they have a point to prove. I hope they prove it.

Reading v Crystal Palace - Pre-Season Friendly
Crystal Palace gave Reading a 4-0 drubbing in their last pre-season friendly
Photo by Marc Atkins/Getty Images

Who will our key player be?

Ben Greenwood: At time of writing Moore is still a Royal and I find it hard to look past him as our key player. Last season we’d have been in a lot more trouble without his (many, many) last ditch blocks. Aside from Moore I’m keen to see how Swift performs this season. After a fantastic start at Reading, he seemed fatigued almost all last season, if he can hit form again I fancy him to play a big part.

Simeon Pickup: John Swift’s absence was huge last season, with us seriously lacking that link-up between the midfield and attack. Now that his fitness is getting better, I’m backing him to find some consistency too and give us that extra element in the final third.

Becki White: We really missed any kind of quality in our midfield last season. I’m hoping David Meyler will bring experience to strengthen what we have.

Olly Allen: I think the signing of David Meyler on a free could turn out to be a masterstroke. He’s got experience of getting promoted from this division and adds some bite and determination to the midfield. On top of that he seems like a real character in the dressing room, and will be key when the going gets tough.

Dave Harris: It seems a very simple and obvious thing to say, but the one who scores the most goals. If he scores 10-15 then it’ll probably save us from relegation. Over to you Sam, Marc and Jon-Dadi.

One to watch out for?

Ben Greenwood: I’m not sure whether a record transfer can be one to watch out for (?) but he was very poor for much of last season, so I think it counts! I have a suspicion that Sone will be much improved this time out, hopefully playing in a better role and system for him.

He has dramatically lowered our high expectations of him, if he can turn those flashes of potential into consistent performances I think he may win a few people over.

Simeon Pickup: Like John Swift, albeit to a much greater degree, Callum Harriott has been held back by injury in his last two years. However, with his fitness improving and Reading looking short on quality out wide, he’s got a great opportunity to show us what we’ve been missing out on.

Becki White: It sounded like the season-long loan back in France has done Yakou Meite the world of good. He’s clearly in Paul Clement’s plans so hopefully he’s grown up a little bit and can improve our attacking options.

Olly Allen: I’d watch out for Sam Walker potentially taking the number one jersey (not literally) off Vito Mannone. He clearly has a very strong relationship with Paul Clement, and if Mannone makes a few errors, we could start to see the new signing start between the sticks regularly.

Dave Harris: Not even in our side - Tennai Watson and Sam Smith (who have gone on loan to Wimbledon and Oxford United respectively). I genuinely hope these chaps progress. We’re now beginning to see the folly of letting the likes of Tarique Fosu-Henry and Jack Stacey go so easily and soon after Stam took over, so hopefully Watson and Smith make the step up to our first team and excel.

Who’s getting promoted this season?

Ben Greenwood: It’s difficult to call, as always with this league. With the money spent, I think a lot of people will fancy Nottingham Forest; I can see Norwich improving; the way Hull City finished the season last time out has me thinking of them as an outside shout.

But I’m going to plump for Stoke City and Middlesbrough. With Gary Rowett in charge, some good signings made and a mentality that suits this league, I think Stoke will bounce back at first ask. Boro are always there or there abouts, Pulis is a canny operator, they won’t be exciting, but they’ll be efficient.

Simeon Pickup: Stoke City and Middlesbrough should have too much for most sides in this division, but the play-off winners are sometimes less predictable. I’d back Brentford to finally turn their attractive football into promotion success.

Becki White: Stoke have done well to keep the majority of their side. I think they’ll win the league, with maybe Forest or Derby joining them.

Olly Allen: I think Stoke have prepared well for life back in the Championship, mainly because their squad still has a lot of Premier League quality players in it. I’d back them to win the league with Middlesbrough in second. There’s always a surprise name in there too, so I’ll go Norwich as I’ve been impressed with their transfer business.

Dave Harris: Stoke, Middlesbrough and Nottingham Forest.

Stoke City v Wolverhampton Wanderers - Pre-Season Friendly
Gary Rowett’s Stoke City are one of the favourites for promotion
Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images

And the three relegated teams?

Ben Greenwood: I think Rotherham United just don’t have quite enough quality to stay up. Bolton Wanderers stayed up by the skin of their teeth last time around and now have a bit of a mess off the field, sadly for Parky I see them struggling.

Finally I’m going to plump for QPR – they finished strong under Ian Holloway (and looked impressive against us) but he’s gone and Steve McClaren’s in. Unfortunately for Schteve, an air of disappointment seems to follow him around, the fans don’t seem best impressed and I can’t see him lasting the season. They’re another side with behind-the-scenes issues too.

Simeon Pickup: Bolton Wanderers and Rotherham United are both in a lot of trouble and will do very well to stay up. I’ve had trouble picking the third team, but I’ve got a bad feeling about Birmingham City. Despite having a good manager and some decent players, they’ve been in a rut for a while and their recent transfer embargo won’t help.

Becki White: Bolton Wanderers, Rotherham United and Wigan Athletic.

Olly Allen: Having already said Reading will go down, I can also see Rotherham struggling on their return to the second tier. Even though I rate Steve McClaren as a manager more than some others seem to, I’ll go for QPR as the third team because their squad simply isn’t good enough.

Dave Harris: Rotherham Utd, Bolton Wanderers and Hull City.

Who are you watching out for in the rest of the Championship?

Ben Greenwood: I’m interested to see how Marcelo Bielsa gets on at Leeds United. Huge pedigree, many high-profile admirers, but this is combustible Leeds we are talking about and he’s not one known to shy away from controversy. I can see it going brilliantly or horribly, nothing in between!

I also suspect Brentford to do quite well. They seem to go about business neatly, play good football, think they’ve a good season to come.

Simeon Pickup: Bristol City are slowly but surely edging up in the rankings and were in with a shot of the play-offs for much of last season. They’ve got a top young manager in Lee Johnson and, despite losing key players in Aden Flint and Bobby Reid, have recruited well. I’m fascinated to see if last season was a one-off or if they can properly kick on.

Becki White: My boyfriend really wants me to say Barry Douglas. It’s a cracking buy for Leeds as he was so influential in Wolves’ championship title last season. But I think Tom Ince and Benik Afobe at Stoke could be a really threatening attacking lineup.

Olly Allen: I’m looking forward to seeing how Graham Potter does at Swansea. After being incredibly successful with Ostersunds, he has more than deserved his chance to manage in England (or Wales, as it turns out). Very few British managers venture abroad, so for him to have not only gone to Sweden but do so well as well is really pleasing to see and could set a precedent for the future.

Dave Harris: Tom Lawrence. His direct running really strikes a chord with me, he excelled while under the conservative constraints of McCarthy and Rowett, and it remains to be seen how Lampard sets his team up to play, but if he attacks then a Tom Lawrence off the leash could be the next big attacking talent in English football.

What do you think will happen this season? Get in touch in the comments below or on social media, and take part in our poll on how well Reading will do.