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Town End 2019/20 Season Preview: Part One

What does everyone else in the division think about their team’s chances this year?

Birmingham City v Blackburn Rovers - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Mick Walker - CameraSport via Getty Images

All this week, we’ll be previewing the upcoming 2019/20 Championship season. To do that, we’ve enlisted the help of writers from all second-tier clubs, so that we can get the inside view on what’s happening from Middlesbrough to Swansea - and everywhere in-between.

First up are the first four clubs alphabetically: Barnsley, Birmingham City, Blackburn Rovers and Brentford. Please note that some of these answers were written at least a few days ago, so some transfers may have taken place before publishing.

A big thank you to the four writers who contributed to this: Rob Miles from Barnsley Mad, Gabriel Sutton (Birmingham City), Mike Delap (Blackburn Rovers) and Billy Grant from Beesotted.

Barnsley have jumped between the second and third tiers in recent years - what do you need to do to stay up?

Probably a lot of luck and a good start! Also try to keep our best players past the January window! With our recruitment philosophy, when we are in the Championship we always seem to have a very good League One side (as we sign good young players from lower league clubs) but they are not quite ready for the Championship, so we end up getting relegated, they then take League One by storm (as expected), we win promotion but then lose them before they have had chance to make an impact for us in the Championship - Ethan Pinnock being the latest example this summer!

A lot of our fans have gone a bit loopy because of how well we did last season and now think we will be the dark horses in the Championship. However, a number of the players who flopped in 2017/2018 were our best players in 2018/2019 so we are really heading into the unknown again in 2019/2020.

Home form will be very key; we haven’t lost at Oakwell since March 2018 so we need to pick up as many points there as possible and how many goals we score will be crucial. Kieffer Moore and Cauley Woodrow were often unplayable last season but both have been seen as Championship flops at other clubs.

You’ve lost some key defensive players this summer - how well will you cope without them?

Good question and at this point impossible to answer. There weren’t really too many tears shed when Liam Lindsay and Adam Davies left as both were seen by the majority as very good League One players but poor in the Championship - Davies in particular cost us a lot of goals when we were relegated.

Pinnock however was a big blow as even in the relegation season he stood out and then was the best centre half in League One by a country mile. We have replaced those three with a goalkeeper from Burton Albion and one from Germany and then a Danish centre half and a Senegalese beast from Belgium plus a young lad from AFC Wimbledon so absolutely no Championship experience.

It will be very interesting to see how they fair in arguably the toughest division in English football and the attack we come up against in the first game - Fulham could be a good marker.

How would you sum up last season?

Good. I expected us to be challenging for promotion with the squad we had - like I said before we had built a very good League One squad in the Championship. I probably thought we would make the play-offs rather than automatics and certainly didn’t expect us to get 91 points - comfortably the most in our history. But League One is a very poor league in my opinion; teams like Sunderland should be absolutely kicking themselves for not being able to get out of it!

The main thing last season did was bring the feelgood factor back to the place which had disappeared completely following the humbling at Derby County which relegated us and Daniel Stendel has certainly endeared himself to the fans with his style of play and results - but of course this season will be the acid test.

What are your expectations for this season?

Stay up, offer me fourth bottom now and I would take it. I would hate for us to become a yo-yo team so we definitely need to finish above that dotted line and then we can look to build.

Who’s your player to watch out for?

With so many new faces (10 at the time of writing) it’s probably hard to pick one out. Woodrow has been on fire in pre-season with seven goals in four games, but as mentioned earlier he has always failed at this level. I was really pleased with the signing of Mallik Wilks as he was class in League One last season, but as with every player at the club this is a massive, MASSIVE step up.

A younger name that could break through?

A few have been blooded throughout pre-season with 16 year-old Aiden Marsh possibly the most notable as he is the youngest. Jacob Brown had a real breakout season from the academy last year so it will be interesting to see if he can have an impact at the higher level.

Where will you finish the season?

As it’s still July I’ll be optimistic: 19th

Rob Miles writes for Tykes site Barnsley Mad, which you can find right here.

Garry Monk has surprisingly left the club - what have you made of the situation, and how has it affected Birmingham City?

Initially, we were all very disappointed with Monk’s exit. He had shown appreciation for supporters in a way that Xuandong Ren hadn’t so was always likely to come out on top in any political conflict.

Since then, reports have come out that all might not have been as they seemed behind the scenes regarding Monk so we will have to wait and see on that. We appreciate what Monk did for us last season, but much of his coaching team from last season remains in place.

What’s the financial situation like at the moment?

After struggling to comply with FFP, it’s good that we’ve developed a saleable asset in Che Adams, who has now gone to Southampton.

Unlike previous periods when we’ve had very little money, we’ve probably got the means to spend a bit more now but I don’t want us to overspend as we did for Zola and Redknapp. We need quality over quantity.

How would you sum up last season?

Four chunks really. Encouraging performances early on but didn’t get the wins due to small glitches at both ends. In the run-up to Christmas we were one of the best teams in the Championship as Jukey then Che found purple patches - Play-Offs looked within reach.

Then the intensity began to seep out of our performances slightly and results suffered. Then we had the nine-point deduction which gave us the slight fear of relegation - but that forced some dogged performances out of us like the 1-0 win over Leeds that eased any nerves.

What are your expectations for this season?

Although Pep Clotet is an internal appointment, he sees the game slightly differently to Monk so he’s likely to move us towards a possession-based 3-4-2-1 setup. He’s hugely respected as a coach but has to learn about being a number one, something that didn’t go that well for him at Oxford.

For that reason, I would settle for comfortably avoiding relegation if he was given time to get his feet under the desk and gradually move us towards this new playing identity. We need stability.

Who’s your player to watch out for?

Dan Crowley I’m very excited about. He looks a very skillful, creative midfielder who we have signed from Willem II.

A younger name that could break through?

Jude Bellingham at 16, scored a brace against Swindon (you’re welcome) in pre-season; he is a very talented, attack-minded midfielder with unerring composure.

Our switch to wing-backs could help left-back Steve Seddon, too as Kristian Pedersen is moving to the left of the back-three.

We’ll be moving more towards youth this term.

Where will you finish the season?

18th.

Gabriel previewed and predicted the entire Championship right here, which is well worth a read.

Find Gabriel Sutton on Twitter here, and his site The Football Lab here.

How would you sum up last season?

Steady as she goes. A dip between February and April aside we made a good, solid re-entry back into the second tier. We were never in any realistic trouble without pulling up many trees. I think it’s safe to say most would have settled for that in August 2018.

What are your expectations for this season?

To try and realistically kick on as much as we can. I’m still not convinced we can trouble the big spenders near the top with much higher budgets, but certainly another solid season with a possible outside shot at the play offs would be considered decent going again I would say.

How important do you think the added experience of Stewart Downing and Bradley Johnson will be this season? Was that missing from the side last year?

Yes. For sure. We lost a few leads and conceded too many late goals last season which I did have pegged as an experience related issue. We were a tad naive at times and with (I think) the youngest squad in the division a bit of experience added this time around should not do us any harm.

Johnson to me in particular is a potential steal if we can bring our his good side enough.

Sam Gallagher’s most prolific season so far came on loan at Blackburn in 2016/17. Are you excited to get him back permanently?

I wouldn’t say excited. Cautiously optimistic he may do well. I’m not expecting 20 goals a season out of Gally - although I’m all up for the element of surprise. I suspect he’s being groomed to be the heir to the Danny Graham throne, which means perfecting the art of the ‘ugly’ side of being a striker.

Who’s your player to look out for?

Aside from the obvious shout out in Bradley Dack, keep an eye out for Joe Rothwell - started out slowly and we saw him a lot off the bench in the early stages of the campaign, but at the end of the season he really stole the show and broke through. Could be a big one for him...

A younger name that could break through?

Pleasingly there’s a few to choose from here - John Buckley, Joe Rankin-Costello and Tyler Magloire all spring to mind. I’m going to go with Magloire - super fast and looked composed on his debut last season at home to Wigan Athletic.

Where will you finish this season?

I keep on changing my mind on this but I’m going to say 11th. I suspect we’re going to be one or two real quality players away from troubling at the right end but we should have enough about us to stave off trouble at the other end. If we can keep the back door locked often enough.

You can find Mike Delap on Twitter right here.

Signing Pontus Jansson was a surprise move - is it the sign of a new transfer strategy from Brentford?

Looks like it. We rarely sign anyone over 22 years old, and they have to have clearly defined increased resale value years down the line. With Jansson, it looks like we’re finally trying to solve the defensive conundrum we have continuously found ourselves in over the years. We have always let in dodgy goals and looked fragile at the back - particularly from crosses.

In signing Jansson, the feeling is we decided to get an experienced ‘brand name’ defender in to marshal the defence.

How very un-Brentford.

Saying that, we also made a lot of ‘traditional Brentford’ signings this window as well - quite a few Scandanavians - with some labelling us Brentfjord. These are players who have potential, who have moved to so-called bigger teams and not made the grade.

Christian Nørgaard is one, a defensive centre back who can pass apparently. He was brilliant at Brondby but didn’t make the grade when transferred to Fiorentina. Hopefully he will be back to his old self.

We also picked up attacking midfielder Mathias Jensen. Again, he was brilliant in Denmark for FC Nordsjælland but hardly got a sniff for Celta Vigo. He formed a lethal partnership with Brentford forward Emiliano Marcondes, setting him up to become top scorer whilst in Denmark. Hopefully, reuniting the two will get the goal machine firing again.

This is set to be Thomas Frank’s first full season in charge - what do you make of the job he’s done so far?

Thomas Frank didn’t start off on the best on notes, taking over from Dean Smith who went on to guide Aston Villa to promotion to the Premier League. Frank only won one match in his first ten - losing eight of those matches. OK, prior to him coming in, Dean Smith had not won any games in his final six so a bit of a rot had set in. But still - it wasn’t looking good.

But the football he was getting the team playing was at times exceptional. And all the games we lost (bar one) were only by one goal. He changed our defence to a back three and that turned our fortunes around.

At the back end of the season, we had some spectacular victories playing some fantastic football. Hull City 5-1 and Blackburn Rovers 5-2 were tremendous performances. But we were always subject to letting in the odd goal - even when we were winning.

We shall see how good Thomas Frank is this season. He has had a massive say in the shaping of the 2019-2020 Brentford side, so there are no excuses now.

How would you sum up last season?

Disappointing. We have some great players, we play great football, but you can’t call yourself a side challenging for promotion if you have failed to win a single away game by January. In the end we won a paltry three away matches - one against Rotherham United, another against Middlesbrough (which was a fantastic result for us as we have failed to beat them in our last 12 meetings dating back to 1964), and the third was a bye - Bolton Wanderers failing to fulfil the fixture, meaning we got an automatic 1-0 win.

Basically, we seemed to miss a backbone. We have the ability to play slick football but struggle to grind out results when coming up with teams who knew our weaknesses.

What are your expectations for this season?

I would be lying if I said I wasn’t slightly excited. We have strengthened out defence, which is key. We now need to try and retain key players like Maupay, Benrahma and Watkins (Sawyers is off unfortunately and that has created a grey cloud over Griffin Park).

It all depends on: who goes, IF we get anyone in, and how quickly the new recruits slip into gear. We have awful memories of when we made a load of wholesale changes back in 2015. The players didn’t start to gel until nearly a full year later. It’s possible that we could have the same issue this year. We’ll see.

Who’s your player to watch out for?

I would say Maupay or Benrahma but we don’t know if they will be with us come August 9. So I would say Nørgaard - our new defensive midfielder. If he is as good as everyone has said he is, it could be an interesting year for the Bees.

A younger name that could break through?

Josh DaSilva (brother of Bristol City’s Jay) is bubbling and showing signs of promise. Marcus Forss scored a few good goals in pre-season too. The club has high hopes for him.

From our B-team, Czech midfielder Jan Zamburek and Finnish international (he’s only 18 years old) Jakko Oksanen are two to look out for.

Where will you finish the season?

It depends on who we keep. If there no more changes to the team, we could finish as high as fourth I reckon. If we lose Maupay and/or Benrahma, it depends on who comes in and how quickly they get up to speed. It could be another ‘close but no cigar’ for the Bees.

You can find Billy Grant on Twitter here, and also on the Beesotted podcast.