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Town End 2019/20 Season Preview: Part Two

Two sides returning to the Championship, and another two unable to get out of it last season.

Bristol City v Derby County - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Nathan Stirk/Getty Images

We’re onto part two of our Championship preview, and that means trips to the south west, Wales, London and the East Midlands. Thanks to The Exiled Robin (Bristol City), Dan Lewis (Cardiff City), Louis Mendez (Charlton Athletic) and Derby County Blog (no prizes for guessing). Again, some of these answers were written at least a few days ago, so some transfers may have taken place before publishing.

How would you sum up last season?

Much better than expected! After selling our three best players last summer a season of consolidation was expected, so to be in with a shout of a play-off spot on the final day was beyond most expectations. Ultimately we were just a little short, but it was close and we hit the woodwork more than any other team. You just wonder ‘what if’ just a handful of those had gone in...

What are your expectations for this season?

There’s a real feel-good buzz around the place (although somewhat dampened by a 5-0 thrashing by Crystal Palace in our only home friendly match!). Smashing our transfer record and having improved our league position for five straight seasons, there’s a lot of hope around that this, finally, might just be our year!

Is there pressure on Lee Johnson to reach the play-offs after results in the final few games saw the club drop out of the top six last season?

Yes, I’d say so, but he’s the first to admit that. We’ve improved our league position for five straight seasons (the only club in all four divisions to do so) and that’s what the club expects, given the investment in both the stadium, facilities, back room staff and the squad. We’re building everything to get into the Premier League, so we can’t afford to start going backwards.

How important was it to sign Jay Dasilva and Tomas Kalas on permanent deals from Chelsea this summer after their successful loan spells last season?

Yes, very important. They were immense for us and we had the third best defensive record in the division. To have had to replace one or both would have been very tough so all credit to the board for their foresight in agreeing a £2m fee up-front for JDS, and then smashing both our transfer record and wage structure to secure Kalas. It’s been a massively exciting summer with their signings, but to a certain extent that’s £10m spent to just stand still and keep the side we had last season. We still need one or two more...

Who’s your player to look out for?

Jay Dasilva for me. I’ll be banging his drum all season but he showed in the second half of last year that he’s got a real talent, going forward especially, and in my view if he continues to make progress as a player, he’ll be the division’s standout full back this season.

A younger name that could break through?

I said Lloyd Kelly last year and he’s just gone to Bournemouth for over £15m, so I’ve gota reputation to uphold! We’ve got two young strikers in Antoine Semenyo and Saikou Janneh who are both super exciting. They may still end up going out on loan somewhere in League One, but definitely worth making a scribble in your little black books.

Where will you finish this season?

If we can sign a quality striker to take the burden off Famara Diedhiou and score 15+ then I think we’ll make the play-offs. If we don’t then we’ll probably fall just short again.

You can find The Exiled Robin’s website here, and Twitter here.

How would you sum up last season?

We may have been relegated, but it was certainly not for a want of trying. In many ways the fanbase was more united at the end of last season than at any other point in recent years because of a number of factors, including the death of record signing Emiliano Sala in January.

Relegation was harder to take this time around compared to our most recent top-flight campaign, mainly because of the number of big decisions that went against us last time out (that’s the Premier League for you, I guess!)

What are your expectations for this season?

Like 95% of teams that drop out of the Premier League, an instant return is at the forefront of supporters’ minds. But we have sold first-choice striker Kenneth Zohore, ever-present defender Bruno Manga, lost a couple of key midfield loanees and waved goodbye to Aron Gunnarsson.

Joe Day and Curtis Nelson have both arrived and are good squad options, while Will Vaulks and Aden Flint should slot straight into the starting lineup. There is no doubt that a new striker and probably one more midfielder will need to be signed if promotion is to be a realistic target, though.

Neil Warnock will spend one more year at the club before choosing his successor. Are you pleased that this is the case or would you have rather a new manager came in straight away?

There are a few that would have wanted to start afresh this summer, but I see no harm in keeping Warnock for another year. There is nobody better equipped at dragging a side out of the division and I honestly wouldn’t bet against him pulling off one last promotion.

If he achieved that and wanted to stay on for one last crack at the Premier League, that would also be fine by me. Besides, Craig Bellamy, the man many people had down as his natural successor, has now left the club to work with Vincent Kompany at Anderlecht.

How has former Reading man Leandro Bacuna got on in a Cardiff shirt so far? Are you expecting him to play a key role this season?

He did as good as expected in the second half of last season. Warnock described him as being better than Paul Pogba after his display against Brighton in the closing stages of the campaign so there is certainly promise there. But I would be disappointed if we head into the campaign with him as one of our first-choice midfield options.

Who’s your player to look out for?

Will this be the season that Cardiff finally give one or two younger players a chance? Probably not. And, again, I’m totally fine with that because you can’t question a man boasting the record that Warnock has.

Joe Ralls at 25 years old is as close to a youngster as we get. He performed well in the Premier League last season and there is hope that this could be the year he becomes the key man in Cardiff’s ranks.

A younger name that could break through?

As above, it seems unlikely that anyone aged 21 or under will get any minutes next season. Four academy graduates were named as part of our pre-season tour of the United States but none of them did enough to win over Warnock.

Where will you finish this season?

Ask me again when the transfer window closes! Right now, without a proven striker to choose from, I’d say finishing sixth would be a big ask. With a new striker and another midfielder, there is no reason why we can’t challenge for second.

You can find Dan Lewis on Twitter here.

How would you sum up last season? Did you expect to get promoted?

Nobody expected to get promoted at the start of the campaign as the squad was so thin. We only named five subs for the opener at Sunderland and only won once in our first five. But once Bowyer finalised his squad with some excellent loans, we took off and never really looked back. The culmination of the camping with promotion at Wembley was superb - and against all the odds.

What are your expectations for this season?

It’s going to be a massive step up. Charlton will be working with the smallest budget in the division so it will be a struggle to compete, but Bowyer will do his best to keep his side’s heads above water. A lot of players who haven’t played at this level before will feel they have something to prove but Charlton’s recruitment was so good on a restricted budget last year, that there is some hope the trick will be repeated and a decent team is put together.

How important was it that Lee Bowyer stayed at the club?

Huge. He’s a real fans’ favourite, and has shown an ability to help improve players and build his squad on a shoestring budget. Keeps thing simple and not afraid to make tactical changes during a game when needs be.

Former Reading man Tariqe Fosu left Charlton for Oxford this summer. Why did it not work out for him at The Valley?

He was actually Charlton’s most important player in his first season at The Valley. Direct, skillful and with a great goal return. Sadly, he has suffered both with his fitness and also Lee Bowyer’s preference last season for a narrow 4-4-2 diamond formation. The manager also questioned his attitude in training - and that was that for Fosu.

Who’s your player to look out for?

Lyle Taylor. He’s been Charlton’s focal point since he joined from AFC Wimbledon last summer and scores plenty of goals. His work-rate is superb and he chips in with more than his fair share of assists as well.

A younger name that could break through?

Ablie Morgan, a 19 year-old midfielder with a superb eye for a pass. Made a few league appearances in the second-half of last season and looks the real deal. Will probably still be used sparingly this campaign but has a bright future ahead of him.

Where will you finish this season?

18th. As things stand, it’ll be a battle. But with Lee Bowyer still here, we’ll have a chance of staying up.

Louis Mendez hosts the Charlton Live podcast, and covers the Addicks for the BBC and South London Press.

How would you sum up last season?

An eventful cameo in the history of Derby County, which was at turns exciting, energising and deeply frustrating. Off the field, the media attention generated by Frank Lampard was a shock to the system for a club which has been out of the limelight for so long and not in the Premier League at all during the social media era.

It was nuts. On the field, the football was at times excellent, but we were never consistent enough to look like genuine promotion contenders. Despite that, we made it all the way to Wembley, only for Lampard to fluff his lines, pick the wrong team and lead us to a crushingly disappointing defeat.

Phillip Cocu has replaced Frank Lampard as manager - what did you make of that saga and how has it affected Derby?

It was something of an ordeal for everybody connected with the club, to be honest. Many fans were genuinely gutted to lose Frank and initially found it hard to accept that he was going to leave, but by the time it was confirmed, I think everybody was just relieved to finally have it resolved. From quite early on after Wembley, it was blatantly obvious that it was going to happen and the longer it dragged on, the more exasperating it got.

Mel Morris had Cocu lined up to replace Lampard, so the official announcements were rattled off in quick succession. It was a surprise appointment, but Cocu has great pedigree, having managed PSV to three titles and the Champions League quarter-finals, so we hope he will instil high standards and improve the club from top to bottom. The initial signs are good and the Dutch coaching team certainly have inherited something they can work with, so touch wood we will challenge again this season.

Harry Wilson, Mason Mount and Fikayo Tomori have all returned to their parent clubs. How difficult will they be to replace?

Very. All three were exceptional for the club last season and any club which lost its top goalscorer, main creative midfielder and one of its centre back pairing in the same window, with no fee recouped, would have a problem going into the new season.

As it stands, two new signings have been made - Aberdeen captain Graeme Shinnie, to add energy to the midfield and Everton playmaker Kieran Dowell, to add some guile. Curtis Davies was absent for nearly all of last season due to injury, but the veteran will most likely be called upon to fill the gap left by Tomori. There is a lot more for Cocu to do in the transfer market, at the time of writing.

What are your expectations for this season?

We need to be cautious The Wembley run plus the Lampard saga severely hampered our preparations and this puts us at a considerable disadvantage before a ball has been kicked. It will take time for Cocu to really get to know his squad and that is time he doesn’t have before the competition begins. So it may be a bumpy ride before he starts to get the team looking like and performing like he wants it to.

Who’s your player to look out for?

The poacher Jack Marriott displayed an unearthly finishing knack when selected last season and obviously has the ability to score heavily, while Dowell will be an important player. Perhaps the one with the potential to surprise a few folks though is Duane Holmes, who impressed Rams fans with his dribbling skills and tenacity last season and forced his way into the United States national team set-up. Holmes will hope to get more opportunities to play as an attacking midfielder this season, in the absence of Mount and Wilson.

A younger name that could break through?

18 year-old central midfielder Jason Knight has broken into the Eire under-21 set-up and featured prominently in pre-season, having being named on the first team’s bench for the first time in the play-off semi-final and final. This is also a big season for another 18 year-old midfielder, Max Bird, who was on the fringes of the first team last season and will be hoping for more opportunities this year.

England youth midfielder Louie Sibley missed out on the pre-season trip to Florida due to Visa issues, but has talent and a bit of an edge to his game. Funnily enough, the three academy products most likely to break through this season are all central midfielders.

Where will you finish this season?

I don’t think anybody expects promotion, but it is always hard for Derby fans not to look at the Championship and think: “We can finish in the top six”, which after all, we have done for the majority of recent seasons. However, there are big challenges for Cocu to face in the short-term and this season’s prospects largely depend upon whether we are able to draft in players who go on to have at least some of the impact the departing loanees had last year.

Ollie Wright runs Derby County Blog - you can find it on Twitter here and its website here.