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Town End 2019/20 Season Preview: Part Three

We continue our Championship preview with the help of writers from around the division.

Fulham FC v Huddersfield Town - Premier League Photo by Justin Setterfield/Getty Images

Another day, another section in our season preview. Today we’re talking to writers from Fulham, Huddersfield Town, Hull City and Leeds United: Russ Goldman, Elliott Wheat-Bowen, Kathryn Batte and Pete Schlenker. Again, some signings may have taken place between these answers being written and them being published.

Is Scott Parker the right manager to take you forward?

There is no easy answer to this and I will simply say I just don’t know. I was against hiring him permanently as I wanted a more experienced manager. However, the silver lining could be that Stuart Gray who was a part of Slavisa Jokanovic’s staff is back under Parker.

What’s the mood in the Fulham fanbase like at the moment?

I would say cautiously optimistic and that has to do with the re-signing of Mitro and bringing in Ivan Cavaleiro. With Anthony Knockaert too, Fulham could be devastating going forward. Fans are still concerned about the defence and if they add a right-back and a centre-back Fulham could be in excellent shape.

How would you sum up last season?

It was a disaster but I agreed with the approach to upgrade as much as they did, and it just did not work. I was against the sacking of Jokanovic and thought getting rid of him would seal Fulham’s fate and I think I could have been right.

What are your expectations for this season?

I am excited as the core of the team is still in place and Fulham deserve to be favourites for automatic promotion.

Who’s your player to watch out for?

I would say Aleksandar Mitrovic as he already has shown he can score a ton of goals in the championship and I expect to see that this season in the championship.

A younger name that could break through?

Matt O’Riley is a central midfielder who is close to breaking through and this could be his season to do it.

Where will you finish the season?

I don’t know if Fulham will win the league but I am predicting automatic promotion. The combination of an established core along with a new signing who will help a great deal, and hopefully more signings to come will combine for a great season and promotion.

Russ Goldman is host of Fulham podcast Cottage Talk.

How would you sum up last season?

I mean there’s no point beating around the bush or sugar-coating it, it was truly dismal. 28 league defeats in a single season says it all and while it was often narrow margins that made the difference, it was a reminder of just how brutal the Premier League is as an environment, where any mistake or any weak link is exploited and capitalised on to the fullest extent.

Having said that, I think any side in the bottom of the Premier League has a sell-by date and eventually, unless you invest massively to an irresponsible extent in order to compete, you will slip out of the league. By the end of the season, as a fanbase, we were resigned to relegation and reverted to self-deprecating humour in true northern fashion.

What are your expectations for this season?

Consolidation. After the behind-the-scenes turmoil and a season to forget, I think a lot fans just want us to re-find that stability and togetherness, pulling all in the same direction, which played such a massive part in our recent success.

What last season showed is that even if Town were to achieve the unlikely feat of an immediate return to the Premier League, they would be ill-prepared and without the resources needed to survive and be able to compete. Therefore, I think the expectation levels from the fans are pretty low.

Whilst I actually think the Championship this season is one of the most open in recent times, with dozen or so sides fancying their chances of promotion and all of them having asterisks by the name which could undermine those chances, it is notoriously difficult to bounce straight back up.

A top-half finish and possibly sneaking into that last play-off place would be welcomed, but not expected.

Jan Siewert took over a difficult job last season and won just once in 15 games. Are fans waiting to see how he’ll do in the Championship before fully judging him?

I think very few fans were quick to judge Siewert considering how far adrift we were, the appointment was made with the mid-to-long term in mind. The approach he takes is quite abrasive, he’s not afraid to upset the apple cart and make a bold decision, which turned some fans off. In spite of that, Siewert has begun to win the fans back over.

I’d expect him to get at least a full season in the Championship and importantly two further transfer windows to transform the squad, before we’ll fully judge him - the early signs are promising though.

Does the squad need a shake up to adapt to relegation? There were reports towards the end of last season that some players had downed tools and asked to leave?

One thing that is always welcoming as a Town fan is that there is always clear transparency between the club hierarchy and the fanbase, be that by Dean Hoyle or recently anointed chairman Phil Hodgkinson.

He confirmed in a chairman Q&A that there were seven players that would never play for the side again. Abdelhamid Sabiri and Zanka are two who have not been given squad numbers and are likely to depart before the end of the summer - either that or they will be stranded in the reserves.

Ironically, with returning loans and the promotion of academy players supplemented by a few necessary signings, the squad has been freshened up and there appears to be a fresh impetus heading into the new season.

Who’s your player to look out for?

Aaron Mooy. Ever since he’s joined from Manchester City, he’s been the living heartbeat of our side. Particularly at Championship level, he is a cut above. Dictating the pace and tempo of games and seemingly having the spatial awareness to have the time in the world on the ball which is such a juxtaposition compared to the usual frenetic nature of the Championship, he truly is a joy to watch.

Losing Mooy to injury in November last season basically confirmed our relegation. When he is in the side and on song, you’d have difficulty finding a player that is more influential in the entirety of the Championship than him.

A younger name that could break through?

There’s a few, but the most notable younger name that I can see breaking through next season is Matt Daly. The England under-19 international has featured regularly for us during pre-season and made his senior debut in the Premier League against Watford in April.

Playing primarily as an advanced midfielder of a three, he looks extremely comfortable and cultured on the ball. He seems to have caught the eye of Siewert and I can see him featuring regularly for us next season.

Where will you finish this season?

Sixth. Looking at how Town dismally failed last season, you would think that Town are more likely to suffer back-to-back relegation rather than challenging for promotion once again, but all the ingredients are there for Town to be a surprise package.

As it stands, Town have an extremely healthy spine. A defence which features Christopher Schindler, Tommy Elphick and Terence Kongolo is an excellent platform to build upon. In midfield, the double pivot of Aaron Mooy and Jonathan Hogg that dominated the Championship during the 17/18 season are more than capable of doing the same again, except they are now complemented by the energy and technical ability provided by new arrival, Reece Brown.

Where there’s the most uncertainty is Town’s attack. An impotence in front of goal has really undermined Town over the past three seasons, including the season that Town gained promotion. However, Alex Pritchard will benefit from the familiarity of the Championship, a place where he has proven he can single-handedly win matches at this level. He will be complemented by Karlan Grant and Steve Mounie, both of which, have shown their goal-scoring prowess in the Premier League, but not consistently enough to drag Town out of trouble.

With a relatively inexperienced manager and a very youthful squad which is full of potential, it’s hard to predict how quickly Town will adapt to life back in the Championship. The summer business do seem shrewd though and there appears to be a delicate blend of experience and know-how combined with the hunger and ambition of Town’s rich array of talented young players in the squad, which makes me think they will surprise a fair few next season (which feels odd to write about a side that were only in the Premier League last season).

Elliott Wheat-Bowen writes for Terriers website Talk of the Town, which you can find on Twitter here.

How would you sum up last season?

A season of two halves! We got off to a really poor start and I feared the worst up until the end of November/start of December when we started to pick up. Once we got Kamil Grosicki fully fit and Jarrod Bowen hit form, things just clicked and our two young centre-backs who began the season very shakily really grew into a solid partnership - partly thanks to Tommy Elphick’s guidance during his loan stint. We didn’t quite have it in us to make the top six but we hung in near the play-offs till the last couple of games which showed the progression we made over the season.

How disappointed were you to see Nigel Adkins depart?

I was very disappointed to see him go. I wasn’t convinced by him at the start but most of the players did seem to like him and by the end he’d built up a good relationship with the fans. I think he’d probably taken us as far as he could with the current squad.

And what have been your first impressions of Grant McCann? Does he seem like the right appointment?

My first impressions of Grant McCann are good. He’s got a different personality to Adkins - you get the impression he wouldn’t come out after a 3-0 defeat and claim there were positives to take from the game - but he seems ambitious and comes across as a nice guy.

What are your expectations for this season?

It very much depends which players are still here at the end of the transfer window and whether we can strengthen the squad further. We’ve got the makings of a good side at present and some promising young players coming through. McCann did very well at Doncaster without spending a lot of money and by integrating a few academy players so hopefully he can do the same here. Realistically, if we were to lose Jarrod Bowen I’d be looking at mid-table or just below.

Who’s your player to look out for?

Unfortunately this is another question that is dependent on who is still here at the end of the window. Bowen is the obvious one if he stays but if he were to go I’d be looking at Grosicki as I believe he will still be here. We’ve brought in Josh Bowler on loan from Everton who is a promising player by all accounts and I think singing Tom Eaves on a free transfer could prove to be a good piece of business.

A younger name that could break through?

If I had to go for one I’d say Keane Lewis-Potter who won our academy player of the year at the end of last season. He’s very highly thought and while I think this season could perhaps come too soon for him we only have two recognised senior strikers in Eaves and Nouha Dicko so he may get a chance.

Where will you finish this season?

I don’t want to be too optimistic or negative - I predicted 13th last season and got it bang on so I think I’ll go for the same finish this time!

You can find Kathryn Batte on Twitter here.

How well do you think Leeds will be able to bounce back from playoff disappointment?

I’m not sure Leeds will do well this year after last year’s stumble. Yes, Marcelo Bielsa is still at the club and he’s still brilliant, but I have a nagging feeling that last year was a once in a lifetime season for the club. I won’t be surprised if the team shows a bit of a hangover for a few weeks.

How big a loss is Pontus Jansson?

Very big. He was the best defender for Leeds and they really haven’t tried to replace him other than bringing in Ben White from Brighton & Hove Albion on loan. White’s looked good, but he’s not Jansson.

How would you sum up last season?

It was a magical season that fell short. It felt like a Hollywood movie, only it ended up not having a Hollywood ending. Of course it was Derby County and Frank Lampard that ended Leeds’ season. Of course it was.

What are your expectations for this season?

I don’t expect great things, but I’m probably in the minority. I’m not sold on Patrick Bamford ever justifying his transfer fee and Jansson hasn’t been replaced. I don’t think this season will be as easy for Leeds and the team will have to fight for a playoff spot.

Who’s your player to watch out for?

Kemar Roofe, when healthy, can score goals. I tipped him a couple years ago to be good and he finally has. However, he’s in the last year of his contract.

A younger name that could break through?

Leeds have a good crop of under-23s that can make all of my doom-and-gloom predictions bunk if they can replicate the kind of form they had last year, as they won the championship in whatever division the Leeds under-23s play in. Two names that you’ll likely see this year: Matuesz Bogusz is a teenager who impressed last year after signing and has gotten some looks with the first team in preseason. Jamie Shackleton was on the verge of breaking into the first team full-time last season and he’ll be starting somewhere, be it at right back or midfield, sooner rather than later.

Where will you finish the season?

Fifth. The team will be good enough to get to the playoffs but without some additions this team won’t challenge for the title. I desperately hope I am wrong.

Pete Schlenker writes for our SB Nation sister site Through It All Together, which you can find on Twitter here.