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View From The Town End: 2020/21 Season Preview, Part One

First up in our season preview are Barnsley, Birmingham City, Blackburn Rovers and Bournemouth.

Blackburn Rovers v Barnsley - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Rachel Holborn - BRFC/Getty Images

All this week, we’ll be getting the views of writers from around the division ahead of the upcoming 2020/21 season. How well this campaign will go, who their star players are, and plenty more besides.

Kicking us off today are fans from the first four teams alphabetically: Barnsley, Birmingham City, Blackburn Rovers and Bournemouth. Many thanks to them for giving us the lowdown on their teams.

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Having avoided the drop late on last season, what’s needed for you to really kick on and push up the table this season?

Still significant improvement I feel. There is a lot of optimism and people talking about pushing for play-offs or the top half and it seems to be based solely on two injury-time winners at the end of the season. What we need to remember is we were still the third-worst team in the division after 46 games and only the Wigan situation kept us up.

Our form post lockdown was better than the form prior to it and I think the form since Gerhard Struber came in would see us well clear of danger. The hope is we have fully learned our lessons from the start/middle of last season when a lot of individual errors saw us concede poor goals.

How important has Gerhard Struber been for you?

I don’t think we would have been anywhere near staying up without him. It looked a completely hopeless job for anybody who came in, never mind somebody who didn’t even know the country, never mind the league. He has definitely made us much more solid at the back (although at times to the detriment of our attacking prowess) yet it is something we needed to be much better at to have any chance of survival.

He also seems to have persuaded the board to slightly tweak their policy of only signing under-25s and the January arrival of 30-year-old Michael Sollbauer was arguably the most important decision made, which saved us as we became so much more solid with him at the back. It does remain to be seen whether Struber’s policy of continually signing players from Austria will work but so far Sollbauer and Ludewig have been good signings.

How would you sum up last season?

I think if you looked for rollercoaster in the dictionary it would say Barnsley FC 2019-2020. We started off with a 1-0 win against much-fancied Fulham but then went 17 matches without a win. We seemed to then turn a corner with three wins in five before four defeats in five which were followed by three straight wins and then back to back defeats prior to lockdown which looked to have sealed our fate.

The end of the season was then something out of a film, dead and buried as the clock ticked past 90 minutes in successive games before pulling it out of the bag - not to mention being in the relegation zone for 311 days before leaving it in the final second of the season! I would happily take a boring 2020-2021!

What are your general expectations for this season?

Expectations and hopes are a little different for me. It is very hard to say what I expect as this season I think will throw up a few surprises but my hope is we can avoid a relegation battle. With Sheffield Wednesday starting on -12 points and the three teams coming up not exactly seasoned Championship campaigners I hope it can give us a bit of a head start. I would be delighted with a solid, safe, uneventful mid-table finish of around 15th/16th.

Who’s your player to look out for?

Everybody has their eye on midfielder Callum Styles. The 20 year-old was signed from Bury two years ago and broke through at the back end of last season where his box to box running really caught the eye, before netting the first goal at Brentford. Many feel he could be the next one to be sold for a healthy profit in the not too distant future!

A younger name that could break through?

One thing Struber has not been afraid to do is give youth a chance, especially post lockdown when players like Elliot Simoes, Matty Wolfe and Romal Palmer were given their chances. It could be big seasons for them. Nine young players have also been given squad numbers for 2020-2021 which could indicate a few more ready to break through!

Where will you finish?

I’ll be cautiously optimistic about avoiding a relegation scrap and will say 15th.

Rob Miles (@21Tyke) is editor of Barnsley Mad.

PA Images via Getty Images

What do you make of Pep Clotet’s departure and the arrival of Aitor Karanka?

Clotet’s exit was probably personal choice, he wanted to go back home to Spain. His record at the time of it being announced that he wouldn’t be staying on for 2020-21 was actually OK, but after that we plummeted and had the worst post-restart form out of everyone.

We shipped 18 goals in those nine games and, aside from maybe West Brom, Fulham and Charlton, looked extremely flaky at the back, which is why I’m really excited about Aitor Karanka. I suspect he’s got one of the highest clean sheet percentages of second-tier managers and his Middlesbrough side, in 2015-16, conceded fewer goals than anyone at this level since 2001-02.

In that sense, he’s just what we need.

How much will you miss Jude Bellingham?

I’m a huge fan of Bellingham. He’s extremely talented, he’s great at carrying the ball forwards, he’s shown his versatility by becoming our youngest ever player as a false nine, then playing in central midfield for our best performance of the season – Middlesbrough at home in October – before establishing himself on the left, cutting inside.

He’s also got a great attitude and is not afraid to put a challenge in now and again, so I think Dortmund is the perfect club to nurture his talents and I think he has the potential to make it at the very top.

Having said all that, it’s hard to say exactly how much we’ll miss him because, while he’s got a far higher ceiling than somebody like Jonathan Leko, who we’ve signed from West Brom, the immediate gap in quality between them is not that big. Leko might be more limited in certain areas of his game, but I suspect he’ll have more pace over long distances – and pace is something we relied on Jeramie Bela for last season.

A lot of the excitement surrounding Bellingham is based on what he could become based on how abnormal it is for a 16-year-old to be playing regular Championship football, so while I’ve got huge belief in what he can achieve in his career long-term, I’m not especially scared about how we’ll look without him.

How would you sum up last season?

During the lockdown, I was feeling upbeat about the progress we made under Clotet – our 3-1 defeat to yourselves just before lockdown ended a long unbeaten run and, if I may say so, you were lucky that Scott Hogan missed a first half sitter when we were ahead and all over you!

After that, I would have made an optimistic case for us building a top-10 squad that could push on. Because we fell apart in so many games after the restart, though, with some abysmal performances in the mix, a lot of my confidence in this team just completely dissipated.

What are your general expectations for this season?

To go into the final two or three games of the season mathematically safe from relegation. We’ve entered the final day fearing the drop in three of our last seven seasons and it would have been four in seven without Wigan’s -12 point deduction.

Elementary logic would suggest that because Karanka’s sides don’t concede many goals, they also don’t lose many games so hopefully we can have performances where we don’t click going forward and still accumulate points through our defensive organisation.

Who’s your player to look out for?

We always seem to have good right-backs and Maxime Colin, I think, is one of the best in the Championship – he’s a very intelligent operator. I’m a big fan of his wing-partner, Jeremie Bela, who is a very direct runner and an accurate crosser of a ball, so I’m expecting us to be strong on the right flank.

A younger name that could break through?

Steve Seddon. He’s had very productive loan spells at Stevenage, AFC Wimbledon and Portsmouth - highly rated by all three clubs – so he’s more than earnt a shot at the Championship. A lot of our fans seem to rate our other left-back, Kristian Pedersen, so competition for that position I think could be very interesting.

Editor’s note: Steve Seddon was originally in Reading’s academy, having been spotted playing for Twyford Comets.

Where will you finish?

17th. My expectations are modest: I’m not overly consumed by the aesthetics of our season, I’d just like to be defensively reliable and keep a lot of clean sheets with a base to build on for the following season – hopefully with some continuity in dugout.

Gabriel Sutton (@_Footballab) runs The Football Lab.

CameraSport via Getty Images

How would you sum up last season?

Another season where progress was made but the club’s ultimate aim was missed. We fell short of any meaningful promotion credentials due to our own inconsistency and lack of conviction when a chance to push further up the table materialised. Having said that, 11th spot was not too shabby. A decent return given the finances available at other clubs vastly exceeding our own.

What are your general expectations for this season?

Hard to tell really! As most clubs will tell you we’re in uncertain times and it’s a unique beginning to a campaign. With the shorter pre-season I suspect those with the bigger squads will prevail in the end. I can’t see us bettering last season personally due to a few senior players having left the club and uncertainty over who will come in to replace and push us forward.

I’m in two minds.

At the time of writing, the club have made just one summer signing. Does that concern you at all?

Not overly as other stuff is now imminent, but we need defensive reinforcements and the longer they get to bed in the better. Time if so the essence - I’ll be concerned if we’re having this chat on the 11th September and we’re still on one new arrival!

How important will Bradley Dack’s return from injury be?

Very. The club has rallied reasonably well in his absence and to great credit. But we don’t have anybody else with his sheer output and ability to lift the side consistently. It’ll be interesting to see what we do when he’s back as we seem set to play 4-3-3 and that isn’t a formation that appears to suit him…

Who’s your player to look out for?

Adam Armstrong was excellent last season so here’s hoping he can keep rolling this time. Fast and direct with a great eye for the spectacular.

A younger name that could break through?

Joe Rankin-Costello. Can play a wide range of positions and has a certain grace to him. Started to crack the first team at the back end of last season and he seems set for a bit of a breakthrough this time around… fingers crossed.

Where will you finish?

Tricky. A third of me says we’ll ghost undetected up to about eighth or so. The other two thirds of me says it might be a bit of a struggle this time around.

I’ll say 12th, just to hedge my bets.

You can find Mike Delap on Twitter @MikeyDelap.

AFC Bournemouth via Getty Images

How would you sum up last season?

Last season was one to forget. Having started the season really well, the injuries piled up and sent us hurtling down the league. Lockdown actually gave us some hope that we could have a fit squad to choose from at some point and maybe we could get ourselves out of trouble, something that we hadn’t had all through the campaign. And we pretty much got a full squad to choose from, but we just weren’t at the races when the season resumed and the writing was already on the wall. Despite a couple of results that cruelly gave us hope, it was all too late.

Eddie Howe’s tenure as manager came to an end following relegation. Was it the right time for him to go?

Personally I would have liked to have seen Eddie give it a go in the Championship - it’s much more his area of expertise. He seems to be able to find players who can do a job for us when the money isn’t rolling in quite so much and we’re looking at young hungry talent from the EFL. But he’s gone, I think the Premier League had maybe taken a lot out of him and from what I’ve read he blames himself solely for the relegation, which I think is unfair.

What do you make of the appointment of Jason Tindall as his replacement?

Not really sure what to expect to be honest, we’ve never really known how much input JT had when Eddie was in charge. Eddie was so ingrained in everything at the club that it’s difficult for anyone to follow him. My main worry is that Eddie was so revered as a coach and as such was a great pull for prospective players, sometimes making up for the fact that we were the tinpot club of the PL, and no-one knows how that side of things will be under JT. All we can do as fans is watch and hope it goes well.

What are your general expectations for this season?

This season is a complete mystery. New manager, a potential exodus of players and no idea of the calibre of players we will get in - and what finances will allow. For me, I’d be happy to stay in the Championship, but I would imagine club finances would mean that we need to go back up - and quickly.

Who’s your player to look out for?

It’s very difficult to say which players will be here next season, the vultures are very much circling over our playing squad with rumours of new interest from clubs every day and younger players going elsewhere. I would have said Aaron Ramsdale, but he’s gone. Maybe David Brooks, but there are clubs after him too so who knows if he will be with us next season?! We might have to ask to play five-a-side at this rate!

Where will you finish?

I think we will finish mid-table, and that wouldn’t be a disaster. We could do with a season to stabilise and rebuild after so much has changed at the club. There’s a lot of what-ifs and things are still very much up in the air - I just want a nice quiet season where we’re back under the radar and can just get on with the season, work out where we are and start to rebuild and plan for next season.

You can find Carey Paton on Twitter @CareyPaton.