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

How do fans of Brentford, Bristol City, Cardiff City and Coventry City see their 2020/21 seasons going?

Bristol City v Brentford - Sky Bet Championship - Ashton Gate Photo by Nigel French/EMPICS/PA Images via Getty Images

We’re onto part two of our Championship-wide preview, done with the help of writers from around the division, and this time we’re talking to fans from Brentford, Bristol City, Cardiff City and Coventry City. Many thanks to them for giving us their time and insight into their teams.


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Bouncing back from Wembley heartbreak isn’t easy, as we know. How well with this Brentford side cope with it?

Losing a playoff final is pretty hard to take as Reading fans know all too well. The fact that this is my fourth playoff final that Brentford have lost and our ninth playoff that we have not won hasn’t made it any better. And losing to Fulham is the ultimate gutter for Bees fans - albeit a rare moment. So losing to them in a playoff final - especially after losing only once in the 10 league matches we’ve played them since 1998 - would have hurt Bees fans.

Saying that, with the match being on TV and fans sitting at homes and in pubs, the feeling of hurt was not NEARLY as much as if we had been in the stadium. It took me about two days to get over this loss. Normally it takes most of the summer.

Every Bees fan I know puts their hands up and said on the day, Fulham deserved to win that match. However, the whole playoff run seemed so surreal, it’s almost as if it didn’t happen.

And with the new season starting with Premier League fans still unsure whether or not they will even be able to watch the bulk of their matches (due to TV restrictions), many Bees fans are secretly happy that we didn’t go up last season. The joke was we would have probably gone up, ended up playing Man United and Arsenal, not have been able to see any of our matches, and ended up relegated just in time for them allowing fans back in the stadium.

That would be so, so Brentford.

As for the players. I would like to think they are professional enough to pick themselves up and start again. If we look back historically, we lost against Yeovil (who?) in the Division One playoff final in 2013 and bounced back immediately to gain automatic promotion with Wolves (who?) the following season.

With Watkins off and Benrahma most likely to be off (if someone is willing to pay the going fees), it’s going to be important that Ivan Toney and whoever else comes in hits the ground running. Saying that, we will have the bulk of the team remain intact - as we have said we aren’t selling anyone but this two - so we should be OK, he says.

How’s the new stadium gone down with Bees fans?

I have to preamble this by saying - pretty much every Brentford fan I know would have loved to have played just one season in the Premier League at Griffin Park. Just to piss off teams like Manchester United and Arsenal. Having to accommodate their players in our tiny dressing groom. And run out to a crowd which would be tiny compared to what they have been used to week in and week out but in a real tight stadium with fans quite literally in the players’ faces. And an intimidating atmosphere in a proper old-skool stadium.

I’m gutted we had to leave Griffin Park without even having a proper knees-up. But that’s now in the past.

Most Bees fans are actually excited for the move. It’s been coming for about 20 years and we managed to procrastinate it for a long, long time to be fair. Even when we were promoted to The Championship, we managed to keep the terraces for a few more years by saying “bear with us... we’re building a new stadium up the road” every summer when the authorities questioned why we weren’t making our stadium all-seater.

We’ve had plans before to move us to places like Hayes and Woking which would have - in retrospect - been the death knell of Brentford. Moving from the middle of a vibrant community to an out-of-town site with no places to drink and congregate (ring a bell?) would have been awful and removed one really good thing about Brentford. The fact that we have dozens of pubs within a 15 minute walk of the ground which have a good atmosphere and are all welcoming to all visiting supporters with #Manners (as we say). None of this ‘bouncers on the doors’ nonsense.

The new ground at Kew Bridge is still in the same community - being less than 15 minutes walk from the old stadium. It is amazing the club was able to find a piece of land big enough to build the stadium on as property prices in the area have sky rocketed. Kew is well expensive. And building out of town - as Brighton did and other such clubs - would have been an easy option and allowed us to build a bigger stadium.

But my opinion is - why do we want a 30k stadium where we have to work hard to try and fill seats week in and week out? I’ve been up and down the country seeing my team play in half-full stadia and the experience isn’t great. The reality is that Brentford had around 2k season tickets and an average fanbase of around 4k fans in Division One (eight years ago). We are up to 6k season ticket holders by the time we left Griffin Park with an average of around 8k fans regularly coming to matches (add on another 2k floaters and 2k away fans, you get 12k capacity).

In the new stadium, up that to 15k home fans and 2k away fans. We’ve sold 10k season tickets. So that’s 5k additional Brentford fans needed. Must better to get a stadium with 15k Bees fans in the house every week that is full and buzzing than 20k Bees fans mixed with random tourists and all sorts (like Fulham do) and the place is still not full.

That’s my opinion anyway.

As for the seat colours, that has really divided the fanbase. The fact we went for multicoloured seats (where yellow and mauve seem to dominate) rather than red and white to mark out the Brentford ‘brand’ hasn’t gone down well in some quarters. Personally if you were to ask what I prefer, I would say red and white, or some sort of design where red and white dominates when you see the stadium when it is empty.

But other than that, I think the stadium looks great. And can’t wait to see what it is like in person on October 3rd when we play Preston - the first game earmarked for fans in the stadium.

How would you sum up last season?

Disappointing.

Normally the start of the season is tricky for us. As we buy a load of new players with no experience of Championship football - and more often than not zero minutes played in English football - who have to acclimatise to a new environment. These players often take a while to get themselves up and running - 12 months used to be the norm. But more recently, that time has been cut back to two or three months.

Last season we signed Norgaard, Pinnock, Jensen and Jansson to the first team. Jansson was fine as he had played for Leeds. But Norgaard, Jensen and Pinnock took a good while to get into form. Plus Ollie Watkins was busy learning how to be converted from a winger to a striker. As a result, we picked up only 12 points from our first 11 matches and were sitting in 17th place in October. Convert two of our eight (I think it was) 1-0 losses to a draw and we would have gone up automatically.

Many people point to the fact that we lost our last two matches of the season as to why we didn’t go up. Of course on paper that is true. But the reality is - we won eight games on the trot in that period. The odds of that happening is around 4% I believe. Winning those games got us into the position of having to win one of those last two matches which were both very tough games.

We could have crawled over the line - as West Brom did - and still been OK if we had picked up just a couple of easy extra points earlier in the season.

The reality is we lost the season in the first 11 matches and not the last 11. That for me is the most disappointing thing.

What are your general expectations for this season?

The infrastructure at the club is excellent so that bodes well. It’s taken us a few years to get to this stage. You normally find when clubs are run well, they do well in the long term. Bournemouth were promoted in 2014 because they had a cash injection and they were also a very well run club. So they eclipsed some of the so called ‘bigger ‘ clubs that season and went to the Premier League.

The rumour is - unless someone comes in with a silly bid for one of our other key players like Henry or Pinnock or Raya - we are only likely to lose Watkins and Benrahma. And that’s assuming someone will meet the £25m asking price for Watkins and £20m+ for Benrahma.

Ivan Toney has come in from Peterborough - League One player of the year. We tried to get him last summer and in January to bolster our attack but Posh refused to sell him. We’ve got a pretty decent record in picking up effective strikers since coming into the Championship (Andre Gray, Scott Hogan, Lasse Vibe, Neal Maupay, Ollie Watkins) so I’m keeping my fingers crossed that this is not the one that goes awry for us.

We have a theory - by the law of averages one of the key players we pick up has to be a dud.

With us keeping the bulk of the side together and Toney hitting form, I would be lying if I said I was not expecting another top-six finish. If we can actually come out of the traps flying - as opposed to last season - top two is not out of the question. Depends on how the relegated teams shape up with their wheelbarrows of cash and Premier League players.

Who is your player to look out for?

Christian Norgaard is quality. A defensive midfielder who made his name in Denmark as an attacking midfielder. So he knows how to pass the ball and set up attacks. Breaks up play beautifully and sets his teammates off on attacking runs on goal.

He’s even been known to pop up in and around the area recently. Was on the bench for Denmark at the weekend in their game against Belgium.

A younger name that could break through?

A younger name is Jan Zamburek at 19 years old. But to be fair, he’s already broken through with 17 appearances for the first team already. A wonderfully skillful central midfielder with a footballing brain. A Czech Republic U19 player. He’s going to go far.

Where will you finish?

I’m going to presume everything clicks into place for Brentford and go for a second-place finish this season. One better than the last run out. But it really does depend on who leaves. Who comes in. How quickly they click. And how teams like Watford, Norwich, Bournemouth, Swansea and Stoke City start the season (I think they will all be vying for the top six).

You can find Billy Grant (@BillyTheBee99) on the Beesotted podcast and blog.

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How would you sum up last season?

I’ve got no real idea where to start to be honest! We sold our best player (Adam Webster) for an eye-watering £20m on the eve of the season, started off with a schooling by Leeds United (who went on to do quite well...) and then sold captain Marlon Pack to Cardiff and then signed a load of players we’d never heard of from overseas and added Benik Afobe in the final seconds of the transfer window.

The first half of the season showed some promise, with some good runs but Afobe then did his ACL in training in October and we never quite looked the same threat going forward after that. However, we got as high as third in December with a great win at Fulham and then in January went on a mini-run of 1-0 wins and were right in the play-offs mix. However, things didn’t seem quite right with a lack of ‘fun’ in games, a style that was neither attacking or pressing and lacked quality, and when we then sold Josh Brownhill to Burnley in the January window it seemed to be the catalyst that sparked the beginning of the end for the club’s form and, ultimately, Lee Johnson’s time at the club.

The end of the season was desperately disappointing and in the end - especially post-lockdown - we seemed to give up on all with a lack of fight, which is unacceptable.

The stated aim of the season was the top six, and having failed to get there, it always seemed likely that Johnson was going to pay the heavy price.

What are your general expectations for this season?

I’m finding it very difficult to judge this season. Dean Holden has come in and imposed a formation and style that he wants to play, and that consistency is very welcome following Lee Johnson’s regular changes and perhaps an over-focus on the opposition.

As ever, signings will be key. I’m writing this with the news that we’ve signed Alfie Mawson on loan which has been well received, but we still need a couple of more quality options in my mind for me to be confident in at least a top-half finish. We also need to secure a new contract for Famara Diedhiou as his expires next summer, and if that doesn’t happen we’ll be forced to sell him before the transfer window closes.

I think we’ll bring through more youngsters into the team - we’ve got a few who did well on loan in League One last season, and this year feels like the right time for us to see whether they’ve got what it takes, especially given the financial concerns post-Covid.

Lee Johnson left the club in July after four years in charge. Was it the right time for him to go?

Yes, definitely. Partly because he’s just lost so much of the fan-base and delaying further might have meant things turned nasty. As stated above, things seemed to have gone a bit stale, with the high press and good attacking football of his first two to three years having seemingly disappeared. Throughout his time he struggled to get us out of winless runs and this season proved no different, whilst there appeared to be some falling out with a couple in the dressing-room from what we’re led to believe.

He will always be able to point to the players sold over the last three years for big money and be able to defend his record by saying he had to replace his best players each summer, but the timing felt right with the general tone of gratitude and thanks in the fans’ reaction to the news, as opposed to what would have been unfair over-zealous celebrations.

Are you happy with the appointment of Dean Holden as his replacement?

There was a lot of talk of Chris Hughton and a ‘name’ to come in and provide the missing link to get us promoted, so at the time of the announcement there was a lot of disappointment and anger that we’d taken six weeks to appoint Johnson’s right-hand man.

However, Holden seems a solid, likeable man and as ever we’ve just got to get behind him and hope he can improve both the quality of football on display and the results from how the rest of 2020 has gone.

Who’s your player to look out for?

Liam Walsh was Coventry’s player of the season as they won the League One title last season and he’s the one that I’m most looking forward to being given a proper chance in the middle of the park. We’ve got a lot of options in there, but you’d like to think that the best player of the champions of the league below can have a strong impact in this division. He’s a creative footballer and could just be the one we need to re-ignite our forward line.

A younger name that could break through?

Similarly aged to Walsh, the other midfielder who we sent on loan to League One last season and impressed at Lincoln City was Welsh international Joe Morrell. A more combative, defence-minded player than Walsh, he’s looked very composed in his last three Welsh starts and is keeping established Championship players out of Ryan Giggs’ team. He’s been here for years and spent most of the last five to six seasons out on loan - it very much feels like a now or never season for Morrell and his time at Bristol City.

The problem for both of these players is we’ve got a lot of competition for places in our midfield three, with the signing of Joe Williams from Wigan, joining the likes of Jamie Paterson, Andi Weimann, young French cult hero Han-Noah Massengo and others all vying for the same spots. I’m not sure anyone could confidently call our “best three” at this stage.

Where will you finish?

We’ve progressed for a few seasons in a row until last season’s mini-capitulation and I think given we’re looking to blood more youngsters and it’s Dean Holden’s first job, anything top half would be a good achievement in my view. I suspect we’ll be somewhere between sixth and 12th and I’ll plump for ninth.

Paul Binning runs The Exiled Robin, which you can find on Twitter @TheExiledRobin.

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How would you sum up last season?

Prior to the first ball being kicked, Cardiff were among the favourites to go straight back up, but a slow start led to the departure of Neil Warnock in November and Neil Harris was brought in. The next four months up to the coronavirus hiatus were, much like the appointment of Harris, slightly underwhelming, not helped by a high number of draws.

Full credit to Harris, though, because pretty much out of nowhere he guided us into the play-offs and, while we fell just short, the players’ heads could be held high - a great effort in the end.

What are your general expectations for this season?

The bookies have us down as fifth favourites ahead of 2020-21, behind Watford, Brentford, Norwich and Bournemouth. And given the way we ended last season, I think it’s fair to say another play-off bid is on the cards.

A new striker has been recruited, which was always Harris’ priority, and with one or two more additions - particularly at right-back - I’d like to think a top-six finish is achievable.

Were you surprised at the impact that Neil Harris had when he came in? What did he change?

In a word: yes.

He was way down the list of many supporters when looking for Warnock’s replacement nine months ago, and a 6-1 thumping at the hands of QPR on New Year’s Day - City’s heaviest loss in living memory - led to widespread calls for Harris to leave.

If nothing else, though, he made Cardiff tough to beat on the whole and his style of play was clearer to see following the three-month hiatus.

Cardiff are not exactly playing free-flowing football, but they are certainly passing the ball around more and still focusing on what works best - getting the ball to the wide men, who can now look to get it into new signing Moore.

Before our game back in January, you said that Cardiff still lacked a goal-scoring striker. How big could the signing of Kieffer Moore be?

Given I’ve already mentioned him a couple of times, I think that says it all about how big a signing he could be - and for a bargain £2m, too! Cardiff fans know Moore well for his impact with the Wales national team since being called upon last year, and his ability to score with both his head and feet will be a major boost.

It has been a decade now since City had a prolific goalscorer, and it has not exactly hampered us when you consider the two promotions in that time, but having a player who can notch around 15 goals will no doubt help.

Who’s your player to look out for?

I’m pretty sure I’ve answered ‘Joe Ralls’ to this question over the past few years - a player who still does not get the recognition he deserves from outside of South Wales.

Another player who may start earning links to the Premier League is Curtis Nelson, who become an everpresent in the second half of last season after ousting big-money signing Aden Flint from the side. He is a great all-round centre-back and, alongside Sean Morrison, will form one of the tightest defences in the division next season.

A younger name that could break through?

The wait for an academy prospect to break into Cardiff’s first team goes on. That’s a category Ralls fit into, though even he was signed from Aldershot Town at a young age.

The academy system is being completely revamped at the moment so any chance of a young player making a mark in the first team this season will likely be brought in from elsewhere, just like loanee Dion Sanderson last time out.

Jordi Osei-Tutu was signed on loan from Arsenal last week and, on the basis of the positive feedback from his parent club, he may well hold down a first-team spot.

Editor’s note: Jordi Osei-Tutu was originally in Reading’s academy, but left the Royals to join Arsenal in 2015.

Where will you finish?

The Championship is the toughest division to call, of course, and I’m expecting it to be even crazier this season given the circumstances. The bookies have us down to finish fifth and I’d take that if offered it now.

You can find Dan Lewis on Twitter @Daniel_Lewis92.

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How would you sum up last season?

Due to the way the season was curtailed, it’s taken away a lot of the joy that would have come from winning a first league title since the 60s.

The season started fairly well but we didn’t win an away game until just after Christmas, so for a large portion of last season, it didn’t seem like we were the kind of side that could run away with the division. After picking up that first away win, the team developed this calm self-belief that gave us a level of consistency that the other teams in League One didn’t possess.

If there is one word to sum up the team from last year, it would be ‘competent’ – an underrated quality in football. We had a reputation for playing possession football but weren’t entirely free-flowing in the final third. However, because we were so solid at the back and just generally composed in everything we did, once we put a run of wins together, it was hard to see what was going to stop us.

What are your general expectations for this season?

Anything above safety will be a bonus. Most of our recruitment thus far has been about replacing players we lost to the end of loan deals and it’s not quite clear yet whether the squad we have now is as good as the one we had last season. We should be fairly solid at the back, the question is whether there are enough goals in this side, with a lot of pressure on last season’s top-scorer, Matt Godden, who looks to be something of a confidence player.

Is it disheartening that your first season back at this level will still be played at Birmingham’s St Andrew’s Stadium?

The disheartenment factor is less than it would have been a year ago as it doesn’t represent a change in the status quo. There’s a long list of reasons as to why the club doesn’t play in its home city in a stadium that was built for it, but it seems apparent now that the club won’t return to the Ricoh Arena while Wasps, Coventry City Council and SISU remain the protagonists in this saga.

The recent announcement of a partnership between the club and the University of Warwick means there is at least some hope this time around of an eventual return to Coventry – although, pointedly, not in Coventry City Council territory. It is essential that stadium is built as soon as possible as the longer our time in Birmingham goes on, the harder it will be to sustain interest in the club from within Coventry.

Former Reading academy defender Dom Hyam seems to have found a home at Coventry. How important is he to the side?

Signed as a back-up player when we were in League Two, Dominic Hyam has blossomed into being our most consistent performer over the past two seasons. He’s not the most physically pre-possessing or technically eye-catching of centre-backs, which means a lot of what he does can go under the radar, however, his positioning, composure and calmness with the ball at his feet has made him a really important figure in our defence as we’ve moved to a more possession-based style.

The step up to the Championship is going to be a big test for him against quicker and stronger forwards, but he seems the kind of quietly authoritative and intelligent player who’ll be able to get up to speed with the standard of football fairly quickly.

Who’s your player to look out for?

The big signing this summer has been Gustavo Hamer from PEC Zwolle, who is our most expensive signing in nearly a decade – at €1.5m. He has the unenviable task of replacing Liam Walsh in the heart of our midfield who was, by some distance, our best player last season. However, Hamer looks to be a player of some pedigree himself.

Hamer’s style of play seems to be really eye-catching, mixing up some beautiful long-range passes with a real nasty streak in the tackle. The concern is that he might be more likely to give the ball away and concede free-kicks than Liam Walsh, but he could be crucial in giving us a presence in midfield and quickly getting in behind opposing defences.

A younger name that could break through?

While this is a fairly young team, most of the squad is made up of players with a season or two under their belts who’ve already made names for themselves. There are some promising younger players around the squad in central-defender Declan Drysdale, central midfielder Josh Eccles, and wingers Jack Burroughs and Will Bapaga, but it’s hard to see them getting much of a look-in this season given the players ahead of them in the pecking order.

At 20 years old, new loan signing from Brighton & Hove Albion, Leo Østigård is being tipped for a big season at centre-back and is seemingly someone who could really make a name for himself at Championship level this season.

Where will you finish?

I think we’ll be around the relegation places, hopefully just above them. I think we’ll be tight enough at the back to keep games close, I’m just not sure we have the firepower yet to win consistently at this level.

Dominic Jerams (@SideSammy) runs the Coventry City website Sideways Sammy.