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

Our season preview continues, this time looking at Derby County, Huddersfield Town, Luton Town and Middlesbrough.

Derby County v Middlesbrough - Sky Bet Championship - Pride Park Photo by Tim Goode/EMPICS/PA Images via Getty Images

Another four teams in our Championship-wide 2020/21 preview brings us to the halfway point in the division, and the entirety of this quartet was in the second tier last season. Although Derby County came in at a comfortable 10th, the next three (Huddersfield Town, Luton Town and Middlesbrough) all avoided relegation to finish next to each other: 18th, 19th and 17th respectively.

To find out how much those clubs’ fates could change this time round, we spoke to some fans who know all about them. Thanks to them for sharing their thoughts with us.

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How would you sum up last season?

Seriously, how long have you got? It was insane and there’s genuinely a book to be written about it. It already feels like it’s been a decade since Frank Lampard left and Phillip Cocu took over. Signing Wayne Rooney wasn’t even the most headline-grabbing thing that happened - the rest of the stuff all being very negative - and in that context, Cocu did well to pilot the Rams to a superficially mundane 10th-place finish. The off-field shenanigans that dogged the club throughout the campaign could have derailed a lesser manager, yet amidst the chaos, Cocu blooded a group of talented youngsters, who blossomed alongside Rooney during a very promising second half of the campaign.

What are your general expectations for this season?

I don’t have expectations that we will challenge for automatic promotion, but I do believe there is enough quality in the squad to finish top half as it stands, with a couple of additions required in attacking areas to make us seriously competitive. Given Jack Marriott’s history of injury issues, we definitely need another striker in to replace the outgoing Chris Martin. Beyond that, it will be exciting (if frustrating at times) to see how the young players continue to develop.

How big an impact does Wayne Rooney have on the side?

I don’t think you can put a value on his influence on the younger players. Obviously, he can’t charge around covering every blade of grass anymore, so he does need younger legs around him in the midfield, but his attitude is exactly the same as it has always been and his technical quality hasn’t been lost.

How important is the return of last year’s player of the season Matt Clarke?

Very. We have seen how damaging it can be when a loanee comes in, does a great job and then returns to his parent club, so having him for a second season is excellent news. I expect him to be a crucial player for us again.

Who’s your player to look out for?

I think Louie Sibley has almost gone past the point of being tipped, but he is going to be key this season. If he continues to develop as astonishingly quickly as he did towards the end of last season, he could easily score very heavily from a number ten position.

A younger name that could break through?

Lee Buchanan has been given every chance to play throughout pre-season. He is a left back, left wing-back or left-sided centre back and his emergence has allowed Cocu to ship out higher-earner Scott Malone on loan to Millwall.

Where will you finish?

With the squad as is, I will plump for ninth. There has been a lot of talk about adding a striker and a winger and if we can do that (and if both turn out to be hits), then it’s possible we could crack the top six.

Ollie Wright (@LazeRock) runs Derby County Blog (@DerbyCountyBlog).

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What do you make of the Cowleys’ departure?

I was very disappointed. After beating West Brom to avoid relegation, to get rid of the Cowleys’ just two days after seemed to come out of the blue. A lot has been made about the style of play, but they joined with the club having just two points after the first nine games, results were the priority, not the style of play.

Given how much the club has gone through in the last four years, an unexpected promotion to a gut-wrenching relegation, I think Huddersfield need some stability and the Cowleys provided that. The style of play from Corberan’s team has been better from the brief glimpses we’ve seen in pre-season, but I have no doubt that the Cowleys’ will be Premier League managers at some point and I hope it doesn’t come back to bite us.

Was Carlos Corberan the right appointment?

Time will tell. Corberan came across very well in his interview and as mentioned, the pre-season games have been encouraging, but apart from spells as a manager in Cyprus, he’s never been a head coach for too long. Our start looks tough too, with Norwich, Swansea and Brentford in the first five games as well, so it’s not going to be an overnight transformation.

As well documented, he was Leeds’ under-23s coach and was already at the club when Bielsa arrived and impressed him enough for him to be welcomed in Bielsa’s inner circle. If we get anything like Leeds’ performances levels, then that’s incredibly exciting. If he is given the time and provided the right support in terms of transfers by the board, then I think we’ll see something special, but it might be the 2021/2022 season when we see it.

How would you sum up last season?

A disaster really. A terrible start under Jan Siewert which meant it was only about survival. Hindsight’s a wonderful thing, but if Siewert wasn’t in charge at the start, we probably wouldn’t have been in such a mess. The Cowleys did a great job to help us avoid relegation and should be credited with that, but there are not too many highlights to choose from, apart from the emergence of academy player Lewis O’Brien.

A terrible season that I’m pleased to see the end of. I hope it’s a blip rather than a sign of things to come.

What are your general expectations for this season?

More stylish football, but the same frustrations of individual errors and inconsistency remaining. The new style of football means it will take time for the players to adapt and it’s clear the club is going to bring more young players through, so it’s going to be a season where we will have to be patient.

With the transfer window going on until October, and then the extra domestic window after that, I think our squad may change dramatically towards the end of the window so it’s hard to judge at the moment. I think a lower mid-table finish that shows progress for the club, with excellent football being played in some games and a couple of victories that catch the eye of the Championship, but overall, a 6/10 season that hopefully builds into something better.

Who’s your player to look out for?

That’s a difficult one. Last year, Lewis O’Brien came out of nowhere after his loan spell with Bradford and won our player of the season. Hopefully, he can continue to show his qualities and develop into the excellent all-round midfielder he looks to be.

With the new change in the style of play, I wouldn’t be surprised if someone with low expectations from the fans emerges and becomes a really important player to the team. Based on the two pre-season friendlies I’ve seen, I must admit I’ve been impressed with Alex Pritchard, who to put it bluntly, hasn’t justified his supposed £11m transfer fee - although he has suffered injuries. If Pritchard can stay fit and that’s a big if based on his injury record at Town, I think he could surprise the fanbase and prove us wrong, similar to Lee Tomlin’s reemergence at Cardiff.

A younger name that could breakthrough?

I think Huddersfield will have a few youngsters who perform well this season, but I’m hoping for Matty Daly. In one of the worst games of last season away at Charlton, he popped up to score an injury-time winner and looks like he’s going to get more of a crack at the first-team this season. He’s an attacking midfielder who has represented England at international youth levels and if Pritchard can’t stay fit, he’s going to get opportunities. If not, young defender Ramarni Edmonds-Green impressed on loan at Swindon last season and with our ageing centre-backs, could impress.

Where will you finish?

Anywhere between 12th-16th and I’d take that if we show progress and the club has something to build on for the season after. I look at teams like Norwich for example and see how Daniel Farke didn’t click until his second season in charge and think it could be the same for Huddersfield.

As mentioned earlier, I think inconsistency is going to be too much a factor for a higher league finish, but we’ll probably have some eye-catching unexpected wins that help boost the feel-good factor around the club. I wouldn’t underestimate the mental fatigue that still hangs around the club from the dreadful relegation and if we start badly, it might be another long season in-store at the wrong end of the table.

Brady Frost (@brady0894) is a writer and podcaster for Huddersfield Town website And He Takes That Chance (@takesthatchance).

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What do you make of Nathan Jones’ return? Was it the right decision?

Clearly the return of Nathan Jones was the right decision given he performed a minor miracle in keeping us up. Aside from our thrashing at the hands of yourselves, we were excellent in the final nine games and that was the only defeat. At the time, I said that footballing wise it was a no-brainer for the board and that proved true (a rare correct prediction on my part).

The way he left for Stoke is well-documented but I think most Luton fans are willing to forgive now and move on. That bond between NJ and the fans will never be the same again but boy does he get our football club and I really think we can kick on under him now.

What do Luton need to do if they’re to kick on and properly establish themselves in the Championship?

As a side, they just need to carry on from where they left off. While post-lockdown stats are slightly odd due to the frequent nature of the games and extended break beforehand, we were the seventh best side in that period. Look at the second half of the season as a whole and we picked up 31 points, which was the 12th best in the league, closer to the play-offs than relegation and only two points less than West Brom.

It took our squad a while to get to grips with the Championship but by the end of the season they had and they will also be full of confidence. Cameron Carter-Vickers made a huge difference at the back and he’s gone back to Spurs, so it’ll be interesting if Tom Lockyer can fill his shoes.

How would you sum up last season?

Just bloody fantastic to be back. Playing teams like Leeds, Derby, Sheffield Wednesday and West Brom, rather than Fleetwood, Shrewsbury, Rochdale and Scunthorpe is what football is about. There were times we didn’t look like scoring or winning, but even then it was a case of let’s just enjoy it while we can. And there will never be anything sweeter than seeing the classic ‘we shouldn’t lose to teams like Luton’ after another ‘big’ side have come to Kenilworth Road and come unstuck.

It’s a great shame that fans weren’t there for the great escape, yet it was also a fantastic distraction from the rest of the world. The non-emotional way of looking at it would probably be to describe it as job done and a learning curve! Think it’s important to note at this stage that we were not as bad as Reading fans probably think and that I already consider you our Championship bogey side.

What are your general expectations for this season?

You have to be realistic and acknowledge Luton are going to be a bottom half side and many people will have us down for a relegation battle. I’m hopeful we won’t need a great escape again and that we can force our way into the group of teams between 12th and 17th who never quite get dragged into a relegation battle.

We’ve made three important additions in the past week with Tom Lockyer signing, James Bree joining permanently and Rhys Norrington-Davies on loan from Sheffield United and I think they will all end up being starters. But we do look a little light up top – Jordan Clark from Accrington is our only attacking signing. If our players give 100 per cent and keep a connection with the fans, they won’t go far wrong, even if it is a struggle.

Who’s your player to look out for?

I’m going to go with Harry Cornick this season. Cornick, 25, netted nine goals last campaign and caused plenty of good Championship defences trouble with his pace and the direct nature of his running - it’s well worth finding a video of his strike at Leeds.

But Cornick was also guilty of missing a whole host of big, big chances that ultimately cost us points. The one that sticks in my mind is at Preston just before Christmas when he had all the time in the world to pick his spot and beat the keeper to put us 2-1 up with less than 10 minutes to go. Unfortunately his finish was poor, easily saved and sod’s law meant Preston ended up taking the three points. A winger who is being converted into a striker, Cornick could well net double that amount if he gains a bit more composure in front of goal.

A younger name that could break through?

Peter Kioso is the only real option here. We signed Kioso from Hartlepool United in January and he made his debut at the end of our big win at Hull in the penultimate game of last season. A full-back who is actually local to Luton (he moved to Hartlepool from Dunstable Town), Kioso has looked impressive in pre-season with driving runs forward and some big tackles.

Our League One and League Two promotions came with a diamond formation and our full-backs (Jack Stacey, James Justin and Dan Potts) were probably the most important players. If Kioso can force his way into the starting line-up, the 22-year-old will have every chance to make a big impact.

Where will you finish?

I’m going to go for 17th this time around. We ended up 19th last season and we have to look for an improvement. But I’m not deluded and know it’ll be tough. If we go into the final week safe, I’ll be happy.

You can find Matt Storey on Twitter @StoreyMatt.

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What have you made of Neil Warnock so far? Is he the man to take you forward?

I’ve generally been pretty supportive of Warnock, as most Boro fans have been. For the position we were in when he joined – and where we are now – I don’t think there are many better. After coming so close to disaster last season, and with all the corona uncertainty around the league, stability is key. He might not carry us forward into a bright and glorious future, but he’ll keep us comfortable.

Last season was your first in a while either not competing for promotion or being in the top tier. What will it take to push Boro back up there?

Time. Reserve goalkeeper Tomas Mejias aside, the promotion-winning team of 2015-16 have all left now, and there are gaps in the squad that need filling – Dani Ayala, George Friend and Adam Clayton all saw their influence wane in recent seasons but they will be missed. An already badly unbalanced squad has been thinned out even further, so plugging the gaps is the priority for now.

How would you sum up last season?

‘One in which our manager accused the league table of lying’ is probably enough. Awful. Turgid. Soul-destroying. Some swear words. I was perfectly happy for the season to be cut short before it came back, and us being 3-0 down at home within 30 minutes of the restart tells you why. Would rather pretend it never happened.

What are your general expectations for this season?

The last few years have taught us not to build up our expectations. If you’d asked me four years ago what my expectations for the 2020-21 season would be, the words ‘Europa League’ would have been involved. It’s going to be a slog, it’s not going to be pretty, but upper-mid table would be nice. Ashley Fletcher to score 15.

Who’s your player to look out for?

You know how there’s a bit of a conversation about whether Trent Alexander-Arnold is better than Dani Alves? Imagine what it would be like if you simply fused those two players into one! We did that, and his name is Djed Spence. Tottenham have been linked, so this is a formal invitation for Jose to keep his grubby little mitts off.

A younger name that could break through?

From seeing him a couple of times in the cups, I’m pretty excited about Ste Walker, though he’ll likely end up out on loan again. A busy little forward with a lovely touch, he’s spent parts of the last two seasons in League Two without setting the world alight, but there’s definitely a player there. It would also be a real boost to see Marcus Browne come good. He didn’t make an impact after signing last year but did really well back on loan in League One, and he’s exactly the sort of player we’ve missed in recent years. At 22, he’s still got time.

Where will you finish?

Somewhere between 10th and 16th, unless we get our act together with transfers. We’ve been beaten to a number of reported targets already, and the squad looks thin. Get it right with a few more additions, and we can think about aiming higher, but I think plenty of teams are likely to struggle this season and we’ll be better than we were under Woodgate. Our first few fixtures look horrible, so getting through them with some points on the board would be a massive early boost.

You can find Sam France on Twitter @SamJFrance.