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Town End 2022/23 Preview: Preston North End, Stoke City, Swansea City

We’re now into the bottom half of last season’s Championship clubs, pondering if any of these sides will have a better time of it in 2022/23.

Stoke City v Swansea City - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Nathan Stirk/Getty Images

You can find Deepdale Digest on Twitter @DeepdaleDigest.

How’s Ryan Lowe doing as manager?

Lowe has largely done a good job. Uniting the fanbase has been a focus for Lowe and he has pulled it off pretty masterfully. It’s maybe easy to forget that he’s only two years removed from being a League Two manager so we’re expecting tactical ideas and execution to ramp up this season.

How happy are you with Preston’s transfer business so far?

A mixed bag really. Freddie Woodman should be a very good addition but Robbie Brady and Ben Woodburn feel like hopeful punts; hoping that Brady stays fit and hoping that Woodburn rediscovers form. Troy Parrott appears to be a positive loan signing but, at the time of writing, we’re still three or four signings away from really challenging the top six in my opinion.

How would you sum up last season?

Disappointing but almost expected. Frankie McAvoy just wasn’t cut out for Championship management and was never going to survive defeats to Blackpool and Blackburn. Lowe came in and improved the mood around the place although the manner of some defeats were worrying.

What are your general expectations for this season?

We’re expecting to at least be middle of the pack and with a few clever additions, could challenge the top eight. Lower mid-table isn’t out of the question if Lowe doesn’t get his signings in though, with more quality really needed.

Who’s your player to look out for?

Have to go with Emil Riis here. Goals eluded him in his first season but 20 in all competitions last season shows the talent he has; the challenge now is to go and do it again.

A younger name that could break through?

Mikey O’Neill is the pick here, broke into the first team picture at the end of last season and Lowe is a big fan. A striker or number 10, O’Neill is a former futsal player with a big future ahead of him.

Where will you finish?

If we get a few more signings in I will go for 10th, it not then somewhere around 13th to 16th.

Ben Rowley is founder of The YYY Files podcast (@theyyyfiles) and can be found on Twitter @benarowley.

How happy are you with the signing of Josh Laurent?

Joe Allen left the club after six years this summer. Whatever Stoke fans made of him, a lot of squad continuity left as he did, and we needed someone to replace him - cue Laurent. They may be different in stature (Josh brings much-needed physicality) but they’re reasonably similar players.

Both are reasonably versatile players who like winning and using the ball in midfield. On first impressions, this appears to be an excellent replacement and one I look forward to seeing how he partners Lewis Baker (sorry Royals) in our engine room.

How good a job is Michael O’Neill doing?

There’s mixed opinions from the Stoke faithful. Many are unhappy with the lack of results-based progress since O’Neill arrived almost three years ago, and wonder whether he’s taken us as far as he can with his hit-and-miss tactics. Others appreciate he’s had Profit & Sustainability rules and terrible injuries to deal with, and that he’s done well to retain our league position whilst building a great culture off the pitch.

Whatever their opinion, the general feeling now is that O’Neill has (almost) finally finished building his squad, and that this season is make or break for his future at Stoke.

How would you sum up last season?

For last year’s edition of this blog, I wrote this on reflection of the 2020/21 season:

“Really encouraging became incredibly turgid. We were pushing the top two toward the end of the calendar year, and then the aforementioned injuries tore our squad apart. The changes to squad and system led to some absolutely terrible games of football. For the majority of 2021 Stoke were either walked over or too blunt to cut through equally as poor opposition.

“Having said this, green shoots were growing. We blooded an astounding amount of young players, with varying degrees of success and we found ourselves a group of players we weren’t angry at (just sometimes disappointed). It’d be no mistake to admit that fan engagement as certainly dropped due to reasons on and off the pitch last season, but I believe the experiences of last season set us up nicely to give the Championship a much better go this time around.”

See again for this season, minus the bit about fan engagement, which seems to have stabilised with some major reshuffling behind the scenes.

What are your general expectations for this season?

I’d like a top-half finish in the league, a decent stab at one of the cup competitions and for us to absolutely trounce at least one team this season, which it feels like we haven’t done for a while. With our talented crop of youngsters gaining another year of senior football under their belts, I hope we get to retain them for until next summer as their reputations grow.

Off the pitch, I really hope for some improvement in the matchday experience, which should come as a result of a significant investment of both finances and attention from the hierarchy. I wish that the fanbase becomes less divided as we see the extent of the yield of O’Neill’s rebuild. It really does feel like there’ll be significant changes come the end of the season, one way or the other.

Who’s your player to look out for?

Harry Souttar will soon be coming back from a terrible knee injury, which he received while playing for Australia. He’ll miss the start of the season, but I fully expect him to announce himself as the best centre back in the Championship on his return. His aerial prowess is second-to-none, his ability to recover to make crucial tackles is astonishing, and his knack of being able to ping a perfect cross-field pass will be crucial for Stoke’s season. A Premier League player in waiting.

A younger name that could break through?

Remember the name: Emre Tezgel. The 16 year-old has earned himself a professional contract (effective in September) in the process of completing his GCSEs. With physicality, technique and confidence way beyond his years, there’s no doubt that Emre will be pushing the adults for a place in the matchday squad. I wouldn’t be surprised to have seen him feature in a dozen of our games come the season’s end. It really feels like a ‘Jude Bellingham moment’.

Where will you finish?

We’ve played in the Championship for four seasons and I’ve gradually lowered my expectations of this Stoke team. Yet, I’ve been overly optimistic each and every time. Our squad has been revamped once again but there’s been no star arrivals at the time of writing. If we’re able to keep a consistent XI, we could challenge for the top six. However, I’m suggesting that our season will be derailed by injuries and winter-time slump in form for the third time running. 13th.

You can find Declan Terry on Twitter @DeclanTerry_.

How would you sum up last season?

It was a real rollercoaster to be honest. It was only a few days before the start of the season that Russell Martin was appointed as manager following Steve Cooper’s rather odd departure a week into pre-season, and from the first kick it was evident that under Martin, Swansea were going to return to high-possession based football that the fans know and love.

We all pretty much accepted that 2021/22 was going to be a season of transition and most (not all) have been quite patient in this respect. We had some marvellous highs last season - the famous double against Cardiff, thrashing them 7-0 on aggregate a particular highlight – along with some defensive disasterclasses that led to quite a few hammerings. On the whole a mid-table finish was about right for a young Swansea side last season but hopefully we can kick on a bit more this term.

What are your general expectations for this season?

I think the Swans will improve this season and I’m really excited to see what we can do. Maybe it’s just the usual pre-season optimism where every fan thinks their team is going to tear it up – but I think with one or two additions we can definitely contest for a top-six finish.

By the look of it so far, Swansea will be keeping hold of Joel Piroe and Michael Obafemi. With Piroe and Obafemi, we have two outstanding goalscorers in the attacking ranks and I’m sure most teams in the league would love either of them up front – whereas we’ve got both! If they continue their excellent showings, they’re genuinely a duo that has 40+ goals between them.

Only Aleksandar Mitrovic and Dominic Solanke scored more goals in the Championship than Joel Piroe last season. Just how vital is he to the team?

He’s an incredible talent and will be playing top-level football very soon whatever happens. He reminds me so much of Michu in that he has such a lethal left foot and just makes everything look easy. Along with an impressive tally of 22 goals in his first season, he’s also very good at linking up with his back to goal, turning defenders and bringing others into play.

He started last season as a number nine but when Obafemi came into the side he dropped back as a number 10. Dropping deeper didn’t phase Piroe one bit and it had no impact on his goalscoring feats – whether it’s in the six-yard box or outside of the box, if he finds a yard of space the ball is ruthlessly hitting the back of the net.

We’ve had a homecoming of our own this summer with Shane Long returning to Berkshire. What has the reaction been like to Joe Allen going back to Swansea?

The return of Welsh Xavi has sweetened the blow of losing Flynn Downes massively. Downes was outstanding last season and whilst it was disappointing to lose him, everyone is buzzing over the arrival of Allen. It’s been a long time coming, we should’ve re-signed him a few years earlier but he’s home now and will slot in next to Matt Grimes seamlessly. The type of player he is, he doesn’t need any tutoring, he will come in and do exactly what Martin wants of him straight away.

Who’s your player to look out for?

I’m really excited to see Harry Darling in a Swans kit. Our defence was quite sketchy at the best of times last season (flashbacks to the 4-4 Reading draw) so tying up a deal to sign one of the EFL’s most promising centre-backs is good business. He worked for Martin at MK Dons and was one of the best players in League One last season, playing a possession-based style and even scoring a fair amount of goals.

People have tipped Darling for big things so I really do think he will flourish at Swansea and become a top Championship player, hopefully sooner rather than later. I think a back three of Darling, Cabango and Naughton/Manning looks pretty good.

A younger name that could break through?

Cameron Congreve burst out of the blocks during the tail end of last season and made a few positive Championship appearances. I’m expecting to see more of him in 22/23, probably as an option from the bench as one of the two number 10s. It’s reported that Rangers wanted to take him on loan this season but were rejected by Martin, so it seems that Congreve is very highly rated in South Wales.

Also central midfielder Dan Williams has looked exceptional every time I’ve seen him for the youth sides – under the likes of Grimes and Allen in the middle, I’m sure Williams will be taking everything in on the training pitch with these guys and fingers crossed he can get some minutes too.

Where will you finish?

I think we’ll give the top six a real good go this season. If we get a right-wing-back, a few extra bodies in for depth, and probably most importantly of all keep hold of Piroe, the Swans should be in a decent state. I’ll say sixth.