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Town End 2022/23 Preview: Wigan Athletic, Rotherham United, Sunderland

How will the three promoted sides fare in the Championship this season? We went to those in the know to find out.

Wigan Athletic v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One - DW Stadium Photo by Barrington Coombs/PA Images via Getty Images

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How would you sum up last season?

In one line: a bit of a surprise.

Starting from a position of only five contracted senior players in July, a massive recruitment drive was required. The club were astute in their signings, bringing in much-needed experience with players such as Jack Whatmough and Tom Naylor to create a strong spine to the team, whilst the experience of these older players complemented the smattering of youth players such as Asgaard who stepped up from the academy, and Kell Wattts, a young CB who we loaned from Newcastle. Many players were signed on free transfers or were out of contract.

Many supporters would’ve been happy with a season of stabilisation, both on and off the pitch, but to go on to win the league, from where we started, the issues with Covid and games getting cancelled etc was nothing short of a miracle.

What are your general expectations for this season?

I think it will be a long hard slog, but maybe the month off for the World Cup will help. It’s effectively two seasons: August-November, then December to May.

It may seem pessimistic and defeatist before a ball has been kicked but 21st and above is the aim, and to be honest, after the last few years, it’ll do.

Last time we saw Wigan in the Championship, the club were put in to administration. What has life been like under the new ownership?

The club was taken over by Bahraini businessman Al-Jasmi, and his son-in-law Talal al Hammad was installed as chairman. They assembled a good, experienced team in terms of people who had been involved in running football clubs in England before such as Mal Brannigan and have gone from strength to strength.

It hasn’t been without some issues which I’d call teething problems, things such as the new ticketing system receiving criticism from some supporters and issues with wages being delayed being reported in the press, however, when you scratch the surface, these are not things that couldn’t be resolved/explained very quickly.

In terms of custodians of the club, bearing in mind what happened with the previous regime, they are proving themselves at every step of the way so far.

Leam Richardson will be a relatively unfamiliar name to most Championship fans. Tell us a bit more about the Wigan boss and fans’ general opinion of him

He should be given the freedom to the town and should never have to buy a pint ever again. From staying in our hour of need, keeping the club in League One, to building a team capable of winning the league last season, he is held in the highest regard. And that’s before we even begin to discuss him as a man. Humble, dignified, he goes about his business without feeling the need to tell everyone how good he or his team is.

Who’s your player to look out for?

There’s a few who I’m very interested to see how they make the step up. Jack Whatmough was a Rolls Royce of a centre-half in League One but how will he fare against better strikers? The same goes for the likes of James McClean, Callum Lang and Will Keane, unplayable at times last season, and were responsible for the majority of our goals - can they still be as effective at a higher level?

The thinking behind the recruitment last summer was not necessarily that we were signing the right players for us to challenge for promotion but also be building a team that could be competitive in the Championship and that we wouldn’t necessarily need to be making a lot of signings to improve the squad now, and there’s a lot to be said for maintaining the harmony and balance of the team, and giving those players a chance to prove themselves at this level.

A younger name that could break through?

Thelo Aasgaard (The Norwegian Prince) has been in and around the first team last season before his season was disrupted by injury. He scored an absolute screamer of a goal vs Blackburn Rovers in the FA Cup (look it up on YouTube) a last minute winner, and I’d like to see him carry on his progress.

Where will you finish?

Anything above 21st will do.

New York Talk can be found on Twitter @rufc_pod.

How would you sum up last season?

A success. It could have been better, we have a great chance of winning the title but let it slip in the last month. If we had been offered second place and a win at Wembley for the Papa John’s trophy at the start of the season we would have taken it.

What are your general expectations for this season?

Positive. The transfer business has been slow but we have a decent base to build from. Goals will be key for us like it was last time in the Championship. If we can get the likes of Eaves, Washington and Kelly with 10 or so each that will put us on a good path.

Rotherham have earned a bit of a reputation for being a yo-yo club between the Championship and League One. Might that change this season?

There is always optimism that this season will be the one when that cycle ends. Our transfer business so far has been OK. As of a couple of weeks before the start of the season we were still short a few players, but if we can find two or three to improve the squad we should be in a good position.

Paul Warne is approaching six years in charge, making him one of the longest-serving bosses in the Football League. What is the fans’ general opinion of him?

Paul Warne is a Millers legend. He now has a club-record three promotions and added the EFL trophy last season as well. Every season has seen progress under Warne, even when relegated each season had been better than the one before it. As long as that continues all fans will be happy to see him the man in charge at our club for a long time to come.

Who’s your player to look out for?

Ben Wiles is probably the one for this season. He is a youth product and has grown into a highly sought-after midfielder with Burnley his latest suitors. He is quick, has great control and has an incredible work rate. I think he is destined for bigger and better things than Rotherham United but if he goes how we know he can we should be in a good position come the end of the season.

A younger name that could break through?

It is unlikely we will see any younger players break through. But if one were to I would say Ciaran McGuckin. He is an 18-year-old player for Northern Ireland’s under-21s and has put in some very good performances in preseason.

Where will you finish?

This depends on our transfer business before the window closes at the end of August, but I believe we have enough to stay up already. I would be happy with 21st but believe we have enough quality and determination in the squad to finish a little higher, I will say 17th.

James Copley (@JamesCopley_) covers Sunderland for The Sunderland Echo.

Sunderland’s behind-the-scenes woes in recent years have been well documented - does the club look stronger on that front now?

It looks much, much better for Sunderland in terms of goings-on behind-the-scenes now.

Reading fans who have a Netflix sub may remember the rather disastrous Charlie Methven. He no longer has anything to do with the club after his shares were purchased by the billionaire Kyril Louis-Dreyfus this summer.

The other undesirable from a Sunderland fan standpoint, Stewart Donald, who was also heavily featured in the documentary, still retains some shares but is no longer involved in decision-making.

This has resulted in an all-together more measured and sensible approach and culture at Sunderland. Things still aren’t perfect but the wounds are beginning to heal.

What do you make of the job Alex Neil is doing so far?

Tremendous. The context in which he took the job was mad. Sunderland had lost 6-0 away to Bolton Wanderers, sacked Lee Johnson and then spent two-weeks flirting with Roy Keane.

During that fortnight, Sunderland loss to Cheltenham and Doncaster Rovers and signed a 39-year-old Jermain Defoe who would last around two months before buggering off.

Yet Alex Neil came in took Sunderland up through the play-offs, which was quite the feat given where the fans and players were at the time in terms of confidence.

Under Neil, Sunderland went on a 15-game unbeaten run and win at Wembley in front of fans for the first time since 1973 ending a four year stay in League One that felt as if it would never end. Job well and truly done.

How would you sum up last season?

As always with Sunderland, an absolute rollercoaster of emotions. It had everything. We thrashed Sheffield Wednesday 5-0 at home after losing to them 3-0 at Hillborough earlier in the season. We then reached the Carabao Cup quarter final against Arsenal before being beaten at the Emirates.

This is all under Lee Johnson who is then sacked. Then you had the Keane and Defoe sagas plus trying to get into the play-offs plus the uncertainty regarding those running the club.

We have a saying amongst football writers covering the club: never a dull moment.

What are your general expectations for this season? Where will you finish?

I’m happy as long as we can compete to a reasonable level. Avoiding relegation is a must. Somewhere between the 20th to 14th mark would be lovely. This is a tough league, though.

Who’s your player to look out for?

The big man up front Ross Stewart. Started every League One game for Sunderland last season including the play-offs and netted 26 goals in all comps, including the second at Wembley against Wycombe.

He is tall, strong, fast, good in the air and can finish. At 26, he has a very high ceiling in terms of what he can achieve in England.

A younger name that could break through?

Dan Neil will be one to look out for. The boyhood fan made 46 appearances in all competitions for the Sunderland last season, including 39 in League One as the Wearsiders finally managed to gain promotion through the play-offs.

He had some stand-out moments of quality too, registering seven league assists in the first half of the campaign and netting his first senior goal against Accrington Stanley with a screamer at the Stadium of Light. Following the goal, he celebrated at the end of the ground that he used to watch as a supporter.

He was dropped towards the back end of the season by the head coach, though, so it will be interesting to see how he does.