clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

2015/16 Championship Previews In Their Own Words: A-B

New, comment

Who better to let us know how their teams are shaping up ahead of the new Championship season than fans & bloggers from those very teams?

Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

Use the links below to skip to the relevant club preview.

*****

Birmingham

Gabriel from The Football Lab

You predicted a relegation battle last season but ended up in the top-half, how did Birmingham fans view the last campaign?

I have been proved wrong about many of my predictions in the past, but I certainly don't mind getting this one wrong! In all seriousness, I think we would have probably gone down had we stuck with Lee Clark that season, but thankfully we changed manager in October. When Gary Rowett took over, I was confident he would be the man to keep us up, but I would never have dreamt he would take us to 10th place. The key factors behind such improvement are that we are now incredibly well organized without the ball, and every player looks confident with it, which truthfully, is the antithesis of how things were under Lee Clark. That is credit to what Rowett and the new coaching team have done here, and the confidence they have instilled in the players.

What changes has Gary Rowett made so far this summer?

The summer transfer window hasn't gone quite as well as I'd hoped. None of the 3 loanees we had last season - centre-back Rob Kiernan, midfielder Robert Tesche and attacking midfielder Diego Fabbrini - are staying on, which is a little bit disappointing. Of the signings we've made, goalkeeper Tomasz Kuzazack, who should be an excellent replacement for Darren Randolph, is probably the only one that instantly excites me. On the plus side, though, bar Randolph we've not lost any of the first team players we had on permanent contracts last season, which shows that the players are settled under Rowett.

What still needs to be done before the window closes?

Many fans would like to see a striker come in, but I'm not sure we need one. We only start with 1 up top, and we have plenty of forwards - Wes Thomas, Lee Novak, Alex Jones and Denny Johnstone - who offer reasonable backup to Clayton Donaldson. With our budget, we can't afford a striker as good as Donaldson who would be willing to sit on the bench, so we might as well stick with what we have in that area.

Personally, I'd like to see us sign another centre-back to partner Michael Morrison, but I get the impression Rowett is willing to show faith in Jonathan Spector. With a small squad, we will benefit from having players who can cover different positions, and in that sense I feel we need a versatile left-sided player, who can offer us a bit of width on that side of the pitch.

Which Birmingham player should we look out for this season?

Clayton Donaldson is the obvious choice, having been our top scorer with 16 last season. He works hard for the team to pressure defences and create gaps of space for our attacking midfielder, or any wingers cutting in, to make use of. I'd also mention David Davis. He's not explosive in possession, but he does a lot of the less noticeable work in breaking up opposition attacks and getting the ball moving.

Any younger player that could burst on to the scene?

Seeing as he scored a hat-trick against you last season, I can't resist mentioning Demarai Gray! To be honest, he frustrated me at times last year, because he would get into good positions, but then take too long to release the ball or try to beat too many players. However, I think scoring the winner against Wolves in April helped him, and he put in some good performances from that game onwards. There is no doubt he has excellent dribbling ability, and for that reason I think there's potential for him to go up another level this year.

Where do you expect to finish this season?

I'll say 11th. Had we kept hold of the loanees we had last season, I would be more hopeful of us pushing for the play-offs, but with the general calmness and stability that Gary Rowett has given us since taking over, I'm confident we won't go down. Given that we've been struggling against relegation at one point or another in each of our last 3 seasons, it makes a nice change to be looking up, rather than downwards.

Finally, what have you made of Reading over the past 12 months and what do you expect of them going forward?

I think Reading will improve. Your academy is among the most productive in England at the moment, with 11 youngsters making their debut last season, and Michael Hector looks a very promising defender. I also think new signings Paul McShane and Stephen Quinn from Hull will make the team stronger without the ball, so I can see Reading being hard to break down this season, and for that reason I think you'll finish at least midtable. Whether you've got enough quality in attack to push for the top 6, however, I'm not so sure. 12th is my guess.

Jump back to the top

*****

Blackburn

Mikey Delap from Rovers blog The Wild Blackburn Rover.@MikeyDelap

You predicted a play-off campaign last season but ended up falling well short, how did Blackburn fans view the last campaign?

Disappointingly. There seemed to be grounds for a push towards the top part of the table with the strikeforce we had and a decent looking, largely youthful squad that had improved the season beforehand.

But it fell apart in the run up Christmas and beyond as a combination of lack of bottle, inability to hold onto slender leads and poor management (never having a settled starting XI) contributed towards a somewhat deceiving looking upper table finish.

What changes has Gary Bowyer made so far this summer?

Changes have been few, which hasn't been helped in part by the club's ongoing transfer embargo.

We've so far bought in two new (unknown) French players - one of whom seems largely inadequate and one of whom could potentially be decent.

One encouraging element is that through necessity the club's younger players have been given more of a chance with players such as Willem Tomlinson and Ryan Nyambe being given more of a chance to stake a club than I'd imagine they would have had with an open chequebook to spend on new recruits.

With the club needing to cut it's cloth accordingly the younger lads (produced to the right standard) should in theory be the way to go, so the more we can integrate the better as far as I am concerned.

We've also seen an exodus of players such as Josh King, David Dunn, Paul Robinson and Leon Best. Which won't do us any real harm, and could in fact help us in our never ending quest to save such much needed cash.

What still needs to be done before the window closes?

New recruits.

The central midfield still looks like a major area of concern with Lee Williamson, Corry Evans and Jason Lowe hardly the most dynamic looking bunch of box to box grafters.

Maybe the younger lads will help out but I suspect we'll need to freshen up there.

With only loans and freebies currently permitted in through the door it would be nice to see us look to the Premier League loan market for younger talent with something to prove.

Unearthing a gem of a replacement for the excellent Rudy Gestede wouldn't go a miss either...

So yeah, quite a bit. And it'll need to be done on a relative budget too. Easy hey?

Which Blackburn player should we look out for this season?

Craig Conway.

He seems to have started pre-season how he ended the last campaign - in terrific form.

He's not got the blistering pace that you'd hope for from a winger, but he's a player on an endless quest to be productive and he's got a very decent cross on him too.

The likes of Conway and Marshall were often the Rhodes/Gestede support act but with us potentially ending the window with neither of the main cast it will be up to the others to step up and perform above and beyond.

Fingers crossed.

Any younger player that could burst on to the scene?

Potentially yes.

Ryan Nyambe seems the most likely, but it depends if he can dethrone Welsh lad Adam Henley at right back.

Failing that, it would finally be nice to see John O'Sullivan fulfil the potential he's apparently had since the beginning of time.

Where do you expect to finish this season?

Mid-table.

We don't have the quality coursing through midfield and the squad that we'll need to mix it at the right end, but I suspect we won't be so overwhelmingly dire as some of the other Rovers faithful are fearing.

It'll be a tough campaign and I imagine we'll have some bumps along the road. But I'll go with something along the lines of 15th.

Finally, what have you made of Reading over the past 12 months and what do you expect of them going forward?

I expect you to be better. I wasn't that impressed with what I saw of the Royals last campaign but with there seems to be a little bit of extra optimism for your lot this time around.

Just don't go beating Rovers and I'll not get too upset with you ;)

Jump back to the top

*****

Bolton

Dan from Lion of Vienna Suite - @Murbrosi

How do Bolton fans look back on 2014/15?

Not too fondly, if indeed, at all. Whilst we did have some fleeting moments of celebration and causes to be happy and hopeful last season: our performances against Liverpool and Chelsea in the cups, finally sacking Dougie Freedman, hiring Neil Lennon, the return of Eidur Gudjohnsen and youth players like Zach Clough and Josh Vela finally getting their rightful place in the side, the season on a whole was very much one to forget. Due to our second utterly atrocious start to the season in as many years, the campaign was pretty much over by November.

With nothing to play for for the vast majority of the season, it just became a demoralising, soul destroying slog. The injuries were relentless and began to be met with sighs of inevitability, rather than moans of shock. The joke which I have dubbed "the last minute goal phenomenon" genuinely became to actually be quite funny. With about two months to go every Bolton fan was willing for the season to end. I do not believe it will be one that lasts long in the memory.

What changes has Neil Lennon made so far this summer?

Due to the financial situation that continuous to slowly suffocate us like a giant Boa Constrictor, not an awful lot, but what he has managed to do has been promising. Firstly, he managed to replace the Liverpool bound Adam Bogdan perfectly - with Ben Amos. The former Manchester United goalkeeper spent some time on loan at the Macron last season, and quickly became a fan favourite.When it became apparent that Bogdan would not be signing a new deal we all clamoured for Amos to be re-signed, after his release from Old Trafford. Thankfully we managed to tie Amos down to a lengthy four-year deal, which is a brilliant piece of business from us. I believe Amos will prove to be one of the league's best goalkeepers in the coming months.

A signing that was met with more scepticism than universal happiness was the capture of released Sheffield Wednesday striker, the notorious Gary Madine. Many fans, my self included, had our doubts about the signing initially, but, even though it is only pre-season, he has looked very promising. He's our top goal scorer in pre-season with four to his name, two really excellent finishes and two typical striker goals. But it's not only his strike rate that's been impressive, his overall play is actually really good. He wins near on everything in the air and his ability to bring others into the game hasn't been seen in our parts for quite a while.

The third and final (at least so far) signing that Lennon has made this summer is one that sent a wave of positivity throughout the club. Because he was signed from Real Madrid. Well, Castilla at least. Derik Osede, a 22-year old centre-half, also looks to be a good addition to the squad, his reading of the game, positioning, ability to deal with balls into the box and his passing are all very good. It does, however, remain to be seen how he'll cope with the physicality of the Championship, and since he picked up an injury in our final friendly before the season begins, we'll have to wait a while longer to find out.

A big and significant change he has made, however sad it may sound, is giving our young prodigy Zach Clough the #10. All our hopes for the coming season are pinned on the little magical, and whilst it may be largely insignificant on a grand scale, such a gesture of being given a number that does mean a whole lot culturally, can only make Clough bubble with confidence.

What still needs to be done before the window closes?

A lot. Our squad is painfully thin. At time of writing, Emile Heskey is yet to be resigned and trialists Lawrie Wilson and Stephen Dobbie still haven't signed contracts. At least officially. The deals are set to be announced soon, so there is little concern there, but the fact it has taken us over a month to sign players of their calibre speaks volumes as to where Bolton Wanderers are right now.

In terms of where the squad still needs strengthening: a back up goalkeeper is still needed, as Amos' current deputies are all under the age of 21 and haven't played a first team game between them. A new striker or three could be really handy, as we only have Madine, Heskey and a couple of untested youngsters with August 8th quickly approaching. We could do with a couple of wingers as we only have two natural wide-men, Liam Feeney and Tom Walker, in our squad, and the latter is currently injured. Meaning we'll more than likely have to farm our a more central minded player out wide on the opening day.

Across three defensive positions we only have six first team players, and that's if Wilson does sign and two of them are currently injured! Whilst we have promising youth products in defence, it would be very foolish for us to go into the season relying on them for cover, especially with our dreadful injury record. As you can tell, our squad in some dire straights right now. The only position in which we have an abundance of players is centre midfield. You fancy taking Medo off us?

Which Bolton player should we look out for this season?

Zach Clough. You might have heard of him. If he can just stay injury free then he will set the league alight next season. He can score all manner of goals and when he is in full fluid motion, it's usually only a foul that can halter him. He will be one of, if not thee, best player in the league next year, that is of course, if he remains in it past January.

Any younger player that could burst on to the scene?

I want with all of my being for it to be Andy Kellett. The young left back/left winger spent the last half of last season on loan at Manchester United, and did very well there, winning the reserve league. However, despite the wishes of nearly every Wanderer supporter, it seems as if Lennon just doesn't fancy him. Instead, I think either Kaiyne Woolery, Quade Taylor or Jamie Thomas will be the next off the quickly improving Bolton production line. Woolery, a pacey forward who can play a number of positions, made his debut last season and has been impressing in pre-season. Taylor, a centre back with awesome side burns, also made his debut last year and looked very assured at the back. Thomas, a striker, is a bit of a wild card. He is still only 18, but he scored goals for fun for the u18s last year and has been promoted to the u21s this term. I would not be surprised to see him appear for the Whites towards the end of the season, providing we're not in a relegation battle.

Where do you expect to finish this season?

The fate of our season depends on too many outside factors for my liking. The aforementioned finances, the aforementioned injury crisis and whether or not Claudio Ranieri will be able to not fuck up at Leicester. If he does, I fear the Foxes will come scampering to steal our manager. If all the stars align, all our best players stay fit and stay at the club and we do keep Lennon, then I do believe our starting XI is good enough to finish in the top half, if not even higher. However, we are never that fortunate. If Lennon stays we will probably stumble to an underwhelming 15th place finish, if he doesn't then I fear the very worse.

Finally, what have you made of Reading over the past 12 months and what do you expect of them going forward?

To be completely honest with you, whilst your cup run was very good, I just don't think you're very good in the league - at all. I really do not rate Steve Clarke as a manager and I don't see much quality in your squad. You've had a solid summer, Al Habsi, McShane and Quinn are all decent additions, and Orlando Sa could obviously go either way. I do think you'll be safe, but you'll very much be like us - wallowing in the pit of Championship mediocrity. See you there.

Jump back to the top

*****

Brentford

Billy The Bee Grant writes and shoots fan videos for Beesotted fanzine. You can follow Billy on twitter on @billythebee99 or via Beesotted fanzine twitter @beesotted and if you're a fan of videos made by fans for the fans, they've got an excellent range of YouTube videos you can check out here.

You joked last season that you'd win promotion and you so nearly made it despite a more conservative prediction of a 15th place finish. How will Bees fans look back on 2014/15?

At the beginning of season, most Bees fans would have been happy with finishing 19th. I thought 15th was being pretty optimistic and even was sold on the whole world telling us how tough the championship was and the fact we would do well to survive in the division with a rookie manager and with no players with championship experience.

It's reassuring to know that our owner seems to know exactly what he is doing.

Every time he makes a move that was questioned by the masses (employing Uwe Rosler .... employing Mark Warburton, discovering relatively unknown players like Gray and Jota through his statistical modelling and throwing them into the thick of a championship promotion battle ) he comes up trumps.

We won't get it right all the time. We all know that.

But Brentford got things wrong in the past before they started using metrics in a much more analytical way. So lets see how it goes.

Last season was fantastic. What a laugh. We were proud of what we achieved.

The departure of Mark Warburton was seen by most as upsetting .. and annoying ... but for the long term future of the club, unavoidable.

We would have loved Warbs to stay. But he had made a decision he could not work with a system that did not give the manager total veto on signings. So unfortunately, he moved on.

If we even come close to recreating the last 12 months, this season that would be amazing.

You've got a new manager in Marinus Dijkhuizen. What changes has he made so far this summer?

Our ‘new' system involves a plethora of new people now.

The head coach is Marinus Dijkhuizen, who we met a few weeks ago for a few beers in Brentford

is a top top bloke. His role primarily is tactics and managing the team.

He has input into suggesting new players and also has huge input in the final decision on whether or not we should sign a player. But his main role is on-the-pitch stuff. Getting the best out of the team.

He bought his No 2 Roy Hendriksen from Holland with him. They used to play together at SC Cambuur.

We have two directors of football. Magnus Ankersen - who oversees the coaching side. He is also Chairman of Brentford owner Matthew Benham's other club FC Midtjylland who won the Danish League last season - and Phil Gilles - who is one of the top player analysts at Benham's company SmartOdds. He is in charge of player scouting.

We have gone big time into bringing in specialists in every area.

We have a set piece coach - Gianni Voi who was at AC Milan last season. We also have a coach who specialises only on how to kick the ball. We have bought in a psychology coach. And we have a plethora of analysts at the club. There's also a head of philosophy - Flemming Pedersen (a role that has made many people snigger). His role is described as so:

Responsible for setting out Brentford's football philosophy and structuring individual development plans for players.

Said more simply, Pedersen will help the players understand how they are going to transition in play and explain what their roles are individually. He will also help them develop into professionals - assisting them to become people they want to become.

Player professionalism is a huge part of the long term vision for the club. You can read up more on what has been going on off the field here here

Dijkhuizen isn't well known in the UK - and ties right in with our left-field manager appointments like Uwe Rosler and Mark Warburton. He managed Excelsior in Holland - getting them promoted to the Eredivisie (Dutch Premier League) with a tiny budget 12 months ago.

He then managed against all odds to keep them in the top division with the 2nd smallest budget in the league (€1m). He's promised to continue to play attacking football. But will also adjust the way we play depending on the opposition - something that we didn't do last season.

What still needs to be done before the window closes?

The August silly season has arrived. We have just sold winger Stuart Dallas to Leeds, midfielder Jonathon Douglas to Ipswich and Hull have put a bid in for right back Moses Odubajo. Whether he will actually go to Hull (I'm not sure he will .. but that's just me) or, as most fans are saying, where he will go to is a big question mark.

Plus Hull are also sniffing around striker Andre Gray but are nowhere near the £7m price tag we have put on him.

So a winger (we were linked with Philipp Schobesberger from Rapid Vienna a few weeks back) and a defensive midfielder are a must. A right back is also pretty urgent. And, no doubt, they are lining up possible replacements for Andre Gray just in case Hull decide to splash the cash.

Which Brentford player should we look out for this season?

Jota had a great season last season and continues last season's form with a couple of decent performances in pre-season. He's a very exciting player.

Of the newbes, attacking midfielder Andy Gogia who we plucked out of the German 3rd Division has looked pretty lively. We also signed Danish international Andreas Bjelland from FC Twente in Holland and he looks like an absolute rock in the centre of the defence.

Any younger player that could burst on to the scene?

We've been waiting for our academy players to come through so we were encouraged when striker Jermaine Udamaga scored in pre-season. He made the trip up to Boro in the playoffs as an unused squad player. I'm sure we'll see him burst onto the scene at some stage this season. If we were a mid-table Division 1 side, he would have made his debut already.

Where do you expect to finish this season?

This is a toughie. If everything just snaps into place, we could see ourselves hitting the playoffs again. However, myself being a realist .. I think there have been too many changes this season. We have a lot of very good players and a manager who will need to grow into this division. So I'm expecting us to finish 10th ... but I did predict 15th last season (10 places out) which means that we'll probably finish top .

Finally, what have you made of Reading over the past 12 months and what do you expect of them going forward?

Reading had a disappointing season last year. OK the cup run was great and Brentford fans were all there in the pub cheering you on against Arsenal in the semi final. But overall, your league form was very poor.

Saying that, we will be ever indebted to you for your final day of the season win against Derby. You knocked them out of the playoff race and made their fans finally realise that its not the size of the club OR how much money you are able to spunk that will bring you success as well as help prolong our season.

It's hard to say how you will do this season. Steve Clarke only had a couple of decent results last season once he took over - wins at Ipswich and Wolves - so it's hard to say what effect he will have this season.

It sounds to me you need to shake off some of the post parachute-payment dead weight and bring in some young hungry players who want to play for the club. Is Clarke the man for that job?? I'm not convinced myself ... but then I've been locked in ‘left-field football appointment world' for the last 4 seasons so what do I know?

Jump back to the top

*****

Brighton

Jason from Brighton Only At Home@BHAFConlyathome

After years of play-off near misses you struggled last season, joining us in flirting with a relegation battle. What went wrong?

Everything that could! We lost a decent coach and replaced him with a novice. At the same time we carried on recruiting with the inexperienced David Burke bringing in players and doing the retained list while no one was in charge. This led to us having a poor quality squad (we even had our own version of Royston Drenthe in Kemy Agustien) that couldn't play in the only way Hyypia wanted us to. Hughton came in for the second half of the season, got an initial bump and just about kept us up with some defensive pragmatism.

What changes has Chris Hughton made so far this summer?

We've got rid of some dead wood, notably Mackail-Smith and the aforementioned Agustien and our loans all went back (and we had a lot of loans). Six have come in. Liam Rosenior in at right back who I really like, Gaetan Bong at left back who I like just for the name and some competition for Stockdale in goal that wasn't really needed. Also an Isreali international striker called Tomar Hemed who's highly rated and from the same club we got Ulloa from and two development team signings though I think Jack Harper will be pushing for first team early on. Harper's the one I'm most excited about. Hughton's also hinted we may play some 4-4-2.

What still needs to be done before the window closes?

Creativity and a new centre back. We haven't replaced either Aaron Hughes or Greg Halford but the worrying thing is we still look like we will lack pace and goals. Another turgid season awaits if we don't add them soon.

Which Brighton player should we look out for this season?

Hemed seems highly rated but a lot of his international goals have been against minnows. Rosenior will be very consistent at this level but Jack Harper is hopefully the real one to watch.

Any younger player that could burst on to the scene?

Harper as mentioned. We've also added the "Finnish Zlatan" Vahid Hambo. Glen Rea may end up being our additional centre back and James Tilley, Jeffrey Manakana and Joe Ward all did well in a recent friendly. However, when I did this last year I mentioned Shamir Fenelon who was dreadful when he broke through and got moved on, so I'm no judge to trust!

Where do you expect to finish this season?

Tenth. Or, if we don't add the goals and creativity bottom five.

Finally, what have you made of Reading over the past 12 months and what do you expect of them going forward?

You need to stop following us around! We've had two fairly identical seasons which both seem to have been as results of dubious recruitment. Your long term future I'm not sure about but in the short term I expect you to finish within a place or two of us.

Jump back to the top

*****

Thanks to all of our contributors and stay tuned for parts 2, 3 and 4 later in the week.