The last of our Football League season previews is now ready, and Rob Freeman is on familiar ground this evening, in the Championship. As a quick reminder, the Championship match between West Bromwich Albion and Newcastle United is live on the BBC tomorrow evening. Let the schadenfreude commence! Seriously, though, good luck to everybody starting their season tomorrow. Well, almost everybody…
1. Sheffield United
In: Leigh Bromby, Lee Williamson (both Watford), Ched Evans (Manchester City), Ryan France (Hull City), Glen Little (Portsmouth), Kyle Reid (West Ham United), Andy Taylor (Tranmere Rovers), Mark Bunn, Keith Treacy (Blackburn Rovers, loan)
Out: Nicky Law (Rotherham United), Kyle Naughton, Kyle Walker (both Tottenham Hotspur), Ben Starosta, Sun Jihai, Danny Webber (all released), Ugo Ehiogu (retired)
The Blades mean business and Kevin Blackwell has made some excellent signings, especially Ched Evans, who was prolific in the Championship in his time on loan at Norwich. Little, Reid and Williamson will provide service, and Bromby makes his move permanent to strengthen the back line. The only question mark is over the goalkeeper. Paddy Kenny is suspended by the club, while they await the outcome of a drug test, but Bunn and Bennett should handle the duties between them. Promotion looks a likely finish.
2. West Bromwich Albion
In: Simon Cox (Swindon Town), Youssuf Mulumbu (Paris Saint Germain), Reuben Reid (Rotherham United)
Out: Paul Robinson (Bolton Wanderers), Kim Do-Heon, (Suwon Samsung Bluewings), Carl Hoefkens, Pele (released)
The main loss is Tony Mowbray to Celtic, but Roberto Di Matteo did well at the Franchise (but fortunately not well enough), and gets a chance at The Hawthorns. Most of the players are retained, and Di Matteo adds youth to the squad, but the jury is out on him and the young additions. The Baggies should go up, but it’ll be close.
In: Danny Coyne (Tranmere Rovers), Leroy Lita (Reading), Mark Yeates (Colchester United)
Out: Stewart Downing (Aston Villa), Graeme Owens (Kilmarnock), Ross Turnbull (Chelsea)
While the eyes of the media have been trained on the other relegated North East club, over at Teeside, it’s been business as usual. Downing has left, and Mido has gone back to his native Egypt on loan, but other than that, Steve Gibson seems prepared to back the club, and manager Gareth Southgate, and with the team goal shy last term, the acquisition of Lita is not only a useful one for this division, but a statement of intent. That said, there are still question marks over Southgate, so while the squad has a good balance, it may not be all plain sailing.
4. Nottingham Forest
In: Dele Adebola (Bristol City), Paul Anderson (Liverpool), Dexter Blackstock, Lee Camp (both Queens Park Rangers), Chris Gunter (Tottenham Hotspur), Radoslaw Majewski (Polonia Warsawa), David McGoldrick (Southampton), Paul McKenna (Preston North End)
Out: Hamza Bencherif, Emile Sinclair (Macclesfield Town), Ian Breckin (Chesterfield), Barry Richardson (Cheltenham Town)
This year’s moneybags club are… Nottingham Forest, which is a bit of a surprise considering how lean their recent years have been. The acquisition of Gunter on his own was suprising, but to follow that up with Preston stalwart McKenna has left the Tricky Trees as a great outside bet for promotion.
5. Ipswich Town
In: Troy Brown (Fulham), Damien Delaney (Queens Park Rangers), Colin Healy (Cork City), Lee Martin (Manchester United), Shane O’Connor (Liverpool), Tamas Priskin (Watford), Jack Colback (Sunderland, loan)
Out: Dean Bowditch (Yeovil Town), Chris Casement (Dundee), Billy Clarke (Blackpool), Danny Haynes (Bristol City), Tommy Miller (Sheffield Wednesday), Matt Richards (Walsall), Jordan Rhodes (Huddersfield Town), Velice Sumulikoski (Preston North End), Ivan Campo (released)
Roy Keane had a clear out after his appointment at the end of last season, but the signings he has made are a little uninspiring, with only Delaney and Priskin having any real experience, while the addition of Colin Healy is one of the more bizarre signings of the summer, considering his fortunes – or lack of them – since two broken legs in 2003 took away from what should have been the best years of his career. Keane has suggested the spending isn’t over, but unless there are signings with a little more about them, the play-offs are the most likely destination.
6. Preston North End
In: Paul Parry (Cardiff City), Velice Sumulikoski (Ipswich Town)
Out: Paul McKenna (Nottingham Forest), Chris Neal (Shrewsbury Town), Simon Whaley (Norwich City)
Alan Irvine made one of the most difficult decisions of the summer, when he allowed popular midfielder McKenna to leave the club after twelve years. It was the club’s only major departure, and he is replaced by the ‘Gerrard of the Balkans’ Sumulikoski. The only other addition to the squad is Paul Parry, and while little change if often a precursor of stagnation, something about this Preston squad says they’re good enough to continue improving as a unit. The playoffs or thereabout.
7. Crystal Palace
In: Darren Ambrose (Charlton Athletic), Stern John (Southampton), Freddie Sears (West Ham United, loan)
Out: Carl Fletcher (Plymouth Argyle), Scott Flinders (Hartlepool United), Paul Ifill (Wellington Phoenix), Shefki Kuqi (Koblenz), James Scowcroft (Leyton Orient), Rhoys Wiggins (Norwich City), John Oster (released)
Minimal additions at Selhurst Park, as Neil Warnock appears to be going back to the methods that propelled him and his early Scarborough and Notts County teams back in the 1980s and early 1990s. That involves building a side based on youth (the pick of which seems to be Lee Hills, Nathaniel Clyne and Victor Moses) that can stay and grow together, and mixing them with experienced heads. Long term building like this deserves reward – this season may be too early, but it should only be a matter of time.
8. Swansea City
In: Steven Dobbie (Queen of the South), Nathan Dyer (Southampton), Jordi Lopez (Queens Park Rangers)
Out: Chris Jones (Grimsby Town), Jason Scotland (Wigan Athletic), Owain Tudur Jones (Norwich City)
Paulo Sousa takes over from Roberto Martinez, and keeps faith with the vast majority of the squad. Scotland’s goals will be difficult to replace, but Dobbe has been prolific in Scotland and will hope to repeat the feat here. It is a large step up from Scottish Division One though, so it may take time, but Sousa will also need to bed in, considering it’s his first full season too. Upper mid-table, rather than play-offs seems likely.
9. Bristol City
In: David Clarkson (Motherwell), Dean Gerken (Colchester United), Paul Hartley (Celtic), Danny Haynes (Ipswich Town), Lewin Nyatanga (Derby County)
Out: Dele Adebola (Nottingham Forest), Izzy Iriekpen (Hamilton Academical), Michael McIndoe (Coventry City), Scott Murray (Yeovil Town), Jennison Myrie-Williams (Dundee United), Chris Weale (Leicester City)
Gary Johnson brings in new faces around the team, but most of the signings seem to be like for like swaps – Hartley and Haynes replacing McIndoe and Murray, for example. And, while none of the signings seem exceptional, the key to the Robins’ success since they returned to the second tier has been a good squad, rather than stand-out players, and that remains the case. The play-offs are achievable, but probably just out of reach.
10. Sheffield Wednesday
In: Tommy Miller (Ipswich Town), Darren Potter (Wolverhampton Wanderers), Darren Purse (Cardiff City)
Out: Kenny Lunt (Hereford United), Nathan Modest, Wade Small, Steve Watson (all released)
A year of growth seems the message at Hillsborough, as no forced sales, and the only additions are therefore to strengthen the squad. Potter makes his move permanent, while Miller and Purse both have many seasons under their belt. Upper mid-table, rather than play-off contention seems the key though, unless a striker can be added.
11. Cardiff City
In: Michael Chopra (Sunderland), Anthony Gerrard (Walsall), Mark Hudson (Charlton Athletic), David Marshall (Norwich City), Paul Quinn (Motherwell)
Out: Roger Johnson (Birmingham City), Paul Parry (Preston North End), Darren Purse (Sheffield Wednesday)
Johnson is a huge loss for the Bluebirds, and the release of Purse means that Cardiff need to rebuild as a defensive unit, especially with the addition of three defenders and Marshall in goal. The only signing going forward is making Chopra’s return from the North East permanent, and while Parry has seemingly lost his way of late, he’s not been replaced as a creative outlet as of yet. All in all, Cardiff shouldn’t see the play-offs as unreachable, but expect a slow start in the first season at the new stadium.
In: Matthew Mills (Doncaster Rovers)
Out: Alan Bennett (Brentford), Kevin Doyle, Marcus Hahnemann (both Wolverhampton Wanderers), Michael Duberry (Wycombe Wanderers),Scott Golbourne (Exeter City), Leroy Lita (Middlesbrough), Alex McCarthy (Yeovil Town), Graeme Murty (Southampton), Sam Sodje (released)
The Royals have taken a bit of a hit this summer, with no less than nine players departing, and the only arrivals being Mills and new manager Brendan Rodgers from Watford. With chairman John Madejski suggesting that more sales are needed, another promotion challenge is unlikely. But, the squad is young, and that will bode well for next season, as long as the majority stay together.
13. Leicester City
In: Astrit Ajdarevic, Jack Hobbs (both Liverpool), Wayne Brown (Hull City), Robbie Neilson (Heart of Midlothian), Dany N’Guessan (Lincoln City), Chris Weale (Bristol City), Richie Wellens (Doncaster Rovers), Martyn Waghorn (Sunderland, loan)
Out: Marc Edworthy (Burton Albion), Barry Hayles (Leicester City), Paul Henderson (North Queensland Fury), Patrick Kisnorbo (Leeds United), Billy McKay (Northampton Town), Bruno N’Gotty (released)
Nigel Pearson finally got chance to prove his worth by bring Leicester straight back up as champions. With most of the squad already having recent Championship experience, Pearson has been able to experiment with bringing youngsters such as N’Guessan and Ajdarevic in. The squad is enormous, so strength in depth won’t be an issue, but keeping everyone happy, may be a tougher proposition. A good first season back, and mid-table will be a healthy finish.
14. Derby County
In: Shaun Barker (Blackpool), Jake Buxton, Saul Deeney (both Burton Albion), Lee Croft (Norwich City), Dean Moxey (Exeter City)
Out: Liam Dickinson (Brighton & Hove Albion), Lewin Nyatanga (Bristol City), Mile Sterjovski, Andy Todd (both Perth Glory), Emanuel Villa (Cruz Azul), Claude Davis (released)
Time for Nigel Clough to show if he’s going to follow in his father’s footsteps. And the early signs aren’t promising. The squad is small, and the signings are uninspiring, but that was the case more often than not with Clough Senior. That said, the squad was large, but mediocre under Paul Jewell and Clough Junior has taken action in reducing it down to 20, and several other players told they can leave, and left off the squad list. If injuries bite, Clough could have a real job on his hands.
15. Peterborough United
In: Toumani Diagouraga (Hereford United), Lee Frecklington (Lincoln City), Tommy Rowe (Stockport County), Krystian Pearce (Birmingham City, loan)
Out: Shane Blackett, Mark Tyler (both Luton Town), Rene Howe (Lincoln City), Chris Westwood (Wycombe Wanderers)
Peterborough have retained their star players as they embark on their first season at this level in over a decade. Manager Darren Ferguson has kept to his signing policy of picking up young hungry players from lower divisions, as well as keeping an eye out for those on the fringes of bigger teams. The downside is that there is very little Championship experience amongst the squad, and the club are stepping into the unknown, but considering how they handled League One last year, they should survive, and at least chairman Darragh MacAnthony has proved that he will fund new purchases if needed.
In: Charlie Adam (Rangers), Billy Clarke (Ipswich Town), Jason Euell (Southampton)
Out: Shaun Barker (Derby County), David Fox (Colchester United), Stuart Green (Wycombe Wanderers), Marlon Broomes, Claus Jorgensen, Jermaine Wright (both released)
The Seasiders were goal-shy at times last season, and Ian Holloway has concentrated his efforts on improving the attacking options with Euell and Clarke both having experience up front and in midfield. Adam also makes his loan move permanent, and with changes like that, Blackpool can look to staying in this division for another season.
17. Plymouth Argyle
In: Kari Arnason (Aarhus), Carl Fletcher (Crystal Palace), Reda Johnson (Amiens), Kyle Letheren (Barnsley), Bradley Wright-Phillips (Southampton), Alan Judge (Blackburn Rovers, loan)
Out: Mathias Doumbe, Jermaine Easter (both ** ****), Emile Mpenza (Sion), Graham Stack (Hibernian)
Plymouth sank like a stone towards the end of last season, and Paul Sturrock has a job trying to improve the team and the confidence, and with no losses, and the addition of Wright-Phillips, the Pilgrims should just about manage to stay up, but it will be fraught.
18. Coventry City
In: Sammy Clingan (Norwich City), Michael McIndoe (Bristol City)
Out: Scott Dann (Birmingham City), Danny Fox (Celtic), Andy Marshall (Queens Park Rangers), Robbie Simpson (Huddersfield Town), Guillaume Beuzelin, Leon McKenzie, Kevin Thornton (all released)
Interesting times ahead at the Ricoh. Dann and Fox are important losses, and so far, just two signings with the money received, both of whom are midfielders. As a result, Coventry look weak at the back (in numbers as well as personnel), but in a better positioned to utilise their forwards as forwards, rather than as uncomfortable wingers, as has happened more often than not under Chris Coleman’s reign. If Dann and Fox don’t get replaced, however, it could be a long season for the Sky Blues.
19. Queens Park Rangers
In: Alejandro Faurlin (Instituto), Andy Marshall (Coventry City), Alessandro Pellicori (Avellino), Adel Taarabt (Tottenham Hotspur, loan)
Out: Lee Camp (Nottingham Forest), Jake Cole (Barnet), Jordi Lopez (Swansea City), Liam Miller (released)
A strange close season at Loftus Road. Jim Magilton arrives after a less than stellar run at Ipswich, and the signings are either unknown quantities or reserves. Considering the average lifespan of managers, it’s difficult to know how the club can expect any stability, or even how many other managers will want to step into Magilton’s shoes, should he go the same way as Paulo Sousa, especially if rumours are believed and Briatore is selecting the team and the transfers. On the pitch, up front, the options are few, and injury probe, and the back-up for defence is young and inexperienced, and with that blend, unless some midfielders are traded in or re-skilled, QPR could find themselves fulfilling Briatore’s philosophy of being of out the division within three years – just not in the direction he anticipated.
20. Doncaster Rovers
In: Quinton Fortune (Tubize), Byron Webster (Banik Most)
Out: Darren Byfield (Oldham Athletic), Gordon Greer (Swindon Town), Matthew Mills (Reading), Jason Price (Millwall), Gareth Taylor (Wrexham), Richie Wellens (Leicester), Tomi Ameobi (released)
Doncaster started last season, like they were justifying their relegation favourites tag, but a combination of attractive football, and eventually picking up some goals, helped propel them to mid-table. An effective signing here or there, especially up front would have helped Sean O’Driscoll’s team move on, but their only two additions are a little bit out of left field. Fortune has only played eight games in two seasons, and Webster has spent the last three seasons in the Czech Second Division or in non-league. Meanwhile the Keepmoat has been raided, as Mills and Wellens leave, and if Rovers can’t replace them, they will have difficulty staying up.
21. Scunthorpe United
In: Rob Jones (Hibernian), Michael O’Connor (Crewe Alexandra), Josh Wright (Charlton Athletic)
The Iron have kept all of their team from last season’s play-off win, but the new signings won’t make too much of an improvement. Jones has been coveted by a few Championship managers over the last couple years, but Wright and O’Connor are for the future. A struggle, unless they add to the squad.
In: Danny Graham (Carlisle United), Scott Severin (Aberdeen), Jure Traverner (Celje)
Out: Leigh Bromby, Lee Williamson (Sheffield United), Steve Kabba (Brentford), Tamas Priskin (Ipswich Town), Theo Robinson (Huddersfield Town), Alhassan Bangura (released), Mart Poom (retired)
More cost cutting at Vicarage Road sees the manager depart and the squad ripped apart again. Malky Mackay has a lot of goodwill from the fans, but will need more than that to keep the Hornets up. But then, that was said about Brendan Rogers and Aidy Boothroyd before him, so anything is possible.
23. Newcastle United
Out: Sebastian Bassong (Tottenham Hotspur), David Edgar (Burnley), Obafemi Martins (Wolfsburg), Michael Owen (Manchester United), Cacapa, Peter Lovenkrands, Mark Viduka (released)
Where to start? The only Championship club not to have made any signings over the summer. The wage bill is too high, no-one knows who the manager is, no-one knows if new buyers emerge, and it starts to reflect on the players, where an almost full strength side lost 6-1 to Leyton Orient. It’s a difficult one to predict, and with reports saying the club is losing £1m a week, any players that do go are unlikely to be replaced (even on loan) and that, unless a benefactor comes in, administration cannot be ruled out. If one does, then they could quite easily romp the division, but until then, exiting the division the other way is a more likely possibility.
In: David Preece (Odense), Onome Sodje (York City)
Out: Diego Leon (Las Palmas), Kyle Letheren (Plymouth Argyle), Heinz Muller (Mainz), Dennis Souza (Al-Sailiya), Marciano Van Homoet (released)
Minimal comings and goings at Oakwell, and the only upside is that some of the younger members of the squad, such as Jamil Adam and Reuben Noble-Lazarus are more experienced. That, however, won’t be enough to save them from the relegation dogfight, and Simon Davey may need to use the loan system to keep them in the Championship.