Fan Previews: Final Part

LUCAS Ball speaks to fans of six more clubs ahead of the new season. 

Reading: Simeon Pickup [@SimFromBucks]

What have you made of Reading’s summer business so far?

Encouraging. At time of writing, we’ve made four signings: Joao Virginia, Michael Morrison, Charlie Adam and Matt Miazga. Virginia and Miazga will be first-choice goalie and centre-back respectively, while Morrison and Adam bring plenty of experience to the defence and midfield where it’s needed.

We’ve also cut down the squad well, letting go of our out-of-contract players while also getting rid of Liam Kelly, Jon Dadi Bodvarsson and Marc McNulty. However, there’s still plenty to be done, with the likes of Chris Gunter, Adrian Popa, David Meyler and Garath McCleary all needing to be shipped out sooner rather than later.

Where do the Royals still need to strengthen?

In midfield and up front. We’re in real need of a quality ball-player in the middle of the park – someone like Lewis Baker who can dictate the play from a deep position, but also ideally another physical player so we’re not relying on Andy RInomhota too much. Otherwise a goalscoring striker is needed – as I’m sure it is everywhere, but we could use a wide player to give us more quality in the final third.

What system are you expecting Jose Gomes to employ?

A very possession-heavy 4-2-3-1 or something similar. After being more pragmatic and counter-attacking in his tactics last season, Gomes will now return to his preferred philosophy of dominating games through the ball – something we’ve seen come out in pre-season.

That’s typically done with a back four: one or two ball-playing centre halves and a pair of high full-backs. The midfield is interchangeable but will have at least one defensive anchor accompanied by several more technical players. Whether we have one or two strikers, they’ll typically be supported by wide players that cut inside rather than hugging the touchline.

Who will be your key men?

Andy Rinomhota and Liam Moore are likely to be the standouts. The first is an all-action, dynamic central midfielder who’s capable of both breaking up the play and driving forward to create attacks himself. Moore is the leader at the back – and now rightly captain. However, like many modern defenders, he’s as good as playing out as he is in guarding his own goal.

What are your overall expectations?

For the season to be one of transition. We’re still growing, still getting used to Gomes’ tactics and bringing young players through from the academy into the first team. Moulding all of that into a side that can perform regularly will be no mean feat, and could well take at least several months.

However, the mood around the club is great, the manager is trusted, the fanbase is unified and there are competent figures running the show behind the scenes. Putting them all together, the conditions are right for Reading to improve a lot this season and hopefully get at least a respectable mid-table finish of around 12th.

Sheffield Wednesday: Louis Paul Shackshaft [@LouisShackshaft]

What did you make of the whole Steve Bruce to Newcastle saga?

It’s been a nightmare. Initially, I wanted him to stay before the speculation that he was leaving grew. However, after his comments and handling of the situation I’m pleased to see him depart. We need a manager who is 100% committed to the cause.

It was a disappointing blow that has disrupted our pre-season but it has been handled immaculately by our chairman, Dejphon Chansiri. Let’s hope Bruce can forgotten about quickly and we can hit the ground running this season with a new manager in charge.

Who do you want to take over/expect to take charge?

Well, I really wanted Chris Hughton, but since he ruled himself out of the running it’s difficult to put your finger on a manager that has the credibility to do a great job, especially someone who is without a club, anyway.

I really hope that the chairman doesn’t make any rash decisions in appointing a new boss, I would rather Lee Bullen take charge until we find the right guy.

However, to answer your second question, it’ll be most likely Chris Coleman, Gary Monk, Gary Rowett or Tony Pulis, not that any of them would be my first choice.

What have you made of the club’s business so far this summer?

Great, so far. We’ve acquired Odubajo, Borner and Harris. They have all had a decent pre-season it seems and I’m sure a couple of those players will find themselves in the starting XI more often than not as the season gets under way. We have been linked with a couple of other players also, so let’s see what happens.

What other transfers need to be happen?

Another defender would be nice. Us Wednesdayites are praying for Hector on loan again from Chelsea, but the longer it lingers it’s becoming more doubtful.

We also have Josh McEachran on trial, so I suspect he may be offered a deal in the short-term future as a nice little squad addition on free transfer. Other than that, I don’t expect much more to happen, unless a couple of players are shown the exit door, if the price is right, that is. We could do with losing a striker.

Finally, what are your overall expectations for the season?

Determining our final league standing is such a lottery at this stage. As an Owls fan though, I have to remain positive and compare our squad to the other sides in the league. I would love to say sixth, and with the right man in charge I think we are capable of achieving this.

To be realistic though, without a ball being kicked, I’ll sit on the fence a little and say somewhere in the top half, most likely between sixth and 12th.

Stoke: Matt Dalgarno [@SCFC_Dalgarno]

What have you made of the club’s business so far this summer?

Stoke are probably doing the kind of business we needed to do last summer. Out, or on the way out, are the bad attitudes that have plagued us lately. In have come leaders, most of them captains or vice captains at former clubs. The players coming in are also suited to the system Jones likes to play but couldn’t last season. Nick Powell is probably the standout signing so far, a very good player at this level and for nothing represents some good business.

Do you expect Nathan Jones to enjoy success now he has put his own stamp on the squad?

I don’t expect anything where Stoke City is concerned, but I am hopeful. Jones has talked a lot about a process and to be fair to him we can see that starting to happen. You won’t find many Stoke fans that are bothered about the players he’s ‘bombed out’ and the players he’s bringing in are exactly what I was hoping for. They actually want to be here rather than a lot of our recent failed signings who seem to think they were doing Stoke a favour by gracing us with their presence.

Lee Gregory obviously signed from Millwall – are you happy with that deal?

It’s an interesting one. I’m not sure he will play the amount of games he did for Millwall in a season, Vokes and Afobe may well start the season as our front two and there’s a lot of talk about us making a move for another forward. That said, I like he look of him. His goal record is solid and with no disrespect intended, he’s done well in a team that’s been low down the table. I’ve heard all about his work rate which Stoke fans will love and I know he’s well liked by Millwall fans, which is always a good sign.

Is any more business expected?

Yes. We’ve seen local news reports claiming we’re trying to do a couple of ‘more difficult’ deals to complete our window. The two positions being a DM for the base of Jones’ diamond and a forward. There’s a general consensus of who the two names are that we’re looking at and if the club can get them over the line then it’ll be exciting times for us. But in all honesty the real issue will be getting rid of the mass of dead wood we still own.

What are your overall expectations for the season?

Ideally I’d like to see us in the mix for promotion but I think it could take a few transfer windows to really sort it out. I think top half and a push for the playoffs is a fair expectation given the squad we have. More than anything, I want to see us playing well and generating some kind of identity again with a obvious signs of progression and that we’re on an upward curve.

Swansea: Huw Richards [@huwrichards3]

Swansea probably finished about where most expected last season – but Graham Potter has since departed. How much of a miss will he be?

He seemed a terrible loss at the time, and may still be. He looked like pretty much our ideal manager, and not the sort of person who jumps rapidly to the next slightly-better thing, so his departure to Brighton also looked a judgment on the state and prospects of the club. But his successor Steve Cooper has made an excellent impression so far. The question over him is whether he can transfer evident ability as a coach at youth level to the adult game, but the early signs have been very good.

Daniel James has also been sold after being a key man last year – has any of that money been re-invested?

Insofar as that means money spent on transfer fees, no, and nor is it likely to be.  There is supposed to be a £30m funding gap, so the reported £15m fee for him takes a big chunk out. Nobody wanted to lose Dan, but even at our peak we lost players – Ben Davies, Joe Allen – when the biggest clubs came in, and we got what seemed a decent fee for him, which would not have been the case if he had gone to Leeds last January.

Jordan Ayew, who played well in our relegation year but destroyed all goodwill by not turning up for the following pre-season, has gone to Palace for £6m, also taking a biggish salary off the books. So the gap is being closed and if we can also get shot of his brother Andre, could be sorted. But we’re unlikely to see anything other than frees or loans

Are there still clear problems with the owners?

They have zero credibility with the fans, whose main debate is whether they are ill-intentioned or just hopelessly out of their depth. They were supposed to bring knowhow and extra investment, but have supplied neither. All of their money went to making the previous owners rich, and their reckless signing of players on Premier League money without any relegation clauses is the main reason for the funding gap. The way they bought the club alienated the Supporters Trust and, since they walked away from arbitration, looks headed for the courts.

At the same time I don’t see them as wreckers after the style of Bechetti at Orient, Hicks and Gillett at Liverpool or the clowns at Coventry. None of those would have appointed Trevor Birch, who so far looks a good choice as chairman. There’s no sign that they’re asset-strippers, not least because it would take pretty dumb would-be asset-strippers to buy a club that does not own its ground. So my take is that they’re clueless rather than malign, but that that counts as pretty favourable in the spectrum of Swans fan opinion shows how poorly they’re regarded.

Where do you need to strengthen?

Pretty much everywhere in terms of depth. Cooper seems to have a clear idea of his best XI, but will have, as Potter did last year, to show real ingenuity in switching players when we get injuries or key players lose form. A powerful midfielder to replace Leroy Fer and back-up at striker for Oli McBurnie look like priorities. Even without Dan we’ve still plenty of wingers, but they’re either aging or injury-prone. And it isn’t clear whether a chronic weakness at defensive set-pieces is a matter of organisation or personnel.

What are your overall expectations for 2019-20?

At a guess, more of the same. But that is a guess. One of the pleasures of the Championship is that it truly is what the Prem pretends to be and is not – competitive and unpredictable – which makes predictions a mug’s game. We spent most of last season sliding up and down a large and closely-contested mid-table, never quite in the running for the playoffs or in danger of going down, but knowing things wouldn’t have to be very different to make one or the other distinctly possible.

Whatever happens, we’re not going to spend much, so have to hope that Cooper can match Potter’s tactical ingenuity and ability to improve players by good coaching. Reasons for being positive are that we gave more playing time to young players last season than any other team in the top two divisions and also recaptured something of our old playing style. But if Cooper fails to adjust to the adult game or crucial players are lost – one worrying and entirely plausible possibility is that we’ll sell McBurnie to Sheffield United but fail to replace him anything like adequately – we could be in for a real struggle.

Clubs don’t stand still, so at some point we’ll either have to become serious contenders for a return to the Prem or risk sliding back into the lower leagues. But, while I may be talking to the wrong people, I didn’t meet a single Swans fan last year who missed being in the Prem. Almost everybody said it was the most enjoyable season since 2013-4, when we were in Europe. I’d be very happy with another season of bright, improving young players playing decent football, staying somewhere in upper mid-table and maybe having another cup run.

West Bromwich Albion: Simon Wilkes [@SimonJWilkes]

What went wrong for Darren Moore last season?

Darren Moore is one of my favourite Albion players of all-time, and many fans will agree with that assertion, so I was always happy to give him time. But I actually think the board got it right when they decided to sack ‘Big Dave’.

Yes we were fourth in the table, but our home form had been appalling in the run-up to the draw with rock-bottom Ipswich, and there were plenty of concerns about Moore’s management, especially in-game, when it seemed Graeme Jones had too much influence – and Moore was very indecisive regarding substitutions.

Jones had implemented a play-from-the-back style of play that suited Belgium – but not our playing squad, and after several self-inflicted errors gifted goals to opponents, you could see them lose faith in the style.

Albion’s fine first half of the season was more down to individual brilliance from Harvey Barnes and Matt Phillips – or predatory finishing from Dwight Gayle – rather than Moore’s management.

What have you made of the Baggies’ transfer business so far this summer?

I have been impressed, and there seems to be a real plan which is unfolding, as we are recruiting younger players who are yet to reach their peak and will potentially have excellent sell-on value in a few years’ time.

We have bolstered the spine of the team with a centre-back/defensive midfielder (Semi Ajayi), a creative midfielder (Filip Krovinovic), and a striker (Kenneth Zohore), while we have also sorted our right-back issue with the capture of Darnell Furlong from QPR. Mason Holgate played there last season but has returned to Everton.

We have sold Craig Dawson, Jay Rodriguez and Salomon Rondon for decent money so I expect there to be more new arrivals at The Hawthorns before the summer transfer window slams shut.

Are you excited by Slaven Bilic’s appointment?

I really am, as it’s great to have someone with a bit of fire in their belly in the hot-seat. Alan Pardew, Darren Moore and James Shan are all completely different managers to Bilic, who has pedigree at club and international level – and I’d imagine can be feisty in the dressing room.

Bilic has added Julian Dicks to his coaching staff, and after the first half in the friendly with Scunthorpe ended 0-0, the new boss apparently read the riot act – and we won 4-0.

I think Bilic has passion and leadership skills so is a good fit for us as a club – as The Hawthorns can be a fortress when the players and fans unite, like we did in the second leg v Aston Villa.

Where else do West Brom need to strengthen?

Ahmed Hegazi will miss the start of the season while he recovers from surgery, but Dara O’Shea deserves a first-team chance, so we’re fine in central defence as Kyle Bartley should flourish under Bilic’s tutelage.

Central midfield is well stocked now Rekeem Harper is staying put, and if Phillips also stays, I’d like us to add a left winger.

Our top priority should be signing a goalscorer, however, as there are question marks over Zohore and Oliver Burke, leaving Hal Robson-Kanu is our only senior striker.

What are your overall expectations for the season?

We still have an excellent squad for this division, and the teams coming down from the Premier League don’t fill me with too much fear. A top-six finish should be the absolute minimum target – but with a more signings on board, I think we should be looking at automatic promotion.

I’d also like us to take one of the cup competitions seriously and try to win some silverware.

Wigan: The Pie at Night [@pieatnight_wafc]

What have you made of Wigan’s transfer business so far?

Transfer business? What transfer business? We’ve signed David Marshall (a goalkeeper) and Antonee Robinson (who we had on loan last year) so we’ve not seen much development in the squad, particularly seeing that we lost our best two players from last season in Nick Powell and Reece James.

Losing Nick Powell will be a big blow – would signing Jamal Lowe counter that in your opinion?

Losing Powell is a massive blow for me. He might not always look that industrious but that’s simply because he doesn’t have to. Having a player who can control a game from midfield, who can create that spark and turn a match on its head, chipping in with goals when it matters is something that every manager dreams of. Powell is that type of player and they’re rare at this level.

That’s a lot of pressure to put on Lowe, who seems a different type of player altogether. He looks a more busy player who’ll look to come in from wide positions, something that may suit the manager and a good sized group of our fans more than Powell did, but we’re not exactly short of that sort of player and it may well be that Lowe has more competition for his place than people think.

Is Paul Cook still the right man for the job?

I’ve got two sides to this argument. Personally, I think the way Cook sets his teams up can be too negative and he’s over cautious in his approach to the game. But, equally, there are always going to be things I’d do differently with any manager and am happy for him to be judged by his record. He’s been in the job for two years and hit both key targets – to get us up and keep us up – so yes, he’s probably the right man.

However, with the new owners now looking to place their own stamp on things around the club, he may be under pressure to get things off to a good start, and I’m more worried about the names being thrown about (David Unsworth, anyone?) so, yes he’s definitely the right man.

What other business do the Latics still need to do?

Plenty, I suppose. I’m worried about a midfield without Powell, a central defence that looked shaky at times last season and where our next goal will come from. Oh, and cover all over the pitch.

Most of that is going to come from loan signings and it would be nice to see some of our youth players get a chance. Whilst we definitely have holes in the squad, I’d be happy if Cook came out and said now’s the time for the likes of Callum Lang to step up.

What are your overall expectations for the season?

I think we’re in for another difficult season. A lot will depend on the quality of signings between now and September, and hopefully we’ll have enough to consolidate further this year, but that may be a struggle. It will be interesting to see how the new owners hold their nerve if things aren’t going so well, but for now I have everything crossed for a good start to the season – which is ultimately what made the difference for us last year.

Image: Millwall FC