Category Archives: Football

Can You Coach Anybody?

That is the question being asked by the Nivea Great Football Experiment.

Nivea for Men have set out to find whether or not with England level coaching, physiotherapy and nutrition advice you can take an underperforming Sunday League team and turn their fortunes around.

Over six hundred amateur teams entered for the chance to have their whole regime changed by some seasoned professionals.

The winners were Ivory FC from Billericay in Essex, formed as recently as 2007, they finished 6th of the ten teams in the Brentwood Sunday League First Division last season, winning seven of their eighteen games.

So can the professionals turn them into title challengers?

A team from the FA led by former England player and manager Terry Venables have been working closely with the Ivory FC players over the summer as they prepare them for the coming season. Eighty Four capped Ray Wilkins and Sixty One capped Ray Clemence assisted by experienced FA coaches Rob Pithers and Nick Emery are getting the lads into shape, while they also have access to proper physiotherapy facilities and nutritional advice.

They may have lost 4-0 to a side made up of celebrities recently but the team have already shown vast improvements, and they will be hoping to put on a good show when they take on a team of ex-England stars at the end of the month.

I will be tracking the progress of the side here, so we can see how much of a difference professional expertise can really make…

Good Luck Ivory FC from georgeweahscousin.com!

Chris

Is Dan Seaborne Single?

That seems to be the question on many a googler’s lips, and one of many weird and wonderful search terms that lead people to this site.

Unfortunately for them, they will of course leave disappointed, I have no idea whether Seaborne is single or not, and this isn’t a lonely hearts site. What I do know, is that he maybe a centre half about to find himself in an incredibly unlucky position.

Signed from Exeter City in January 2010, he has largely played second fiddle to Radhi Jaidi as the man to partner Jose Fonte, and was often criticised for being less than cultured a player when he did deputise last season.

The start of this season though, has seen Seaborne given a run in the side alongside Fonte, starting all but the opening game so far. In fairness, his performances have come with mixed reviews, but what does seem clear is that they are much improved. Strong in the air, and pulling off some last ditch saving tackles, Seaborne has proved a few people wrong in the early stages of the campaign and has been part of a fantastic and record breaking start for the club, so it now seems a little unfair that everybody seems certain that the club needs to invest in a new defender.

They always use an old photo....

Ammer Jemal, Kasper Gorkss, and Liam Fontaine have been the names touted to come in at St. Mary’s, but I am not 100% sure we need them. In Seaborne and Aaron Martin we have two young centre halves chomping at the bit, and in a season opening that has seen just one unlucky defeat so far, haven’t really put a foot wrong.

I know that we should be constantly looking at improving the squad and perhaps Seaborne in particular may be a victim of the way we want to play possession football, with every man needing to be comfortable on the ball, but this is still England, and still the Championship and someone of Seaborne’s build, strength and ability will no doubt come in handy against particular sides. Personally I have always been a fan of having two centre halves of differing styles, one continental type, the other old fashioned English bruiser!

Whatever happens in the next twenty four hours, and whether a new defender is brought in or not, hopefully Dan Seaborne has a GSOH and WLTM the challenge head on…

Chris

The Difficult Second Podcast…

I was lucky enough to be asked back to be a guest on the It’s Round and It’s White podcast this week.

This time, Graham, Jamie and I discussed the start to the Premier League and Championship seasons (including Saints great start), the transfer window and Premier League legends.

Listen to me shamelessly advertise the availability of Jason Puncheon, celebrate the brilliance of Nigel Adkins and mention Gianfranco Zola’s massive face here

Zola. Premier League Legend. Massive Face.

Chris

Shilton or Flowers or Niemi or Davis?

“Football is a fertility festival. Eleven sperm trying to get into the egg. I feel sorry for the goalkeeper.” – Bjork

At Saints we have been pretty fortunate in goalkeeping terms, Peter Shilton was one of the top keepers in world football whilst playing at the Dell, Tim Flowers was often the hero during numerous Premier League relegation battles, Antti Niemi pulled off what looked like the impossible at times and Kelvin Davis continues to perform as the current number one.

But who is the top dog in the eyes of Saints fans?

Admittedly their is small amount of biased in the four I have chosen, based on the period I have been a Saints fan, so this is by no means an official decision, but as is the modern way, I thought the best way to decide this was to ask twitter.

I got a good response from the regular #saintsfc tweeters, including some suggestions that weren’t in my choice of four and I collated the answers. From fifty seven votes this was the final result:-

A victory for the ‘Flying Finn’ and my own choice. Niemi seemed capable of stopping anything, and was a key member of the 2003 cup run. As suggested by some of the older voters perhaps the use of a Social Networking site to collect the votes hindered Shilts somewhat, but I didn’t have the time to organise a postal vote, and as it happened it did end relatively closely.

Eleven per cent of the votes went to others, and some of the suggestions were an eye opener for me, Peter Wells was a popular choice with the over forties, Ivan Katalanic, Eric Martin and Paul Jones got a mention as did Kevin Miller for his seven game unbeaten run as keeper in 2006. Unfortunately not one person voted for Dexter Blackstock for his ten minute cameo against Newcastle in 2006.

So, in the eyes of the Saints tweeters, Antti Niemi is the true Southampton Number One. Do you agree? Should anyone else that played between the sticks have got a mention? Let me know.

Keep an eye out for more Twitter player votes in the near future!

Chris

Dedication’s what you need…..

…if you want to be a record breaker.

That is what Nigel Adkins is, on more than one occasion, and at a startlingly regular occurrence. Since taking the helm at Southampton, the history writers and record keepers have had their work cut out.

Currently on a run of ten consecutive league victories, dropping just four points from the last possible fifty seven, Saints under his leadership have won their first four league games for the first time in their football league history, and he simultaneously became the quickest Saints manager to reach one hundred points. He is currently on a 70% win ratio from his fifty games in charge, a staggeringly high number. So why when Adkins was appointed last year were Saints fans sceptical and underwhelmed?

Well, Adkins wasn’t and perhaps still isn’t a “name” and often us Saints fans can be guilty of thinking we are still a Premier League club who should be bringing in someone big, but also, Adkins footballing background lacks glamour, or for that matter much credentials. In terms of education, Adkins would seem well equipped, holding a degree in Sports Psychology from Salford University, but in football, rather ignorantly, bits of paper are often disregarded in favour of playing reputation.

Adkins, has a little known playing reputation. A goalkeeper for his local club Tranmere Rovers from 1983 to 1986 and then at Wigan Athletic until 1993, apart from a solitary season in the second division, he spent his entire football league career in the bottom two divisions. In 93, he moved on to Bangor City and the Welsh league, and was soon given the position of player/manager. Adkins led Bangor to two Welsh titles before changing tact in his career and pursuing his physiotherapy qualifications.

Adkins took the role of Physio at Scunthorpe United before eventually becoming their manager and the rest as they say is history. So why the scepticism from Saints fans, he has already proved it to be premature and won the Saints faithful round, but actually a look at some other managers should have taught us that football playing pedigree isn’t necessarily a key requirement to be a good manager.

A young Nigel Adkins heading for a bright managerial career. Picture courtesy of Tranmere Rovers Football Club.

In fact, we as Saints fans should feel pretty silly about our snobbery, as the manager who brought us the only major trophy in our history, Lawrie McMenemy had an even less remarkable playing career.

There is an argument that actually the top managers have come from the back of less successful playing careers. To be a good coach, you don’t need to have the the physical ability, but the ability to convey ideas, tactics and strategy. Whether you can play a ball to the right place at the right time, doesn’t mean you can’t instruct someone who does have that skill to do so. Some fantastic players have also had disastrous managerial stints, Bryan Robson, a great example. Of course there is no set rule to what makes a good manager and what doesn’t, but it is of course easier to get a head start in management after a high profile playing career, so for me it is, far more of an achievement for somebody that has to work their way up to be successful than someone who is handed a top job on a plate because of their playing days.

The most recent example of someone with big success in the coaching arena is Jose Mourinho, who along with the two other managers that have dominated the English Premier League, Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger, don’t have an international cap between them. The self titled “Special One” worked as an interpretor and backroom coach for years before bursting on to the scene with Porto.

Vanderlei Luxemburgo is widely regarded as the most successful coach in Brazilian football, and even found himself the manager of the national team, whom he led to Copa America triumph in 1999 and later as boss of Real Madrid, all this despite a non-eventful playing career.

Franz Beckenbaur and Mario Zagallo are in the minority amongst the World Cup winning managers, having also achieved such a feat as players. Take these two out of the World Cup winning alumni though, and the rest have less than one hundred international playing caps between them.

So why do some of the less successful players make such good coaches? Perhaps it is an added drive to succeed after not reaching the heights they might have liked in their playing days. There is definitely a case, that someone who has done everything they could as a player may have less hunger when that career ends, but like I said earlier, there is no set rule. Some players, successful or otherwise, just become students of the game, while others, no matter how well they can play it, don’t.

In Nigel Adkins, we very much have someone who became a student of the game, and now it is paying dividends, perhaps the next time we look to appoint a less glamourous named manager we will think twice before doubting them…

Chris

A Saint Amongst Them: Leicester City…

Saints head to the King Power Stadium this Saturday to take on high spending Sven Goran Eriksson’s Leicester City.

The former England manager has made nice use of the summer transfer window, bringing a virtually whole new team in, a clear statement of intent from the Swede, that promotion is the Foxes only goal this season.

Amongst the plethora of talent that Eriksson has assembled, two former Saints with differing fortunes on the South Coast could be in line to face their old club.

Matthew Oakley

A product of the Southampton Academy, Oakley is fondly remembered at St. Mary’s. The central midfielder made his debut for the Saints aged just eighteen in 1995 and went on to play over three hundred times for the club.

In his career highlight, Oakley was named in Gordon Strachan’s starting lineup for the 2003 FA Cup final, somewhere we might never have been had it not been for his Extra Time winner at the Den in a Fifth Round Replay. During this period of his career he was also touted for an England chance by many (of course it was Sven who didn’t pick him).

Having established himself over the years as a first choice and dependable midfielder, comfortable at playing the holding role as well as getting forward and creating attacks, it is no surprise to me that Southampton’s Premier League demise coincided with long term injury woes for Oakley, he played just seven times in the 2004/05 relegation season.

Oakley’s twelve year service at the club ended in 2006 after he rejected a new contract before signing for Derby County. It has always been a mystery to me why Oakley was never granted a testimonial with the club, although, it was rumoured that he was to have one in the 2006/07 season had he not moved on.

Oakley went on to captain the Rams in their promotion season, before heading off to Leicester City in January 2008, exchanging a Premier League relegation battle for a Championship one. The Foxes lost that battle, dropping to League One amongst the final day drama that saw Saints survive.

Oakley was named captain for the following season as Leicester romped their way to the League One title and remained a regular in the side during last season’s campaign. Whether or not he can fight off Sven’s new guard and retain it this season remains to be seen…

Oakley - a true Saint.

Opposition’s View:-

Leicester City fan Mike McCarthy from Foxblogger gives his thoughts on Oakley:-

“Some Leicester fans have just never got on with Matt Oakley. He’s never been the most exciting player but on his day he can still pull the strings in midfield (although one Guardian reporter’s description of him as ‘the Xavi of the Championship’ was perhaps overdoing it).

Oakley’s first team appearances have been limited to the Carling Cup so far this season, and with the wealth of midfield talent in the Leicester ranks it’s difficult to see how the former Saint will be able to force his way back into Sven’s plans. With one year remaining on his contract, we can expect Matt to be looking for another club next summer.”

Matt Mills

In contrast to Matt Oakley’s Saints career his namesake Mills spent very little time on the South Coast. Another product of the Academy, centre half Mills showed massive potential in loan spells at Coventry City and Bournemouth, and also in the few Championship appearances he made for the club. On the verge of establishing himself in the Saints first team, Mills’ head was turned by Manchester City in January 2006, former Saints boss Steve Wigley, alerting his new club to the young defender.

Having played for the Southampton first team just six times, the youngster headed off to Eastlands and the Premier League. Mills found first team appearances hard to come by with City though, and had to settle for loan spells at Colchester United and Doncaster Rovers (ironically dropping to a level below Saints) to get games. He eventually joined the Yorkshire club permanently in 2008 after securing promotion to the Championship.

He was to spend just one more season with Rovers though, before signing for Reading in the summer of 2009. This is where Mills really started to catch the eye, establishing himself as a solid central defender, and playing a major role in the Royals campaign last season that saw them reach the playoff final.

Sven was impressed enough with Mills to part with £5.5 million for him this summer.

Matt Mills showing his potential at Saints.

Opposition’s View:-

Mike gives us his thoughts on Mills:-

“It’s fair to say the jury is still out on Matt Mills. The huge fee Leicester payed Reading for the centre-half was beginning to look like an albatross around his neck. An (unfortunate) own goal against Rotherham in the League Cup and a poor performance against his former employers led Sven to drop his new captain to the bench after just two league games. A more assured display at Nottingham Forest, coupled with much less erratic distribution has calmed some fans nerves and hopefully Mills’ own.

Mills is part of a back five in which only Sol Bamba has survived the summer unscathed, so uncertainty at this stage of the season is understandable. Eventually Mills will need to take command and cajole his new colleagues into keeping more clean sheets, something Leicester have only managed against a toothless Coventry City so far. But if results don’t improve in the medium term expect a few reactionaries to point to his price tag and wonder why the defence isn’t producing the goods.”

Chris

A Saint Amongst Them: Millwall…

This is the first in what will be a regular feature on georgeweahscousin.com where I will take a look at any former Saints amongst the next opposition.

Danny N’Guessan

First up, is someone who is making a quick return to St. Mary’s this weekend having played for the club as recently as May.

The Frenchman didn’t make as big an impact as he might have liked after joining from Leicester City, making just seven appearances for the club, and not finding the net once. The winger come striker was still a valuable member of Nigel Adkins squad rotation system though and played his part in Saints promotion campaign, most notably in a man of the match performance at Exeter City.

Millwall makes it six English clubs for N’Guessan now, having also previously appeared for Scunthorpe, Lincoln and Boston United.

Whether or not he features on Saturday is as yet unknown as he has picked up a knock, but Millwall have started the season almost as brightly as Saints and N’Guessan himself has already bettered his Southampton record, netting the winner on his debut for the Lions at Home Park against Plymouth. Must like the South West!

From Saint to Lion - Danny N'Guessan.

Opposition’s view:-

Millwall fan Steve Hudson gives his lowdown on N’Guessan:-

“When Millwall fans were wondering over the summer who Kenny Jackett would bring in to replace Steve Morison and Neil Harris up front, several relatively high profile names came across the rumour mill. Craig Mackail-Smith, Ishmail Miller, Nile Ranger, Jordan Rhodes, and Rob Hulse were among the names out there. One name that did not come up at all until the day he signed was Dany N’Guessan. N’Guessan is a player that would start up front for a vast majority of Championship level teams, but at Leicester he is surplus to requirements. Coming to Millwall just two days before their Carling Cup tie at Plymouth, he was inserted into the starting lineup for that game and went and scored just 14 mintues in, with the eventual deciding goal in a 1-0 win.  He then played a role in Millwall’s 2-0 win over Nottingham Forest four days later. Although he picked up a hamstring injury in that game and is out for what is hopefully a short time, it’s clear that N’Guessan has the size and pace to be a force at this level if given the opportunity, something he wasn’t going to get at Leicester. Coming to a team relatively short of attacking options in Millwall, he will get that chance now.”

Chris

And What You Give Is What You Get…

It is an unusual position for a Saints fan to be looking down on the rest of the league after the opening two games. Notoriously slow starters, it is the first time Saints have won their opening two games for twenty three years.

But should we be surprised? Nigel Adkins’ tireless enthusiasm for the job, our relentless end to last season and the additions of some quality players in the transfer window screams of a professional and assured approach to the new campaign. On top of that Adkins focus on fitness, somewhere we seriously failed at the start of last season has clearly paid off, as our lean first team squad look sharp and hungry.

There will be a lot of talk about “momentum” and it definitely plays a part. Steve Grant pointed out on twitter today that Saints have dropped just four points from the last available fifty one, which is phenomenal form. Couple this with the fact that our promoted chums Brighton are keeping up so far, also winning both their games.

What we have at St. Mary’s though, that I believe to be the most important part is a “team” in the truest sense of the word. While Leicester spend big, buying lots of new players, Adkins approach has been to keep the core of last seasons successful side and add to it gradually. Jack Cork has come straight in, and his quality is clear for all to see, while the other new boys Steve de Ridder and Danny Fox look like they will have to be patient to break into what is, a so far this season, an excelling group. The loss of Alex Chamberlain to Arsenal, in the least shocking transfer move of the summer (although perhaps gazumped by Mr. Fabregas and Barca today) hasn’t had any negative effect whatsoever yet, and with de Ridder looking like a shrewd bit of business, there is a fair chance it won’t at all.

Jack Cork - Settling into his second St. Mary's spell.

There is much talk of new Strikers and Centre halves that don’t look like dying down anytime soon, but with the assured performances of Aaron Martin against Leeds, and Dan Seaborne at Barnsley, coupled with the resurgence of David Connolly up front, I am not sure we are “desperate” for players in any position.

While we can enjoy our 100% start, it is natural as a Saints fan to look for the catch. We simply aren’t used to a good start, and I for one have already scanned the fixture list for the first “back to earth with a bump” outing, and actually tomorrow night’s trip to Portman Road could be it. They are my outside tip for promotion and it will no doubt be a tough place to go. Paul Jewell is no mug at this level, and the acquisitions of Lee Bowyer and Michael Chopra make them an exciting looking team.

The opening two game winning side of 1988, did go on and win their third match to, so we aren’t incapable, but if we are looking for omens, Chris Nicholl’s class of 1988/89, Neil Ruddock, Barry Horne and co finished up 13th in Division One, and I would like to think we are aiming slightly higher than that. In better news, that season, of our current opponents, only Forest, Derby, Coventry and Millwall finished above us.

1988/89:-

West Ham United (h) 4-0

Queens Park Rangers (a) 0-1

Luton Town (h) 2-1

2011/12

Leeds United (h) 3-1

Barnsley (a) 0-1

Ipswich Town (a) ?

Whatever happens, we have already sent a message to the Championship old guard, that we haven’t come here to make up the numbers, and our destination is up.

If I never ever see you . Again….

Chris

My Podcast debut….

I made my podcast debut this week for the new Football Social Media Site It’s Round and it’s White , speaking with site owner and Wolves fan Graham Large and Norwich City blogger Jamie Grand about Technology in football, the current England side, the prospective British Olympic squad and England’s heroes, it was a thoroughly enjoyable experience.

So if you want to here me talk about the beautiful game, and bemoan the quality of the England team and Matt Le Tissier’s scandalous lack of caps Listen here

My one man campaign to get Le Tiss retrospective England caps hit's the podcast arena...

Chris

Championship Preview Part 4…

The Fourth and final instalment of the 2011/12 Championship season preview by the fans. Following on from parts one, two and three, the final six Championship fans give their opinion on how their clubs will fare…

Peterborough United:-

Name:- Steve Thorpe

Club:- Peterborough United

Twitter:- @Freekicks

Website:-  Freekicks Foundation

What can we expect from your club this season? Goals galore!! probably at both ends to be honest. Even with CMS gone we still have Boyd, Tomlin and McCann who all got double figures last season. Add to that Nicky Ajose who comes with a big reputation, we should score plenty. In pre season we have conceded an average of 2 a game, we do need to tighten up at the back! There is a great team spirit among the lads, hopefully that will pull us through!

Who is your most important player? Grant McCann the skipper and set piece king, his quality and experience is something we didn’t have at this level last time. Not just the goals he scores but he also got 13 assists last season, goals from set pieces will be very important I think.

Your predicted finishing position? 15th…we will flirt with relegation but save ourselves in February/March.

Who might win the Championship? I don’t think you can see past Leicester really, they seem to be getting quality in all over, if they can gel together as a team early on in the season, they could runaway with it.

Who definitely won’t? MK Dons (If you want a serious answer to this let me know).

Most anticipated fixture? Really looking forward to West Ham away, feels like one of those days similar to Newcastle two seasons ago when loads of Posh fans turnout. Although I hope it’s not the same result and fallout as that game!

Most anticipated fixture that doesn’t involve your club? Brighton v Hull….the Mac Attack on the same pitch again although on opposite sides. Both are great lads and deserve success and still loved by Posh fans.

If you could take one player from someone else’s club (Championship only), who would it be? Mackail-Smith! He is irreplaceable not just for the goals but mostly for his work rate and turning lost causes into chances.

You find yourself stuck in Sixfields. How do you escape unnoticed? Easy! Sneak one of those implements that kids use to split their lego up with and take out a few of the lego bricks from the main stand and Bob’s your Uncle, back on the A45 home!

Portsmouth:-

Name:- The Pompey Pages

Club:- Portsmouth

Twitter:- @pompey_pages

Website:- The Pompey Pages

What can we expect from your club this season? A promotion push is obviously the aim, but it all depends on how Steve Cotterill does in the transfer window between now and the start of the season as we’ve still got a tiny squad.

Who is your most important player? We had a number of key figures last season like Liam Lawrence, Hayden Mullins and Joel Ward and with David Norris, Luke Varney, Jason Pearce and Stephen Henderson all added to the ranks it could be any of them, but our money’s on Varney to light up the Championship next season.

Your predicted finishing position? Top 10 would be ideal however there are a lot of big and strong sides in the Championship next season so a promotion push will be tough. 

Who might win the Championship? Leicester have spent big and West Ham have got a lot of quality experienced players so I think it’s a two horse race to be honest.

Who definitely won’t? Southampton 😉

Most anticipated fixture? It has to be the South Coast derby home and away doesn’t it? The Pompey v Southampton rivalry is back on this season and with some big 4-1 victories over Southampton the last two games, both teams and both sets of fans will be well up for it!

Most anticipated fixture that doesn’t involve your club? I think Leicester v West Ham will be a big one. As I said, I think they’ll both be fighting for promotion and they’ve got some quality players.

If you could take one player from someone else’s club (Championship only), who would it be? Scott Parker’s still at West Ham isn’t he? He’d be pretty useful. Mind you we’re a bit desperate for another striker at the moment. I’d be quite keen on Charlie Austin or Jay Bothroyd to link up with Kitson and Varney. 

You find yourself stuck in St Mary’s. How do you escape unnoticed? That’s a tough one! To be fair I don’t think anyone caught in a Pompey shirt in St Mary’s is gonna be welcomed with open arms. Maybe use Joel Ward and his new found strength (following his conditioning trip to USA) as a bodyguard.

Liam Lawrence. Making a fist of it at Portsmouth.

Reading:-

Name:- Dan Wimbush

Club:- Reading

Twitter:- @thetilehurstend

Website:- The Tilehurst End

What can we expect from your club this season? I think we’ll be pretty solid this season, as we’ve (at the time of writing) retained the core of the side that did so well last season. A lot depends on whether Shane Long goes (and if so how much for) but I’m confident we’ll be in and around the play-offs again. 

Who is your most important player? Again depends if he’s still here but right now it’s Shane Long. The striker’s second half form turned us from a mid-table side to being 90 minutes from the Premier League and his goals will again be crucial. If he goes it’ll be up to Jimmy Kebe and Jobi McAnuff to provide some magic from the wings.

Your predicted finishing position? Right now I’ll say 8th.

Who might win the Championship? Hard to look past West Ham or Leicester right now. Big Sam’s bought wisely and is exactly the type of manager the club needs, while Sven’s been spending cash like mad (including our captain Matt Mills).

Who definitely won’t? Peterborough will struggle. The last time they were in this league they were so far off the pace and even last year they conceded goals for fun. Losing Mackail-Smith is a killer for them and it’s hard to see them surviving.

Most anticipated fixture? Trips to St Mary’s and the AMEX have been looked forward too most of the summer, while our games with West Ham usually entertain. 

Most anticipated fixture that doesn’t involve your club? Some real grudge matches in the league this year, Southampton v Portsmouth, Millwall v Leeds, Brighton v Palace, this division isn’t for the faint of heart this season!

If you could take one player from someone else’s club (Championship only), who would it be? Kevin Nolan. Nolan was fantastic as Newcastle walked the league two years ago and while not the most likeable player out there he’s a  terrific player.

You find yourself stuck in the Kassam Stadium. How do you escape unnoticed?  Quietly make my way to the end without a stand and sneak over the fence!

Southampton:-

Name:- Chris Rann

Club:- Southampton

Twitter:- @crstig

Website:- georgeweahscousin.com

What can we expect from your club this season? Attacking, free flowing, attractive football, quality soundbites from Nigel Adkins and a team on the ascendancy as opposed to the last time we were in this division. 

Who is your most important player? Adam Lallana. Since January all the focus has been on Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, but on the other wing we have a young player who is far more accomplished and far more important to the team. Lallana is a class act, and is liable to tear holes in your defence at the drop of a hat. When Lallana ticks we can beat anybody. Honourable mention for David Connolly too, IF he can stay fit, he is still a fantastic goalscorer at this level.

Your predicted finishing position? 10th. I think we are a couple more players away from being a real contender. So I might be a little bit more optimistic if the expected “two more signings” happen.

Who might win the Championship? The obvious answers are West Ham and Leicester, but I have got a sneaking feeling for Ipswich Town.

Who definitely won’t? I fear that Coventry City are going to be the next of the ex-Prem clubs to drop into the third tier.

Most anticipated fixture? Hmmm. Tough one, but I think I will have to say the two games against our poor relations down the road. They have trounced us the last two times we have played them, but this time we are on a level footing and the blue few have no longer got a team built on other peoples money.

Most anticipated fixture that doesn’t involve your club? I am quite interested to see what Nathan Tyson will do if he scores the winner against Forest…

If you could take one player from someone else’s club (Championship only), who would it be? Nicky Maynard from Bristol City. Fantastic striker, who I think would score bagfuls playing off of Rickie Lambert.

You find yourself stuck in Fratton Park. How do you escape unnoticed? I would open two packets of Scampi fries and put them in my pockets, draw an anchor on each forearm in biro, speak in a fake cockney accent and talk about nothing but “scummers”. This should see me blend in with the locals. Failing that, I will dress like the sheik from Cannonball Run and walk about with a bag labelled “swag”, the Fratton faithful will be so busy putting up “Welcome to Portsmouth” banners on the flyovers of the M27, I will be able to walk out unnoticed…

He plays on the left, he plays on the right, Adam Lallana, makes Messi look sh**e...

Watford:-

Name:- Mike Parkin

Club:- Watford

Twitter:- @rookerymike

Website:- From the Rookery End

What can we expect from your club this season? A low average age! As a result of the club’s precarious financial state, we were forced to field more of our younger players last year than we perhaps would have liked. We’ve made a few additions to the squad over the summer, noticably Chris Iwelumo, but we’ll still be relying on our array of Harefield Academy graduates. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing – they performed admirably last year, but the Championship seems incredibly competitive this year, big teams entering the division from both the Premier League and Division One, so they will need to deliver for us again. Whatever happens, a team managed by Sean Dyche is always going to give 100% so I’d be surprised if we didn’t provide a tough challenge for the majority of teams in this league.

Who is your most important player? Having said we’re largely dependent on youth, we do have a couple of experienced players. Cult hero Lloyd Doyley is entering his testimonial year, whilst fellow defender Martin Taylor is a vital part of our defensive unit. Our most important player is another man with experience – our captain John Eustace. Eustace is a born leader, barking orders on the pitch whilst crunching into tackles, breaking up play and kick-starting many of our attacking moves. The sort of player you hate playing against, but adore when he’s one of yours. The news that John Eustace had signed a contract extension was without doubt the best news of the summer.

Your predicted finishing position? If you’ve ever listened to me on the ‘From the Rookery End’ podcast, you’ll know that I’m not the most optimistic of souls! I do however think it’s fair to say that our single aim for this season is safety. If we can avoid relegation, it will have been a successful year and so anything above 21st will be god news as far as I’m concerned. We certainly have the talent to survive, but a good start to the season will be vital – especially with Sean Dyche entering his first season in management.

Who might win the Championship? Leicester City have been attracting a lot of attention with their eye catching activity in the transfer market, so I’d imagine they will be short odds. Will all the new signings gel though? I’m not sure. Their fans will expect a lot after all the investment, so their will be definite pressure on Sven and his team. Of the relegated sides I think West Ham United will be challenging, whilst Division One champions Brighton will be full of confidence after demolishing their opponents last year. I’d be surprised if they won it, but I can certainly see them making the play-offs. If you were to give me a fiver to back a winner, I’d go for Nottingham Forest. I think they have pulled off a master stroke in getting Steve McLaren on board, he has a wealth of experience and in getting rid of the permanently angry Billy Davies, I imagine the City Ground is already a more pleasant place to be. They get big crowds and have a decent squad – I’m going with Nottingham Forest.

Who definitely won’t? Birmingham City. Things are unravelling at an alarming pace at St Andrews and their fans will be hoping they can simply survive the season. They are losing players left right and centre and have seemingly have no funds with which to bring in replacements. It’s looking bleak for the blues.

Most anticipated fixture? Over the summer, most of our key players and staff departed for Wales. Danny Graham went to Swansea, whilst what felt like every one else followed Malky Mackay to Cardiff City. There was a lot of good will towards Malky after what he achieved in his time as boss at Vicarage Road, but this evaporated when he used his knowledge of contract situations at Watford to pinch Don Cowie, our influential midfielder, on a free. I think a lot of fans will be looking forward to the games with Cardiff and praying that we can prove to those that left they made a mistake. From a personal point of view I’m looking forward to visiting Brighton’s shiny new stadium and finding out first hand if they make good on their promise of lighting the away end in the colour of the visiting team. Intriguing!

Most anticipated fixture that doesn’t involve your club? I always enjoy watching the joys of the South Coast derby unfold – ideally from a very safe distance. With the Saints back in the Championship, I am looking forward to watching Southampton and Portsmouth do their thing. South coast neighbours Brighton also have their eyes on a tasty derby with long time rivals Crystal Palace, so that will be good fun to watch.

If you could take one player from someone else’s club (Championship only), who would it be? He’s actually got a lot to prove at Championship level, but he’s a local lad and is rumoured to be a Watford supporter, showing him to be of impeccable taste. He needs a haircut, but I reckon Craig Mackail-Smith would be a decent addition to any Championship side. It will be interesting to see how CMS does at this level.

You find yourself stuck in Kenilworth Road. How do you escape unnoticed? Very simple. I would simply explain that I am an official from the Football League and am therefore obviously very lost. I probably wouldn’t even need to explain; they have been non league for so long now, they simply wouldn’t recognise a supporter from a football league club! Bless their cotton socks.

West Ham United:-

Name:- Iain Dale

Club:- West Ham

Twitter:- @iaindalewestham

Website:- West Ham til I die

What can we expect from your club this season? A top two finish. Hopefully!

Who is your most important player? Kevin Nolan. If he can score his usual amount of goals then we can be very hopeful of promotion at the first attempt.

Your predicted finishing position? 1 or 2.

Who might win the Championship? Us!

Who definitely won’t? The others!

Most anticipated fixture? It’s certainly not Millwall. Maybe v Leeds?

Most anticipated fixture that doesn’t involve your club? Southampton v Portsmouth.

If you could take one player from someone else’s club (Championship only), who would it be? Shane Long.

You find yourself stuck in the Den. How do you escape unnoticed? Quickly get some extra tattoos…

Kevin Nolan is many people's pick to star this season.

Well that wraps up the 2011/12 Championship preview by the top club bloggers and tweeters. All there is to do now, is sit back watch the season unfold and see our optimism and predictions die before our eyes…

Chris