Tag Archives: Leeds United

Five players Saints should consider in January….

It’s always nice to have an outsider take a look at Saints, especially when things aren’t going as well as we’d like, so here is a guest post by 90 Digital on who Ronald might want to take a look at in January… N.B. This was written before Saturday’s defeat at Crystal Palace. – Chris

Southampton haven’t reached the heights of last year’s impressive campaign so far this season, and the recent 1-1 draw at home to Aston Villa will have only exacerbated existing frustrations. Having previously stated that he didn’t plan to do any business in January, manager Ronald Koeman may need to reconsider his options if the Saints are to make an impression on the top six markets.

Here are five names that could potentially be arriving at St. Mary’s next month:

Charlie Austin

Queen’s Park Rangers’ Austin will be on many managers’ wish-lists this year, with Southampton reportedly leading the race to sign the forward. In a relegated-QPR side, Austin netted 18 goals in the Premier League last term, meaning that he’s highly regarded by several top-flight clubs as a top goal scorer.

Koeman’s hand may be forced into going in for the striker, especially if one of his prize assets, Graziano Pelle, is poached during the window. But the Southampton boss will be confident that a bid in the region of £10 million would be enough to secure Austin’s services for a Saints team that has struggled for goals in recent weeks.

1411832059610_wps_29_Charlie_Austin_of_QPR_run

Andros Townsend

Things were looking very different for Townsend 12 months ago – he was a key member of Pochettino’s Tottenham side and his club form was rewarded in the form of England caps. But he’s been frustrated by a lack of playing time this season and he needs to leave White Hart Lane in order to resuscitate his international career, with Southampton a credible destination.

Koeman resisted going in for Townsend over the summer after Spurs put a £15 million valuation on the winger, but he’ll surely be available for less in January. Townsend is a direct runner and offers express pace, meaning that he’d certainly enhance Koeman’s offensive options, particularly if Manchester United target, Saido Mané, departs.

Giannelli Imbula

It would appear as if Koeman is preparing for the possible departure of Victor Wanyama in January, as Southampton have supposedly been monitoring midfielder Giannelli Imbula for a while. The 23-year-old only joined Porto in the summer, but is likely to be attracted by the bright lights of the Premier League.

The highly-rated Frenchman definitely wouldn’t be cheap, although after the sale of several big names in recent seasons, the South Coast club most probably have the cash available to them should they wish to pursue their man.

Giannelli-Imbula-Marseille

Solly March

21-year-old Solomon March has played a key role in table-topping Brighton’s success in the Championship this season, which had subsequently made him a target for local rivals Southampton.

Koeman has apparently had March on his radar for the last 18 months or so, and the youngster’s excellent form over the first part of this season is likely to have convinced the manager of his quality. The England U-21 winger has a price tag of around £7.5 million, however, which Southampton may consider to be too much of a gamble.

MARCH-SOLLY_3121081

Sam Byram

Another Championship star under Koeman’s watch is Sam Byram of Leeds United who the Saints actually failed to sign last summer. The 22-year-old’s head has seemingly been turned by recent interest from a handful of Premier League clubs after rejecting the offer of a contract extension at Elland Road.

Consequently, Byram has been given an ultimatum by boss Steve Evans to decide where his future lies. Southampton will believe that they offer the best place for his development and will be further seduced by Byram’s current contract situation, which could see him being pinched for a fee in the region of £6-7 million.

We shouldn’t expect the Saints to be too busy this January – they sit in a comfortable position in the league and are not plagued by a lengthy injury list. Yet Koeman’s transfer policy may be dictated by incoming bids for his own players, although he may have a better chance of keeping his stars by adding a couple of marquee signings to the squad.

2011/2012 GWC.com Awards results…

The phone lines are closed, the votes are in and a team of highly dedicated professionals have been counting them round the clock. georgeweahscousin.com is proud to announce the winners of  the inaugural 2011/2012 end of season awards!

Player of the Year

Received Votes:- Morgan Schneiderlin, Jack Cork, Frazer Richardson, Danny Fox, Kelvin Davis, Aaron Martin.

3rd:- Jos Hooiveld.

2nd:- Adam Lallana.

And the winner, capping off an amazing season, the Championship top goalscorer Rickie Lambert!

2011/12 gwc.com Player of the Year – Rickie Lambert

Most Improved Player

Received Votes:- Adam Lallana, Jos Hooiveld, Billy Sharp, Rickie Lambert, Danny Fox, Kelvin Davis, Danny Butterfield, Guly Do Prado, Dean Hammond, Aaron Martin, Jose Fonte, Richard Chaplow.

3rd Place:- Jack Cork.

2nd Place:- Frazer Richardson.

And the winner, whose importance to the side was shown when he was out injured for a while Morgan Schneiderlin!

2011/12 gwc.com Most Improved Player – Morgan Schneiderlin

Unsung Hero

Received Votes:- Jos Hooiveld, Billy Sharp, Frazer Richardson, Andy Crosby, Kelvin Davis, Danny Butterfield, Tadanari Lee, Guly Do Prado, Dean Hammond, Richard Chaplow, Jose Fonte, Nigel Adkins, Radhi Jaidi.

3rd Place:- Danny Fox.

2nd Place:- Morgan Schneiderlin.

And the winner, filling in all over the middle of the park and back four Jack Cork!

2011/12 gwc.com Unsung Hero – Jack Cork.

Signing of the Season

Received Votes:- Danny Fox, Tadanari Lee.

3rd Place:- Jack Cork.

2nd Place:- Billy Sharp.

And the winner is, the man who instantly became a cult hero on and off the pitch, with battling defensive displays and some midweek winners Jos Hooiveld!

2011/12 gwc.com Signing of the Season – Jos Hooiveld.

 Performance of the Season

Received Votes:- Leeds Away (Team), Fonte v Coventry (Home), Birmingham Home (Team), P’Boro Away (Team), Millwall Away (Team), Coventry Home (Team), Forest Away (Team), West Ham Away (Team), West Ham Home (Team), Guly Do Prado v Coventry (Away), Rickie Lambert v Watford.

3rd Place:- Ipswich Town Away (Team).

2nd Place (Joint):- Leeds Home (Team), Middlesbrough Home (Team).

And the winner, one of the most ridiculous clean sheets in football history, making save after save Kelvin Davis v Leeds (Away)!

2011/12 gwc.com Performance of the Season – Kelvin Davis

The Ali Dia Award for Comedy Moment

Received Votes:- Performance against Leicester at home, Fonte Penalty v Brighton, Guly tripping over on TV, Dean Hammond F-Bomb on BBC, Lallana dive v Pompey, Billy Sharp Open Goal v West Ham, Jos Injuring himself celebrating, Leeds Attack v Davis, Billy Sharp celebrating v Pompey, Jos Boxhead campaign, Defending v Pompey, STEEEEEVE, Matt Taylor sending off v West Ham, Nigel’s Arousal Speech, Tadanari Lee goal celebration, Aaron Martin Open Goal v Forest, John Pantsil falling over trying to defend against Lallana, Jos Celebration v Coventry, Fat Sam Allardyce.

3rd Place:- Pompey’s Season/Relegation.

2nd Place:- Nigel Adkins tripping over the water bottles v Blackpool.

And the winner, something I’m sure he won’t be happy about, doing his best Massimo Taibi impression v Blackpool Bartosz Bialkowski!

2011/12 gwc.com Ali Dia Comedy Moment Winner – Bart Bialkowski

Best Opposition Player at St. Mary’s

Recieved Votes:-  Kevin Nolan, Billy Sharp, Ricardo Vaz Te, Robert Koren, Kevin Phillips, Stephan Dobbie, Nicky Maynard, Kasper Schmeichal, David Nugent, Chris Maguire, Robert Snodgrass, Scott Allen, Jamie Ashdown, Neill Danns, Liam Trotter, Wilfred Zaha, Darius Henderson, Joshua King, Jason Scotland, Peter Whittingham, Robert Green, Ian Harte.

3rd Place (Joint):- Adam Le Fondre, Adam Federici, Albert Adomah.

2nd Place:- Matt Phillips.

And the winner, very much part of Reading’s relentless pursuit of the Championship summit, and at his devastating best at St. Mary’s Jason Roberts!

2011/12 gwc.com Best Opposition Player at St. Mary’s Winner – Jason Roberts.

Best Opposition Team at St. Mary’s

Received Votes:- Bristol City, Hull City, West Ham, Forest, Cardiff.

3rd Place:- Blackpool.

2nd Place:- Leicester City.

And the winners, taking all three points with a ruthless lesson for Saints in taking chances  Reading!

2011/12 gwc.com Best Opposition Team at St. Mary’s Winner – Reading.

Best Opposition Fans at St. Mary’s

Received Votes:- Leeds, Reading, Hull City, Millwall, Ipswich Town, Bristol City, Cardiff, Forest.

3rd Place:- West Ham United.

2nd Place:- Portsmouth.

And the winners, loudly supporting their team to the bitter end on final day and staying behind to enjoy the Saints celebrations Coventry City!

2011/12 gwc.com Best Opposition Fans at St. Mary’s Winners – Coventry City.

So that concludes the first gwc.com end of season awards! I shall look forward to compiling them again this time next season in what will be the first Premier League Edition!

Watch out on the site over the coming weeks for a Season review and a Premier League preparation special!

Thanks,

Chris

A Royal Visit…

No game this season has been or is likely to  be as big as this.

Just nine goals separate Saints and Reading, and both have a six point advantage over third placed West Ham. There is just four games left to play and on Friday night they face each other.

Realistically, both sides need seven points (six for Saints with their goal difference) from their remaining four fixtures to book a return to the big time so Friday’s match gives both an opportunity to both make a major dent in that and take the advantage in the race to be Champions.

Reading have been on staggering form after a shaky start, and Saints have been in the top two all season. This really is a case of “the unstoppable force against the immovable object”.

Reading have a few players either injured or recovering when they visit St. Mary’s, and Saints will be without playmaker Morgan Schneiderlin, but hopefully this game will live out to be the spectacle that it deserves.

I caught up with Dan from top Reading blog The Tilehurst End and asked him a few questions about the big match:-

So this is the big one, how do you feel it will go?

“It’s weird because for ages this is the game I’ve been most confident about. I thought we’d get a draw at West Ham and get beat at Brighton before nicking a win at your place. Now that we’ve got 5 more points than I thought I’m suddenly more nervous! 

While Tuesday night was a great win it was very much a backs to the wall effort (a bit like your win at Leeds a while back!) and we very much felt the impact of having our first, second and third choice central midfielders out injured (Cheers Colin & Leeds….) . Jem Karacan is out for the season while Mikele Leigertwood and Jay Tabb are both doubts for Friday’s game and without at least one of those back to partner Hayden Mullins we might well struggle to contain you.

Beyond that, with the likes of Lallana, Sharp and Lambert you’ve got the ability to punish us but our defence have risen to just about every challenge so far and I hope they will do again.

I wouldn’t rule out us going and winning 2-1… but my sensible head says 1-1.”

After a less than impressive start, your turnaround has been amazing, what changed?

“Losing at Wembley + No Money + Selling our captain & top goalscorer = a bad Reading side to start the season. 

Losing Matt Mills and Shane Long was always going to be difficult, especially when those are sales to survive rather than to generate funds for new signings. On top of that, some of the team that did so well at the end of the previous season came back injured or just plain out of form. Ian Harte, Jem Karacan and Mikele Leigertwood were all horribly out off the pace and there just seemed a malaise around the place. 

But before the end of the month Brian signed the likes of Kaspars Gorkss, Adam Le Fondre and Joe Mills and we slowly started to grind out some results. We were looking like staying in the play-off race at Christmas but a modest advance of funds from our prospective new owners allowed us to sign the likes of Jason Roberts in the January window and with him we’ve never looked back. Suddenly we had the striker we needed to play 4-4-2 effectively and him, a rejuvenated Ian Harte and rock solid back pair in Pearce and Gorkss have enabled us to be the best side in this league in 2012.”

Jason Roberts has proved a potent force as Reading charged up the table.

Who do you fear in the Southampton side?

“As mentioned it’s hard to look past Lambert, Lallana and Sharp. Some Reading fans have branded you as Lambert FC but it’s clear you’re capable of scoring from all over the pitch and can punish any lapse in concentration. The game at the Madejski last year was clear proof of that, as a Reading side seemingly in control was undone by switching off for a moment at a set peice. You’re top of the Championship for a reason and we won’t be underestimating anyone.”

Your the boss, how do you lineup the side to beat us?

“Without knowing who will and won’t be fit it’s a bit of a nightmare! Based on who MIGHT/HOPE will be fit I’d stick with the tried and tested 4-4-2 that has done us so well this year. 

          Federici

Cummings   Pearce  Gorkss    Harte

Kebe     Leigertwood   Tabb/Mullins   McAnuff

         Hunt        Roberts

Our gameplan is based on soaking up pressure, with our central midfielders sitting deep and winning the ball to release Kebe and McAnuff, or getting it up to Hunt or Roberts to flick on from one another. It’s quite scary to watch as often we’re happy to give the oppossition the ball in our half but we seem to have a lot of control and patience and even going behind doesn’t phase us.

Howevert, with the injuries we have we had to play a bit of a 4-5-1 on Tuesday night so you could well see Cywka, Mullins and McAnuff as the midfield trio with Kebe and Hunt winging it and Roberts up front Solo.”

How will the top 3 look after the last game of the season?

“Hoping it’s 1. Reading   2.  Southampton  3. West Ham.

If I wasn’t a Reading fan I’d have to fancy West Ham to totally implode. Their players looked as if they won the cup when they sneaked a late equaliser against Brum so it was great to knock the stuffing out of them with a win at the AMEX on Tuesday. If Friday ends in a draw as I’m predicting, Reading should hopefully dispatch Forest and Palace while I think Boro could nick a draw off you. That would mean a winner take all final day and in those circumstances I think we can beat a Brum side who will have 1 eye on the play-offs.”

I was happy to return the favour for Dan, read my responses to his questions here.

Chris

A Saint Amongst Them: Leeds United

Top of the table Saints head to West Yorkshire on Saturday to take on Leeds United in front of the cameras, and not only will there likely be a former Saints player on the Elland Road’s sides bench, but also a Saints fan….

Maik Taylor

The German born, Northen Ireland international goalkeeper Taylor started his semi-professional footballing career while still serving in the British Army. Stationed in Hampshire he represented Petersfield and Basingstoke Town’s respectively before joining Farnborough Town where he was part of the team that won the Southern League Premier Division in 1994.

It was while playing for the now defunct club that he was spotted by League Two Barnet and was given his first professional contract. His performances at Underhill soon meant he was destined for greater things, and just a season and a half later he was heading back to Hampshire and the Premier League.

Graeme Souness was the man who took the gamble on the lower league keeper, signing him in the January of 1997 for a fee of £500k. He replaced the ageing Dave Beasant and soon had the fans on his side with some impressive shot stopping, representing the club he had supported as a child. Saints fans finally felt like they had their replacement for Tim Flowers, albeit somewhat late.

Maik Taylor in international action.

Sadly for Taylor, Souness was to leave in the summer, and despite Taylor’s proficient displays the Scotsman’s replacement Dave Jones bought his namesake and number one from Stockport County with him.

Paul Jones was immediately installed as first choice and Taylor had to make do with a place on the bench, a victim of a rare season in Saints history where they had two good stoppers in one season! Taylor headed for Kevin Keegan’s Fulham on 17th November 1997 for £800k, surprisingly dropping to the second division. After nearly 200 appearances for the Cottagers and two league titles he moved on to Birmingham City. He also established himself as the first choice goalkeeper for Northen Ireland gaining 88 caps between 1999 and 2011.

He signed for Leeds United in Novemeber 2011 and recently had his contract extended to the end of the season, now aged 40.

Chris

Saturday Night’s Alright (For Fighting)…

Since Sky television made it’s presence felt in the world of football broadcasting, the traditional Saturday three pm kick off time has become less set in stone. Particularly in the Premier League, but also in the Football League, fans will find their clubs kick off times changed to suit the demand for television viewing.

In the Football League they have an allocated slot of twenty past five on a Saturday afternoon, so Sky Sports can instantly hook the viewers of the ever popular Soccer Saturday straight into another ninety minutes of action.

Saints took part in one of the most entertaining of these fixtures on this weekend a year ago, Nigel Adkins’ men travelled to London Road to take on Peterborough United and played out a 4-4 draw in front of the cameras. Richard Chaplow, Rickie Lambert (2) and Dean Hammond giving Saints 0-2 and 2-4 leads before a second Posh equaliser deep into injury time.

Richard Chaplow celebrates his opener at London Road.

As fate would have it Saints head to a St. Andrews tonight (weather permitting) for the Sky evening fixture in what looks to be a difficult game against a Birmingham side in devastating form.

So how do Saints fare in these games? Better than you might think.

We have a notion that we are poor in front of the Sky camera’s, but our record in the Saturday 17:20 fixtures is pretty reasonable. Losing just two of their eight games since entering the Football League in 2005 (both coming in the ill fated 2008/09 Championship relegation season), what Saints do seem to guarantee at this kick off time is goals. Of those eight fixtures there has been an average of 3.25 goals in the game!

Saints in fact, opened their time in the Football League in one of these fixtures, a goalless stalemate with Wolverhampton Wanderers at St. Mary’s on the 6th August 2005.

They didn’t feature again until the 27th October 2007, where goals from Bradley Wright-Phillips, Jason Euell and Stern John saw Saints beat Burnley at Turf Moor by three goals to two.

What followed was a disastrous season in Saints history and it coincided with the two 17:20 defeats. A crushing 1-4 loss at the Ricoh Arena was soon followed by a 0-1 home reverse by Bristol City. Not overly surprising in a season that saw Saints record just ten league wins.

Last years goalfest in Cambridgeshire was next and then in the following month Saints took to the St. Mary’s pitch for an evening kick off again for a 2-0 win over Sheffield Wednesday, Rickie Lambert and Jose Fonte securing the points.

Saints opened this season as they had their first in the Championship, at home in front of the cameras for the evening kick off. Dean Hammond, Adam Lallana and David Connolly netted to give Saints the best possible start, convincingly beating Leeds United 3-1.

Saints not shy for Sky on opening day.

Saints were less convincing at the Madejski Stadium in October, Steve de Ridder rescuing a point with a late leveller against Reading.

Southampton Saturday 17:20 kick off record:-

Played – 8

Won – 3

Drawn – 3

Lost – 2

Goals For – 14

Goals Against – 14

Incidentally today’s opponents Birmingham City’s record in these fixtures is P 5 W 1 D 2 L 2 GF 5 GA 5.

What do these statistics prove? Well not a lot really, other than in terms of form they don’t make a hell of a lot of difference!

With West Ham playing in the other television spot, kicking off at half past twelve against arch rivals Millwall, Saints will get started at St. Andrews knowing what they have to do. Let’s hope they give the performance of the weekend! COYR!

Chris

A Saint Amongst Them: Blackpool

Saints host the Seasiders this Saturday and will be looking for a repeat of last season’s FA cup tie. While Saints home form has been the definition of consistency, the Tangerines have struggled on the road, with only a notable 0-5 victory over Leeds at Elland Road and an opening day defeat of Hull City in the win column.

With a few changes of personnel from their Premier League adventure last season, Blackpool will come to St. Mary’s with some familiar faces on board…

Stephen Crainey

Scottish international Crainey had a brief and unspectacular spell at St. Mary’s in 2004. Signed from Celtic by countryman Gordon Strachan shortly before the manager departed, the full back struggled to adapt to the Premier League. The full back made just five first team appearances in his time at St. Mary’s and left for Leeds on loan the following August which soon became a permanent arrangement.

Sadly, the lasting memory of Crainey for Saints fans will be his surprise selection (after Michael Svensson was injured during the warm up) and subsequent poor performance at Fratton Park in the March 2004 defeat.

Crainey joined Blackpool in the summer of 2007 and has been a regular at Bloomfield Road ever since.

Crainey at Saints.

Kevin Phillips

Evergreen striker Phillips’ association with Saints goes as far back as the early nineties when he was a youth player with the club and cleaned future England strike partner Alan Shearer’s boots!

Phillips didn’t make the grade at the Dell though and was released by the club where he had been used as a right back in 1992. Eleven years later, it cost Saints £3.5 million for Gordon Strachan to bring him back to the club after impressive goalscoring spells at Watford and Sunderland respectively.

Despite not quite hitting the same form as he did with his previous clubs Phillips still weighed in with an impressive amount of goals, especially considering the unrest at the club during a turbulent period in Southampton’s history. As Saints headed for the relegation trapdoor in 2004/05 Phillips still managed ten league goals, but never quite won the St. Mary’s fans over. Alleged comments in the media about the club and city following his departure to Aston Villa that summer make him an unpopular figure with the Saints crowd.

Phillips signed for Blackpool in July this year via West Bromwich Albion and Birmingham City and now aged thirty eight already has five league goals this term.

Brett Ormerod

“They’ve got Brett Ormerod, They’ve got Brett Ormerod…”

In stark contrast to fellow striker Phillips, Lancashire born Ormerod was never heavily amongst the goals in a Saints shirt, but was very much loved by the fans.

After an impressive goalscoring record in his first spell at Bloomfield Road, Gordon Strachan bought the energetic forward for £1.75 million in December 2001. After taking a little while to establish himself Ormerod started to form a lethal partnership with James Beattie, his tenacity and energy complimenting Beattie’s ability to be in the right place at the right time.

It was this partnership that was tantamount to the 2003  FA Cup run that saw Saints reach the final. Ormerod’s man of the match performance in the Semi Final against Watford was a memorable highlight for both player and fans.

The arrival of Phillips the following summer saw Ormerod’s chances with the first team limited and he ended up going to Leeds on loan in 2004, and seven months later had another loan spell, this time with Wigan Athletic. The club’s relegation to the Championship saw Ormerod back in favour, but with goals hard to come by he eventually left the club for Preston North End in January 2006.

The scruffy but uncomplicated striker names his time at Southampton as the best of his career and left the club with as many fond memories as he left the fans.

Ormerod returned to Bloomfield Road in 2009 and back to the Premier League with them last season.

Ormerod the Saint.

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

Championship Preview Part 3…

Following on from parts one and two, six more Championship fans give their thoughts on the forthcoming season…

Ipswich Town:-

Name:- Lewis Mitchell

Club:- Ipswich Town

Twitter:- @lewismitchell87

Website:- Lewis Mitchell.com

What can we expect from your club this season:- Your guess is as good as mine! Paul Jewell has brought in some excellent signings for this level, but it is all about ensuring they gel quickly and play as a unit. I’m confident we have much to look forward to under Jewell, but it may take time to build a winning mentality after a number of years accepting mid-table obscurity.

Who is your most important player? I think it’s safe to suggest Michael Chopra will be our talisman this season. If he can approach anywhere near the 25-goal mark we will be having a decent campaign. ‘Chops’ has had a very good pre-season so we’re all hoping he will hit the ground running at Ashton Gate.

Your predicted finishing position? 6th. Possibly letting my heart rule my head but I think we can just about sneak into the playoff mix this season.

Who might win the Championship? I don’t think you can look much beyond West Ham and Leicester. Both sides have chucked around considerable sums of money and have top flight experience that will prove crucial in the bigger games.

Who definitely won’t? Peterborough are operating on the smallest budget in the division and don’t seem to have learnt about fielding a side lacking in Championship experience.

Most anticipated fixture? For personal reasons I am looking forward to our duels with Peterborough, although some revenge at Upton Park for our semi-final playoff defeats in the Joe Royle era would be nice!

Most anticipated fixture that doesn’t involve your club? Tough one – I guess it will be interesting to see how many fans make it onto the pitch this time between Millwall and West Ham!

If you could take one player from someone else’s club (Championship only), who would it be? Jimmy Bullard. An enigmatic figure in our side whilst on loan last season and pre-season performances suggest we are desperately missing his creativity in the final third.

You find yourself stuck in Carrow Road. How do you escape unnoticed? Find the nearest exit and run for the hills! (And shower to cleanse my sins)

Leeds United:-

Name:- Lee Condron

Club:- Leeds United

Twitter:- @dirtyleedsblog

Website:- Dirty Leeds Blog

What can we expect from your club this season? It’s difficult to say at the moment. Sections of the White Army would have you believe that we’ll be tumbling back into League One come the end of April but I think somewhere around the middle is likely with the current squad (27th May). Signings, or the lack thereof, have done little to lift the mood of missing out on the Play-offs last year with a dreadful run of form in the final month.

Who is your most important player? You’d have to say it’s a toss up between Luciano Becchio and Max Gradel. The pair scored a combined 38 goals last season. I’ll go with Max as his 18 goals came from midfield and with Becchio set to miss the start of the season, we’ll need him more than ever.

Your predicted finishing position? Again, difficult to say at this stage. I don’t think we over-achieved last year, so you’d have to say anything less than Play-offs is a disappointment. But to answer the question – 9th.

Who might win the Championship? You’d have to say Leicester, given all the cash they’re throwing about. Although they’ll soon realise that Kasper Schmiechel isn’t quite as good as the name suggests… West Ham seem the other obvious shout I suppose.

Who definitely won’t? Any team that finished in the bottom half last season, the likes of Derby, Doncaster, Crystal Palace etc. Ipswich might be a dark horse though…

Most anticipated fixture? Erm… We don’t have many local derbys now the Sheffield clubs have fallen into oblivion, and Huddersfield Town bottled the Play-off Final. My favourite place to go is Turf Moor because we usually win, and it’s local to me, so I’ll go for that – Burnley v Leeds United. (A repeat of last season’s comeback from 2-0 down would be great!).

Most anticipated fixture that doesn’t involve your club? West Ham v Millwall, just for the comedy factor of watching Burberry clad, Danny Dyer wannabes go to war. “Pwopa Nawty!”

If you could take one player from someone else’s club (Championship only), who would it be? SHANE LONG – I think he’d be a perfect compliment to Luciano Becchio. We’ll probably sign him in about 8 years time when he is knocking about on a free, but we’ll still haggle on the wages!

You find yourself stuck in Old Trafford. How do you escape unnoticed? Sit silently in my seat, staring glumly at the pitch. Occasionally grumble when a pass goes astray but at no point would I break into song. If Manchester United are losing I could safely file out of the ground after 65 minutes with the rest of the idiots. 75 minutes if they’re playing well. I’d keep a prawn sandwich about my person as an alibi, just in case I’m rumbled.

The Leeds faithful will be hoping to see more from Gradel & Becchio.

Leicester City:-

Name:- Mike McCarthy

Club:- Leicester City

Twitter:- @foxblogger

Website:- Foxblogger

What can we expect from your club this season? Going by the noises coming from Sven and the owners, a push for the automatic promotion places and nothing less.

Who is your most important player? Matt Mills has the responsibility of marshalling a new defence which should concede far fewer than the 71 goals it managed last season.

Your predicted finishing position? 2nd.

Who might win the Championship? Hardly original, but West Ham should be strong enough to take the title.

Who definitely won’t? Coventry City, perhaps the best they can hope for is a positive goal difference for the first time in eight seasons.

Most anticipated fixture? Forest away in August should be a cracker with two promotion contenders and two former England managers going head-to-head, but the idea of a promotion party at Leeds..oh my!

Most anticipated fixture that doesn’t involve your club? Southampton against Portsmouth should be pretty tasty. The rematch of the 2010 Playoff Final between Cardiff and Blackpool will be one for the purists, that would be my choice if you’re going to force me to pick just one.

If you could take one player from someone else’s club (Championship only), who would it be? I’d love to have Shane Long, but it looks like that boat has sailed.

You find yourself stuck in the City Ground. How do you escape unnoticed? Perhaps by having a rant about how the club aren’t investing and making envious remarks about certain neighbours ‘buying the league’. Not so effective if wear a replica shirt, mind.

Middlesbrough:-

Name:- Dave McNally

Club:- Middlesbrough 

Twitter:- @davemcnally87

What can we expect from your club this season? Attacking passing football from a team of youth academy players.

Who is your most important player? Kevin Thompson if fit but we have a handful of injury prone midfielders who are just as good. Rhys Williams has premier league admirers and captain Matty Bates is our Stevie G. The physio is the most important man for our chances.

Your predicted finishing position? Anywhere from 2nd to 7th the difference between them might only be 3 points. 

Who might win the Championship? Leicester. Good manager with money to burn! Everyone has got a big chance of winning it. it’s all about the start and finish! 

Who definitely won’t? Watford, all of the players who made a difference in games last year have left and so too has the manager who gave the team belief. Palace will flirt with danger again. 

Most anticipated fixture? Our closest game to a local derby is Leeds.

Most anticipated fixture that doesn’t involve your club? Millwall v West Ham or Southampton v Portsmouth, big derbies with fireworks on and off the pitch. 

If you could take one player from someone else’s club (Championship only), who would it be? Shane Long goal machine with a massive work rate he’d fit into our team perfectly or Lee camp, Jason Steele has a big future but we need clean sheets ASAP camps experience and commanding presence at the back 

You find yourself stuck in Elland Road. How do you escape unnoticed? To get out any championship ground you simply say: “The manager needs more money!” “If we put a run together we could get promoted” “We can beat these today”.

Matthew Bates. The Steven Gerrard of Middlesbrough.

Millwall:-

Name:- Steve Hudson

Club:- Millwall F.C.

Twitter:- @NOLU1885

What can we expect from your club this season? Despite losing Steve Morison in the offseason, Millwall should benefit from a season under their belts in the Championship.  Morison’s departure was the only player loss of any significance (not counting the sentimental departure of Neil Harris. Chopper!)  They have become a stronger team in each of Kenny Jackett’s three seasons at the helm and should improve again this year.  A playoff spot, at minimum, is well within reach.

Who is your most important player? James Henry’s north to south attacking ability from midfield, ability to find the open man with pin point crosses, and excellent dead ball skills make him our most important player this season.  Millwall’s ability to score more will be key for them – defensively they are solid.

Your predicted finishing position? 6th or better at a minimum would be a successful season and show continued improvement.

Who might win the Championship? If not The Lions, then my picks would be either Leicester or Forest, although Forest have shown an ability to play below their ability the past couple of seasons.

Who definitely won’t? Barnsley, Doncaster, and Crystal Palace.

Most anticipated fixture? Ha! West Ham home, West Ham away.  Leeds games are always fun too.

Most anticipated fixture that doesn’t involve your club? I’ve heard the south coast derby between Southampton and Portsmouth can get quite feisty, so that would be a fun one.

If you could take one player from someone else’s club (Championship only), who would it be? Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain from Southampton.

You find yourself stuck in Upton Park.  How do you escape unnoticed? I’d point to the other end of the stands and yell “There’s Avram Grant!”  Then just walk out while the bubble blowers are looking about.

Nottingham Forest:-

Name:- Forest Fan (I blog anonymously y’see).

Club:- Nottingham Forest

Twitter:- @nffcblog

Website:- NFFC Blog

What can we expect from your club this season? Impossible to predict! I expect playoffs at least, but have been underwhelmed so far with transfers (in terms of quantity – happy with the players we have signed) so maybe mid table.

Who is your most important player? I think it will prove to be Jonathan Greening.

Your predicted finishing position? 4th.

Who might win the Championship? West Ham.

Who definitely won’t? Derby

Most anticipated fixture? Gotta be when those Derby Rams come to town for an annual beating.

Most anticipated fixture that doesn’t involve your club? To be honest, I’m too Forest-centred to really care unless of course the outcome has a benefit to us.

If you could take one player from someone else’s club (Championship only), who would it be? Lots of good players to choose from this year, would love to see Nicky Maynard in garibaldi red.

You find yourself stuck in Pride Park. How do you escape unnoticed? Fortunately the Nottingham and Derby accents are pretty close, so you cut out any words more than two syllables, affix a blank expression and make like a sheep and follow the person in front of you until you get outside!

Could the experience of Jonathon Greening help Forest past the final hurdle?

Part Four featuring Peterborough, Portsmouth, Reading, Southampton, Watford and West Ham coming soon…

Chris

Swiss Roll or Mountain to Climb for Saints….

The Saints players are once again in Switzerland for their pre-season preparations, and will be hoping for things to go slightly better this time…

Much was made of last years pre-season efforts, that were followed by a poor start to the season, injuries and accusations of bad practice. The likes of Rickie Lambert took a while to fire, and new boy Frazer Richardson was one of the high profile to suffer injury setbacks, as Saints “favourites” tag looked to be way off as they stuttered to 22nd place after the first five games. So how important are these pre-season trips?

Nigel Adkins says “Vital”. And I agree.

It isn’t just about fitness of course, the need to for any successful team to have a good spirit and camaraderie is as, if not more important. Nigel Adkins looks like he thinks the same, and black sheep Jason Puncheon hasn’t travelled with the squad, for fear of disruption.

So what did Alan Pardew do so wrong? And what will Adkins do differently? Well for a start do we actually know that Pardew did wrong? Let’s face it, had we gone unbeaten in the first five games last season, there would have been no questioning of Pardew’s methods. There were several comments in some of the early season defeats of lethargic looking players. Frazer Richardson was injured on the pre-season tour of 2010, as was Rickie Lambert, who uncharacteristically scored just two goals in the first twelve games, remarkable then that he would go on to be the clubs top scorer with twenty one by the end of the season. Fitness was clearly an issue, something Lambert has talked about himself since.

When Nigel Adkins took over, he was quick to mention fitness and the lack thereof after overseeing a drab 0-2 defeat at MK Dons, and by this point in the season, Saints were gaining a reputation for starting games well and taking control before succumbing to defeat. As Adkins influence became more apparent, the side became more resilient and control became victories.

Nigel Adkins - Controlling the controllables....

Adkins, comes from the opposite side of the coaching spectrum to Pardew, the “new breed” if you will, his previous employment as a Physiotherapist is well documented, and he is obsessed with sports psychology, so it is natural to assume that this time round the Swiss trip should produce fitter players, less injuries and even a squad that is better prepared mentally.

Saints will officially start their pre-season tomorrow evening in the Gurzelen Stadion to take on Swiss Challenge League (Championship equivalent) side FC Biel-Bienne, before heading to the AFG Arena to face recently relegated Super League side St. Gallen on Saturday. Returning new boy Jack Cork, somewhat of a coup signing will get his first run out back in a Saints shirt during these games, while it will also be a chance for returning loanees Ryan Doble and Joseph Mills to stake a claim.

The purpose of the Swiss tour and games, may be more about physical shape, team building and even some commercial links than it is about results, but the squad will be truly tested on their return to the South coast. A week of training will be followed by the inaugral “Markus Liebherr Memorial Tournament” and two forty five minute games against European heavy weights Atletico Bilbao from La Liga and Werder Bremen from the Bundesliga. The squad will get to mix it up with World Cup winners and Champions League regulars in the round robin format and against that level of ability any fitness issues will be sorely punished. The technical ability of the likes of Javi Martinez will be difficult enough to deal with, without chasing their shadows.

West Brom and Yeovil Town will make up the rest of pre-season opposition for the first team before the season opens live on Sky (again) against Leeds United at St. Mary’s on the 6th August.

All we can hope is that the lessons of last season’s start have been learnt. We came from the back of the pack to secure promotion last season, despite the less than perfect preparations and the woeful opening run of results. The Championship will not be so forgiving. Every season this is a league that looks more difficult to get out of, and with the likes of Birmingham City and West Ham amongst the Premier League relegated, it is almost impossible to predict an outcome. A lack of preperation and a slow start could be disasterous, and missing out on promotion could be the least of of our worries…..

Chris