Briefing Notes for the New Season – Part Seven
Thursday, 1st Aug 2013 12:00 by HarryFromBath
In the seventh and final instalment of a series of pre-season reports, HarryFromBath assesses the mood around the Championship clubs by delving into their forums. The southern teams of Watford, Brighton and Hove Albion, AFC Bournemouth and Yeovil Town are under today’s spotlight.
“If we do not get promoted, it's a bad year.” “We have the squad and player quality. The manager has a season of experience in the Championship. Automatic promotion is a satisfactory season in my opinion.” After missing out on promotion in last year’s play-off final, anything less than promotion will be deemed a failure by most Watford fans.
Player ownership at the Hornets is not the same as elsewhere, so I have split their transfer dealings into four sections (please allow for any errors with this).
Previous Pozzo loanees who are now permanent include defenders Daniel Pudil, Marco Cassetti and Joel Ekstrand; winger Ikechi Anya, midfielders Cristian Battochio and Almen Abdi, and striker Fernando Forrestieri.
The most interesting group, namely players who have not played for Watford before, but have arrived from other Pozzo-owned clubs include 22-year-old Italian international attacking midfielder Diego Fabbrini, 21-year-old full-back Marco Faraoni, 24-year-old defender Gabriela Angella, 32-year-old Brazilian midfielder Iriney Santos and the 25-year-old Paraguayan forward Javier Acuna.
New arrivals from non-Pozzo clubs include 24-year-old midfielder Lewis McGugan from Forest, 21-year-old defender and former Ipswich loanee Reece Brown from Manchester United and Uche Ikpeazu, a prolific 18-year-old striker from Reading.
There has also been substantial a clear out of players, notably 24-year-old left-back Craig Forsyth to Derby, striker Chris Iwelumo to Scunthorpe, former Stoke full-back Carl Dickinson to Port Vale, midfielder Stephen McGinn to the Blades and the 21-year old Northern Irish full-back Lee Hodson to the MK Dons. Lloyd Doyley also signed a one-year deal, thus embarking on his 13th campaign at the Hornets.
Two important players have left. 22-goal-striker Matej Vydra is back at Udinese. Nathaniel Chalobah, the defender/midfielder who scored a stunning goal in the play-off against Leicester, is back with his parent club Chelsea. Expectations are that he will be loaned to a top flight team this season.
Vydra has been variously linked with West Ham, Palace and most recently the Baggies, who tabled a “deluded” £4 million bid. As time has progressed, Hornets have accepted more and more that he will be back with Udinese next season.
“Now that Vydra is named in the Udinese Europa League squad, perhaps that's the end of it.” “Udinese have stated they won't sell unless the asking price of £15 million is reached. I can't see any top flight club offering £15 million.” “I can see him returning you know...”
The most frequently named line-up for their opening game against Birmingham, playing in their passing 3-5-2 formation, is as follows, although will now not take to the field with midfielder Jonathan Hogg having been sold to Huddersfield: Manuel Almunia; Lloyd Doyley, Gabriela Angella, Joel Ekstrand; Marco Faraoni, Almen Abdi, Jonathan Hogg, Lewis McGugan, Daniel Pudil; Troy Deeney, Fernando Forestieri. New boys Acuna and Fabbrini are seen for now as substitutes by many Hornets.
“This league has a habit of making a mockery of expensively assembled squads. There always remains a nagging doubt that we could be the new Leicester and have everyone else laughing as our superstar team finds it hard to cope with the physical nature of the Championship.”
While most supporters are confident of promotion, a minority are aware of the pitfalls of this division. “However, such is the nature of the league that I wouldn't call anything this early.”
There is a Hornets thread, called “The Opposition Moans…” on which posters are putting up links from other message boards (including ours) highlighting other supporters’ indignation at their player ownership arrangements.
“It really is real life football manager stuff where you take over two clubs and funnel players in that otherwise wouldn't have been got.” “You know each and every one of them would swap places with us if they could.”
“It's not hate, it is pure green-eyed envy.” “Rival fans should maybe stand back, stop slagging us off, and realise we are still taking a gamble, the same as big spenders in our league gamble their budget on massive signings.”
“Anything less than promotion will be considered a big failure considering the quality of the players given to (manager) Gianfranco Zola and will probably cost him his job.” “Zola should have a Plan B this time. And even a Plan C.”
“The manager is crucial and he will need all the skills to change things during a game/season.” Their manager is greatly loved, but Hornets’ biggest question-marks are around his inability to make effective tactical alterations during games and when dealing with different opponents ahead of games.
“When you look at our squad, I think the number of signings we have made is covering up that our squad isn't actually particularly big. I think everyone is going over the top when talking about our strength in depth.”
One interesting thread highlighted the fact the squad stretches to 18 players, and that the strength in depth may be lacking.
Hornets’ Views on ITFC and the Season
Forecast threads had Watford and Reading overwhelmingly as the top two, and all Hornets had their team in the play-offs at the very least. Out of 40 predictions, one Hornet had us second and two in the play-offs. Dark horses once again.
Brighton and Hove Albion
“Mid-table currently, and I will be pleased.” “I'd be happy with top ten, but if we get the play-offs then I'd be delighted...any better and we're in dreamland. If we don't do much this season then I won't be too worried - a season of transition.”
Poyet and Taricco
With the dismissal of Gus Poyet and the appointment of former Barcelona player and Maccabi Tel Aviv coach hugely Oscar Garcia disrupting their close season, the overwhelming opinion of Brighton supporters is that they will finish this season mid-table.
There have been few new additions to the Seagulls squad. 34-year-old defender Matthew Upson signed, having spent the second part of the last season’s campaign playing at the Amex, 22-year-old left-back Adam Chicksen joined from the MK Dons and 20-year-old defender Rohan Ince from Chelsea.
Notable departures have included 28-year-old midfielder Ryan Harley to Swindon, midfielder Stephen Dobbie to Palace, and Anton Rogers to Oldham. Gary Dicker and Vicente Rodriquez were released.
New coach Garcia has been playing a new system with four defenders and Seagulls expect that this will take time to bed in. “We look at least a month away from being a 'team' that can play the way Oscar wants. We have skilful players, but it looks as if are being asked to play in a slightly different way and are still getting used to it.”
“I would say that this season should and will be transitional. Gus has gone after a long, successful spell in charge. We have one of the older squads in the league that needs a little rebuilding plus we have had a late start to pre-season for Oscar. I question whether Oscar has the experience to take us up at first ask.”
The team which most ‘Gulls are settling for (in a 4-4-2 formation) is: Tomasz Kuszczak; Bruno, Lewis Dunk or Adam El Abd, Matthew Upson, Vitalijs Maksimenko; Liam Bridcutt, Andrew Crofts , David Lopez, Andrea Orlandi; Two of Will Buckley/Ashley Barnes/ Leonardo Ulloa.
“All the best Tano.” “Thanks for some good times.” Departing assistant manager and Ipswich legend Mauricio Taricco will be remembered with affection by Seagulls. “I'd totally forgotten him coming out of retirement when we needed him. Top man.” “I will never forget his sending off away to Southampton.”
“Respect to Tano. Still turned up when he was required, despite all of the goings on. Best of luck.” He was greatly admired for coming into work with the squad in the unstable period after Poyet departed.
There were no pre-season predictions worth noting, although a number of Seagulls queried whether we were a good enough side for loan signing Ryan Tunnicliffe, who was also understood to be interesting them.
“We don't on paper look very threatening, and most of us agree that with only Pitman in any kind of form, we will struggle to get goals. Let's hope we can surprise a few (ourselves included) by using our abundance of wingers to beat a few teams! I think we'll play good football - but have we got enough firepower?”
Bournemouth have been strengthening their squad carefully, bringing in experienced defenders in Elliott Ward from the Budgies and 35-year-old Ian Harte from Reading. Striker Mohamed Coulibaly has joined from Grasshoppers Zurich.
The news in the last 24 hours that Budgies winger Andrew Surman has joined on a season-long loan has greatly cheered Cherries. There is a huge amount of speculation on potential loan strikers, with recent threads on Marvin Sordell, Sam Vokes, Billy Sharp, Leroy Lita and one with the title “Marlon King – Surely Not.”
Departures include veteran striker Steve Fletcher who announced his retirement and one-time Town academy striker Charlie Sheringham has moved to Wimbledon.
Manager Eddie Howe seems to favour a 4-4-1-1 counter-attacking formation. Most supporters expect a line-up along the following lines: Ryan Allsop; Simon Francis, Tommy Elphick (captain), Elliott Ward, Charlie Daniels; Ryan Fraser, Harry Arter, Shaun MacDonald, Marc Pugh; Mohamed Coulibaly; Brett Pitman.
“The big question is if Bert isn't fit then who plays up front?” Most Cherries are greatly concerned about the paucity of attacking options, especially as Brett Pitman, who scored 16 goals in 20 games last year, may be carrying a hamstring injury picked up in the 6-0 friendly defeat to Madrid.
“Eddie won't rush into stupid signings.” “The players will be ready on Saturday when the real business starts. If not, Howe will sort them out.” Despite their lack of options up front, most Cherries are optimistic and confident about the season, and trust their manager implicitly.
“I'm just waiting for the hat. The one that Eddie Howe will pull the rabbit out of. That aside, I fear Saturday might be a bit of a shock for the team. I think Charlton will be harder, faster and more organised than any of the League One opposition last year.”
“So, this one has really split opinion. Half of us are praising how audacious it is, the other half are up in arms. Personally I think it's an amazing achievement to get Real Madrid to Dean Court, but I think as is so often the case, the club's PR is poor...”
Fans were divided over the wisdom of this friendly, and quite defensive to the wider reaction to the £60 ticket prices. “I have been driving all over East Anglia today and the reaction has been astonishment at the price of the tickets and not amazement at the coup of securing a match against Real Madrid.”
Again, there was little by way of comment on Ipswich or our prospects for the season.
“I believe it will be a really tough season for Yeovil and there is a real need to stay injury free as we currently do not have the required quality in depth. However, Gary Johnson and his team have earned their place in this league and if we can surprise a few teams all the better.”
“When I study the fixture list and see the teams we are to play, I think holy s***! This is a testament of the magnitude of the on field achievement at the club. I hope the guys give it a good go and wish them ALL the very best of luck as I know they will all be called upon at some point in the season.”
After their widely welcomed promotion, the Glovers have been strengthening their side with a mixture of good lower league prospects and some top-flight players who have been either released or loaned out. Manager Gary Johnson has been working hard to build a solid squad with his very limited budget.
The have brought in defenders Dan Seaborne, who trained with us in the pre-season, from Southampton, 30-year-old Alan Tate from Swansea, 19-year-old Joey Jones from Leicester, 26-year-old defender/midfielder Liam Davis from Oxford United and 20-year-old midfielder Billy Clifford on loan from Chelsea.
The have strengthened their attack by bringing in 25-year-old winger Joel Grant from Wycombe, who was also a summer Town target, and three strikers in the shape of six-foot-five-inches-tall Kieffer Moore from Dorchester, 20-year-old Sam Hoskins from Southampton and 20-year old loan signing Michael Ngoo from Liverpool.
Ex-Blue Gavin Williams, Dominic Blizzard and Richard Hinds have been released, and Reuben Reid has been loaned to Plymouth for the season.
Many Glovers see this line-up, running with a traditional 4-4-2, and making good use of their wingers: Marek Stech; Jamie McCallister, Alan Tate, Dan Seabourne, Luke Ayling; Ed Upson, Joe Edwards, Sam Foley, Joel Grant; Paddy Madden, James Hayter.
Kevin Dawson or new signing Liam Davis have featured, while Michael Ngoo is seen as an impact substitute with 34-year old Hayter’s ability to play sustained games questioned. Grant, Ngoo or Hoskins featured in a short thread called ‘Gary Johnson’s Jewels’, looking at players who will make an impact this season.
The Glovers are thrilled to be in the division, but their conversations are focused and in earnest on what it will take to be established at this level. They are not here by any means to make up the numbers. “I think that the squad is good enough to at least be competitive - I don't think that we'll be whipping boys by any stretch of the imagination.”
“My worry is squad depth. Although larger than last year, our squad is much, much smaller than most of our new contemporaries. A forgotten factor in our success last year was an almost miraculous lack of injuries which, gave us an edge over many of our competitors. It would not take too many injuries to have us looking at a crisis, especially outside of traditional or loan transfer windows.”
They have paused to reflect on the magnitude of their achievement in reaching this level. “It might sound silly but the best atmosphere I remember at Huish Park was versus Enfield. There were over 8,000 for an Isis League side and a great rivalry.”
“I watched that Enfield game stood on top of an upturned picnic table leant up against the wall. My mate up a tree until he fell out before he could climb back up someone beat him to it.”
I will leave the last Yeovil word to one optimistic Glover: “Having said all of that, I can't wait for the season to start and to, hopefully, witness another Johnson miracle in the making!”
The best Watford forum is The Sir Graham Taylor Terrace. Brighton’s best discussion board is North Stand Chat. The busiest Bournemouth forum is Up The Cherries and the best Yeovil forum is The Green Room which requires you to register.
This just leaves Reading as the only team we have not covered. They will be looked at in detail in the first set of pre-match notes tomorrow, ahead of Saturday’s game.
Pulling these notes together has been terrific fun, and I just want to say a huge thank you to everyone for reading them and for chipping in with your comments and observations.
I also want to say a huge thank you to Phil for being such a brilliant safety net with facts, grammar and the detail of the reports, and to Gav for the completely marvellous pictures he has woven into the text.
Photo: Action Images
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