Southampton v Leicester City: EA PPI Preview

Southampton have continued their charge at the top of the table, by yet again winning last weekend, away at Hull City. Southampton sit four points off Chelsea at the top of the league, and fans may well be starting to believe that they can genuinely push for a continental qualification spot. It is 1/8 with 888sport for Southampton to win against Leicester.

Morgan Schneiderlin has been extremely impressive in central midfield this season, and it is no wonder why he was highly coveted in the summer. The Frenchman has made the seventh most passes in the opposition half out of any player in the Premier League, with 330. In addition to this, Schneiderlin the most ground out of anyone in the league, averaging a distance of 12.21km per game, making him the only player to have averaged above 12km per game.

Victor Wanyama managed to get himself on the scoresheet for Southampton against Hull last weekend, and the midfielder has an impressive set of statistics to back up his goal. The EA SPORTS Player Performance Index shows that Wanyama has completed 100% of the dribbles he has attempted so far this season (6). Wanyama has also completed 88.02% of his passes successfully this season.

Nathaniel Clyne was this week called up to the England squad, and on the basis of the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index it is thoroughly deserved. The fullback has made the greatest number of successful tackles in the entire Premier League with 50. What is more impressive, is that in doing so, Clyne has only made five fouls, in comparison to those in second and third place who have made 25 and 20 fouls respectively.

Leicester have made the best start to the season of the promoted sides, however still sit in 18th place on nine points. The game against Southampton is set to be a tough challenge, but one that Nigel Pearson will believe he can come out of with a good result.

index

Leicester have now been unable to score in their last three Premier League games and will be looking to Leonardo Ulloa to help end the drought. The forward started the season in scintillating form but has been unable to help Leicester in their last three games. Ulloa still boasts an impressive scoring record of a goal every 155 minutes, according to the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index. Ulloa is 17/2 to score first with 888sport.

Wes Morgan has continued his impressive form at the back, despite the team’s form. The Leicester captain has now made 96 clearances, which is the fifth highest total of any Premier League player, according to the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index. Morgan has also made 14 blocks which is the second greatest of any player in the division too.

Ritchie De Laet’s total of 36 successful tackles is the fifth highest total in the league according to the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index. Alongside Morgan, they will be hoping to solidify the defence further this weekend, in order to keep the attacking talent of Southampton at bay.

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Concentrating on the league….

A phrase we hear relatively often, or at least we did the last time we were Premier League contenders. But what does it actually mean?

I would suggest there are two very different schools of thought on this saying, some might say that as a club in it’s first season back in the big time and finding it’s feet, we should perhaps not ‘waste’ any time and energy on a cup game. The other side of this argument, and the one that I certainly find myself on is that of the ‘winning breeds confidence’ brigade.

Saints prepare to face Chelsea in the FA Cup 3rd round tomorrow, and I have seen a few people say the dreaded ‘we should concentrate on the league’ line, now don’t get me wrong, were we talking about the Carling cup I might even agree with them, but this is the FA Cup, and we should be fielding a strong team tomorrow.

Does ‘concentrating on the league’ actually work and what does it mean?

Firstly, how many FA Cup winners have been relegated in the same season as they won it? Six teams have reached the final and managed to completely forget about their league campaign, seeing it end in relegation. Chelsea (1915), Manchester City (1926), Leicester City (1969), Brighton (1983), Middlesbrough (1997) and Portsmouth in 2010 (snigger). No team has actually focused so much on their cup run that they have lifted the famous trophy before realising that they have been demoted!

Kevin would rue the day he concentrated on the league.....

Kevin would rue the day he concentrated on the league…..

So of the 260 FA Cup finalists so far, just six have been absent minded enough to let it overshadow their league fixtures. That is pretty good odds no?

By ‘concentrating on the league’ I guess that means making the cup games not a priority, resting players and basically stitching up the people who pay at the turnstiles who dare to dream that they might, just might get to go to Wembley that year.

I do get it. As modern football has changed, retaining Premier League status has become far more valuable than a nice day out and a trophy, but can’t we have some romance left in the game?

We also have a seven day gap between playing Chelsea in the cup and then taking on Villa in the league. Seven days! Our players can recover in that time surely? We have prided ourselves on having one of the fittest teams around for the last few seasons, I don’t think two games in that period is too much to ask?

In previous Premier League seasons, when Saints were heading for a relegation battle how did our cup exits effect our league position? Well as a rule (but with exceptions) we did better in the FA Cup in years we finished higher in the league. That could be down to two reasons, either, that as I suggested might be the case, winning breeds confidence and success in one is very much reflected in the success of the other (only once has a cup final featured two teams outside the Premier League top four in countless seasons). Or. In the years we were particularly bad, it correlates that we would be poor in all competitions. Who knows? Football is never an exact science and the variables are countless but I for one will be hideously disappointed if we don’t go for it tomorrow.

The ticket prices are the same, the stadium is the same, the stage is one of the biggest in football. It deserves our full attention. Even if it is for just one weekend.

Concentrate on what boss?

Concentrate on what boss?

Saints Premier League Cup Record:-

1992/93

Final League Position:- 18th FA Cup exit:- 3rd round. League concentration – Fail.

1993/94

Final League Position:- 18th FA Cup exit:- 3rd round. League concentration – Fail.

1994/95

Final League Position:- 10th FA Cup exit:- 5th round. League concentration – Juggled Both.

1995/96

Final League Position:- 17th FA Cup exit:- 6th round. League concentration – Fail.

1996/97

Final League Position:- 16th FA Cup exit:- 3rd round. League concentration – Fail.

1997/98

Final League Position:- 12th FA Cup exit:- 3rd round. League concentration – Win.

1998/99

Final League Position:- 17th FA Cup exit:- 3rd round. League concentration – Fail.

1999/00

Final League Position:- 15th FA Cup exit:- 4th round. League concentration – Non result.

2000/01

Final League Position:- 10th FA Cup exit:- 5th round. League concentration – Fail.

2001/02

Final League Position:- 11th FA Cup exit:- 3rd round. League concentration – Win.

2002/03

Final League Position:- 8th FA Cup exit:- Final. League concentration – Juggled Both.

2003/04

Final League Position:- 12th FA Cup exit:- 3rd round. League concentration – Win.

2004/05

Final League Position:- 20th FA Cup exit:- 6th round. League concentration – Epic Fail.

Of course, I can’t guarantee that any of our many managers was particularly trying to ‘concentrate on the league’ in any of these seasons, and I’m not going to dig out team lineups for each exit and see how ‘strong’ it was, but statistically it does show, that a cup run need not be a hinderance on league concentration.

Hopefully tomorrow Nigel will name our best team and we will give Chelsea a run for their considerable money, perhaps even turn them over and then we can dare to dream about Wembley. Premier League survival is crucial, of course it is, but right now we aren’t going down, and I see know reason why it won’t stay that way. A cup run would be a lovely little bonus.

Chris

As featured on NewsNow: Southampton FC news

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 Saint Amongst Them: Leicester City…. Take 2.

Just before Saints went down 3-2 to Leicester at the King Power Stadium at the end of August I looked at the ex-Saints among their squad (check it out here), playing staff wise not a lot has changed. Matt Oakley has had a loan spell with Exeter City, while Matt Mills has been a regular as the Foxes who have been in indifferent form.

It was perhaps this indifferent form that saw manager Sven Goran Eriksson leave the club by mutual consent at the end of October.

This saw the return of another ex-Saint to Leicester, in the shape of former boss Nigel Pearson.

Nigel Pearson

Pearson joined Saints in February 2008 after the side had suffered poor form under the caretakership of John Gorman following George Burely’s defection to the Scottish national team.

Coming in off the back of just one full time managerial role at Carlisle United in the late nineties, many fans were sceptical about his appointment.

He arrived at St. Mary’s when the job was somewhat of a poisoned chalice. Saints were 18th in the Championship and the soon-to-be well publicised financial issues were bubbling under behind the scenes.

The former England U-21 coach got off to a shaky start, not winning in his first five games, although only one of those (his first in charge) ended in defeat. His first victory, came rather ironically, at home to Leicester City. Stern John scoring an acrobatic volley from Mario Licka’s flick to get a precious three points against their fellow strugglers.

Pearson the Saint.

Saints would only go on to win twice more that season, but the supporters were encouraged by the battling performances that Pearson’s rejuvenated men were putting in.

Saints went into the final day of the 2007/08 season in 22nd place, and staring relegation to League One in the face. Needing to both win at home to Sheffield United (who could grab themselves a play off place) and hope that at least one other above them slipped up.

Saints came from behind to lead 2-1 before being pegged back again, but it was Stern John who converted the winner and Leicester’s stalemate at Stoke meant Pearson had escaped the drop.

After a truly dreadful season, Saints fans were optimistic that with a transfer window at his disposal, and the encouraging performances at the end of 2008 that Pearson would be capable of building a decent side at St. Mary’s. That wasn’t to be though and at the end of May that year Rupert Lowe sacked Pearson and replaced him with Dutchman Jan Poortvliet, a move that would be proved to be both purely financial and ultimately disastrous.

Pearson was appointed manager of Leicester City and led them to the League One title, while Saints car crash couple of seasons spiralled out of control.

Stern John celebrates THAT goal.

Saints welcome back Pearson to St. Mary’s, now in his second spell at Leicester City on Monday night.

Chris

Lee on Solent: Japanese Star Jets In….

After a few days of rumour coming largely from the Japanese media, Saints today announced that international striker Tadanari Lee has arrived at the club for talks over a move to the South Coast.

It is largely rumoured that financially the deal is complete and Lee will train with the first team while any work permit complications are ironed out. Lee who was born in Tokyo to Korean parents made a name for himself with the superb volley that won the 2011 Asian Cup final against Australia. Continue reading

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

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

The Worst Manager England (Almost) Never Had…

The other night, I decided to run a little competition to get myself to 500 followers on twitter, the reward for being my 500th follower (other than a daily intake of my wittiest and fascinating 140 character world insights) was that I would write a piece on here that would revolve around the supported club of the new follower.

Unfortunately, rather like Chris Iwelumo on an international debut, I took my eye off the ball. This meant I wasn’t sure if Brighton fan @Mareschappie or Southend fan @CallumReavelll was number 500, so I sensibly did, the only thing I could do, I bravely declared that I would write a piece that involved both clubs. Now, I wanted this piece to have a positive spin for both clubs, otherwise, what kind of prize is that?

This proved to not be easy. The two clubs, while both rich with individual history don’t seem to have any mutual heroes, neither do they share any years where both achieved something of note. Then I hit upon somebody who achieved something with both clubs, and what’s more, a man who is well known throughout English football and in my opinion, the worst manager England never had….

You often hear Brian Clough described as “The greatest manager England never had”, his achievements in club football are as well known as they are remarkable, and the decision not to employ him as the boss of the national team after interviewing him in 1977 is one that often makes people wonder what might have been. Clough’s assistant Peter Taylor was also revered for the job he did with Derby County and could have followed “Ol big head” to Lancaster Gate had the FA seen differently. Another Peter Taylor came even closer to the three lions dugout, in fact he was in it once, but what now seems implausible, he was also interviewed for the England job full time in 2006, and not just as assistant.

Peter John Taylor started his career at Southend United, near to his home town of Rochford, Essex. A winger by trade, Taylor was a pivotal part of the Shrimpers side that won promotion from the fourth division in 1971/2, and was soon catching the eye of bigger clubs. Taylor went on to play for Crystal Palace and Spurs at the peak of his career and gained four England caps, the first of which he gained while still playing in the third division at Selhurst Park, but it is as a manager that Taylor is mainly remembered.

Peter Taylor as an England Player

Taylor did his managerial apprenticeship in non-league football with Dartford, where he spent four years with much success. Southern cup winners twice (denied a third in the 1990 final) and two Southern league championships saw Taylor sought after by his former club Southend. Taylor took the reigns at Roots Hall in 1993 and would last just sixty six games. He suffered that unfortunate turn of fortunes, going from fans favourite for his exploits on the pitch to hate figure for his fortunes off it. For further examples see Souness, Graeme and Gunn, Bryan. Taylor’s Southend tenure was described in the clubs own history records as “disastrous” and he was soon on his way back to the non-league with Dover Athletic.

In what must have been a bizarre turn of events for the Southend fans, Taylor was only with the Kent club for two months, before being appointed as manager of the England U21’s as part of Glenn Hoddle’s new staff. It was the subsequent period with Englands “young lions” that for me, Taylor’s reputation and all future job offers were based on. He carved a persona as good man manager who the players liked and had a decent record, losing just twice in nineteen competitive games during his time at the helm. The likes of Frank Lampard, Rio Ferdinand, Michael Owen and Emile Heskey were brought into the setup by Taylor, and became four of the eleven to make the step up to the full squad under his guidance. Actually his replacement by Howard Wilkinson in June 1999 was controversial at best, and for seemingly no reason other than moving Hoddle’s men out.

In what was now becoming a commonplace feature of Taylor’s managerial career he yo-yo’d all the way down to the second division with Gillingham, proving his England U21 succeses were no fluke, taking the Gills to playoff glory at the first attempt. Leicester City, hot from several years of success under Martin O’Neill, including a League Cup win and european football decided to appoint Taylor in 2000. For many people this is where he got found out. He started well, but soon the performances tailed off. Dressing room unrest amongst senior players Steve Walsh and Tony Cottee coupled with a poor start to the 2001/02 season and gaining a reputation with the Filbert Street faithful for poor transfer dealings (Taylor spent £23 million in his time at Leicester, including £5 million for Ade Akinbiyi, £3 million for James Scowcroft and £1.5 million for Trevor Benjamin) saw Taylor sacked and destined never to manage in the top flight again (to date).

During his spell at Leicester, Taylor did however have perhaps his finest hour. After the resignation of Kevin Keegan as England manager in October 2000, the FA needed someone to take the reigns for a friendly against Italy in Turin. Taylor didn’t mess around and decided to use his opportunity to put his own stamp on proceedings, turning to many of his U21 stalwarts, Rio Ferdinand, Gareth Barry, Jamie Carragher, Seth Johnson, Emile Heskey and Keiron Dyer. He also handed David Beckham the England captaincy for the first time. England lost the tie 1-0, but it would be the start of a long international career for many of those players and notably a renaissance for the newly crowned skipper.

For keeps....

Taylor, wounded from his experiences at Leicester, but also strangely bouyed by his chance with the national team, ended up on the South Coast with Brighton & Hove Albion. Here he proved again, that getting a club promoted from one of the lower divisions was not difficult for him, as he guided the Seagulls to top spot in the second division. This may have been the start of something special for Taylor, but he left at the end of the season, claiming “lack of financial resources” as his reason. He was soon back in football though, back in the basement division with Hull City. An attractive prospect for Taylor, soon to be moving into their new stadium and serious financial backing meant he could soon work his promotion magic, getting the Tigers from Division three to Division one in three seasons.

During his time at the KC stadium, the FA came calling again, and Taylor took on the U21’s as a part time role. It didn’t go quite as well in his second spell, though competitively results were good. James Milner was the young star, as England again came close in the European championships. Taylor’s achievements at Hull had been noted by his former club Crystal Palace and they took him on to lead them to promotion from the Championship and around the same time, Sven Goran Eriksson left his role as England manager. Taylor confirmed in an interview with the Independent that he had been interviewed for the vacant position and life must have seemed pretty rosy. Unfortunately for him, he did not get the job, and the shake up meant he was relieved of his duties with the young lions too. If that wasn’t a bad enough chain of events, form at Palace dipped dramatically and with the possibility of relegation a very real one, Taylor was sacked.

Unsuccessful spells at conference side Stevenage Borough and League Two Bradford City sandwiched another lower league promotion with Wycombe Wanderers.

So is Taylor the worst manager England never had? Despite being the one of the most qualified coaches in the country, his managerial record is up and down. Somewhat of an expert at getting sides promoted from the lower divisions, quite what the FA saw in him as a top level manager is beyond me. A man manager? His 96-99 U21 side would say yes, his 2000 Leicester side would beg to differ. A tactician? Supporters of his lower league promotion sides would say so, those of his higher level clubs would not.

Luckily for us, the FA chose not to employ the Englishman with no great success record behind him, and opted for Steve McClaren, and we all know how that turned out….

Swings & Roundabouts?

Chris