Saturday, 7 August 2010

Here we go

And so it begins. The rocky ride of the Championship season kicks off today (and last night) and it looks set to be as unpredictable and tight as ever.

Most pundits seem to think the three relegated sides won't necessarily be among the pacesetters this time around - paving the way for the likes of us to surge to the top of the ladder (the last odds I saw had Middlesbrough favourites and us not too far behind). But is that "truism" even correct?

Pompey have been ruled out by many because of their financial turmoil. That will undoubtedly be a massive hurdle to get over - and there remains the threat of players being sold from under Steve Cotterill's nose. Their first team squad may only have 14 players but that list does include the likes of Tommy Smith, Michael Brown, Danny Webber, David Nugent and Ibrahima Sonko. Even if the likes of Utaka and Boateng leave that list contains five top Championship performers to be going with. Newcastle used their turmoil as a motivating factor last time around, Pompey could yet be a proposition.

Hull too come down with financial problems on their agenda. Their squad is not littered with as many talented players as Portsmouth's but has more in number and a few solid performers.

Burnley look the strongest of the team that fell through the trap door. They've lost Blake and Fletcher but with Patterson and Iwelumo up top they should be a tough physical test for any team, especially at Turf Moor. Eagles and Wallace are two real class acts that should provide the flair to balance up the brawn and guile up front.

So that's three sides not to rule out already. It's true that none should "do a Newcastle and West Brom" but they will be tough to beat.

And that's before you even look at Boro, QPR, Reading, Sheff Utd four sides that didn't even get to the play offs. Boro have a smattering of Scottish talent plucked from the SPL by Strachan. If he can knit them together he should have a strong outfit, especially with the likes of O'Neil and Kris Boyd in their ranks. Brian McDermott built excellent momentum with Reading, their fans will expect to put last season behind them now and go on the promotion challenge they thought they'd have last year. QPR have got plenty of cash but badly need stability. The odious Neil Warnock has the nous to make them a formidable Championship team. Sheffield United, meanwhile, have made a couple of shrewd signings after a period where they flung outrageous sums (Ched Evans £3m) around and their fans too will expect Blackwell to deliver.

Then there's the tough little sides that get overlooked/patronised/underrated like Doncaster. It's talented teams such as them Preston and Ipswich that make the division so difficult to win - they can beat any team and both would make decent dark horse picks for the play offs. Sean O'Driscoll must be the most unsung manager in the league but never fails to produce a stylish football side on no money. With Billy Sharp signed, his side will be a threat. Darren Ferguson and Roy Keane have both now had the time they need to get used to their respective clubs and should improve on last season's showings.

Much too has been said about the promoted sides. They'll have momentum on their side and for Norwich and Leeds have their big club feel that suggests they shouldn't be flustered by the step up. Leeds have lost Beckford but have a cracking manager in Grayson and Lambert too looks a canny boss for the Canaries. Both will be tough.

There are also the imponderables. Will Brendan Rodgers do "a Watford" or "a Reading" with Swansea? Is Sousa the right man for Leicester? Can Boothroyd wake Coventry up from their slumber? Can Cardiff hang on to Chopra and Whittingham? How long can Adkins sustain Scunthorpe's success? Can Steve Coppell kickstart Bristol City? Could Millwall, Barnsley "do a Blackpool"? Have the dirty rotten Sheep turned the corner on their slide?

Questions that will unfold during a fascinating campaign. From looking at the sides you can only say it'll be tight. Blackpool's rise shows that even at Christmas we won't know fully who the runners and riders are. It will, as the cliche goes, be a marathon, not a sprint.

What of us? One player in and two out is disappointing so far but I guess we have to accept that the type of player we are chasing (one that will improve on the starting 11) takes time, money and patience to snap up. We probably over-achieved last season but with the right combination of talent, momentum and luck there's nothing to say we can't over-achieve again. Last year the last two deserted us as the wrong time. We'll have lost any element of surprise we had last season and need to rediscover the away day formula of the September/October/November/December period.

It's clear it is going to be a tough 46 games. Here's hoping Billy and the boys give us plenty to cheer about again.

Thursday, 5 August 2010

A round peg!

And so at last the long long wait for a full back ends. Welcome to the club Ryan Bertrand, you'll no doubt be scratching your head at just how relieved we are to see you.

Nevertheless it seems a decent loan signing to bring him in - he is young, in keeping with our recruitment policy and has experience at this level.

I hear he is pretty good going forward to which should add some balance to our play and give us a threat from both full back positions for the first time since Matthieu Louis-Jean and Jim Brennan patrolled the flanks. That also helps stretch teams that may want to "park the bus".

The signing also frees up Chris Cohen to play in midfield, solving a couple of problems in one stroke!

Rumours still persist about our other perennial targets and we have Calum Davenport on trial so maybe now, belatedly, we are seeing the fruits of the clubs summer work.

Irrespective of that it seems wrong to get too hung up on signings. As things stand this would be my first 11:


Bench: Moussi, Adebola, Smith, Chambers, McGugan, McCleary, Tyson

That's not too shabby an eleven and while you'd think we'd struggle to top last season's efforts without one or two quality additions we should still be fairly strong.

The problem with this division is you just don't know what to expect do you? Will Pompey and Cardiff, with all their financial woes, have full squads? If so they might still do well, Pompey may only have 14 first teamers but that includes some top players at this level.

Maybe a spot of continuity means we can be a calm settled side in the middle of the madness.

Here's hoping.