Whatever team you support, every season begins with flushes of excitement and optimism. Every single season. And in about 1 in 10 does that optimism crystalize into genuine hope that the season will end in glory.
For Town fans, the 2016/17 season represents an exciting prospect not because there’s a feeling that an assault on the top 6 is possible but because nobody has any idea what’s going to happen.
A relegation dogfight? A definite possibility.
Mid table mediocrity? We live in hope…
A flirt with the play-offs? Some Town fans (mostly younger, less hard-bitten ones) believe that this might be the year…
The club is in the midst of revolution. A new manager instilled a new way of playing in the second half of last season and signed a slew of new players very early in the summer break.
So when the local newspaper’s football correspondent was called to name the best XI to start the season only three of the eleven featured last season. It’s not only the scale of the change that brings the uncertainty it’s that lots of the recruits are new to English football. Manager David Wagner has signed players from the German lower leagues, from Russia, the Premiership reserves and from the Australian A-league. Only ‘keeper Joel Campbell has any significant experience of British football after a season and a half of service to Oldham Athletic.
The New Defensive Recruits
- Michael Hefele (centre half) 26yo, ~130 games, 6’3″
- Christophe Lowe (left-back) 27yo, 196 games
- Christopher Schindler (centre back) 26yo, ~190 games, 6″2
- Jon Gorenc Stankovic (defender) 20yo, 80games, 6″3′
The only leaving defender was Joel Lynch.
Mark Hudson is the remaining centre-back and Martin Cranie can play there too (although he’s mostly played as a right-back for Town)
Jason Davidson started last season as the first choice left-back. The club had high hopes for him but he made some expensive errors and we saw two left-backs join on loan.
Wagner has essentially re-built the defence. I’ve included the ages and experience numbers here just to stress that the new signings are neither promising youths nor solid professionals at the arse end of their career. These are players who should be in their prime – three of these four will be in the first-choice XI.
- Ivan Paurevic (defensive midfielder) 25yo ~117 games
- Aaron Mooy (midfield playmaker, loan) 25yo ~120 games
- Jack Payne (attacker) 21yo, 177 games
- Elias Kachunga (striker) 24yo ~150 games, 38 goals
- Kasey Palmer (attacking midfielder, loan) 19yo, 0 appearances
The key central midfielders of last season were Dean Whitehead and Jonathan Hogg who remain at the club. Phillip Billing emerged during the season whilst loanee Emyr Huws has returned to Wigan Athletic.
Town are well served in the wide areas with Harry Bunn, Sean Scannell, Rajiv van la Parra & Joe Lolley all very capable at this level. Last season the team lacked any consistent creativity through the middle once Jacob Butterfield was sold. Aaron Mooy looks to be the new creative spark. He’s on loan from Man City after a false start of a career in Scotland and then a couple of impressive seasons in the Australian A-League.
Up front, Nahki Wells, with 47 appearances, was the most used player in the squad (mostly due to a lack of any viable alternatives). There was a feeling that Nahki lacks the physicality to play as a lone striker, he still managed to score 17 of the team’s 42 league goals. New recruit Kachunga will probably be the back-up for Nahki – his goals/game ratio isn’t great, but he might come good. Loanee Jamie Paterson occasionally played the No. 10 role last season, Jack Payne comes in from Southend to (probably) play in that position – he’s well regarded but comes from a lower league and may not make the step up quickly enough (if at all).
Kasey Palmer looks a real prospect in the YouTube videos of Chelsea’s U21s. He’s the wildcard – he might be a revelation and the spark that fires a flirtation with the top 6. More likely is that, given his youth and inexperience, he’ll struggle to find consistency.
Two young goalies with limited experience. I can’t say I know much about either. Ward played in the Euro 2016 finals with Wales as they won their opening group game – I’m not sure how much of a measure if his ability that might be.
So that’s it… eleven players in! With 5 outgoing… it truly is a revolution. Anything could happen!
The last three seasons have seen Town finish with a similar points tally and at a similar position in the table. If anything, the stats shows slight decline. In reality, the first season was a relegation fight and successive seasons has seen that threat a much diminished one. I’ve always felt that, in this division, we’ve been a bottom-six club. I always keep an eye on the three or four clubs who I feel are comfortably worse than Town. But this year Chairman and owner Dean Hoyle has targeted a step-up. For me, that means moving into the 6 positions above… 12th-17th rather than 18th-24. That seems realistic, if lacking in optimism.
However, clubs like Forest, Leeds & Fulham seem to be going backwards. Reading & Cardiff had underwhelming seasons last year and look like clubs that are standing still. Maybe this year is a real opportunity.
A good start will be crucial – those opening fixtures don’t look forgiving:
- HOME Brentford (last season: lost 5-1)
- AWAY Newcastle
- AWAY Aston Villa
- HOME Barnsley
- AWAY Wolves (last season: lost 3-0)
- AWAY Leeds (last season: won 4-1)
Reasons To Be Cheerful
- Loads of new recruits
- Undeniably deeper and more balanced squad
- Signings concluded early and team’s had time to gel
- Championship may be weaker this time out
- Lack of options up front
- Lack of experience in goal
- Lots of players may take time to acclimatise to the Championship
- Opening fixtures are tough