The 2019/2020 season of the Hungary’s National Football League (NB1) – being one of the first leagues to restart play - came to an end on 27 June. If a casual observer (for whatever reason) decides to check out the final standings
, he would be not surprised at the first two positions: record-champion Ferencváros defended their title, while regional powerhouse Fehérvár (Videoton) came in second. However, the third place team, Puskás Akadémia FC might seem unusual and one could think that there is a story behind that.
Is there a team named after Ferenc Puskás? Did some academy youths make an incredible run for the Europa League qualification? Well, the observer is right, there is a story behind all this, but it’s absolutely not a fun story. It’s a story about how one powerful man’s obsession with football stole a legend, misused state funds and killed the spirit of Hungarian football. (Warning: this is a long story, feel free to scroll down for a tl;dr. Also, I strongly advise checking out the links, those images are worth seeing).
Naturally, political influence in football has been present ever since the dawn of the sport and we know of numerous state leaders who felt confident enough to use their influence to ensure the successful development of their favored clubs – Caucescu’s FC Olt Scornicesti
and Erdogan’s Basaksehir
are well-known examples of such attempts. However, I fear that very few of the readers are aware of the fact that Puskás Akadémia FC is nothing but Hungarian PM Viktor Orbán’s grandiose project for establishing his hometown’s club as one of the country’s top teams
. Considering that Orbán managed to achieve this goal using state funds in an EU member democracy in the 2000s, one might even say that it might be one of the most impressive attempts of cheating your way through Football Manager in real life. Now that Puskás Akadémia FC escaped the desolate football scene of Hungary and is getting ready for the European takeover, I feel that it’s high time to tell its true story.
Part 1: Part time striker, part time PM
Our story begins in 1999 when the 36-year-old striker Viktor Orbán (recently elected as the country’s Prime Minister) was signed by the sixth-tier side of Felcsút FC
residing in rural Fejér County. It might sound surprising that an active politician would consider such a side job, but given that Orbán has been playing competitive low-level football throughout his whole life and has always been known as a keen football enthusiast, people seemed to be okay with his choice for a hobby. Orbán spent most of his childhood in the village of Felcsút (population: 1,800), so it seemed only natural that he would join the team after one of his old-time acquaintances became team president there.
Orbán’s arrival to the club seemed to work like a charm as Felcsút FC immediately earned a promotion to the fifth league. The Prime Minister’s busy program did not allow him to attend every training session and game but Orbán did make an effort to contribute as much as possible on the field – there is a report of a government meeting being postponed as Orbán was unavailable due to attending Felcsút FC’s spring training camp
. The 2001/2002 season brought another breakthrough for the side as Felcsút was promoted to the national level of the football pyramid after being crowned the champion of Fejér County. Sadly enough for Orbán, he suffered a defeat on another pitch – his party lost the 2002 election and Orbán was forced to move to an opposition role. No matter what happened on the political playing field, Orbán would not abandon his club.
Just before the 2002 elections, Felcsút was surprisingly appointed as one of the regional youth development centers by the Hungarian FA. Orbán continued contributing on the field as well (he had more spare time after all) but his off-the-field efforts provided much more value for the team as he used his political influence to convince right-wing businessmen that they should definitely get sponsorship deals done with the fourth-division village team. Club management was able to transform the influx of funds into on-field success: Felcsút FC was promoted to the third division in 2004 and achieved promotion to the second division in 2005.
Although these new horizons required a skill level that an aging ex-PM is not likely to possess, Orbán regularly played as a late game sub
and even appeared in cup games against actual professional opponents. The now-42-year old Orbán did not want to face the challenge of the second division, so he retired in 2005 – but this did not stop him from temping as an assistant coach when the head coach was sacked in the middle of the 2005-2006 season.
Success on the playing field did not translate to political success: Orbán lost the elections once again in 2006. However, this was only a temporary loss: the ruling party committed blunder after blunder and by early 2007 it became absolutely obvious that Orbán would be able return to power in 2010. Now confident in his political future, Orbán opted for the acceleration of football development in Felcsút – by late 2007 he took over the presidency of the club to take matters in his own hands. Sponsors seeking to gain favor with the soon-to-be PM were swarming Felcsút FC, so the club was able to stand very strong in an era where financial stability was a very rare sight in the Hungarian football scene, accumulating three medals (but no promotion) between 2007 and 2009.
On the other hand, Orbán realized the value of youth development as well, and started a local foundation for this purpose back in 2004 that gathered funds for the establishment a boarding school-like football academy.
The academy opened its doors in September 2006 (only the second of such institutions in the country) and Orbán immediately took upon the challenge of finding an appropriate name for the academy.
He went on to visit the now very sick Ferenc Puskás in the hospital to discuss using his name, but as Puskás’ medical situation was deteriorating rapidly, communication attempts were futile. Luckily enough Puskás’ wife (and soon to be widow) was able to act on his incapable husband’s behalf and approved the naming deal in a contract. According to the statement, naming rights were granted without compensation, as “Puskás would have certainly loved what’s happening down in Felcsút
”. However, there was much more to the contract: Puskás’ trademark was handed to a sports journalist friend of Orbán
(György Szöllősi, also acting communications director of the academy) who promised a hefty annual return for the family (and also a 45% share of the revenue for himself). Ferenc Puskás eventually died on 17 November 2006 and on 26 November 2006 the football academy was named after him: Puskás Academy was born.
Orbán shared his vision of the whole organization after the opening ceremony: “It’s unreasonable to think that Felcsút should have a team in the top division. We should not flatter ourselves, our players and our supporters with this dream. Our long term ambition is the creation of a stable second division team that excels in youth development and provides opportunity for the talents of the future.”
Let’s leave that there.
Part 2: No stadium left behind Orbán became PM once again in April 2010 after a landslide victory that pretty much granted him unlimited power.
He chased lots of political agendas but one of his policies was rock solid: he would revive sports (and especially football) that was left to bleed out by the previous governments. The football situation in 2010 was quite dire: while the national team has actually made some progress in the recent years and has reached the 42nd position in the world rankings, football infrastructure was in a catastrophic state. Teams were playing in rusty stadiums built in the communist era, club finances were a mess, youth teams couldn’t find training grounds and the league was plagued by violent fan groups and lackluster attendance figures (3100 average spectators per game in the 2009/2010 season).
Orbán – aided by the FA backed by business actors very interested in making him happy – saw the future in the total rebuild of the football infrastructure. Vast amounts of state development funds were invested into the football construction industry that warmly welcomed corruption, cost escalation and shady procurement deals.
In the end, money triumphed: over the last decade, new stadiums sprung out from nothing all over the country
, dozens of new academies opened and pitches for youth development appeared on practically every corner. The final piece of the stadium renovation program was the completion of the new national stadium, Puskás Aréna in 2019 (estimated cost: 575 million EUR). Orbán commemorated this historic moment with a celebratory video on his social media that features a majestic shot of Orbán modestly kicking a CGI ball from his office to the new stadium.
Obviously, Orbán understood that infrastructure alone won’t suffice
. He believed in the idea that successful clubs are the cornerstone of a strong national side as these clubs would compete in a high quality national league (and in international tournaments) that would require a constant influx of youth players developed by the clubs themselves. However, Orbán was not really keen on sharing the state’s infinite wealth with private club owners who failed to invest in their clubs between 2002 and 2010. The club ownership takeover was not that challenging as previous owners were usually happy to cut their losses, and soon enough most clubs came under Orbán’s influence
. Some clubs were integrated deep into Orbán’s reach (Ferencváros and MTK Budapest club presidents are high ranking officials of Orbán’s party) while in other cases, indirect control was deemed sufficient (Diósgyőri VTK was purchased by a businessman as an attempt to display loyalty to Orbán).
Pouring taxpayer money into infrastructure (stadium) projects is relatively easy: after all, we are basically talking about overpriced government construction projects, there’s nothing new there. On the other hand, allocating funds to clubs that should be operating on a competitive market is certainly a tougher nut to crack. The obvious solutions were implemented: the state media massively overpaid for broadcasting rights and the national sports betting agency also pays a hefty sum to the FA, allowing for a redistribution of considerable amounts. However, given that the income side of Hungarian clubs was basically non-existent (match day income is negligible, the failed youth development system does not sell players), an even more radical solution was desperately needed. Also, there was definite interest in the development of a tool that would allow for differentiation between clubs (as in the few remaining non-government affiliated clubs should not receive extra money).
The solution came in 2011: the so-called TAO (“társasági adó” = corporate tax) system was introduced, granting significant tax deductions for companies if they offered a portion of their profits to sports clubs
– however, in theory, funds acquired through TAO can be only used for youth development and infrastructure purposes. Soon enough, it became apparent that state authorities were not exactly interested in the enforcement of these restrictions, so some very basic creative accounting measures enabled clubs to use this income for anything they wanted to. Companies were naturally keen on cutting their tax burdens and scoring goodwill with the government, so TAO money immediately skyrocketed.
Opportunistic party strongmen used their influence to convince local business groups to invest in the local clubs, enabling for the meteoric rise of multiple unknown provincial teams (Mezőkövesd [pop: 16,000], Kisvárda [pop: 16,000], Balmazújváros [pop: 17,000]) into the first division.
Although it’s not the main subject of this piece, I feel inclined to show you the actual results of Orbán’s grandiose football reform. While we do have our beautiful stadiums, we don’t exactly get them filled – league attendance has stagnated around 3000 spectators per game throughout the whole decade. We couldn’t really move forward with our national team either: Hungary lost 10 positions in the FIFA World Rankings throughout Orbán’s ten years. On the other hand, the level of league has somewhat improved – Videoton and Ferencváros reached the Europa League group stage in 2019 and 2020, respectively. Too bad that the Instat-based top team
of 2019/2020 Hungarian league consists of 10 foreigners and only 1 Hungarian: the goalkeeper.
Part 3: Small place, big game!
As seen in the previous chapter, Orbán did have a strong interest in the improvement of the football situation Hungary, but we shouldn’t forget that his deepest interest and true loyalty laid in the wellbeing of Felcsút and its academy. Now that Orbán had limitless means to see to the advancement of his beloved club, he got to work immediately.
Orbán handed over formal club management duties to his friend / protégé / middleman / businessman Lőrinc Mészáros in 2010, but no questions would ever arise of who is actually calling the shots.
First of all, no club can exist without a proper stadium.
Although in 2011 Orbán explicitly stated that “Felcsút does not need a stadium as stadiums belong to cities”,
no one was really surprised in 2012 when the construction of the Felcsút stadium was announced. Orbán was generous enough to donate the lands just in front of his summer home in the village for the project, locating the entrance a mere ten meters away from his residence. Construction works for the stunningly aesthetic 3,800-seater arena
(in a village of 1,800 people) started in April 2012 and were completed in April 2014, making Felcsút’s arena the second new stadium of Orbán’s gigantic stadium revival program.
The estimated budget of the construction was 120 million EUR (31,500 EUR / seat) was financed by the Puskás Academy who explicitly stated that they did not use government funds for the project. Technically, this statement is absolutely true as the construction was financed through the TAO money offered by the numerous companies looking for tax deduction and Orbán’s goodwill. However, technically, this means that the country’s budget was decreased by 120 million EUR unrealized tax revenue. Naturally, the gargantuan football stadium looks ridiculously out of place in the small village
, but there’s really no other way to ensure that your favorite team’s stadium is within 20 seconds of walking distance from your home.
Obviously, a proper club should also have some glorious history. Felcsút was seriously lagging behind on this matter as though Felcsút FC was founded in 1931, it spent its pre-Orbán history in the uninspiring world of the 5th-7th leagues of the country. Luckily enough, Orbán had already secured Puskás’ naming rights and they were not afraid to use it, so Felcsút FC was renamed to Puskás Academy FC in 2009. The stadium name was a little bit problematic as the Hungarian national stadium in Budapest had sadly had the dibs on Puskás’ name, so they had to settle with Puskás’ Spanish nickname, resulting in the inauguration of the Pancho Arena
. But why stop here? Orbán’s sports media strongman György Szöllősi
acted upon the contract with Puskás’ widow and transferred all Puskás’ personal memorabilia
(medals, jerseys, correspondence) to the most suitable place of all: a remote village in which Puskás never even set foot in.
While the off-field issues were getting resolved, Orbán’s attention shifted to another important area: the actual game of football. Although academy players started to graduate from 2008 on, it very soon became painfully obvious that the academy program couldn’t really maintain even a second division side for now. In 2009, Orbán reached an agreement with nearby Videoton’s owner that effectively transformed Felcsút FC into Videoton’s second team under the name of Videoton – Puskás Akadémia FC. The mutually beneficent agreement would allow Videoton to give valuable playing time to squad players while it could also serve as a skipping step for Puskás Academy’s fresh graduates to a first league team. The collaboration resulted in two mid-table finishes and a bronze medal in the second division in the following three seasons that wasn’t really impressive compared to Felcsút FC’s standalone seasons.
It seemed that the mixture of reserve Videoton players and academy youth was simply not enough for promotion, and although Orbán had assured the public multiple times that his Felcsút project was not aiming for the top flight, very telling changes arose after the 2011/2012 season. Felcsút terminated the Videoton cooperation deal and used the rapidly accumulating TAO funds to recruit experienced players for the now independently operating Puskás Academy FC (PAFC)
. The new directive worked almost too well: PAFC won its division
with a 10 point lead in its first standalone year which meant that they would have to appear in the first league prior to the completion of their brand-new Pancho Arena. Too bad that this glorious result had almost nothing to do with the academy - only two players were academy graduates of the side’s regular starting XI.
Orbán did not let himself bothered with the ridiculousness of an academy team with virtually no academy players being promoted to the first division as he stated that “a marathon runner shouldn’t need to explain why the other runners were much slower than him
”. Orbán also displayed a rare burst of modesty as he added that “his team’s right place is not in the first league, and they will soon be overtaken by other, better sides”.
The promotion of PAFC to the first division made a lot of people very angry and been widely regarded as a bad move. Supporter groups were united in hatred all along the league and not surprisingly, away fans almost always outnumbered the home side at PAFC’s temporary home at Videoton’s Sóstói Stadium (demolished and rebuilt in its full glory since then
). One of the teams, however, possessed an extraordinary degree of anger against PAFC: supporters of Budapest Honvéd – the only Hungarian team in which Ferenc Puskás played – felt especially awkward about the transfer of their club legend’s heritage to Felcsút. Tensions spiked at the PAFC – Honvéd game when home security forced Honvéd supporters to remove the “Puskás”
part of their traditional “Puskás – Kispest – Hungary” banner
– the team answered the insult with style as they secured a 4-0 victory supported by fans chanting “you can’t buy legends”.
Despite Orbán’s prognosis, other better sides did not rush to overtake his team, so PAFC, now residing in their brand new Pancho Arena, came through with a 14th and a 10th place in their first two seasons. Naturally, conspiracy theories began to formulate, speculating that government-friendly owners would certainly not be motivated to give their best against PAFC. However, as the league size was reduced to 12 for the 2015/2016 season, PAFC found themselves in a dire situation just before the final round: they needed a win and needed rival Vasas to lose against MTK in order to avoid relegation. PAFC’s draw seemed to be unlucky as they faced their arch-enemy Honvéd at home, but Honvéd displayed an absolute lackluster effort – fueling conspiracy theories – and lost the fixture 2 to 1 against a home side featuring four academy players. Vasas, however, did not disappoint, their 2-0 victory resulted in PAFC’s elimination and a very relaxed sigh all over the football community.
PAFC’s relegation seemed to be in accordance with Orbán’s 2013 statement, so public opinion supposed for a while that Orbán’s project came to a halting point and the Academy would go on to actually field academy players in the second division (especially as rostering foreign players was prohibited in the lower leagues). However, if you have read through this point, you know better than to expect Orbán to retreat – obviously, PAFC came back with a bang. With a ballsy move, PAFC didn’t even sell their foreign players, they just loaned them across the league, promising them that they would be able to return next year to the newly promoted team. The promise was kept as PAFC went into another shopping spree of experienced players (easily convincing lots of them to choose the second division instead of the first) and easily won the second league. Orbán
– now aware of his negligence – opted for the doubling the team’s budget, making PAFC the third most well-founded club in the whole country
(only coming short to his friend’s Videoton and his party minion’s Ferencváros). With an actual yearly influx from TAO money in the ballpark of 30-40 million EUR, PAFC management had to really work wonders in creative accounting in order to make their money look somewhat legitimate. The books were now full of ridiculous items like:
- Construction of a new tea kitchen for youth players for 650,000 EUR
- Construction of a new “sports and conference center” for 40 million EUR
- Employment of a 45 person “cleaning and maintenance staff” for the academy.
Naturally, in the country of no consequences, absolutely nothing happened: PAFC went on with its spending and signed 35 foreigners between 2017 and 2020. They did so because they could not hope to field a winning team in the first league consisting of academy players
, despite the fact that Puskás Academy has been literally drowning in money since 2007. This seems to somewhat contradict Orbán’s 2013 promise, stating that “Puskás Academy will graduate two or three players to major European leagues each year”.
To be fair, there have been players who managed to emerge to Europe (well, exactly two of them: Roland Sallai plays at Freiburg, László Kleinheisler played at Werder Bremen) but most academy graduates don’t even have the slightest the chance to make their own academy’s pro team as it’s full of foreigners and more experienced players drawn for other teams’ programs.
Despite their unlimited funding, PAFC could not put up a top-tier performance in their first two years back in the first division, finishing 6th and 7th in the 12-team league. Many speculated that the lack of support, motivation and even a clear team mission did not allow for chemistry to develop within the multinational and multi-generational locker room. Consistency was also a rare sight on the coaching side: club management was absolutely impatient with coaches who were very easily released after a single bad spell and there were talks of on-field micromanagement request coming from as high as Orbán.
Even so, their breakthrough came dangerously close in 2018 as PAFC performed consistently well in the cup fixtures and managed to reach the final. Their opponent, Újpest played an incredibly fierce game and after a 2-2 draw, they managed to defeat PAFC in the shootout. Football fans sighed in relief throughout the country as ecstatic Újpest supporters verbally teased a visibly upset Orbán in his VIP lounge
about his loss.
Obviously, we could only delay the inevitable. While this year’s PAFC side seemed to be more consistent than its predecessors, it seemed that they won’t be able to get close to the podium - they were far behind the obvious league winner duo of Ferencváros and Videoton and were trailing third-place Mezőkövesd 6 points just before the pandemic break. However, both Mezőkövesd and PAFC’s close rivals DVTK and Honvéd fall flat after the restart while PAFC was able to maintain its good form due to its quality roster depth. PAFC overtook Mezőkövesd after the second-to-last round as Mezőkövesd lost to the later relegated Debrecen side. (Mezőkövesd coach Attila Kuttor was fined harshly because of his post-game comments on how the FA wants PAFC to finish third.)
PAFC faced Honvéd in the last round once again, and as Honvéd came up with its usual lackluster effort, PAFC secured an effortless win, confidently claiming the third place
. PAFC celebrated their success in a nearly empty stadium
, however neither Orbán, nor Mészáros (club owner, Orbán’s protégé, now 4th richest man of Hungary) seemed to worry about that. While Orbán high-fived with his peers in the VIP lounge, Mészáros was given the opportunity to award the bronze medals (and for some reason, a trophy)
to the players dressed up in the incredibly cringe worthy T-shirts that say “Small place, big game!”.
Big game, indeed: in the 2019/2020 season, foreign players’ share of the teams playing time was 43.6% while academy graduates contributed only 17.9%.
On Sunday evening, less than 24 hours after PAFC’s glorious success, György Szöllősi, now editor-in-chief of Hungary’s only sports newspaper (purchased by Orbán’s affiliates a few years back) published an editorial on the site, stating that “the soccer rebuild in Felcsút became the motor and symbol of the revitalization of sport throughout the whole country
”. Well, Szöllősi is exactly right: Felcsút did became a symbol, but a symbol of something entirely different. Felcsút became a symbol of corruption, inefficiency, lies and the colossal waste of money.
But, hey, at least we know now: you only need to spend 200 million EUR (total budget of PAFC and its academy in the 2011-2020 period) if you want to have a Europa League team in your backyard. Good to know!
Epilogue: What's in the future?
As there is no foreseeable chance for political change to happen Hungary
(Orbán effortlessly secured qualified majority in 2014 and 2018, and is projected to do so in 2022 as well), PAFC’s future seems to be as bright as it gets. Although consensus opinion now seems to assume that Orbán does not intend to interfere with the Ferencváros – Videoton hegemony, we can never be really sure about the exact limits of his greed. One could also argue that entering the European theater serves as a prime opportunity for making splashy transfers who could be the cornerstones of a side challenging the league title.
However, as all political systems are deemed to fall, eventually Orbán’s regime will come apart. Whoever will take upon the helm after Orbán, they will certainly begin with cutting back on the one item on Orbán’s agenda that never had popular support: limitless football spending. Puskás Academy, having next to zero market revenue, will not be able to survive without the state’s life support, so the club will fold very shortly. The abandoned, rotting stadium in Felcsút will serve as a memento of a powerful man who could not understand the true spirit of football.
But let’s get back to present day, as we have more pressing issues coming up soon: PAFC will play their first European match in the First qualifying round of the Europa League
on 27 August. We don’t have a date for the draw yet, but soon enough, a team unaware of the whole situation will be selected to face the beast. I hope that maybe one of their players does some research and maybe reads this very article for inspiration. I hope that the supporters of this club get in touch with Honvéd fans who would be eager to provide them with some tips on appropriate chants. I hope that other teams gets drawn as the home team so Orbán wouldn’t get the pleasure of walking to his stadium for an international match. But most importantly, I very much hope that this team obliterates PAFC and wipes them off the face of the earth.
5-0 will suffice, thank you.
And if this team fails to do that, we don’t have to worry yet. Due to our shitty league coefficient, PAFC would need to win four fixtures in a row. And that – if there’s any justice in this world – is a thing that can’t, that won’t happen. Ball don’t lie – if I may say. TL,DR
Hungarian PM Viktor Orbán redirected some 200 million EUR of taxpayer money over 10 years to fuel his ambition of raising a competitive football team in his hometown of 1,800 people. He built a 3,800-seater stadium in his backyard, expropriated football legend Ferenc Puskás’ trademarks and heritage and built up a football league where almost all clubs are owned by his trustees. His team, Puskás Akadémia FC was originally intended to be a development ground for youth players graduating from Orbán’s football academy, but eventually the team became more and more result-orianted. Finally, a roster full of foreign and non-academy players came through and finished third in the league, releasing this abomination of a team to the European football theatre. Please, knock them out asap!
Manager submitted by
: Dean Smith until October then replaced by Thomas Frank Hopes/predictions at the beginning of the season?:
I’ll be honest I had us as favourites to make playoffs and dark horses to go up automatically. Of course, it was difficult to predict as I didn’t know how the three relegated sides would do. Mini season review - how has it gone so far?:
In short: Good – Very Bad – Good – Okay
First 7 games were good with great performances. We were around the top 2 for most of that time and betting favourites to win the league at one point. Slowly started to lose steam and were winless in our last 6 when Dean Smith left us for Aston Villa in October.
Thomas Frank, Dean Smith’s assistant, took over and basically continued with the exact same system that was already in place. He had an unfortunate start, with the death of our very young technical director Robert Rowan clearly affecting the whole club from the staff down to most of the players, who had a good relationship with him. A few key injuries on top of that as well didn’t do him any favours.
He was dangerously close to getting sacked when we picked up only 4 out of 30 possible points in his first 10 matches in charge, which saw us drop down to 19th (3 points above the relegation zone). He then made some big tactical and personal changes and turned it around in late December with a hugely needed home win against Bolton that kickstarted a 10-match unbeaten run with mostly great performances.
With Derby and Bristol City dropping points we started to catch up to the playoff places which seemed impossible in December but still were never really able to gain the full momentum necessary for a playoff charge due to away defeats to teams we would easily have beaten at home (Nott. Forest, Sheff. Wed.) and consecutive losses to Sheffield United (A.) and West Brom (H.) in March. Best/most used starting 11 and tactics:
Started the season with Dean Smith’s 4-1-2-3 (Transfermarkt has it as a 4-1-4-1 but I don’t like the sound of that) with McEachran as holding midfielder behind Sawyers and MacLeod. This worked well initially but with our fullbacks usually pushing up high and McEachran’s defensive weakness (he is not a natural holding midfielder and struggled off the ball) we were starting to get exposed on the counter attack with our centre backs left isolated too often. We were still moving the ball well and dominated possession though.
We continued playing with this system and only minor personal changes. On top of that we really (and this can’t be understated) struggled at clearing the ball out of our box. There would be at least 5-10 minutes in every match with just calamitous defending against set pieces or crosses from open play which cost us at least one goal every game even if we dominated for the rest of the match.
Once we hit rock bottom in December and Thomas Frank was close to getting the sack, he switched to 3 at the back in a decisive match at home against Bolton. We barely won and kept the new formation since then. It’s a 3-4-3 with 3 centre halves and two central midfielders in Sawyers and Mokotjo.
This allows our wingbacks a lot more freedom to go forward with the double pivot creating from deep and dictating play while at the same time maintaining defensive solidity. The line-up shows our best 11. Unfortunately, Henry is out injured and has been replaced by Odubajo, who is alright but sometimes seems to slow our attack down a little bit by losing possession too often. We also have Sergi Canos who really shouldn’t be sitting on the bench in the Championship as he is absolute quality on both wings and started to fill in for Dalsgaard as right wingback and did a fantastic job there. u/s0ngsforthedeaf:
yeah, the switch to 343 was really crucial and basically the tactical story of the season. Despite previously being considered a 'possession' or 'progressive' team (true), the 4123 began to falter under Frank (Smith wouldve encountered problems had he stayed Im sure). The problem was the midfield 3 simply not doing enough, with McCaechran, as nice technique as he has, not really being an expansive enough playmaker, and having zero physical presence. Teams were soaking up pressure and countering effectively. So while 343 is nominally more 'defensive'...as soon as it was on the pitch it made sense. The star front 3 can to attack. The fullbacks can roam upfield freely. Sawyers is just better in a midfield 2, he has space to play with and there is less focus on the possession game. The one weakness is depth and experience at centreback, which isnt helped by squad turnover. But the new players will be up for it next season. Best/worst/memorable moments:
This is a difficult one as we had many absolute top performances this season and some horrendous ones as well.
Personally, I’d say the best moment was either coming back an early 0-2 against Blackburn to win 5-2 or Maupay scoring a deserved late winner against Dean Smith’s Aston Villa in February. Honourable mentions go to our opening match against Rotherham (5-2 win) which was probably the most optimistic I’ve ever seen Griffin Park and beating Middlesbrough away (which we haven’t done since 1938).
Worst moment was definitely the 2-0 defeat away to Hull in December which was Thomas Frank’s 10th game in charge and his 8th defeat. Horrendous defensive performance conceding an early goal which allowed them to sit back and watch us do nothing for 90 minutes. u/s0ngsforthedeaf: Beating Hull 5-1 was very satisfying, because the front 3 showed what they could do with some accuracy! Remaining fixtures and expectations - nervous?:
Wigan (A), Swansea (A), Derby (H), Ipswich (H), Reading (A), Millwall (A), Leeds (H), Bolton (A), Preston (H)
Not nervous at all because there’s not really anything to lose here. We are 8 points off playoffs with a game in hand. All but one of our remaining away matches are against teams fighting relegation and with our away record I don’t necessarily see us beating all of them (even though we have the quality to do so).
At home we can beat anyone so ideally, we will pick up maybe 20 points out of our last 9 matches. It will probably be closer to 15 or fewer in reality but if we play at 100% of what we’re capable of then who knows. Thing is we have a lot of teams ahead of us which makes it difficult for us to overtake them all.
Give us about a 10% chance max. of making playoffs. (*Edit - we lost to Swansea midweek...yeah, its over) If you get promoted/survive relegation you will..[and if you don't you will]:
If we somehow make playoffs, we’d be on such a terrific run that I’d actually give us a chance of winning especially if we play Sheffield United who have a similarly bad record at playoffs. About 1% chance of us going up this season. Finishing position prediction:
League prediction is almost impossible with how close it is from 6th to 15th. Reckon in the top half of the table around 10th. Rival watch and league prediction:
Our two games against QPR sum up both of our seasons perfectly. In November they beat us because we were shit and they were good and in February we beat them because they were shit and we were good. Funny to see how they somehow managed to go on an even worse run of form than we did and are now below us in the table.
14. Swansea City by Lerkot Manager: Graham Potter
Hopes/predictions at the beginning of the season?: People sort of expected the club to give new manager Graham Potter a bit of money to rebuild the team last summer. However, the summer went by and not much happened, and when the transfer window closed most of us agreed that a mid-table finish would be fine as long as we developed our squad and our young players.
Mini season review - how has it gone so far?: A lot of up and downs. We are mid-table as expected but we have played some very nice football and a lot of our youngsters have proven to be better than we could hope for, while other players have shown that maybe they should have gotten more opportunities in the Premier League. The team seems very harmonic, we have one of the youngest squads in the English league system and seem very humble and hungy and we have one of the best coaches in England.
Outside of the pitch the club is in chaos. We have a very strained relationship to the owners.
While most of us love the current set of players, it is obvious that we are very thin in some positions and the disappointing January transfer window was not worthy of a reasonably big club like Swansea. Kicking the chairman, almost giving away one of our best players to Leeds, letting all of our staff know that they might be fired in the summer, an economical loss of £65m... we have a lot of issues. Any other manager choice, and we could very well have been the new Sunderland. So far it has been a season showing us that the future is both bright and worrying. Players like Connor Roberts, Joe Rodon and Daniel James have gone from being absolutely nothing to playing international football.
Best/most used starting 11 and tactics: MuldeNordfeldt - Roberts, Rodon, Van der Hoorn, Naughton - Grimes, Fer - James, Celina, Routledge - McBurnie We have played different tactics and used a lot of players but this is probably our strongest lineup not counting Martin Olsson who got injured in December and will miss the rest of the season.
Remaining fixtures and expectations - nervous?: No, our season is more or less dead. We are very unlikely to reach the playoffs and wont get relegated. I expect good football and hopefully we could climb a few positions and that our players keep developing.
If you get promoted/survive relegation you will..[and if you don't you will]: The harsh reality is that we will stay in the Championship and since our owners won't invest in the club, we need to sell our best players and invest very litry little. Our very young and very talented team will likely be torn into pieces. It will be a summer of fear rather than hope.
Rival watch and league prediction: We are looking forward to the derby.
Manager: Gary Rowett was sacked in December, after that Nathan Jones
Hopes/predictions at the beginning of the season?: Automatic promotion. With our Premier League team in tact (minus Shaqiri and Ndiaye), the biggest wage bill in the league and over £40m spent in the summer on transfers I don’t think it’s arrogant to say that we had high expectations. We were bookies favourites for a reason.
Mini season review - how has it gone so far?: Well we’re not going to get relegated, so it’s not a total disaster, but this season has been incredibly disappointing. We’ve not clicked at any point. Even during a ten game unbeaten run under Gary Rowett we only won four games.
Best/most used starting 11 and tactics: I’m not sure where to start here. Our starting line up has been changing all season. Only Jack Butland and Joe Allen have played in every league game.
Neither manager has wanted to play with two strikers, but with so little pace (of passing or movement) in midfield we’ve never been able to dominate games even with an extra man in the middle.
We are totally risk averse and will pass sideways or backwards for eternity rather than attempt a dangerous ball forward (with the exception of Charlie Adam). However we looked different in our last game at home to Sheffield Wednesday. So maybe it’s a sign of things to come.
Best/worst/memorable moments: Best - Beating Derby 2-1 after going down to ten men in the first half
Worst - 0-3 down at home to Wigan in August with Nick Powell looking like Maradona. Absolutely embarrassing. Even this early into the season we started to realise that things weren’t going to plan.
Memorable - 0-2 at home to Bristol City on New Year’s Day. Very toxic atmosphere as Rowett lost the majority of the Stoke fans.
Key stat: We have the fourth best defence and third worst attack in terms of goals scored / conceded. This sums up our problem this season, especially under Rowett. We’ve had very attacking intent resulting in few goals.
Remaining fixtures and expectations - nervous?: Blackburn (A), Swansea (A), Rotherham (H), Middlesbrough (A), Norwich (H), Millwall (A) and Sheff Utd (H)
Considering that we’ve drawn our last four games 0-0 we might as well draw the last seven 0-0 and set a world record.
If you get promoted/survive relegation you will..and if you dont you will:..Not much to stay here with a boring mid-table finish. I can’t wait for the season to end.
Rival watch and league prediction: West Brom are our only historic rival in the league. Whilst I disagree with them sacking Darren Moore I do kind of understand the logic if they had a great replacement in mind... which they don’t. So no promotion for them.
Finishing position prediction: 12th
I think we may squeeze into the top half. Fingers crossed we can rebuild the squad in the summer.
16. Blackburn Rovers no review submitted
17. Queens Park Rangers by Tiggy10 Team, Manager: Queens Park Rangers, John Eustace (Caretaker manager, took over from Steve McClaren April 1st)
Hopes/predictions at the beginning of the season?: Staying up I suppose? Probably our famed mid-table mediocrity.Anything higher than 16th would have been a bonus. Main focus of the season was to stabilize and develop youth.
Mini season review - how has it gone so far? Well. At the time of writing Shteve is the latest manager to pass through the revolving doors at Loftus Road and I think that just about sums up the season. We've broken some "hoo-doos" which have been a highlight of the season so far but on the whole we've lost a LOT of games and badly, whether that was through bad luck, poor officiation or (and mainly) poor play.
After a dreadful start we hit a purple patch and got carried away with perhaps being a surprise dark horse for a playoff push along with an FA cup run. AN ACTUAL CUP RUN! But being QPR, all hopes were squashed and reality came tumbling down. But here we are with a handful of games to go, looking nervously over our shoulders once again.
Best/most used starting 11 and tactics: With big losses to our defense in the form of Nedum Onuoha and Jack Robinson we shouldn't have been surprised to see a slight downfall in the quality of our defense. Boy were we wrong. The first few games we were torn apart. Trialling a 4231 for the dismal start and then changing to a standard 442 to achieve our first win of the season. It's difficult to say if the change in form was due to the big signings we had bought in or the new formation, but it worked.
Also a change of keeper from Matt Ingram to Joe Lumley has proved to be instrumental. Gotta feel bad for Ingram, but if you are riddled with mistakes, you aren't going to play much.
It is difficult to pinpoint what the focus of the team is. Wells is a tricky striker who can beat a man, Freeman is the creative outlet and Eze was/is likewise. When big Matt Smith is on, the game plan is simple.
http://lineupbuilder.com/?sk=hy9vy2 Our best starting XI? Bright Osayi-Sammuel misses out here only due to lack of game time, otherwise he can seem like one of the only players giving it his all. Rangel and Cameron have been revelations, we have sorely missed them through injury and as such our performances have suffered without them. Grant Hall has had a torrid time with injury over the last two years and quite frankly has fewer mistakes in him than Joel Lynch. Eze started well but has not achieved the level of expectation the fans had hoped for, who knows why he's tailed off towards the end of the season? He's still very young though, and has a lot to learn.
Best/worst/memorable moments: No prizes for anyone who guessed the shambles at the Hawthorns was the worst moment of the season. Losing 7-1 is quite frankly embarrassing, Enough said.
Highlights would include our cup run. Beating Brentford 3-2 at home. And finally. FINALLY winning at the City Ground 1-0.
Key stat: On average we commit the most fouls per game (14.7) and coincidentally, we've conceded the most penalties this season (7). Poor Timing.
Remaining fixtures and expectations - nervous?: Norwich (A), Millwall (A), Swansea (H), Blackburn (H), Derby (A), Nottingham Forest (H), Sheff Wednesday (A)
Boy I would love to say we can get another point this season but I am skeptical. We couldn't beat Rotherham or Bolton at home. We need a couple of wins to ease the nerves, but at this point in time we may be sweating and looking at results elsewhere to decide our fate.
Despite this though I would not entirely be surprised to nick a point away at Norwich, because we just do stupid things like that when we are in dismal form. I'd much rather go down this season than next. I can't keep doing this skin of your teeth stuff.
If you get promoted/survive relegation you will..and if you don't you will..if QPR don't get relegated I wouldn't be surprised, we've thankfully got a bit of a cushion. If we do get relegated, quite frankly we deserve it based on 2019 alone with 1 league win, apologies, Leeds.
Predicted League Position: 18th
Rival watch and league prediction: Local rivals Brentford will be here next season, with or without us, I think they've left it a little too late to chase the play-offs, and even if they did make it in I can't see them beating others around them to go to Wembley. It's the teams below us we need to focus on. I think all the teams above us will be fine. The bottom three (Rotherham, Bolton, Ipswich) look set to go down in my opinion.
Going up has got to be Norwich, and fully deserved, stuck with Farke and it has paid off. Good luck in the Prem as champions. Leeds will get second. and Sheff Utd will win play-offs (I cannot believe Washington will be playing for a premiership team).
18. Birmingham City by 2ej Manager: Garry Monk
Hopes/predictions at the beginning of the season?: Mid table stability was my hope after two straight season of chaos, both with last day relegation fights. Monk had gotten the players playing at the end of last season and we looked a genuinely good team so just to take that through to this season and not be constantly looking over our shoulders. Then news of a transfer embargo came out which resigned me to another poor season, but why worry about embargo's when you have owners who just sign players anyway?
Mini season review - Calling this season a roller coaster ride is putting it mildly. 0 wins in the first 8 league games was frustrating because we genuinely battered teams in this period. 2-2 opening day of the season against Norwich where Hernandez scored a last second equaliser, goalless draws against Swansea (H) & Sheff Utd (A), 2-0 up away at Forest with 10 minutes to go and only drawing, missing a penalty straight after going 1-0 against WBA. All these made me feel like the season was cursed. Then in our 9th game we beat then league leaders Leeds away 2-1, funny league isn't it? Shortly after this we steamroll teams in October and everything's looking rosy.
Get to November and the wheels fall off ever so slightly. Plagued with injuries and a small squad we lose to Derby, surrender a 2-0 half time lead to Hull ending 3-3 and then lost to the Villa 4-2 where any complaints I had about the officiating were rendered moot after we let Hutton run from what felt like two different postcodes to score the 4th. As has been typical with this season for the most part we bounced back straight away taking 13 of the next 18 points on offer, taking us through Christmas and a real belief that we could sneak in to the top 6.
Then January happened. 2 points from 12, including an absolute lesson in football by Norwich and a last minute equaliser by Swansea in a 3-3 classic which underlined the spirit in the team (1-1 at half time and down to 10 men). Moving in to February we then bounced back again with victories over Forest & QPR, the latter being a 4-3 classic in which Lee Camp saved a last minute penalty. Again we were on the fringes of the top 6 and looking optimistic at an outside shot at the top 6.
Then March happened! (seeing a trend here?) 0 points from 12, more opposition players assaulted than goals scored and the cherry on the delightful sundae is a 9 point deduction for breaching P&S rules, ensuring what was looking like a boring mid table finish is now our annual relegation fight.
Best/most used starting 11 and tactics: Monk has predominantly used a flat 4-4-2 system in which we're happy for other teams to have the ball in their half, but as soon as they start to venture forward they're swarmed by us. Very effective against teams who like to pass it round. When we have the ball the main tactic is to chuck it up to Juke up front and have him hold it up to allow Adams & the wingers to be brought in to play. Monk has experimented with a diamond formation where Jota plays the number 10 in behind the two strikers which was used for the first time against QPR away and caused us to be 4-1 up at half time. This has since been shelved however as we were leaking goals using it. Adams has been getting all the plaudits, and they're fully deserved but Jutkiewicz is my player of the season. The man runs his bollocks off every game for the team and has 10 goals and 10 assists so far, great return from the big man.
Most used team - http://lineupbuilder.com/?sk=hy9d3
Best/worst/memorable moments: Best I've seen us play is easily the first 45 away to QPR, which is also the most memorable moment when Camp saved the penalty in the last minute - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aYd51nIeADA
The worst has to be the 0-1 home loss to the Villa, not for the loss itself as you get used to losing to them lot but for what happened on the day.
Remaining fixtures and expectations - nervous?: WBA (A), Leeds (H), Sheff Utd (H), Ipswich (A), Derby (H), Rotherham (A), Wigan (H), Reading (A)
Horrible next 3 fixtures against 3 of the top 6, and two of the top 3. After that we only have to play 1 team in the top half and even then Derby are in a horrible run of form and it's at home. Not nervous right now as we're good enough to get the bare minimum of 5 points that would pretty much guarantee safety.
If you get promoted/survive relegation you will..and if you dont you will.. Promotion is 100% off the table, surviving relegation should be a formality. We will sell Adams in the summer for a fee which should be over 20 million, allowing us to get the P&S monkey off our back and hopefully have a little bet left over for Monk to play with.
Rival watch and league prediction: Villa are storming up the league now Grealish is back, looking at their fixtures I'd expect them to finish top 6 now. Although it may come back to the last 2 games against Leeds & Norwich which won't be easy, they best hope they go up as the P&S boogeyman will be coming. West Brom are stuck in that no mans land where they're guaranteed playoffs but they don't have enough to reach the top 2. I think Norwich & Sheff Utd will get the automatic spots, with Leeds going up through the playoffs.
Manager: Reading FC - Jose Gomes, who took over from Paul Clement just before Christmas.
Hopes/predictions at the beginning of the season?: I was thinking mid table, probably lower mid table. Our signings made me cautiously optimistic, and we started with a good performance against Derby County, despite conceding a last minute winner. Looking back, I realise this was a poor prediction, in that we didn't win a single pre-season game and our signings were actually all pretty poor, with the exception of Andy Yiadom.
Mini season review - how has it gone so far? One word - horrifically, at least until the appointment of Gomes. The rot from last season had truly set in as the club became more and more of a toxic place to be, with a rift developing between not just the club and the fans, but separate groups within the supporter base too. On the pitch, we were playing dire football, and off the pitch our CEO Ron Gourlay proceeded to alienate everyone, tried to grab power, and buddied up with his Chelsea mate Paul Clement before they were both rightfully binned off in December, with the club needing a complete overhaul in the January window.
Since then, it's been the complete opposite with Gomes in charge and Nigel Howe returning as CEO. The support is back, the deadwood is gone, people are happy, and there's even the semblance of an atmosphere at the Madejski. The players want to play, the manager wants to manage, and the supporters want to support, which is something we didn't have with Clement. Combined with much better football and an uptick in form, and everything's all starting to look quite good.
Best/most used starting 11 and tactics: Under Jose Gomes, we've not really been able to play the players he wants to pick due to being pretty nailed by injuries. As such, I've put this team which seems to be the eleven that Gomes wants to put out. Due to what I shall call an 'unfortunate incident' with Tyrone Mings against Aston Villa followed by a hamstring injury, Oliveira has only featured in six games since joining on loan, and despite results we've definitely missed this focal point in the team, with Meite now usually playing up top and Ovie Ejaria coming in as the wide replacement. We're now characterised as generally good passers of the ball, who like possession but without passing the ball for passing's sake, as we were under previous managers. Instead we try to draw opponents onto us in order to break using the pace of our wide players, supported by a switch to more of a three at the back system with our full backs pushing forwards as we attack, and one of our central midfielders dropping between the two centre backs to provide cover. All in all, we've become a lot harder to beat.
Best/worst/memorable moments: I've picked four moments here, all of which are from the last six weeks or so, with three key victories being followed by a (mostly) dominant performance this weekend against Preston. First of all out of the three was Nelson Oliveira arriving back from surgery like a masked saviour to score a late winner against Blackburn Rovers. We then built on this at the beginning of the month with two crucial games against relegation rivals, with vital late goals from Mo Barrow scoring a 90th minute winner away at Ipswich in a 2-1 victory as well as an 89th minute equaliser the following week, before Yakou Meite netted in the 97th minute to beat Wigan 3-2.
Key stat: We're the best form team in the Championship that isn't part of the top 6, which is rather impressive considering we're in 19th.
Remaining fixtures and expectations - nervous?: Hull City (A), Norwich City (A), Brentford (H), Bristol City (A), West Bromwich Albion (H), Middlesbrough (A), Birmingham City (H).
I think that this is one of the hardest run ins that any team in the Championship has to face this season. I'm surprisingly confident about it though - although that's worked out poorly before. We're riding a high and could probably beat anyone on our day.
If you survive relegation you will... Need to carry on with the squad overhaul. Sign some of the loanees on permanent deals, and get rid of the older, unusable players.
If you go down you will... Need to do everything we can to get back up, although I'm not sure how soon that would be. We'd either languish for a while due to not being as good physically as the other teams, or we'd come straight back due to the fact we have some very technically competent players.
Finishing position: 18th or 19th, but comfortably safe from relegation.
Rival watch and league prediction: Ipswich are dead and buried at this point, with Bolton not too far behind, as these court situations will not be helping. Birmingham are in free fall and now in a bit of a relegation scrap with 5 or 6 losses on the spin, but a much better goal difference than the rest of us. I think the final relegation spot will be occupied by Rotherham, though.
Team, Manager: Wigan Athletic, Paul Cook
Hopes/predictions at the beginning of the season?: Our last two season in the Championship (16/17 & 14/15) Wigan were relegated from the Championship. Both times after going down we came back up as League One Champs. The majority of the fans just want us to maintain our Championship status. Due to our takeover in the middle of the season and lack of transfers last summer because of this, staying up this season is so crucial for our clubs future.
Mini season review - how has it gone so far?
Oof. Well, 10 games into the season the Latics were in 8th place, with 5 wins, including a 3-0 win over Stoke. Flash forward to now, Latics are in 19th, just 3 points out of relegation and no away wins since Stoke! The winter period saw the Latics lose crucial attacking players in Gavin Massey, Michael Jacobs and more importantly Nick Powell. Who were all instrumental in our 17/18 League One Championship season. The selling of Will Grigg on deadline day is something that most of us don't want to talk about, given our lack of goals all season. Many fans called for Cook's head before the impressive 3-0 win over Villa. Then again after defeats against Reading and Blackburn, things were looking bad before a 5-2 win over Bolton last matchday.
Best/most used starting 11 and tactics:
4-2-3-1, although we have had a few players rotate. Reece James, most notably, has been playing CDM the last few games, with Nathan Byrne on the right. Also, Danny Fox will most likely start taking either Kipre or Chey out, or could slide in LB. We have gone 3 CB's with two wingbacks a few times this season as well.
Worst moments, the matches against Preston, Blackburn and Brentford, last minute pk winner at Norwich, last minute PK against Forrest. Best moments, 3-0 win at Stoke, 3-0 win over Villa and 5-2 win over Bolton.
Remaining fixtures and expectations - nervous?:
Nervous is an understatement. I believe two wins of the last 8 would keep us safe, around 8 points.
Brentford (H), Bristol City (A), Hull City (A), Norwich (H), Leeds (A), Preston (H), Birmingham (A), Millwall (H)
If you get promoted/survive relegation you will..[and if you don't you will]
If the Latics get relegated I will have to unsubscribe from this subreddit for the 3rd time in 5 years and won't be very happy.
Rival watch and league prediction:
Bolton... not much needs to be said. I think I speak for most football fans when I say I don't want them to go bust. It's a shame to see the state of that club right now our derbys are something we all look forward to.
At this point I think Leeds is going to blow the auto push. I think Norwich and Shef U go up and WBA win playoffs. Rotherham, Bolton and Ipswich to go down.
Manager: Neil Harris
Hopes/predictions at the beginning of the season?: After massively overachieving in our first season back in the league, with a late playoff push towards the end of the season, a season of building to consolidate our status as a championship side was the goal. Any expectation of another playoff push was pure fantasy, but a mid table finish seemed like a reasonable aim.
Mini season review - how has it gone so far?: Despite an exciting cup run this season has turned out to be a struggle for us, and we've found ourselves deservedly in a relegation battle. An inability to see out games and lack of tactical flexibility for the majority of the season has left us deservedly in a relegation battle, perhaps expectedly when looking at the cost of our team compared to others in the division. Spending most of the season languishing just above the relegation places, a recent downturn in form leaves us just a point above relegation placed Rotherham.
Best/most used starting 11 and tactics: http://lineupbuilder.com/?sk=hy9my5 We started the season with the 442 that brought us great success last season. However, after selling midfielder George Saville and striker Steve Morison getting on a bit, other teams started to figure us out, and a 442 based on soaking up pressure and quick long ball counters quickly descended into painful and drab hoofball, with a clear lack of a plan b. The return of loaned out midfielder Ben Thompson, from a successful spell at Portsmouth, alongside the return of winger Ben Marshall, on loan from Norwich, allowed us to switch to the 433 which we use now. While we've enjoyed a little more success with it at times, usually playing a pressing game built on quick counters and transitions against the bigger sides. Against smaller sides a lack of identity is evident and games usually quickly turn into a bit of a slog.
Best/worst/memorable moments: In the league, it's difficult to pick a best moment, because there are next to none, we've come short in all of our big games in the league this season, even if it's well hidden by memorable moments such as our cup win against Everton. We've been on the wrong side of a thrilling 4-3 loss to Norwich. The low of this season for sure has to be our 2-1 loss away to Bolton, the moment when relegation started to become a genuine prospect.
Key Stat: Over 25% of our goals conceded this season have come after the 75th minute. This sums our season up perfectly sadly. If games were 75 mins long, we'd be comfortably mid table if not more. Unfortunately an inability to hold onto leads, caused in part by tactical decisions to sit back and absorb pressure late in the game, combined with ineffectual (or lack of) substitutions have cost us dearly this season.
Remaining fixtures and expectations: WBA (H), QPR (H), Sheff Utd (A), Brentford (H), Villa (A), Stoke (H), Bristol City(H), Wigan (A). Not the easiest run in by any means, but we tend to perform better against top half teams, so that may work in our favour. Having won only three games away from home all season, having most of our remaining games is definitely an advantage. The two London derbies against QPR and Brentford, as well as Stoke are games where we need to pick up points if we are to stay in this division. Away games against Sheff Utd and Villa will be a tough ask, so home form will be crucial.
If we get relegated I will...: be fuming. While I can have no complaints if we go down, we won't have deserved to stay up whatsoever, the way in which we go down will be unacceptable. Having thrown away too many late leads, and failed to pick up points in games where we have been the better team, it'll be tough to take and serious questions will need to be asked of the management, even if Harris is a club legend, things could turn bitter should we go down.
Finishing position prediction: 21st
Rival watch and league prediction: Sadly our main division rivals Leeds look like they're on their way to promotion alongside Norwich, the less said about that the better. London rivals QPR and Brentford are both heading towards mid table finishes, QPR in much worse shape than the latter. Norwich and Leeds will most likely finish in the top two, I fancy either Sheff Utd or Bristol City (if they make it) to win the playoffs. We'll probably just have enough to get over the line and survive, which means Rotherham bounce straight back down to League One with Bolton and Ipswich
22. Rotherham no review submitted
23. Bolton Wanderers by rexkwando52 Manager: Phil Parkinson
Hopes/predictions at the beginning of the season?:
After miraculously staying up with 2 goals in the last 2 minutes of the final game of the season, fans were hoping to build on the 21st place finish. There were no hopes of anything higher than mid table, a comfortable season would have been a success if we could avoid looking over our shoulders at the relegation zone. And those hopes were granted.... For the first couple of weeks. This was despite players refusing to play a pre season game at St. Mirren due to unpaid wages and bonuses from the previous year. Something that was to cast a dark shadow over the club in the months to come.
Mini season review - how has it gone so far?
Terrible. A bright start to the campaign fell away fast and the team plummeted through the standings. Some of the absolute worst football we've ever watched came. Averaging around 35% possession most games, negative long ball tactics and goal shy strikers. It really hasn't been good viewing. 3 wins and a draw from the first 4 games saw us high up the table. Then a 3-0 dismantling by Sheffield United saw the wheels fall off. 1 win and 4 draws from the next 18 games with only 9 goals scored before a 2-1 victory over Rotherham on boxing day saw us sink to the bottom. After that, not much else changed and at the time of writing, we sit 8 points adrift with 8 to play.
Best/most used starting 11 and tactics:
I can't really give a best or most used 11 because there hasn't been one. I think Parkinson uses a bingo machine to pick his team as it changes so much every game. Our 'best' player Ameobi has been sub par. Bright players have been polish right back Olkowski and youth midfielder Luca Connell but besides this the team has lacked quality throughout.
Best moments have been the bright start, beating relegated West Brom 2-1 on opening day, and a 5 goal fa cup win over Walsall where the team looked like they could actually play football. By far the worst moment came in our last outing though, getting thumped 5-2 away at rivals Wigan. It was really the last chance to mount a challenge to stay up and the performance was pathetic.
.... rest of the Bolton and Ipswich (p)reviews in the comments below!
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