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CHAMPIONSHIP PREVIEW PART FOUR

11 September 2020

Concluding our in-depth look at the Reds' opposition this coming season in the Sky Bet Championship.

 

 

ROTHERHAM UNITED

Nickname: The Millers

Stadium: New York Stadium

Capacity: 12,021

Manager: Paul Warne

Last season: 2nd in League One

 

The Reds will be happy to have this clash against South Yorkshire rivals Rotherham United back on the calendar this season. 

This will be the first time the two teams have faced each other in over three years as they renew their rivalry in December and April. 

Fan favourite Paul Warne has been the spearhead of this Rotherham side for four seasons and guided his team instantly back to the Sky Bet Championship after the Millers finished 2nd behind Coventry City in League One on an unweighted points per game basis following the curtailment of the campaign back in March. 

Warne’s managerial style is different to many others and that has brought him both success and failure during his time as Rotherham manager which has seen two promotions to the Sky Bet Championship but also two relegations. 

His man-management technique instils that emotional bond between himself and the players that transfers out onto the pitch as his team link in perfect harmony with one another, however Warne has come under criticism for his more direct approach to matches.

By setting up in a 4-1-4-1 formation, he likes his team to move the ball forward as quickly as possible even if that means playing long to the lone target man in attack and with several tall players in their starting eleven, they are often a huge threat from dead ball situations.

Warne will not look to change his style in the Sky Bet Championship, as his Rotherham side look to grind out results which will see them stay in the league for another season.

 

Livewire striker Freddie Ladapo has been the star man for Paul Warne’s side since his move to Rotherham from Plymouth Argyle one year ago. 

In League One, the striker notched 17 goals and guided the Millers to a second-place finish with his natural finishing ability. The forward likes to cut inside and shoot, but he is also a great threat from set pieces as he stands at a tall 6 foot 2 inches. 

Barnsley have an outstanding record against Rotherham over the years. The Reds are unbeaten in their last nine matches in all competitions and haven’t lost against the Millers since 1982.

The last meeting between the sides saw Barnsley win 1-0 at the New York Stadium in 2017, as Adam Armstrong’s goal in the 70th minute proved to be the decider.  

 

 

 

 

STOKE CITY

Nickname: The Potters

Stadium: Bet 365 Stadium

Capacity: 30,089

Manager: Michael O’Neill

Last season: 15th

 

Life in the Sky Bet Championship has been difficult for Stoke City ever since their relegation from the Premier League in 2017/18 and having spent all of last season in the bottom half, they will be hoping to improve massively under Michael O’Neill in 20/21.

The Northern Irishman was brought in to replace Nathan Jones in early September after the Potters picked up just eight points from their first 14 matches. 

However, O’Neill’s arrival had an instant impact, as Stoke went on to beat relegation rivals Barnsley, Wigan Athletic and Luton Town, before victory over Sheffield Wednesday lifted them off the foot of the table and out of the relegation zone towards the end of the 2019. 

Further impressive wins over promotion chasers West Bromwich Albion and Swansea City in January saw the Potters pull away from the bottom three before their safety was confirmed with a convincing victory 5-1 over Hull City just before the coronavirus outbreak in March. 

After their status was established, Stoke went on to win four of their remaining nine matches following the restart which saw them go on to finish 2019/20 in 15th. 

Looking ahead to 2020/21, expect former Northern Ireland boss O’Neill to continue to change up his tactics in order to get the best out of his players depending on the type of opposition he faces. 

O’Neill is not afraid to alter the formation on a match-to-match basis and this can often make him difficult to predict and this is one of the reasons why Stoke picked up so many surprising results since he took over in September. 

Although, it can be said that O’Neill likes to set his team up to be defensive and play long ball football, which may not be pretty, but is effective. His style has many similarities to that of former Stoke legend Tony Pulis and if he can replicate the latter’s’ success, the Potters may be on course for a good season. 

Midfielder Sam Clucas has been a terrific signing for Stoke since he joined the club from Hull City in 2018. 

He is one of the most consistent performers on the pitch week-in-week-out and his 11 goals last season, saw him finish the campaign as the club’s leading marksman. 

Clucas is a typical ball-playing midfielder, he likes to get in possession in the centre of the park, drive forward and make things happen in the attacking third and he will be hoping to carry his high level of performance into 2020/21. 

There have been very few meetings between the sides in recent years, but the Potters’ double over Barnsley last season saw them go four matches unbeaten against the Reds in all competitions. 

It’s been 13 years since Barnsley last beat Stoke in England’s second tier. The last victory came in September 2007, when Istvan Ferenczi scored the only goal of the game in a 1-0 win and when the Reds face Stoke this season, it’ll only be the fifth and sixth time that the two teams have met since then. 

 

 

 

SWANSEA CITY

Nickname: The Swans

Stadium: Liberty Stadium

Capacity: 21,088

Manager: Steve Cooper

Last season: 6th

 

The Swans were one of the surprise packages of last season, having produced a late surge to snatch the last promotion place from the grasp of Nottingham Forest on the final day of the season with a superb 1-0 victory over Bristol City. 

Conor Roberts’ goal on the stroke of half-time proved to be the decisive moment as Steve Cooper’s side sealed sixth to push Forest out of the play-offs on goal difference. 

The Swans had a phenomenal start to the season as the won seven of their first eight matches in all competitions, but a series of poor results through October and November saw them lose pace with the front runners just before Christmas. 

Their form went through another upward curve again in the new year; however, it wasn’t until after lockdown when the Swans really started to establish themselves as play-off contenders. 

One defeat in their final nine matches saw them incredibly regain touch with the leaders in July and that last push in the final game of season meant they deservedly clinched a place in the play-offs to set up a tie with Brentford. 

After winning the first leg at the Liberty Stadium, the Swans looked in control, but a 3-1 defeat at Griffin Park saw Swansea exit the play-offs 3-2 on aggregate. 

Following that disappointing result post-season, Cooper will be hoping his side can make more of statement in race for promotion this time around. 

Ghanaian captain Andre Ayew has been in inspired form for Swansea in his second spell with the club. 

It looked as though Ayew would be on his way out of the Liberty Stadium last season after a loan at Turkish side Fenerbahçe, but his resurgence under Steve Cooper in pre-season saw him become one of the Swans most valuable assets in 2019/20.

The 30-year-old scored 18 goals and got seven assists last season as he topped the charts in both departments for Swansea during the last campaign and he will be hoping that his goals will lead his team to promotion in 2020/21.

It’s been 14 years since the Reds last beat Swansea in any competitive fixture. Barnsley’s last success against them came back in the 2006 League One play-off final where the Reds were subsequently promoted after defeating the Swans 4-3 on penalties after the game had finished in an entertaining 2-2 draw with Paul Hayes and Daniel Nardiello on the scoresheet. 

Since then, it’s been all Swansea, who have won five and drawn five with the Reds to take them onto a ten-game unbeaten streak, something Barnsley will be looking to put an end to when they meet in close proximity during December and January. 

 

 

 

SHEFFIELD WEDNESDAY

Nickname: The Owls

Stadium: Hillsborough

Capacity: 34,854

Manager: Garry Monk

Last season: 16th

 

Sheffield Wednesday will start the 2020/21 campaign on minus 12 points following the decision by the independent disciplinary panel to deduct 12 points for breaking spending rules. 

This decision comes after a year of turmoil on and off the pitch at Hillsborough which saw the Owls go from promotion challengers at Christmas to relegation threateners by the end of the season after a catastrophic drop off in performance during the second half of the campaign. 

It took the Owls two months to appoint a full-time head coach after Steve Bruce’s departure to Newcastle United in July. Garry Monk was tasked with the job of guiding Sheffield Wednesday back to the Premier League.

His reign started well, as the Owls lost only two of their opening ten matches under Monk and their good form continued up until Christmas. However, it was in the new year when Sheffield Wednesday’s season really started to go downhill rapidly.

They went on to win just two more matches from January until March which saw them drop from inside the playoff places to mid table and when the season got back underway in June, they picked up just eight points out of 27 as they finished the campaign in a lowly 16th. 

Looking ahead to 20/21, Monk faces a mammoth task in saving Wednesday from relegation, but if they are to avoid the drop, they will need to add a lot more consistency to their game.

Defender Dominic Iorfa has been one of Sheffield Wednesday’s most consistent players since joining the club from Wolverhampton Wanderers in 2019.

He’s the type of player that likes to get a foot in and shows good positional awareness in defence, but his attacking ability is also one of his strengths. Iorfa is a great dribbler on the ball and likes to bomb down the flank and get crosses in from the right-back position. He may have only scored two and assisted two last season, but he is showed excellent promise in his first season in the Sky Bet Championship and will only get better during 20/21. 

The Reds barren run against local rivals Sheffield Wednesday continues as they look for their first win in 12 matches.

You have to go back to 2009 when Barnsley last beat the Owls in a competitive fixture. Jamal Campbell-Ryce was the only goalscorer that day in a 1-0 victory.

Since then, the Reds have only picked up seven draws against Sheffield Wednesday in a run of form they are hoping to put an end to when they lock horns this season. 

 

 

 

WATFORD

Nickname: The Hornets

Stadium: Vicarage Road

Capacity: 22,200

Manager: Vladimir Ivic

Last season: 19th in the Premier League

 

Barnsley and Watford will lock horns for the first time since 2014 after the Hornets five year stay in the Premier League was concluded at the end of 2019/20.

In a season that saw a total of four managerial sackings, Watford will start their quest for instant promotion with a new man at the helm in Serbian Vladimir Ivic who joins from Israeli side Maccabi Tel-Aviv.

Ivic will be hoping to steady the ship at Vicarage Road after a year of turmoil on the pitch for the Watford which saw them relegated after finishing 19th on 34 points.

Well-liked Spaniard Javi Gracia started the last campaign in charge, but after picking up just one point in their opening five matches, he was given the chop at the beginning of September.

Fellow countryman Quiche Sanchez Flores was up next, but his second spell in the dugout was short lived after he picked up just one win during his reign from September to December. 

Experienced Premier League manager Nigel Pearson then seemed to be a sensible choice for Watford after guiding Leicester to safety during their first season in the top flight and that was reflected in the Hornets upturn in results from January. The club were seven points adrift at the bottom of the table when Pearson took charge and three points above the relegation zone when he was sacked, a somewhat shocking decision from Watford just two games before the end of the season. 

The Hornets then went on to lose their final two matches with interim Hayden Mullins in charge as they collapsed into the drop zone, which confirmed their relegation to the Sky Bet Championship. 

As a result of that relegation, Ivic’s appointment doesn’t come as a surprise to many, but with his unknown qualities, it will be interesting to see how he brings stability to a Watford side in much need of consistency. 

Club captain Troy Deeney is the man with a lot Sky Bet Championship experience to his name in this Watford side. 

Having been at the club since 2010, the striker has seen Watford’s rise up the leagues and knows what it takes to make it in England’s second tier having scored more than 20 goals in the season that the Hornets were promoted.

However, it remains to be seen whether Deeney remains at Vicarage Road this season or leaves in pursuit of Premier League football once again. 

Despite the teams not facing each other for six years, it’s Watford who have the better record recently as they search for their third consecutive victory against the Reds. 

Bobby Hassell was the only man on the scoresheet the last time Barnsley beat Watford in March 2013, since then Watford have beaten the Reds convincingly with 5-1 and 3-0 victories. 

 

 

 

 

WYCOMBE WANDERERS

Nickname: The Chairboys

Stadium: Adams Park

Capacity: 9,448

Manager: Gareth Ainsworth

Last season: 3rd in League One 

 

Perhaps the most surprising contenders in the Sky Bet Championship this season, Wycombe Wanderers start the campaign in England’s second tier for the first time in their history. 

The Chairboys gained promotion via the League One play-offs after they finished third on an unweighted points per games basis following the EFL’s decision not to restart leagues one and two following the coronavirus pandemic. 

The curtailment of the season therefore saw Wycombe face Fleetwood Town in the play-off semi-final. After a convincing 4-1 win in the first leg, the Chairboys were well in control heading into the reverse fixture and made sure of their progression with a 2-2 draw at Adams Park to set up a final with Oxford United at Wembley. 

Joe Jacobson’s penalty ten minutes from time secured a 2-1 victory for Wycombe, who sealed promotion to the Sky Bet Championship for the first time in their 133 years of existence. 

The brains behind this astonishing rise to success is the longest serving manager in the football league. Gareth Ainsworth has been at Wycombe since 2012 has guided them from League Two to the Sky Bet Championship in that time with his rock and roll, route one style of football.


An Ainsworth team likes to play long and direct up to the lone striker, with the defenders very rarely making short passes to reduce the likelihood of an opposition counter attack. The striker, usually Adebayo Akinfenwa will either then look to flick the ball in behind for a midfield runner or he will hold the ball up and wait for support around him. 

This tactic could prove to be effective in the Sky Bet Championship against teams who like to press high, so Barnsley will have be aware of the quick, long through balls over the top of the defence when Wycombe win back possession in their own half. 

It’s not very often you hear of a defender topping their clubs’ goalscoring charts, but that was the case for Joe Jacobson of Wycombe who notched 12 goals last season, including the winner to send the Chairboys into the Sky Bet Championship. 

The full-back likes to attack high up the pitch and with a wand of a left-foot is incredibly dangerous from set-piece situations, where he scores the majority of his goals. 

Clubs in the Sky Bet Championship will have to watch out for his man’s ability going forward if they are to stop him from pulling the strings in this Wycombe Wanderers team. 

There have only ever been six meetings in total between Barnsley and Wycombe. The last time the two faced each other was in League One two seasons ago. The Chairboys won the first game 1-0 at Adams Park, but the Reds hit back in the reverse fixture to win 2-1 at Oakwell. 

The pair meet in the Sky Bet Championship for the first time in December. 

 


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