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Club News

SEASON PREVIEW | 2021/22

25 July 2021

With the brand new campaign less than a fortnight away now, we take a look at our 23 rivals in this season's Sky Bet Championship.

AFC BOURNEMOUTH

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Like the Reds last season, the Dorset-based club were eliminated at the semi final stage of the end-of-season play-offs, beaten over two legs by the eventual promotion winners, Brentford. 

That signalled the end of the line for former England defender Jonathan Woodgate who was relieved of his duties this summer, and replaced by a former Three Lions teammate in ex-Fulham gaffer Scott Parker.

It's the former West Ham Utd and Chelsea midfielder's task then to try and take the Cherries back to the top flight this coming season. 

There hasn't been much business done so far in terms of transfers. Only former Brentford playmaker Emiliano Marcondes has arrived at the Vitality Stadium this summer, with goalkeeper Asmir Begovic leaving for the Premier League and Everton, whilst former England man Jack Wilshere was released.

The Reds were comfortably beaten 4-0 by the Cherries at Oakwell last term, but in one of the games of the season, Barnsley edged Bournemouth 3-2 in the reverse fixture to move into a play-off spot that they would never relinquish. 

BIRMINGHAM CITY

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Another former England midfielder will be guiding his club into his first full season in charge, with Birmingham City seemingly set for a much better campaign under Lee Bowyer's stewardship.

The former Blues man was appointed at the back-end of last season, and they won five of their 10 remaining fixtures to finish 18th, having looked relegation candidates under previous boss Aitor Karanka.

Unlike at Bournemouth, it's been a very busy summer at St. Andrew's with plenty of movement in and out of the second city. The likes of Dion Sanderson, Chuks Aneke, Jordan Graham and Tahith Chong have arrived to strengthen Blues, with plenty of optimism amongst the fanbase heading into the new season.

The Reds did the double over Birmingham last season. A 2-1 victory on the road - secured in dramatic fashion by Callum Styles - was backed up with a 1-0 home win when Daryl Dike scored the Goal of the Season at Oakwell.

BLACKBURN ROVERS

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Led by the experienced Tony Mowbray, who will guide Rovers for a fifth consecutive full season, Blackburn will be hoping to push on after another uneventful season at second tier level last time out.

With finishes of 15th, 11th and 15th since returning to this level in 2018, there has been suggestion amongst the fanbase that something new would be more preferable. They endured a spell in early 2021 where they managed just one win in 15 games, before improving at the season's end to edge clear of any threat of relegation.

As of today there haven't been any new signings at Ewood Park, but a number of departures, including Corry Evans, Amari'i Bell and Elliott Bennett. 

The Reds were beaten by Rovers away from home last season, in a head-scratching game 2-1 despite dominating throughout. Back at Oakwell, it was a 2-1 home win with second half Carlton Morris and Alex Mowatt goals. 

BLACKPOOL

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The Tangerines are back in the Championship under the tutelage of Neil Critchley. The former Liverpool youth coach led Blackpool to promotion in his first season as boss, as ex-Reds midfielder Kenny Dougall's brace saw them edge out Lincoln City 2-1 at Wembley in the League One play-off final. 

Despite last season's success, Blackpool have been busy in the transfer market, adding experience in the shape of defender Richard Keogh, left back Reece James (brother of Matty) and former Reds loanee Callum Connolly. 

It's been a couple of years since we last faced the Tangerines, but that was a league double in the division below. A 1-0 victory at Bloomfield Road was secured by Cameron McGeehan's header before a 2-1 win at Oakwell that all but confirmed our promotion back to the Championship.

BRISTOL CITY

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These are exciting and optimistic times for Robins supporters heading into the new campaign. The first full season under Nigel Pearson, a coach who knows how to get out of the Championship.

To help him achieve that, Pearson has turned to a number of former players when rebuilding a squad that finished 19th last season, winning just three of the 15 games he took charge of. Had the season gone on a few games more, Bristol City would have been staring at relegation.

Joining their old gaffer over the summer have been Danny Simpson - released but brought back, Andy King and Matty James. Three of his most reliable players when coaching Leicester City a number of years ago. But it's the smart capture of Oxford United defender Rob Atkinson that many see as a key addition to the Ashton Gate ranks. 

The Reds had to settle for a 2-2 draw against the Robins at home last season, but then turned them over in Bristol 1-0, thanks to a late Carlton Morris tap-in that was the least Barnsley deserved in a dominant performance.

CARDIFF CITY

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When Reds legend Mick McCarthy took the reigns at the Cardiff City Stadium last season, the Bluebirds' form improved dramatically as they at one stage looked likely to vie for a play-off place alongside his hometown club. 

But their performances dropped off somewhat, eventually finishing 8th and nine points outside the top six. The summer then has been a chance to prune his squad in the Welsh capital, with interesting additions and most notably up front with James Collins arriving to potentially partner ex-Red Kieffer Moore in what would be a daunting front two to deal with at this level. 

One of the few sides that Barnsley failed to get the better of last term, we had to settle for a point in a 2-2 Oakwell draw having been comfortably beaten 3-0 away from home earlier in the season.

COVENTRY CITY

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Another side the Reds struggled against last season (when do we not?) were newly-promoted Coventry City who will have been more than satisfied with their final position of 16th in their return to the second tier. 

Former Reds manager Mark Robins is creating a cracking legacy with the Sky Blues, and this new campaign is already sure to be momentous considering it sees Coventry return to the city itself to play its home games once again. 

There has been a lot of movement in and out of the rebranded Coventry Building Society Stadium, with the likes of Bright Enobakhare, Ben Sheaf and Viktor Gyokeres all making permanent returns to the club whilst the addition of proven Championship striker Martyn Waghorn looks canny.

The Reds were held 0-0 in the Oakwell fixture last term and then easily seen off 2-0 towards the end of the campaign by the Sky Blues.

DERBY COUNTY

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The beleaguered Rams have still not been punished with a points deduction despite allegedly breaching the rules on financial fair play, but manager, Wayne Rooney has spent the summer bemoaning the club's inability to do much in terms of recruitment. 

They escaped relegation on the final day of last season, a campaign they spent in the bottom third, struggling for goals and victories. One win from their last 15 games it was. And with the likes of Martyn Waghorn, Jordan Ibe, Scott Malone and Jack Marriott departing, players are thin on the ground according to England legend Rooney.

Derby have had plenty of experienced players on trial throughout pre-season though, such as Phil Jagielka, Richard Stearman and Tom Carroll. But it remains to be seen whether they'll be allowed to sign anyone of that ilk for the new campaign.

The Reds comfortably saw off the Rams at Pride Park last season, a game remembered for one of the goals of the season from Victor Adeboyejo. In the return fixture, Rooney's side ended the Reds' winning sequence in a rearranged fixture to take a point from a 0-0 draw.

FULHAM

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Once again, the Cottagers have rejoined the Sky Bet Championship. Whether it's about financial disparity or something else, they are one of a handful of clubs who find it all too easy to get to the Premier League, but remaining there seems a challenge often short-lived. 

In charge at Craven Cottage this season is former Everton boss Marco Silva. He replaces Scott Parker who jumped ship to Bournemouth and the London club have wasted no time in splashing the cash that's meant to break the fall of relegation, on Harry Wilson for a reported £12,000,000. 

As with any club coming back down from the top flight, Fulham will be heavily backed to go straight back up by the end of the season. 

The last time the sides met at this level was 2019/20 when the Reds recorded a famous double. An opening day 1-0 victory thanks to a debut Luke Thomas goal at Oakwell was followed by a terrific 3-0 win at the Cottage against the eventual play-off winners.

HUDDERSFIELD TOWN

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It was another difficult and testing season last time out for the Terriers. Finishing 20th and six points clear of safety, Carlos Corberán will be hoping for an improved campaign as Head Coach. 

The Spaniard's side shipped far too many goals in 20/21 and their miserable 2021 saw them win just three of 23 league fixtures. 

To arrest that slide, the West Yorkshire outfit have altered their transfer policy somewhat and as well as re-signing former favourite Jordan Rhodes, Huddersfield have added astute-looking signings in ex-Reds defender Matty Pearson and top performing League One players like Ollie Turton and Josh Ruffels.

The Reds did the double in the Yorkshire derby last term. A 2-1 win at Oakwell on Boxing Day courtesy of Michał Helik's last-gasp strike was backed up by a 1-0 win towards the end of the season in Kirklees.

HULL CITY

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The Tigers return to the Sky Bet Championship after a year away, and despite concerns over finances and an embargo of sorts over the summer, they look better prepared at this level than they were in 2019. 

Former Reds midfielder Grant McCann guided the Humberside outfit to the League One title, aided massively by another ex-Red in Mallik Wilks. The forward wasn't favoured here by Gerhard Struber but has been hugely impactful back under the tutelage of McCann. 

Another former Reds midfielder has been added to their ranks in the shape of George Moncur, with highly-rated wing-back Randell Williams also heading to the rebranded MKM Stadium.

The last time the sides met was in the 2019/20 campaign where Barnsley achieved a league double. A roaring 3-1 home win in late November was backed up by a huge 1-0 victory in Hull just prior to the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic.

LUTON TOWN

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The southern version of the Reds in many ways over recent years, where trajectories have been similar and only last season did one outstrip the other. But for Luton Town and manager Nathan Jones, that's not a slight on their achievements in 20/21. 

Finishing a hugely commendable 12th in their second season back in the second tier, the Hatters will be looking to maintain their annual knack of improvement this time around. 

It's difficult to think of a busier club in terms of new faces either. The exciting forwards such as Carlos Mendes Gomes and Fred Onyedinma have been joined by experience in the shape of Henri Lansbury and Cameron Jerome. Whilst free transfers Reece Burke and Amari'i Bell look clever pieces of business.

There won't be any surprise this time around if the club from Kenilworth Road are once again fighting in the top half of the table. 

Last term saw a win for each side. The Hatters - courtesy of James Collins - won again at Oakwell whilst in the reverse fixture, a Daryl Dike brace took three welcome points back to Barnsley.

MIDDLESBROUGH

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Boro's improved season last time out was welcomed by the fanbase, but it's still below the expectations of a club who see themselves as - at worst - play-off contenders. 

Wily old fox Neil Warnock guided them to a top ten finish in his first full season, and the man with more promotions to his name than many of the clubs he's managed over the decades will be hoping to reach the top six this time around.

He has added players over the summer who are well known for their work ethic and physicality, so you can expect a battling Boro without question. Matt Crooks was outstanding for relegated Rotherham United and he looks a shrewd addition to midfield, whilst Uche Ikpeazu impressed for one of the other clubs to drop, Wycombe as a mobile target-man. 

The Reds were beaten early season last time out by the Boro, 2-1 at the Riverside but gained revenge later in the campaign with a 2-0 Oakwell victory. 

MILLWALL

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It was another top half finish for the Londoners in 20/21, finishing a creditable 11th in what was - as we all know - a very challenging season on and off the pitch for all clubs.

For Gary Rowett and Millwall it's about making that next step, and in trying to do so the Lions have gone for a stable approach with very little business in and out of The Den. 

Defender Scott Malone has joined the club permanently after last season's loan-spell, and the addition of Northern Ireland international George Saville to their midfield feels a good fit for the system played by Rowett. The loan capture of Benik Afobe could be a masterstroke too, a striker who just a few years ago was in red hot form at this level.

The Reds were held to a 1-1 draw by the Lions at The Den last season before seeing them off 2-1 at Oakwell thanks to Michał Helik's exquisite volley. 

NOTTINGHAM FOREST

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Forest's search for a top flight return stretches into a 21st year. The former two-time champions of Europe have had mixed fortunes over the last decade but still haven't troubled the play-offs. 

Last season was a disaster for the Reds, a complete lack of consistency seeing them to a disappointing 17th-placed finish. That on the back of the previous year's last-day collapse that saw that coveted play-off place slip away at the last.

United States international goalkeeper Evan Horvath is the only real addition to Chris Hughton's squad so far this summer, but almost a full matchday squad have left Nottingham, including the likes of Sammy Ameobi (Boro), Yury Ribeiro and Samba Sow. Perhaps that clearing of the decks and smaller numbers will help unite one of the nation's most storied clubs. 

The Reds saw off Forest 2-0 at Oakwell last season with Callum Styles' thunderbolt the highlight on that occasion, whilst in the reverse fixture at the side of the Trent, there were no highlights in a miserable 0-0 draw.

PETERBOROUGH UNITED

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The Posh have finally made it back to the second tier after multiple near-misses over recent seasons. Relegated instead of the Reds in 2013, they finished runners-up to Hull City in League One last season and will be hoping to stick around at the first attempt this term.

Led by Darren Ferguson, the Cambridgeshire outfit are built on creativity, attacking flair and a no-fear attitude. There's arguments to suggest they might need to rein that in back in the Championship, but time will tell. 

The recruiting of Jack Marriott to partner the prolific Jonson Clarke-Harris looks a clever bit of business, whilst for once they don't look like they're selling their prized assets. 

Barnsley did the double over Peterborough in 2018/19, emphatically beating them 4-0 at London Road before a comfortable 2-0 victory back at Oakwell, a game in which Cauley Woodrow bagged the Goal of the Season. 

PRESTON NORTH END

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Last season's finish of 13th has to be seen as positive considering the direction the club was heading under previous boss Alex Neil. The appointment of Frankie McAvoy changed the trajectory enormously and North End looked one of the division's best sides in the final quarter of the campaign.

They've done interesting business over the summer too, with ex-Reds defender Liam Lindsay making his loan-move a permanent one. Sepp van den Berg is back for another loan-spell from Liverpool, and on paper, the Lancashire club have an impressive array of talent from back to front. 

Potentially a dark horse in terms of promotion, much will depend on McAvoy's ability to sustain the results he managed when only caretaker manager..

The Reds were victorious at Oakwell against PNE last season; Victor Adeboyejo with a late winner. In one of our final games of the season we were easily seen off at Deepdale 2-0.

QUEENS PARK RANGERS

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Not exactly dark horses, because plenty of outsiders are tipping Mark Warburton's men to go well in 21/22. And when looking at last season and their end-of-season form it's easy to see why. 

They finished 9th in the end but were one of the form teams in the division for the last couple of months. And with the loanees who arrived in the winter window and helped those results happen, all now signed on permanently, there's a growing expectation at Loftus Road. 

All of Stefan Johansen, Charlie Austin, Sam Field and Sam McCallum have been there and done it previously, some very recently. If Rangers get off to a good start, those tipping them for promotion won't be far wrong.

In what was a standout season for Barnsley, they even pulled off a miracle and beat bogey side QPR both home and away. 

READING

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Missing out on the play-offs last season felt like much more of a blow to Reading than it would be normally. A real feeling that it was 'now or never' for the Royals whose reckless financial dealings were always likely to bite them this summer.

Currently operating under an embargo, the Berkshire outfit haven't added to their squad yet, but did see star midfielder Michael Olise join Crystal Palace for an undisclosed fee thought to be a club record received in an attempt to aid their profit and sustainability issues. 

As of right now, Reading still have a talented squad of players who last season finished 7th. Whether Veljko Paunovic and that group are still together and able to replicate the form of last term remains open for debate. 

Defeated in Berkshire early in the season 2-0 after red cards to Michał Helik and Mads Andersen, the Reds did take a point against the Royals at Oakwell in a 1-1 draw.

SHEFFIELD UNITED

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Whilst South Yorkshire lost a derby fixture when Sheffield Wednesday were relegated to League One at the end of last season, their city rivals suffered a similar fate under ex-Reds boss Paul Heckingbottom.

The Blades' two-year stay in the Premier League came to an end in what was a tragic campaign. Rooted to the foot of the table all year, United moved swiftly in the summer to appoint Slavisa Jokanovic, a manager who knows all about promotion from this division. 

And whilst they're yet to make a signing this summer, they've not lost any of their star players to date, although there is plenty of speculation surrounding the future of England 'keeper Aaron Ramsdale. 

The Blades will be many people's favourites for an immediate return to the Premier League.

It's three years since we last met at this level, with United winning 1-0 at Bramall Lane and the Reds edging it 3-2 at Oakwell thanks to a late Tom Bradshaw strike.

STOKE CITY

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Whilst last season was a big improvement in fortunes for the Potters, the Stoke City fanbase will be expecting a promotion push this time around under Michael O'Neill. 

The former Northern Ireland manager has seemingly looked to cull a lot of the fringe players over the summer from a very bloated squad, much of which he inherited from previous bosses. 

Losing highly rated defender Nathan Collins though was a big blow, but Stoke will look to new signing Ben Wilmot of Watford to fill his shoes. Whilst the addition of Bosnian international playmaker Mario Vrancic should continue O'Neill's efforts to get a more attractive brand of football from his side. 

The Reds had to settle for a point in a 2-2 draw at the bet365 Stadium last season but were triumphant at Oakwell 2-0 in the reverse fixture towards the end of the campaign.

SWANSEA CITY

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The club that ended the Reds' dream campaign last season. The club who then went on to limp to defeat at Wembley in the play-off final and have since endured a summer of turmoil, losing a host of players, with others still tipped to jump ship and join coach Steve Cooper who resigned just last week.

The Swans have changed their club crest ahead of the new season, but it seems there are plenty more changes on the horizon, with just two weeks until the start of the campaign. 

It is still a very decent squad at the Liberty Stadium though, a cracking job for whoever takes it and as we've seen over the years, you'd be daft to write the Jack Army off. 

Last season's nemesis for the Reds. Defeating us three times out of four. 

WEST BROMWICH ALBION

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Where to begin? Every picture tells a story. Unable to take the Reds that final step towards the promised land, Valérien Ismaël has banked on achieving that aim by joining the division's strongest club. The Frenchman was an absolute breath of fresh air at Oakwell last season and his outstanding achievements as Reds' Head Coach were always going to attract attention. 

He took some of the backroom staff with him and captain Alex Mowatt. Hoping no doubt to recreate a similar environment with the Baggies. You'd be silly to doubt him pulling it off. Although there has to be the obvious level of expectation taken into consideration. Albion expect automatic promotion. 

They won just five games last season, but on paper, it's a squad absolutely rammed with talent, players proven at Championship level. Their most recent addition of Matt Clarke on loan from Brighton looks a shrewd move if Ismaël is to play his favoured 3-4-3 system at the Hawthorns. 

The last time we faced Albion at this level, it was a tale of two exciting draws. The 2-2 away from home, where the Reds surrendered a two-goal lead, and the Boxing Day encounter where 1-0 down in stoppage time, Aapo Halme struck in front of the Ponty End to gain a deserved point against the eventual promotion winners.


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