We continue our look at the six Championship Regional Winner markets we are offering ahead of the 2022/23 season, this time profiling the five sides bidding to be crowned Top South East Club.
If there is one set of supporters who must be craving some form of stability at their club, then you’d have to go some to find a more deserving bunch than those at Watford.
The Hornets have ploughed through managers at a ridiculously alarming rate in recent years, with Roy Hodgson’s summer departure paving the way for Rob Edwards to become the club’s 17th permanent appointment over the course of the last decade.
In-fact, just last season alone, trigger-happy chairman Gino Pozzo dismissed both Xisco Munoz and Claudio Ranieri, before cutting former England boss Hodgson’s spell short, after announcing former Forest Green boss Edwards as the man to take the helm from this summer onwards.
It was a left-field appointment for an owner who has shown heavy favouritism towards the continental market in recent times, but it’s one that many will be hoping points towards a more stable future for the club.
Edwards, regarded as one of the brightest young coaches in English football, inherits an already impressive squad, boasting enough flare and firepower to run away with the Championship at a canter.
But the one concern for the 39-year-old, and anybody else of a Watford persuasion however, will be whether he is given the necessary time and support to implement his own ideas. If he is, then you’d think Premier League football will be back in the offing come 2023.
The Londoners have been knocking on the door of the playoffs for quite some time, so is 2022/23 the campaign that they finally manage to break the top six?
Gary Rowett will certainly be hoping so, having come close to forging a breakthrough last term, only to fall away from the pack over the course of the final few games of the season.
The former Derby County boss is heading into his fourth campaign at the Den, and whilst he has lost the services of key performer Jed Wallace, to promotion rivals West Bromwich Albion, Rowett has been busy bolstering his own options.
The eye-catching capture of talented Dutch ace Zian Flemming raised one or two eyebrows amongst those who follow the Eredivisie, whilst the additions of George Honeyman and Jamie Shackleton, at least on paper, appear to be very well calculated.
Game-changing front-men are always key at this level though, and in Benik Afobe – a player they tied down to a permanent deal following a successful loan spell last term – they have somebody more than capable of surpassing the 15 goal mark.
Consistency is going to be key for Millwall, but if they can continue to make the Den a fortress, and slightly improve their fortunes on the road, they could be well-primed to take advantage of any potential hiccups over at Vicarage Road.
Nathan Jones has performed miracles on a shoestring budget at Kenilworth Road, but surely there has to be a ceiling to Luton’s lofty ambitions!
You’d have been laughed out of town for predicting a top six finish last season, but somehow, the Welshman, and his well-drilled, gutsy and determined group of players managed to deliver the unthinkable.
Whilst they eventually fell just short in the playoffs against Huddersfield Town, Jones isn’t a manager to allow any form of despondency and negativity to stick around for too long – so he will be anticipating yet another crack at the top six this time around.
In fairness to him, and the club, they have displayed previously vacant intent in the transfer market too, swooping for the likes of Cauley Woodrow and Carlton Morris – two front-men he hopes will add an extra dimension to his squad this term.
At 9/2, Luton are longshots to reign supreme in this market, but with the Hatters you simply can’t write them off – after all, they are making a real habit of smashing through those glass ceilings!
There is the sense of the unknown about Queens Park Rangers ahead of the new campaign, as they get set for life under new rookie boss Micahel Beale.
Steven Gerrard’s well respected and trusted managerial sidekick takes his first steps into club management after rising to prominence in recent years as part of the former England captain’s backroom team at Rangers and Aston Villa.
With an intriguing coaching story behind him, having served the likes of Liverpool and Brazilian giants Sao Paolo, the 41-year-old is being tasked with collaborating a new on and off the field dynamic in West London, to help lay the foundations for long-term success.
The Hoops have found it difficult to challenge at the right end of the Championship table in recent seasons, largely finishing around in mid-table, without ever seriously threatening to break into the top six.
But his appointment, together with revamping the entire first-team and Academy set-up, is designed to eventually bring the good times back to Loftus Road – although you’d expect that is will take a period of time for the fruits of his labour to start coming to the fore.
Rangers are unlikely to be pulling up too many trees in 2022/23, but you’d be silly to entirely dismiss a talented group of players who could immediately thrive under the guidance, and stewardship, of the highly-regarded Beale.
It’s almost unimaginable to foresee anything other than another season of struggle for a club who constantly seem to have a grey cloud hanging over them.
Financial uncertainty and points penalties have hindered the Royals in recent seasons, but it has been the departures of too many of their key players that is likely to leave them facing a real battle with relegation this time around.
Losing the services of the influental John Swift, who has joined West Bromwich Albion, was challenging enough, but boss Paul Ince also has to find a way to make do without 2021 player of the year Josh Laurent as well as another key midfielder, Andy Rinomhota – both of whom turned down new contracts to seek pastures new.
Others to have moved on this summer include Alen Halilovic, Brandon Barker and Michael Morrison – although there have been incomings too, as Ince tries to rebalance the make-up of his squad and add steel and experience to his group.
It promises to be a rocky road to safety for Reading, but in Shane Long, Jeff Hendrick, Sam Hutchinson and Tom Ince, they have players boasting real Championship know-how – qualities that Ince will hope prove the difference to Reading’s end of season fortunes.
By Mark Mothershaw