We continue our look at the six Championship Regional Winner markets we are offering ahead of the 2022/23 season, this time profiling the three sides battling it out to be the Top South West Club.
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When Russell Martin was handed the Swansea City managerial reins 12 months ago, it was done so with one eye on the long-term future of the club.
Like many others who have fallen out of the Premier League in recent times, the Swans have found it difficult to engineer a way back into the big time, although they did go agonisingly close in both 2020 and 2021 – suffering defeat in the play-offs.
Since then there has been a financial rebalancing of the squad, with Martin attempting to implement the same philosophies that had served former club MK Dons so well, whilst also typically recruiting younger lower league players to mould into his distinct way of playing.
Martin’s MK Dons side were renowned for their high ball retention percentages as well as a high-tempo and high-pressing game, and those traits were, on occasions, evident at his new club last term; particularly in memorable 3-0 and 4-0 triumphs over Welsh rivals Cardiff City.
If Martin can add further consistency to his young side’s game this season, then the Swans, who are aided by the return of the experienced Joe Allen, could well be knocking on the top six door, whilst further cementing their superior South West standing.
The Bluebirds head into the new Championship season on the back of what was a real roller-coaster ride in 2020/21.
Despite finding themselves in the top four after the opening quartet of fixtures, a catastrophic run of form saw the Bluebirds plummet into the bottom three after registering just four points from their subsequent 12 outings.
It was a sequence of results that ultimately cost Mick McCarthy his job in the Welsh capital, whilst undoubtedly more damagingly threatened the club’s status within the second-tier of English football.
Interim manager Steve Morison somehow turned the tide however and earned himself an extended stay as boss, stemming a run of eight successive defeats with an unlikely point against Stoke City at the bet365 Stadium – a game in which Cardiff remarkably came from three goals behind in.
That result ignited life into the side as they won three of the next five to lift themselves out of the drop zone, before some shrewd work in the January window further boosted their hopes of staving off the threat of relegation.
Whilst they went on to end the season in a commendable 18th position, their aspirations will be far greater in 2022/23, as they call upon the eye-catching free acquisitions of Callum O’Dowda, Romaine Sawyers and Andy Rinomhota to propel them to a top half finish.
Many are predicting a season of struggle for Bristol City, and truth be told, it is difficult to find a case to fight that argument.
Nigel Pearson is hamstrung by a lack of finances in the West Country, and knows he has to sell before he can buy – that despite having a squad that by his own admission, is far too light on numbers.
The recent departure of influential attacker Callum O’Dowda to rivals Cardiff City and a serious injury to star frontman Antoine Semeyo both represent significant blows to the club’s Championship aspirations.
That said, the addition of Luton Town’s key midfielder Kal Naismith represents a real coup for the club, and Pearson will be keen to wheel and deal further in the market over the coming weeks to add greater depth to his squad.
If the experienced City boss can avoid too many further injury setbacks, and retain the services of his ‘main men’, then one or two wily free transfer or loan additions could prove to be the difference come next May.
By Mark Mothershaw