WITH Yorkshire clubs making up a quarter of this season’s Championship, the county is clearly going to have a big say in deciding who prevails in the most lucrative promotion race in world football.
For the likes of Garry Monk, Carlos Carvalhal, Thomas Christiansen and Leonid Slutsky, this equates to a desire to follow Huddersfield Town’s lead and be top dogs themselves by reaching the Premier League.
It means a fascinating nine or so months lay in store with supporters getting an early taster this weekend of the thrills and spills that are likely to accompany the White Rose contingent’s pursuit of success in a division that can be the very epitome of unpredictable.Richard Sutcliffe
Chris Wilder, meanwhile, is focusing on turning Bramall Lane into a place where visiting teams fear to tread while Paul Heckingbottom’s task is to once again prove wrong those tipping Barnsley to struggle.
It means a fascinating nine or so months lay in store with supporters getting an early taster this weekend of the thrills and spills that are likely to accompany the White Rose contingent’s pursuit of success in a division that can be the very epitome of unpredictable.
Perhaps the most intriguing fixture is Hull City’s tea-time trip to Aston Villa for a first reunion with former manager Steve Bruce.
New head coach Slutsky, whose last game as a manager came in the Champions League at Wembley as CSKA Moscow lost to Spurs last December, is relishing his bow in English football despite City’s hopes of bouncing back at the first attempt being written off by the bookmakers.
“In Russia we have an interesting phrase,” said the 46-year-old to The Yorkshire Post. “It is about his expectations being his problems.
“If someone thinks about Aston Villa and Middlesbrough (winning promotion) this season then it is no problem to me. That is someone’s thinking.
“But we have the same target and the same level of possibility for promotion.”
As for facing former England captain John Terry today, Slutsky added: “I think it is very good for the Championship. Another player can look at the Championship and say ‘Oh, John Terry plays here, so it must be a serious league that must be respected’.”
Boro, relegated with Hull last May, face a tough trip to Wolverhampton Wanderers in one of five away-day assignments for our clubs as Barnsley head to Bristol City, Sheffield Wednesday travel to Preston North End and Leeds United take on Bolton Wanderers tomorrow at the Macron Stadium.
Only Sheffield United are on home soil and Wilder, fresh from leading his boyhood club to the League One title with 100 points, is adamant the tone must be set for the season ahead when Brentford arrive in the Steel City.
“I want it to be horrible,” he said in reference to the Bees’ visit. “That isn’t chucking petrol bombs at supporters coming out the station, let’s be right.
“But no-one (should be) getting a free ride. It happened last year, as even when things didn’t go right (for the Blades) people didn’t walk out thinking, ‘They’re crap, I really enjoyed my night, thank you very much’.
“We want to make people uncomfortable by being aggressive and competitive on the pitch. Off it, we want to be loud and together.”
Across Sheffield, Carvalhal is bidding to make it third time lucky in his quest to take Wednesday into the Premier League.
“We can’t promise direct promotion or play-offs,” said the Portuguese ahead of today’s trip to Deepdale. “No-one can promise these kind of things.
“But we will fight very hard in all the games. We have to create a positive environment around the team and people, start to forget about the negative things and just talk about the positives.
“If all of us do a little more compared to previous seasons, we can achieve a better position. It is my message to all the fans. We are looking forward to starting the competition.”
Wednesday’s defeat to Huddersfield in last May’s play-off semi-finals was a heartbreaking end to a campaign that had promised so much.
Another Yorkshire club to fall short were Leeds, who despite boasting an eight-point advantage over seventh-placed Fulham on April 1 managed to finish five points adrift of the Londoners in the final play-off place.
New head coach Christiansen said: “Our target? We have spoken about that several times. It is to do better than we did last year.
“We finished seventh last year so to be in the play-offs would be good. After that, we will see if we can bring something more. We can put a lot of pressure on ourselves and I like pressure.
“I will do my best to prepare everyone for it. But there are 14 teams who can be in the top six.”
Previews: Pages 2-4.