Dave Seddon's PNE Press View
In football, when does this season become last season and when does next season become the new one?
Preston’s season finished a month ago but the loose ends of 2016/17 were only tied up earlier this week when the Championship play-off final finished.
So do we allow a bit longer to pass before talking about the season in the past tense, maybe until the fixture list is published?
Whether 2017/18 is still next season or now this one, the Championship is going to be demanding.
I agree with those who describe the second tier as being the hardest in English football to get out of, in terms of promotion.
It is a relentless 10-month campaign involving a diverse selection of clubs.
Maybe a handful set their sights on survival, the rest all thinking – realistically or otherwise – that they are in with a shout of the play-offs or automatic promotion.
Some of those splash the cash like nobody’s business, thinking nothing of parting with £15m for a striker.
Others choose a different approach, staying within a budget framework.
Those coming down from the Premier League have their landing softened by a pile of parachute money.
Spend it wisely and it can yield immediate dividends, Burnley and Newcastle being recent examples.
A glance at the table shows that parachute cash isn’t always well spent – the mid-table finish for Aston Villa testament to that.
This term, the division has just waved goodbye to Newcastle, Brighton and Huddersfield, Blackburn, Wigan and Rotherham.
It is hello to Sunderland, Middlesbrough, Hull City, Sheffield United, Bolton and Millwall.
Looking through that list, it might well be that 2017/18 presents a bigger challenge to 2016/17 in terms of a push for promotion.
Provided they get the right manager, it could be that Middlesbrough are next term’s Newcastle.
They have a solid enough squad and players with a know-how of this division from their promotion two years ago.
Sunderland look in need of a total re-build and that takes time to do – and it takes time for it to work.
As for Hull, only briefly when Marco Silva inspired a few good results, did they look like avoiding the drop back to the Championship.
I would put them in the ‘unknown quantity’ bracket as far as making a challenge at the top end of the table is concerned.
Of the three clubs coming into the division in a happy frame of mind, Sheffield United shouldn’t have too many problems settling back in after a few years away.
Bolton Wanderers should be stronger than they were a year ago when they were relegated, although they still seem to be straightening themselves out behind the scenes.
Millwall made it through the play-offs, bouncing back from defeat at Wembley the years before.
I would hazard a guess that consolidation is the key word at the New Den in this summer’s preparations.
For the 18 clubs who were in Championship in 2016/17, the challenge is for them to do better this time.
Those beaten in the play-offs recently will maybe use Brighton as their inspiration, the Seagulls having suffered disappointment in them a couple of times before going up automatically.
The clutch of clubs who finished outside the top six – North End included – will be looking at what is needed to find that extra consistency to push on and engage totally with the play-offs rather than just flirt with them.
Will there be another Huddersfield – a club who shoots up the table from a lowly finish the year before?
The Terriers are a great example that size of budget isn’t necessarily everything when it comes to reaching the Premier League.
Granted, they spent a few bob on a couple of players, but loans and harnessing the talent already at the club when David Wagner arrived, were to pay dividends.
Their penalty shootout win over Reading on Monday was not a classic was it?
Saying that, when was the last decent Championship play-off final to watch as a neutral?
The prize on offer is so huge that is almost stifles the life out of the two teams.
No one wants to make the mistake in the £170m match, hence it is all a bit safety-first.
Huddersfield at least showed some intent in the Wembley showpiece, with Reading rarely coming out of their shell.
Doubling back to the three sides who have been relegated from the Premier League this time, all are on the look-out for a new boss.
Interestingly, North End manager Simon Grayson has been in the betting for all three – more so Sunderland and Hull than Boro.
Bar the occasional link with former club Leeds, speculation surrounding Grayson has been rare in his time at North End.
Solid 11th-place finishes two years running – and it would have been higher this time with a better finish – done with a budget at the lower end of the scale – seems to have caught a bit of attention of late.