Well it’s been a long hot summer. When we signed off in May, we had a manager who seemed at the time to be settled at the club and committed to the cause, a team who, whilst ultimately failing again, had at least been to some extent born again after a managerial seeing of the light a mere 43 matches into a 46 match season. The volte face between the debacle at Burton and the euphoria of the Cardiff game, however, left us with more questions than answers – was the collective genuinely a blow hot/blow cold one, quite unable to provide consistent graft to match their talents? Or were they simply being asked to fulfil collective and individual tasks they weren’t suited to? Up in the stands, the jury was out, the only indicator to the latter being that end-of-season transformation.
And it nearly came off. For over two hours at home and away, a rearguard action not seen since Odysseus at The Hot Gates held Fulham at bay, but just like that battle, at last we were undone.
So onwards and (hopefully) upwards, the consensus being that we needed a clearout. And what a start there was, with Gary Rowett hobbling off to Stoke, aiming to be a less successful version of Tony Pulis. His replacement was speculated on, and Mel Morris decided to go from artisan to artiste with the most Hollywood appointment anywhere, Frank Lampard, no managerial experience but an easy nature, a positive demeanour and a contact book thicker than Nick Pickering’s legs.
Things moved slowly, as Frank hopped over to Russia, using his paying gig as a telly pundit to have a sneaky but fruitless peek at World Cup hopefuls - Neymar never stood a chance with us apparently, Chris Martin goes over with so much more style. On his return the wheels started turning, and the new boys started to roll in, Jack Marriott and Florian Jozefzoon suggesting a more direct approach to things than the ‘studious’ (read boring) Rowett ethos. Add to that the resurgence of the returning Bryson, and the fact that thus far none of the star turns such as Carson, Davies and Vydra have been shipped out, and hopes are high (although so, surely, is the wage bill – 30-plus players is more of a platoon than a squad).
Pre-season showings have not just hinted at a more expansive style but given us the strong belief that the joyless grind of last year is a thing of the past, in intent at least, although tippy-toeing round at Moor Farm and the like against injury-shy opposition is not the same as trudging through the mud against Bolton, Brentford or Blackburn. But whatever the style, we want to see results and we want to see honest endeavour. Frank wasn’t available for comment as we went to press, so in advance of the season-starting game against Reading, we’ve left the last word to that in-the-news Spanish manager, Fernando Cienfuegos, to crystalise our hopes for the season: ‘They gave their best. It’s all they had’