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$250K/month selling electric bikes [with Mark Cuban as a partner]
Today's interview is with Stephan Aarstol of Tower Electric Bikes, a brand that makes direct to consumer ebikes
- Product: Direct to consumer eBikes
- Revenue/mo: $250,000
- Started: June 2010
- Location: San Diego
- Founders: 1
- Employees: 4
Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?Hello! My name is Stephan Aarstol. I'm the CEO of Tower Electric Bikes.
Tower Electric Bikes is direct to consumer eBike brand I co-founded with Mark Cuban. We make electric bikes we love, and are proud to recommend to our friends and family. Electric bikes so beautiful they exude heart and soul. We believe eBikes will change the way people get around, and we believe we can accelerate this shift by selling beautifully crafted ones direct to consumers for half what they cost in retail.
Tower began as a paddleboard company in 2010 and has since evolved into a holistic direct to consumer beach lifestyle company. We produce and sell everything from paddleboards to beach cruisers, to sunglasses, to surfboards, to skateboards, to inflatable docks, to electric bikes. The primary focus of our future growth is in eBikes so that's what I'll speak to in this article. It's a story about the evolution of a brand.
In October of 2019, Tower was named one of the "Top 20 Shark Tank Products of All Time" in USA Today. We've done over $36 million in sales since getting a $150,000 investment from Mark Cuban in 2012.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?I live right on the boardwalk on the beach in San Diego. I get a good sense of up and coming trends in beach lifestyle while just kicking back on my patio with a Margarita and watching the world go by. In the last three or four years, there has been an explosion in electric powered things buzzing down the boardwalk. They've always been there, but it used to be one dude cruising the boardwalk with some kind of homemade electric skateboard or something once a week. Then the trend started growing exponentially in the last few years and you could just see the future.
My main form of transportation down the boardwalk has always been a beach cruiser. While bikes are also recreation around the beach, unlike many places they're a central form of transportation for anyone who lives at the beach. Why sit in aggravating coastal traffic and then search for scarce parking when you can just cruise down the boardwalk with the wind in your hair and an ocean view. A rusty beach cruiser literally offers you a better quality of life than a car which might set you back $50K. Not to mention the rent for a garage to park said car might be $500/mo.
The thing about electric bikes that most people don't get is that they're basically the perfect form of transportation. This is NOT just a "different kind of bike". Aside from kids, beach dwellers like myself, and what my son refers to as "butt darts" (those odd and colorfully dressed Tour de France type road cyclists), normal people just don't use bikes as transportation in the US. Bikes are a recreation with a side of exercise. Electric bikes can be better described as a replacement for a car. It's like a scooter that doesn't require a helmet and you can ride on paths, boardwalks, sidewalks, across the lawn, wherever. The first time you ride one, the light bulb goes off in your head... wait, this is fun, requires no effort even up hills, let's me avoid traffic, doesn't require a parking spot, has a range of 30-60 miles, and if the battery does die I can just pedal the rest of the way home.
At the time this all donned on me, Tower was a thriving start-up primarily selling paddleboards, but we wanted to diversify our products and business to make our company healthier. We were expanding into other beach lifestyle products like surfboards, skateboards, and sunglasses. Building the world's finest electric beach cruiser was a natural fit. When I looked at the market, it was a fragmented mess of ill-conceived products and brands. Apparently, anyone could Frankenstein together an eBike, or piece together one with a conversion kit, and start an "eBike company", and so that's what happened. Hundreds of competitors. Very few goods, a handful of bad, and a lot of ugly.
If you ask a person on the street anywhere in the US to name an eBike brand they couldn't. Many wouldn't even know what an eBike was. But worldwide it is already a massive industry with an estimated 30 million units sold per year, and it's expected to grow to 75 million in the next 10-20 years. In 2018 in the US, 300K eBikes were sold. This is expected to grow 20x to 7 million in that same time frame. So the plan was we would do exactly what we did in the paddleboard industry - make high-quality, low-cost products easy to find. By focusing on that simple premise, we created the #1 fastest growing company in San Diego in 2014, then the following year we ranked #239 on the INC 500 list of America's fastest-growing companies.
So that's our aim. We're going to create the world's first famous eBike brand. It is a brand void waiting to be filled. Our first product is aptly named the Beach Bum. It's a high-end electric beach cruiser that would sell for $3750 in retail, but we sell it directly to the consumer for under $1,700.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.Product design is critical. Not just the aesthetic look of something (which is also critical), but the functional choices you make in product design. You've really got to take a blank slate approach and get to the heart of what the product you are designing will be used for. This is an area that I've found I kind of excel in. I'm a fair contrarian thinker so I don't just accept the status quo and go along with what everyone else is doing. I challenge everything. If everyone is doing something one way, my assumption is that it's probably the wrong way to do it. Herd mentality and groupthink take things in the wrong direction a lot of times. Maybe most of the time.
When we launched in paddleboards back in 2010, part of the reason I started was when I went shopping for my first paddleboard I learned that these things cost like $1200-$1600 for what was basically a big surfboard. And you could buy a cheap surfboard for $300. It didn’t make sense. Ninety-five percent of these paddleboards and the ~80 or so brands at the time that were making them were using a traditional retail sales model with brands, distributors, wholesalers, salespeople, and retail stores. As a result, SUP boards were selling for 4-5 times what they cost to produce. Additionally, the majority of brands seemed to perceive paddle boarding as a different kind of surfing. Lastly, there was this oddity called inflatable paddleboards in the market that had been around for years, but they were horribly designed and only represented about 1% of the market.
Our process was to assume that what the bulk of the market was doing was probably stupid, especially if they were all doing it, so we hypothesized, "What if we do the exact opposite?" Then we did just that.
We sold direct to consumers only, and at a single markup. By doing so, we offered consumers a better value proposition - half-price paddleboards. We intentionally ignored the sexy surf and race market's that all the other brands we're aggressively trying to stake their claim in. We looked at paddleboarding as more like kayaking than surfing, and when you looked at the numbers, 80-90% of the market wasn't surfing or racing. We also refused to advertise in magazines like all the other "serious" brands, and we still to this day have never attended one industry trade show. Then we took a hard look at the viability of those inflatable boards, as they fit our direct to consumer mail-order business model better anyways. We discovered that inflatable paddle boards, with a little re-engineering, worked just fine for tooling around bays, lakes, and harbors, and were actually far superior to hard boards in terms of storability, transportability, and durability.
Within 5 years, without advertising one dime the first 4 years because we couldn't keep stuff in stock as is, we built Tower into one of the strongest brands in the paddleboard industry. Today, surfing and racing are tiny segments of a quite large paddleboard market. And the last time I looked at market stats, inflatable SUPs were 70% of the paddleboard market. In 2017, our co-branded Chris Craft inflatable paddle board was rated the #1 paddleboard in the world by the prestigious Robb Report, over some boards that sold for $2500 to $3500. Ours sold for $650 at the time.
In the eBike market, with Tower Electric Bikes, we're taking a similar look at what the industry is doing that makes sense, what is groupthink, and what is just plain stupid. In 5 years, we'll see what happens, but I'm optimistic. As an entrepreneur, sometimes you find yourself in the very fortunate position to see an opportunity that looks oddly familiar to something you've seen before. When that happens, you can almost see around corners.
Our first product, an electric beach cruiser called the Tower Beach Bum, is starting to gain traction already, and we've just barely started.
Describe the process of launching the business.While we had rolled out a diversified portfolio of beach lifestyle products beyond paddleboards over the years, we knew going in that our eBike wasn't just going to be another product. This was a massive market that was seeing explosive growth with a brand void. This was more akin to us starting a paddleboard company in the first place, so we separated things out and treated the opportunity with the same serious attention to detail.
We had a very healthy going concern in Tower Paddle Boards, so we didn't need to rush into anything. We took our time and did things right. We first prototyped and rolled out a regular bike (non-electric), which we considered to be the world's finest beach cruiser.
We over-engineered the thing so we knew what it took to create a really great bike. One interesting thing about selling direct to consumer is it allows you to offer very high-end products at very reasonable prices so you can tread where others won't go because they fear pricing the product out of the market. For starters, our beach cruiser came with a belt drive. Many beach cruisers sell at retail for just over what our production cost of just the belt drive system was, so this was definitely distinctive. It's about as high end as you can go on a beach cruiser!
We brought in a serious product design studio. We went with a stretched, lightweight, rust-free aluminum classically styled beach cruiser frame. We used all premium components. We put innovative, and patented, passenger pegs on the rear wheel. Then we added premium wheels with 48 spokes as you'd find on high-end mountain bikes, and top of the line tires. The design aesthetic itself was black on black, with a matte black frame and glossy black logos, a brown leather seat and grips, all accented by unique brown whitewall balloon tires. It's truly a work of art.
Our eBike design was based on this frame design and aesthetic, but we took a blank slate approach on the eBike because we didn't want to be boxed in by our bike design. Bikes are more about exercise and recreation. At the very high end, they have style, but basic bikes are about functionality. When that gets ported over to eBikes and electronics get tacked onto them, they tend to look like bike mechanics for engineers built them. They're contraptions, halfway between weird looking bikes and homemade motorcycles. They've got noisy tires, they shift awkwardly at times, they've got their brand name in big letters plastered all over the place (imagine that on a luxury car), and they're just kind of obnoxious. That's kind of the state of the eBike market.
We view eBikes as transportation with a side of recreation, more akin to an improved version of a scooter, or a convertible sports car. They're not a different kind of bike, in my mind, We call our electric beach cruiser the Beach Bum. Our tagline is, "Stay cool. Be Free." The 'stay cool' part is about the fact that it's stylish first, like a beautiful car that just plain looks stunning. And it's got air conditioning built in to keep you 'cool'. The "be free" part is the light bulb that goes off in your head the first time you ride one. You realize you can go on a 30-mile bike ride and up any hill so it frees you to go anywhere. It expands your local circle of familiarity from the half-mile or so you are willing to walk, to about a 10-20 mile radius. And perhaps more importantly, you're no longer constrained by traffic, or roads even as you can hit any path you want, or by available parking spots. You have freed yourself.
For funding this new company, we use profits from our paddleboard cash cow. Even if we have to invest a good chunk to get things up to speed, it's all tax-free as we're reinvesting profits. So much more advantageous than starting from scratch. Even better, we're able to leverage our entire infrastructure so our incremental burn rate to add an eBike company to our existing operation is basically zero. Just add inventory. That gives us a huge operational cost advantage over the competition. We already have a warehouse. We already have a competent marketing team on staff. We already have the shipping function taken care of. We already have a customer service team.
The most important difference between how we started the paddleboard business and our eBike business is that we now can see the future. Mostly, we're only doing things that work. We're definitely avoiding our prior mistakes. And with Mark Cuban as a co-founder this time, we have the ability to leverage his celebrity status in a meaningful way to separate us from the hundreds of me-too eBike brands out there. In a way, we're talking more about Mark Cuban's eBike company early on instead of the Tower Electric Bike company because we know that is more meaningful until we get the brand well established. It's like Tesla. There are a handful of electric car company start-ups out there, but most people only know Elon Musk's company, in part because he's Elon Musk. His reputation and proven record speak volumes.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?Our objective is to make high-quality, low-cost electric bikes easy to find. It's a very simple strategy. Everything emanates from that.
I get a lot of people calling me because they've heard we're killing it and they want to know our secret. They've maybe seen me on Shark Tank talking about our SEO expertise ("Search Engine Optimization"), so they'll call saying they want to hire me on a consultant basis for their company. Or they'll have invented some product and say all their missing is the marketing guy and I'm their guy. Let's partner.
But there really are no marketing secrets, and when there are it's not for very long in today's fast-moving world. I've been at an executive level in the online marketing and business development space since 1999, and what I've learned is that there are these arcs of opportunity with each newly identified marketing tactic.
In 2000, two years before Google Adwords even existed, I was leveraging GoTo.com's invention, PPC search advertising to buy search traffic clicks for a penny a piece. It worked fabulously and big companies wouldn't even start using it for another 5 or 6 years. It still worked then, but less so, and it's gotten crowded in the past decade and now only works selectively. Even then, Google has a monopoly now and just sucks the profit out of everything they touch.
Then it was email. Then it was group buying in discussing groups, the predecessor to Kickstarter. Worked great for a while, then the window of opportunity closed for the most part, for most people. Then social media came and the organic following was great. Then because they had a monopoly, they made it pay to play and that seemed bad but it was actually another even more fantastic opportunity with highly targeted FB and IG marketing. Then influencer followings exploded and that became the new window of opportunity. Then Amazon marketplace became an untapped marketplace that was getting huge overnight, and that window opened and closed... because they're a monopoly too so they're correctly sucking out all the profit. And it continues. Windows open and if you're early, you can do well. And once everyone clues in 5 years later, it stops working as well, then it gets crowded and the opportunity passes.
So our plan is to not worry about the next online marketing window to come along, but rather to make a really high-quality product. Obsessively focus on that. And then make it relatively low cost for consumers. Not making cheap products by cutting corners, but rather figuring out ways to get your amazing product into consumers hands inexpensively without any middlemen. That's why we go direct to consumer, and largely starve our advertising budget. It forces us to identify hacks.
The next step is to make a good web site, pitch how great your product is to the press in whatever creative way you can, and get butts in bike seats locally so people can find us thru referrals. Start locally, and grow things organically from there. Pass all our savings onto customers from our lean operations, not advertising, and no middleman. Execute well with a smart team and customers will start to tell their friends about us. Most of all, don't really worry too much about the "marketing". The best marketing advice that I always give (that no one listens to) is "fix your crappy product," which often translates to "fix your crappy value proposition". That's the only viable marketing plan in today's transparent world. Marketing is really quite easy with a brilliant product, and it's impossible with anything else. So start there.
The windows of opportunities I see on the horizon today are currently only two:
1) Start a direct to consumer brand - I've spoke at Harvard Business School four times over that past 3-4 years and the #1 thing that those students are looking to do is start a direct to consumer brand. I've been working in one intentionally since 2010, and unknowingly in one back as far as 2003. Hundreds of brands in hundreds of categories have been started. The top 25 have raised over $2.5 billion in venture funding. Many of these companies are already unicorn status. And there are scrappy companies in many sectors that you wouldn't expect. Consumers won't know these brands for 5 years, but these are the brands that will own the future. They are the future of retail.
2) Throw in with other direct to consumer brands to exchange free leads - Don't advertise and give Google 50% of every revenue dollar you take. Don't sell on Amazon and give them 50% of every dollar you take. At least don't make that your long term strategy. Others will, and you'll beat them when they realize that's a losing proposition long term.
A few years back as I started to realize that as Google and Amazon we're becoming more and more monopolistic. What started as a truly free, direct to consumer market place online was quickly circling back to retail like normal. We were heading back to a place where brands would sell thru retail and give the retailer 50%. The retailers used to be physical stores on the right street. The only difference now is that the street is the information superhighway and there are only a couple stores, Google and Amazon. Instead of thousands of middlemen, there are just 2, and they're becoming the biggest companies and biggest monopolies the world has ever seen. Going forward, they'll take 50% of all transactions everywhere.
A market reaction will happen, though, because that's pretty stupid to give them 50% of everything people buy. So a few years ago I started to think about what the reaction would look like. My thought is that it might involve all the direct to consumer brands throwing in together to leverage their collective reach to exchange free leads to each other. I started The No Middleman Project to do just that. The first initiative, NoMiddleman.com, is what I envision could be the Amazon antidote. It launched in October of 2018 to a great reception by media and insiders (made the front page lead story on INC Magazine all day at launch), but like everything, it will likely be five years before the masses clue into what is going on. In the meantime, it's an incredibly valuable product search tool for consumers to find the best direct to consumer products in any category. Currently, the site has something like 400 brands in over 1500 categories. More interesting to entrepreneurs, there are over a thousand completely vacant product categories on NoMiddleman.com waiting for smart entrepreneurs to start a world-changing direct to consumer brand. And there are likely 10,000 more product categories that aren't even listed on NoMiddleman.com yet.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?Tower Electric Bikes is profitable today, but we're really just in our infancy. Our burn rate is incredibly low as we are able to tack this onto an existing, profitable direct to consumer eCommerce business.
We've launched with one SKU, an electric beach cruiser that has been fairly well-received by the industry media. We're very encouraged by early sales traction, and even more, encouraged by the number of referrals we've got versus our installed base. eBikes really seem to be something that once people try a good one, they get it and buy one. The metrics are way better than what we saw early in the SUP industry. I think eBikes just appeal to a larger percent of the population.
We're having a local University of San Diego student team take a crack and putting together a strong local marketing plan of attack as a class project. We expect good things out of that and it's free labor!
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?Part of the benefit of having Mark Cuban as a business partner is that I also get him as a sort of mentor by default. All his feedback is a learning opportunity. One thing that really bugged me early on with Tower Paddle Boards was that we never had enough access to capital to be able to grow as fast as I wanted. The first 5 years our revenue grew as from 3K, to $265K, to $1.3M, to $3.1M, to $5.1M, to $7.5M, which looks impressive when I look back on it, but those first 4 years really we were constantly out of stock of our best products at bad times. We'd frequently come into our summer season and be out of stock of our best seller for 2 months. To me, this was maddening. I felt like we were missing out on so much because of a stupid constraint... lack of money. But he always seemed to have the opinion of don't worry about forgoing upside so much. Worry about going to zero. Because stuff always goes wrong at some point and you need to be prepared to handle that and survive. And stuff did go wrong. I've started to adopt his thinking on that front a lot more.
When the SUP market started to level off and decline even, a bunch of competitors started to copy us, and the online landscape changed with Amazon's power, this mentality started to make a lot more sense to me. That thinking has probably saved us, while there is a lot of other blood in the water in the SUP industry and more to come in the next few years.
Keeping our burn rate low has been engrained in my mind. I've never had a company that could afford to lose money for a long period of time, so survival is all about burn rate. I view everything through that lens, especially as the world starts to move faster and faster. I see our lean operation as a strategic competitive advantage. That's what really excites me about our Tower Electric Bike company. It has zero operating cost, or about as close to zero as is possible. That gives us a huge advantage. And once it takes off and becomes a significant profit center, that gives me a paddleboard company with a near-zero operating cost if I want to look at things a little differently. That gives me a lot of strategic flexibility in what we can do to take the Tower Paddle Boards brand to the next level.
One of our cost-cutting measures was to figure out a way to have a retail store without paying retail rent. This led us to stumble upon an opportunity to rent a waterfront kayak shop in San Diego, dress it up, and turn it into a part-time high-end event venue when it wasn't our retail showroom. We figure the event rental fees would cover our rent and we'd do pop-up retail in the space between events, and have our offices housed in the back. It not only worked, but it also worked incredibly well. I think we may have stumbled upon a great solution for the retail, real-world presence for a direct to consumer beach lifestyle company like Tower. The brand experience basically.
We've been up and running for about 4 months now, and we've got a nice little diversified event venue rental revenue stream coming in that easily offsets our rent costs a few times over. The place is a beach club and it's decorated with our stylish direct to consumer beach lifestyle products on the walls like an art exhibit, even when events are happening. So events become automated brand activations. We've held events for 1400 people. That's a lot of brand activations to do, all while making a tidy profit. More importantly, there's no reason we can't replicate this in other beach towns. That's our future roadmap now.
The last thing that I've learned is that I should probably incorporate, or I just end up paying a lot of taxes until my business goes under some time in the future. We're experiencing a few lean years as we've re-invested profits heavily into launching the Tower Electric Bike business and the Tower Beach Club, so it's not critical immediately, but it's kind of a huge mistake to try to grow a fast-growth company that's also a highly profitable business with pass-thru income. If you make a million dollars, you have to pay half that in taxes regardless if you only take out only enough to live on and reinvest everything else into building an inventory asset. It seems like you should be killing it, but you're not really. And then if things go south, you're worse off then you started, but you've made the government a lot of money... and there not really going to help you when you have loses. They only take half when you make money. That's problematic for start-ups that grow fast, change fast, and sometimes die fast. I'm all for paying my fair taxes like the next guy, but when you pay a lot for years and then end up owing the bank money that you may not even be able to pay back, something seems wrong with the equation. I think that's why corporate retained earnings were created... just I'm a little slow on all this financial wizardry as I'm just focused on making high-quality, low-cost products easy to find.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?We use Americommerce for our shopping cart. The thing I love about it is that it allows us to have a single back end to feed multiple front end websites. All our inventory is in one system, all our products only have one instance. This is different than before where we had a separate eCommerce login for each of our websites. This is a huge problem for many entrepreneurs that have been around for a while as you tend to collect businesses! With Americommerce, the same back-end feeds all 4 of these sites:
For our merchant account, we switched to Stripe a few years ago. It's a no brainer switch from any other merchant account, which is a fairly shady business for the most part. Stripe just makes things simple, and fair to you as the vendor.
We use a variety of productivity tools that all of my team has contributed to identifying. In June of 2015, I moved the entire company to a 5-hour workday. We worked 8 am-1 pm straight thru with no lunch. I gave my entire staff their lives back, but then also put the pressure on them. If they couldn't get as much or more done in terms of productivity as they could before, then they would be fired. We were doing it as a 3-month test. It worked very well. We ended up just moving to it full time for 2 years. Our revenues increased by 50% over the next year. Today, we work the 5-hour workday in our busy season from June 1st to Sept 30th, then go back to start-up hours in the off-season.
One of the key benefits or our 5-hour workday was that it squeezed people for time and forced them to identify productivity tools and better methods of doing their job. I ended up writing a book on our experiment called The Five Hour Workday. It got press is 20 countries and spread the idea to over 10 million people worldwide. A bunch of companies has gone on to do their own experiments. It's perhaps started a trend. At the website at the link above, you can download the first 50 pages of the book for free, and also get a list of amazing productivity tools that my team identified.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?I loved everything I read from Seth Godin when I first started into the online business in the late 90s. I love books by other entrepreneurs or about them. Love Branson's books. Love the book on Bezo's, The Everything Store. I've actually gotten to know the author a bit as he works on his sequel. Love the Sam Walton book, Made in America. Love the book on how Jack Ma built Alibaba. Love Phil Knight's book, Shoe Dog. Love the Steve Jobs book by Isaacson. Love the Elon Musk book by Ashley Vance.
I'm also a big fan of the 4 Hour Work Week by Tim Ferris. Obviously, my own book title is a homage to Tim's revolutionary book on how an individual can break away for the 9-5 and outsource his life. Our 5-hour workday experiment and my subsequent book explore how many of the same principles can be applied to a large organization or society as a whole.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
- Keep your burn rate low. Worry less about the competition putting you out of business and worry more about yourself putting you out of business because your burn rate bloats.
- Start early. This is a corollary to the above because your personal burn rate grows as you do. Many college kids worry about their lack of experience being a disadvantage when starting a business, but they fail to see that their ability to live with 5 roommates, eat mac and cheese every night, have no kids or wife or mortgage, and still live enjoy a high quality of life, but cheaply is a massive advantage. The opposite is also true. The older you get, the higher your personal burn rate gets, and the higher your opportunity cost of walking away from a six-figure job gets, the bigger disadvantage you have over a competitor that doesn't face those realities.
Where can we go to learn more?Our websites
- Towerpaddle boards.com
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/r/Championship's Championship club-by-club season review and run-in preview discussion thread - Part 1 (Norwich, Leeds, Sheff Utd, WBA, Bristol)
On the 3rd August 2018, the 127th season of the English second division - also known as the Championship - began. Tom Lawrence scored a last minute winner for Derby against Reading, which set the precedent for an exciting and high quality season! (It also set the precedent for Derby to do the normal Derby thing of being vaguely exciting at times, but ultimately fail at promotion. probably)
The season has been dominated by the top 3 clubs, all of whom have exceeded expectations. But every club has a story to tell about wondergoals, star players, expensive flops, shock results, and meme-able moments. (Ipswich are bottom because they can’t score and Bolton Wanderers are disintegrating as a club. So…maybe they have fewer positive stories to share)
And there is still plenty to play for, with almost nothing decided yet. This is the views of fans from most clubs on how their season has gone, with a quick recap and tactical summary, and how they think the run-in will go. I thought this write-up was a good idea now, to get your jimmies rustled for the run in, rather than after the season has finished. So please, have a good read and discuss your thoughts below. Write-ups for 21 of the 24 clubs (sorry Preston, Blackburn and Rotherham - maybe I can find someone next time) are spread over 4 parts because of the character limit.
Good work /Championship community for coming together to get this made! If you havent visited the sub already, then you're really fucking useless, because I promote it like it dispenses free gold or something. Please pay us a visit - if not to discuss the best league in the world, then to enjoy the memes.
So heres the table, with the bookies' implied odds of promotion/relegation, depending on which is more likely. (All teams have played 39 of 46 games, except for Bristol, Derby, Swansea and Millwall, who've played 38.)
Top goalscorers - Im gonna be lazy and just link to a picture of the standings. If you can’t be arsed clicking: Teemu Pukki for Norwich has 24, Billy Sharp for Sheff Utd has 23, Tammy Abraham for Villa has 22. One of them will probably win the golden boot.
Heres a link to the season previews we did in the summer, so you can compare and have a laugh. How much did fans get right back then? (A: not very much)
1. Norwich City by DannyBrownsDoritosManager: Daniel Farke
Hopes/predictions at the beginning of the season?:
Farke's first season at Norwich could be charitably described as one of transition, which saw Norwich finish in a disappointing 14th playing frustrating, lacklustre football with the squad seemingly lacking any real ability to score. This was all in spite of Norwich boasting arguably the Championship's greatest playmaker in the form of James Maddison, who proved a bright spark in an an otherwise mediocre season. With Maddison's departure in the Summer to Leicester City, expectations for the current season were somewhat muted. A feeling of 'more of the same' seemed to be the near-universal prediction, with the team improving on last year's finishing position seeming like a reasonable target with a shot of ending up in the top 10, as well as continuing our unbeaten run in the East Anglian Derby against Ipswich Town to a full decade.
Mini season review - how has it gone so far?
To say that Norwich City have exceeded expectations this year is somewhat of an understatement. Despite a shaky start that initially confirmed the predictions of a mid table finish, Norwich have since become an incredibly well-oiled, high-performing side whose since become league leaders at the top of the table. To use another cliche, a recurring theme this season has been Norwich's "never say die" attitude, showing a consistent determination to get results, often from unfavourable positions. This mindset has seen the team stage some thrilling late victories and improbable comebacks. While this has been incredibly fun to watch, leaving it as close to the wire as they have on numerous occasions has also shaved years off the life expectancy of many a Norwich fan.
Of course, any talk of Norwich's this year has to include Teemu Pukki. Signed for free from Danish side Brondby in what may be one of the best signings in English football this season, no one expected the man so much of a revelation in front of goal as he has been, having found the net 24 times this season and is currently sitting in pole position as the Championship's top goalscorer. Other standouts this season include creative winger Emi Buendia, who has become an integral part of Norwich's highly threatening attacking force alongside the strong, speedy and Argos-loving Onel Hernandez. This season has also seen the breakthrough of a number of young players, most notably the full backs Max Aarons and Jamal Lewis and defender Ben Godfrey, who have all attracted the interest from Premier league sides, with Aarons and Lewis both being included in this year's team of the season, alongside Pukki.
Best/most used starting 11 and tactics:
Tifo Football have done a video analysing Norwich's tactics this season that's better than anything I could ever come up with, so watch that, or read the text version which can be found here.
This starting 11 is the one that's been used unchanged for a while now, and I can't see Farke making any changes to it, barring injury, suspension or a bad result.
The late victories against Millwall and Bolton, as well as coming back from 3-0 down to draw with Nottingham Forest are obvious highlights and will probably be a large part of what people remember when they think back on this season.
Our best performance though would have to be our away victory against Leeds. A further highlight was the 3-0 victory at home against Ipswich, solidifying a decade long unbeaten run, and saw Paul Lambert sent to the stands.
Low points would have to be the losses at home to Leeds and Derby and any time we've taken a penalty, which we seem incapable of doing despite having a squad loaded with Germans.
Remaining fixtures and expectations - nervous?:
QPR [H], Reading [H], Wigan [A], Sheffield Wednesday [H], Stoke [A], Blackburn [H], Aston Villa [A]
All of these fixtures are winnable and it is possible that we could go the rest of the season unbeaten (though this is unlikely), but we could be 10 points clear and I'd still be nervous as hell. Now that we've got Boro out of the way the only one that gives me real pause would be Villa, but hopefully by then we'll be promoted (watch me jinx it here)...
If you get promoted/survive relegation you will...
While Norwich's possession based football has worked in the Championship, it definitely won't fly in the Premier League, so it will be interesting to see how Farke adapts his tactics to the challenges of the top flight. In addition, while we've been brilliant going forward, our leaky defence has contributed to so many games being closer than they need to be, so if we don't take measures to sure up our back-line, we will go down for sure.
Finishing position prediction: 1st
Rival watch and league prediction:
That Norwich have had such a good season has made Ipswich's meltdown all the sweeter, especially with Paul "Judas" Lambert at the helm. Still, at least they finally managed to get out of the Championship after all these years so at least they have that.
Promotion wise, I think us and Leeds will go up automatically, we'll take the title and Sheffield United will win the playoffs, though aside from West Brom I have no idea who'll be joining them, though I'd be surprised if one of them wasn't Aston Villa. As for relegation, I think it will stay as it currently is now with Rotherham, Bolton and Ipswich heading for the drop.
2. Leeds United by babyjmanManager: Marcelo 'El Loco' Bielsa
Hopes/predictions at the beginning of the season?: A disappointing end of season, finishing 15th brought about the sacking of Paul Heckingbottom, and left us pessimistic about this season. The managerial shortlist of Di Matteo, Martinez, Ranieri and Conte, before the signing of Bielsa changed that however. Stories of his past reigns at top European clubs (as well as the horror stories!), 18 hour days in his office, and players picking up rubbish, left us unsure at what the season would bring. Bamford, Douglas (both permanent), Brown, Baker, Harrison and Blackman (all loan) were our transfers in, whilst 24 squad players were either sold or loaned out, including Academy product Ronaldo Viera, who was very promising for us last season, who left for £7million to Sampdoria.
Mini season review - how has it gone so far? A true season of ups and downs. 8 games undefeated at the start of the season, saw us fly to the top of the table, with Bielsa becoming a fan favourite. The great form continued into the December period, and it looked as though we could finally get promoted. Yet 7 points out of a possible 21 post Boxing Day, as well as the departure of playmaker Samu Saiz, not to mention the Spy-Gate Scandal saw us drop back into the promotion dog-fight. The arrival of Kiko Casilla from Real Madrid however sparked new optimism, and a mixed bag of results see us in a 3-way battle with Norwich and Sheff Utd for 2 automatic promotion spots. Recently, a home defeat to the latter saw us drop into third, before regaining our 2nd spot when they lost to Bristol.
Best/most used starting 11 and tactics: Bielsa has operated a variety of tactics, varying for each opposition in response to his in-depth research on each team. A freakish injury crisis has meant that we have barely ever been able to play a consistent line-up, so this is our 'strongest' but not most used. Our most principle formation is:
4-1-4-1 - In attack, Phillips will drop back as a half-back while the two wing-back will bomb forward, putting crosses in. Alioski started the season on the wing, before being pushed back to LB, a position he plays in for his nation, Macedonia. Only two games this season have we had both Roofe and Bamford fit. More usually, Tyler Roberts will be brought in, either playing on the right, with Pablo playing in the centre, or being in the centre himself. Jack Clarke is used as an explosive supersub.
Bielsa does also play a 4-2-3-1 which may see a more defensive player like Forshaw come in, and Klich play as the AM, or even a 3-3-1-3. I will add however, that a number of players have been rediscovered this season under Bielsa. Before this season, Liam Cooper was the scapegoat of many of our defensive problems, Phillips was an attacking midfielder that was lacklustre, Klich was 4th choice, seeking a new club and Roofe was an average striker. Bielsa has also shown gametime to many youth players, with gametime being given to Jack Clarke, Leif Davis, Tyler Roberts, Jamie Shackleton, Tom Pearce and Aapo Halme, all of whom are under the age of 21. Bailey Peacock-Farrell in his first season as 1st choice keeper, gained a lot of confidence and trust, playing a crucial role in keeping us near the top before he was replaced in January.
Best: Opening 3-1 win vs Stoke and 4-1 vs Derby, what a way to start the season. 3-0 vs Norwich and 4-0 vs WBA, just games where we dominated against top opposition. Last minute comebacks against Villa and Blackburn which see us still near the top.
Worst: Don't want to think too much about these, but a couple spring to mind. Completely out played by WBA, Playing like crap against QPR, and losing top of the table clashes against Sheffield Utd and Norwich.
Memorable: Klich's water bottle squirt, Klich's 'spy' celebration vs Derby, Pontus Jansson getting injured against Sheffield Utd with no subs left, limping to play as a target man up front, missing a golden chance, then going in goal when Casilla got sent off, and Jansson's interview post Brentford .
Stat of the Season: Record after scoring first: 18W 0D 0L. 40 goals scored. 6 conceded.
Remaining fixtures and expectations - nervous?: Birmingham (A), Preston (A), Wednesday (H), Wigan (H), Brentford (A), Villa (H), Ipswich (A)
Good set of fixtures to come. Biggest challenges for me are Villa and Preston. Unfortunately for us, both Sheffield Utd and Norwich have easy fixtures to. It's going to come down to who doesn't drop points against lower opposition, not our strong point. A final game against Ipswich should favour us if it comes down to the final day. It's going to be a long stretch home.
If you get promoted/survive relegation you will..and if you dont you will.. If Leeds don't get promoted, I will be bitterly disappointed. This is our biggest chance, and I can't see Bielsa staying if we don't make it. If we don't make it automatically, it will be horrible, given it's all in our hands right now, 2 points clear of 3rd. If we do get promoted, I can see a long stay in the Prem, given chairman Radz's involvement in the club, and willingness to recycle and income gained back into the club.
Finishing position prediction: 2nd.
Rival watch and league prediction: I'm seeing us and Norwich going up automatically with Blades coming up through the playoffs. There have clearly been 3 stand out teams this season. Down the other end of the table, for me it's goodbye to Ipswich, Bolton and Millwall, with Rotherham just staying up.
3. Sheffield Utd by 8-moebius-8Manager: Sheffield United, Chris Wilder (and Alan Knill)
Hopes/predictions at beginning of season: After flirting with the playoffs but ultimately finishing 10th last season, and some typically shrewd recruitment over Summer, we wanted to solidify our chances at reaching playoffs, keep improving defensively and beating more teams at the top of the pile.
Mini season review: Exceeded expectations so far. Kept pace with some amazing clubs in the top 6, with much bigger budgets and more ‘stars’. Egan (new record signing), Norwood (absolute steal at £2mil) and Henderson (loan) have vastly improved our defensive standards so was vaguely hopeful of challenging the top 2. Additions like Madine, Dowell and McGoldrick have boosted our attack and given us different options. Wilder continues to draw praise for his mixture of unorthodox tactics and team-togetherness – the consensus being that United are over-achieving considering the quality of the squad. Conceded least goals in the league and have had a great away form, averaging 1.68pts for away games and 2.1pts at home. Wilder, Norwood and Sharp have all been named in Championship TotS.
Best/most used starting 11 and tactics: (3-5-2) GK: Henderson DF: Basham, Egan, O’Connell MDF: Stevens, Fleck, Norwood, Duffy/Dowell, Baldock ST: Sharp, McGoldrick.
With a gutsy, energetic, almost entirely British squad, Wilder and Knill employ a back-3 with encouragement to bomb forward and overlap the wingbacks to create overloads that defences tend not to know how to deal with. Norwood’s stats suggest he is useful as a deep-lying playmaker, spreading the play and shielding the back-line. Sharp’s hold-up play is invaluable and allows us to play more direct if we’re under pressure, as well as being one of the league’s top scorers (22). The wingbacks get forward at any opportunity, sometimes leaving us exposed but with 17 clean sheets, the defence are doing a solid job.
Best/worst/memorable moments: Throwing away that lead at Villa to finish 3-3 was heart-wrenching, although we took Villa apart 4-1 earlier in the season. Also, Bristol City coming from behind twice after our momentous victory at Leeds and after a 10-game unbeaten run was hard to swallow. Winning away at West Brom with 10 men and Leeds after getting battered most of the game showed our steely side. Memorably, an unexpected goal-celebration involving ‘Mr Socko’ resulted in WWE legend Mick Foley becoming an honorary Blade and coming to watch the Brentford home win.
Remaining fixtures and expectations: PNE (A), Birmingham (A), Millwall (H), Forest (H), Hull (A), Ipswich (H), Stoke (A).
With our form and previous fighting-spirit, it’s possible that we could win all our remaining fixtures and wait for Leeds to inevitably fuck up. All our games are winnable, but Forest may be tricky. This might be necessary, as the top-3 is impossible to predict and WBA aren’t far behind! Blades don’t do well in play-offs so hopefully can keep ahead of the chasing pack and a blip from Leeds gifts us second place and automatic promotion.
If you get promoted/survive relegation...: Hopefully promotion would mean our Saudi bankroller finally gets his hands in his pocket, but there are ongoing talks/arguments between co-owners, local bloke - Kevin McCabe and Saudi royal - Prince Abdullah. If we end up in the playoffs, I can see us getting beaten by a West Brom or Villa due to their superior experience of big games. The ultimate slap in the face would be Wednesday scraping playoffs and beating us, however, another season in the Championship strengthening our side wouldn’t be the worst result.
Finishing position prediction: 2nd
Rival watch and league positions: It looks like it’s a two-horse race between us and Leeds now for the second automatic spot. Wednesday and Forest refuse to give up the chase for playoffs – 5th place to 14th there is only a 10-point gap so there will be a lot more shuffling yet!
4. West Bromwich Albion by CheeseMakerThingTeam, Manager: West Bromwich Albion, James Shan (took over from Darren Moore in March)
Hopes/predictions at the beginning of the season?:
Most fans were expecting a top 6 finish come May though a few expected more and a few expected less. Coming down from the Premier League can often make it difficult to gauge expectations and relative squad strength with us not being in the Championship for a fair while. Though there wasn't much inward investment into the squad alongside the loss of our best player in Ben Foster, the squad was left relatively intact and with a manager who had performed miracles with them the back end of the previous season providing a relatively stable base to build on.
Mini season review - how has it gone so far?
It's been an interesting season and a breath of fresh air after suffering in the Premier League. Currently we're on track for a play-off spot with a comfortable gap to 7th and a chance of finishing in the automatics, albeit an extremely slim one. The season started on the back foot with a defeat to Bolton but despite not really looking that good for most of the season the quality has shown. The main issue has been one of consistency, we've been in and around the top all season but never seemingly challenging for the top spot whereas the 3 teams above us have, and though we've not been in danger of dropping out of the top 6 we've imploded when we were in reach of top spot. The last time that happened unfortunately cost Darren Moore his job, a disappointment but not really that shocking as despite our results the consistency and performances had dropped off with the results drying up. Results have again picked up since then with 3 wins on the trot but the performances still haven't been that convincing.
Best/most used starting 11 and tactics:
The heart attack: This tactic was what we used to start the season, and was quite frankly unsustainable. The general play style in possession was based around passing around the back 3 and between the deeper midfielders, but as we didn't have the players to do that we kept giving up possession in dangerous areas, like just in front of our box. As the players were exposed and spread out defensively, those mistakes usually ended up in us conceding. Kyle Bartley was a particular problem as was the static movement of Brunt and Livermore. On the flip side, the formation and playing style was adept in drawing in the opposition leaving their defenders exposed, and it seemed that every time we managed to quickly pass the ball and move it to Harvey Barnes we would score, with Gayle providing particularly fruitful. Ultimately though the setup turned stale, Barnes was being marked out of games and the strikers were isolated leading to the goals drying up and ending with 3 defeats and 1 draw from the back end of October to early November.
The HRK Special: Going into the game against Leeds without a win in 4, the management team had a masterstroke. Gayle was dropped for Robson-Kanu giving us an outlet to use and one defender was dropped to bolster the midfield providing width. We won 4-1 and Darren Moore and Graeme Jones didn't look back, ultimately costing them their jobs. We went on a run of 9 games unbeaten, winning 6. The extra man started to give us more space and having Robson-Kanu meant players couldn't crowd out Harvey Barnes as much giving him space to run. Gareth Barry rolled back the years with some excellent defensive screening helping us move into a back 5 if needed or just making sure there wasn't as much of a gap between the back 4 and the midfield and Matt Phillips was able to use his technical ability to create space in the centre of the pitch and allow the formation to shift to a 4-4-2 if needed with Robson-Kanu able to move inwards. Unfortunately, the defensive problems were still evident and though slightly mitigated the mistakes were still present with overplaying from the back still the main issue. Barnes was recalled by Leicester and an injury to Matt Phillips left the team without dynamism. The insistence in playing the ball turned into moving the ball sideways and Gayle was pushed wide to fill the hole left by Barnes, stifling him and the lack of pace in midfield meant that we weren't able to transition our attacking shape as easily. As we entered the crunch month in February it was make or break and unfortunately we broke. As always, Albion lost to a Tony Pulis team and though we then went 3 games without losing, Sheffield United and Leeds taught us a footballing lesson. The lack of strength and movement in midfield and threat and pace up front meant Sheffield United were able to control which areas we were able to move into and Leeds' energy and pressing forced our defence into the errors they were making all season with their sideways passing but on a scale of 100. The experiment ended with an fortunate draw with Ipswich who capitalised on the stubbornness of passing out from the back, constantly harassing our defenders and forcing them into mistakes.
Back to basics: James Shan's short time in charge has so far used a more pragmatic style based around 4-2-3-1. The players are no longer under instruction to pass it out which has limited the amount of mistakes coming in possession. Though there have still been defensive errors, notably against Swansea, they've been more to do with individual positional errors. The team has more width with Gayle being moved centrally where his movement has created space for our midfield. Kyle Edwards has come in on the wing the last two matches to provide some pace and Jay Rodriguez has looked more comfortable out wide than Gayle has, with the full backs able to overlap. The most notable shift has been the movement from left to right, instead of going through 4 or 5 players it has now been more direct, stretching the opposition. Robson-Kanu still provides that outlet when he comes on with his ability to hold the ball up stretching defenders more and preventing them from pressing our midfield. This extra space has revitalised Chris Brunt who has had a very poor season, his passing range and vision has been key in our more pragmatic style as well as a renewed threat from his dead ball ability.
From an attacking point of view, the 4-1 win against Leeds takes some beating. The performance was exceptional in all departments with the speed of play completely nullifying Leeds' press. The 2-0 win at Villa Park was also special. A win against Villa is always big for West Brom fans but to not really getting out of second gear in the process is rare.
The 4-0 hammering at Elland Road was embarrassing but I'd rank the 1-1 draw with Ipswich as worse as we failed to react to the Leeds defeat playing the same turgid stuff we'd done in the previous 2 games but to the bottom side and coming away very fortunate with a draw when Ipswich should have taken us to the cleaners. Getting Pulised again with a late 1-0 goal from a handball from a set piece was also a pretty crap feeling.
Key Stat: West Bromwich Albion have lost 1 of their last 12 games under caretaker managers and Sam Johnstone has made the most saves this season with 126 (not sure if it's the most in the league at the moment but it was immediately after our game with Birmingham, Marek Rodak had made 123 saves).
Remaining fixtures and expectations - nervous?:
Millwall (A), Bristol City (A), Preston (H), Hull City (H), Reading (A), Rotherham United (H), Derby County (A)
Not the easiest set of fixtures. Some banana skins against the play-off chasing teams and Millwall, Rotherham and Reading will be interesting as they're fighting for survival, they could be more motivated against us or be more reserved and nervous. Barring an utter capitulation I wouldn't expect us to drop out of the top 6 though.
If you get promoted/ you will... Keep most of the squad together but still lose most games and likely come straight back down.
and if you dont you will... Be forced to sell most of the players we have currently and start the new Championship season with a team that could either get us up or severely under-perform.
Predicted finishing postition: 3rd
Rival watch and league prediction:
Villa are in the play-off hunt and as such anything can happen. I obviously hope they don't because I just know they'll play us and beat us. Though not really rivals, Stoke and Birmingham are close. Stoke will finish the season in the bottom half and Birmingham will stay up despite their points deduction.
I expect Sheffield United to go up automatically out of them and Leeds but I do think we'll get past one of either Sheffield United or Leeds and into third, maybe I'm being optimistic. Bristol City might be able to get past us into 4th but even with their game in hand a 9 point deficit is a tough ask. I'm not making a prediction on who will win the play-offs as they're a lottery.
Ipswich are likely down, 13 points is far too much ground to make up. I think Bolton's off field troubles will bite them and they'll also be playing League 1 next season. Rotherham will probably join them because the only team within 3 points to them is Millwall who have a game in hand.
5. Bristol City by NewFoundLewEManager: Lee Johnson
Hopes/predictions at the beginning of the season?: The hopes of the club and the fan base for the 18/19 season was a promotion challenge. The most optimistic of fans would have predicted a playoff spot with most of the rest expecting a mid-table finish. Some fans thought we weren't spending enough money on big-name players having let some of our best players go. We had brought in quite a few new players and many of us were excited to see where this slightly different team would take us.
Mini season review - how has it gone so far? After 38 games (8 games left) we're sitting in 5th place. So we're very much in the mix of finishing in the playoffs! We are a much better team defensively than in previous seasons and that is largely down to the new CB partnership of Adam Webster and Tomas Kalas. The only two teams in the league have conceded fewer goals than us are Sheff Utd and Boro. Last season we were praised for our attractive football and whilst we played some good football this season, there have been moments where we've struggled to even put a few passes together. Our away form has been very good this season. We have the fourth best away record in the league (10W, 4D, 5L) but only have the 16th best home form (7W, 6D, 6L). I think our stand out player this season has been Adam Webster, he started the season a bit shaky but has grown into a very composed and reliable CB. He has the ability to drive out of defence and pick out a pass which often creates chances and he has already scored three goals this season.
Best/most used starting 11 and tactics: This is what our typical lineup looks like: http://lineupbuilder.com/?sk=hy9t4 The formations we have mostly played this season has either been a 442, 4141 or a 4231 (but the last couple of games we have been using a 352). Maenpaa has been our number 1 this season and has impressed. Both him and second choice Fielding are injured at the moment so young GK O'Leary has played the last couple of games. From the start of the season to about halfway through, Kelly was our starting LB but then lost his place to Chelsea loanee Da Silva. This was because Kelly kept making mistakes and Da Silva stepped up when given the chance. Hunt is our first choice RB but he's spent some time out injured so when he doesn't play it's Pisano or CB Wright who has fairly recently came back from injury. Webster and Kalas have played the majority of games at CB with Baker only making a few appearances. Pack is always the first name on the team sheet and Brownhill has partnered him in the middle due to Smith's long term injury (in which he returned against Sheff Utd away but then got injured again against Boro). January loanee Palmer made a promising start in midfield but has been benched in recent weeks. We often shake it up with the wingers with O'Dowda and Eliasson being rotated, Weimann started the season up top with Diedhiou but then was preferred on the RW. He's now returned up top and scored a hat-trick away at Sheff Utd! Diedhiou has been first choice striker all season with Taylor usually coming off the bench.
Tactics wise we like to pass it about the defence, push the fullbacks forwards, play diagonal balls and get crosses into the box. At times it can be hard to distinguish our tactics and have been known to launch the ball forward to an isolated Diedhiou in which he's not fast enough to run onto the passes.
Best/worst/memorable moments: We went on a massive unbeaten run of 15 games (11 wins, 4 draws) and a winning run of 9 games between 28/11/18 - 12/02/18 in which we went from 15th in the table (6 points off playoffs) to 5th (2 points off 3rd, 5 points off 2nd).
Best games being our double over Swansea: Swansea away & Swansea home
Double over Sheffield United: Sheff Utd home & Sheff Utd away
Our late winner away at Brentford: Brentford away
Coming from behind and scoring a late penalty winner against QPR: QPR home
Worst for me personally was losing both games against Leeds as my best mate is a Leeds fan.
Key stat: We have conceded third-fewest amount of goals in the league and have compared our home and away form (away better). I also think we've scored the most amount of goals from set-pieces in the league but can't find anything to support that.
Remaining fixtures and expectations - nervous?: Wigan (H), West Brom (H), Villa (A), Reading (H), Sheff Wed (A), Derby (H), Millwall (A), Hull (A).
On paper, we should win at home against 20th placed Wigan but having recently got outplayed against 24th placed Ipswich at home and our home form not being that impressive, I do have my doubts. As for the other games, West Brom, Villa, Derby and maybe even Sheff Wed stand out as possible 6 pointers.
If you get promoted/survive relegation you will..[and if you don't you will]: If we get promoted to the premier league then I think we'd need to invest in all areas of the team, the jump to the premier league is a huge one. I just hope we find the right balance of bringing in new players as we have seen Fulham invest a lot in new players but have already been relegated.
If we don't go up then I'd like us to make the permanent signings of Da Silva, Kalas and Palmer unless we can find anything better. I'd also like Johnson to work out his best starting 11 and for the club to invest in a top quality striker and midfielder. I'd also like us to be more consistent, it's great that we can go on winning runs but we also go on runs of not winning games.
Finishing position prediction: 5th
Rival watch and league prediction:
In terms of teams going down, I think Ipswich and Bolton are guaranteed, I'm not sure about the fixtures for the teams at the bottom but I'm going to go with Rotherham for the final place.
As for us, the last two games have made me more positive about nailing down a promotion place, but there is still plenty to do with other clubs very much on our tail.