Ahead of the trip to South Wales to take on Swansea City in the Caraboa Cup, TEB had a chat with Guto Llewelyn about the Swans and thoughts on the cup tie.
Q. How have the fans taken relegation from the Premier League?
Relegation itself was surprisingly well taken. When you have been awful for as long as we have, it is hard to complain when you finally go down. Obviously there was frustration at the end of season collapse which saw us relegated but it was weird how little heartbreak there was, acceptance was swift. With the appointment of Graham Potter and the sale of many of our underperforming high earners there was at least the silver lining that bad habits were being addressed although that has not gone exactly to plan.
Q. What has been the biggest effect on the club?
The board seems to have done a lot of soul-searching and for the most part it has produced positive results. They acknowledged the wealth of mistakes made over recent seasons and vowed to go back to the kind of philosophy which made the club successful in the first place. This involved bringing in Graham Potter, who has worked hard to develop a more cultured style of play. Wages were too high so relegation has forced the club to sell at a desperate rate and it is concerning that we had allowed ourselves to become so reliant on Premier League television money. With so many experienced players gone the club has promoted many kids to the first team and we now have one of the Championship’s youngest squads. Basically, relegation has pretty much transformed the club.
Q. Should the owners take their share of the blame?
They have to. All our big money signings over recent years have been massive failures and most of them have been sold on the cheap this summer. Our managerial appointments have all been short term fixes and it ended up costing us. The desperate need to stay in the Premier League at all cost consumed the club and the people running the club have done nothing but paper over cracks over recent years, rather than address longstanding issues.
Q. Is there a feeling that this was needed in an effort for the club to come back refreshed and stronger?
I did not see it that way when we were relegated. We were so poor last season there was a fear we would continue to struggle in the Championship. Some fans feared we would ‘do a Sunderland’ and while I always felt that was unlikely, I thought it would be difficult to rebuild. However, there were some fans who looked on the bright side and felt it would eventually be a good thing and by now I think they are right. We were going nowhere in the Premier League and now that the fear of relegation is gone we are actually acting positively again, and early signs suggest we will be better for it.
Q. Do you think Graham Potter is the right man for the job?
He is definitely the right man for the job. He is the kind of manager we needed for a long time but would have been seen as too much of a risk in the Premier League. Since coming in he has been brave and has demanded a total overhaul. He has not been given much financial support by the board and yet he has already impressed. Our style of play is once again attack-minded and pleasing on the eye. He has shown incredible faith in young players and the squad seems to be enjoying itself once again. It is still early days but considering the mess he inherited, the signs are seriously encouraging.
Q. Are there areas of the side that need strengthening if a challenge for promotion is to happen?
A promotion challenge is not the priority. The main aim is to consolidate in the Championship and concentrate on a long-term rebuild. I have friends who genuinely hope we do not go up this season because they fear it would be too soon. Having said that I want us to do as well as possible and I think we badly need a few more players in on loan. We have just two centre-backs and only one fit striker. On top of that our midfield resources are paper thin and we look remarkably lightweight there. The first team looks good but below the surface there’s nothing there.
Q. Who do you see as the main challengers for promotion from the Championship this season?
It is so difficult to predict the Championship. Before the season began I thought Stoke were obvious favourites for promotion but they have struggled massively since relegation. Brentford have been the best team so far in my opinion, their football is sensational. Leeds United have also been brilliant but Marcelo Bielsa teams tend to run out of steam in the second half of seasons, and in a 46 game season I cannot see Leeds sustaining their early momentum. Boro and Villa have looked strong and I expect them to challenge while West Brom cannot be ruled out. I think if we are lucky with injuries we could challenge for a play-off spot.
Q. How do you think Palace will fare in the Premier League this season?
For various reasons Palace seasons always seem to have more peaks and troughs than a Toblerone and as a result I feel a talented squad never quite reaches the heights it should, at least in terms of league position. Last season injuries were the major issue but when everybody was fit you were a very good side. Keeping Wilfried Zaha is obviously a huge boost and the way you have played in the early stages of this campaign suggest this will be a good year. I think Palace’s starting eleven has a great balance and plays football on the front foot, without fear which is a real alternative to most sides outside the top six. Finishing outside the top half would be a failure this year and with a bit of luck I can see Palace challenging for an European spot.
Q. What do you make of the loan signing of Jordan Ayew and what kind of player should we expect to see?
Jordan Ayew is without a doubt one of the weirdest footballers I have ever seen. His brain does not work the same way as other footballers. He will often do the complete opposite of what a normal footballer will do. Sometimes this has positive consequences, he has been known to score spectacular goals out of nowhere and go on mazy runs where nobody can stop him. But other times it means he turns into a headless chicken, runs into cul-de-sacs and wastes good attacking positions.
He has good periods where he can be a nightmare for the opposition but most of the time at Swansea (and previously at Villa) he was more of a nightmare for his own team. Palace were wise not to buy him permanently. I think he will be a good option off the bench, he gives you extra depth but I do not think Palace fans should get too excited about Ayew. As good as he can be on his day we were not sorry to lose him.
Q. And finally, what sort of side do you think Swansea will field and your prediction for the match?
Seeing as our squad is very small I cannot see us making wholesale changes to the side. I think by League Cup standards it will be a reasonably strong team, with only a handful of changes. It is tough to predict League Cup results because nobody takes the competition particularly seriously and most clubs treat the early rounds as a bit of a kick-about, but I’ll go for Swansea 1-2 Palace.