‘They’ve got even better having that Premier League experience’ - Ashton backs City to bounce back
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Former Norwich City striker Dean Ashton has backed the Canaries to bounce back into the Premier League at the first opportunity.
The 36-year-old believes Daniel Farke’s side will be even better for their Premier League experience last season and know their brand of football works in the Championship having been promoted as champions in the 2018/19 season.
Ashton believes that Brentford and Watford are the other outstanding teams in the division in what will be a competitive second tier once again.
“The fact Leeds, Fulham and West Brom have gone up makes this league even more competitive,” said Ashton, who scored 18 goals in 46 games for City before a £7.5m move to West Ham in January 2006. “The stand-outs for me are Norwich, Watford and Brentford.
“But there’s a big transfer cloud over all three which could make a huge difference to whether they get promoted or not.”
City fans will be keen to see if any other of their prized assets depart before the October 5 transfer deadline following Jamal Lewis’ £15m move to Newcastle on Tuesday.
“A lot of people would have expected two or three out of the door pretty quickly after the end of the season,” Ashton said speaking ahead of the return of the EFL on Quest highlights show this Saturday.
“But it looks as if only Jamal Lewis will be on his way at the moment and they’ve added Jordan Hugill, who got 13 goals at QPR last season, and Ben Gibson who has been a top Championship defender.
“They also play a style of football teams couldn’t cope with two years ago and they’ve got even better having that Premier League experience.”
Brentford fell at the final promotion hurdle last season, losing to Fulham at Wembley, and players like Ollie Watkins and Said Benrahma could move on.
But prolific Peterborough striker Ivan Toney has joined the Bees at their new Community Stadium home and Marcus Forss has returned from a productive loan spell at AFC Wimbledon.
“Thomas Frank (Brentford head coach) is the type of character who will move on quite quickly and the squad don’t really go away from the way they play,” Ashton said.
“What’s impressive is that they’ve already brought players in knowing they might lose Watkins and Benrahma.
“Watford’s season will be down to the mentality of the players.
“If the players are right mentally - and we’ve already seen stories of discontent with the manager (Vladimir Ivic) - then there’s enough experience and quality in the squad, and Ben Foster is the best goalkeeper in the league by a long way.”
Stoke were bottom of the Championship when former Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill took over in November.
The Potters eventually finished 15th having won four of their final six post-lockdown matches.
“Stoke are my outside shout,” Ashton said. “Michael O’Neill has done a great job and they look very strong this season.
“If he can get them playing for each other and being harder to beat, which is what he did at Northern Ireland, then I expect that confidence from last season to breathe through the squad.”
Ashton expects Cardiff - with the addition of Wales striker Kieffer Moore from Wigan - and Wayne Rooney’s Derby to be contesting the play-off places.
But he believes it will be a difficult season for all three promoted clubs, Coventry, Rotherham and Wycombe.
“Rotherham are the best equipped as they’ve been in the Championship before and Coventry have lost a couple of key players,” Ashton said.
“As for Wycombe, I can still see some of the smoke coming out of the League One teams’ ears after they were promoted by PPG (reaching play-offs courtesy of points per game).
“But what a job Gareth Ainsworth has done. They’ve got such a small squad, but he’s going to trust those players and play the way they have done.
“I think they’ll go down straight away but they’ll be great to watch and, like Coventry and Rotherham, will add value to the league.”
:: EFL on Quest returns this Saturday at 9pm and throughout the season on Wednesdays at 10.30pm for midweek fixtures. Stream live and catch-up on www.dplay.co.uk/show/efl-on-quest