Wales fans will be keeping a keen eye on the Championship when the new season gets underway tonight (Friday).
Whilst many will wonder if Graham Potter can weave his magic and lead Swansea City to an instant Premier League return, the graveyard of fallen giants (Forest, Wednesday, Dirty Leeds) has a very healthy contingent of Welsh players desperate to impress for club in order to force their way into Nations League reckoning for their country.
Whilst the likes of seasoned campaigners Joe Allen, Chris Gunter, Joe Ledley, James Chester and Neil Taylor are almost certain to feature against the Republic of Ireland and Denmark next month, it is the emergence of the Welsh New Breed who will be aiming to put down a marker as a changing of the guard nears.
Chris Mepham, Marley Watkins, Emyr Huws, Lee Evans, Billy Bodin. The list goes on and on.
— Danny Ward (@dan_ward52) July 25, 2018
Danny Ward’s deserved move to Leicester City means the pressure is on for Wayne Hennessey to keep performing heroics for Crystal Palace after the big man penned a new deal at Selhurst Park.
At the business end of the pitch, however, there is work to be done.
Take a certain Real Madrid Galactico out of the equation (Gareth Bale being schooled by a schoolgirl in his latest ad) and Wales are a little threadbare up front when it comes to a sassy, classy all-rounder in attack.
— Gareth Bale (@GarethBale11) July 30, 2018
Ryan Giggs has already shown at the China Cup that if he thinks you are good enough, then you are old enough. He should know, having been handed his international and Manchester United bows aged just 17.
We already know about the mecurial talents of Ben Woodburn and Harry Wilson (on loan at Sheffield United and Derby County respectively. Hallelujah!). They will be key to Wales going forward. Indeed, Wilson, Ledley and Tom Lawrence could all feature for the Rams in their clash against Gunter’s Reading in the season opener.
But what of the contenders vying to wrestle the number nine shirt off Sam Vokes?
Lord knows he needs some competition to keep him on his toes as, at 28, the shrewd operator enters the peak of his powers.
Enter stage left Ellis Harrison and Tyler Roberts. They may sound like Love Island rivals but these two young bucks could be the answer to our bereft pool of Nines.
Both have secured summer moves to former Premier League clubs who have been treading water in the Championship for too long.
Newport-born Harrison ended his lengthy football upbringing at Bristol Rovers by signing for Ipswich Town, whilst Roberts will wear the no.11 shirt for Leeds United, who this week landed hit-man Patrick Bamford from Middlesbrough for £10m.
Their new employers face off in October and both will be keen to steal a march on one another before then.
West Bromwich Albion youth product Roberts enjoyed loan spells at Oxford United and Shrewsbury before earning his move to Yorkshire with a productive spell at Walsall last season.
— Leeds United (@LUFC) July 24, 2018
He shone on his debut, scoring one and turning provider for another as the League One side recovered from a three goal deficit to draw with Bradford City.
He netted five times in 17 appearances before the Baggies recalled him.
His performances warranted AC Milan to send a scout to the Bescot Stadium as the Italian giants considered landing him on a Bosman. Surreal.
Simon Mobey runs online Walsall FC fanzine Up The Saddlers.
He said: “Tyler’s quality and enterprise were a real luxury at League One level and it was no real surprise that his return to the Albion in January coincided with a slump in form that nearly saw us relegated.
“He has all the qualities you expect to see in a highly-rated young forward. He’s seamlessly skillful, comfortable carrying the ball and protecting it, and his movement is good. Add to this his ability to come deep, interlink play, use the channels and time his arrival in the box – he has the potential to become a true ‘complete forward’.
“Oh, and he’s pretty fast, too!
“His credentials as a number nine were not only evidenced by the handful of assists he managed during his loan spell with Walsall but also the variety of goals he scored.
“His five for the club comprised a near-post flick, a coolly-taken penalty, a placed shot on the turn, a near-post header and this pearler against Fleetwood:
Mobey reckons the 19-year-old could be the man to challenge and eventually succeed Vokes as Wales’ token target man but much will depend on his progression at Elland Road.
“Tyler lacks the height and physical presence offered by Vokes, but his ability to become the focal point of the attack, bring others into play and score and create different types of goals should bode well for Wales if he is given game time for club and country.
“It’s a shame to see his early time at Leeds has been difficult, but I can only see a great career ahead of him.
“Anyone who attracts scouts from AC Milan and Marseille to a Walsall game has to be half decent, right?”
Harrison is also looking to push on at Ipswich after sealing a £750,000 move.
🗣 “I believe that you’re at your most dangerous when you’re fighting for a common goal.”
— Ipswich Town FC (@IpswichTown) August 2, 2018
The 24-year-old has got off to a flier with the Tractor Boys, netting in their 2-1 pre-season defeat to West Ham United last weekend.
Town boss Paul Hurst said: “I think he’s got a little bit of everything in his game that you’d want from a centre forward. He’s not electric, but he’s quick enough. He’s strong, he can win his headers, he’s quite clever on the ball at times. That’s a big part of the reason we brought him to the football club.
“He can be pleased with the start he’s made, but we won’t be letting him rest on that goal. But he was a focal point for the team and that’s what we need with that sole striker. It’s a tough role, but today he certainly played it well.”
Former Ipswich hero Marcus Stewart has helped mould Harrison into the player he is today having worked with him at close quarters in his role as Bristol Rovers assistant boss.
And whilst he doesn’t see his protegé as a 20 goal-a-season poacher he still expects Harrison to shine in Suffolk.
“He’s got a bit of everything. He’s got pace and power, he’ll put himself about, he’ll work hard, win headers in both boxes and add value to the team. I think he’s got all the attributes to be a very good Championship player. It’s up to him to take this opportunity now.”
Harrison is the second Welshman to join Ipswich inside a month following their capture of winger Gwion Edwards from Peterborough United.
Emyr Huws makes up the Tractor Boys Taff trio.
So Ryan Giggs could hopefully have some selection headaches this season as he prepares for the Nations League, European Championship qualifiers and, ultimately, ushering in a new generation for a tilt at the World Cup in 2022.
Fingers crossed for a cracker of a season.
Tim Edwards is hopelessly in love with Wrexham AFC, but finds space in his heart for Wales. You’ll find more from him over at Fearless In Devotion.
We're all about Welsh football.