Saturday, 6 August 2011

Sun, Sea, Sand, Beer and Football League Predictions

Two weeks on a family holiday in Lanzarote has been a fabulous wind down, prior to the new football season starting. Although in reality, with the Euro U21 Championships, CONCACAF Gold Cup, Copa America and the World Cups for Women and Men's U17 and U20, football has never really gone away. Unless you are Henry Winter, who bemoaned the wait for Premier League action in a tweet a couple of weeks ago, quickly backtracking when the "Little England" nature of his words were thrown back at him.

Two weeks in the sun, with little internet access and the remnants of the tabloid press to read, highlighted the fascination with the Premier League and dragged out stories of overpaid millionaires filling their pages. I have just about had my fill of Nasri,Tevez, Fabregas and Barton as much as I have had my fill of all inclusive buffets.  

So two weeks after the return of Scottish football (someone asked me, in all seriousness, if Scottish football had kicked off early to help them prepare for Euro 2012 next Summer); English football - well, excluding the bit that Henry is licking his lips in anticipation of - returns. For my team, but not for me it is a trip to Boundary Park as our League One experience kicks off, after a 22 year absence from the third tier.

I have returned to a plethora of season previews and predictions. Some of which I have contributed to. If you pick up this month's When Saturday Comes or World Soccer magazines, I have provided the Blades previews. I would also encourage you to view online (or download) the excellent Football League preview from The 72 and The Two Unfortunates which you can find here. It's more than a match for some of the more mainstream previews available and very professionally done (and it is free!). I again answered their questions on the Blades.

But what about my views on the wider Football League. Last week, pint of Tropical in one hand, pen in the other, I jotted down my thoughts on who would be where at the end of next season, unprejudiced by the season reviews I am yet to properly peruse and here they are. Don't go putting any money on them....I haven't!:


Leicester City
West Ham United

It is hard to see past these two teams. If anything the weight of expectation may be there only downfall.

Leicester have made some astute signings in the Summer, to complement a squad that perhaps should have delivered more last season.  Lee Peltier is more than capable of making the step up, whilst Neil Danns, Sean St Ledger and Matt Mills have been consistently strong at this level. A potential centre back pairing of Mills and St Ledger would be the dream of any club in the Championship. Throw in the Premier League experience of Johnson, Pantsil, Konchesky and Nugent and the strength in depth should see them home.

West Ham have a good manger in Allardyce. A manager who has taken a club out of this division before, albeit some time ago. It pains me to say it, but he is the right man to galvanise the Hammers and his quartet of ex-Bolton signings demonstrate a knowledge of what is required to get out of this division. The stand out signing is Kevin Nolan, a regular scorer from midfield in the top division and the driving force behind Newcastle's title two seasons ago.

Play Offs:
Ipswich - good manager in Jewell, good signings in Chopra, Jay Emmanuel Thomas and Bowyer and I am not sure Wickham is that much of a miss.

Leeds - loss of Bradley Johnson is a blow, but I can see them in the play off push. Well-drilled and organised by Grayson.

Birmingham - Assuming the financial meltdown at St Andrews is not imminent I can't see them below the Top 6.

Brighton & Hove Albion - There is always one side who kick-on from a prior year promotion and the Seagulls are just that club for me. The move away from the Withdean to the Amex will be a massive boost and will add to the momentum.

Doncaster Rovers
Crystal Palace
Coventry City

Doncaster slipped away last season and if the season had run on for a couple of more weeks they would have been at real risk of being dragged into the relegation scrap. I cannot foresee anything other than a relegation scrap this season. With the townspeople still not supporting their club and fans starting to turn on Sean O'Driscoll at times last season,when results didn't result from attractive football I can see a club stretched this season. O'Driscoll, never the most effervescent character, sounded like he had lost his mojo in the latter part of last season. He will need to get it back.

Palace seem to be perennially close to the drop and I think this is the year they will finally succumb. The loss of Danns is a big blow and I am not sure the positive impact of Dougie Freedman's appointment will carry over into this season.

Coventry are a club with big problems and if those financial issues lead to administration I cannot see any way back. Administration aside, I think they will struggle badly this season.
League One:

League One:

Preston North End
Charlton Athletic

PNE have a good coach in Phil Brown, although that remains a matter of some debate for many - including their fans -  and retain a strong squad for League One. Of the three relegated clubs, I see them in the best position to bounce back.

Charlton have failed to live up to expectations for the last few seasons and, despite his hero status as a player, many question Chris Powell's managerial capabilities. However, astute signings for League One means I can see them having a successful season.

Play Offs:

Huddersfield Town - A good young manager and generally retained a good squad. Even though quality has left, quality has come in. The signing of Anton Robinson stands out for me. Will push for automatic.

Scunthorpe United have lost several players, but they have bounced back before and have an experienced lower league manager in Alan Knill. Knowing how to get out of League One will help them immensely.

Chesterfield - similar to the Brighton prediction, I see a club with momentum potentially pushing for the play offs, maybe more successfully than Rochdale last season. How they cope with the loss of Craig Davies and Dean Smalley will be key.


Rochdale - the loss of Keith Hill and several players, some of whom have followed him to Barnsley, will hit hard. Sadly I can see a club sliding back after a great season last season.
Tranmere Rovers - Inexperienced manager, leaky defence, a struggle to survive.

Bury - not sure they have enough about them, although if they do survive it will be down to Ryan Lowe maintaining his goalscoring record

Stevenage Borough - could be considered lucky to have made it up and will soon be found out at the higher level. Hopefully the crudity of their play will be recognised by officials.

League Two

Swindon Town
Bristol Rovers
Rotherham United

Swindon, even without the appointment of Di Canio as manager, would have been favourites to get an immediate return to League One. If anything, his appointment makes their task a little bit harder. I still cannot see beyond them though.

Bristol Rovers have a good young manager in Paul Buckle who brought success to Torquay United last season, before his controversial move and they retain a good squad for League Two.

Many Rotherham fans will not foresee a season of success and a lot will depend on how quickly they settle after a Summer where Andy Scott has brought in a large number of players. They still have Adam Le Fondre and even if he were to leave, it should leave Scott a decent kitty to fund replacement(s).
Play Offs:

Accrington Stanley - long serving manger, a team who knows what he wants and a good last season to build upon 

Oxford United - this is the season for Oxford to kick on under an impressive young manager, could well push for automatic

Gillingham - A young and hungry squad who will be well organised under Andy Hessenthaler

Dagenham & Redbridge - the loss of  of the widely coveted Danny Green is a blow, but I can see a strong attempt to bounce back


Barnet - yet another season of struggle at Underhill and I don't think the goals of McLeod and Kabba will be enough.

Macclesfield Town - this is the year that the club with small gates and small ambitions finally succumb.

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