With the division in general overviewed by Ian yesterday, it’s time for the second of three of the official twohundredpercent Football League pre-season previews. For those that haven’t seen League Two’s preview, we’ve gone about them slightly differently this season. With the transfer window affecting some managers psychologically to the point that they build their team by the end of the transfer window, rather than the start of the season, predicting how it all ends up before teams have finalised their squads is tricky. It also means that Huddersfield fans don’t need to read it between their fingers as I describe the Terriers as “contenders”, rather than called them nailed on promotion certainties for the third season in a row. NOTE: Each group of teams in alphabetical order, rather than the order I think they will finish in. Yes, I’ve bottled it that much.
With all arrival of Paolo Di Canio at Swindon taking all the headlines in terms of unlikely Football League managers, the appointment of Uwe Rosler at Brentford almost went unreported. Unlike Di Canio, Rosler has mainly tried to bring in players who are used to English football, with defender Marcel Eger the only arrival from abroad. Jonathan Douglas looks a great signing in midfield, while Shaleum Logan proved last season at Tranmere that he has what it takes to play at this level, and his permanent signing from Rosler’s old club Manchester City also looks good. Clayton Donalsdon has hit over 40 goals in two seasons, and it will be interesting to see if he can make the step up to League One.
Chris Powell has been one of the busiest League managers in the close season, adding nine players to the ranks at Charlton Athletic. Ben Hamer arrives for his fifth spell at the Valley, having spent most of the last four seasons on loan in this division (mainly at Brentford), Andy Hughes and Michael Morrison strengthen the defence, and Danny Hollands, Danny Green and Dale Stephens add to the midfield options, while Paul Hayes scored 20 goals last time he played at this level, despite usually being a player known more for creating, and a prospective partnership with Bradley Wright-Phillips should be the most prolific in the division. If anything the biggest question mark is over manager Chris Powell. After an impressive start that saw four wins out of four, the Addicks only won two of their last nineteen games last season, and with a squad containing with the amount of quality that it does, Charlton have to be up amongst the challengers.
On paper, Huddersfield Town should have gone up each of the last two seasons, and last season’s failure owed more to the Division having four very good sides, and an inability to score in the first half of the playoff final. Lee Clark is only going to be given so many opportunities. Once again the transfers look strong. Scottish right back Calum Woods replaces Lee Peltier, who has departed for Leicester. Midfielders Anton Robinson, Tommy Miller and Donal McDermott provide excellent squad depth to cover for the departure of Anthony Pilkington to Norwich. Plymouth defender Damien Johnson also arrives on loan for the season, while winger Danny Ward makes his loan move permanent.
Colchester United have been one of the quieter sides in close-season, with just three additions to John Ward’s squad. Tom Eastman and Michael Rose bring youth and experience to the defence, while Karl Duguid returns to the midfield after three years away at Plymouth. More importantly, the Us have retained most of the first team from last season, not to mention the manager, as John Ward becomes the first Colchester manager to enter a second full season since 2007. And when you consider that ward’s two predecessors left to take on roles at bigger clubs, Colchester have needed continuity in the dugout more than anything else. The only concern is that Dave Mooney’s goals haven’t been replaced, but that was a loan announced just as last season started.
Leyton Orient were one of the clubs that made a late charge for last season’s playoffs, and have strengthened the squad in order to push further on. Scott Cuthbert is the only defensive addition. Marc Laird and Leon McSweeney both increase the midfield competition, while Dave Mooney scored fourteen goals at this level for Colchester last season. Jamie Cureton will also add experience to the O’s attack, and Russell Slade’s side look to be one of the better bets for the playoff places.
Preston North End are one of the few sides who looked like they needed investment – just the right manager to come in, trim what has been a huge squad, and just add a couple of names in order to provide a little freshness into the squad, and in a way, that has happened. Callum Davidson, Billy Jones, Sean St. Ledger, Keith Treacy and Andy Lonergan have all moved on, with Iain Turner and the returning Graham Alexander the only arrivals. The downside to the relegation approach has been that it’s not Phil Brown’s choice who has left, and the best players have gone, so Brown will have his work cut out getting the Lilywhites promoted.
Scunthorpe United will aim to bounce back up again with new manager Alan Knill, but will probably have to settle for the playoff route. Knill brings in two young midifelders in Jimmy Ryan from Accrington and Jordan Robertson from St. Johnstone, while Andy Barcham joins from Gillingham. Most of the rest of the first team has stayed together (although David Mirfin has joined Watford and Joe Murphy has left for Coventry), even if some of the squad members have been released – but Knill has worked will smaller resources before and looks to be one of the better new managers in the game.
Sheffield United find themselves in the third tier for the first time in over thirty years, and went down looking like a team in desperate need for a radical overhaul, yet around half of the players that have left appear to have left out of choice (Jamie Ward, Darius Henderson and Mark Yeates have all stayed in the Championship). The signings don’t appear to be the type that Blades need right now – right back Lecsinel Jean-François and forward Chris Porter are the only ones who have any real experience at this level, with the other main additions (Danny Philliskirk from Liverpool and former Liverpool trainee Ryan Flynn) seemingly being for potential, rather than anything. Danny Wilson is the other new man at Bramall Lane, and he’ll be wanting to avoid a repeat of how he fared at Swindon last season.
Carlisle United are one of the sides who have had a fairly quet pre-season, with just three arrivals at Brunton Park.Andy Welsh and Jon-Paul McGovern have proven their quality at this level over the years, and Stephen O’Halloran has been a highly rated fullback, but two cruciate ligament injuries have reduced his career to just 23 games in five seasons. The squad looks stronger as a result, but the one thing that may prevent the Cumbrians making a charge for the playoffs is the lack of a proven goalscorer, with none of their strikers hitting double figures last season.
A new ground often brings with it a change of fortunes, but usually away teams relish playing at new stadia, because the grounds are usually more welcoming and have better facilities. However, towards the end of Chesterfield’s tenure at Saltergate, the club made little attempt to hide how poor the ground was for the home team too. Whether true, or just a psychological trick to make the home players appreciate the new B2net stadium more, a Chesterfield side that had started to look like one stuck in a League Two rut, won promotion back to the third tier with games to spare. A quiet close season has seen John Sheridan add just three players to the squad, with defender Nathan Smith and midfielder Mark Randall expected to be in the first team, and Greg Fleming likely to be reserve keeper. That said, the Spirites have a good squad - with Craig Davies the biggest departure – but one unlikely to make headlines at either end of the division.
Exeter City have been another quiet side over the summer, with just three arrivals, one of whom (Reading’s Nicholas Bignall) has only arrived on a month’s loan at the time of writing. The other outfield arrival (Callum McNish) has just one appearance to his name, meaning that the biggest arrival at St James Park is journeyman goalkeeper Lenny Pidgeley. Paul Tisdale has done a fantastic job for the Grecians since his appointment five years ago, to the point that they ended the season a point shy of the playoffs. A repeat is not out of the question, but that would need a couple of additions during the season.
Two things Gary Megson needed to improve at Sheffield Wednesday were the defence and the attack. No major problem there, then. And defensively, the Owls do look stronger. Ten Years ago, David Prutton was considered the future of England’s midfield, instead he has carved himself a career as an effective League One defensive midfielder, while the defence had been overhauled with Jose Semedo, Rob Jones and Julian Bennett likely to make up three quarters of the new defence. The attack looks diminished, as although Gary Teale and Paul Heffernan both left by mutual consent and departed for Scotland – neither has been replaced. If Wednesday have designs on the play-offs, they need to give Clinton Morrison and Gary Madine some better service, and some competition.
Dean Smith’s first spell as a manager had gone down well at Walsall, as he slowly managed to steer the Saddlers away from the relegation zone, staying up with a point. Walsall don’t have much in the way of resources, Smith has worked hard over the summer bringing in players who are both cheap, and capable of improving the side. Eight players arrive, with Adam Chambers, Kevan Hurst, Ryan Jarvis and Lee Beevers all used to playing at this level, but all are more used to being at a higher level of the division than Walsall competed at last term. If the new signings gel early enough, the Saddlers could even be surprise candidates for the playoffs.
Wycombe Wanderers went up with quite a large squad, by lower division standards, and this should be one of their saving graces in League One. Defender James Tunnicliffe is the only arrival, but having only recently been in this division, most of the squad will be used to the play, and Gary Waddock’s managerial record suggests that this squad should do better than in 2009-2010. Consolidation should be the main aim, and while it may make for a boring season, it’s better than being in the next group.
Yeovil Town’s transfer strategy for the season seems to have been a fairly transparent one – cherrypick the best players from Bristol Rovers and Plymouth Argyle, with five players arriving from the two clubs, with the rest of the newcomers at the club all being untested youth players. The policy isn’t that bad, as Rovers only went down by three points, and it was administration, rather than anything on the pitch that sent the Pilgrims down, and it’s almost an attempt at Terry Skiverton playing it safe in trying to top last season’s lower mid-table finish.
STRUGGLING BUT SAFE
Eddie Howe’s spell in charge of Bournemouth saw them regularly defy the odds, and they only dipped in form once Howe left for Burnley, and Lee Bradbury stepped in to replace him. Bradbury’s start was promising, but it was always going to be a huge reach to be able to match Howe’s achievements. The new arrivals suggest that funds are still low at Dean Court, with Daryl Flahavan and new captain Adam Barrett the only experienced arrivals. Midfielder Steven Gregory also makes the step up from the Conference, but the one thing the squad lacks is a consistent goalscorer up front. Marc Pugh was the only player who hit double figures last season, but that was midfield, as the club lost Brett Pitman and Josh McQuoid to Championship clubs.
Tranmere Rovers lost highly rated pair Dale Jennings and Aaron Cresswell over the summer to Bayern Munich and Ipswich respectively. Jennings hasn’t been replaced yet, but David Buchanan should be an able replacement for Cresswell, and David Raven provides competition and versatility. Martin Devaney also makes a permanent drop into League One after two short loan spells elsewhere, but as ever in recent seasons, Rovers will depend on Les Parry’s miracle working skills to keep them the right side of the drop zone.
Bury have stayed faithful with the squad that saw them get promoted with defender Mark Hughes the only arrival at Gigg Lane in the close season. Manager Richie Barker has yet to taste defeat (or even a draw) in a competitive match since he took over the Shakers, and that will bring the first real test of his reign. A lot will also depend on Ryan Lowe’s ability to step up. 32 is a late age to make the step up to League One (Lowe only has one season at this level – with Crewe in 2006), but then 31 was a late age to turn into the type of striker that comes close to scoring 30 a season.
Hartlepool United changed little about their squad last summer, due to financial constraints, which left former manager Chris Turner claiming that as the club had barely stayed up, the club were destined to go down. Replacement Mick Wadsworth did well to keep Pools out of the relegation scrap. Just three players arrive this summer, with the big name being 36 year old Nolberto Solano. Striker Colin Nish also signed from Hiberian, while Nathan Luscombe arrives from Sunderland, and while Mick Wadsworth claims he is happy with their squad, it’s going to be a long season.
With Munto Finance and QADBAK Investments in the past, Notts County have more realistic plans these days. The players they’ve signed this summer all have the look of squad players who’ve never established themselves n this division (Ishmel Demontagnac, Jude Stirling, Alan Sheehan, Jeff Hughes), or players like Julain Kelly who’ve yet to establish themselves, as a result, it’s difficult to see how a team who finished three points above relegation have improved in any way except squad strength.
Another side who needed to bring in first team quality than mere squad numbers were Oldham Athletic, and goalkeeper Alex Cisak and defender Zander Diamond appear to be the only new signings (the club website is still listing players who left the club in January, so I may have missed one), and the team really need a striker – ideally one in the mould of their manager Paul Dickov, and if that happens later on the Latics are most likely to escape this category. That new club badge is hideous too.
Graham Westley stays with his tried and tested formula of five in and five out at Stevenage, but the one thing that a side needs more than anything after two successive promotions, is players that have played at the new level, and the only arrival that has done that is goalkeeper Alan Julian. The rest of the arrivals are all used to playing in League Two and the Conference, and that seems to be planning for 2012, rather than 2011. More additions will be needed during the season.
A lot of the factors behind Keith Hill’s successful tenure at Rochdale was the way that he organized the club from top to bottom, from first team to the youth setup, and it’s attention to detail like that, that a club the size of Rochdale needs. And the club’s board seem to have taken that into account by appointing former Manchester City Youth Team coach Steve Eyre. Eyre’s former charges Paul Marshall, Ashley Grimes and Andrew Tutte all arrive, as well as the more experienced Neal Trotman, Marc Twaddle and Simon Hackney, but the biggest factor in how Dale do this season. Eyre won five Premier League Youth titles as well as producing two FA Youth Cup final teams, and if he can bring a similar attitude to the professional game, then Dale could be the divisions real dark horses.
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