If last season was a season of mixed messages in the bottom two divisions of the Football League, then this season may be the one in which size matters in League One, whilst, with the moneyed clubs both promoted from League Two, there is all to play for with anything up to a dozen clubs capable of going up. In League One, it’s difficult to see past Leeds United going up as champions. We may well have had good chortle at their “misfortune” last season, but Gary McAllister has built a strong squad with Ken Bates’ money, and had it not been for the fifteen point deduction last season, they would have most likely cantered to the title. Losing the play-off final may also have taught their supporters a little humility, which would be no bad thing. Picking a team to go up with them would look to be a fairly straightforward exercise, but Leicester City are by no means the shoo-ins that many seem to think they are. There is an air of malaise around the Walkers Stadium, and the relegation hangover may prove to be a difficult one to shake off. It would be far more profitable to discuss Huddersfield Town, who will be starting the new season with 16,000 season ticket holders thanks to a £100 season ticket scheme and a wealthy owner that has installed Stan Ternent, a veteran of this level, in charge.
The play-offs will be more difficult to call. There is plenty of money sloshing around at Peterborough United at the moment and they have one of the best prospects in the lower divisions right now in Aaron McLean, ut they may yet be tempted to sell him, and two successive promotions would be hard work. Carlisle United supporters should probably hang on to the memories of last season, when hey finished in fourth place and should probably have beaten Leeds in the play-offs. They’ve lost their two best players, Keiron Westwood and Joe Garner, and their slump towards the end of last season would seem to indicate that worse times could be ahead. Meanwhile, Brighton & Hove Albion are under new managership, with Mickey Adams having been reappointed as manager, but they have had a quiet summer in the transfer market, and a play-off place will be the best that they can hope for, and Southend United can probably look forward to another push for a play-off place.
At the bottom of the table, Yeovil Town had a surprisingly poor time of things last season, and an unstable squad would seem to indicate that their spell in League One could be coming to an end. Cheltenham Town were punching above their weight in this division last season, and only a last day win was enough to keep them up. They can look forward to more of the same this season. Hereford United have enjoyed two promotions in a row, but it seems likely that League One will be a step too far for them, and after starting last season excellently, Leyton Orient slumped in the second half of last season and could be looking at “That Difficult Second Season”. We can but hope that the slightly peculiar appointment of the untried Roberto Di Matteo leads to Franchise’s relegation, preferably with their stadium on fire.
The promotion of Peterborough and the aforementioned last season was largely predictable, and leaves League Two looking like an open book in which few of the names jump out from the page. Bradford City are the bookmakers pre-season favourites and another season of big crowds as a result of their £100 season ticket policy beckons, but they’re light on quality on the pitch, and don’t look like a particularly good bet to go up automatically this time around. Aldershot Town won the BSP last season without even seeming to break into a sweat, and could be a decent outside bet for a second successive promotion. They’re certainly good enough for a place in the play-offs. Of the relegated clubs, Gillingham look the best-placed to bounce straight back up, though manager Mark Stimson (whose appointment from Stevenage Borough was lauded as a good piece of forward thinking at the time) is under pressure and could be out quickly should early results not go their way. Shrewsbury Town are the team that have been flashing the cash, having spent £170,000 on Grant Holt from Nottingham Forest. He may have flopped at The City Ground, but he is a proven goalscorer at this level.
The chasing pack are all very much of a muchness. There seems to be a disarming amount confidence coming from Underhill at the moment, though it’s difficult to see a persuasive case for Barnet having a serious go at getting promoted. Rochdale remain upbeat despite having lost last season’s play-off final to Stockport County, though one can’t help but wonder whether having been stuck in the same division doesn’t have a demotivating psychological effect on the team. Lincoln City, whose manager Peter Jackson was given the all-clear from the throat cancer that he had to step down from the manager’s job at SIncil Bank in order to receive treatment for, are also play-off specialists, though their speciality seems to be losing in them, and with Bury having stabilised after a long period of financial waywardness, they could also have a reasonable chance of making the play-offs.
At the bottom of the table, it’s difficult to get away from the ridiculous lottery of points deductions making the final call. Luton Town surely have too much to do in order to avoid the drop, having been deducted that frankly punative thirty points by the Football League during the summer. They’ll have to show something approacing promotion form to stay up. Rotherham United find themselves similarly knocked about by the Football League. They will start next season on -17 points and having left Millmoor to play at the soulless Don Valley athletics stadium in nearby Sheffield. AFC Bournemouth almost managed a miraculous escape at the end of last season, winning six straight matches to take what had looked like an inevitable relegation to the very last day, but they will find out today whether they too are to be docked points for events that have nothing to do with what happened on the pitch. Any of the other teams in League Two would be going some to finish below any of those three. Heaven forbid that the Football League should be determined by what happens on the pitch.
Coming tomorrow: the all-inclusive non-league pre-season prediction. Try to contain your excitement.