It’s time for the annual jinx that is the official twohundredpercent pre-season previews. 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, especially when you consider that Bury started last season with fifteen players with league experience, only to add five players to their promotion winning squad before the end of August. That’s my excuse for putting them twentieth last season. It also means that I can boast about correctly predicting that Hereford would come fourth from bottom. NOTE: Each group of teams in alphabetical order, rather than the order I think they will finish in.
New Bristol Rovers manager Paul Buckle has gone for a clean sweep as he tries to take the Pirates up. Seventeen players were released, including Carl Regan and Jeff Hughes, and Buckle has made signings all over the side, with the pick being defender Adam Virgo, midfielder and new club captain Matthew Gill, and forwards Matt Harrold and Chris Zebroski. In fact, the biggest problem may be the squad learning to play as a team, but League Two is usually a division where you can afford to lose games, and Rovers should return to League One at the first attempt.
Having just missed out on the play-offs last season, Gillingham manager Andy Hessenthaler has made ten signings – and with just 67 goals being scored last season, Dover’s Adam Birchall and AFC Wimbledon’s Danny Kedwell have been signed in the hope of firing Gillingham closer to promotion. Millwall’s Andy Frampton and Peterborough’s Charlie Lee look to be the pick of the defensive signings, whil young Valencia goalkeeper Paulo Gazzaniga is one of the more intriguing of this season’s arrivals.
Once again, Rotherham United look to have the squad to achieve promotion, but their biggest opponent is once again likely to be the Don Valley Stadium pitch. Lewis Grabban and Gareth Evans are the main signings, and are there to keep the supply to Adam Le Fondre, and as long as he can keep scoring for the Miller, they’ll always be in and around the promotion picture.
Out of all the sides that missed promotion last season, Shrewsbury Town had the greatest reason to feel hard done by – missing out on promotion by finishing one goal behind Wycombe Wanderers, after Wycombe Wanderers were awarded a goal in the game between the two that didn’t come close to crossing the line. Play-off failure followed, and now Graham Turner has to try again. The signings are good. Reuben Hazell and Carl Regan will offer competition to an already strong defence, while Matt Richards offers midfield versatility. Even a phantom goal shouldn’t stop them.
Dean Holdsworth starts his first season as manager of Aldershot Town with eight new signings, but only Aaron Brown has any real experience, with the rest of the additions making the step-up, most notably Jamie Collins being reunited with Holdsworth, after they worked together at Newport County. They should blend well with a squad that survived losing too many players over the summer, with only Ben Harding and John Halls moving up the league.
After throwing money at gaining League status, Crawley Town’s summer has been a little low-key. David Hunt signs on a permanent basis, and Wes Thomas will hope to repeat his goalscoring feat of last season after arriving from Cheltenham. Jamie Day arrives to strengthen the defence, but after signing a number of former League players last season, this summers arrivals appear to be a little underwhelming in comparison. With that said, there is more than enough quality at the club to begin with, so barring an off-pitch catastrophe, Crawley should enjoy their first season.
John Still has worked miracles at Dagenham & Redbridge, and the Daggers will aim to bounce back after last season’s relegation. The signings come in two forms – two unknown properties from the Eastern Non-League scene, and some experienced free agents. Luke Howell and Kevin Maher will strengthen the midfield options, and Richard Rose has almost a decade’s worth of experience in defence, and these signings should cover the loss of Danny Greem and Romain Vincelot.
Northampton Town have been one of the biggest underperformers over the last coupel of seasons, although Gary Johnson’s arrival sparked a kick in form that almost saw the Cobblers make the playoffs. In come thirteen players, with Arron Davies, Ben Tozer and Byron Webster arriving from higher up the league, and two unknown quantities arriving from Austria in the shape of teenagers Marin Pozgain and Lumbardh Salihu. Overall the first team, and the squad look a lot stronger, and a lot more equipped for a promotion race.
Port Vale had one of the tightest defences last season, and Micky Adams has strengthened the back line further with the addition of Kingsley James, Clayton McDonald and Phil Roe. Tom Pope makes his loan move permanent, and a couple of non-league signings join the squad, but other than that, Adams looks to use the bulk of last season’s side to try and go one better than last year.
Southend United have brought in some interesting signings over the summer (Jemal Johnson, Neil Harris, Liam Dickinson, Ryan Leonard), so Ron Martin has had to dip into HMRC Bank plc to pay their signing on fees. All of which means that the Shrimpers will start the season with their sixth winding up order in recent memory against them. That means a transfer embargo, and no chance of it being lifted until the next League meeting (in the first week of September), so any future signings won’t be for a month, and will be temporary, or those not picked up elsewhere, which is a great way to treat your manager.
Barnet start the season looking the strongest that they have looked in a long time. Izale McLeod’s goals were vital last season, and his contract renewal was one of the Bees’ biggest signing of the summer, and is joined up front by Jason Price, who – on his day – should be McLeod’s perfect foil, if they click (with Steve Kabba as backup), Barnet could find themselves looking at a different half of the table. Mark Byrne and Sam Deering impressed on loan last season, and they makes their moves permanent, while the other signings impress – goalkeeper Dean Brill has spent the last two years in League One with Oldham, and full-back Danny Senda played his best football under new Barnet boss Lawrie Sanchez. The only downside is losing Joe Devera .
Popular centre-half Jim Bentley takes the step up from long serving player to manager at Morecambe. Nick Fenton arrives to provide competition and maybe even a replacement for the player-manager, while midfielder Gary McDonald returns south of the border having spent the last three seasons in the SPL, while Izak Reid and Kevin Ellison bring more experience and competition to a midfield that underperformed last season, while Craig Stanley is the only major departure. A repeat of 2010’s playoff finish is unlikely, but the Shrimps shouldn’t get dragged as close to the relegation zone as last season.
Mark Yates plan for strengthening Cheltenham Town appears to have based at looking at those players released by other clubs, as only Kaid Mohamed appears to be making a step up. That said, the Robins do seem to have signed the pick of those discarded other clubs, with Alan Bennett and Darryl Duffy being the best of the signings – overall the squad doesn’t look that much stronger, and the target is more likely to be improving on last season’s seventeenth place, rather than anything higher.
After each of the five promotions in the club’s short history, killjoys have warned AFC Wimbledon that these high finishes cannot go on forever. And this might be the season where they have to settle for mid-table. Danny Kedwell, Kaid Mohamed and Steven Gregory all leave, but the Dons have lost their best players before, and stayed strong. On the face of it, the signings aren’t outstanding, with Mat Mitchel-King and Jack Midson probably the pick, but Terry Brown (who deserves his first crack at the league as much as the Dons do, after taking Hayes and Aldershot Town to new heights) has hardly put a foot wrong in four years, and the club’s momentum alone should see them avoid the wrong end of the table.
STRUGGLING BUT SAFE
The recent rule about Football League games being restricted to five substitutes seems almost to have been designed for Accrington Stanley, as they only have sixteen professionals at the time of writing, so how they deal with injuries and suspensions will make or break their season. However, after a run to the play-offs last season, Stanley will be ambitious, and Danny Coid’s arrival after a thirteen year stint at Blackpool could well be one of the signings of the season, Hamilton’s Sean Murdoch should be an able replacement after goalkeeper Alex Cisak left for Oldham, but Jimmy Ryan, Phil Edwards, Terry Gornell and Jacobsen will all be missed.
Crewe Alexandra have had the quitest summer of them all, with the only signing being goalkeeper Alan Martin from Ayr United. Several players exited the club, but Clayton Donaldson is the only one who wasn’t released. The changes leave the squad looking young – maybe too young, as only three of the squad are over the age of 24 – and one of those is Steve Phillips, who is likely to be reserve goalkeeper. Unless there are more signings across the season, it could be a long season for the Railwaymen.
Macclesfield Town’s last two season’s have been put into perspective with the deaths of manager Keith Alexander and player Richard Butcher. On the pitch, the signings are mainly unproven, so may not be first team players from the first day, with Waide Fairhurst he only player with any real League experience. With just 20 players with league experience, the Silkmen’s biggest challenge may be squad depth.
Oxford United took the right approach last season, in aiming for mid-table consolidation in their first season back, but with only five new arrivals, and six departues, The U’s are aiming for consistency, but the new arrivals don’t really look the types to push the club up the division
With Paul Buckle having departed Torquay United for Bristol Rovers, and having taken Chris Zebroski and Scott Bevan with him, Martin Ling is left to pick up the pieces and rebuild. Chris McPhee, Joa Oastler, Rene Howe and Brian Saah are the main signings, but th e squad looks a lot weaker. Not enough to be worried, but weaker all the same.
Burton Albion almost used their games in hand to slide into the Conference, but managed a late spurt of form, before staying up. The new signings so far, however don’t inspire confidence with the highlights being journeymen forwards Justin Richards and Calvin Zola. The Brewers biggest loss is goalkeeper Adam Legzdins, who has joined so many of his former teammates at Derby County, yet has only been replaced by Rams loanee Ross Atkins (who has just one league appearance to his name). The only other pro keeper is 48 year old Kevin Poole. Paul Peschisolido may need to add an extra name or two to the squad if Burton are going to extend their stay.
Jamie Pitman steered Hereford United to safety in his spell as caretaker manager, and earned himself the job on a permanent basis, and this summer has seen a clearout at Edgar Street. The squad is small, and while Pitman has added two new forwards to the squad in Delroy Facey and Frenchman Yoann Arquin, but neither has the sort of record that Hereford would need if Stuart Fleetwood’s goals dry up.
It’s been well documented on the site that Plymouth Argyle are in a mess, The deal to buy the club is secretive, and yet to be ratified, and have needed special permission to register their summer sigings, four of which are still waiting to make their league debuts, and a fifth (Middlesbrough loanee Ben Gibson) has only made one appearance. Sixteen players leave the club, and all that is left is a young squad with only five experienced players (and two of those are goalkeepers). It’s going to be another long season at Home Park.
Bradford City have been in freefall in recent season, and Peter Jackson has been given the manager’s role on a permanent basis in an attempt to halt the slide, but his signings are a little mixed, and some of the players who were released in the summer, left for financial, rather footballing reasons. Guy Branston makes the Bantams his eighteenth club, and adds some much needed organization to the defence, while Ritchie Jones drops down to League Two and should be one of the better midfielders in the division. The biggest question marks probably hang over the three players who arrive from Falkirk – forward Mark Stewart and midfielders Chris Mitchell and loanee Jack Compton – who will hope to fare better than other recent imports from the Scottish First Division. The prolific Ross Hannah also faces a huge step up, arriving from Northern Premier League Side Matlock Town, but 102 goals in three seasons is great momentum to have.
Fascist politics aside, the appointment of Paolo Di Canio at Swindon Town was a random one, and any side making twelve signings is going to take time to gel, especially when seven of them have never played in England before. Those signings that have played in England before look useful for this level (especially Alan McCormack, and well travelled forward Alan Connell). If the players start well, they could win the League, if the unfamiliarity of a multi-language dressing room hinders the team’s attempts at bonding, the Robins could struggle to stay up.
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