You’ve heard it all before, the Championship is the most competitive league in the world. But it certainly deserves that tag. With a side that was relegated able do the double over the champions, the old saying that ‘anyone can beat anyone in this division’ really is the case.
With some strong sides relegated from the Premier League, those who missed out on promotion last season strengthening well and some sleeping giants attempting to turn a few heads, England’s second tier promises to be full of excitement at the top once again.
With the relegation battle going into the final day of the season last time around, the bottom is just as tight and competitive. With Wolves going down last season, it just goes to show no one is safe in this division. A number of the sides who fought to stay up last season will be battling with a relatively weak trio of promoted clubs to stay in the division.
Sides predicted to finish mid-table will be battling for a play-off place all season, whilst sides in the lower half of the division will be nervously looking over their shoulders whilst keeping an eye on what’s going on above them. Calling both the top and the bottom of the division is tougher than ever.
All information correct as of 31/07/2013
Barnsley’s seven year stay in the Championship has produced an average league position of a touch below 19th, they’ve never finished higher than 17th and they’ve finished 21st in the previous two campaigns. The stats aren’t pleasant, but every year the Tykes are tipped to go down, and every year they survive. A mixture of good fortune and determination kept Barnsley up last season; Peterborough’s last minute defeat to Crystal Palace on the final day meant the maintained their Championship status by just a point after being four points adrift of safety when manager David Flitcroft was appointed in December. They’ll need the same qualities again if they’re going to defy the drop once more in the coming season.
With Barnsley being one of the smallest clubs in the league, holding onto players is always a difficult task. After Ricardo Vaz Te’s goals moved the Yorkshire club up the table in 2011/12, his transfer to West Ham midseason saw them rapidly fall back down the divison. Last summer they had to cope with the departures of Jason Shackell and Jacob Butterfield, whilst Craig Davies and John Stones left in January. However, this summer has seen departures kept to a minimum, with fringe players such as Stephen Foster, Matt Done and Rob Edwards moving on, in addition to some excellent additions.
The signings of the experienced Lewin Nytanga and the highly rated Jean-Yves M’Voto bolster the defence, whilst Chris O’Grady, who enjoyed a fruitful loan spell at Oakwell last season, joins permanently to replace Marlon Harewood, who could only muster two goals in over 30 appearances. 19-year-old goalkeeper Christian Dibble and former Manchester United youngster John Cofie have also been snapped up.
But the stand out name in Barnsley’s transfer dealings this summer is that of Dale Jennings. After impressing as an 18-year-old at Tranmere, the winger-cum-striker earned himself a move to German giants Bayern Munich. Jennings himself admitted the move probably came too soon for him, and the youngster will be looking to restart his career in England after two seasons playing for Bayern Munich II. With the Tykes paying just £250,000 for his services, Jennings could prove to be one of the bargains of the season
The additions build on a squad that already contains players such as Jason Scotland, Jacob Mellis and David Perkins; all excellent Championship players when at their best, as shown by the excellent run of form Flitcroft’s appointment as manager sparked. In his first full season in charge, Flitcroft will be hoping he keep Barnsley in the division once more. 21st
After a 4th place finish in 2011/12, losing out to Blackpool in the play-off semi-final, a mid-table finish for the blues last season will have been seen as a disappointment. Lee Clark’s side underperformed for much of the campaign and found themselves looking over their shoulders in the lower half of the table, with fans calling for Clark’s head. However, a spell of good form in the final few months of the season, that included a 4-0 win over Crystal Palace, pushed the Blues up to a slightly more respectable 12th and gave reason for optimism looking ahead to the season that’s just about to begin.
That optimism has been dented somewhat by the long running financial concerns that overshadow the club. With owner Carson Yeung awaiting trial for money laundering accusations and takeover rumours continuing, uncertainty remains over the future direction and ownership of Birmingham City. The club were forced to make all of their first team players available for transfer last January to help balance the books, losing Jack Butland to Stoke City, and have lost a number of key players heading into the new season.
Keith Fahey, Morgargo Gomis and Pablo Ibanez have all been released, whilst Stephen Carr has retired and captain Steven Caldwell joins Toronto after a loan spell last season; just five of the 15 departures this summer. The biggest names to move on are centre back Curtis Davies, who joins Hull for £2,250,000, and England U21 international winger Nathan Redmond, who joins Norwich for a fee that could potentially rise to £3,200,000.
Although the losses will hit Birmingham hard, the blow has been softened by the transfer fees in and wages freed up allowing for eleven additions to be made to the squad. Former Charlton goalkeeper Darren Randolph comes in to replace Butland, whilst the loan signings of defenders Dan Burn and Kyle Bartley from Fulham and Swansea respectively fill the void left by the departing heard of centre backs. Newcastle full back Shane Ferguson re-joins on loan after a spell at St. Andrews last season whilst fellow full back Near Eardly signs from Blackpool. Young midfielders Oliver Lee, Tom Adeyemi and West Brom’s Scott Allan, another loan signing, bolster the midfield alongside Andrew Shinnie, whilst Lee Novak and Matt Green will look to score the goals to lift Birmingham up the table.
With players such as Paul Robinson, Chris Burke and Marlon King retained by the club, there is some element of strength in depth to the Blues’ squad. However, many of the signings Birmingham have made are punts on young players who might struggle with the step up to the Championship, especially playing for a side with such high expectations. There’s the right mix between youth and experience within the squad, but the squad doesn’t appear to be any stronger than it was last season; it may even be weaker. The play-offs will be a tough ask. 14th
For fans of struggling clubs last season, one source of comfort was the fact they weren’t a Blackburn Rovers fan as the Former Premier League winners descended from crisis to farce. After Steve Kean was sacked in September, whilst the club were in in third place, replacement Henning Berg was relieved of his duties in December with the club in 17th. Michael Appleton was next in-line to take the manager’s hot seat, and was promptly sacked 67 days later, the second shortest spell of any Blackburn manager behind Berg’s 57 days, with the club in 18th, four points about the relegation zone with nine games to play. Caretaker Gary Bowyer took charge until the end of the season, avoiding relegation after being in the bottom three with six games left, eventually finishing 17th. Nothing short of an embarrassment for a club who were expected to win promotion straight back to the Premier League following their relegation in 2011/12.
Much criticised owners Venky’s have appointed Bowyer on a permanent basis for the coming season, whilst bringer of doom, confusion and instability Shebby Singh is rumoured to have been sacked, or at least forced out, from his Global Advisor role; could Ewood Park be about to return to some degree of normality? It’s certainly a start.
The summer transfer activity has also been positive for Rovers. Martin Olsson is the only major departure, joining Norwich City for £2,500,000, whilst David Goodwillie’s loan move back to former club Dundee may help rekindle the form that got him his move to Ewood Park. Blackburn have also made some excellent signings, bringing players that know and have previously performed well in the Championship, or have the potential to do so. Goalkeeper Simon Eastwood, one of the few mainstays of Portsmouth’s side last season, will provide completion to Jake Kean and, when fit, Paul Robinson, whilst Young defender Todd Kane joins on loan from Chelsea alongside experienced centre back Matthew Kilgallon, who joins on a free from Sunderland. A trio of midfield signings, wingers Alan Judge and Chris Taylor in addition to Alex Marrow, who plays centrally, are all impressive acquisitions, as is DJ Campbell, who will look to partner the prolific Jordan Rhodes in attack.
The new signings bolster a squad that already had strength in numbers; a squad that should have challenged for promotion last season. The key will be stability, and that will be achieved by sticking by Bowyer and giving time, in addition to keeping off-field issues to a minimum. If Bowyer is in charge for the full season, there’s every chance Blackburn will be challenging for at least a play-off spot come May. 10th
After play-off heartache in the 2011/12 season, losing late on in the final against West Ham United, the Tangerines began last season in fine form. Ian Holloway’s brand of exciting attacking football saw his side in and around the automatic promotion places for the first nine games of the season. However, a slump in form followed that saw Blackpool slide dramatically down the table. When Holloway left to join Crystal Palace in November, Blackpool were 16th and any remaining promotion hopes were starting to fade. In fact, they were only a handful of points away from the relegation zone over the course of the season as Michael Appleton and then Paul Ince were unable to push the Tangerines up the table. In the end, a 15th place finish came as a relief.
This summer has been just as tough for Blackpool fans, even if Bloomfield Road has had its comically bad pitch relayed. 14 players left the club, including defenders Alex Baptiste, Stephen Crainey and Neil Eardley, leaving the Tangerines with just three first team defenders before Gary MacKenzie joined permanently from MK Dons after a successful loan spell last season. For most of the summer, it appeared as if Blackpool would also be losing both of their Inces. Manager Paul was rumoured to be resigning, and was then linked to the vacant England U21’s managerial position, whilst winger Tom was involved in a long running transfer saga that saw him look set to move to Cardiff City. Thankfully for Pool fans, the pair have stayed put, for now at least.
The positives, along with the Inces staying, for Blackpool are their additions upfront. Bobby Grant has been plucked from League Two after scoring goals for Rochdale, Michael Chopra joins from Ipswich with a point to prove and Steve Davies, a fans’ favourite at Bristol City, joins on the back of a successful season at Ashton Gate.
The strength up top doesn’t get away from the fact the rest of the squad is very weak. Defenders especially will have to come in if Blackpool are to even compete to any extent this season. There’s still a chance that the depleted side could lose their one star player; Tom Ince may yet join Liverpool. It’s not going to be an easy season for the former Premier League team. 22nd
It was there for the taking. They’d risen from 20th after 29 games to 6th after 45; an incredible climb up the table was surely about to conclude with a shot at promotion. The final play-off place would have been secured with a win in the final game of the season at home to Blackpool. However, the visitors were 2-0 up after 35 minutes. Bolton didn’t given up and scored two goals in first half injury time to draw level, but that was that. It finished 2-2 and Bolton finished outside of the play-offs on goal difference. Heartbreak.
Whilst missing out on the play-offs was a bitter bill to swallow for Bolton fans, the incredible run of form that turned the Trotters’ attentions away from avoiding relegation to battling for promotion has given hope that, after a tough start, manager Dougie Freedman will lead his side to glory in the coming the season.
That feel good factor has only been enhanced with the summer business Bolton have conducted. Losing Marcos Alonso to Fiorentina is the only real loss, with Sam Ricketts easily replicable and club legend Kevin Davies leaving at the right time for all concerned. With the squad that ended the season so strongly, for the most part, intact, Bolton’s signings have only improved an already strong side. Marc Tierney and Alex Baptiste are two excellent defensive additions, whilst Jermaine Beckford and Robert Hall provide pace and, hopefully, goals in attack. Youngsters Hayden White and Connor Wilkinson have also joined the club with the pair likely to be on the fringes of the first team in the coming season.
The news that Stuart Holden, a player who has been unable to show the world his considerable talent due to injury, has suffered a suspected serious knee injury acts as the first bit of bad news, play-off failure aside, at the Reebok Stadium for months. But with a midfield that contains the likes of Keith Andrews, Darren Pratley and Mark Davies, who is returning to fitness, the blow from his absence can be softened. It’s not just in midfield where the squad is strong; it’s strong all over. With the club in huge debt, there will be a great deal of pressure on this impressive Bolton side to get promoted back to the Premier League this season. They’ll be right up there. 4th
Eddie Howe’s return to Bournemouth last season will forever be used to disprove the ‘never go back’ mantra. Taking the reins after eleven games with the club in 21st place, Howe proved why he’s one of the highest rated young managers in the country by leading the Cherries to an incredible promotion. Losing out on the title to Doncaster on the final day took very little gloss of such a fantastic achievement. From -17 points in League Two to the Championship in five seasons; it’s an unbelievable rise. Howe will be looking to take the club on towards the final step.
Redevelopment to Dean Court has helped to get it fit for Championship football over the summer, whilst Howe has been working hard to strengthen his squad in line with the needs of the highly competitive division. The dead wood, such as Charlie Sheringham, Warren Cummings and Michael Syms, has been cleared with no significant departures, meaning the trio of signings Howe has made only strengthen his side. Ian Harte and Elliott Ward, in addition to both being excellent defensive options, provide valuable experience of the Championship, whilst midfielder Mohamed Coulibaly joins after impressing on trial.
Possibly not the wealth of signings you would expect from a newly promoted side with money to spend, but Bournemouth’s squad contains a number of young and hungry players, such as Harry Arter, Marc Pugh and Matt Ritchie who will be looking to impress Championship audiences. There’s everything in place for Howe to push Bournemouth on even further, but that will take time. This season should be about consolidation in the division. 19th
BRIGHTON & HOVE ALBION
They say a week is a long time in football, and a week in May for Brighton last season proved exactly why that saying has some truth. After holding Crystal Palace to a 0-0 draw at Selhurst Park in the first leg of their play-off semi-final, it seemed as if Brighton had one foot into the final at Wembley; they surely couldn’t lose at home? Wilfried Zaha had other ideas, scoring twice to knock Brighton out three days later. Three further days later and manager Gus Poyet and his coaching staff were suspended following an incident quite simply dubbed as ‘Poo Gate’. I’ll let you do your own research on that one. Over a month later, Poyet’s dismissal was finally confirmed, he’d turned the club around, but it was time for a new man to take the club forward. Former Barcelona midfielder Oscar Garcia is that man.
After only being appointed in the final week of June, Garcia has been quiet in the transfer market thus far, only bringing in Matthew Upson, who spent time on loan at the AMEX last season, on a permanent transfer, young full-back Adam Chicksen from MK Dons and talented Dutch midfielder Kemy Augestien from Swansea. However, Brighton have managed to keep the bulk of their squad together. They’ve lost number of fringe players and Vicente, who spent most of the season injured, whilst hanging on to the likes of David ‘Spanish Dave’ Lopez, Liam Bridcutt and Will Buckley.
With there still being time for Brighton to build, there’s every chance their squad will have plenty more new faces before the end of August, but it’s strong in its current format. It remains to be seen how successfully Garcia will adapt to the Championship, but, on paper at least, he’s an excellent appointment and should do well. I expect another season where Brighton will battle for a play-off spot. 5th
Never challenging for the play-offs, rarely in any desperate need to look over their shoulders; Burnley spent all of last season marooned in the lower half of the table. It would seem the days of Premier League football are now a distant memory, especially after losing manager Eddie Howe, as the Clarets resemble a very ordinary Championship side.
The one bright spark for Burnley last season was Charlie Austin and his goal; 25 of them in total. You wonder where the Lancashire club would be without his predatory nature in front of goal. Well, we might me about to find out as the former non-league forward looks set to join Nottingham Forest. A huge blow for Burnley who thought they’d kept their man when a knee complaint meant he failed a medical at Hull earlier on in the summer.
When Austin departs, he’ll be the 14th player to leave Turf Moor this summer with names such as Lee Grant, Chris McCann and Martin Paterson moving on before him. The mass exodus, although the majority were on the fringes, of players has meant manager Sean Dyche has had to bring in a host of new names, but he’s done so in a rather unbalanced way. Tom Heaton, Alex Cisak, Nick Liversedge and Daniel Nizic all join the club and all play in goal. That’s four new keepers. Defender Joseph Mills joins from Reading, midfielder Scott Arfield joins from Huddersfield and striker Ryan Noble joins from Sunderland to help bolster the depleted side, but they’re very short of numbers in midfield and, with Austin leaving, in attack.
The money from Austin’s move may well help to bring in new players, but with their talismanic figure departing, it promises to be a tough season ahead for the Clarets. However, with a number of high quality players retained by the club, such as Ross Wallace, and a strong defence that includes Kieran Trippier and Jason Shackell, they should have enough to survive. 18th
If I had one word to describe Charlton’s season, it would be resilient. Three games show that to the fore. After losing 4-1 to Middlesbrough and being dragged down to 21st place with 14 games gone, the Addicks were 2-0 down at home to Cardiff City inside 20 minutes. But, on an incredible night at the Valley, the Charlton fans got behind their team and saw an incredible comeback, led by an inspired performance from skipper Johnnie Jackson, to win 5-4 and creep away from the drop zone. A poor run in December had left Charlton 18th and their first game in January was against an inform Watford side. Despite being a goal down on two occasions, the Addicks, with Jackson and Ricardo Fuller’s footwork helping to change the game, came away from Vicarage Road as 4-3 winners. With eight games remaining, Charlton were nervously looking over their shoulders at the drop zone. 2-0 goals down inside 20 minutes to Bolton, those nerves turned to panic. But, once again led by Jackson and a transformed Fuller after half time, the Addicks came from behind to win 3-2. It’s a quality that defines Chris Powell’s Charlton; a quality that saw them finish just three points off the play-offs in ninth in their first season back in the Championship.
However, this season may prove to be a little trickier for a Charlton side that has been transformed under the stewardship of Powell. Financial limitations have meant Powell has been unable to strengthen his squad to anywhere near the degree he would like to. A permanent signing for Mark Gower and centre back Richard Wood, who impressed on trial, are the only additions Powell has been able to make. Whilst the squad is largely the one that finished last season nine games unbeaten, the main issue lies upfront. Danny Haynes, Ricardo Fuller and Bradley Wright-Phillips have all departed, whilst securing the services of Jonathan Obika after a fruitful loan spell has proved difficult, leaving the Addicks with just one senior striker at the time of writing.
If Charlton are to have a season anything like last they’re going to have to bring in some strikers. With Powell confirming discussions are on-going with Ricardo Fuller in a view to bring him back to club and Simon Church currently on trial, some holes may soon be plugged. Although another left winger to provide cover to the young and talented Callum Harriott wouldn’t go amiss, the rest of the squad is in place with the likes of Chris Solly, Rhoys Wiggins and Bradley Pritchard looking to impress again.
Once the strike force is in place, concerns about anything less than a mid-table finish will quickly disappear. With Chris Powell in charge and group of players who know they can out play the very best in this league, anything could happen. However, consolidation would please everyone connected with the club. 12th
At times last season, Derby looked like one of the best teams in the division, pushing themselves up towards the play-offs. At other times, they looked dire and, although they were never in any serious trouble, were forced to keep one eye on the gap between themselves at the bottom. Inconsistency personified. However, the 10th place finish was the Rams highest since their relegation from the Premier League with a record low points tally in 2007/08, and manager Nigel Clough will be hoping his side can improve on last season’s finish once again.
Derby’s summer, for the most part, has been a very positive one. It was the right time for experienced defender Gareth Roberts to leave the club, whilst selling Frank Fielding, second choice for much of last season, to Bristol City for £200,000 can be seen as a decent bit of business. The one significant loss to Derby’s squad is John Brayford, who moves to Cardiff City for £1,500,000. The full- back was rated highly at Pride Park and, with quality right backs not easy to come by, he’ll be difficult for the Rams to replace.
However, the loan signing of Adam Smith goes somewhere to filling the void left by Brayford. The Tottenham youngster has enjoyed successful loan spells at several Football League clubs, including at Millwall last season, and is an excellent addition to Derby’s squad. Fellow full-back Craig Forsyth joins permanently after a spell on loan from Watford alongside John Eustance after he was released by the Hornets, whilst goalkeeper Lee Grant comes in from Burnley to replace the departed Fielding. Another play that spent time on loan at Pride Park last season, Chris Martin, also joins permanently from Norwich, whilst striker Johnny Russell, who moves from Dundee United, could prove to be one of the signings of the season if the goals he guarantees lift the Rams up the table.
With Derby now boasting a trio of Irish internationals, Jeff Henrick, Richard Keogh and Connor Sammon, alongside talented young players, such as Will Hughes, Mason Bennett and Kieron Freeman, there’s certainly quality in the squad. After years of hiding in the bottom half of the Championship, this season may be the one in which Derby make movements on the play-off picture. 9th
With 10 games to play last season, Doncaster got themselves to the summit of League One. In the tightest of promotion battles, Donny stayed top until the penultimate game of the season, where Bournemouth overtook them in the race for the title. A draw was needed away at Brentford to secure promotion, whilst Brentford themselves needed a win to leapfrog Donny into second place. If Bournemouth failed to win and Doncaster did, they would be champions. Brentford get a penalty in stoppage time; all seems lost. Brentford’s Trotta smashes the kick against the crossbar, Donny clear and Billy Painter breaks free down the right. Painter picks out James Coppinger who slots home the winner. Bournemouth are drawing with Tranmere; Doncaster have gone from staring disappointment in the face to champions in a matter of minutes. Now, the club must face an ever bigger challenge to stay in the Championship.
With last season’s successful manager Brian Flynn becoming director of football, new manager Paul Dickov has been given the task of maintain Rovers’ Championship status. After Dickov’s indifferent time at Oldham, it seems a risky appointment by Chairman John Ryan, but having Flynn in the background means Dickov will have an experienced head to turn to in times of need. The partnership has the potential to work, at least.
It’s been a relatively quiet start for Dickov this summer with just Jordan Ball, Lee Fowler, Patrick Mullen, Gary Wood and Martin Woods departing the club after all being released. The clear out of fringe players has led the way for a number of exciting additions to the squad. Harry Forrester has been plucked from last season’s promotion rivals Brentford, whilst fellow midfielders Mark Duffy and Marc De Val join from the footballing hotbeds of Scunthorpe and Madrid. De Val was a ‘C’ team player at Real, but never made it into the first team. Former Manchester United youngster Luke McCullough rounds off the summer signing.
Doncaster last season in the Championship was marred by short term contracts and loans for players who didn’t really want to be playing their football at the Keepmoat Stadium. This time around, Donny have a settled squad containing experienced league players such as Rob Jones, David Cotterill and James Harper. Will it be enough to see them safe? I have my doubts about Dickov and the squad lacks quality; it’s going to be a tough season. 23rd
After 16 games last season, the Terriers found themselves in 6th place. Their fans must have thought this Championship malarkey wasn’t as difficult as it’s cracked up to be. Fast forward to the final few weeks of the season and that 6th place seemed a lifetime ago. With three games left to play, Huddersfield were in the relegation zone. Thankfully, two wins from their next two games pushed them three points clear of the drop, but even that wasn’t enough for them to completely relax on the final day. In fact, for a brief period, results elsewhere, coupled with being behind at home to Barnsley, meant they were in the relegation zone once more. Although results went back in their favour, a 2-2 draw with Barnsley meant they needn’t have worried in the end; they’d done just enough to survive in 19th.
After Simon Grayson was sacked in January, Mark Robins took charge, and he’ll be looking to secure a more comfortable position in the Championship table this time around. The departures of Alan Lee, Lee Novak and Scott Arfield are disappointing rather than serious losses, and excellent replacements have only made that more of the case. Midfielder Jonathan Hogg comes in from Watford, whilst winger Adam Hammill joins permanently after a spell on loan last season, as does striker James Vaughan. The forward line has also been bolstered by the additions of Jon Stead, a crowd favourite at Bristol City, and Martin Paterson, who enjoyed a successful few season at Burnley. Young defender Jake Carroll, who joins from St Patrick’s Athletic is the only other summer signing.
Whilst there’s no denying the strength Huddersfield have going forward, they seem to be a little weak at the back, as shown by the 73 goals they conceded last season; only relegated Bristol City and Peterborough let in more. That’s something that will have to be addressed if the Terriers are going to have a stress free season. I think they’ll survive, and that must surely be seen as a successful season. 20th
It all looked pretty bleak for the Tractor Boys when Mick McCarthy took over from Paul Jewell as manager after 13 games of last season. Rooted to the bottom of the table and five points from safety, it was going to take an almighty effort to keep Ipswich in the division. Results improved, but even with 15 games left to play, the club were in 20th and just a point above the drop zone. Thankfully, a late surge up the table, including some impressive performances, saw Town end the season well away from the relegation zone in 14th. That end of season form has left many to tip Ipswich as this season’s dark horses for promotion; a far cry from Paul Jewell’s Ipswich Town.
McCarthy’s activity in the transfer market this summer has only raised expectations for a successful season. Out go underperformers such as Jay Emmanuel-Thomas, Lee Martin and Michael Chopra, whilst a host of fringe players have departed in a total of 10 players leaving Portman Road. To replace come 10 players of which almost all of them are fit for the first team. Goalkeeper Dean Gerken joins from Bristol City along with midfield team mates Paul Anderson and Cole Skuse, whilst Ryan Tunnicliffe, on loan, and Frederic Veseli come in from Manchester United. Scottish international centre back Christophe Berra joins from Wolves, whilst Jay Tabb, David McGoldrick and Daryl Murphy all make their loan moves permanent. 18-year-old Jack Doherty, a midfielder from Waterford United, may be the only signing not quite ready for the first team.
The plethora of signings bolsters a squad that already contains the likes of Aaron Cresswell, Anthony Wordsworth and Carlos Edwards. An excellent manager, an excellent squad and high morale; everything is in place for a promotion push. Even with all that, it certainly won’t be the case that achieving a play-off spot will be easy, but they won’t be too far off. 11th
Last season was another frustrating one for the fans of the club who, like no other, believe they have a divine right to be in England’s top division. Never really making any form of challenge on the play-offs, the club were marooned in mid-table for most of the season before a poor run of form left Leeds five points above the drop zone with five games left and Neil Warnock without a job. Brian McDermott came in to steady the ship and, but a disappointing 13th place was all that could be mustered. Two successive seasons in the lower half of the Championship suggests the Premier League is a long way away from returning to Elland Road. McDermott will be looking to change that in his first full season in charge.
In contrast to the doom and gloom of last season, this summer has been reasonably positive for the Whites. Ken Bates’ complete departure from the club is the main source of optimism for Leeds fans going into the new season. With the boardroom now slightly more stable and a manager that has the complete backing and support from the owners, there’s every chance results on the pitch will improve accordingly.
Another source of optimism is that the club have managed to keep a hold of their best players. Fringe players such as Paddy Kisnorbo, Davide Somma and Paul Connolly have been released whilst Steve Morison, who endured an unsuccessful spell at the club, joins Millwall on loan, but key names, especially in the case of Sam Byram, have stayed put.
A further cause for some degree of optimism is that Leeds have managed to spend £1,000,000 on a very exciting prospect. Luke Murphy joins after impressing many during his time with Crewe. Matt Smith, who was the star of Oldham’s incredible cup run, and Noel Hunt have also been snapped up to bolster the forward line.
Leeds fans will be hoping that more signings are made before the end of the transfer window, but the club is certainly in a stronger position than it was this time 12 months ago. However, this isn’t the Leeds of old; the squad isn’t full of world class players. Most of them are distinctly average Championship journeymen. Mediocrity will be considered a failure, but that’s what they’re heading for once again. 13th
Every season there’s so much hope and expectation that Leicester will be promoted to the Premier League, and every season they disappoint. After two seasons of finishing outside the play-offs, Foxes fans had grown used to their disappointment causing anger and frustration, but last season they had to deal with something much worse; heartbreak. Despite an awful second half of the season, Leicester secured a place in the top six, for the first time since a certain penalty was missed by a certain Frenchman in 2009/10, via a last minute winner over Nottingham Forest on the final day of the season. 2-1 down in the second leg of their semi-final against Watford, level 2-2 on aggregate, Leicester were given the chance to win the tie with a last minute penalty. Anthony Knockaert stepped up and saw his spot kick, and the rebound saved by Manuel Alumina in the Watford goal. The Hornets raced away down the other end, Fernando Forestieri crossed for Jonathan Hogg to knock the ball back to Troy Deeney who fired home the winner. Unspeakable heartbreak.
Nigel Pearson must now pick his Leicester side up and revitalise them for the coming season. With Jermaine Beckford, who spent most of last season out on loan, the only first team player to depart and Tranmere left back Zoumana Bakayogo the only player to come in, the squad is almost identical to last season. Financial fair play rules have prohibited the Foxes from adding further to their squad due to the size of their current wage bill, but there should be enough quality within the squad already to challenge once again for promotion.
Full seasons from Chris Wood, who joined in January and Jeff Schlupp, who spent time away on trial at Manchester United, will be beneficial, whilst the return of Sean St Ledger and Neil Danns from loan spells gives Pearson some added strength in depth. Whether they manage to sell so they can buy or not, I expect Leicester to be in the battle for promotion come May. 6th
After 16 games last season, Middlesbrough were top of the division and in fine form. They looked destined to achieve promotion back to the Premier League. After 23 games, they were 4th, just three points off second, but it went all downhill from that point onwards. A terrible second half of the season saw the Boro finish in a hugely disappointing 16th place, closer to the relegation zone than the play-offs. With pressure mounting on manager Tony Mowbray, this season may be his final chance to get the Boro back into the top flight of English football.
The difficult task of achieving promotion has been made even tougher with several key players leaving the club over the summer. Julio Arca and Andre Bikey have both been released, whilst Nicky Bailey and Scott McDonald have both left for Millwall. With the squad in dire need of some strengthening in order to make a serious push for promotion, Boro have only been able to bring in two summer signings. Hungarian international midfielder Jozsef Varga joins on loan from Debrecen alongside Dean Whitehead, who has been snapped up on a free following his release from Stoke.
The lack of signings means Boro will have to hope that youngsters Curtis Main, Cameron Park and Adam Reach continue their progression, whilst the likes of George Friend, Marvin Emnes and Rhys Williams use their experience well.
The squad is too weak, crowds are continuing to fall at the Riverside and the manager is losing control. Something is going to have to drastically change for Middlesbrough to challenge for promotion in the coming season. 15th
Reaching the semi-final of the FA Cup was a fantastic achievement for the Lions, but it seriously hampered their league form. Falling from just outside a play-off spot after 24 games to 20th after 46 will probably be seen as a sacrifice worth making for their impressive cup run, but it almost cost them their status in the Championship. They danced just above the relegation zone on the final day and only maintained their position in the second tier by two points. A cup run is no excuse for such a poor league finish.
This summer got off to the worst possible start for Millwall fans as long serving manager Kenny Jackett resigned from his position and promptly joined Wolves. There were also the departures of Chris Taylor to Blackburn and Conor Wilkinson to Bolton to deal with in the opening few weeks of the off-season. However, Steve Lomas’ appointment as manager has brought about some optimism to the New Den, not least due to a number of impressive signings made by the new boss.
Stephen Bywater comes in to replace departing ‘keepers Steve Mildenhall and Maik Taylor, whilst the forward line has been bolstered by the signings of Jermaine Easter, who spent time on loan at the New Den last season, Scott McDonald and former goal-scoring hero Steve Morison, who returns on loan from Leeds. However, the most impressive signings are in the centre of midfield with Richard Chaplow, who joins permanently after a successful loan spell, and Nicky Bailey likely to form a solid partnership. 16th
Whilst Millwall are anything but promotion contenders, they do have a balanced squad with talented players such as Liam Trotter, Liam Feeney and Shane Lowry in their ranks. Lomas will hope to lead his side to a more comfortable position of safety this season.
When Billy Davies was appointed for his second spell in charge at the City Ground, Forest were underperforming in 11th place, 6 points off the play-offs with 16 games to go. Seven games later and Forest were 6th; Davies galvanised the squad and got his side playing some incredible football. There were even some suggesting they had an outside shot at automatic promotion, such was the quality of Davies’ Forest. Unfortunately, the momentum couldn’t carry on until the end of the season and they eventually finished an agonising one point outside of the play-off places, made more agonising by the fact rivals Leicester’s victory over them on the final day prevented them from finishing inside the top six. However, Davies’ few months in charge have given many a Forest fan off the scale optimism for the coming season.
Davies’ summer transfer activity has only increased the sense in the red half of Nottingham that this is their season. David McGoldrick, who spent last season out on loan, and Lewis McGugan, who frustrated Forest fans with inconsistent displays, are the only major departures, meaning the new signings have added quality to an already quality squad. Dorus De Vries comes in to challenge youngster Karl Darlow in between the sticks, whilst the signings of Jack Hobbs, Gonzalo Jara and Eric Lichaj bolster the back four. Exciting young winger Jamie Paterson joins from Walsall for an undisclosed fee, whilst seven figure sums have been paid for Algerian international Djamel Abdoun from Olympiacos and QPR forward Jamie Mackie. With Charlie Austin believed to be close to signing, Forest’s Kuwaiti owners have pushed their financial muscle around in the transfer market to make some outstanding additions.
With a squad that contains the likes of Chris Cohen, Radoslaw Majewski and Simon Cox, along with one of the best managers in the business, you can expect Nottingham Forest to be right up there come May. 1st
QUEENS PARK RANGERS
Could last season have gone any worse for QPR? Relegation from the Premier League was just the start of it. Players arguing with fans and not wanting to play for the club, a striker accused of rape and an embarrassing defeat to MK Dons in the FA cup were just some of the depressing incident QPR fans had to endure during the course of the 2012/13 season. It was quite clearly getting to manager Harry Redknapp too, who appeared visibly stressed towards the end of the season. He must now not only pick himself up, but his players too as the club looks to move forward and regain its Premier League place.
As you would expect, QPR have endeavoured to reduce their gigantic wage bill with a summer clear out. Djibril Cisse, Tal Ben Haim, Jose Bosingwa, Jay Bothroyd, DJ Campbell Rob Hulse and Radek Cerny have all left the club on frees, whilst flop Christopher Samba re-joins former club Anzhi for £12,000,000 and Jamie Mackie joins forest For £1,000,000. With players such as Adel Taarabt, Esteban Granero and, as if anyone could forget, Joey Barton still at the club, expect some more departures in the coming weeks.
The freed up funds have allowed for a trio of experienced players to join the club. Danny Simpson, a free transfer from Newcastle, Richard Dunne, snapped up from Aston Villa and Karl Henry, a £1,000,000 addition from Wolves, join the club with a wealth of Premier League and Football League games between them. Signing British players that know the Championship is definitely the right way to go for QPR, moving away from the overpaid mercenaries that dominated last season’s shocking displays.
With an emphasis on experienced British players crucial, the likes of Jermaine Jenas, Shaun Wright-Phillips and Luke Young will be vital to any promotion push. Once the high earning ‘superstars’ are sold on, I expect Redknapp to make a number of sensible acquisitions, in the mould of the ones already signed up, to bolster his squad. If a sense of calm is restored at Loftus Road and Redknapp has the chance to jell a squad, QPR should be strong contenders for promotion. The first ‘if’ especially is a big ‘if’. 7th
It was always going to be a difficult task for Reading to stay in the Premier League last season. Winning the Championship in 2011/12 after spending most of the first half of the season in the bottom half of the table, there was a view that luck played a significant part in the Royals’ run of form that saw them gain promotion. That view is very unfair, Reading are excellent side at this level, but the top flight is a level beyond them. The goals of Adam Le Fondre from the bench almost gave the Royals a brief chance of survival in January, but it wasn’t enough. They must now regroup under manager Nigel Adkins and aim to return to the Premier League a much stronger outfit.
A post-relegation summer clear out has seen the likes of Ian Harte, Nicky Shorey and Noel Hunt leave the club; three of 13 players to make a permanent departure from the Madjeski. But it does mean Reading have, so far at least, been able to hang on to the likes of Alex Pearce, who eventually agreed a new contract after protracted negotiations over the off-season, Le Fondre and highly rated ‘keeper Alex McCarthy.
With a strong list of players maintained by the club, Adkins has made a trio of excellent signings to add to the quality at his disposal. Former England international Wayne Bridge comes in to replace Shorey and Harte at left-back, whilst current USA international Danny Williams is an impressive coup. The third signing of the trio is arguably the signing of the summer in the Championship. Former Read Madrid wonderkid Royston Drenthe has been given the chance to restart his career after attitude problems have seen it go off the rails. On his day, the winger can still show glimpses of the ability that had him tipped for the top. If Nigel Adkins can motivate and tame him, Drenthe will tear the Championship apart.
Whilst the squad is full of quality, it’s a little short in terms of numbers, especially up top. Reading fans will be hoping for some more additions before the close of the transfer. Bring in a striker or two and beef up the squad a little and there’s no reason why Reading can’t challenge for the title once again. 3rd
Wednesday’s first season back in the Championship proved to be a tough one. Fighting a relegation battle all season long, the Owls eventually stayed up by just four points. Survival would have been the objective before the season began, but to do so in such a stressful manner was agonising for the Wednesday fans. They’ll be hoping to consolidate their position in the Championship once again this season, but in a much more comfortable manner.
Manager Dave Jones hasn’t been as active as some in the transfer market, but the business he has done has been positive for Wednesday. Only talented youngster Hayden White can go down as a real loss to the club, with the likes of Nicky Weaver, Nejc Pecnik and Chris O’Grady amongst a host of fringe players to depart. In their place comes a trio of exciting signings. Jacques Maghoma, who has been one of the stars of League Two over previous seasons, joins from Burton, whilst fellow winger Jeremy Helan signs permanently after displaying his pace and skill during a spell on loan from Manchester City last season. Massive 6ft 6in Austrian striker Atdhe Nuhiu, who has scored goals in the Austrian top flight for the likes of Rapid Wein and Ried, completes the list of transfers in.
Whilst certainly needing a few new faces in attack, the rest of the Wednesday squad looks solid if unspectacular. The fans will be hoping key players such as Reda Johnson, Michail Antonio and Jermaine Johnson can perform to the best of their abilities and keep Sheffield Wednesday safe. 17th
Very little was expected of Gianfranco Zola’s side last season. So for the Hornets to end up missing out on promotion and that to be a huge disappointment is an achievement in itself. Inspired by their plethora of much talked about loan signings, acquired from Granada and Udinese, Watford still had a chance of automatic promotion going into the final day of the season. A defeat at home to Leeds meant attentions turned to the play-offs, where they overcame Leicester City in the semi-final in the most dramatic of circumstances with Troy Deeney’s last minute winner after Anthony Knockeart’s missed penalty. But a penalty, from Crystal Palace’s Kevin Phillips, saw them lose at Wembley in the final. Zola must now pick his team up and get them going for the coming season.
However, for a period during the summer, Zola didn’t have much of a team to manage. 15 players, and not all of those could be considered first team, were retained by the club as the likes of Mark Yeates, Stephen McGinn and Jack Bonham, the young ‘keeper who made an embarrassing error in the defeat to Leeds, were amongst seven f players to be released alongside by the club. 13 loanees also left, including star striker Matej Vydra, and returned to their parent clubs. With a transfer embargo over their heads, it appeared as if Watford were in for a tough summer and a tough season.
However, the conditions of the embargo meant transfers would be considered on a case-by-case basis, and the FA have deemed it fit for Watford to sign a player on eleven occasions. Joel Ekstrand, Christian Battocchio, Daniel Purdil, Ikechi Anya and Almen Abdi make their loan moves permanent, but there is no return for Vydra, who is attracting Premier League interest. Diego Fabbrini and Gabriele Angella also join from Udinese, whilst Iriney comes in from Granada. Young English duo Reece Brown and Uche Ikpeazu, from Manchester United and Reading respectively, also join the club alongside the talented Lewis McGugan, who comes in from Forest.
With Watford’s squad, already containing the likes of Deeney, Fernando Forestieri and Sean Murray, full of quality with the new additions, expect the Hornets to challenge for promotion once again this season. The start of the season will be key though; a play-off hangover must be avoided. 8th
On the Saturday, Wigan won the FA Cup and qualified for Europe. On the Tuesday, Wigan’s eight year stay in the Premier League came to an end as their relegation was confirmed following a 4-1 defeat to Arsenal. Tears of joy to tears of despair in a matter of days. The joy of wining the FA Cup outweighed the pain of relegation, but Wigan’s sole focus this season will be to return to the top flight at the first attempt.
It’s been a summer of change at the DW Stadium, with manager Roberto Martinez moving onto Everton and Owen Coyle coming in to replace the Spaniard. Coyle has experience of getting out of this division with Burnley and will be hoping to gain another promotion.
The playing staff, as you would expect following relegation, has also seen departures and additions. The likes of Franco Di Santo, Ronnie Stam and David Jones have all been shown the door, whilst Aroune Kone and Antolin Alcaraz follow Martinez to Everton and Maynor Figueroa joins Hull. With 15 players in total leaving the club, Coyle has buffed out his squad with eight exciting signings. Former England international ‘keeper Scott Carson comes into replace Joel Robles after his loan expired and was then snapped up by Everton, whilst Stephen Crainey, Thomas Rogne and Juan Carlos Garcia come in to give Coyle plenty of defensive options. Steady midfielders James Perch and Chris McCann provide cover for James McCarthy and James McArthur, whilst forward duo Grant Holt and Marc-Antione Fortune are two of the best signings of the summer.
With the likes of Shaun Maloney, Callum McManaman and Emerson Boyce still at the club, Wigan have one of the strongest squads in the division. The only factor that could adversely affect their promotion chances is having to play games in the Europa League on Thursday nights, causing a backlog of league fixtures that will see them playing twice a week for most of the season. However, there’s enough strength in depth within the squad to overcome the difficulties the European campaign will cause. 2nd
At the start of last season, Yeovil where tipped by many to go down from League One. After several seasons battling for survival, it was though that the Glovers would finally fall from the third tier. Instead of preparing for life in League Two, Yeovil find themselves in the Championship after an incredible season that saw them win promotion through the play-offs against all odds. Even after finishing 4th, Yeovil were the outsiders in play-offs, but victories over Sheffield United in the semis and Brentford in the final meant they were worthy winners. Against all odds again, Gary Johnson must now attempt to keep his side in the Championship.
A summer clear out of the deadwood at Huish Park has seen Dominic Blizzard, Richard Hinds and Keanu Marsh-Brown leave the club, amongst several others. This has paved the way for nine new additions to the squad. Young defender Joe Jones joins from Leicester City, whilst Dan Seaborne and Alan Tate, who joins on loan from Swansea, offer Championship experience at the back. The midfield has been bolstered by the signings of Liam Davis from Oxford and Billy Clifford, a loanee from Chelsea. Winger Joel Grant joins from Wycombe, whilst strikers Michael Ngoo, another loanee, and Sam Hoskins join from Premier League sides Liverpool and Southampton. A punt on Dorchester Town forward Kieffer Moore wraps up the summer signings.
Will those new names be enough to keep Yeovil up? It’s unlikely. Only Tate provides any real Championship experience with most of the additions youngsters or signing from clubs lower in the Football League. As a result, the squad is very weak despite the likes of Paddy Madden, Ed Upson and Luke Ayling apart of it. They may well defy the odds again this season and stay up, but it seems an impossible task. Good luck. 24th
The League One promotion race was the most exciting of all the promotion races across the three Football League divisions. With the picture constantly changing at the top, a last minute goal sealing the title for Doncaster and preventing Brentford’s promotion seemed symbolic of just how small the margins were between the top six clubs.
With big teams coming down from the Championship and the sides at the top of League One last season strengthening, it promises to be another entertaining battle for promotion. Survival will also be hotly sought after, with clubs at the bottom looking stronger than ever and picking four sides for the drop almost impossible.
All information correct as of 27/07/2013.
Since the Bantams’ relegation from the Premier League in 2000/01, there hasn’t been much to celebrate for fans of the Yorkshire club. Administration, two further relegations and five sorry years in League Two, including two consecutive 18th placed finishes, before last season paints a rather gruesome picture of Bradford’s recent history.
That all changed in the season just gone; a season Bradford fans will never forget. First of all, an incredible League Cup run that saw them beat three Premier League sides, Wigan, Arsenal and Aston Villa on their way to Wembley, where they were outclassed by a rampant Swansea who won 5-0. That looked like it couldn’t be topped, especially after a drop in form around the time of the final defeat left the Bantams clinging on for dear life in the play-off race, but it was. Another trip to Wembley, this time for the play-off final, saw Phil Parkinson’s men hit three past a hapless Northampton Town without reply to begin what every Bradford will hope is the start of a journey back up the Football League.
It would appear Parkinson is confident the squad that achieved so much in the last campaign can replicate that form in a higher division as sales and signings have been at a minimum. Zavon Hines, whose career has taken backward step after backward step following early promise at West Ham, and Will Atkinson, a first team regular, and heroic penalty saving goalkeeper Matt Duke are the only major departures from the club. The experienced Irish winger Mark Yeates comes in to fill the void left by Atkinson, whilst Jason Kennedy, a central figure in Rochdale’s midfield over the past four years, comes in to link up with his old team mate, Gary Jones.
The likes of Stephen Darby, Gary Thompson and Nahki Wells will be vital if Bradford are going to be a force in League One this season. Even with such a well-drilled unit supported by a number of very talented players, the Bantams are likely to face a season where consolidation is the key objective. 15th
Drawing 0-0 with Doncaster Rovers heading into the final seconds of the season, Brentford were handed a promotion lifeline. Needing a win to leapfrog their opponents into an automatic promotion position, Toumani Diagouraga was hauled down during a goal mouth scramble and the referee pointed to the spot. Young Fulham loanee Marcello Trotta, much to surprise of everyone inside Griffin Park, stepped up to take the kick ahead of regular penalty taker Kevin O’Connor. The effort crashed back off the underside of the bar, the preceding goal mouth scramble failed to turn the ball towards the Doncaster goal and the away side broke away. Paynter to Coppinger; Coppinger beyond a stranded Moore. Doncaster were champions; Brentford were heart broken.
But the Bees regrouped for the play-offs; a second chance at promotion glory. The irony of O’Connor scoring an injury time penalty to equalise against Swindon in the semi-final first leg wasn’t lost on anyone, but it put Brentford in a fantastic position going into the second leg. Brentford were ahead by two goals at two different stages during the game, but contrived to concede a 95th minute equaliser from Aiden Flint. Extra time couldn’t split the sides, so both sides faced a daunting penalty shoot-out. Brentford edged through five penalties to four; was their luck changing?
Not quite. The Bees were 2-0 down to Yeovil in the play-off final at half time and, despite a spirited comeback that saw Harlee Dean pull one back, just didn’t have enough gas left in the tank to perform a minor miracle. It was Heartbreak all over again for the fans and Uwe Rosler’s men; Heartbreak that Rosler will hope to turn into determination for the coming season.
Rolser himself has acted throughout the summer in a determined manner, securing the signatures of some highly rated players. Czech international winger Martin Fillo comes in to replace Harry Forrester, who has left for, of all teams, Doncaster. With Forrester the only meaningful departure, the rest of the summer’s signing and both quality and strength in depth to the promotion chasing side. Javi Venta, a 37-year-old Spanish defender most recently at Villarreal, bolsters the defence alongside former Swindon captain Alan McCormack, who can also play in midfield, and the permanent signing of Jake Bidwell from Everton. Talented young midfielder George Saville joins on loan from Chelsea whilst Will Grigg has been snapped up from Walsall after scoring 19 times last season. A lifeline has also been offered to 19-year-old keeper Jack Bonham after his release from Watford following his unfortunate howler against Leeds when called upon in the final game of the campaign just gone.
With the likes of Sam Saunders, Clayton Donaldson and, after agreeing a new deal, Dean still at the club, this Brentford side has all the makings of one that will make the 2012/13 season a distant memory. 2nd
After six campaigns in the Championship, Bristol City will contest a season in League One for the first time in seven years. The Robins failed to emulate the success of their first Championship season, in which they were losing play-off finalists, and could only muster mid-table mediocrity in the following three seasons. Unable to compete in a division full of sides that looked down on City as one of the smaller clubs, relegation at the end of last season came after narrowly avoiding the drop in 2011/12. The Ashton Gate faithful will now be expecting nothing less than a challenge for promotion back to the second tier of English football.
For manager Sean O’Driscoll, appointed in January after Derek McInnes’ sacking, it’s been a tough start to life in the City hot seat. After failing to drag the club away from the foot of the Championship table, this summer has seen him have to contend with several key players leaving the club. Cole Skuse, who had been at the club for nine years and racked up almost 280 league games, fans favourite Jon Stead, and player of the year Tom Heaton stand out as the highest profile departures.
However, O’Driscoll has evoked a positive feeling towards the new season with some excellent additions to the previously depleted squad. Frank Fielding, a ‘keeper who was on England’s radar not too long ago, joins from Derby, whilst Aiden Flint, part of a Swindon side that reached the play-offs last term, and Derrick Williams, an Irish U21 international snapped up from Aston Villa, bulk up the defensive options. A swap deal that saw Paul Anderson depart for Ipswich and Jay Emmanuel-Thomas arrive has pleased both parties with City’s new signing looking to revitalise his career after a disappointing few seasons, whilst the talented winger Scott Wagstaff joins from Charlton. Youngster Jordan Wynter also joins, on a free from Arsenal.
With tricky winger Albert Adomah handing in a transfer request and striker Steven Davies subject to a bid from Blackpool, more rebuilding may need to be done, especially if Davies ops to join the Tangerines, which would leave options upfront at a minimum. However, with relatively large transfer fees expected to be paid for both players, O’Driscoll would have the resources to recover from the significant sales.
In addition to exciting youngsters, such as Bobby Reid, the likes of Sam Baldock and Greg Cunningham provide proving quality in a City squad that would appear to be one of the strongest in the division despite the major losses to the playing staff. I expect the Robins to be right up there come May. 5th
The Cumbrians are one of those sides that you could so easily forget exist; not a lot seems to happen at Brunton Park. One play-off appearance and a Football League Trophy win aside, Carlisle have spent their time yo-yoing between the higher and lower ends of League One without much drama, only once coming under any serious threat from relegation. It’s the sort of stress free mediocrity that fans of some clubs would do anything for.
But for United, they want a little bit more than just settling on what they already hold. A 17th placed finish last time out was seen as a huge disappointment following the 8th place of 2011/12. However, it’s difficult for the Cumbrians to compete. Isolated in the absolute north, a small core of fans and without the finances to hold on to their best strengthen, pushing for promotion is never going to be easy.
They’ll take inspiration from Yeovil Town, a similarly sized club who achieved promotion through the play-offs last season; it can be done.
But a number of significant departures will dent any hopes of climbing the table. Long standing players Peter Murphy, Frank Simek and Jon-Paul McGovern are amongst those released, as is the talented Rory Loy, who had his playing time restricted in his spell with the club due to injury. Adam Colin, who once played 146 consecutive games for the club, has also departed after growing frustrated with manager Greg Abbott’s policy of ‘keeper rotation.
David Amoo, a former Liverpool trainee, comes into the club after leaving Tranmere, whilst Reece James joins on loan from Manchester United. Journeyman striker Lewis Guy also comes in after a successful trial.
However, the trio of signings do very little in terms of strengthening a somewhat weak squad. Only the goals of Lee Miller give the side any real quality. The Cumbrians will do well to keep their necks above water. 21st
The Us suffered their lowest finish for 15 seasons last time out, ending the campaign just three points above the relegation zone in 20th. After four seasons on the outskirts of the play-offs following their relegation from the Championship in 2007/08, Colchester will view last season as a major disappointment.
Manager Joe Dunne, who replaced John Ward in September 2012, considered resigning from his role in January, but stayed on and will be looking to have a positive impact on the club in his first full season in charge.
John-Joe O’Toole, whose career has plummeted after early signs of potential at Watford, and long standing defender John White are the only major departures as Dunne looks to shape a squad that will be able to avoid the struggles of last season. Craig Eastmond and Sanchez Watt join permanently from Arsenal after successful loan spells, whilst defender Daniel Pappoe and goalkeeper Sam Walker come in on loan from Chelsea.
Whilst the days of Antony Wordsworth and Steven Gillespie putting Colchester into play-off contention are a thing of the past, the squad still contains highly talented League One stars, such as Mangus Okuonghae, Kemal Izzet and Marcus Bean. Young strikers Freddie Sears and Gavin Massey will be trusted to get the goals for the Us that will lead them to comfortable mid-table finish and prove last season was just a blip. 17th
No club has had a tougher summer than Coventry City. Whilst other crisis clubs, such as Portsmouth and Bury, have begun to rebuild, the Sky Blues remain in administration and have been forced to play their homes games 35 miles away at Northampton’s Sixfields after an agreement couldn’t be reached with the owners of the Ricoh Arena, that despite the stadium owners offering Coventry the opportunity to use the stadium without paying rent.
The crisis has deepened into on the field matters with a transfer embargo preventing manager Steven Pressley from bringing players in, leaving the first team squad down to its barebones after a number of departures. Defensive trio Nathan Cameron, Jordan Stewart and Richard Wood have all left the club, along with midfielder David Bell and forward pair Stephen Elliott and Cody McDonald.
The Sky Blues will be looking to avoid relegation at all costs, and with players such as John Fleck, Leon Clarke and Gary McSheffrey retained by the club, that should be an achievable goal. But the more pressing matter is the future of the club and where it will call home. With Coventry fans distraught that their club has been taken from their city, off the pitch events will no doubt dominate the coming season. 19th
Just four seasons ago, Crawley finished 12 points off a Conference play-off place. Last season, after two promotions in as many years, the Red went under the radar in a frantic League One season to sneak into 10th place. Whilst the fans might have been hoping for a ‘Football Manager’ style trio of successive promotions, a top half finish in Crawley’s first season in England’s third tier was an incredible achievement.
Richie Barker, appointed as manager last summer after Sean O’Driscoll left the club without taking charge of a single game, will be looking to build upon last season’s relative success and push on in search of a play-off position.
The signings of the experienced utility man Andy Drury and former England U20 international defender James Hurst are signings that move the club in the right direction. However, after a number of players on short-term deals left the club, along with David Hunt, Matt Sparrow and Shaun Cooper, Crawley’s squad lacks the strength in depth for a sustained promotion push.
Barker will be hoping he can bring a few more fresh faces to supplement the likes of Kyle McFazdean, Sergio Torres and Jamie Proctor before the season kicks off. 11th
After taking over from Mr Crewe Alexandra, Dario Gradi, in November 2011, manager Steve Davis has worked wonders for the Railwaymen. With the club languishing in the bottom half of League Two at the time of his appointment, Davis quickly developed a style of passing football that saw Crewe claim the final play-off spot come May, followed by a win at Wembley to gain promotion to League One for last season. A solid 13th placed finish and a Football League Trophy victory adds another feather in the cap of Davis, whose reputation continues to grow with the success of his Crew side.
One reputation that doesn’t need any growth is that of Crewe’s famed academy, with Gradi still at the club helping to continue the talent production line. After Nick Powell’s transfer to Manchester United last summer, Luke Murphy has joined Leeds in this one for a seven figure sum. Although Murphy is a huge loss to Crewe, the likes of AJ Leitch-Smith, Max Clayton and Harry Davis maintain the club’s tradition of developing from within, with the trio amongst an XI of academy graduates that took to the field in Crewe’s final game of last season against Walsall.
In addition to the exciting home-grown talent, Crewe have made some impressive summer signings in the shape of midfielder Anthony Grant from Stevenage, defender Lee Molyneux from Accrington and former France U19 international Thierry Audel snapped up from Macclesfield. Don’t be surprised if the Railwaymen compete for at least a play-off position this season. 10th
It was a case of third time lucky for the Gills last season after finally gaining promotion to League One following finishing one position outside of the play-off places for two consecutive seasons. Martin Allen’s side bypassed the play-offs altogether and romped to the league title with 83 points.
With third tier football returning to the Priestfield Stadium for the first time since 2009/10, Allen will be looking to consolidate Gillingham’s position in the division after the previous two campaigns in League One ended in relegation.
A summer clear-out in preparation for League One has seen Deon Burton, Andy Frampton and Lewis Montrose return to League Two, whilst Jack Payne joins Peterborough permanently after a successful loan spell. Midfielder Amine Linganzi joins from Accrington, whilst striking trio Cody McDonald, who has enjoyed two prolific loan spells with the club, Antonio German, another successfully loanee, and Adebayo Akinfenwa, in his second spell at the club, give the Gills plenty of options up top.
With the likes of Leon Legge, Chris Whelpdale and Myles Weston at the club already, the Gills have all the ingredients to comfortably survive in League One. 18th
After finishing one place above the relegation zone in 2011/12, the O’s sprung a surprise by ending the 2012/13 season one position below the play-off places; a feat they matched in 2010/11. The seemingly unpredictable nature of Russell Slade’s side means they could equally be fighting for survival or battling for a play-off spot come the end of the season.
Whilst eccentric chairman Barry Hearn may not be, Slade is a realist and will know a solid mid-table league position for a club the size of Leyton Orient is a relatively successful season. The loss of nine players over the summer, including Martin Rowlands, Leon McSweeney and Charlie MacDonald, makes a top six finish almost impossible, with only three transfers in.
Shaun Batt, who linked up with the club following communication with Hearn via Twitter, joins from Millwall, young goalkeeper Jake Larkins has been snapped up from West Ham, whilst former French U20 midfielder Yohann Lasimant joins after a successful trial.
Whilst Scott Cuthbert, Dean Cox and Kevin Lisbie give the O’s quality in several departments, the squad lacks consistent talent throughout. Orient may well find this season a little tougher than last. 16th
MILTON KEYNES DONS
It’s the same story every season for the Dons. They’re tipped to go up, win the league by some, but end the season in humiliation and disappointment. Karl Robinson’s side had gotten used to play-off failure, with three semi-final defeats in four seasons prior to last, but a poor run or results in the second half of the season meant they spent time in the bottom half of the table and could only muster an 8th placed finish with a respectable finish to the campaign.
Once again, Karl Robinson will be expecting to lead his side to promotion. But with the quality of the division improving massively on last season, it’ll be another tough test for the Dons to finally step foot into the Championship.
But Robinson has kept most of his squad intact, losing just four players over the summer. However, an unsettled Ryan Lowe’s move to Tranmere apart, the Dons have lost key players. In Mathias Doumbe and Gary Mackenzie, Milton Keynes lose their strongest centre back paring, whilst the talented Adam Chicksen has been given the chance to impress in the Championship with Brighton.
However, Robinson has bought well in the transfer market. Lee Hodson joins from Watford to replace Chicksen, whilst Jason Banton, who joins on loan from Crystal Palace and Ben Reeves, a permanent capture from Southampton, are two exciting attack minded midfielders. Patrick Bamford also joins on loan from Chelsea following success in a similar deal last season.
The Dons will need to find some centre backs to fill the void left by Mackenzie and Doumbe, but the team looks strong in all other departments. With experienced pros, like Luke Chadwick, Izale McLeod and Darren Potter, supported by a crop of young players coming through the ranks, such as England U17 international Dele Alli, the Dons yet again have the potential to be there or thereabouts come the end of the season. 8th
Not so long ago, County were fighting League Two relegation battles. They were also fighting for their future after gaining promotion to League One after their mega rich Middle Eastern owners, who attracted the likes of Sven-Goran Eriksson, Hans Backe and Sol Campbell to the club, left the club in a state of turmoil.
But those days are a distant memory for Notts County fans as their club has stabilised and become a consistent figure in the battle for a League One play-off position. After finishing 7th in 2011/12, the 12th placed finished of last season was seen as a major disappointment by all concerned with the club, and manager Chris Kiwomya will be looking to put the Magpies back into the play-off picture in his first full season in charge.
However, the loss of some key names meant the summer got off to a bad start. Talismanic midfield figures Jeff Hughes, Neal Bishop and Alan Judge have been central to County’s success over the last few seasons and will be difficult to replace. Kiwomya has turned to David Bell, who joins form Coventry, Mark Fotheringham, who has been snapped up after a successful trial and Andy Howarth, formerly of Rochdale to fill the void left the trio. Three very talented players, but it’s hard to argue for them being as good as those who have departed.
The stand out arrivals come in the shape of right back Mustapha Dumbuya, who impressed whilst at Portsmouth and Crawley last season, and Danny Haynes, a high quality Championship player when his body isn’t letting him down. Haynes especially is a huge signing; if he can keep himself fit, he may well be signing of the summer in the division.
With regulars such as Alan Sheehan, Fracois Zoko and Jamal Campbell-Ryce still at the club, there is a degree of quality within the County squad. I expect them to be knocking on the door of the play-offs once again. 9th
I might have been a little harsh on Carlisle earlier; Oldham take the award for side you could most easily forget exists. The Latics are entering their 10th season in League One; currently the longest amount of time spent in one division by any of the 72 Football League Clubs. Boring.
However, that stat was so close to being lost last season. Oldham were in the relegation zone when Lee Johnson took over midway through March with 10 games left. But Johnson’s appointment sparked an upturn in form that saw the Latics pick up 15 points, including three against Johnson’s father’s Yeovil, during their run in and end the season in 19th, three points above the final relegation spot. Stattos everywhere breathed a heavy sigh of relief.
After his impressive start to life in the dugout, Johnson will now be looking to show his success wasn’t just beginner’s luck and push Oldham up the table. Johnson has had to learn quickly that managing a club like Oldham isn’t easy; key players Dean Furman, Lee Croft and Jean-Yves M’voto have all left the club, whilst Matt Smith, star of the uncharacteristically exciting FA Cup run that saw the side beat Liverpool and earn a reply with Everton, has also departed.
With 12 players leaving Boundary Park in total over the summer, Johnson has added eight names to his squad to help plug the gap. Goalkeeper Mark Oxley joins on loan from Hull, helping to lessen the damage left by Alex Cisak joining Burnley and Dean Bouzanis heading to Greece. Midfielder Korey Smith joins permanently from Norwich after impressing in a loan spell last season and winger James Dayton moves down from Johnson’s former club, Kilmarnock. Youngsters Jonson Clarke-Harris and Anton Rodgers join from Peterborough and Brighton respectively, whilst Johnson has been quick to exploit his dad’s contacts signing unknown Latvian Edijs Joksts and Dutchman Sidney Schmeltz.
A 46 game season will undoubtedly be tougher than a ten game spell for Johnson, but he’s bought well to support a squad that contains Jose Baxter, James Wesolowski and Jonathan Grounds. Even so, it’s going to be another struggle for the Latics. 22nd
It took Peterborough eight games to pick up any points last season. By the 45th, they had 54 and were outside of the relegation zone on goal difference. With two minutes left of the season, Posh were safe; with one minute left of the season, Posh were down. An 89th minute winner from Crystal Palace’s Mile Jedinak condemned Peterborough to League One. That they have every right to feel a sense of injustice shows what a remarkable fight the club put in to survive.
Darren Ferguson, in charge of a squad that caused problems for the bigger sides at times in the Championship, will have the duty of raising heads and getting Posh to play with the confidence and ability that saw them almost stay up when all looked lost just two months into the season.
The goals of Dwight Gayle were a significant factor in Posh’s upturn in form, with his 13 in 29 games an excellent record for a youngster snapped up in hope from Dagenham and Redbridge. His big money move, believed to be in the region of £6,000,000, will help to stabilise the club financially, but there’s no doubt he’ll be a big miss, along with Mark Little, who failed to agree a new contract.
But, although only Jack Payne, who spent the bulk of last season on loan at London Road, has joined the club, Posh can boast a high quality League One side with their squad largely still intact. The likes of Gabriel Zakuani, Michael Bostwick and Lee Tomlin are a class above League One.
With chairman Darragh MacAnthony promising signings to come for the Posh, there squad may be about to get stronger. There’s no reason why they can’t compete for an immediate return to England’s second tier. 3rd
After several mediocre seasons in League Two, including a spell in administration in 2011/12, Micky Adams’ side went against pre-season predictions and achieved promotion in a style that can be deemed anything but mediocre. Despite finishing 3rd, the Vale played some of the best football in the division, with only occasional drops in form, including a stutter as the finish line neared, preventing them from challenging successfully for the title.
Vale’s first season in League One for six years will be all about survival, with Adams strengthening his squad accordingly. A summer clear out of the League Two dead wood has paved the way for defenders Anthony Griffith, in his third spell with the club, Chris Robertson and former Stoke left back Carl Dickinson to join. With the back four bolstered and Chris Lines joining to dictate play in the centre of midfield, the additions of winger Kaid Mohammed and striker Gavin Tomlin add extra attacking options to a side that scored 87 goals last season.
31 of those goals came via Tom Pope, and keeping him at the club will be crucial for their survival bid, whilst Lee Hughes guarantees further finishes. Richard Duffy and Daniel Jones add to the strength in depth in defence, whilst skipper Doug Loft will look to partner lines in midfield.
There’s certainly some quality within the Vale squad, who are led by a manager who knows his way around the Football League, but will it be enough? Frailties were exposed during poor runs of form at times last season; it’ll surprise me if it is enough. 23rd
PRESTON NORTH END
What on earth are one of England’s traditional great clubs doing in the lower half of the third tier for the second consecutive season? The truth is, for a number of different reason, Preston simply haven’t been good enough over the past four seasons. The main contributing factor to last season’s failure was manager Graham Westley; who left the club midway through the season to the delight of players and fans alike. With Simon Grayson about to face his first full season in charge of the club, the former Blackpool, Leeds and Huddersfield Town manager will be looking for his fourth promotion to the Championship.
Grayson clearly has faith in the squad from last season as only four players, including Ben Davies who joins York on loan have departed. The likes of Scott Laird, Bailey Wright and Jeffrey Monakana are all excellent players in this division. But Grayson has also strengthened well, bringing in exciting young goalkeeper Declan Rudd on loan from Nowich, defender Tom Clarke from Huddersfield and Jamaican winger Chris Humphrey from Motherwell.
That leaves on standout name as Preston’s biggest signing of the summer. In fact, he rivals Danny Haynes as capture of the transfer window in League One. After 74 goals in 351 games for Bolton, along with one England cap, Kevin Davies has joined North End on a free transfer. The 36-year-old was a forgotten figure at the Reebok last season, and the experienced target man will be looking to end his career in style. One thing’s for sure; he won’t give League One defences a moment’s rest.
A club whose status suggests they should be playing at a higher level and one that has the resources to challenge for promotion; this season won’t be anywhere near as disappointing as the last two in League One for Preston fans. 6th
The Millers had always been there or thereabouts when it came to League Two promotion, but fallen at the final hurdle or had an end of season shocker that saw them finish way off the play-offs. Thankfully, moving to their New York Stadium put years of disappointment, administration and horrible viewing from the Don Valley Arena behind them as they finished second and finally gained promotion to League One.
The charismatic figure of Steve Evans will no doubt have another promotion in his sights, but a season of consolidation would be an excellent achievement for Rotherham. Evans has moved quickly to strengthen his squad and make it worthy of its place in England’s third tier. Out go Nicky Hunt, John Mullins, Ian Sharps and Dale Tonge, who all return to League Two, clearing space for seven summer arrivals. Dependable keeper Adam Colin joins from Carlisle to challenge Scott Shearer for the number one jersey, whilst Richard Brindley and Joe Skarz strengthen the defence. A trio of midfield signings, Robert Milson, Michael Tidser and David Worrall, along with forward Danny Hylton, make for a successful summer in the transfer market.
In Kari Arnason, Claude Davis and Alex Revell, the Millers have a reasonable amount of quality in their side, whilst Steve Evans would sooner die than oversee a side to relegation. They’ll have enough to survive, but it won’t be easy. 20th
What do Nottingham Forest, Leeds United and Charlton Athletic have in common? They’re all massive clubs who took three seasons to escape from League One. After a second play-off failure in a row, Sheffield United will be looking to follow in their footsteps. New manager David Weir has been given the task of finding the extra spark that will finally see the Blades promoted back to the Championship.
The summer departures have been few and far between, Barry Robson, Dave Kitson and Richard Cresswell the three first team players to leave, with Weir building upon a strong base that contains the likes of Harry Maguire, Ryan Flynn and Jamie Murphy. Young defenders Jasper Johns and Sean McGinty have a point to prove after being snapped on free after failing at Everton and Manchester United respectively, whilst Conor Coady is an exceptional loan signing from Liverpool. The midfield is strengthened by the signing of Stephen McGinn, who will looking to provide assists for forward pair Febian Brandy and Lyle Taylor, two signings that give the Blades an unbelievable wealth of talent up top.
It remains to be seen if Weir’s leadership skills on the pitch can be utilised in his managerial career, but there’s no reason why he can’t be a strong motivational influence on a squad that includes young prospects such as Joe Ironside, George Long and Callum McFadzean.
The squad is there. If Weir is a success, Sheffield United will challenge once again, this time without failure. 1st
After three play-off failures in five seasons, Shrewsbury finally made it out of the fourth tier two seasons ago with a second place finish. In their first season in the third tier since 1996/97, the Shrews pulled off a respectable 16th place finish; a fantastic achievement for a club of Shrewsbury’s size to avoid relegation back to League Two. The club will once again be looking to survive In League One.
Losing Mark Wright, Marvin Morgan and Matt Richards will be a blow to manager Graham Turner, but the Shrewsbury icon has made some excellent additions to his squad. The highly rated defender James Tavernier, who has enjoyed a number of successful loan deals at League One clubs, joins on loan from Newcastle, whilst Birmingham striker Akwasi Asante also comes in on loan after spending a brief period at the New Meadow last season. The experienced defender-cum-midfielder Tamika Mkandawire signs on a free after being released by Millwall, whilst, at the other end of the spectrum, youngsters John Mardsen and Alex McQuabe join from Celtic and Bolton respectively.
The acquisitions are added to a side that already contains the likes of Paul Parry, Aaron Wildig and Luke Summerfield. Even so, their squad is weak, lacking in both quality and depth. They defied the odds to stay up last season, but it might not so straightforward this time around. 24th
In a play-off place midway through December, Stevenage’s promotion push capitulated with a dire run of form in the second half of the season leaving them in 18th. The form saw the dismissal of Gary Smith, who pushed the Boro into the play-offs in the season prior to last, and the return of former manager Graham Westley, who led them to two promotions in as many seasons to get the club into League One. Westley, who came under heavy criticism during his time at Preston, will be looking to galvanise his squad and push Stevenage back up the table.
However, Stevenage will have to regroup without talismanic figure Mark Roberts, with the defender leaving for Fleetwood. The departure of Anthony Grant will also be a bitter pill to swallow, whilst defenders Bondz N’Gala, Miguel Comminges and Andy Iro have all been released.
But Westley has utilised the transfer market well and snapped up some exciting additions to the Boro squad. Defender Luke Jones joins after impressing in the Conference for Mansfield, whilst midfielder Sam Wegbury, who gained attention whilst also playing non-league football for Macclesfield, comes in. The midfield also strengthened by the signings of Jimmy Smith, who leaves Leyton Orient after over 150 appearances, and Simon Heslpo, a steady performer for Oxford in previous seasons. Striker Oumare Tounkara will bolster an attacking force that only managed to score 47 goals in 46 games last season.
Stevenage were always overachieving in battling for the play-offs, even more so last season with the likes of Lawrie Wilson and Michael Bostwick moving on. In fact, remaining in League One for two seasons without any real fear of relegation is really quite something for a side that played their first Football League game in 2010. The squad has some talented players, with Luke Freeman, Filipe Morais and James Dunne the stand outs, but it remains to be seen what sort of impact Westley will have in his first full season back in charge. I think it’ll be a positive one. 13th
Bit of a quiet one at the County Ground last season. Just a manager walking out, financial instability, a transfer embargo, a prolonged takeover, failing to gain automatic promotion after being in a strong position to do so and a play-off semi-final defeat. Swindon’s summer has been fairly low key too, sacking a manager, signing six players on loan from one club in addition to four other players and seeing nine players leave.
Jokes aside, it does seem that Swindon are a magnet to drama. Sacking manager Kevin MacDonald and, at the time of writing, not replacing him leaves the club in a state of instability going into the new season. Whilst every other manager will have spent the summer preparing for the season and building the team he desires, the new man at Swindon may come in with the season already underway. It isn’t ideal.
Losing Tommy Miller, Aiden Flint and Alan McCormack also isn’t ideal for the Robins as they look to mount another promotion challenge. Coming in to replace the experienced names that have departed are a crop of youngsters. Alex Smith joins from Fulham, whilst unknown Tijane Reis comes in from Portugal. Ryan Harley, the only experienced name to come in, is joined by a heard of Spurs loanees. Jack Bartham, Nathan Byrne, Grant Hall, Ryan Mason, Massimo Luongo and Alex
Prichard joins a club who is fast becoming Tottenham ‘B’. With only four loan players allowed in a match day squad from one team, there is a high chance the loanees will end up being a disruptive influence to the Swindon side.
There’s quality and strength in depth all over the pitch, but the chaotic pre-season will no doubt dent Swindon’s early form. Once the manager comes in, he’ll have to settle quickly and preach his style of football without adequate time to imbed it into the players. They’ll challenge for the play-offs, but not as successfully as last time out. 7th
League leaders until the end of January, it looked as if Rovers were set to pull off an unlikely promotion. However, they fell away horribly towards the end of the season and ended it in 11th place. Rovers fans who had dreams of the Championship at the forefront of their mind were left bemused and angered by the dramatic slide down the table. Manager Ronnie Moore has some heads to lift in order for to lead his side on a more prolonged promotion challenge this season.
Moore has kept the majority of his squad intact, with Adam McGurk, David Amoo and Zoumana Bakayogo the only significant departures, whilst strengthening with some excellent additions from back to front. Experienced defenders Stephen Foster and Evan Horwood bolster the back four, whilst youngster Chris Atkinson joins on loan from Huddersfield and the untried Jason Rowe comes in from Forest Green. Long term target Ryan Lowe comes in after a frustrating time at MK Dons and will look to score goals alongside Akpo Sodje.
Even with the likes of Owain Fon Williams, James Wallace and Andy Robinson on hand to help Tranmere form a promotion push; it’s unlikely that they will do so. However, never write off a Ronnie Moore side. He organises his sides well and gets the very best out of all of his players. No matter what, they’ll give it a good go. 12th
After two seasons of just about fending off relegation, finding 9th last season was a huge achievement for Dean Smith’s side. The goals of Febian Brandy, Will Grigg and Jamie Paterson fired the Midlands side up the table. However, with those three now departed, it promises to be a slightly tougher season for Walsall.
In addition to the attacking trio, George Bowerman and Richard Taundry have also left the club, meaning Smith has had some rebuilding to do this summer. Keeper Richard O’Donnell comes in from Chesterfield, whilst striker Troy Hewitt and Romaine Sawyers join from QPR and West Brom respectively. A forth signing sees forward Milan Lalkovic sign on loan from Chelsea. Three inexperienced youngster brought in to cover the losses of Brandy, Grigg and Paterson; it’s a huge gamble.
But a club like Walsall can only afford to take punts and gambles on young players who may well reward them for their faith. There’s experience in the side, such as Craig Westcarr, the Chambers twins and Andy Butler that allows for youth to be accommodated.
However, the squad is considerably weaker than it was last season, and a play-off challenge looks out of the picture. A mid-table finish should be considered a success. 14th
Where did it all go? Wolves began the 2011/12 season with two wins a draw from their opening three Premier League games. They ended it bottom of the league. The 2012/13 season started with Wolves favourites for promotion and in and around the play-off picture. They ended it 23rd and became the first club in the Premier League era to go from top flight to third tier in two seasons. They’re not the first team to fall from the Premier League to League One, and they won’t be the last, but the club and their fans will have to adjust quicker and more dramatically than any other club before them.
The first adjustment involves getting a manager who knows this league well. Step forward Kenny Jackett, an excellent appointment to replace Dean Saunders, who looked out of his depth as Wolves slide into League One. The second is to get highly paid players off the books. Christophe Berra, Jody Craddock, Sylvan Ebanks-Blake, Stephen Hunt, Slawomir Peszko, Adam Hammill, Dorus De Vries, Karl Henry and Steven Mouyokolo have all left the club, with several others, including Jamie O’Hara, Kevin Doyle and Stephen Ward, set to follow.
Waiting for the players to depart has meant Jackett has been limited in the transfer market so far, only brining in defender Sam Rickets. However, with O’Hara and Doyle expected to leave shortly, some new names may well be brought in in time for the new season.
As Wolves’ squad stands now, even without any additions, it should comfortably win the league. It should have done well last season too, so Wolves fans won’t taking anything for granted. The likes of Bakary Sako, Razak Boukari and Tongo Doumbia are far too good for the third division of English football; they’ll soon realise what they’ve got themselves in for when Wolves travel to the likes of Oldham, Walsall and Crawley. Young players such as Leigh Griffiths, Jake Cassidy and Zeli Ismail will also be key to a successful promotion push.
They will do it, won’t they? They have to. Something’s telling me it won’t be so straightforward. 4th
It’s always difficult to gauge the significance of pre-season results. Friendlies are little more than an exercise; a chance for the players to regain match fitness and synchronise themselves back into the flow of a game of football. Winning is a nice habit to have, but a habit that will mean nothing when the season itself kicks off.
However, this pre-season has proved itself to be a valuable confidence builder for Charlton. Five wins and a draw going into today’s final friendly before the season begins had raised spirits and diverted attention away from financial concerns, a lack of signings and the gaping hole in the forward department. But an entire pre-season unbeaten couldn’t be achieved with SPL side Inverness Caledonian Thistle coming away from the Valley with a 1-0 victory in Colin Powell’s testimonial.
The game was cagey from start to finish, as is the convention with most pre-season friendlies, but Charlton kept possession nicely in the first half, putting Inverness on the back foot for most of it. Inverness boss, and former England international, Terry Butcher offered Charlton high praise by comparing the opening 45 minutes to “like playing against Celtic”, but his side created the best opening of the first period with Ross Draper’s curling shot from just outside the area hitting the post with Ben Hamer rooted to the centre of his goal.
The second half followed in a similar fashion; Charlton looked comfortable on the ball but struggled to muster anything meaningful on goal with poor decision making in the final third mostly to blame. The visitors rarely troubled substitute keeper David Button, who replaced Hamer at half time, but one clear cut opportunity was enough for Cally to snatch the win. Inverness broke away after a Charlton attack with Josh Meekings carrying the ball into the home side’s half before feeding the ball through to Aaron Doran on the right flank. Meekings continued with his run and connected with Doran’s drilled ball into the box, finishing coolly past Button. As disappointing as the result was, it was another good run out for the Addicks in preparation for the start of the season in a week’s time.
Charlton fielded a side that didn’t look too far off the best available XI. Goalkeeper Hamer was shielded by a back four of Chris Solly, Michael Morrison, Dorian Dervite and Rhoys Wiggins; the combination that performed so admirably as the Addicks finished last season eight games unbeaten. Three centre midfielders, Dale Stephens, Johnnie Jackson and Mark Gower, were flanked by Bradley Pritchard and Callum Harriott in a five man field, leaving Kermorgant up top on his home. The Frenchman will hope to have a partner to occupy him attack at Bournemouth next Saturday with Powell endeavouring to bring strikers in.
Inverness missed out on European football by a whisker last season and would provide the Addicks with their toughest test of pre-season. Dean Brill, Aaron Doran and David were names that would be familiar to English audiences who started for Cally. Striker Billy McKay, second top scorer in the SPL in the season just gone, started up top, whilst Graeme Shinnie, a current Scotland U21 international started at left back.
Before kick-off, Colin ‘Paddy’ Powell took centre stage as the club celebrated his remarkable service to Charlton Athletic with the game doubling up as his testimonial. After years of gracing the Valley turf, successfully enough to earn a first testimonial during his playing days, Powell took to caring for the pitch as head grounds man. 30 years of dedicated work for the club meant awarding him with a second testimonial was more than fitting.
With his pitch, in perfect condition, glistening in the sun as the game got underway, Charlton fans were reminded of the hard work Powell does year in, year out to produce a high quality playing surface. None more so than during this off season, with the pitch back to its best after being worn down by the rain, ice and snow that was thrown at it during the course of the last campaign.
Charlton looked exciting going forward in the early stages, with Harriott causing all sorts of problems for Cally right back David Raven, and managed to win the first corner after five minutes. Kermorgant battled to win Jackson’s delivery but, with the presence of several Inverness defenders around him, failed to make true contact with the ball and ‘keeper Brill gathered the loose ball. The first shot came courtesy of Cally’s Liam Polworth, whose 20 yard free-kick cleared the crossbar by a comfortable margin.
The sides continued to exchange attacking moves, with Solly teeing up Pritchard, who scuffed his shot wide and out for a throw, before Draper’s effort rebounded back off the post with almost 20 minutes played. A Cally free-kick from wide right was headed back across goal with Pritchard fluffing a chance to clear, allowing the ball to fall kindly to James Vincent, who saw his effort well saved by Hamer. Down the other end, Pritchard was gifted with a golden opportunity after running onto a cleverly taken thrown-in by Solly, but the Zimbabwean contrived to fire the ball well off target and out for a Cally thrown-in for the second time.
Although in terms of chances the game was evenly matched, the Addicks were in charge of possession. However, their final delivery was letting them down, epitomised by Jackson’s attempted cross that, instead of whipping into the box, was sliced forward and out of play. When Charlton finally got a ball in the final third right, Kermorgant forced Brill into a low save after he connected with Harriott’s chipped cross.
The half ended with two chances for the visitors as Doran capitalised on a rare defensive mistake from Michael Morrison and fired a vicious shot away from Hamer, forcing the Charlton keeper to pull off a fantastic diving save before reacting to collect the loose ball with McKay ready to pounce. McKay then saw his header float wide of the post with the clock ticking into half time.
To refer to the second half as a dull affair would be complimentary; it was mind-numbingly boring and lacking in quality. Chris Solly’s free-kick from the halfway that dribbled out of play as the right back tried to pick out Pritchard 15 yards away summed it up perfectly. It took almost 20 minutes of the half for an attempt on goal, and even that was a tame effort from substitute Danny Green’s free-kick that Brill had no trouble holding onto after it bounced in front of him.
The wingers, Doran and Harriott, for both sides shared long range shots that were well off target before, in between and after an array of subs from both sides. The game looked to be petering out into nothingness. But with ten minutes to play, Inverness grabbed the winner. Charlton were caught out as Meekings drove forward without a Charlton challenge, set Doran free down the right wing and met the low cross with the inside of his boot, placing the ball beyond Buttons’ reach.
As you would expect, Charlton dominated the last ten minutes in search of an equaliser, but to no avail. Jackson was played in on goal and a mix-up between ‘keeper and defence almost gave the Charlton skipper the chance to finish into an empty net, but Raven got back to clear just in time. Pigott’s weak effort was blocked away whilst Kermorgant came closest with a sweetly struck half-volley following a half cleared free-kick that narrowly missed the target. In a game neither side deserved to win, Inverness managed to hold and come out on top.
The result isn’t important and it’s difficult to assess individual performances; the game itself was dire but no player in a Charlton shirt had a particularly bad game. Each player’s display was steady without ever reaching a peak level of performance. That shouldn’t be a concern in a week’s time, where hopefully Charlton will play to their best at Bournemouth.
However, it’s clear to see where the problems lie. Kermorgant cut an isolated figure upfront on his own, growing frustrated that he could have little affect on the game. The lack of support for Kermorgant was another factor, along with decision making and poor quality of deliveries, which prevented the Addicks from turning possession into chances.
We need strikers.
The start of a new season, oh what a wonderful time. New squad, new shirts, new starts; optimism rife and literally nothing can go wrong. You and every other side in the division know it’s their year to win the division. This is where helpful chaps like I come along and cross examine every team, deciding who will finish where before a ball is even kicked. I’ll be profiling every club in every division before the season kicks off, starting from the bottom up.
League Two is possibly the hardest division to call; those at the top have all got strong squads and those at the bottom all have good cases for staying up. It promises to be an exciting season it the fourth tier of English football; the forgotten gem.
(All information correct as of 20/07/13.)
Rising from the Combined Counties Premier Division to the Football League in just eight seasons, the club born out of the original Wimbledon’s relocation, and subsequent name change, to Milton Keynes had known almost nothing but success in its short history. Even comfortable survival in a 16th placed finish at the end of 2011/12, Dons’ first season in League Two, was a relatively impressive achievement.
However, the stream of success was just moments from changing course last season. Requiring a win over Fleetwood and other results to go their way to stave off relegation, Andy Mangan’s equaliser, cancelling out Gary Alexander’s opener, left the Dons in the bottom two with less than 30 minutes of the season remaining. With fellow survival hopefuls Barnet, Dagenham and Redbridge and Plymouth all losing, just one goal was needed to keep AFC in the Football League. Jack Midson’s penalty provided just that. The Dons survived by the skin of their teeth.
AFC will be hoping for a much calmer campaign this time around, and some impressive signings will help to achieve what must be their goal of comfortable survival. With the loss of defenders Pim Balkerstein, Chris Hussey and captain Mat Mitchel-King, the additions of Callum Kennedy along with the experienced pair Barry Fuller and Andy Frampton will help sure up a defence that leaked 76 goals last season, six more than any other team.
After losing out on John Sullivan, who played a vital role in keeping the Dons up during a loan spell, to Portsmouth, Ross Worner and Ashley Bays have been brought in to challenge for the goalkeeper’s jersey along with stalwart Seb Brown. However, one successful loanee has signed permanently as former Norwich midfielder George Francomb comes in, bolstering a midfield that contains the talented Harry Pell. Charlie ‘Son of Teddy’ Sheringham has also been snapped up on a free transfer to provide a source of goals to complement those of Jack Midson and Luke Moore.
Manager Neal Eardly will be hoping his first full season in management is largely trouble free. I think it will be. 16th
Who are they? Exactly. It’s best to get that out of the way before I begin.
The club who are best known for that advertising slogan and having David ‘Bumble’ Lloyd as a fan rarely fill up any column inches, but they’ve established themselves as an efficient, if not exotic, Football League outfit. However, after several seasons of comfortable safety, and even a play-off spot in 2010/11 under the guidance of John Coleman, Accrington found themselves in a serious relegation battle for the duration of the season just gone, eventually finishing three points above the relegation zone in 18th.
With those at the top ends of the table getting stronger, both on the pitch and financially, it becomes increasingly difficult for a club like Accrington to compete. For this reason, the signings of former England internationals James Beattie and Francis Jeffers were seen as huge coups for the club. Whilst neither were exactly prolific, scoring just 8 goals between them, their experience and status is vital to a club of Accrington’s stature. The pair remains at the club for the new season, with Beattie replacing Leam Richardson to become player manager; the sort of punt that has every chance of paying off at this level.
The loss of several key players, including Lee Molyneux and Romuald Boco won’t make Beattie’s task any easier, but Accrington will look to some of their more experienced and talented players, such as Laurence Wilson, new signings Rob Atkinson and Nicky Hunt, along with Jeffers and Beattie himself to keep the club in the division.
It’s going to be a tough one for Beattie in his first management job. 24th
In the relegation zone as late as the final week of January, the Gas were starring Conference football in the face for much of last season. Mark McGhee’s sacking in December, along with John Ward’s appointment, was the catalyst for the turn around that saw Bristol Rovers finish in 14th, nine points from the play-offs and nine points from the drop zone.
Ward’s record of 12 wins, 6 draws and only 6 defeats in his 24 games in charge have left many viewing the Gas as a serious promotion contender for the coming season. A quiet start on the transfer front won’t add any extra worth to that view, only bringing in ‘keeper Steve Mildenhall from Millwall whilst losing Joe Anyinsah and Ouimae Tounkara, but there’s still time to bolster their already impressive squad.
Rovers have an array of former youth internationals who are still under 25 at their disposal, including Fabian Broghammer of Germany and Tom Parkes of England, whilst the likes of David Clarkson and Danny Woodards provide experience. In Clarkson’s case, his goals may prove vital to any promotion push from the club.
A few new faces and Ward will be able to build on the excellent foundations that were laid last season, but the wage cap is said to be hindering his endeavours to improve the squad. Bristol Rovers will have their work cut out if they are to achieve promotion. 9th
Ending the season prior to last in 17th, there were very little expected of Gary Rowett and his side going into the 2012/13 campaign. However, in his first full season in management, Rowett impressed many pundits by leading Burton to an unexpected spot in the play-offs by finishing 4th. The would go on to lose to Bradford City, the eventual play-off winners, in the semi-final but it’s difficult to argue that last season was anything but a relative success.
For Rowett, the sort of well-groomed young man your mother would enjoy looking at, success brings with it expectation. One of the highest rated young managers in the Football League will have his work cut out to galvanise the Brewers for another promotion challenge.
The challenge for Burton has been made all the tougher with the loss of last season’s top two goal scorers. The exciting winger Jacques Maghoma (18 goals in all competitions) has left for Sheffield Wednesday, whilst the prolific Calvin Zola (16) has joined Aberdeen.
However, Rowett has moved quickly to find replacements and strengthen the squad at his disposal. Journeymen strikers Rene Howe and, after a loan spell at the Pirelli Stadium last season, Michael Symes have joined with the pair boasting respectable goal scoring records in England’s four tier. Youngsters Adam Reed and Alex MacDonald, another former loanee, have impressed in several short term loan spells away from Sunderland and Burnley, their respective former clubs, and will now be looking to settle into a midfield that will also contain the experienced Rory Delap following his move on a free transfer from Stoke. The permanent signing of Ian Sharps, another former loanee, alongside Chris Hussey and Phil Edwards provides excellent defensive options for this division. It’s safe to say Burton have utilised the transfer market excellently this summer.
Despite all the transfer activity, and talented players such as Zander Diamond and Billy Kee retained from last season, Burton’s squad is a touch light in terms of numbers for a season long promotion push. A few extra bodies before the season kicks off and they’ll be in an excellent position. 4th
Fans of the Shakers will be relieved that their club are even taking part in the 2013/14 season. Announcing that they needed £1,000,000 to survive in April, it seemed as if the future of the club was in serious doubt. Thankfully, a consortium led by Stewart Day saved Bury, with Day pledging to rebuild and bring Championship football back to Gigg Lane after last season’s relegation from League One.
The rebuild for the immediate future has had to take place quickly as the Shakers were forced to release 11 first team players and lost a further seven, including the likes of Steven Schumacher and David Worrall, to other clubs.
With the new board stating their support for manager Kevin Blackwell, he’s been able to make some excellent additions to the threadbare squad he was left with after the departures. Strikers Anton Forrester, a loan signing from Blackburn, and Ashley Grimes, a free from Rochdale, will look to provide the goals to return Bury to League One, whilst a punt on John ‘Brother of Wayne’ Rooney is also an interesting attacking addition. Experienced Andy Proctor will look to partner Tom Soares, who re-signed after initially being released, in midfield whilst Chris Sedgwick looks to be an excellent acquisition on the wing. Nathan Cameron from Coventry and Gareth Roberts from Derby are the stand out names in terms of new defenders, whilst former Arsenal youngster Reice Charles-Cook will battle for the number one jersey with Trevor Carson.
Some excellent additions, but is it enough? Will they jell quickly enough? Can Bury really reach the Championship in years to come? Maybe, but this season’s goal should be stability. 11th
However, the summer hasn’t been too kind to Mark Yates’ side as a number of key players have moved onto pastures new. Darren Carter has joined Northamption, a host of strikers have left, including Paul Benson who has return to parent club Swindon following the completion of his loan spell, whilst Kaid Mohammed has joined Port Vale. However, the biggest loss will be that of Marlon Pack. The midfielder has turned down a new contract as he looks to fulfil his potentially in a higher division.
Thankfully for Cheltenham they’ve moved quickly to cover for the players they’ve lost. Winger Ashley Vincent comes in from Port Vale to replace Mohamed who’s gone the other way, whilst strikers Terry Gornell and Jamie Cureton plug the gaps up top. However, the key signing would appear to be Matthew Richards; the midfielder has impressed previously in League One with Walsall and Shrewsbury and will be a vital addition to the Robins’ squad.
With talented players such as Billy Jones and Jermaine McGlashan already on the club’s books, there’s no reason why Cheltenham can’t challenge for promotion again. 5th
Things didn’t quite go to plan for the Spireites last season. Relegated from League One, still riding the high a new stadium brings and buoyed by the signing of Louis Boa Morte, Chesterfield were hoping for an immediate return to England’s third tier. Lingering in and around mid-table for much of the season, good form towards the end of the season lifted them to 8th; just missing out on a play-off position. Manager Paul Cook and his men will be more determined than other to achieve promotion for the club and its fans this time around.
The summer departures point towards Chesterfield looking to start afresh and move forward. Danny Whitaker and Scott Boden, two players with over 100 appearances for the club, are amongst those who have been released, whilst club legend Jack Lester hung up his boots at the end of last season. Neal Trotman would be the player the fans will be most disappointed to see the leave; the first choice centre back was also released by Chesterfield.
However, the additions made by the club have been superb. Jimmy Ryan and Gary Roberts are two excellent signings for any League Two club, whilst the experienced and versatile Ritchie Humphreys is a huge coup for the Spireites. Youngster Sam Morsy joins from Port Vale after 72 games for the club, whilst striker Eoin Doyle will hopefully replace Lester as a vital source of goals.
The new signings will bolster a squad that already contains the likes of Jay O’Shea, Drew Talbot and Sam Tongwell. A successful season is on the cards for Chesterfield. 1st
DAGENHAM AND REDBRIDGE
Plotting Dagenham’s fortunes since their return to the Football League would make a rather unhappy picture; the graph produced would be in the shape of a sad looking smile. A climb up the League Two table over three seasons led to a play-off victory and one season in League One, where the graph peaks at 21st spot in the third tier. Back in League Two, the Daggers finished 19th without ever being in any real trouble of relegation in 2011/12, but last season was far too close for comfort.
Needing to win on the final day of the season to confirm their safety in a relegation battle that they seemed to have avoided just a few weeks earlier, Dagenham lost 1-0 to York. Thankfully for their fans, the Daggers were spared from a return to non-league thanks to Barnet’s defeat against Northampton, staying up on goal difference.
It’s hard to suggest anything other than another tough season for the Daggers who, despite receiving a seven figure sum from Dwight Gayle’s move to Crystal Palace from Peterborough through a sell-on-clause, don’t have the budget to compete with the bigger names of League Two. Transfer activity that has seen only the signing of youngster Afolabi Obafemi from Leyton Orient, along with the potential captures of Brian Saah and Rhys Murphy, only highlights their lack of muscle in the transfer market.
If they are to survive, the Daggers will look towards the likes of Medy Eliot and Gavin Hoyte to perform to their best. Even that though is unlikely to be enough. 23rd
For much of last season, it seemed as if the Grecians would have the opportunity to return to League One at the first time of asking. Occupying a play-off spot for much of the season, only a poor run of form in April cost Exeter a crack at promotion.
A disappointment for Exeter fans, but Paul Tisdale, the undisputed number one when it comes to best dressed managers, will be hoping his side can bounce back and challenge for promotion once again this season.
The loss of last season’s top scorer Jamie Cureton, who found the net 21 times, is a big one. Also a big one in his replacement, Sam Parkin, but the robust striker doesn’t offer a CV that suggests he’s capable of being quite as prolific as Cureton. Tisdale will be hoping from more goals from his other strikers, especially 19 year old Jamie Reed who big things are expected of.
Whilst Exeter haven’t added massively to their squad, they’ve not lost any of their key players. Holding onto the likes of Scot Bennett, Liam Sercombe and Alan Gow could prove crucial if they are to push for the play-offs. 13th
After racking up over 100 points to win promotion from the Conference in 2011/12, a mid-table finish was a reasonable achievement for the Cod Army in their first season in the Football League. However, the relatively rich side will be hoping to follow in the footsteps of other non-league sides of late, including Crawley and Stevenage, in achieving a quick promotion to League One.
Without the distractions of a Mr J. Barton training at the club during pre-season, the only media attention Fleetwood have received has been for the excellent additions they’ve made to their squad. Gone are some of the starts of their non-league days, such as Jamie Miligan and Andy Mangan, along with aging Football League regulars like Youl Mawene, who has become a coach at the club, and Barry Nicholson, in come the likes of Steven Schumacher, Jeff Hughes and Mark Roberts; all players who would surely be playing at a higher level if it wasn’t for the attractive salaries on offer.
Punts have been taken on England C international midfielder Antoni Sarcevic from Chester and defender Liam Hogan from Halifax, whilst Stewart Murdoch, Stephen Jordan and Matty Blair complete an impressive collective of transfers.
With manager Graham Alexander already able to call upon the likes of Steven Gillespie, Jon Parkin and Dean Howell, anything put promotion must be seen as a relative failure. 2nd
After five seasons in the bottom half of League One, the Pool finally caved in and fell through the trap door into League Two. New manager Colin Cooper will be hoping to lead his side to an immediate return to League One, like Hartlepool did the last time they played in the four tier of English football in 2005/06.
Dropping down a level often means an acceptance that certain players will be leaving. However, the Pool have so far managed to keep the bulk of their squad intact with only the loss of Ritchie Humphreys and Evan Horwood causing heartbreak to the club’s fans. Humphreys will be missed especially after the club stalwart racked up almost 500 league appearances in 12 years at Victoria Park.
The lack of players moving on means that Hartlepool are already in a decent position heading into the new season. Excellent defenders, such as Jonathan Franks and Peter Hartley are supplemented by a ‘keeper, Scott Flinders, who should be playing at a much higher level. Simon Walton and club legends Anthony Sweeney and Andy Monhouse provide the basis of a strong midfield, whilst Steve Howard has return from his loan spell at Sheffield Wednesday and may well partner James Poole in attack.
With such talent on hand, the signing of just one player, former Portsmouth and Colchester winger Jack Compton, can be forgiven. A lack of options up top may be the biggest motivator for Cooper to look do business; another forward will put the Pool on the right track for a promotion push. 6th
During their five year absence from the Football League, the Stags only attention came from the slightly outrageous make up of their boardroom. A relatively young female chief executive, 31-year-old Carolyn Radford who says silly things like she aims to take Mansfield to the Premier League in five seasons, who is married to the slightly less easy on the eye chairman, 47-year-old John Radford, who does things like give his Aston Martin to manager Paul Cox after a 8-1 win, attracts the attention of the media for some reason. I can’t understand why.
But Mansfield’s promotion as Champions from the conference, sealed on the final day, last season, along with a respectable showing against Liverpool in a 2-1 defeat in the FA Cup, gave the club some attention for the exploits on the pitch. Cox will now be hoping to earn more praise for his side’s performance by keeping them in League Two.
Losing Matt Green, scorer of 27 goals in all competitions last season, to Birmingham City will be a huge blow, whilst the departure of defender Luke Jones to Stevenage will be a blow of equal measure. Mansfield have addressed Jones’ departure with a plethora of defensive additions, including John McCombe and Martin Riley, but Cox is yet to find a striker to fill the void left by Green. The onus is now on the likes of Ben Hutchinson and Jake Speight to come up with the goals to keep Mansfield in the division.
In addition to a highly rated title winning squad, three excellent acquisitions in midfield, former Yeovil and Macclesfield star Keiran Murtagh, the highly rated Sam Clucas from Hereford and Jamie McGuire from Fleetwood, mean the Stags are arguably a goal scorer away from boasting a huge chance of survival. They’ll do it, but not without a fight. 20th
Ask someone to name the 92 league sides and Morecombe are probably omitted more often than not, but Jim Bentley and Sammy McIlroy before him have made Morecombe a mainstay of League Two as they now enter their seventh season in the Football League. Although occupying the bottom half of the division for much of that time, one 4th place finish in 2009/10 bucks that trend, the Shrimpers have rarely needed to take a serious look over their shoulders.
Bentley’s objective for the coming season must surely be to survive once again, and his additions in the transfer market will no doubt help achieve that goal. The loss of Lewis Alessandra to Plymouth has been quickly forgotten thanks to the capture of young striker Jack Sampson from Bolton, whilst pacey winger Marcus Marshall will look to provide the service for Sampson to finish.
The signing of young midfielder Alex Kenyon, player of the year for Stockport as they were relegated to the Conference North, and defender Tony Diagne from Macclesfield are the type of signings clubs of Morecambe’s size need to make, whilst the capture of Mark Hughes from Bury is something of a coup.
With quality already in the squad, especially in the shape of former Liverpool defender Robbie Threlfall and journeyman striker Kevin Ellison, the new additions give Morecombe the chance to aim for a slightly more comfortable finish, well away from the drop zone. 15th
Following relegation from the Football League in 1988, the Welsh club went out of business in 1989; this is a long awaited return for the fans of the County. After just three seasons in the Conference, traditionally an incredibly tough league to get out of for clubs with smaller budgets, Newport’s win in the play-off final over fellow Welsh side Wrexham meant they were back were they probably feel they belong.
Manager Justin Edinburgh, who also won the FA Trophy for the club, now faces his toughest test to keep the club in the Football League.
The bulk of the side will be based around last season’s heroes. Aaron O’Connor and Christian Jolly will provide the firepower upfront, whilst Ismail Yakubu, the mainstay of the back four, can boast Football League experience with Barnet. Lee Minshull and Michael Flynn, a Football League regular, are the pick of the names from a slightly threadbare midfield that will need strengthening before the season begins. The permanent signing of Adam Chapman from Oxford will help strengthen the midfield after impressing during a loan spell last season.
Edinburgh will no doubt have one of the smallest budgets in the league, but he’s made a number of superb signings in addition to Chapman. Former Liverpool youngster Jamie Stephens joins to provide competition to Lenny Pidgeley in goal, whilst Harry Worley will look to partner Yakubu in the centre of defence. The signing of journeyman Chris Zebroski will aid the other end of the pitch, guaranteeing at least a handful of goals.
With County’s squad still looking a little thin on the ground, they’re going to have to strengthen before the season kicks off to avoid an immediate return to non-league. 22nd
It was a case of overachieving throughout the season, underperforming for the most vital one for the Cobblers last season. Defying the odds to secure a play-off place, Aidy Boothroyd’s men succumbed to an inspired Bradford City in the final, who were helped by some generous Northampton defending and the alarming statistic that their opposition failed to muster a shot on goal.
The team that losses the play-off final often faces a hangover going into the new season and struggle to replicate their form of last season; Boothroyd will want nothing less than the same as what his side produced last term.
There have been some huge departures for Boothroyd to deal with during this summer, none bigger than Adebayo Akinfenwa’s move to Gillingham. The larger than life figure ended the season with 16 goals and will be sorely missed at Sixfields. Luke Gutteridge and Ben Harding both leaving will also dent Northampton’s squad, as will Clarke Carlisle’s retirement.
However, the Cobblers have made some excellent additions to their squad thus far. Matt Duke comes in from Bradford to take the number one jersey, whilst Darren Carter and Ian Morris fill the gaps left by Gutteridge and Harding. Boothroyd is yet to find a replacement for Akinfenwa, and that is something that must be quickly addressed with the season fast approaching. In the meantime, the burden of scoring the bulk of Northampton’s goals will pass to Roy O’Donovan.
Despite possessing the likes of Kelvin Langmead and Chris Hackett, their achievements of last season are unlikely to be replicated. 12th
Since their return to the Football League three seasons ago, Oxford have been within touching distance of the play-offs on all three occasions. In truth, the only serious challenge they mounted was in 2011/12, but the margins between the Us and the top seven has never been more than a handful of points. Manager Chris Wilder will be hoping to push on this season this and finally break into the play-offs.
In order to achieve this, Wilder has operated a revolving door transfer policy. Damian Batt, Michael Duberry and Peter Leven are amongst the six who have been released, whilst Tom Craddock, Simon Heslop and Jon-Paul Pittman are the stand out names as a further eight players have moved on to new clubs.
Taking the squad down to its barebones, Wilder has worked hard to bring in some promising signings to build a promotion chasing side. Experienced defender Tom Newey joins from Scunthorpe, whilst Welsh U21 international full back Jonathan Meades joins from Bournemouth after impressing on loan at AFC Wimbledon last season. The midfield has been bolstered by David Hunt, the sort of journeyman who has almost 300 appearances to his name with seven clubs, whilst former players Danny Rose and Asa Hall re-join for a second spell at the Kassam Stadium. But arguably the most impressive signing is former Reading and Stoke striker Dave Kitson. Despite being far from the peak of his powers, 11 goals in 33 games for Sheffield United last time out suggests he’s still got goals in him; even more so in League Two.
With Wilder reiterating his desire to add to a squad that already contains the likes of Jake Wright, Alfie Potter and James Constable, Oxford’s squad has the potential to be strong going into the new season. Will they have enough to finally challenge for promotion? They’ll give it a good go at least. 7th
Argyle fans haven’t had much to shout about over the last few years; they’ve dedicated their attentions to boasting about how many of their number they can shove onto a coach travelling hundreds of miles all over the country every other week. I suppose you need something to shout about when things aren’t so impressive within the club, both on and off the pitch.
After four solid mid-table finishes in the Championship, the Pilgrims only just avoided relegation by finishing 21st in the 2008/09 season, followed by relegation to League One in 2009/10. With administration crippling the club, a second relegation in as many years followed, whilst the club’s two seasons in League Two have seem them only just survive; finishing 21st on both occasions.
But with the finances now under control, Plymouth will now be looking to start their journey back up the Football League. The deadwood has been shipped out, with Paris Cowan-Hall, Warren Feeney and Anthony Charles amongst those leaving the club, and some excellent additions have been made, such as strikers Marvin Morgan and Lewis Alessandra, whilst Ruben Reid re-joins on loan from Yeovil. Disgraced ‘keeper Luke McCormick is given a second chance and comes in to challenge Jake Cole between the sticks, whilst the midfield has been bolstered by the signings of Dominic Blizzard and Romuald Boco.
With exciting youngsters, such as Isaac Vassell, coming through and experienced heads, like Guy Branston, the make up for the Argyle squad looks ideal. Despite the successful rebuilding, they’ll do well to challenge for promotion, but any relegation worries should be avoided fairly comfortably. 14th
Just like Plymouth, Pompey and their fans have lived through some tough times over the past few seasons. However, the fall has been from a higher perch for Portsmouth, sharper and much deeper too. From the Premier League, an FA Cup win and a place in Europe to three relegations in four seasons and a doubt as to whether the club would survive for almost the entirety of the last two years. With a fans’ trust now in charge of the club and a degree of financial stability restored, optimism is through the rough with 10,000 season ticket holders hoping for promotion.
With finances restricting Pompey to one-month contracts and loan deals last season, manager Guy Whittingham has been given the rather ‘Football Manager’-ish task of building a squad from scratch with a relative degree of financial backing. Phil Smith, Yassin Moutaouakil, David Connoly, Johannes Ertl and Patrick Agyemang have signed permanent deals after played for the club last season, whilst promising youngsters such as Jed Wallace have given Whittingham a platform with which to build from.
Eight new names have come in, including John Sullivan who replaces the departing Simon Eastwood in goal. Former Hull duo Sonny Bradley and Danny East make up the defensive additions alongside Joe Devera, whilst a trio of midfielders, Andy Barcham, Ricky Holmes and Romain Radovani, are all superb acquisitions. Tom Craddock will provide support for Connoly and Ageyman, and with time still remaining until the start of the season, expect a couple more additions to come through the Fratton Park doors.
The fans will be delighted they just have a club, but they’ll have more to than just survival to shout about this season. 3rd
After just two seasons away from the fourth tier of English football, where they spent 35 consecutive years previously, Rochdale found themselves back in the mediocrity of a mid-table finish in League Two last season. The owners and fans clearly want more, with John Coleman’s sacking midway through the campaign indicating that. Keith Hill, in his first full season in charge, will be looking to move the Dale up the table, mounting a promotion challenge.
There’s been plenty of change in the playing staff as Hill has looked to revitalise his underperforming side. 12 players been shown through the exit door in one way or another, including Jason Kennedy, Bobby Grant and Phil Edwards, who can all be viewed as major losses for the club. However, the calibre of player brought in by the club is rather impressive. Ashley Eastham joins after doing a tour of League One and Two via loan moves, whilst former Southampton defender Oliver Lancashire joins in him as a defensive acquisition. Winger Matthew Done, who spent two years at Barnsley with Hill, re-joins his former club, whilst namesake Matthew Lund joins from Stoke. Utility man Peter Vincenti completes the list of impressive experienced signings. Contracts have also been given to youngsters Bastien Hery and Scott Hogan.
Whilst Hill is a manager highly respected within the walls of Spotlands, and Rochdale have excellent players, such as Andrew Tutte and Ian Henderson at their disposal, it’s unlikely the club will be able to compete with the other bigger clubs in the league for promotion. They lack the depth in quality that the likes of Fleetwood do and it will come as a surprise to me should they be up towards the summit of the table come May. 10th
A second relegation to the Iron in three seasons will come as a big blow to the club who worked so hard to get themselves into the Championship under the stewardship of Nigel Adkins. Overachievers they may have been, but they deserved there spot in England’s second tier, upsetting many of the big boys. Brian Laws, in his third spell in charge on the club, will be looking to right the wrongs of last season and return the club to its previous status.
The Iron will have to go into the new season coping with the loss of a number of key players who would have stamped their authority on this division. The most frustrating thing for Scunthorpe’s fans is that Andy Barcham, Callum Kennedy, Tom Newey and Jimmy Ryan have all joined fellow League Two sides; a sign that Scunthorpe may struggle to compete financially with their competitors even in this division. Long standing winger Mark Duffy has also left the club, joining Championship side Doncaster Rovers, whilst Akpo Sodje has signed for Tranmere in League One.
With a further five players released, Laws, like so many managers in this division, has had to rebuild from a relatively small base of players. However, the signings of Andy Welsh, Matt Sparrow and Chris Iwelumo are excellent, whilst the return of legend Andy Dawson is a huge boost for the club. Two players Laws worked with during his time at Sheffield Wednesday, wingers Sean McAllister and Etienne Esajas have also been snapped up, as have Gainsborough Trinity pair Luke Waterfall and Terry Hawkridge.
I view Scunthorpe’s chances of promotion as I do Rochdale’s; there’s hope, but there just isn’t enough quality to mount a prolonged challenge. However, a solid defence containing the likes of Eddie Nolan and Christian Riberio is up there with the best in this division. If it performs to its potential, the club won’t be far away. 8th
Last season was filled with disappointment for the Shrimpers. The bitter pill of losing the Football League Trophy Final was followed by the club missing out on the play-offs after a slump in form in the final few months of the season that saw off Paul Sturrock and continued under his predecessor Phil Brown. With rumours of financial struggle and uncertainty surrounding the club, Brown will have his work cut out to lift heads in time for the new season.
Thankfully for Southend fans, they’ve kept departures to a minimum so far. However, losing star players Bilel Mohsni and Sean Clohessy, along with Mickey Spillane, John Spicer and Gavin Tomlin, won’t be easy. Will Atkinson is an excellent addition from Bradford whilst John White joins permanently from Colchester after a short loan spell last season, but Brown has been relatively inactive in the transfer market.
The hope rests in the bulk of last season’s squad to up their game, especially the likes of Ryan Creswell and Marc Laird who could be key in bringing at least a play-off place to Southend. However, it’s been stripped of its quality, and with apparent financial constraints, it won’t be easy for the Shrimpers to break into the top seven. 19th
After reaching the play-offs in 2011/12, avoiding relegation by the skin of their teeth will be a huge disappointment for all those involved with the club. Disappointing further still was the unceremonial departure of manager Martin Ling, who was replaced by Alan Knill after he took over from Ling during a period of ill health. Knill has a tough job on his hands to both improve Torquay’s fortunes and win over the doubters.
After losing 12 players over the summer, it’s yet another threadbare squad for a League Two manager to deal with, but Knill hasn’t been able to strengthen in significant enough numbers. Whilst the signings of former loanee Elliot Benyon, Ben Harding and Dale Tongue are promising, along with youngsters Courtney Cameron and Jordan Chapell, are promising, Knill has just 16 first team players at his disposal. Those 16 are lack goals too with Rene Howe yet to be effectively replaced.
Whilst the likes of Kevin Nicholson and Billy Bodin remain at the club, unless Torquay strengthen in the coming weeks, it could be a very tough season ahead. Even if they do bring in some extra bodies, it may not be enough to keep them out of trouble. 21st
For a period of time at the beginning for last season, it looked as if the Chairboys were about to suffer their second consecutive relegation. With Gary Waddock sacked player-manager Gareth Ainsworth worked wonders with a young squad to lead them out of the mire and into a respectable 15th place finish. With Ainsworth having hung up his boots and donned the suit on a full time basis, his attentions will be fully focused on developing his young side further.
Losing the exciting winger Joel Grant has been the only major blow for Wycombe this summer as the club have so far managed to hold on to talents such as goalkeeper Matt Ingram. In terms of transfers in, Jon-Paul Pittman re-joins the club to fill the void left by Grant, whilst a punt has been taken on the less than prolific Paris Cowan-Hall; scorer of three goals in 40 games for Plymouth. Nick Anold also joins in a loan deal from Reading.
With Ainsworth’s side also boasting some experienced heads, such as Gary Doherty and Matthew Spring, the Chairboys should have no issue with avoiding relegation this season. However, they may well need to keep an eye over their shoulder as those around them have improved massively during the off season. 18th
One of English football’s greatest statistics was in danger of being ruined for much of last season. Thankfully for nerds like myself, York avoided relegation and becoming the first side to be relegated in the season after winning promotion to the Football League. Nigel Wothington came in after Gary Mills departed from the manager’s hot seat and just about managed to steady the ship in order to keep York afloat in League Two.
Worthington has wasted no time in getting his side prepared for a slightly more comfortable experience in League Two this time around. Mainstays of the promotion winning side, such as Jason Walker, Michael Potts and Jon Challinor have all been released, whilst Scott Kerr and Paddy McLaughlin have joined Grimsby. The Minstermen’s fans will be upset to see the back of Matty Blair, who joins Fleetwood, but York have made some exciting additions for the coming season.
Goalkeeper Chris Kettings joins on loan from Blackpool, with fellow loanee Ben Davies, signed from Preston, the only defensive addition thus far. However, the midfield has been strengthened in great depth with Lewis Montrose, Estonian international Sander Puri and Craig Clay signing up. The attack has seen further additions still with Ryan Bowman, Wes Fletcher, Ryan Jarvis and the experienced Richard Cresswell all excellent signings. 17th
There’s always an odd sense of anticipation before the first pre-season friendly of a new season. It’s a difficult emotion to explain to someone who lives outside the football bubble. More often than not they’re effectively two 45 minute contests; with two different XIs taking the field for each side, managers talk about ‘game time’ and ‘minutes under the belt’ no matter what the result and no player can be effectively judged positively or negatively. In other words, it’s a bit pointless from the perspective of your everyday fan.
Charlton’s annual curtain raiser at Park View Road against Welling United is the epitome of the above description. How could anyone get excited about a friendly against a non-league side? Charlton fans do. After two months away, it was a thrill for many to see their heroes in a red shirt once again. Uncharacteristic scorching hot weather also persuaded the 2,140 spectators to take their place in the terraces and seats for the friendliest of friendlies. A 5-0 victory for the Addicks greeted those hardy couple of thousand.
Normally, the first pre-season friendly is also a chance for fans to take a look at their club’s new signings, often joined by the occasional trialist. For Charlton, this wasn’t quite the case. The single summer signing, Mark Gower, was penned down to play in the second half, but three unfamiliar names to Addicks fans did start. Trialist Richard Wood, a free agent following the expiry of his contract at former club Coventry City, partnered Michael Morrison at centre back, whilst development squad players Morgan Fox and Joe Piggot started at left back and centre forward respectively. Nick Pope, on the back of making his debut in the final game of the season just gone, started in goal, whilst player of the year Chris Solly completed the back four. Yann Kermorgant, the only recognised first team striker left at the club, partnered Piggot up top, whilst Bradley Pritchard, Johnnie Jackson, Andy Hughes and Callum Harriott made up the midfield four.
The first half was a reward for those who chose to part with their money against common sense; a thrilling display from the Addicks left their Blue Square Premier League opponents overwhelmed. The first goal came after just nine minutes. Charlton broke from the back, Pritchard travelled with the ball and knocked the ball to Kermorgant who played a delightful ball into the path of Piggot. With Welling ‘keeper Sam Mott racing off his line, the young striker kept his composure and chipped the ball past the onrushing stopper.
Piggot doubled his and Charlton’s goal tally five minutes later. Jackson intercepted a loose Welling clearance just inside the opposition’s half and fed the ball through to Kermorgant who combined with Piggot once more for the 19-year-old to side foot finish coolly into the Welling net. There was still time for Piggot to add a third and grab his hat-trick just before the 40 minute mark. Again Kermorgant dinked the ball through to his young strike partner who attempted a similar finish to his first. Mott was equal to the chip, but not to the rebound as Piggot reacted quickest and squeezed the ball into the empty goal. Serial assister Kermorgant rounded off the first half scoring, curling the ball past Mott with the outside of his boot, to conclude a fantastic first half showing from the Addicks.
As expected, a second Charlton XI took the field for the second half. Lawrie Wilson took the captain’s armband and played alongside Leon Cort, Dorian Dervite and Cedric Evina in defence, whilst David Button replaced Pop in between the sticks. Evina’s inclusion raised hopes that the left back may yet sign an extension to his now expired contract. Gower, Danny Hollands and Dale Stephens made up a trio of centre midfielders, with Danny Green and Jordan Cook on either flank supporting the lone front man, Michael Smith.
The second half, in contrast to the exciting first, was rather dull. That’s possibly being too kind; from a Charlton perspective it was dire. It was Welling who created the better openings of the half. Button was called upon to make several outstanding saves; a reflex save from a flicked on header and a number of point blank saves from well hit efforts from inside the area stand out as the highlights of a fine keeping display. Charlton also had the bar to thank for their clean sheet, as a header from a Welling corner pinged off the top of the goal frame.
Charlton were limited to half chances, that was until Cook’s cross was handled by a Welling defender and the assistant referee on the near side touchline signalled for a penalty kick. Green successfully powered the ball beyond the reaches of the despairing Welling keeper to give the Addicks a five goal lead with just over five minutes to play. Smith had two chances to add a sixth, but Welling ‘keeper Turner was equal to his efforts, whilst Hollands hit the bar as the game drew to an end. Nothing more than a nice work out for Chris Powell’s men as they romped to a 5-0 win.
It’s hard to make any in depth analysis from a friendly against a club in the fifth tier of English football. Trialist Wood and youngster Fox had few opportunities to show their talents. In what would seem to be a contest between the two development squad strikers, Smith’s finishing was poor, whilst Piggot’s was impressive. It will certainly be interesting to see how those two fair in the remaining pre-season games.
From the first team players, two performances stand out. It was all too easy for Kermorgant, barely breaking a sweat in his brilliant display, whilst Button was made to work hard by the Welling attackers, who he was ultimately equal too.
The most promising piece of news, however, came away from the pitch. Chris Powell confirmed a desire to bring Jonathan Obika back to the club following his successful loan spell at the back of the season just gone, whilst adding he hoped to bring in at least five new names. A striker and the prospect of signings will help to calm those who were beginning to feel a little uneasy with the lack of transfer activity.
The scene is a familiar one. A professional footballer stands dressed in a pair of horrendous jeans and a, tight fitting by default, t-shirt that he’s no doubt paid over the odds for as he holds a replica shirt/scarf/pen and contract (delete where appropriate) in his hands. He announces it’s always been his dream to put on the shirt of a mediocre club in the second tier of English football and sets out some over ambitious targets for the season to arouse the supporters of his new club. Meanwhile, the heartbroken fans of his former employers are told that he’ll be looking out for their results first on a Saturday evening; the footballing equivalent of ‘we can still be friends’. It’s the twice a year tradition of transfer unveiling.
Calendars may have only just turned onto July, but already a host of impressive coups have been made by Championship clubs. Big names have joined clubs looking for promotion, exciting prospects have taken a step up in their development and interesting punts have been taken by those sides that face the prospect of a relegation battle this coming season. In traditional ‘football website with nothing else to publish’ fashion, here’s a top ten of the best signings so far this summer.
10. Neal Eardley – Blackpool to Birmingham City (Free)
The Welsh international was an integral part of Ian Holloway’s successful time at Bloomfield Road, making 24 appearances in Blackpool’s 2009/10 promotion winning campaign, a further 31 in the Premier League and starting in the 2011/12 Championship Play-Off Final defeat to West Ham and looks to be real coup for Lee Clark’s side. The 24-year-old right back, after beginning his career at Oldham, has impressed many with his displays during his time at the Tangerines with both his work at the back and in going forward.
9. Jon Stead – Bristol City to Huddersfield Town(Free)
Once linked with an England call up following a half season spell at Blackburn in 2004 that produced 6 goals from 13 games, the striker has far from lived up to the early promising signs of potential. Only managing a further 8 Premier League goals over three seasons with three different clubs, the 30-year-old has all the credentials of a journeyman pro, tossed about between various second tier clubs. However, he has proven himself to be a tricky customer to Championship defences and was a fans’ favourite during his three year spell at Ashton Gate. Disgruntled Huddersfield fans moaned about their forward line not being able to hold the ball up last season, and Stead can provide just that.
8. Darren Randolph – Motherwell to Birmingham City (Free)
A familiar face to Charlton fans, the Republic of Ireland international has moved back to English football after three seasons in the SPL. Rated more highly that Rob Elliott by some, the Addicks academy graduate impressed during his time north of the border and continues a trend of international goalkeepers at St. Andrews, following in the footsteps of the likes of Joe Hart, Ben Foster and Boaz Myhill. The 26-year-old will be looking to fill the hole left behind by Jack Butland, another international stopper, who has joined Stoke.
7. Robert Hall – West Ham United to Bolton Wanderers (Fee to be Confirmed)
Shifted out on loan to four different clubs, the West Ham youngster has rarely had the chance to showcase the best of his talents. A slightly longer spell at Birmingham City last season impressed many, whilst the striker-cum-winger ended the season on loan at Bolton who were clearly impressed. With plenty of potential, Hall’s signing could prove to be a masterstroke by Bolton manager Dougie Freedman.
6. Alan Judge – Notts County to Blackburn Rovers(Free)
Tracked by many clubs, including Charlton who were rumoured to be close to a deal for the winger, Judge has finally got his much deserved move to the Championship with a return to club who employed him in his youth. Dubbed the ‘Irish Messi’ by County fans, the former youth international was clearly a huge hit down at Meadow Lane during his three season spell with the club. Judge will play an important role if Blackburn’s recent fortunes are to change.
5. Steve Morison – Leeds United to Millwall (Loan)
Morison’s move back to his former club is destined to fail, right? The ‘never go back’ superstition is one thing, but a more pressing matter is his return of just 5 goals in 38 games for Norwich and Leeds last season; a far cry from his prolific previous spell at the New Den. But a move back to a crowd that appreciate the former non-league start may be just what Morison needs to kick start his career again. I expect goals galore from the Welsh international.
4. Luke Murphy – Crewe Alexandra to Leeds United (£1 million)
Crewe’s never ending talent factory has produced yet another exciting talent. Murphy’s ability was shown to the fore in last season’s Football League Trophy Final with a host of clubs linked to his name thereafter. Leeds beat the likes of Blackburn and Wolves to the 23-year-old’s signature, who desperately required a young and exciting midfielder to replace the likes of Michael Brown. The slightly inflated price tag will soon be forgotten if Murphy proves himself to be the linchpin of the Leeds’ side.
3. Dale Jennings – Bayern Munich to Barnsley (£250,000)
Impressing many in his first full season in Tranmere’s first team, the winger earned himself a move to Bayern Munich. The move didn’t quite go to plan for the 20-year-old has his playing time was limited to 36 appearances for Bayern Munich II, meaning a return to English football has been taken by Jennings in order to restart his career. Snapped up at a bargain price for a player of such potential, Barnsley might well have an attacking threat on their hands to keep their noses above danger for the season ahead.
2. Johnny Russell – Dundee United to Derby County (£750,000)
Here we go again. A forward moves to England after scoring goals in the SPL amidst much hype and ultimately fails. However, I don’t see this being the case with the exciting 23- year-old. Despite 20 goals last season, there’s much more to Russell’s game than just putting the ball in the net. Quick feet, an excellent touch and an ability to beat his man make him more than useful down the either flank. Derby are tipped to be one of the dark horses of this coming season and Russell’s goals and ability will help to fulfil that.
1. Royston Drenthe – Alania Vladikavkaz – Reading (Undisclosed)
The sort of transfer rumour you dismiss has lies; a former Real Madrid and international star heading for the Madjeski and Championship football. But Reading have pulled off a major coup in alluring the winger to join their club. Once tipped to be the next best thing, attitude and behavioural problems have seen the 26-year-old fail to fulfil his potential but, as seen by Everton fans, he still has signs of the ability that got him a move to Real Madrid. If Nigel Adkins can tame the beast within Drenthe, they may well have the best player in the league on their hands.