The football season restarts this weekend which means were in for another nine months of jam-packed footballing action to either enjoy or endure depending on how each of our clubs fair. We may have had a World Cup to keep us entertained during the drought but there is nothing better than following your club week in week out as you cheer them to promotion, or watch nervously through your fingers as they slide ever closer to the dreaded relegation zone.
So, what better way to kick the season off than with a standard, run of the mill, predictions post. I’ll start with League Two and work my up through all four divisions and then we can see come the end of May just how far out I was!
Bury. Clearly the blueprint at the start of the summer was to build a team capable of promotion and in order to do so they seem to have spent a lot of money. That being said, the players that have arrived at Gigg Lane are of high quality and on paper their squad is one of the best in the league. Ryan Lowe has returned to the club and is a proven goalscorer at this level. Daniel Nardiello also showed in the second half of last season that he know where the goal is and in those two Bury have a very fearful strike pairing. In midfield they have added to crossing and passing ability of Danny Mayor and Nicky Adams, the athleticism of Everton’s Hallam Hope who is on loan and the pace of Kelvin Etuhu. At the back Shwan Jalal has arrived from Bournemouth to keep guard in between the sticks and in front of him he has the protection of defenders Joe Widdowson, Nathan Cameron and Chris Hussey.
Shrewsbury. The Shrews have had a high turnover of players since their relegation from League One last season with 20 (yes twenty!) new arrivals. Although it might be a problem getting all the players to gel, a lot of the arrivals are of a high quality for this league. Most have dropped down from higher leagues, James Wesolowski, Sam Foley, Nathaniel Knight-Percival, Andy Robinson, to name a few, with some proven players being picked up from non-league in Andy Mangan and Mickey Demetriou. The return of James Collins and the arrival of Scott Vernon means that Shrewsbury have two proven goalscorers to lead their attack which is important to get them off on the right track.
Portsmouth. Picking the final team for automatic promotion was a tricky decision but in the end I have gone for good old Pompey. In reality they are too big for League Two but financial problems are the reason why they find themselves playing their football in the bottom tier of the English Football League. However, the club now seems to be stable and secure financially and with crowds of at least 15,000 every home match the revenue will keep pouring in. They have kept hold of some key players in Patrick Agyemang and Jed Wallace as well as making some shrewd signings. Keeper Paul Jones has arrived from Crawley as well as midfielder Danny Hollands from Charlton and striker Craig Westcarr who can score a goal or two as he has proven before for both Notts County and Walsall.
This season I am sure there will be many teams fighting for the four playoff spots available. Every year it is tight and this season it has the potential to be the closest yet, but the four teams I am backing are:
Southend. A seventh placed finish last year under Phil Brown, Southend are hoping to at least maintain that playoff finish this time round if not better. Key players have stayed at the club and the additions of striker Lee Barnard, winger Myles Weston, experienced midfielder David Worrall and exciting youngsters Shaquille Coulthirst and Jacob Murphy on loan are all excellent.
York. Again a team that finished in the playoffs last season that are looking to repeat that finish this time round. York went on an excellent unbeaten run last season which created a buzz at the club and manager Nigel Worthington will be looking to carry that on. Luke Summerfield has arrived to add energy to the midfield and in the additions of Femi Ilesanmi and Anthony Straker they have players proven at the level. Striker Jake Hyde has signed from Barnet and looks like he has the talent to carry on his goal scoring prowess in a higher league.
Luton. Returning from the Conference after what seemed like an age spent in non-league, many people are backing Luton to go up automatically. Personally I think they will have to settle for the playoffs. The loss of Andre Gray who will hurt them and we will have to see whether they have a replacement ready. Paul Benson has made a career out of finding the back of the net but whether he is past it or not in this league is yet to be seen. They haven’t made many standout signings but the squad should have enough quality to finish in the playoffs.
Burton. Another team that made the playoffs last season and I am backing them to do it again. The Brewers always seem to have a team short of stars but it is there ability as a team that has seen them be in playoff contention for the last few seasons. That seems to be different this season though. As well as holding onto key players Billy Kee and Adam McGurk they have bought in the bug names at this level of John Mousinho, Stuart Beavon Shane Cansdell-Sheriff meaning this Burton squad looks stronger than ever.
Exeter. With a squad short of quality and some financial problems leading to a relegation fight last season, this season it looks even worse for The Grecians. A transfer embargo in place since June due to money problems has resulted in no new arrivals to strengthen an already inexperienced and short of quality playing squad. Paul Tisdale is the man in charge but a lot of fans are calling for his head which has the potential for a nasty atmosphere to surround the club.With other teams bringing in new blood I fear for Exeter this season and can only see them heading in one direction, down.
Accrington Stanley. Arguably one of the toughest challenges in English football is to keep a club with the smallest budget in the Football League. Over the past few seasons this has been managed, if only just, but this year I can see their luck running out. Manager James Beattie did a good job last campaign but whether that was beginners luck remains to be seen for the vastly inexperienced manager. Club icon Peter Murphy has now left the club to join Wycombe and the two signings of Adam Buxton and Luke SImpson are nothing to shout about. Whereas Accrington mostly spend their time in League Two looking over their shoulder, I believe this season they will spend most of it looking up, longing to reach safety but not quite reaching it.
AFC Wimbledon. Another club who are normally branded among the relegation candidates, this season could be one of a pleasant surprise for Wimbledon fans. Not only do they have two proven goalscorers in Adebayo Akinfenwa and Matt Tubbs, they also have a relatively solid defence with Alan Bennett, Andy Frampton and Mark Phillips all able to do a decent job at the back. How far they can go this season remains to be seen, playoffs are probably a bit too steep, but I am sure they will finish high and pull off a few surprises along the way.