It only seems yesterday that the football season was wrapping up, but quick as a flash it’s back again and I, Tommy Doleman, will take you through a preview of the football league with today’s editions from League One and the Championship.
Bournemouth: It was doom and gloom for the Cherries a couple of seasons back when they were staring relegation from the football league in the face. But under former manager Eddie Howe they survived and even earned promotion to League One. Once again, they surprised many last season with a surprise run to the play-offs under rookie Lee Bradbury. With a tight budget and a struggle to keep key players, the top six might be too much this time but they’ll continue to compete well.
One to watch: Danny Ings came of age last season and showed real promise in what was a longer than expected run for Bournemouth in 2010/11. Expect him to push on and enjoy his football even more.
Opening fixture: Charlton (A)
Brentford: Uwe Rosler is the new man at the Bees this season having replaced Nicky Forster who guided the club to a mid-table finish despite an average start from his predecessor Andy Scott. Jonathan Douglas adds steel to the midfield while Niall McGinn should add creativity on a season-long loan from Celtic and if things at Griffin Park go according to plan, they could prove to be a surprise packet.
One to watch: Clayton Donaldson scored goals for fun in League Two last season with Crewe and joins Brentford hoping to provide the X-factor up the pointy end.
Opening fixture: Yeovil (H)
Bury: Money’s too tight to mention at Gigg Lane with former youth team coach Richie Barker operating on a shoestring budget. Fans are no doubt disappointed with the lack of transfer action but will be glad to keep several key members of their squad as well, as adding Mark Hughes who returns from Australia having been there and done that. They still remain favourites to make an immediate return to League Two, though.
One to watch: Bury have so far managed to fight off suitors for 28-goal prized asset Ryan Lowe who has the talent to make the step up. But he will have to step up this season if he’s to keep the shakers up.
Opening fixture: Huddersfield (A)
Carlisle: Last season’s winners of the Johnstones Paint Trophy shape up well for 2011/12 under Greg Abbott with a strong spine and a progression that reflects with their league finishes since they flirted with the drop in 2009. The trip up north will be one of the least looked forward to on most clubs fixture list and a good home record, plus further improvement this season could see them mount a play-off push.
One to watch: Highly rated youngster Liam Noble is on loan from Sunderland and adds energy to complement the experienced inclusions of Jon-Paul McGovern and Andrew Welsh.
Opening fixture: Notts County (H)
Charlton Athletic: Three years down in the third tier is too many for the Addicks and after a terrible time of it last season, they’ll be looking to launch a push for promotion. Chris Powell has embarked on somewhat of a revolution at the club with 15 signings so far, but with the boards trust come expectation and the pressure will be on to get off to a flying start.
One to watch: Bradley Wright-Phillips is no stranger to this division but has never really set it alight in the way many of us had expected from such a talented forward. If he doesn’t have a big season, Charlton will be up against it you feel.
Opening fixture: Bournemouth (H)
Chesterfield: The Spirerites ran away with League Two last season in John Sheridan’s second year at the helm. But things have changed since that memorable promotion achievement with over 40 goals departing in Craig Davies (Barnsley) and Dean Smalley (Oxford). Replacing that will be tough, but aside from that Sheridan looks to have put faith in the lads that did it for him last time around, and with good reason having romped the fourth tier to a canter.
One to watch: Despite other losses, keeping Danny Whittaker is a big boost with creativity and goals from midfield. A hat-trick from the centre of the park was one of the highlights from the general.
Opening fixture: Tranmere (A)
Colchester United: The Essex club seem to be a regular in England’s third tier nowadays but will be desperate to return to the Championship which they tasted several seasons back. Back then, they had Karl Duguid and the club champion has returned from Plymouth to lead his chargers to a play-off push. It won’t be easy though with the strongest line-up of contenders amongst them in that race.
One to watch: Steven Gillespie has had a horrid run with injuries since signing with the U’s three years ago, but when fit towards the back end of last season he delivered, and needs to take his chances in what looks like a solid but goal-shy team.
Opening fixture: Preston (A)
Exeter City: Exeter give hope to all of the smaller clubs in the football league with back-to-back promotions earning them a spot in league one and a highly respectable 8th place finish. Guillem Bauza and Danny Coles are amongst some shrewd recruits from Paul Tisdale who will hope to build on that great effort last season. As we often see though, second season syndrome can have an effect on some promoted club, but they should be alright thanks mainly to a great home record.
One to watch: Former Manchester United forward Daniel Nardiello will be left to shoulder most of the burden left by the departure of Jamie Cureton.
Opening fixture: Stevenage (A)
Hartlepool Town: The pool doesn’t have the financial muscle to compete with the bigger boys of the division but they’re always competitive and prove a tough challenge at home. Colin Nish and James Poole look like pretty good signings and making their job easier this season is a record sale in season tickets courtesy of a special offer at the club. Fans snapped up season tickets for as little as 150 quid and they’ll be looking for equally good value on the pitch, too.
One to watch: Experience, style and craft – Nolberto Solano was a surprise signing for the north-east side but the Peruvian could prove to be a real wildcard this season for Hartlepool.
Opening fixture: MK Dons (A)
Huddersfield Town: The Terriers were terrific last season only to fall just short at the final hurdle at Old Trafford and Lee Clark will be hoping to take them a step further this season. Anthony Pilkington has left for Norwich but Danny Ward has joined permanently from Bolton and the rest of their squad is quite strong and should mount a serious challenge for promotion. The main challenge though is getting over the hangover of the play-off final defeat and avoiding the same situation as last year.
One to watch: He didn’t start as many matches as he should have in the second half of last season but Jordan Rhodes has top scored in each of the last two campaigns and is a real livewire in the front three.
Opening fixture: Bury (H)
Leyton Orient: The O’s have a wonderful team spirit under manager Russell Slade who has built a team that can compete with anybody on their day. A good cup run boosted confidence and the coffers at the Matchroom Stadium though some doubt over their future still hangs around with the continuing debate around the new Olympic stadium. Nevertheless they’ll be a solid outfit once again in this edition of League One.
One to watch: Jamie Jones is one of the most under-rated goalkeepers in the lower leagues and looks to continue his rise with a repeat of the stellar 2010/11 that he had.
Opening fixture: Walsall (A)
MK Dons: Another exciting young team to make the play-offs last season were the Dons, led by the league’s youngest boss in 30-year-old Karl Robinson. They managed to hold on to Sam Baldock in the trasnfer window and definitely have the cogs to mount another case for promotion. In the mix again, for sure.
One to watch: Darren Potter has jumped clubs once again and is looking to establish himself as a leading midfielder in the competition. Needs to fulfill the potential that he had as a youngster.
Opening fixture: Hartlepool (H)
Notts County: Things aren’t as hectic as they once were when Sven came to town but Martin Allen has made sure there’s still plenty to talk about with no less than a dozen signings. Allen ensured that the magpies were well and truly safe in their first season back at this level and should do so again, but not with the same ease as last time.
One to watch: Lee Hughes was fantastic when he shot County into this league two seasons ago and needs to re-capture that form again with goal-scorers seemingly short at the club.
Opening fixture: Carlisle (A)
Oldham Athletic: 17th place wasn’t a reflection of a season that could have promised so much more having looked on the cusp of the play-offs. Manager Paul Dickov has hung up the boots to concentrate on his new career but will have some stepping stones to replace with the departure of Dean Smalley and Cedric Evina. There’s no doubt that it’s going to be tough at Boundary Park this season but a gritty squad and manager should see them steer clear of any massive dramas.
One to watch: Centre half Jeans Yve Mvoto was superb on loan from Sunderland last season and he will have to major the defence well if Oldham aren’t to be dragged towards the trapdoor by April.
Opening fixture: Dag and Red (H)
Preston North End: Phil Brown might not have been singing a number last season as Preston went down but the mic at Deepdale could get a work-out if he makes an instant return to the Championship. Expect to see fireworks after saying that anything other than winning league one would be a failure. They have a strong line up alongside them though and they’ve lost Keith Treacy who was one of their shining lights through the pain last time. But the microphone motivator might just have the edge to lift his chargers.
One to watch: Clarke Carlisle is a popular figure in the football league and the centre-half will have big expectations on him having made the drop down from Burnley.
Opening fixture: Colchester (H)
Rochdale: Second season syndrome is largely expected to happen at Rochdale with the hard work of Keith Hill finally giving them a taste of the third tier. While they finished in an excellent 9th place in 2010/11, the going will be tougher this time and I can only see one direction that they’ll head after the heights of last year. What goes up must come down?
One to watch: 34-year-old Gary Jones is still the fulcrum in everything that happens at Spotland and a repeat of last season’s 19 goals will only touch the surface if the ‘dale are to survive.
Opening fixture: Sheffield Wednesday (A)
Scunthorpe United: Alan Knill couldn’t save the Iron from relegation last season despite the Lincolnshire sides best efforts in the closing weeks of the campaign. The Championship perhaps beckons again given their yo-yo status amongst other clubs at this level, but they’re not the favourites to go up as they have been in other seasons. There’s no doubting the quality in this team though and they’ll be expected to quietly launch an assault come April.
One to watch: Michael O’Connor is the drive and the inspiration in midfield that leads by example and galvanises the team.
Opening fixture: Wycombe (A)
Sheffield United: Last season was nothing short of a disaster for the Blades and really they just need to erase their memories and start all over again, considering many had tipped them for the play-offs. In charge of their revival is former Sheffield Wednesday boss Danny Wilson, which suffice to say, raised a few eyebrows on announcement. They haven’t been down here since 1989 and won’t have an easy time of it next to their noisy neighbours in Wednesday. The quality is there to finish in the top two but they might just have to be content with a top six finish.
One to watch: Home grown England U-19 player Jordan Slew showed glimpses of how good a prospect he looks and will really hope to establish himself at United with a bumper season.
Opening fixture: Oldham (A)
Sheffield Wednesday: Yet another big club down in the doldrums of League one after a terrible finish of 15th last season, pleasing very little along the way. The only real positive to come out of their 2010/11 was perhaps the fact that their bitter rivals came down and they’ll at least get a couple of steel city derbies. In all seriousness, they’ve assembled a fairly good and could find their way towards a play-off spot come the end of the season after a typically unconvincing start. Expect Megson to be an early candidate for ‘first sacking in the football league’.
One to watch: Clinton Morrison is a proven goalscorer and has the ability to fire the Owls up the league.
Opening fixture: Rochdale (H)
Stevenage: Everybody loves an underdog and Stevenage are just that, having defeated Newcastle in the FA cup in recent years and surged from the conference in no time. To put it into context, Sheffield United were four divisions above them five seasons ago. How things can change? Not expected to do too much this season but you just never know, it could be a fairytale.
One to watch: One thing Stevenage usually do well is defend well and skipper Mark Roberts is the key man in that back four. Was immense through the play-offs.
Opening fixture: Exeter (H)
Tranmere Rovers: This could be a hard season for Tranmere, who operate on one of the tightest budgets in the league. Thus, Les Parry has a fair bit of difficulty in making an expensive signing but the spine has been strengthened with free deals for Owain Fon-Williams and Martin Devaney joining. Their main headline this off-season has been the move of youngster Dale Jennings to Bayern Munich, which has created a wee bit of excitement amongst fans, who should be happy come seasons end after negotiating a tough (at times) season.
One to watch: Andy Robinson is a good technical player and his wonderful delivery and eye for goal could see him become a handy player for Rovers.
Opening fixtures: Chesterfield (H)
Walsall: The boys from the Bank’s Stadium looked dead and buried in January, sitting eight points adrift from safety and in a real mess. In came Dean Smith though to throw the form book out of the window and keep the Saddlers up. While the signings aren’t particularly ambitious this season it’s likely they’ll continue to sit in the lower-mid region of the League One table.
One to watch: 2010/11 player of the year and skipper Andy Butler will hold together the rear-guard for Walsall and his commitment will be drawn upon again as an example to the rest of his side.
Opening fixtures: Leyton Orient (H)
Wycombe: Wanderers finished third in League Two last season and were thought to be quite lucky, given the controversy that led to Shrewsbury missing out of that exact spot at the death. A good solid side and with one of those, you always have a chance of avoiding the drop, but finding that quality at the other end is a different issue and that may make the difference.
One to watch: Nikki Bull is a hot prospect in between the sticks for the Chairboy’s with 17 clean sheets in total last season.
Opening fixture: Scunthorpe United (H)
Yeovil Town: A difficult season awaits Yeovil Town who have surprisingly been in England’s third tier as an established member since 2004/05. The Glovers even reached the heights of a play-off final which they lost to Blackpool but have since been on a bit of downward curve. Finances aren’t massive at Huish Park and that’s led to Terry Skiverton taking the unusual approach of asking fans on Twitter for advice on player signings. A repeat of last season’s mid-table finish will be seen as an A+ season and they may well be drawn into a relegation dog fight.
One to watch: Paul Huntington was one of the next big things at Newcastle. Found his way to Leeds and had a horrible run with injury. After several loan spells and a move to Yeovil he managed to work his way to some outstanding form at the back end of last season and more of that will be welcome for Terry Skiverton.
Opening fixture: Brentford (A)