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 starting today with League Two. League One will be up later today and the previews finish on Friday to coincide with the Championship opener between Hull and Blackpool.
AFC Wimbledon: Promoted teams often arrive into the league with a lot of momentum but without Crawley-like cash, the first season can be a difficult time. Purists will be delighted that there is a Wimbledon back in the football league but with few experienced heads signed in the off-season there’s a danger that the fairy tale may not last. They’ll be counting on an element of surprise to catch teams out.
One to watch: Sam Hatton is one of the veterans in the Dons team having made over 150 appearances for the club and the player of the year in 2010/11 will need a big season at the back to keep his team progressing.
Opening fixture: Bristol Rovers (H)
Accrington Stanley: The heroics of last season will be difficult for John Coleman to re-create as many believed Stanley over-achieved with their play-off finish. In the end, a disappointing end to their season against eventual winners Stevenage perhaps represents that they’re not quite ready for the step up just yet. Two or three key players have also departed meaning a difficult season awaits for Accies.
One to watch: Former Everton youth player Ian Craney is one of the players who still remain at the club in his third spell, despite the bigger boys arriving for some of the other names.
Opening fixture: Northampton Town (A)
Aldershot Town: The shots are far from a glamorous name in the football league but to their credit have dug in since earning promotion in 2008 and are still there under Dean Holdsworth. Financial stability is key for this side with their manager restricted to bringing in mainly non-league talent. Dramatic progress isn’t expected but with a foundation there to maintain their league status, they should be good enough to avoid serious danger.
One to watch: The son of Stoke City manager Tony is Anthony Pulis and after a few frustrating seasons at the Potters and Southampton, where he has spent most of his time on loan, he’s looking to establish himself as a regular.
Opening fixture: Bradford (A)
Barnet: The miracle that was survival is still in the back of our minds and Lawrie Sanchez will again hope his side can get enough points to maintain their football league status. The objective is simple… survive or bust, and with little change and money at Barnet in the off-season it promises to be another long season.
One to watch: Keeping last season’s hero Izale McLeod is the key factor to the Bees survival this season and his form is critical to their chances again.
Opening fixture: Morecambe (A)
Bradford City: The Bantams are arguably still one of the biggest names in League Two despite an unacceptable 18th place finish. They’ll be glad to have temporarily withstood any rumours of the club going into administration and emphasis seems to be have been placed on youth development at Valley Parade. This term, Peter Jackson has added a dozen fresh faces and cut several of the bigger earners that didn’t quite cut the mustard.
One to watch: Ross Hannah was signed from non-league Matlock Town on a free following a prolific record of 90 goals in three seasons and could relish the step up to league football.
Opening fixture: Aldershot (H)
Bristol Rovers: Paul Buckle left Torquay in the summer to take over a Pirates side that is expected by many to achieve promotion back to League One at the first attempt. And it seems the chairman has backed his man to do the job with over a dozen new signings so far but like Swindon, gelling them takes time. Still, it’s a 46 game season and I think the quality within the group should be enough to seal an instant return to the third tier.
One to watch: The experienced Adam Virgo has been a powerful presence at the heart of back fours throughout a long career in the football league, playing with Scottish giants Celtic also. He’s also a danger at set pieces.
Opening fixture: AFC Wimbledon (A)
Burton Albion: The sale of Shaun Harrad in January proved to be the catalyst for the remarkable slide down the table that saw them build up a plethora of games in hand and get involved in a relegation scrap. It was a shame given that the club had made such a bright start and you feel that Paul Peschisolido could be set to endure another tough season.
One to watch: Entrusted with filling Harrad’s boots is a combination of powerful duo Calvin Zola and Justin Richards. Zola in particular is a physical competitor and a different type but could prove effective in this shide.
Opening fixture: Torquay (A)
Cheltenham Town: The aim this season for the Robins is to achieve more consistency into their game having slipped away despite an encouraging start that saw them just outside the play-offs last term. Ultimately though, one home win in the second half of the season dragged them into a dog-fight and in the end, some steel away from home helped them survive. The departure of Wes Thomas will be a big gap to fill, but in Darryl Duff and Marlon Pack they still have enough ability to be drawn too deeply into the mire.
One to watch: Having scored 25 goals last season in the reserve and youth teams of Aston Villa, Cheltenham fans have very good reason to be excited about Ethan Moore who will be looking to make the step up to first team football.
Opening fixture: Gillingham (A)
Crawley Town: For a side that has only just been promoted from the conference, Crawley have already established a tag as one of the favourites for promotion this season. The main reason being their financial backing and that will no doubt put the pressure on Steve Evans, but they have more than enough fire power up front to challenge.
One to watch: Last season there was plenty of goals from Matt Tubbs, who has been linked with Leeds in the press, and his goals will be what the new boys hope can bring back-to-back promotions.
Opening fixture: Port Vale (A)
Crewe Alexandra: 2010/11 proved to be an indifferent season for the Alex with some astonishing results, most notably the 5-5 draw with Chesterfield where they let slip a three goal lead. They continue to be one of the hardest sides in the division to predict but with their excellent home record, a chance of play-off football isn’t out of the question. Dario Gradi is a seasoned veteran and the big challenge is to even out a Crewe side that can beat anyone on their day but put in an abject performance the following week.
One to watch: The departure of last season’s top scorer Clayton Donaldson means most of the responsibility will be on the shoulders of Shaun Miller who netted 18 times last season.
Opening fixture: Swindon (A)
Dagenham and Redbridge: The Daggers were relegated on the final day of last season after a crushing 5-0 defeat to Peterborough and John Still will be hoping he has the cards to fire them back to where they came from. Midfielder Danny Green’s departure will leave a massive void in the middle and with little addition to the squad, they may find it hard to launch the same assault at the top seven that they did last time they were here.
One to watch: Crystal Palace have had an eye on defender Scott Doe in recent times and the form of their player of the season in 2010 will be vital if Dag and Red are able to sit comfortably in the top half of the league.
Opening fixture: Macclesfield (A)
Gillingham: Any promotion hopes that Gills fans had going into last season were quickly wiped out after a slow start that saw them winless in their opening seven. If they can avenge that and go on a similar run then contention in the play-offs will be a minimum this season for the Kent club. Cody McDonald’s goals have come and gone, but the signings of Andy Hessenthaler this summer have signaled a statement of intent with AFC Wimbledon’s star man in the conference Danny Kedwell being one of the key acquisitions.
One to watch: This is a squad that has to contend this season and the signings of Charlie Lee and Chris Whelpdale from now promoted Peterborough should help. Whelpdale in particular, is a talented midfielder and should chip in nicely with both goals and creativity this term.
Opening fixture: Cheltenham (H)
Hereford: A docking of three league points could well have seen Hereford relegated from the league last season, but they clawed on thanks mainly to the lack of form shown by the sides that did eventually drop down. Home form was a main worry for the Bulls last season but the spirit shown on their travels will at least give rookie manager Jamie Pitman something to work with. You sense that another tough season is likely, though.
One to watch: Harry Pell doesn’t look like you’re average central midfield but the lanky youngster showed promise last season on loan and has now been secured on a permanent basis.
Opening fixture: Southend (A)
Macclesfield Town: Survival again this season would see the silkmen become the longest serving team in League two after an emotional 2011 that saw the sad passings of both Richard Butcher and Keith Alexander. A 15th placed finish was therefore an incredible testament to the strength of the playing group but it promises to be a tougher league this time around and with others improving around them, a struggle could await.
One to watch: One pleasing inclusion is Wade Fairhurst who is a bit of a journeyman of the lower leagues after a few loan spells from Doncaster. His partnership with the largely unknown Ben Tomlinson, who scored 29 times for Worksop town last season, will be a big factor.
Opening fixture: Dag and Red (H)
Morecambe: New boss Jim Bentley is set to overlook a new era at the Shrimps after the departure of Sammy McIlroy. Several older heads have been brought in to help over see this period and in turn the team is unlikely to trouble too many of the big boys, but should be okay come seasons end.
One to watch: The form of Izak Reid in pre-season has earned rave-reviews and his ability to get forward will provide an important outlet in their fight to stay around again in 2012.
Opening fixture: Barnet (H)
Northampton Town: There’s been a huge turnover of players at the Cobblers in the off-season as they look to eliminate the deadwood and start fresh after a 16th place finish. In Gary Johnson, they have a quality manager and one of great personalities of the league who’s been busy, already bringing in Jake Robinson and Byron Webster.
One to watch: Adebayo Akinfenwa is back in maroon colours after becoming somewhat of a cult hero in his first spell at the club.
Opening fixture: Accrington (H)
Oxford United: There’s a good feeling about Oxford United this season, who are in their second year back in the league. Consolidation was achieved when a few predicted them to go straight back down and several good signings for the coming campaign have shown the ambition of the club. Experienced campaigners Michael Duberry and Tony Capaldi will add great defensive experience at this level while Peter Leven looks to be a classy steal from the MK Dons.
One to watch: Dean Smalley’s signing from Oldham is possibly the best bit of business in League Two so far with the midfielder set for a massive season after dropping down a division. Goals should be a certainty
Opening fixture: Rotherham (A)
Plymouth Argyle: A second successive relegation has highlighted just how ruthless the world of football is in the modern day, with the Devonshire side now plying their trade at the bottom of the league. It’s been a difficult period for the Pilgrims in recent times but they’ve still got a good manager and a good stadium down at Home Park. A small squad is worrying but hopefully a proposed take-over can be ironed out in the coming weeks and Argyle can aim to arrest the slide that’s happened in recent years.
One to watch: Flying winger Luke Daley from Norwich City will look to provide the spark which will light up the recent dark days down on the south coast.
Opening fixture: Shrewsbury (A)
Port Vale: Micky Adams is back at the Vale after his move to Sheffield United coincided with an alarming slide into mid-table mediocrity. It certainly didn’t do the Valiants any justice in what was a very promising start to the campaign and an unsettled atmosphere at Vale Park could stutter their progress. Financial problems have led to the club staying largely unadventurous in this window and a further club could be on the cards.
One to watch: Marc Richards is left with the burden of firing the goals once again after the other half of the ‘Richo’ partnership in Justin departed after just one season. He has a decent record at this level though and always turns out a 100% performance.
Opening fixture: Crawley (H)
Rotherham United: The Millers will be hoping that another second half of the season slump doesn’t ruin their hopes of automatic promotion after a terrific start had fans dreaming of a return to League One. A heavy defeat led to the departure of Ronnie Moore and the club never recovered from that, but a decent off-season headlined by retaining Adam Le Fondre could see a surge up the league this time around.
One to watch: It’s remarkable that Le Fondre is still at Rotherham after being linked with several suitors in the press and keeping him is the key to success this season. A great record, particularly at the Don Valley Stadium, makes him an invaluable part of this side.
Opening fixture: Oxford (H)
Shrewsbury Town: The Shrews were desperately unlucky not to achieve promotion last season after a controversial goal against Wycombe and an unsuccessful play-off run means they’re back once again in season 2011/12. They have both experience and quality in this squad and with the best defence in the league last term, a challenge for automatic promotion or even the title is expected.
One to watch: Marvin Morgan made the headlines last season after a rant on Twitter effectively ended a good start to the campaign at Aldershot Town. A man with a point to prove, and definitely one to keep an eye on.
Opening fixture: Plymouth (H)
Southend United:Another club who are shaping up well to build on a comfortable mid table season in 2010/11, Southend have a fairly experienced squad and a man at the helm in Paul Sturrock who has been there and done it before. He’s achieved a couple of promotions out of the fourth tier in the past decade.
One to watch: Neil Harris returns to his home town club after a second spell at Millwall that saw him become the all-time leading scorer at the Lions. There is no doubt in his ability to provide the goals that could shoot the Shrimpers into play-off contention.
Opening fixtures: Hereford (H)
Swindon Town: A former Premier League club in Swindon Town will have many an eye on them this season with controverisial Italian Paolo Di Canio taking over as manager. Despite his inexperience in management, he’s brought over several continental names which make this side an unknown quantity in 2012. The Robins could be anything really, but if these players prove to be good acquisitions and they gel quickly, then a challenge for promotion could be on the cards.
One to watch: Aside from Di Canio on the touch-line (hopefully not headbutting), Etienne Esajas formerly of Sheffield Wednesday has dropped down a division to add some flair to a line-up that ended up finishing bottom in 2011. Has a booming left foot.
Opening fixtures: Crewe (H)
Torquay: A young Gulls squad caught many sides out last season as they made a surprise run to the playoff final and could even have gone up. Paul Buckle had them playing a nice brand of football last season but his departure to rivals Bristol Rovers means that Martin Ling is at the helm this season. Ling has a pretty good track record at this level but whether he can hit the heights of last year remains to be seen.
One to watch: Goalkeeper Scott Bevan wasn’t tied to a new deal and followed Buckle to Rovers but in goalkeeper Robert Olejniak, they have a former Austrian U-21 international and a pretty good signing in between the sticks.
Opening fixture: Burton Albion (H)