This next series of posts will focus on the other teams in our league, who they’ve signed, who they’ve kept and how I think they’ll do. Of course the caveat is that there is much of the transfer window left and with many teams signing only loan players or free transfers they have more time to hone their squads. But with one week to go we’ve got a decent impression of how these other teams are taking shape and what their hopes for the season are. I’m aiming for this to be a 4-part post with the other 23 clubs divided fairly evenly amongst the posts. So here we go.
For many Bradford City restored some of the romance lost from an increasingly cynical and commercial game in England. Based around a solid 4-4-2 shape with the use of classic pacey wingers and a tall-man-short-man strike partnership of James Hanson and the nippy Nahki Wells this Bradford side showed how effective this simple approach can be and proved their ability to compete at a higher level both in the league and cup. The summer for Bradford has been about solidifying their base, so far only signing two players and shedding some excess players from their squad. The two signings of Jason Kennedy and Mark Yeates aren’t an attempt to develop their playing style yet they do improve the quality of the squad. Their key men look likely to be Nahki Wells, Andrew Davies and Rory McArdle and their ability to perform at a higher level will be the difference between a relegation battle and a potential play-off push. I anticipate though that they’ll finish upper mid-table and will at times look capable of challenging for the top 6.
Brentford suffered double heart-break at the end of last season, first after blowing the chance to secure promotion with a final-minute penalty against Doncaster and then suffering a narrow defeat to Yeovil in the play-off final. Their season will depend upon how well Uwe Rosler can manage the disappointment of defeat as well as the expectation from fans and the media to challenge for promotion. The main departure for Brentford was that of Harry Forrester who jumped ship to Doncaster yet despite his obvious quality Rosler rotated him last season with set-piece speciality Sam Saunders. What’s been more interesting for Brentford has been their signings, McCormack from Swindon will solidify their midfield, Will Grigg will be looking to add some potency to their inconsistent attack both very good signings for a League One team. Even more intruiging has been the capture of 37 year-old Spanish right-back Javi Venta and the Czech winger Martin Fillo, both coming with Champions League experience. Their ability to adapt to the stereotypically physical League One could make the difference between challenging for the play-offs and automatic promotion. Aside from their signings their key men should be keeper Simon Moore, defender Harlee Dean and attacker Clayton Donaldson. From the teams who played in League One last season Brentford appear best placed to challenge for promotion in my opinion.
Despite that horrible April 2012 defeat that effectively relegated us from the Championship I hold no resentment against Bristol City for trumping us in that relegation battle. However it’s disappointing that 12 months on the Robins have chosen not to take the opportunity that we offered them two seasons ago, despite signing players such as Sam Baldock, Paul Anderson and Steven Davies. That being said Bristol City appear to be taking the right steps to steady their ship both on and off-the-pitch, the appointment of Sean O’Driscoll has been part of a new project at the club to achieve success on a tighter budget than before. Comparatively though they are financial powerhouses in League One despite their cost-cutting measures and will be expected to challenge for promotion immediately. There has been somewhat of a cull at the club with the most notable departures so far being Tom Heaton, Cole Skuse and Paul Anderson with the club also embroiled in a seemingly losing battle to keep winger Albert Adomah. As expected with their resources available they have made more or less equal replacements so far with ex-Derby keeper Frank Fielding and the enigmatic midfielder Jay Emmanuel-Thomas the most eye-catching. Given the Sky Blues’s own experiences post relegation there’s every chance that they could start slow which could help us in our first ‘home’ game of the season. Their fortunes will depend on Jay Emmanuel-Thomas’s form as well Sam Baldock’s in front of goal, they potentially have too much quality for this league but could struggle to cope with the expectation of immediate promotion. With O’Driscoll in charge though they have an experienced manager who’ll be able to ride out the highs and lows of the season and it’s tough imagining anything other that a tilt at automatic promotion with the play-offs as their back-up option.
Carlisle probably under-performed last season, at least based on their previous two years under former Coventry youth teamer Greg Abbott. What’s probably most frustrating for the Cumbrians was the performances of Paddy Madden for Yeovil both on loan from them and eventually after a relatively inexpensive sale. Yet there’s still a sense that Greg Abbott has the qualities as a manager to turn Carlisle into outside play-off contenders. Last season can probably be put down to a building year with young players such as keeper Mark Gillespie, striker Mark Beck and midfielders Josh Todd and David Symington integrated into the first-team squad. On a low budget an effective youth team can be a godsend and has allowed the club to shed Adam Collin, Frank Simek, JP McGovern and Peter Murphy without too much of a dip in quality. The few signings that have been made so far offer Carlisle something different to what they’ve had before, the pacey attacker David Amoo looks like a potentially brilliant signing and Lewis Guy will help stem the experience deficit they’ve suffered this summer. What’s been more important has been the re-signing of Lee Miller who is one of the best strikers in the league despite and injury hit 12-13 season and their hopes to avoid another relegation battle will hinge on his performances as well as fitness. In James Berrett and Liam Noble they have tidy ball-playing midfielders the envy of many other League One sides. My prediction is that they’ll finish mid-table and improve on last season’s various disappointments.
Over the course of last season Colchester were transformed from outside play-off contenders to relegation scrappers. At times it appeared their chance of survival was gone but managed to eventually navigate to calmer waters despite taking the battle to the 46th game of the season. For manager Joe Dunne it’s time to prove that he can better handle the highs and lows of a league season given that a lot of Colchester’s struggles seemed to emanate from a shock FA Cup defeat to Chelmsford City. That being said he proved to be a shrewd operator of the loan market picking up Craig Eastmond, Sanchez Watt, Sam Walker and Billy Clifford from Arsenal and Chelsea all of whom helped salvage Joe Dunne’s managerial career. This summer has seen the U’s recapture all but Billy Clifford from those four key players (Eastmond and Watt permanently and Sam Walker on a half-season loan) those three in particular look capable of much more than a League One relegation battle. Their main loss has been of Boothroyd favourite John-Joe O’Toole who spent most of last season at Bristol Rovers and has now joined permanently. Their key players aside from their new signings are Magnus Okuonghae and Gavin Massey and perhaps last season will act as a stepping stone to push once again as play-off dark horses. My expectation though is that Colchester will be safe and happy with a middle of the road finish with hopes that this squad will one day become the nucleus for greater achievements.
Our first opponents for the coming season are seemingly at a cross-roads as a club. For the first time in a while they have remained in the same division as 12 months before, furthermore their owners are seemingly looking to sell and the once bombastic and headline grabbing shenanigans of the Steve Evans era are long gone. That is not to say that Crawley fans have little to hope for going into the new season, they finished fairly strongly last time out and lost little, if any, quality from that squad. Their two signings so far have been ex-West Brom right-back James Hurst who impressed immensely in a short-spell in Iceland and from the looks of things has impressed in pre-season. Additionally former Ipswich winger Andy Drury looks a solid addition who should make up for the loss of Matt Sparrow to Scunthorpe. Both new signings look like having an immediate impact and in addition to last season’s key mean of centre-back Kyle McFadzean, winger Billy Clarke and striker Jamie Proctor the Sussex side have the potential to build on last season’s strong finish. I anticipate though that Crawley will eventually finish mid-table perhaps just lacking the squad depth to go toe-to-toe with top sides in this league.