Swindon Town (19th Place)
It seems a long time ago that Swindon were playing the best football in division with the most exciting talent at their disposal. Following a tempestuous previous season featuring four different managers and numerous disciplinary issues, the aim at Swindon in the summer was to re-set and stabilise. Things have certainly stabilised this season, but only in maintaining a disappointing and precarious position above the bottom four in the division.
Having sold Nicky Ajose in the summer, Swindon have badly missed a decisive player in the final third. They’ve played tepid football for much of the campaign, seemingly in the hope that they’ll suddenly stumble into a return to the dominant, passing game of two seasons ago. With confusion over the managerial situation – Tim Sherwood is seemingly in charge of transfers and selecting the team and tactics but isn’t apparently the manager – Swindon just seem like an utterly rudderless side at the moment. They don’t seem like a team with the ability to games when the pressure’s on, Swindon are relying on others to keep them in this division.
Bury (20th Place)
An amazing run in the first few months of the campaign had made the predictions that Bury would struggle this season seem somewhat foolish. Despite the summer departures of key players such as Leon Clarke and Chris Hussey, Bury manager David Flitcroft saw some of last season’s more disappointing performers like Danny Mayor and Hallam Hope step up to the mark, while the summer signings of winger Zeli Ismail and striker James Vaughan looked to have been an inspired way to make the best out of a smaller budget.
As ever with David Flitcroft sides, the good run was counter-attacked by a longer run of poor form, and eventually Flitcroft paid for his team’s bi-polar nature with his job. Caretaker manager Chris Brass was given the job until the end of the season despite the team being in the midst of a 12-game losing streak, seemingly indicating that the once incredibly ambitious owner Stewart Day had accepted relegation. Thanks to a spate of injuries, Bury’s team is currently being stitched together by a number of incredibly inexperienced youngsters, which doesn’t seem like a great formula for survival. Despite currently sitting outside the bottom four, they look a team set for League Two.
Chesterfield (21st Place)
It’s been a crazy season for Chesterfield thus far, having entered the campaign amid the controversy of signing Ched Evans and a disastrous summer tour of Hungary, the Spireites, and Ched Evans in particular, started the season in red-hot form. Things quickly went downhill from September onwards with Evans rendered unavailable due to his court appearance and a nightmare injury list leading to an extended winless run. In November, the club’s board of directors resigned and manager Danny Wilson has had to muddle on since then, to mixed results.
There is a decent team somewhere from Chesterfield’s current squad, Ched Evans, for all his faults as a human being, is a top-drawer striker at this level, Jay O’Shea is a reliable source of goals and assists from midfield, and winger Gboly Ariyibi is someone of great promise. With the experience of Gary Liddle, Sam Hird and Ian Evatt at the back, Chesterfield probably should be doing better than they are right now, which probably indicates that the manager is the problem. The uncertainty off-the-pitch can’t be helping, and it seems unlikely that Danny Wilson will be able to strengthen the squad in January as a result, but they have the tools to survive, it’s all about whether Wilson can harness them.
Shrewsbury Town (23rd Place)
Shrewsbury looked to have set themselves up poorly for this season by mistaking early summer signings for good summer signings. Micky Mellon had assembled a squad of grafters and journeymen who lacked the spark, and probably quality too, to avoid a relegation battle at this level. As expected, Shrewsbury have been near the bottom of the league table for much of the campaign, and, with hatchet-men such as Gary Deegan and Adam El-Abd in their ranks, have had the worst disciplinary record to boot.
The departure of Micky Mellon to National League Tranmere has provided Shrewsbury with their biggest hope for survival. Grimsby manager Paul Hurst has arrived and brought a no-nonsense, safety-first mentality to the club, and it seems to have given Shrewsbury a real lift. Forward Louis Dodds has particularly benefitted from Hurst’s arrival and has found some excellent goalscoring form. Some disappointing results in recent weeks, as well as some frankly League Two standard signings in the first days of the transfer window, have tempered the sense of quiet optimism around the New Meadow, but Shrewsbury look like making a decent fist of it in the relegation battle.
Oldham Athletic (24th Place)
Having entered pre-season with just four players on the books and no manager, Oldham are doing just about as well as most expected them to this season. Stephen Robinson was appointed in early July and had to quickly throw a team together from players that most other clubs at this level had already looked over. Unsurprisingly, it took Oldham some time to gel together in the opening months of the season, but looks like it’s going to take another overhaul of the squad to give them any hope of avoiding the drop.
Oldham have produced some promising performances at times, notably beating Scunthorpe back in October, but have generally looked like a team destined for a lower level. The signings of strikers Lee Erwin and Billy McKay, who arrived with decent reputations, have been particularly disappointing, with the duo mustering just two goals between them this season. It’s hard to tell whether the manager, Stephen Robinson, is doing a terrible job or is doing about as well as could be expected in the circumstances. With a transfer embargo to contend with, Oldham look set to finish bottom of the division by some distance.