My Ultimate Championship predictions – League One
Reminder: the deadline for Ultimate Championship predictions (for the Premier and Football Leagues) is Friday 17th August at midnight. Entries will be accepted after but will be subject to points penalties.
League One is the Football League league I know the least about, since we play in League Two and the Championship at least has plenty of well-known faces. League One is also notoriously unpredictable, with big clubs struggling and at least one smaller club punching above their weight per season. With that in mind, I’m expecting to be hideously wrong with some of these.
1. Milton Keynes Dons – #mkdonalds
MK Dons have been one of the most consistently strong teams in League One over the past couple of seasons, and with little changed going into 2012-13, logic suggests that they will be strong again. With three big clubs having moved out of the division last year and replaced by three with issues of their own that are likely to preclude them from a title challenge, this is their chance. The only question is whether Karl Robinson will be tempted away to a bigger job.
2. Colchester United – #umustbejoking
This is a bit of a gamble, but I do like making one or two gambles every year. Colchester have been a top-half side the last couple of years without really challenging the big guns. But as with MK, they will benefit from the gap that has appeared at the top. They’ve made some positive signings – Marcus Bean from Brentford, Freddie Sears from West Ham, and Clinton Morrison from Sheffield Wednesday. There’s a nice blend of youth and experience in the squad. I think they’ll do well this year.
3. Swindon Town – #ilduce
Another gamble, but I’m fairly sure this one will come off, or at least that I won’t lose a stack of points. Since relegation to League Two just over a year ago, Swindon have suddenly found some money and are throwing it around like there’s no tomorrow. Paolo di Canio, after much experimenting earlier in the season, found the right formula in the second half and they cruised to the League Two title. They surely would have been quite good for League One already but they have added more; Miller and Roberts from Huddersfield and Navarro from Brighton add League One pedigree, while young striker James Collins arrives from Shrewsbury. After ditching many of his European imports, it’s a far more English-looking squad this time; Paolo’s getting the hang of this English lower league lark.
4. Sheffield United – #stevesimonsenshomecomingparty
Now, let’s get this straight – the Blades are overwhelming favourites for this league at the moment. But I think that’s more by default rather than anything, based on their performance last year and the fact that they’re the biggest club in the division. Actually, if you look at it closely, all is not well. There are financial issues, which explains the lack of big name signings. Plus, it’s worth noting that their form after Ched Evans’ incarceration was pretty dreadful for a side close to automatic promotion. Shaun Miller of Crewe is the only striker brought in since, and that’s after also releasing James Beattie. It’s hard to see them not being towards the top but I don’t think they’re going to win it.
5. Brentford – #uwedoneitthistime
A 9th place finish 6 points off the play-offs was a good start to Uwe Rosler’s reign at Griffin Park, and the aim is now to push on for a play-off spot. I can see them getting it…sorry, I don’t really have much analysis to give here. They seem to have a lot of young players I don’t know much about. Sorry.
6. Carlisle United – #keepontruckin
Greg Abbott’s been in charge of Carlisle for nearly 4 years now, and has gradually established the Cumbrian side as one of the best in the league. This summer, he has only added to a squad that wasn’t too far off a play-off spot, with the headline signing being former Everton forward Danny Cadamarteri (I remember him off FIFA 99). Play-offs are a distinct possibility.
7. Doncaster Rovers – #saundersfoot
Donny were an absolutely shambles towards the end of last season as various big money players were bailed in to try and save their Championship status. But fear not, Rovers fans, you can come from behind the sofa now because they’ve all gone, including El-Hadji Diouf. Only problem is quite a few of the established names in the side have done the same, which is disappointing. For that reason, I think they’ll strugle to go straight back up, but they should still have a squad capable of a decent season, perhaps getting better as the season goes on.
8. Notts County – #curledintothetopcorner
The Curle-Lee era has begun at Notts County with a glut of players heading in to and from Meadow Lane. County fans must have been continually surprised by the events of last season, and that’s before we get to the Juventus friendly. But centre of attention as always is Lee Hughes, who may or may not be leaving. Enoch Showunmi has been recruited regardless, along with Bristol City midfielder Jamal Campbell-Ryce. No money spent, but the squads still looks decent.
9. Scunthorpe United – #ruledbyanironfist
Surely Alan Knill can turn it around this year. Last year was a major disappointment, but at least relegation was averted. This year is the season for building on what was learned in that struggle.
10. Preston North End – #ridsdaleissgonnagetyou
Peter Ridsdale and Graham Westley together – has League One seen a more poisonous combination in recent years? Still, it might just work – from a playing perspective, anyway. Aside from the left-field signing of Lee Trundle (already not looking too wise as the former Swansea striker is out injured already), the players brought in are actually pretty good – Mousinho, Laird, Beardsley and Byrom from Stevenage, Wroe and Cansdell-Sheriff from Shrewsbury, Holmes from Southampton. I’m just not convinced such a massive upheaval will deliver results immediately. A lot of players have gone out the door.
11. Tranmere Rovers – #mooretocome
Ronnie Moore knows what he’s doing (generally). After appointing a “proper” manager (sorry Les) midway through last season, Tranmere achieved one of their best finishes of recent years. Can they build on it? I don’t see why not.
12. Coventry City – #thorninmyside
Cov are still in big trouble – they’re still owned by SISU, for a start. On the one hand, the squad they have should be good enough for League One, although Keogh and Bigirimana have left for pastures new. But obviously there’s no guarantee the better players will hang around. Putting them mid-table is not only because I think that’s where they’re most likely to finish, but also an acceptance that they could easily go up or down. Limitless possibilities.
13. AFC Bournemouth – #cherryredrecords
Keep an eye on the Cherries this year. Not only is Eddie Mitchell on a one-man mission to become the least popular figure in League One (and it would be no mean feat if he does it), but this Russian investment has delivered a stack of good players. The aim is clearly the Championship. I’m just not convinced this is going to work. Paul Groves as manager? Not convinced. Eunan O’Kane in midfield? Not sure he’s good enough at this level. A load of strikers? Quite a few of them are yet to cut it in League One. Unstable ownership situation? A recipe for disaster.
14. Hartlepool United – #shockthemonkey
Neale Cooper back in charge and Hartlepool doing a good job of establishing themselves in the midfield pack in League One, a great achievement. Although they no longer have the big name draw of Nobby Solano, they have added to an already-solid squad. They won’t be in trouble this year.
15. Oldham Athletic – #ontheboundaryofcivilisation
I think I’m putting Oldham too high, but it’s too late to change it now. Someone’s got to finish this high. More players out than in isn’t a great sign, especially leaving them without much striking talent. But there’s time yet to sign one. I’m going to maintain faith in Paul Dickov.
16. Crewe Alexandra – #interestingmanager
I had initially thought of putting Crewe higher, but not only have they lost Nick Powell but also Shaun Miller, two of their key attackers of last season. As a result, I’m revising down expectations, although they still should survive – they’ve got a good young squad, play attractive football and have considerable momentum from the end of last season.
17. Leyton Orient – #snookerloopynutsarewe
Whisper it, but I’m quietly impressed by the signings Orient have made this summer, Anthony Griffith from Port Vale in particular. After last season’s struggle, I was starting to think they might be sucked into the group of clubs that usually struggle in this division. I don’t think it’s necessarily guaranteed that they won’t struggle but I think it’ll be a better season for them.
18. Yeovil Town – #iamaciderdrinker
Yeovil always seem to be on the verge of going down but never quite fall. Every year the squad seems to be a bit cobbled together but they always find one or two good youngster. This year, Jamie McAllister has arrived from Bristol City, Reuben Reid and Keanu Marsh-Brown from Oldham, and James Hayter from Doncaster – some good signings, if you ask me. Gary Johnson’s also brought Young and Webster from Northampton. This time I’m not going to predict them to go down, because I don’t think they will.
19. Bury – #barkingmad
The difficult second season for Bury. This would be a great squad at League Two level, especially with the additions of Marcus Marshall and Adam Lockwood. However, League One is a different matter. 14th was a great achievement last year, but as Rochdale and Exeter proved last year, it’s difficult to sustain that. Could go either way, this one.
20. Crawley Town – #moneyfornothingkicksforfree
So at the moment Crawley have no manager – a great way to start the season. Having already binned or lost most of the players that took them into League One from the Conference, suddenly staying in League One requires a massive rebuilding job. You’d have thought they’d have the money for it, but recent suggestions from the club imply that they don’t have enough to spend big any more – are the secret investors getting cold feet? Rushden & Diamonds found it difficult at this level, you know.
21. Stevenage – #notstevenageborough
Success for small clubs often comes at a price. In these money-centric days, the lure of big wages at bigger clubs pulls squads that have been constructed over painfully long periods of time apart faster than you can say “Yes, I’d definitely like to play for Preston”. Such is the case for Stevenage, arguably the biggest over-achievers in the Football League last year – a play-off spot and holding Spurs to a draw in the FA Cup. When you’re a small club, that attracts the attention of bigger clubs. This squad is probably going to be shorn of its better players. This will be a tough test for Gary Smith in his first full season in charge.
22. Walsall – #backinthesaddle
I tipped Walsall to do OK last year after they made some decent signings over the summer. They let me down, although at least they survived. This time, I’m not going to give them benefit of the doubt, regardless of who they’ve signed. They’ll probably stay up now.
23. Shrewsbury Town – #greenhousgases
Poor Graham Turner. He has watched the side he built to get promotion dismantled overnight – his captain even left for a side in League Two. It’s never a good sign when your successful defence is dismantled overnight and you’re left with Jermaine Grandison. Asa Hall, Luke Summerfield and Paul Parry have arrived to bolster the midfield but I’m not sure it’s going to be enough.
24. Portsmouth – #frompompeychimestofuneralmarch
At least all the other clubs have players. ‘Nuff said, really.
If Portsmouth go under before the start of the season, they will be discounted from everyone’s predictions and other teams will move up 1 place, so no one loses out.