The Welsh Gull

Torquay United, the Football League and other stuff

Archive for the ‘Predictions’ Category

Euro 2016 qualifying predictions

with 2 comments

No reasoning, as it’s mainly off the top of my head.

Group A
1. Netherlands
2. Turkey
3. Czech Republic
4. Iceland
5. Latvia
6. Kazakhstan

Group B
1. Belgium
2. Bosnia & Herzegovina
3. Wales
4. Israel
5. Cyprus
6. Andorra

(we’re doomed now, aren’t we?)

Group C
1. Spain
2. Ukraine
3. Belarus
4. Slovakia
5. Macedonia
6. Luxembourg

Group D
1. Germany
2. Poland
3. Republic of Ireland
4. Scotland
5. Georgia
6. Gibraltar

Group E
1. Switzerland
2. England
3. Slovenia
4. Estonia
5. Lithuania
6. San Marino

Group F
1. Greece
2. Romania
3. Hungary
4. Finland
5. Northern Ireland
6. Faroe Islands

Group G
1. Russia
2. Sweden
3. Montenegro
4. Austria
5. Moldova
6. Liechtenstein

Group H
1. Italy
2. Croatia
3. Norway
4. Bulgaria
5. Azerbaijan
6. Malta

Group I
1. Portugal
2. Serbia
3. Denmark
4. Armenia
5. Albania

Qualified teams
France
Netherlands
Turkey
Belgium
Bosnia & Herzegovina
Spain
Ukraine
Greece
Romania
Germany
Poland
Switzerland
England
Russia
Sweden
Italy
Croatia
Portugal
Serbia
Belarus
Republic of Ireland
Montenegro
Norway
Denmark

Play-off losers
Czech Republic
Wales
Slovenia
Hungary

Thing I’m most looking forward to – (Hopefully) some new/different teams qualifying

Thing I’m least looking forward to – Tedious technocratic debates over whether or not minnows should have to pre-qualify after England thump San Marino 16-0

Advertisements

Written by James Bennett

July 16, 2014 at 18:39

Football Manager 2014 predicts the future

with one comment

I know some of you hate people like me who go on about Football Manager a lot, but this is actually quite fun. I’ve set up a non-interventionist game on Football Manager 2014 – I’m just letting it run of its own accord and waiting to see what happens. It’s been quite entertaining so far – entertaining in a “this is so crazy it can’t possibly happen” way, and also in a “this is so crazy it probably will happen” way.

2013-14

– While Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea helped themselves to the League Cup and then the Champions League, with wins over Stoke and PSG in the respective finals, and Manchester United took their first trophy under David Moyes in the FA Cup, Manchester City and Arsenal battled over the Premier League. City held a six-point lead with three games to go, but first lost to Tottenham, and then dramatically on the final day to Chelsea in a 3-2 thriller, handing the championship to the Gunners on goal difference.

– Chelsea finished 3rd, ahead of Manchester United and Tottenham. Liverpool finished 5th after sacking Brendan Rodgers in November; he was replaced by Swansea’s Michael Laudrup, who in turn was replaced by Martin O’Neill, the Northern Irishman guiding the club to its first FA Cup Final.

– At the bottom end of the Premier League, Crystal Palace were long gone by the end, and Hull and West Ham eventually joined them. Sunderland narrowly escaped.

– Player of the Year went to Chelsea’s Juan Mata, though team mate Eden Hazard was the Players’ Player of the Year. The top scorer was Olivier Giroud, and Arsene Wenger won Manager of the Year. The biggest transfer of the season was Manchester City’s summer purchase of Real Madrid defender Raphael Varane.

– The Championship was won by Reading, who edged Wigan into 2nd. Leicester were promoted via the play-offs, beating Barnsley 3-0 in the final. Yeovil, Ipswich and Doncaster went down. Wolves won League One, and were promoted along with Bristol City and Tranmere, while Oldham Athletic were the most notable casualty at the bottom. Hartlepool won League Two, and went up with former non-league clubs Burton and Fleetwood, as well as play-off winners Oxford. Bristol Rovers dropped into the Conference with Newport, being replaced by Football League returnees Kidderminster and Wrexham.

– Abroad, things were rather predictable. PSG, Bayern Munich, Real Madrid, AC Milan and Celtic were the champions of the other active countries. Fiorentina beat Borussia Dortmund in the final of the Europa League.

– The World Cup ended the season. There had already been drama in qualifying, with Spain being trounced in the play-offs by Russia, including a 5-0 second leg defeat courtesy of a Sergio Ramos red card. Then, in the tournament itself, the hosts Brazil failed to progress, while one by one the best teams in the competition took themselves out. A stoppage time Frank Lampard winner helped England to their second final, while Russia again surprised the footballing world by beating Germany in the other semi-final. In the final, goals from Danny Welbeck and Wayne Rooney helped England to a 2-1 win, and Henry Winter lost his shit.

2014-15

– This would go down as the year where David Moyes saw off the challenge of Jose Mourinho and Manuel Pellegrini. United took their 21st English title on goal difference from Chelsea, with Manchester City a point behind in 3rd and Liverpool 4th a further two points back. This left reigning champions Arsenal out of the Champions League spots in 5th, again ahead of Tottenham.

– West Brom and newly-promoted Wigan were the surprise packages, finishing 7th and 8th respectively. Aston Villa were the most notable casualty at the bottom, winning only 4 games all season. Stoke and Reading joined them in the relegation zone, while Fulham survived after sacking Martin Jol and replacing him with Gary Bowyer.

– Robin van Persie again won Player of the Year, with the players’ choice again being Eden Hazard. The Dutch star was also top scorer, with Wigan’s Billy McKay the top-scoring British player in third. David Moyes won Manager of the Year, ahead of Steve Clarke and Owen Coyle. The most notable retirement was Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard, who ended his player career at the age of 35, while Championship players breathed a sigh of relief as QPR’s Joey Barton retired at the age of 33.

– In the cups, Chelsea beat Manchester City on penalties in the FA Cup Final, while Manchester United beat Wigan in the League Cup Final in a repeat of the 2005 final.

– Nottingham Forest won the Championship under Billy Davies, with Burnley and Watford going up and Brighton, Charlton and Birmingham going down. Doncaster and Ipswich made immediate returns, with Coventry joining them. John Gregory’s Chesterfield won League Two, while Southend dropped out of the Football League, along with Morecambe. The biggest non-league story of the year was Dartford winning the Conference play-offs and gaining their first promotion into the Football League, while Leamington dropped out of Conference North after two seasons.

– Bayern, Celtic Real Madrid and PSG continued to dominate their respective leagues, and Juventus returned to the top of Serie A, as Andrea Pirlo ended his career with another winners’ medal. There was an all-Spanish Champions League Final as Atletico Madrid beat Barcelona, while Lazio beat Schalke in the Europa League Final. The biggest transfer of the season was Real Madrid buying Marek Hamsik from Napoli for £35.5m.

– Internationally, Cameroon beat Ghana in the Africa Cup of Nations Final, while Brazil beat Colombia in the Copa America Final.

2015-16

– Arsenal took a more comfortable title this time, beating FA and League Cup winners Spurs (in their last season at the old White Hart Lane) by 6 points. But the bigger stories were behind, as Manchester United and Chelsea finished 7th and 8th on 61 points, behind Swansea in 4th and Wigan in 6th. But Swansea, now managed by Paul Lambert, would not get a Champions League spot, as Mourinho masterminded another European success, beating his former club Real Madrid in the final. While Jose earned a reprieve, Moyes did not, and was sacked. His replacement would be former Barcelona manager Gerardo Martino

– For the first time in a long time, the three promoted sides, Nottingham Forest, Burnley and Watford, were all immediately relegated. Sunderland again had a narrow escape after sacking Poyet and replacing him with Jol.

– Arsene Wenger was again Manager of the Year, with Lambert and Coyle behind. Player of the Year went to Jack Wilshere, though Hazard won Players’ Player for the third year in a row. Jordan Rhodes of Southampton was the top scorer, beating Wigan’s Charlie Austin and Cardiff’s Andreas Cornelius. It was a notable year for retirements as Ryan Giggs, Frank Lampard and John Terry all ended their playing careers, and Nemanja Vidic played in his final Premier League game before retiring after a solitary cup appearance in the following season.

– Wolves, under Kenny Jackett, won the Championship, their second promotion in three seasons under the Welshman. Stoke and Aston Villa were promoted with them, while Bristol City, Coventry and Bolton went down. Birmingham won League One ahead of Brentford, with Sheffield United at last returning to the Championship with them. MK Dons were amongst the relegated teams, while Portsmouth finally left League Two by finishing third. Dartford’s brief foray into the Football League ended when they went down with Exeter, with Southend and Bristol Rovers taking their places. This season also saw FC United of Manchester earn promotion from the Northern Premier League.

– Bayern won their fourth straight Bundesliga title, while Real Madrid won the third La Liga title in a row, beating surprise contenders Valencia, managed first by Rafa Benitez and then by Roberto Mancini. Monaco broke PSG’s stranglehold in France, while Juventus won again in Italy and Celtic took yet another Scottish title, with Rangers finishing 5th in their first season back in the top flight. Barcelona won the Europa League after crashing out of the Champions League early on, but could only finish fourth in La Liga. The biggest transfers were both thanks to Bayern Munich: in the summer, they signed Romelu Lukaku from Chelsea for £38.5m, and then spent the same fee again on Schalke’s Julian Draxler.

– There would be more drama for English fans in Euro 2016. Facing Turkey in the semi-finals, Steven Caulker’s dramatic stoppage time winner helped them into the final against hosts France. Wilshere gave England the lead, but Arsenal team mate Giroud equalised in stoppage time to take the game to extra time, where Ashley Young scored to break French hearts and give captain Phil Jagielka the chance to lift the Henri Delaunay Cup. Roy Hodgson retired after the tournament, and was replaced by Tottenham’s Andre Villas-Boas. In South America, Uruguay beat Argentina to win Copa America.

2016-17

– At last, Manchester City finally clinched the Premier League title again, beating Liverpool by 3 points. Manchester United and League Cup winners Arsenal completed the top 4, leaving Chelsea outside again, this time down in 6th; Jose Mourinho somehow retained his job again. Martino had not, though; he was sacked by United and replaced by former rival Roberto Mancini. Arsene Wenger chose this moment to retire, with his position taken by Wolves manager Kenny Jackett.

– At the bottom, Sunderland finally ran out of chances, and were joined by Aston Villa and Stoke. Fulham, now managed by Brendan Rodgers, finished 17th but did qualify for Europe after winning the FA Cup for the first time, beating Wigan in the final courtesy of a goal from Klaas-Jan Huntelaar.

– Cardiff’s Youssef El-Arabi was the top scorer with 26 goals, the highest total since Van Persie in 2012-13. Player of the Year went to Eden Hazard, though he failed to win a fourth-straight Players’ Player Award, which instead went to Bernard of Manchester City. Manuel Pellegrini was named Manager of the Year ahead of Laudrup and, bizarrely, Rodgers, despite losing 5 of the last 6 league matches of the season. Former England captain Rio Ferdinand was the most notable retirement, while the biggest transfer was his effective replacement, Samuel Umtiti, who was brought in from Lyon for £31.5m.

– Reading (who picked up a massive 98 poins), Forest and Watford returned to the Premier League, while QPR were relegated under Dougie Freedman, along with Tranmere and Millwall. Yeovil were champions of League One, and were joined by Preston and Crewe, who made it back-to-back promotions under Henning Berg. However, Coventry slumped to back-to-back relegations, the latest being at the hands of Graham Westley. MK Dons won League Two, with Wycombe returning to the third tier via the play-offs, while Bristol Rovers were again relegated into the Conference, this time along with Bury, who in March had appointed Joey Barton as manager in a bid to escape the drop. Luton at last won the Conference, and they were joined by Football League newcomers Ebbsfleet, while Hereford and Stockport also left the Conference in the opposite direction.

– Chelsea’s last chance of Champions League qualification had been via winning it, but they lost the final to PSG; sadly Zlatan Ibramovich played no part in what would be his final season as a player. Meanwhile, Lazio won another Europa League, this time beating Lyon in the final. In the leagues, there was a big shock in the Bundesliga as Borussia Dortmund returned to the top and Bayern slumped to 6th under Josep Guardiola as Robben and Ribery both slipped into retirement. Monaco, Real Madrid, Juventus and Celtic continued their dominance of their respective leagues.

– The only major international tournament of note was the Africa Cup of Nations, which saw Egypt return to the top with a win in the final over rivals Algeria.

2017-18

– Manchester City won the Premier League once again, still relying on their old spine of Joe Hart, Vincent Kompany, Yaya Toure and Sergio Aguero, supplemented with more purchased stars: Varane, Bernard, Thiago, Chalobah, Sterling, Wanyama, Gaston Ramirez, Luke Shaw, Strootman and Peruzzi. Arsenal were 6 points distant, with United 3rd and Tony Pulis’ Newcastle again denying Chelsea a top four spot on goal difference; Jose again kept his job, though. Tottenham finished down in 9th, replacing manager Marco van Basten with David Moyes in November; the Scot then guided them to a League Cup triumph over Liverpool. Southampton finished 8th and won the FA Cup. Wigan again finished 6th, but were now under Roberto Martinez again.

– This was because Owen Coyle, mastermind of their great recent run, had been recruited by Everton in a vain attempt to stave off relegation, though Malky Mackay had begun the process. They would be joined by Watford and Wolves, who had curiously appointed Dougie Freedman as Jackett’s successor despite overseeing QPR’s relegation from the Championship the year before. Liverpool could laugh at Everton’s demise but they had been down there themselves at one point; Laudrup was dismissed and replaced by the prodigal son Rafa Benitez, who then guided them to an FA Cup Final.

– Manager of the Year again went to Pellegrini, beating Pulis and Cardiff’s Gary Bowyer. Eden Hazard won yet another award in the shape of Player of the Year, with the players’ choice being Man City’s Thiago. Jordan Rhodes was top scorer for the second time with 26 goals, comfortably beating Norwich’s Lionard Ekangamene and Manchester United’s new star striker Salomon Rondon.

– Stoke won the Championship by 10 points, with West Ham, armed with the Italian pair of Giampaolo Pazzini and soon-to-retire Antonio Cassano, edging Aston Villa by a point for 2nd. Crystal Palace went up via the play-offs, while Preston, Doncaster and Crewe went down. QPR, now under Mark Hughes again, won League One, with Chesterfield (under Phil Brown) and Gillingham (under Jens Lehmann) the surprise promoted pair behind them. Millwall suffered back-to-back relegations, slumping into League Two, while Coventry, who suffered a similar fate a year before, were beaten in the League Two play-off final by Port Vale, as AFC Wimbledon reached the third tier for the first time. Dagenham and Crawley dropped out of the Football League as Luton narrowly avoided an immediate return to the Conference, while Dartford won the Conference play-offs again, joining champions Newport back in League Two.

– Juventus completed the second ever Italian Treble with victory over Lyon in the Champions League Final, courtesy of a late winner from Fabio Borini. Real Madrid’s run in Spain ended as Barcelona returned to the top under Vincenzo Montella in Carles Puyol’s final season as a player, while PSG returned to the top in France and Dortmund won the Bundesliga as Bayern again floundered in 5th. Celtic won yet again in Scotland, benefiting from a new partnership with Chelsea which saw Gerard Deulofeu and Branislav Ivanovic arrive on loan along with Southampton’s Aaron Lennon and Arsenal’s Miralem Pjanic, but Rangers required a relegation play-off victory over Ross County to avoid slipping back into the Scottish Championship, leading to Ally McCoist’s ousting in favour of Nick Barmby.

– What followed would be high drama: the World Cup in Russia would go down as one of the greatest in history. Brazil once again failed to progress out of the groups, and they would be joined on the sidelines by Italy and world number 1s England, who had embarrassingly lost in their opening group game against Costa Rica courtesy of former Arsenal striker Joel Campbell’s winner, and again in their second game to a Ronaldo-inspired Portugal. Scotland, however, did progress, only to be eliminated by Germany on penalties.

In the early knockout rounds, it looked like it would be France’s tournament to lose, as Mexico took out the Germans in the quarters. In the semis, France would face the USA, who had scraped through the group stage in 2nd behind Uruguay before beating Holland and Australia. Uruguay would face Mexico in the other semi. But in a massive surprise, Aron Johannsson scored a 90th minute winner for the Americans to send them through to their first final, while Adrian Aldrete scored a 120th winner for Mexico in a 3-2 thriller, denying Uruguay captain Luis Suarez a shot at the big prize.

And so it would be a clash of two of the great rivals in world football. A tedious match was set alight when Brek Shea scored in the 59th minute for the US, but Carlos Fierro snatched an equaliser from a wayward backpass. But then substitute Jozy Altidore entered the fray and capitalised on two defensive errors to sink two late goals and clinch the greatest prize in football for the country that calls it soccer. Brad Guzan was thus a World Cup-winning captain, Tim Ream ended up with a World Cup winners’ medal, and Jurgen Klinsmann became only the second person to win the World Cup as a player and a manager.

Some where-are-they-nows:

– Torquay are still in League Two, having just had their best finish (6th). However, vice-captain Mike Williamson, who had returned to the club where he began his career, has just been released. The only surviving current players are Michael Poke and Jordan Chapell. Colin Cooper is the manager, having taken over from the sacked Mark Yates, while Danny Graham is the most notable player in the squad.

– Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi have continued their monopoly on the Best Player awards, with Ronaldo seemingly ageing better despite being older. Ronaldo, now Real’s record goalscorer, is currently being paid £575,000 a week.

– Wayne Rooney is England’s most capped player, with 140 appearance, and also unsurprisingly the record goalscorer with 57.

– Nigel Pearson is the longest-serving Premier League manager, having been in charge for nearly 7 years. Second is Steve Clarke, and third is Jose Mourinho.

– Peter Schmeichel is now the manager of Conference club FC Halifax Town, having been appointed in June 2016.

– Steven Gerrard is a coach at Ipswich.

– Michael Carrick is still playing for some reason. He’s at Swansea.

– Leon Osman is manager of Exeter.

– Harry Redknapp retired in 2016, a year after leaving Newcastle. He had also previously had a stint at Hull. For some reason, obviously FM doesn’t take into account that he doesn’t manage north of London.

– Ryan Giggs has just been appointed by Sheffield Wednesday after being sacked by Aston Villa for failing to get promoted back to the Premier League.

– Scott Parker is captain of Leyton Orient.

– Conor Sammon is at Leeds.

– Interestingly, Lucas Leiva is now rated as a Liverpool legend, on a par with the likes of Rush, Shankly, Dalglish and Paisley, and ahead of the merely iconic Steven Gerrard. Jonny Evans has been added to the Man Utd legends, Tim Krul to Newcastle’s, Wilshere and Ramsey to Arsenal’s, Jack Cork to Southampton’s, and Jonas Olsson to West Brom’s. Ashley Williams is the only Swansea legend.

– Some of the more bizarre signings I’ve noticed include Cardiff’s brief period of having Champions League winners Eric Abidal and Diego Milito on their books at the same time, Tottenham signing former Arsenal player Alex Song, PSG signing virtually everyone (particularly in 2014-15 when they spent £140m on players, and again in 2016-17 when they spent £150m), and Real Madrid paying £15m for Victor Moses before selling him soon after for £5.75m (he has just returned to Spain with Sevilla). There are also several instances of players being signed, barely played, and then leaving again, or players being contracted but not registered and thus not playing. Adam Lallana has just been released by Southampton after playing only 6 league games since the end of the first season in the game, with none coming after 2015-16.

– The most expensive signing so far is Timo Werner, who moved from Stuttgart to Wolfsburg for £41.5m in the summer of 2017. The most expensive regen so far as Polish striker Damian Imianowski, who was bought from PSG by Bayern for £34.5m in January 2018.

– Only Tottenham, West Ham, AFC Wimbledon, York and Ebbsfleet (whose new ground is named after former manager Liam Daish) have moved into new stadia, with Coventry returning to the Ricoh Arena in 2016. There have been no tycoon takeovers in England, with Greenock Morton being bought by one in Scotland, though he has since withdrawn his funding.

– Disappointingly, there appear to be no power shifts in world football yet. The same teams winning everything so far, but I’ve run a similar game on FM13 and it does take a while to kick in – it was a game in which Real Zaragoza became a global force by 2022. I intend to eventually continue this to see which team will rise up and surprise everyone in the next few years…

Written by James Bennett

February 14, 2014 at 18:43

The Welsh Gull and Friends present the 2012-13 Premier League Prediction Q and A

leave a comment »

For the first time, I asked a few friendly folk to answer some questions on what lies ahead in the rest of the 2012-13 Premier League season. Here’s what they/we came up with…

People
JB – James Bennett
SC – Sam Crocker
AH – Andrew Harding
JoH – Joe Harrison
JkH – Jack Howes
PH – Phillip Horton
MM – Maher Mezahi
JR – John Reid
SR – Sam Robinson
JS – Joe Shennan

1) Who’s going to win the Premier League?

JB: It will be between the two main contenders but I think it’ll be closer than people think. United have some tough fixtures right at the end of the season – after hosting City, they have to travel to Stoke, then host Chelsea on the penultimate weekend, and finish up with a trip to The Hawthorns. If they lose to City, which is a perfectly plausible scenario, their lead isn’t big enough to withstand tripping up at some of these. Plus City’s goal difference is better. They might just edge it again – given that everyone else will go with United, I’ll be different and go with City.

SC: Manchester United. Assuming RVP remains injury-free, he’ll carry them all the way, despite relative lack of form from the rest of the team. Can’t see City improving, as they seem inherently incapable of dealing with all the egos in their team, with Mancini going at the end of the season.

AH: Manchester United. As soon as City started celebrating last May, I said it and I’ve seen nothing to change my mind since.

JoH: Manchester United have a leaky defence, an average midfield, no creative or wide players in
particularly good form and three of their four forwards have been patchy to say the least. That they look like winning the league comfortably is a pretty damning indictment of a mediocre bunch. That and evidence of just how good Robin van Persie is – being a one-man team is underrated if it’s the right man. Manchester City are the only conceivable challengers at the moment and they’ll need to return to pre-Christmas 2011 form and hope for a bit of a collapse from their neighbours. With another derby still to play, and a squad of City’s calibre, I wouldn’t be too surprised to see them get back into it and make it close, but I don’t expect United to throw the league away in two consecutive seasons.

JkH: Liverpool. As we all know in the modern game (and most importantly according to Brendan), possession is everything. And though Liverpool aren’t even top of average possession per game statistics, they do actually have the highest percentage of possession in all of football if you look closely enough. And the team that keeps possession the best wins the Premier League. League wins, points gained, goals scored, none of that is relevant. Possession isn’t nine tenths of the law, it’s ten tenths of the law. And it’s why Liverpool will win the Premier League. Not on points obviously. On keeping possession.

PH: I don’t think it takes an expert to deduce that the winner will come from Manchester, unless Chelsea pull off an absolute miracle. I think it depends on how United fare in Europe, but I reckon they’ll cling on to their lead.

MM: Manchester United. They just have too much firepower and too much experience.

JR: I can’t see past Man United – they won’t let what happened last year happen again and I feel that they have improved – at least in attack – with RVP compared to last season. Also City haven’t played really that well this season and I don’t trust Mancini – he is far too cautious – see the recent game against Arsenal for example.

SR: I think Manchester United will last the distance. That said, if van Persie gets injured then it may be a completely different matter. Oh, and they still need a top-class central midfielder. They should still have enough; they’ve been winging it for long enough anyway.

JS: I shall stick to my pre season prediction and say Manchester City. Mancini’s men, whilst looking largely unimpressive for large parts of this season have narrowed the gap to 5 points behind United, and of their remaining fixtures, all are perfectly winnable for a side which has begun to show some of that ruthless efficiency again in recent weeks. The derby on April 6th at Old Trafford will of course, be pivotal and once again I could see it going down to the final day.

2) Who will finish in the top 4?

JB: Aside from the obvious two, Chelsea will finish 3rd but some distance behind the leading pair. Then after that, Spurs have some tough fixtures but Arsenal will inevitably trip themselves up at some point, so I can see Spurs finishing 4th.

SC: Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal. I honestly can’t really see Spurs continuing this good form without a big blip at some point (Spurs being Spurs) and I’d imagine Arsenal will make at least some signings in January to give the team a bit of a boost. The other three just seem miles ahead. Would have perhaps included Chelsea in the mix for dropping out of the top four had they not signed Ba, thus not relying on Torres, who proves that the phrase “form is temporary, class is permanent” is definitely contestable.

AH: United, Manchester City, Chelsea and Tottenham.

JoH: Outside of the Manchester duopoly, I expect Chelsea to finish in some sort of no-man’s-land in 3rd: Rafa’s much-loved rotation should serve them well heading in to the run-in, while their squad is simply better than those around them at the moment. I think Everton will struggle to maintain a real challenge for 4th – with Jelavic in poorer form they’re too dependent on Fellaini and Baines for goals. That basically leaves ‘The Battle For Fourth'(TM) to be between Spurs and Spurs’ inferiority complex about Arsenal. Villas-Boas’ side have the advantage in the league, a better team on the pitch (though losing Sandro for the season is a huge blow) and seem a club far more at ease with themselves than their neighbours. However, Arsenal have staggered into a position from which they can challenge and if you combine the facts that they always finish in the top 4 under Wenger and they always finish ahead of Spurs under Wenger, it would be no shock to see them pip their rivals yet again. I think I’ll go for Spurs to edge it and be utterly unsurprised when proven wrong.

JkH: Liverpool. They’ll win the league stupid.

PH: Manchesters United and City, Chelsea and Arsenal…just.

MM: United, City, Arsenal, Chelsea. In that order.

JR: Man City, Spurs and Chelsea. City have too many points to even look like dropping out of the top 4. I fancy Spurs to finish third even though I’m not really that impressed with AVB – he has had some brilliant results – like the win at Old Trafford – but Spurs still seem flaky to me, they were poor at QPR for example, but I feel they can overhaul Chelsea, will finish fourth. Despite how bad they have been at Stamford Bridge and the extremely unpopular Rafa, I feel that their older players will inspire one last hoorah to drag them over the line into the Big Cup qualifiers.

SR: Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea and Tottenham.

JS: Manchester United, Chelsea, and Spurs. Villas-Boas is increasingly impressive at White Hart Lane and one or two additions in specific areas could see Spurs fare even better next season. Arsenal meanwhile look as far away from challenging for the title as they have ever been, and Wilshere’s magic alone will not be enough to lift the inconsistent gunners into the Champions League places. Which means Arsene Wenger simply must deliver a trophy before he loses his credibility.

3) Who will qualify for the Europa League?

JB: Arsenal, by virtue of finishing 5th. After that, money’s on Liverpool to finish 6th but it will be typical (and funny) if we had two different cup winners to prevent them from qualifying. Money’s on Swansea to win the League Cup which would mean the team in 6th would need the two FA Cup finalists to not have qualified for Europe already. That said, it might happen, or even Liverpool getting to the FA Cup Final. So those will be my 3: Arsenal, Liverpool and Swansea.

SC: Everton and Swansea. Everton have impressed me no bounds this season, and I can’t see them slipping up to be honest, especially with European qualification in sight. As for Swansea, this is a bit of a hipster choice following their excellent form this season, and that I really don’t want Liverpool to qualify – for their treatment of Nuri Sahin as much as anything.

AH: Arsenal and Everton. One team disappointed, the other should be pretty chuffed.

JoH: Given that I said Spurs will finish 4th that pushes Arsenal down to 5th with Everton picking up the last spot in 6th (assuming two teams already qualified for Europe make the FA Cup final, which normally happens). With Swansea looking like beating Chelsea in the Carling Cup (2-0 up after the first leg at the time of writing), it seems 7th place will not be a Europa League spot, but if Chelsea turn it around and win the tournament, I’d imagine Liverpool would be the beneficiaries (though I’m not sure they’d see it that way).

JkH: Liverpool. They’ll win the league stupid. And if they’re lucky, West Brom continue to collapse and Daniel ‘Danny’ Sturridge becomes 3.5% as good as he thinks he is, they might even qualify for the Europa League. On genuine merit.

PH: Tottenham, Everton, Swansea City

MM: Spurs and Liverpool. I’m expecting LFC’s new signings to revitalize them and for Everton to start dropping more points.

JR: Arsenal, Swansea and Everton. I think Arsenal will finish fifth, which will lead to a lot of complaints from their fans and calls for Wenger to go but he’ll still be there next season. Swansea will win the League Cup – against Villa in the final, sorry ‘romance of the league cup’ fans and Man Utd will win the FA Cup, so whoever finishes sixth in the Prem will get in, which will be Everton, but I do think David Moyes might leave during the summer…

SR: Arsenal via the league and Swansea via the League Cup. Everton to take the last spot if the FA Cup finalists are already in Europe.

JS: Arsenal will win the FA Cup and finish 5th, giving 6th placed Liverpool the second Europa spot. And Bradford City will win the League Cup (as a lower league enthusiast, I can but dream) giving them the final spot and a chance to embark on a Phil Parkinson lead European journey.

4) Who’s going to be relegated?

JB: This is a really tough one. Even some of the teams considered ‘safe’ now aren’t out of it, because there’s always one team that starts well plummets. I think it could be Norwich this time, though that is influenced by the fact that I predicted them to go down at the start of the season. Of the main contenders now, Reading look doomed but I don’t think they necessarily are. Villa for me are the most likely, followed by QPR. It’ll be between Reading, Southampton and possibly Norwich for the other spot. I’m going with Southampton. Wigan will be fine as ever.

SC: Villa, Reading and QPR. Villa’s seeming refusal to both signing anyone who isn’t Irish and over 21 really doesn’t bode well in a relegation battle. Whilst I love Darren Bent, as well as Benteke and Ciaran Clark being decent, they really haven’t judged this season well at all (and I win money if they get relegated). Reading just seem utterly incompetent at defending, despite scoring a strangely high amount of goals, which makes it a bit of a shame they’re going down due to the excitement they provide. And QPR – well I just hate them. How a team with that many good players can be so incompetent I just don’t understand. Signing a load of over-paid, egotistical morons in an absolutely absurd summer makes relegation a serious problem if they can’t flog all the players, and I am determined to prove that Harry Redknapp is a horrific manager. I would like to included Sunderland in these three, but sadly they seemed to have improved a bit.

AH: QPR, Aston Villa and Wigan. QPR are a mess and probably need relegation to give the club the reality check it deserves. Aston Villa have been shambolic and while they might at some point string a couple of good results together, I doubt it would be sufficient enough to save them. Quite frankly the only reason they survived last season was that there were a lot more teams worse than them. This time around they don’t have that security in numbers. As for the third team, I think Reading will perform this season’s escape act and Newcastle and Sunderland will be similar to Aston Villa last season. Wigan seem to have avoided relegation chat despite being very close to it yet again. The whole staying up by the skin of your teeth thing they have had going on is getting dull and just perhaps this time that thread will snap and they will take the plunge.

JoH: I think QPR may well stay up but I’ll say them purely because I desperately want them to go down. They got away with cheating to get promoted, which nobody seemed to care about (seriously, how can playing an illegally signed player all season be deemed only worthy of a fine?!), and the financial insanity of their transfer policy means they deserve relegation like no other (to any QPR fans reading I can only apologise – I know it isn’t your fault). To paraphrase Bill Shankly: Reading and Aston Villa are the other two teams currently in the bottom three and by God they’ll take some shifting. I think Reading are doomed, they looked a decent Championship team who went on an exceptional run last year and now look a decent Championship team getting found out in the Premier League. Villa’s existence is so miserable at the moment I think relegation would probably do them good, and they’re often utterly abject, but I have a feeling they may just find a way of escaping. Southampton sacking Adkins could prove disastrous and may lead to them being reeled in, while I suspect Wigan to perform their customary survival act. They haven’t had much attention in this context, and it is unlikely, but Fulham could be sucked serious trouble if they don’t sign a decent midfielder. I’ll probably stick with QPR and Reading but tip Villa to sneak past Southampton late on.

JkH: Liverpool. On actual league points points. Their defeat to Manchester United and with Brendan Rodgers’ declaration in a press conference that “You ask me if I have a God complex. Let me tell you something: I am God” sparking his six month stay in a psychiatric hospital, Liverpool completely collapse, don’t win a game for the rest of the season and go down on the final day of the season.

In my answer to question 3, I did say Liverpool would qualify for the Europa League ‘if they were
lucky’. Which I don’t think they will be.

PH: It’s going to be a close one yet again. I don’t want Reading to go down, but I reckon they will. Wigan always seem to survive, so I’ll go for Reading, QPR and Aston Villa.

MM: Reading, Villa and Wigan.

JR: Aston Villa, Reading and Fulham. I feel that Villa have that doomed look about them, the 8-0 loss to Chelsea seems to have permanently damaged them, which was evident in the defeat to Bradford. Even though they will in my opinion beat Bradford, it won’t do them any good in the league and they’ll go down. Reading just don’t have enough quality to stay up, they don’t score enough goals and just haven’t really played well enough to say they’ll stay up. Fulham haven’t really impressed this season, even though Martin Jol did well at Spurs and Berbatov can at times be excellent, they have lost a lot of games and they’ll be dragged down the table and will go down on the last day of the season.

SR: Wigan, Reading and QPR. Unless Wigan suddenly find their form from the end of last season I really do fear for them. Reading just won’t have enough and QPR, well, what can you say? The club is a mess. Fernandes and co have brought a star culture to Loftus Road that there’s no need for at all. It’d be interesting to see what happens to the club if they were to go down. I could see the other two coping, but QPR, hmm.

JS: Again, I’m going to stick with what I said pre-season. Norwich, Southampton and Wigan Athletic. Norwich have peaked and are about to embark on a slide from which they won’t be able to recover. They generally lack quality – Snodgrass is top scorer with just 5 goals, and they are porous at the back. They also miss John Ruddy, despite Mark Bunn’s relatively solid form. Southampton’s decision to sack Nigel Adkins will backfire – and lets be honest, who would shed a tear for Nicola Cortese? Mauricio Pochettino has a mammoth job on his hands, and I’m not just talking about his English lessons. Wigan are finally destined to go, surely? Stats dictate that they can only cheat footballing death so many times. It’ll be close though, and I could be completely wrong about all 3 teams, but that’s the beauty of the Barclays Premier League.

5) Who will sign the most players on Deadline Day?

JB: QPR is the obvious answer but I’m not sure they will – I think they’re blowing all their money on M’Vila and Remy now so won’t have much to spend on Deadline Day. I’m going to say Reading and Southampton, as they have money and a need to bring in players. Or maybe Fulham. All 3 jointly.

SC: Would have said Sunderland, but they seem to be conducting business a bit earlier than most, so will punt for Norwich. Think there’s plenty of bargains knocking about on the benches of EPL teams (Danny Graham for example) who people will fight over, and seems like the perfect fit for Norwich. Arsenal might also be up there if Arsene decided to get his cheque book out.

AH: Newcastle United with Stoke City running them close. Newcastle will leave their business until quite late on and there will be an element of panic purchasing no matter what Alan Pardew says.

JoH: That’s normally the preserve of the desperate, stupid and Harry Redknapp. I doubt I’ll be alone in saying this, but all roads lead to QPR.

JkH: Liverpool obviously. The departures of Jordan Henderson, Stewart Downing, Sebastian Coates and anyone linked with the previous ‘Dalmolli’ regime who isn’t Luis Suarez leaves gaping holes in their team. Suarez’s deportation after a campaign orchestrated by The Sun to eliminate ‘Uruguayan imperialists from these shores’ leaves them toothless up front. They sign literally dozens of players to fill these gaps, from decent players such as Luke Shaw and Kevin Gameiro, to rubbish comedians such as Lenny Henry and Jack Whitehall, who turn out to be the ‘glamour signings’ John W Henry truly wanted at the club.

PH: Arsenal. Ha! No, it could be anyone really. I think Reading might try and sign a few players.

MM: Newcastle. They’ve looked to do business but have been pipped to their targets so far. Will get their signings later on in the window.

JR: Predictable I know, but Harry’s QPR. Even though he’s not a wheeler-dealer. I’d say Newcastle also need to sign a fair number of players – and to an extent Arsenal – but I doubt any club will sign as many as QPR.

SR: Southampton‘s new manager may see things he wants to change so I’ll plump for him. If Mike Ashley dips his hand into his pocket up in the North East, Newcastle may be an outside shout.

JS: Spurs generally sign a few, don’t they? Aston Villa, Norwich, and Fulham will also be in the mix. You can never rule out the big guns either.

6) Which managers won’t survive until or beyond the end of the season?

JB: Lambert will go when Villa go down. I think Adkins will go regardless of whether Southampton stay up or not (ed: good call). I think Jol might leave Fulham as they’ve been disappointing of late and that slide may continue, though I’d be surprised if they went down. At the top, you’d expect Wenger to leave Arsenal and, if they don’t finish the season well, possibly Rodgers to leave Liverpool, but nothing’s certain.

SC: Mancini will definitely go if he doesn’t win the Premier League along with his Champions League exit. Can see Martin O’Neill getting sacked at some point (hopefully, anyway) as well.

AH: Alan Pardew shouldn’t but I won’t second guess Mike Ashley. Martin O’Neill also shouldn’t survive but that reputation he has seems to still be just enough for him. I’d like to think Roberto Mancini will be gone but the lack of genuine quality replacements might mean he starts next season and lasts a few months. Otherwise, once QPR go down Redknapp will resign and somehow the media will gloss over his involvement in their relegation. I think Martin Jol will be elsewhere come the start of next season.

JoH: Benitez is the obvious answer. I understand why they dislike him, but the vitriol from Chelsea fans towards an excellent manager has been stupid, however it will ensure he doesn’t stay longer. I think Villa will stick with Lambert (they should, even if relegated) but that McDermott will be replaced by Reading’s relatively new owners at some point, possibly after relegation. I also suspect the Martins, Jol and O’Neill, may be under pressure come the summer, but Pep Guardiola’s move to Bayern could save Roberto Mancini’s skin.

JkH: Rodgers, as his megalomania reaches new levels and he becomes the first ever Premier League manager to be given 24/7 psychiatric care.

PH: Unless Paul Lambert stops the rot, he might be toast. I’d add Pardew to the list but cutting that contract would be pricey. Beyond the season, McDermott probably. Redknapp assuming QPR go down.

MM: Rafa Benitez is only on a six month contract so you can expect him out in the summer. As much as I like Paul Lambert, I fear that Villa will get relegated and he’ll be gone. Roberto Martinez won’t get fired, but he himself will go. Brilliant tactician and any club will be lucky to have him. McDermott also looks over his head with this Reading squad. He will, most likely, be fired.

JR: I don’t think any manager will leave before the end of the season, but after the season ends it seems a certainty Rafa will leave Chelsea, if Fulham go down Martin Jol will go, I also think Mancini could leave City if City fail to win anything this season and David Moyes will exit Everton in search of ‘a new challenge’. Wenger will stay at Arsenal even if they don’t qualify for the Big Cup.

SR: Pardew may not make it to the end of the season based on current form but he needs support from the chairman with new signings. Most other managers seem fairly stable. Fulham are struggling, I guess, so Jol might come under a bit of pressure as the season goes on.

JS: Martin Jol, Roberto Martinez, Rafa Benitez, and Mauricio Pochettino.

7) Will Harry Redknapp spontaneously combust on the last day of the season?

JB: I expect something a bit weird to happen, whatever the outcome is. If QPR do go down, I can imagine him announcing his resignation to the media via a car window (hurr). If QPR stay up, he may lose it and start making brilliantly barbed comments in the direction of the FA. With lots of water being tipped over him. It’s certainly a rather odd situation, as we’ve become so accustomed to football’s walking cliché generator to be towards the top of the table.

SC: Oh gosh I hope so. I really do hope so. And I hope someone records it.

AH: We live in hope.

JoH: No, one look at his bank balance should console ‘Arry if the worst comes. The worry, if they are
relegated, would be QPR themselves disappearing in a puff of IOUs.

JkH: Yes. He will replace Rodgers in the Anfield dugout, be despised by everyone, attempt to sign Frank Lampard (senior, not the one at Chelsea), get Liverpool relegated and spontaneously combust in the Anfield centre circle. A neat way to end the season.

PH: Yes. Utterly.

MM: I’m afraid I cannot comment on speculation.

JR: Much as I’d love Harry to explode – I think he’ll keep QPR up. I know he’s doing his usual ‘throw money at a problem to solve it’ routine, the Prem has so many poor teams this season that I think they can go on a run – of sorts – and just stay up. And Harry will be hailed as the messiah by his mates in the media. Again.

SR: I hope that it coincides with QPR’s relegation. That’d be lovely, wouldn’t it?

JS: Quite possibly – but only through sheer joy and happiness. QPR are staying up. And you can quote me on that.

Written by James Bennett

January 20, 2013 at 17:56

UC: Time’s up – time for some analysis

leave a comment »

The deadline has passed – anyone wishing to enter the Ultimate Championship will have now have to do so with the addition of penalty points. It also means I can talk people’s predictions and stats in more detail.

Premier League
There are 10 entries for the Premier League – 9 people who have entered all 4 leagues, and Richard Brown who has just entered this league. The combined predictions aren’t far off what they were when I posted them earlier in the week – you’ll see them when I upload the spreadsheet.

Manchester City are overwhelming favourites, with 9 out of the 10 predictions having them on top – only Andy Charles went for Manchester United, putting City 2nd. Talking of the Red Devils, they are widely tipped to be 2nd – aside from Andy, Jake Gibbons has them 3rd while Stuart Bennett (my dad and a former winner) has them 4th. Chelsea are expected to finish 3rd (with 1 2nd and 2 4ths alongside 7 3rds), and Arsenal are tipped to finish 4th (with 1 2nd, 1 3rd and 1 5th alongside 7 4ths). You can see the pattern emerging.

Only 1 person put Tottenham in the top 4, in 3rd – Jack Howes, who is a Spurs supporter, funnily enough. It seems people are not expecting Andre Villas-Boas to have an instant impact at White Heart Lane, with two people predicting them as low as 7th. In addition to that, no one has predicted either Liverpool or Newcastle to break into the Champions League spaces, so the top 4 seems pretty nailed on in the eyes of UC participants.

The “mid-table” has tended to be a group of about 5 or 6 teams, from 7th or 8th down to 12th or 13th. This consists generally of Everton, Fulham, Sunderland, Aston Villa, West Ham and Stoke. However, there are exceptions – Stoke in particular have been tipped for a struggle, not least by myself, and I’ve also gone for Everton to finish above Liverpool again, although that’s a bit of a gamble. Stuart has put Fulham down in 16th, the only placing for them from outside 8th-12th. Aston Villa have teh lowest range in this group, being predicted 10th-14th.

Below them, there is a not-so-magnificent seven – West Brom, Southampton, QPR, Swansea, Reading, Wigan and Norwich. Six of them have been predicted at least once to finish bottom, and the other, Wigan, has been predicted to finish as low as 19th (which must be the first time in a while no one’s gone for Wigan bottom) but no higher than 16th. Southampton have the biggest range in the whole league, predicted as high as 9th (yep, Stu again). In particular, people seem pretty certain Norwich will have a tough time of it, with only reigning champion Nick Hancock putting them outside the bottom 4.

I’ve used the combined predictions standings to project a “predicted” UC standings – it’ll be interesting to look back on this and see how accurate it is. The one with the lowest points may not be guaranteed to win, though – if anything, it just shows who’s predictions are the “safest” and most in-line with what everyone else is expecting. For the Premier League, those standings are:

Overall AND Drop/Best Worst (same for both)
Andy Charles – 16
Joe Shennan – 16
James Bennett – 22
Mark Streather – 24
Nick Hancock – 24
Jake Gibbons – 26
Jack Howes – 28
Richard Brown – 28
Phillip Horton – 32
Stuart Bennett – 46

Championship
As you would expect, things are a bit more open in the Championship, but one can still divide the teams into particular groups, with big jumps in the average positions. Bolton and Birmingham seem to be in a two-horse race at the moment – the Trotters are predicted in the top 3 by 7 entrants, including to win the league by 5 of them. The same number of entrants has Birmingham 2nd, with 2 others predicting them to finish top. Their average is let down, though, by Jack Howes predicting them to finish 12th, so they’re a little bit behind.

There are then 5 teams who seem set to battle for the play-off positions, at least in the eyes of our entrants. They are Leicester, Wolves, Cardiff, Blackpool and Middlesbrough. However, there are exceptions to this – I’ve tipped Blackpool to struggle in 15th, giving them a range of 14 places due to Stuart predicting them to win the league, while he has gone for Middlesbrough to also finish 15th.

The only team outside this group to be tipped to go up automatically are Leeds, who Jack reckons are strong contenders, although other predictions have been inconsistent, the lowest position for them being 15th (and I nearly put them lower than that). They’re in another group of about 4 teams, all of whom are generally predicted mid-table but with 1 or 2 tips for the play-offs – Blackburn, who I’ve tipped to finish 20th, are in this group (having also been predicted as high as 3rd), along with Hull and Brighton. Charlton and Forest and just off this group as well, Phillip Horton tipping the Addicks to finish 4th.

Sheffield Wednesday, promoted automatically by finishing 2nd in League One last year, are dividing people too – most think they will be a solid mid-table team this year, but Jake has tipped them to finish 20th and Andy 24th. This puts them just ahead of a group of about 5 teams expected to hover in a group just clear of the relegation scrap – Ipswich, Derby, Watford, Huddersfield and Burnley. It seems many are pessimistic about Ipswich’s chances after being disappointed in the past, as I was last year – having said this, Stuart has once again gambled, putting them 6th.

The bottom 5 are quite some distance off the rest in the averages. Millwall, Palace, Bristol City, Peterborough and Barnsley are here, and it is the latter trio that are most widely expected to be relegated. Only 2 people have predicted Barnsley to survive – Phillip and Stuart. Bristol City and Peterborough have only been predicted to survive three times each. Phillip and Stuart are also the only ones to predict that two of these three will survive; Phillip instead went for Huddersfield and Millwall to go down, while Stuart also picked the Lions alongside Burnley.

Those predicted UC standings are as follows:

Overall
Joe – 28
Mark – 42
Jake – 52
Andy – 60
James – 66
Nick – 72
Jack – 74
Phillip – 78
Stuart – 82

Drop Best/Worst
Joe – 28
Mark – 40
Jake – 50
Andy – 58
James – 66
Jack – 72
Nick – 74
Phillip – 78
Stuart – 84

League One
The third tier seems even more unpredictable than the second, with massive ranges in the predictions for each team. Nonetheless, there is a clear top 2 – only 2 people (myself among them) have gone for Sheffield United to not go up automatically, while my tip for the top, MK Dons, are just behind and are expected to at least finish 4th.

The rest is complete haywire. Swindon, 3rd in the overall table, could win according to Jake but could also finish 14th according to Nick. Coventry are next up, tipped by 4 people to go up automatically, though I am more dubious and have put them 12th, in-line with other poor performances from relegated teams in recent years. There does seem to be a general consensus only Notts County, Doncaster and Carlisle being in and around the play-offs, along with Swindon, while Preston aren’t as highly fancied by UC entrants as they are by the pundits, only twice predicted inside the play-offs.

The mid-table zone is a complete mess. Brentford and Colchester are just clear of a gaggle of teams that could finish as high as the play-offs or as low as the relegation zone. Hartlepool typify this, predicted 5th by Phillip and 23rd by Stuart. Stevenage have been predicted in the top 10 by 5 people and the bottom 6 by 3, leaving only Mark’s prediction of 12th outside this (which could prove to be a wise, damage-limiting call). In all, 17 of the 24 teams have been predicted to finish inside the top 10, and 14 have been predicted to finish 18th or lower.

Walsall, Leyton Orient and Bury are clear favourites to go down, although only the Saddlers’ average position is actually low enough to fit them into the relegation zone. Shrewsbury and Portsmouth (whose financial issues have grown further since entries were opened, and thus some may have missed them by entering early) aren’t expected to be much higher. Of the other promoted sides, Crewe are tipped to be near the relegation zone without necessarily being in it, although some have tipped them for mid-table, while Crawley are either definitely going down, safe in mid-table or pushing for a play-off place.

The projected standings scores a bit higher for this one because of the league’s unpredictable nature:

Overall
Joe – 32
Mark – 58
Jack – 76
James – 78
Jake – 78
Nick – 78
Phillip – 82
Stuart – 88
Andy – 90

Drop Best/Worst
Joe – 30
Mark – 60
Jack – 74
James – 78
Nick – 78
Jake – 80
Phillip – 84
Stuart – 86
Andy – 88

League Two
After the unpredictability of League One, League Two does seem to have more of a clear hierarchy, although there are a couple of wild predictions which could make things interesting. Credit in particular must go to Phillip, who has gone contrary to received wisdom and really mixed the order about a bit – that’s not a criticism at all, because in League Two anything can happen. There are no bad predictions until the final tables are confirmed.

Top of the pile are Southend, tipped only by Joe Shennan to miss out on automatic promotion (and he put them 4th, which is still pretty close). Paul Sturrock’s side are likely to be challenged for the title by Rotherham, who have been predicted to be champions by more people (4 vs 3) but also have a 9th (Jack) and a 17th (Phillip) in the list. Chesterfield are currently 3rd with an average close to Rotherham’s due to that 17th, and also comfortably clear of the chasing pack, though not many are convinced they will go up – only 2 predicting automatic promotion.

Gillingham, tipped for automatic promotion by 4 people, are 4th, again clear of a group of about 5 teams expected to be contenders by most entrants – Fleetwood (with a range of 18 due to Phillip predicting them to finish 20th), Bristol Rovers, Wycombe, Cheltenham and Oxford. Exeter and Torquay are a bit behind but not too far and should be in the top half, judging by these predictions.

A group of 6 teams follows – these are teams occasionally predicted towards the top and occasionally predicted towards the bottom but generally predicted mid-table. Port Vale, Northampton, Bradford, Richdale and Aldershot make up this pack. Plymouth are in a bit of no-man’s land after this group – they could be in for a bit of a struggle but only once predicted to go down (Phillip again). AFC Wimbledon and York, a bit further behind, might be a bit closer to the drop zone. Accrington and Morecambe should expect things to get quite tense.

And then on to a clear bottom three. Burton’s average was initially lower than Dagenham’s (especially before I changed my prediction to put them a bit higher up the table) but later predictions have put them safe, if only just. The Daggers are now seen as the most likely of the pair to go down, though only 4 people have actually got them in the bottom 2 – the other teams tipped to drop, other than Burton, are Accrington, York and Plymouth. And Barnet. Poor old Barnet. An average position of 23.4, with only Phillip predicting them to survive (albeit in 22nd). In their final year at Underhill, they are once again favourites for (another) relegation to the Conference.

The final projected UC standings are:

Overall
Joe – 24
Mark – 48
Andy – 58
Stuart – 60
James – 62
Nick – 64
Jack – 72
Jake – 72
Phillip – 142

Drop Best/Worst
Joe – 30
Mark – 44
Andy – 60
James – 62
Jack – 68
Stuart – 68
Nick – 74
Jake – 86
Phillip – 152

The cups
Starting with the Football League Trophy, unsurprisingly no one seems to have much of a clue what’s going to happen, but then that’s not surprising as it’s probably the most unpredictable cup competition in the world (mainly because no one gives a shit). Doncaster are the only team tipped by more than one entrant (Joe and Andy). Brentford, Carlisle, Colchester, MK Dons, Rotherham, Scunthorpe and Stevenage all get mentions.

In the League Cup, amazingly there are only 5 teams across the 9 entrants, 4 of which have been chosen twice – they are Arsenal, Liverpool, Man City and Newcastle, with Man Utd chosen by Jake. These all seem sensible choices considering the League Cup is now slowly becoming dominated by the big clubs’ reserve teams.

The FA Cup sees 2 teams picked 3 times – Man Utd and Chelsea. Though Chelsea is understandable, Man Utd haven’t won this competition since 2004, though with points awarded for appearances in the semi-final and the final, it’s a safe bet regardless. Arsenal have been predicted twice, while Mark has gone for Man City to regain the cup after winning it in 2011.

And so, the projected UC standings, without taking into consideration the cups, are as follows:

Overall
Joe – 100
Mark – 172
Andy – 224
Jake – 228
James – 228
Nick – 238
Jack – 250
Stuart – 276
Phillip – 334

Drop Best/Worst
Joe – 104
Mark – 168
Andy – 22
James – 228
Jack – 242
Jake – 242
Nick – 250
Stuart – 284
Phillip – 346

It is worth bearing in mind, though, that actual scores will be A LOT higher – the record lowest score for what I call the Core 4 (Prem, FLC, FL1 and FL2) was set last year by Nick with 418, while my 2nd-placed score of 424 was also the 2nd-highest ever, ahead of the mark set in UC6 (2009-10) by Stuart of 432. Usually 100+ points per division is the norm, except for the smaller and more predictable Premier League. The record lowest total in each division is as follows:

Premier League: 40 – Mark Thomas (UC7 – 2010-11)
Championship: 92 – Nick Hancock (UC8 – 2011-12)
League One: 90 – Mark Thomas (UC5 – 2008-09)
League Two: 82 – James Bennett (UC4 – 2007-08)

It wouldn’t surprise me if at least one of these records goes this year, though – scores have gradually been getting progressively lower over time. Some of the highest scores came in UC2, which was also the previous record holder for the most number of entries with 8. This has surpassed that, which I am immensely grateful of – thank you all for entering and I hope you enjoy the competition. The onus is on me now to keep delivering enough updates to keep you all interested.

Written by James Bennett

August 18, 2012 at 01:48

Some final predictions before the start of the season

with 2 comments

Premier League

Biggest surprise (positive): Southampton – a young, largely unknown team playing attractive football much like Swansea and Norwich last year.

Biggest disappointment: Well technically Stoke struggling would be a disappointment but I can’t see many people being disappointed if they are indeed relegated as I’ve predicted. Also have a sneaky suspicion Spurs under AVB may disappoint initially.

First managerial departure: Steve Clarke at West Brom. His replacement might dig them out of trouble, if my predictions are anything to go by. I definitely think they’ll be towards the bottom.

Best signing: Jan Vertonghen will be a great capture for Spurs, an able replacement for King. But I’m not sure this will be recognised as much because he’s a defender, so the signing most people will regard as the best one will be Pavel Pogrebnyak at Reading.

Worst signing: Jack Rodwell is in the process of career self-destruction. Victor Moses will do the same if he moves to Chelsea.

Top scorer: Fernando Torres – yeah, seriously.

Player of the season: I’ve gone for City to win the league, so David Silva.

Young player of the season: Jay Rodriguez will impress for Southampton. Could also thus be up there for Best Signing too.

Manager of the season: Outside the top 4, it’ll be Sam Allardyce for guiding West Ham through an impressively safe season. If this isn’t regarded as much of a surprise, it’ll be Nigel Adkins

Shocks: Peter Crouch to leave Stoke for someone relatively big (Sunderland if their move for Fletcher collapses?); Southampton to sign a good centre-back that will surprise people; and Harry Redknapp to get a job before the season’s out – perhaps Reading if McDermott gets a bigger job?

Championship

Biggest surprise: Not many people tipping Charlton to do well despite the success of recent League One winners, so them.

Biggest disappointment: Blackpool, because I’m not convinced Holloway either can pull more rabbits out of the hat or will stick around to do so. Also Blackburn may struggle big time despite some signings, and the usual teams will underachieve like Derby, Ipswich and Leeds as I’ve predicted already.

First managerial departure: Keith Hill at Barnsley.

Best signing: Darren Ambrose for Birmingham. Brilliant at Palace, if Clark can get the best out of him then he could be very influential in their promotion bid.

Worst signing: Nuno Gomes will not only be the worst signing in the league but also in England generally. Has massive flop written all over it (watch him score 20 goals now). Spending £40k a week on crocked Leon Best not far behind.

Top scorer: Mr Popular Marlon King.

Player of the season: Lee Chung-Yong is back from injury. Beware.

Young player of the season: Marvin Sordell’s still only 21 at now at my tip for the title. If Coyle utilises him (and he should, because he was great in this league last time), he could be extremely effective.

Manager of the season: Bolton will win the league but I’m going to go for the manager of the other team I think will go up, Lee Clark.

Shocks: Holloway leaves for a “bigger club” again, only to flop there; Warnock sacked by Ken Bates (actually, that wouldn’t be a shock, would it?); and Steve Kean stays at Blackburn for longer than a month despite poor results because Venky’s still refuse to sack him.

League One

Biggest surprise: I stand by my prediction of Colchester being the surprise package at the top (because there will almost certainly be a surprise package at the top), and also I think Scunthorpe will do reasonably well under Alan Knill now that he’s had a year to get them sorted out.

Biggest disappointment: Bournemouth, despite spending loads of money, have spent on League Two players. I predict some of them will struggle to adapt to a higher level and Mitchell will go mental again. They’ll still be mid-table.

First managerial departure: Graham Westley will bomb at Preston and Ridsdale will get Peter Reid in to replace him.

Best signing: Could yet be Reuben Reid at Yeovil, keeping them clear of relegation trouble, although I’m not convinced they’ll get top half as some have suggested might be possible.

Worst signing: Lee Trundle at Preston. What a ridiculous signing. Already out injured. O’Kane and Grabban will disappoint at Bournemouth too, as I hinted above.

Top scorer: Charlie MacDonald didn’t really click at MK Dons last season but may yet score a few this year. It’s as good a shout as any as I haven’t got a clue.

Player of the season: Matt Ritchie of Swindon, after winning it last year in League Two. Either that or he’ll move to the Premier League or, at the very least, a big Championship club.

Young player of the season: Cyrus Christie impressed me last year for Coventry. If he sticks around, this could be an even better season for the young full-back.

Manager of the season: Whichever one of Paolo Di Canio or Karl Robinson is left in a job at the end of the season.

Shocks: Coventry finally bought out by someone who cares; Steve Coppell to leave Crawley before January; and Danny Wilson to get the boot at Sheffield United.

League Two

Biggest surprise: AFC Wimbledon have quietly built a decent squad and I think people are underestimating them in the same way they used to underestimate us.

Biggest disappointment: Wycombe are in a bit of financial bother and Stuart Beavon may soon leave. I think League Two regulars who haven’t been following the situation there may be a little surprised that they won’t bounce back straight away. Also Plymouth haven’t strengthened and may yet be in relegation trouble again.

First managerial departure: John Coleman from Rochdale. Bit of a punt but I expect them to struggle this season.

Best signing: Rotherham have signed a stack of good players. Ian Sharps is a great addition to the back line while Kayode Odejayi is a very good striker for this level. Could be either of them.

Worst signing: Chris Zebroski will underwhelm again at Cheltenham

Top scorer: Despite the relative exodus of talent from the league this season, two of last season’s three joint-top scorers are still in the division: I’ll go with Bayo over Midson, which is a bit predictable, though both may get over 20 this time. I’d also keep an eye on Freddy Eastwood, who has dropped down a couple of divisions to return to his former club where he scored a stack of goals before.

Player of the season: Bayo again. Worth a go, I suppose.

Young player of the season: Michael Duberry I like the look of this guy Rovers have signed, Fabian Broghammer. In failing that, there’s always New Tredegar’s Eliot Richards of the same team.

Manager of the season: Mark McGhee if he can turn Rovers around.

Shocks: Two of the longest-serving managers in the division, Paul Tisdale and John Still, to leave their respective clubs; Rene Howe leaves Torquay in January for a League One/top end League Two club; Accrington nowhere near invincible at home this time; and Guy Branston does this time actually finish the year at Aldershot.

Written by James Bennett

August 16, 2012 at 20:32

UC: Combined predictions

leave a comment »

With just under a day and a half to get your predictions in, I’ve compiled combined prediction tables for the 4 UC leagues using everyone’s predictions, to work out an average. I’ve done this in two ways – one is just a straight average, while the other removes the highest and lowest positions the team is predicted in.

I would point out (mainly because it’s only fair if I do) that the order the teams are in now isn’t really representative of where people have predicted the teams to finish, especially in the lower leagues where there are some big ranges between best- and worst-predicted positions. Full details will be available in the UC9 spreadsheet when it’s uploaded here.

Premier League – Overall
1. Manchester City
2. Manchester United
3. Chelsea
4. Arsenal
5. Tottenham Hotspur
6. Liverpool
7. Newcastle United
8. Everton
9. Fulham
10. Sunderland
11. Aston Villa
12. West Ham United
13. Stoke City
14. Southampton
15. West Bromwich Albion
16. Reading
17. Queens Park Rangers
18. Swansea City
19. Wigan Athletic
20. Norwich City

Drop Best/Worst
1. Manchester City
2. Manchester United
3. Chelsea
4. Arsenal
5. Tottenham Hotspur
6. Liverpool
7. Newcastle United
8. Everton
9. Fulham
10. Sunderland
11. Aston Villa
12. West Ham United
13. Stoke City
14. West Bromwich Albion
15. Southampton
16. Reading
17. Queens Park Rangers
18. Swansea City
19. Wigan Athletic
20. Norwich City

Championship – Overall
1. Bolton Wanderers
2. Birmingham City
3. Leicester City
4. Wolverhampton Wanderers
5. Cardiff City
6. Blackpool
7. Middlesbrough
8. Leeds United
9. Brighton and Hove Albion
10. Hull City
11. Charlton Athletic
12. Blackburn Rovers
13. Nottingham Forest
14. Sheffield Wednesday
15. Ipswich Town
16. Derby County
17. Watford
18. Huddersfield Town
19. Burnley
20. Millwall
21. Crystal Palace
22. Bristol City
23. Barnsley
24. Peterborough United

Drop Best/Worst
1. Birmingham City
2. Bolton Wanderers
3. Leicester City
4. Wolverhampton Wanderers
5. Cardiff City
6. Blackpool
7. Middlesbrough
8. Brighton and Hove Albion
9. Leeds United
10. Hull City
11. Blackburn Rovers
12. Charlton Athletic
13. Sheffield Wednesday
14. Nottingham Forest
15. Derby County
16. Watford
17. Ipswich Town
18. Burnley
19. Huddersfield Town
20. Millwall
21. Crystal Palace
22. Bristol City
23. Barnsley
24. Peterborough United

League One – Overall
1. Sheffield United
2. Milton Keynes Dons
3. Coventry City
4. Swindon Town
5. Notts County
6. Preston North End
7. Doncaster Rovers
8. Carlisle United
9. Colchester United
10. Brentford
11. AFC Bournemouth
12. Stevenage
13. Scunthorpe United
14. Hartlepool United
15. Tranmere Rovers
16. Crawley Town
17. Yeovil Town
18. Portsmouth
19. Shrewsbury Town
20. Oldham Athletic
21. Crewe Alexandra
22. Bury
23. Leyton Orient
24. Walsall

Drop Best/Worst
1. Sheffield United
2. Milton Keynes Dons
3. Coventry City
4. Swindon Town
5. Notts County
6. Doncaster Rovers
7. Carlisle United
8. Preston North End
9. Colchester United
10. Brentford
11. Stevenage
12. AFC Bournemouth
13. Scunthorpe United
14. Hartlepool United
15. Tranmere Rovers
16. Crawley Town
17. Crewe Alexandra
18. Oldham Athletic
19. Portsmouth
20. Shrewsbury Town
21. Yeovil Town
22. Bury
23. Leyton Orient
24. Walsall

League Two – Overall
1. Southend United
2. Chesterfield
3. Rotherham United
4. Gillingham
5. Fleetwood Town
6. Bristol Rovers
7. Wycombe Wanderers
8. Oxford United
9. Cheltenham Town
10. Torquay United
11. Exeter City
12. Northampton Town
13. Rochdale
14. Port Vale
15. Bradford City
16. Aldershot Town
17. Plymouth Argyle
18. York City
19. AFC Wimbledon
20. Morecambe
21. Accrington Stanley
22. Dagenham and Redbridge
23. Burton Albion
24. Barnet

Drop Best/Worst
1. Southend United
2. Rotherham United
3. Chesterfield
4. Fleetwood Town
5. Gillingham
6. Bristol Rovers
7. Wycombe Wanderers
8. Oxford United
9. Cheltenham Town
10. Torquay United
11. Exeter City
12. Northampton Town
13. Port Vale
14. Rochdale
15. Aldershot Town
16. Bradford City
17. Plymouth Argyle
18. York City
19. AFC Wimbledon
20. Morecambe
21. Accrington Stanley
22. Dagenham and Redbridge
23. Burton Albion
24. Barnet

If you think you can do any better, now’s the time to enter.

Written by James Bennett

August 16, 2012 at 15:47

My Ultimate Championship predictions – League Two

leave a comment »

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 Two, the all-important league for myself on a personal level. Always unpredictable, and yet there is a rough hierarchy which most teams usually slot into, although there are a couple of floaters (Torquay, for instance) and always a couple of teams that don’t fit the patterns. Calls here will range from spot on to “oh fuck”. But at least this year I won’t get any abuse from Hereford fans.

1. Rotherham United – #whoatealltheplayers
New stadium, new manager, new players. Rotherham are favourites for a reason, Mr Evans. After a huge spending spree in which they added some solid League Two players to what was already a solid squad. After a few years at the dire Don Valley Stadium in neighbouring Sheffield, which must have put off a few hundred fans at least, it seems the club is banking on the New York Stadium being a hit. I think it will. Promotion at least.

2. Southend United – #bilelmohsniisatwat
This smacks as a bit of a safe choice, since form from season to season tends to vary, but given that Southend have assembled arguably the best strike-force in the division, it’s hard to look past them as promotion contenders. Building on a successful campaign last season under the experienced (some would say wily, if they wanted to include as many clichés as possible) Paul Sturrock, you’d fancy them to go one better this time as Shrewsbury did last year.

3. Bristol Rovers – #thegasworks
A bit of a gamble. Rovers, who I tipped for promotion last year, had a disastrous first half of the season, leading to the dismissal of Paul Buckle. Mark McGhee was entrusted with turning around the poor form and he did so, recovering the Pirates to a safe mid-table position. Since then, it has been about rebuilding (again). Buckle signings like Mustapha Carayol (to Middlesbrough) and Chris Zebroski (to Cheltenham) have gone out for differing reasons, and he has added to the squad. They could be contenders, though this time it would be a bit of a surprise.

4. Gillingham – #youaintnothingbutamaddog
Like him or not, Martin Allen gets results, and results are what Paul Scally wants right now. After a couple of near-misses, club hero Andy Hessenthaler has been sacked again, and Allen, a controversial, divisive figure in lower league football, has been brought in after a harsh dismissal at Notts County last year. You would think they’ll be in the play-offs this time.

5. Oxford United – #odear
Speaking from experience, Chris Wilder has once again made Oxford a difficult place for visiting teams to get results. These days they are one of those teams you would pencil in for at least a top half finish. But in recent years, there are a couple of teams who have found it difficult to bridge the gap from top half finish to play-off position, and Oxford are one of them. I fancy them to do it this year, though.

6. Fleetwood Town – #areyoucrawleyindisguise
Make no mistake, Fleetwood are this year’s Crawley – they’ve spent big in their march up the leagues. There are a few questions, granted – Micky Mellon, the former Tranmere and Blackpool player who has been their manager since 2008, has no FL experience, and it’s fair to say they haven’t spend as much money as Crawley. Their attendances may still be quite low too, although they have been growing as the club has become increasingly successful. So I think it would be unfair to predict them as high as JESUS SHITTING CHRIST LOOK AT THAT SQUAD LOOK AT IT

7. Chesterfield – #istillhaventforgottenlukebeckett
Chesterfield’s return to League One last only one season. I had expected them to do better but after losing Craig Davies to Barnsley, I should imagine it wasn’t that big a surprise. Either way, they’ve come down with a slightly weaker side than the one they went up with, but you would still think that they are likely to be contenders for a play-off spot at the very least. With striking options of Craig Westcarr, Marc Richards and Jack Lester, goals are unlikely to be a problem.

8. Port Vale – #thereisnoportvaletheyplayinburslem
On the one hand, Port Vale have been in financial trouble and have gradually lost a couple of their better players, including captain and 11-12 top scorer Marc Richards. On the other hand, the takeover is in the process of going through (although at the time of writing, doubts had resurfaced), Micky Adams is still in charge, they still have the core of a good side, incoming players include Jennison Myrie-Williams, David Artell and Richard Duffy, and they are still one of the biggest clubs in the division. Always a solid bet for a top 10 spot, and could sneak into the play-offs.

9. Northampton Town – #putabootthroughit
After a couple of seasons stuck in the mire, Northampton should recover this year – I say should, because it’s never guaranteed in this division. They’ve certainly got plenty of options going forward – Adebayo Akinfenwa was one of the division’s leading scorers last year, and he has been joined by the experienced Clive Platt, while winger Chris Hackett joins from Millwall. But there are two question marks – one is the defence, and the other is Aidy Boothroyd, who’s one of those managers who keeps promising so much and then fails to deliver.

10. Bradford City – #avoidodsalatallcosts
Bradford are one of those clubs everyone seems to predict to finish high up the table but then struggle; certainly that was the case last year. However, they did pick up form after the arrival of Phil Parkinson as manager, and this summer has seen the former Colchester manager initiate a massive clear-out. In have come former Rochdale veteran Gary Jones, Swindon’s Alan Connell, former Hull winger Will Atkinson, and five other players, all on free transfers. While I think the play-offs might be a bridge too far, this could be the season where finally Bradford avoid a struggle.

11. Cheltenham Town – #whaddoyouknow
Last season, Cheltenham confounded all expectations by reaching the play-off final at Wembley. Like Torquay in 2010-11, it wasn’t the prettiest way of getting to the top but it was effective and relied on a great midfield playmaker. Somehow they’ve managed to hold on to Marlon Pack, who impressed me in the play-offs and certainly impressed whoever decided to include him in the League Two Team of the Year. Jermaine McGlashan and Kaid Mohamed are also still there on the flanks. They’ve lost Spencer and Burgess, who were both on loan last year, but have brought in Chris Zebroski to compliment Daryl Duffy and Jeff Goulding, two good League Two level strikers. However, it is still difficult to see them repeating last year’s feats.

12. Wycombe Wanderers – #sitdownshutup
The Chairboys are one of those clubs that usually bounce straight back after relegation, at least with a positive campaign even if they miss out on promotion. This time, though, it looks like it’ll be difficult. Financial trouble, though not totally crippling, has left them with a lack of striking options in particular – with Stuart Beavon inevitably on his way sooner rather than later, that leaves with Dennis Oli and Richard Logan. It would be wrong to totally underestimate them – they’ve even managed to tempt Gary Doherty down to League Two – but I think this year they’ll just be happy with a top half finish, which is just about what I’ve given them.

13. Aldershot Town – #theyvehad20yearsofthisshot
Aldershot have been a mid-table side since promotion from the Conference, and I can’t see that not continuing. On the one hand, they have added to a side that was already reasonably strong – two former Torquay players have arrived after poor 2011-12 seasons in Craig Stanley and Guy Branston, while Guy Madjo and former Stevenage and Newport striker Craig Reid are interesting acquisitions up front. I’m struggling to get excited about the squad but I see no reason why they’ll struggle.

14. AFC Wimbledon – #undergroundoverground
Last year, the aim for The Dons was survival in their first season back in the Football League. 16th was good. This year, the aim is surely consolidation, and they look like they have a squad that should achieve this. Although I did suspect they might struggle in what will be a more competitive league this year, they’ve made some good signings and some of their Conference heroes have left; I can relate to that, since that was pretty much the same process that we went through after we struggled in our first year back in the league. The squad has a really solid feel to it, and retaining the league’s joint-top scorer Jack Midson is key. They could surprise people.

15. Exeter City – #greekfinancialcrisis
Paul Tisdale is quite possibly the best manager in the lower leagues. Look at his record – he is the most successful manager in Exeter’s history, taking them from the Conference to the top half of League One in five years, and has done it all on free transfers. This alone is what Exeter has going for it this year – surely a Tisdale side won’t struggle again. Of course the alternative scenario is that it isn’t a Tisdale side at the end of the season, but I still think the players they have, with all the experience of the likes of Cureton and Doherty, should see them to a solid mid-table finish.

16. Torquay United – #mydingaling
Ouch. 16th, really? Well, where do I start? With O’Kane and Olejnik gone, Torquay are down two of their most important players in 2011-12 – fans can talk down O’Kane’s contribution for the sake of being optimistic, but I think that’s detracting from the wider issue. O’Kane also hasn’t been replaced (and the potential in-squad replacements aren’t too convincing), two centre-backs have been replaced by one (at the moment), the squad also lacks striking options, and end-of-season form, often a sign of things to come, was poor. It’s hard to see another play-off challenge coming out of this. The form of lead striker Rene Howe is going to be key.

17. Rochdale – #colemansteamnotcuttingthemustard
Past form suggests at least one of the clubs relegated from League One goes on to have a poor following season in League Two too. My money’s on Rochdale, who overachieved in their first year in League One, and then plummeted down the table after losing their manager and key players, and finished well adrift at the bottom. Having lost more players, I can’t see how anything positive can come from this. I actually have family connections to Rochdale so I don’t want to see this, but this was one of my early calls.

18. York City – #ivelostmytrainofthought
No club has yet made an immediate return to the Conference after promotion from it, and I can’t see it happening this season either. Despite this, it’s fair to say that York weren’t the second best team in the Conference last season; in fact, the table suggests they were the fourth best. Such is the quirk of the play-off system. I think they should be safe as they have a solid squad but I don’t expect huge feats from them. I may have underestimated them putting them this low but it’s a competitive division this year.

19. Plymouth Argyle – #warrenfeeneylol
When I did my first rough draft of my predicted league table, I had Plymouth quite a bit higher, with the expectation that their reputation would draw in some quality players that would help erase the memory of a dire 2011-12. However, it simply hasn’t happened. It’s pretty much the same squad that struggled last year, although Nick Chadwick has been signed permanently which at least gives them someone who can score. They are relying heavily on the form and development of youngsters like Luke Moore and Conor Hourihane. That’s not me as a biased Torquay fan – I’m not really all that bothered. I just can’t see how it’s going to be that much better if the players are the same.

20. Burton Albion – #disappearinginacloudoftyresmoke
Burton’s form dipped horrifically in the second half of the season, and they would surely have been relegated had they not had such a positive start. This was despite having Justin Richards, Billy Kee and Calvin Zola all leading the line. After this, it’s safe to say Burton have settled as a bottom-half side, and I can’t see this changing with the side little changed after that spiral out of control and an inexperienced manager in Gary Rowett. But I think the talent they’ve got going forward should be just enough to keep them from the drop.

21. Accrington Stanley – #thewrathofkhan
Accy have been punching above their weight for a couple of seasons now, but lost long-term manager John Coleman to Rochdale last year, and chairman Ilyas Khan also resigned. Instability like that often prepares the way for a struggle, and I have a feeling they will find it tough this year. Looking at their results towards the end of the season, they picked up only 2 wins in the last 9 matches, with 6 defeats. A side that was virtually unbeatable at home in 2010-11, they may once again be banking on their form at the Crown Ground to keep them safe from relegation.

22. Morecambe – #actuallyericwasalutonfan
Last season started so well for Morecambe, but in the second half of the season, like Burton, they fell away dramatically, finishing 15th. That’s never a good sign going into a new season. Of course, they may recover and I could be totally wrong. But this is Morecambe, not a traditionally big club. Do they have the resources to stop the rot? Jim Bentley doesn’t have a huge of amount of experience. I’m really not sure which way this could go, but past form suggests it won’t go well. I think they could struggle this year. But I predicted that last year too.

23. Barnet – #floatlikeabutterflystinglikeabutterfly
Perennial strugglers Barnet avoided relegation on the last day of the season again thanks to another Martin Allen intervention. Can anyone see that being any different, aside from the lack of a Martin Allen intervention? Even if they don’t go down, you’d still expect them to be towards the foot of the table – last year they nearly went down despite having Izale McLeod, one of the best strikers in League Two. Jon Nurse isn’t exactly a comforting replacement, even if he is a good striker. I get the impression Barnet may play their first season at The Hive in the Conference but don’t rule out another miraculous escape.

24. Dagenham and Redbridge – #keepstill
After a double promotion, the team the videprinters call Dag & Red have come back to Earth with a bump over the last two seasons. They ended the season relatively well, with only 1 defeat in the last 10 to a Shrewsbury side cruising into League One. It wasn’t an easy run-in either. Having said that, I still don’t fancy their chances for this season. I’m sure most Daggers fans would be willing to admit that they’re not a big club for this division and so they’re always going to be up against it. Maybe it’s harsh, maybe I’m going to get abuse from Daggers fans, but I’ve got to put someone bottom, and ideally not Barnet since they’ll probably scrape survival again. Having said that, if they carry their form over, they could ‘do a Morecambe’, although that may only last them until halfway through the season. So I’m open-minded.

Note: I’ve made some late changes to this, because I have no spine. Originally the bottom 8 was going to be:

17. Plymouth
18. Rochdale
19. Accrington
20. York
21. Morecambe
22. Dagenham
23. Barnet
24. Burton

Written by James Bennett

August 15, 2012 at 18:30