Pristine pitches, a coat of paint here and there, and (probably) a warm sunny day. Welcome to a ground near you on the opening day of the Football League season. Actually, given the painting, welcome to League 2 – yes, the bottom division but with no less passion or interest for those that care about their teams than the Premier League, and, frankly, a lot more connectivity.
Dropping in are Bury, Hartlepool, Portsmouth and Scunthorpe. Joining in an upward direction are Mansfield and Newport, the only two teams for whom it will be hard to better their achievements last season. The rest will think they can – not all of them will be right.
I tend to think of the table as three groups of eight teams, and I’m not sure there will be much in the way of change.
In the top group, it’s hard to ignore Portsmouth. True, Bradford City – a club with similar levels of support – took a while in League 2 to get their act together but Pompey have signed some players with decent pedigree, and while they might start slowly, over 46 games they ought to be too good for the rest.
Up there with them I expect to be several teams in and around the top last year. Burton Albion and Cheltenham both reached the play offs through strong home records, and while key players have left, both look to have recruited solid replacements. They will think top seven is a par mark, as will Chesterfield, despite admitting publicly to being over budget already.
Oxford have had a major overhaul in their squad and brought in a lot of experience, while Fleetwood, who fell away in the spring, have gone for goalscorers over the summer. My other two teams for this group are Bristol Rovers, providing their long term injury list doesn’t get any worse, and Bury. The new board at Gigg Lane have backed Kevin Blackwell to bring in 15 new players so again they might be a side that needs time to knit together.
In the middle of the table, emotions will be different. A couple of clubs will improve to get here, while others will have enjoyed better times before. I see the climbers as Plymouth and York. Both were among six teams that were within four points of going down in April, but have managers starting their first full season with a point to prove. York have tried to up their goal tally by signing four strikers, and Argyle haven’t been slack in that area either.
Their Devon neighbours Exeter, having lost Jamie Cureton to Cheltenham, might find things a bit
harder than last season, as I suspect will Northampton without Adebayo Akinfenwa. I don’t expect much change for Rochdale and Wycombe, and despite signing a few old heads Scunthorpe might be in this group too. Of the new boys, I expect Newport to do better than Mansfield, and mid table for them would be no disgrace.
At the bottom, some teams seem to be perenially looking over their shoulders, and it tends to be those for whom staying afloat is an acheivement in itself.
Dagenham & Redbridge and Accrington both have rookie managers, as do Hartlepool who, although
in League 1 last year, look vulnerable to me. Mansfield have lost the goals of Matt Green since their promotion, but ought to have enough to survive, and I would put AFC Wimbledon in the same bracket. There’s no Rene Howe at Torquay and at Morecambe, Jack Redshaw has a long term injury. Both may look upon safety as satisfactory. That leaves Southend, who appear to be in a degree of termoil. I don’t expect them to be uprooting any trees.
The joy of this time of year is that everyone has an opinion. The joy of a 46 game season is that there are unpredictable results, events and spells of form,
If you watch the same film or play more than once, the ending doesn’t change. It’s the unknown story line in every 90 minutes that keeps football fans coming back.
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