“You never see a bookmaker on a bicycle” is an old phrase often quoted around the time of the Cheltenham National Hunt Festival.

I’m not a gambler but thousands of fans across just about every sport you can think of believe they know their own sphere well enough to predict either individual results or sets of them. Racing’s
“Scoop6” went unclaimed for 12 weeks until it was finally split on Saturday between eight winners. The prize pot was over £10 million pounds, which just only goes to prove how hard any predicting can be.

On the football field, we now know the make up of the Championship, League 1 and League 2 for next season after the play offs.

It was a miserable weekend for BBC Radio Derby, who had to endure defeats for both Derby County and Burton Albion. The mood wouldn’t have been much better at Leyton Orient, who lost on penalties after leading 2-0 in normal time to Rotherham. Their joy was shared by QPR and Fleetwood, with the Cod Army now playing in the third tier for the first time.

I’m pleased to say that in my own League 2 predictions, I had Fleetwood to finish in the top eight. The division is so hard to call – witness a gap of only 12 points between eighth placed Oxford and relegated Bristol Rovers – that I split it into three last August. Like many events with a big field, there were some howlers alongside a modest degree of accuracy.

At the top, the story wasn’t too bad. I had four of the leading group. Chesterfield were champions, Burton and Fleetwood both got to Wembley and Oxford
were one place outside the play offs, albeit on a slide that meant the gap between them and the final play off place was nine points.

I expected Portsmouth and Bury to be in there, but both were improving at the end. Cheltenham rarely threatened and ended up 17th, and as for Bristol Rovers, their fall was the greatest surprise.

In mid March they didn’t look in trouble. They ended up being in the bottom two for about an hour on the final day, and they couldn’t get out. Clubs like Eastleigh, Forest Green and Salisbury will welcome their strong travelling support, but on the field Rovers will not find it a cakewalk.

In such a tight division, you could argue that League 2 didn’t really have a middle at all, which probably explains why the group I saw occupying places 9-16 ended up being so diverse.

I undercooked the potential of Rochdale and Scunthorpe. The former have now been taken up twice by Keith Hill, who deserves great credit when you consider Rochdale were in the fourth tier for 36 consecutive seasons until 2010.

Russ Wilcox’s efforts at Scunthorpe, who lost only one game after he took over in November, shouldn’t be underestimated either although he was well backed by the board in the January transfer window. After Nigel Adkins’ success with “The Iron” it is clearly a club where internal promotions work.

I had York and Plymouth as improving sides at the start of the season. Argyle did to finish 10th, and York’s late run was so good it took them through the pack into the play offs. Newport and Exeter were where I had thought they’d be, but Northampton and Wycombe were not. Both escaped the drop with wins on the final day of the season, and will expect better. The Cobblers may have the greater chance of progress.

Perhaps it says something about football in general that money, increasingly, talks in every division. My bottom eight included the smallest of the 24
teams in League 2, so to get four of them right maybe shouldn’t be too difficult.

Morecambe were never in real trouble in the closing weeks of the season, and the same could be said for AFC Wimbledon and Hartlepool, although neither finished the season very well. Torquay, despite a change of manager in January, went down.

Accrington, under James Beattie, started dreadfully but again confounded those who see relegation as inevitable for a club squeezed between Blackburn in the west and Burnley in the east.

They ended up in the middle third, as did Mansfield who, in getting to 60 points, sent Bristol Rovers down by beating them on the final Saturday. In both cases it was higher than I anticipated, as was Dagenham and Redbridge finishing ninth. Wayne Burnett’s first full season will be a hard one to follow.

I also had Southend in the bottom eight. They were the other play off semi final losers, having been fifth in the final table. Phil Brown’s programme notes for the second leg against Burton said “see you at Wembley.” He was there working for the BBC, but his team were not.

Over the next couple of months, all the clubs will trade players. Some deals have already been done. I expect a lull in June, and then, as pre-season gets underway, squads will take shape. Already the bookmakers have newly promoted Luton as favourites for the title. Will next season be any easier to predict ? I doubt it.

Photograph : Copyright http://www.johnstonespainttrophy.com


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