A League 2 blog with an overwhelmingly pro-Torquay United bias
You’d think that after weeks of research, days of behind-the-scenes proof-reading and a series of bitter email exchanges we’d have arrived at an informed consensus around how League 2 will play out this season. The reality is that our individual presuppositions and prejudices are still in rude health: it’s probably no surprise that neither of us ranked our own supported teams less highly than the other two, but there were also some less predictable differences of opinion.
For our final posts, we’ve each examined the table below, which ranks the teams by the average of our three predicted positions for them, and rationalised our own choices against those of the other two. This post contains my individual views and you’ll find links to those of Danny and Maxi towards the end. If you’ve missed any of the individual team summaries, these can be found via the ‘Previews’ menu above, or via the links peppered throughout.
Apart from Maxi’s elevation of Oxford at Shrewsbury’s expense, we’ve all gone for the same top three. Seeing as he previewed the Yellows he may know something we don’t, but I just see it as too big a step change from last season’s mid-table finish. They definitely look stronger for their season back in the Football League though and should have a part to play in the promotion race. We all agreed that Crawley‘s gargantuan budget and Bristol Rovers‘ more modest largesse combined with the appointment of Paul Buckle make them both promotion favourites. Like Danny I’ve also chosen Shrewsbury, who by rights should have gone up last season and as a more settled team with momentum on their side should have the required edge.
While I’m hopeful that Torquay will be capable of repeating last season’s impressive performance, I’m not prepared to jinx them here and am still wary of the effect that our close season disruptions may have on our start to the campaign. The only team here which we all agree on forming part of the top 7 is Rotherham, who started last season well and have so far successfully fended off bids for star striker Adam Le Fondre. I’m not convinced that they’re settled enough to secure automatic promotion though, given the recent regime change. Gillingham are the only side in the combined top 7 I personally (and only very slightly) disagree with, based on a few performance issues that need ironing out and the severe injury to new signing Adam Birchall which might leave them light up front compared to last season.
I’ve backed Oxford to break into the promotion reckoning given the budget permitted by the size of their support and their encouraging first season back in the division. Swindon will be perhaps the most fascinating team to watch this season: their marquee managerial appointment of Paolo di Canio is an ambitious gamble that promises to be spectacular in either success or failure. Narrowly missing out on the combined play-off picture due to nobody being prepared to give them a ringing endorsement, Northampton are nevertheless considered to be capable of a vastly improved season in which a play-off place should be a minimum target.
I’m ashamed to be associated with people who’d insult Torquay in such a way. 16th! My co-writers’ masks have slipped and I now pronounce them guilty of representing everything that is wrong with football. While I’m not expecting another play-off finish, Martin Ling’s promising start has made me confident that this shouldn’t be an anonymous season for the Gulls.
Onto less hysterical fare, we disagree more civilly on a few teams in particular. I’m slightly less optimistic about AFC Wimbledon‘s chances of announcing their return to the Football League with a bang, but I’m sure that they’re capable of establishing themselves with relative ease this season. Where I’m more generous is in my assessment of Dagenham & Redbridge‘s chances: they almost survived in League 1 last season so should be a safe bet for a top half finish.
We all found this part of the table the toughest to call, and Southend aptly illustrate the difficulty in separating teams in this region. Despite possessing a talented range of players including clinical striker Barry Corr, last season’s revelation Bilel Mohsni and young star Kane Ferdinand, one can’t help but see the inconsistency and frailties that plagued so many sides last season and wonder which will prevail. Crewe are another such side who, like the Shrimpers, looked to be on the verge of breaking into the play-off picture only to fall away at the business end of the season. Formidable entertainers at home, their Achilles’ heel was their away form and now shorn of League 2’s top scorer Clayton Donaldson they look vulnerable. I might have been a tad harsh with my low placing compared to my co-previewers, but it was likewise genuinely tough to argue them any higher, much as I like both sides.
None of us appear to have blown away by Bradford‘s summer remodelling: despite some impressive signings having arrived, the jury appears to be out on whether they can manage a tilt at the play-offs. While Port Vale looked promotion certainties for much of last season, the manner, suddenness and lingering causes and effects of their fall from grace have all but eliminated them from our promotion radars.
Maxi’s kindness is all that saved Aldershot from an even lower placing; on reflection my assessment of them is probably a bit harsh (I was probably still angry about the other two’s brazen dismissal of Torquay). Their shot-shyness last season counts against them in what is arguably a tougher division this time around, but they’re an effective side with a talented young manager who has an eye for a bargain. Plymouth are a side that uncertainty drove us all to place in lower mid-table, but with much still to be decided at Home Park their fate is the hardest to assess within the confines of our trivial, self-imposed format. What we can say is that we’re all hoping that the final league table has 24 teams in it.
The relegation battle
We’re reasonably aligned in our expectations for the bottom six, with Danny and Maxi in complete agreement over membership if not order. They both have much higher hopes for Cheltenham and a lower opinion of Accrington than I: while few expect a repeat of Stanley’s play-off challenge given the loss of Jimmy Ryan in particular, I can’t see them plummeting as ignominiously as the other two suggest. As far as the Robins are concerned, to me they don’t seem to have made the strides necessary to avoid a repeat of last season’s struggles.
We all seem united in anticipating another disappointing season for Morecambe, who are far from a bad side but are coming off the back of a poor season which no doubt counted against then. We all agree they’re too good to go down, which is more than can be said for unlucky Macclesfield, who have lost several key players and will need to draw heavily on their evident reserves of spirit to stay in the Football League.
Agreement on a team who’d struggle similarly was trickier: the other two have it in for Hereford, but ignoring Simon Davey’s ill-fated reign and their 3 point deduction shows last season’s performance in a much more favourable light: they’ll be fine. I’m much more concerned for Burton, who like others I’ve mentioned have some talented players at their disposal but can struggle to fire as a team. The loss of ‘keeper Adam Legzdins and their poor away record (a problem which Hereford for one don’t have) may well do for them.
Like Hereford, it was easier to find a reason from last season’s showing to justify not mentally demoting Barnet: their superlative-exhausting survival dash showed what they’re capable of, and with Lawrie Sanchez joining Guiliano Grazioli at the helm things are surely looking up at Underhill.
Last season was fantastic and there’s no reason why this one won’t be every bit as entertaining, with some significant arrivals from both directions. Hopefully this preview has likewise entertained more than it has enraged. It certainly wasn’t the intention to court controversy or to do any team a disservice; rather it’s been an attempt to make the pre-season pass more quickly, sharpen the anticipation of the coming season and to make it more interesting by having our credibility riding on the outcome! Thanks to those who’ve read our work over the past week and for the unexpectedly positive comments we’ve had along the way.
Two more perspectives
A footnote on the rankings
Where 2 teams have the same average rank, placings are decided secondly on the highest position that any one of us has predicted for them, and then on the least lowest. To give an example, Torquay are above Dag & Red because the Gulls’ highest individual rank was 9th compared to the Daggers’ 10th. Beneath them, both Port Vale and Crewe had the same average rank and highest individual rank of 12th, but the Railwaymen’s lowest was 17th compared to the Valiants’ 15th, placing Vale higher overall. I’ve just realised that apart from the separation of 1st and 2nd, that’s the only place in this table where the secondary and tertiary sorting is even relevant, so it’s less of an example and more of a complete explanation of every case. Ah well.