League One season previews (July/August 2011)

The Owls have signed Julian Bennett, Rob Jones, David Prutton and José Semedo this summer.

At the end of July 2011, and the beginning of August, I contributed to two season previews.

Firstly, I previewed Sheffield Wednesday’s 2011/2012 League One campaign for The Seventy Two Unfortunates’ pre-season PDF supplement.

Headline of the summer?

The departure of the gutless Darren Potter to potential playoff rivals Milton Keynes.

Potter, alongside James O’Connor and Tommy Spurr, was largely responsible for the Owls’ relegation to League One with his tendency to shirk tackles and pass sideways or backwards at any given opportunity.

Getting rid of Potter could prove to be Gary Megson’s masterstroke and is destined to improve the dynamism of the Owls’ midfield tenfold.

Any major worries?

A possible lack of goals is a major worry.

Wednesday’s current roster of strikers include Clinton Morrison, the unproven Nathan Modest, and Gary Madine – whose off-the-field problems remain a pressing concern – and none of them have shown much sign of being a prolific goalscorer in League One.

Recruiting new strikers has also been a difficult task, as the Owls’ continued interest in Preston North End’s Neil Mellor has ensured that slow progress has been made in this matter.

Mellor should not be seen as the club’s saviour because his performances, during his loan spell at Hillsborough last season, were wildly inconsistent and the fact he scored in only nine League One games last season distorts a goalscoring record that looks excellent on paper.

Goals in midfield are also a problem because, although the signings of José Semedo and David Prutton should improve a lightweight midfield, there is a distinct lack of flair, and pacy winger Jermaine Johnson has had numerous injuries in recent seasons.

On a rating from 1 to 10, how financially stable is your club?

The financial stability of Sheffield Wednesday is very good and can be rated as 8 out of 10.

Milan Mandarić’s takeover last season wiped out the £27 million debt that had haunted Hillsborough for over a decade and the club now has the impetus to compete the transfer market, especially seeing that the signings of Semedo and Julian Bennett may not have been possible last summer.

Mandarić has also declared that he wants Sheffield Wednesday to be financially sustainable and will not be chasing promotion by recklessly spending money.

This has unfairly been seen as unambitious by some fans, particularly when the club failed to sign Dagenham & Redbridge’s Danny Green, but the club’s sensible spending policy should be seen as one of Sheffield Wednesday’s best decisions in recent years.

Opposition that you’re most worried about?

Sheffield Wednesday’s toughest opponents should be Charlton Athletic.

There were similarities between the two clubs last season: both teams had takeovers in December 2010 and finished the season underwhelmingly.

Although they lack competition up-front, the Addicks undoubtedly have the strongest midfield in the division and should be seen as favourites for the League One title.

Where will you finish this season?

This season should see Sheffield Wednesday improve on last season’s disappointing 15th placed finish: the arrivals of Bennett and Rob Jones should ensure that the Owls’ leaky defence is a thing of the past, and the team is now expected to be a well-drilled outfit.

But there is still plenty of deadwood in the squad and injuries to key attacking players could be a big blow, particularly as Wednesday look like a side with few goals in them.

A playoff challenge, rather than automatic promotion, seems the most realistic target.

Mid-table consolidation could be the most probable scenario, though.

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Secondly, for the Two Footed Tackle website [EDIT: which is defunct, as of 2012], I answered some questions about League One football for their Five Go Predicting series.

Who’ll win the title & get promotion?

Securing the signatures of Danny Hollands, Dale Stephens, Rhoys Wiggins, Danny Green and numerous others is a statement of Charlton Athletic’s intent to gain automatic promotion.

A lack of striking options is a worry, but the Addicks undoubtedly have the strongest midfield in the division and a comfortable title win for this ambitious side beckons.

Huddersfield Town were unlucky not to be promoted last season and an overdue return to the Championship is likely to be achieved this season, via a second-placed finish.

Anthony Pilkington’s move to Norwich City and the probable departure of Gary Roberts will leave a hole in the Terriers’ midfield, but manager Lee Clark has been shrewd enough to invest in young talent including Oscar Gobern and Donal McDermott.

Who’ll make the playoffs?

It will be interesting to see whether Preston North End will sell any further players, during the course of this season, but their squad is still looking very competitive.

Phil Brown’s ability as a manager is often underappreciated and he nearly did enough to secure survival in the Championship last season.

If Brown is not forced to sell any more important players, a playoff spot should be attained with ease.

Scunthorpe United are one of the best-run clubs in the Football League, and retaining continuity and being prudent in the transfer market should come as little surprise.

The Lincolnshire-based outfit are a classic case of not being good enough to go up automatically, while having more than enough quality to effortlessly secure a place in the playoffs.

New Brentford manager Uwe Rösler will be eager to make a good impression and his dealings in the transfer market, including signing forward Clayton Donaldson on a free transfer, will do him no harm.

The loan capture of Glasgow Celtic winger Niall McGinn is a coup at this level and they have also secured the signature of Jonathan Douglas, who is one of League One’s most underrated midfielders.

Unlike last season’s other surprise playoff contenders, Leyton Orient have improved their squad.

Marc Laird, Leon McSweeney and Scott Cuthbert are all solid additions, while the signings of strikers Jamie Cureton and David Mooney should be enough to catapult Orient from being playoff hopefuls to playoff finalists.

Which sides will get relegated?

Many will see Stevenage as this season’s basement outfit in League One and it is easy to see why, considering that their dealings in the transfer market have been a tad uninspiring.

But, if they maintain last season’s impressive defensive record, they may do better than expected.

As things stand, though, emulating Dagenham & Redbridge’s brave survival bid is the best that the club can currently hope for.

Paul Dickov’s start as Oldham Athletic manager was promising, but the Latics’ mid-season collapse in form never looked like ending and the club’s cash flow worries could be a major hindrance.

It will be difficult to replace midfielder Dale Stephens’ flair and goals, and it is also hard to see where any good form will come from this season.

Tranmere Rovers and Yeovil Town, meanwhile, have two of the smallest squads in the division and this could be their downfall.

Both teams have lost key players this summer and proven replacements have not yet been found.

The return of Gavin Williams will be a morale booster for the Glovers, even if former Everton trainee Kieran Agard struggles to replicate Dean Bowditch’s fine goalscoring form.

Both teams have done well to avoid the drop in previous seasons but, if they fail to make any further signings, they may be unlucky this time round.

Are there any sides you think may be a surprise package this season?

Out of the four promoted sides, Chesterfield look best equipped to do well in League One.

John Sheridan’s reputation of managing sides that play attractive football gained many admirers last season and they also have a good team spirit, which is a pre-requisite for success in League One.

Although losing forward Craig Davies to Barnsley is a blow, their defensive additions should ensure that last season’s momentum is maintained.

A playoff spot could be beyond the Spireites, but a top-half finish is a feasible target.

Notts County’s Martin Allen is a manager with a point to prove and he has made some smart transfers over the summer.

Jeff Hughes and Ishmel Demontagnac will add some much-needed competition on the flanks, and Hamza Bencherif is another useful addition in midfield.

The Magpies have enough quality to be surprise playoff challengers and, even if that does not happen, there will not be a repeat of last season’s relegation battle.

Which players in the division should we look out for this season?

The hurt of losing Anthony Pilkington will be softened by the arrival of winger-cum-forward Danny Ward at Huddersfield Town.

Ward has already impressed League One supporters, during his goal-filled loan spells at the Galpharm Stadium and Swindon Town, and he should be an automatic starter for the Terriers.

Opposing League One defenders should be very scared.

Goalscoring midfielders-cum-strikers are starting to become a more regular fixture in League One, and recent Rochdale signing Ashley Grimes may soon be added to that list.

The former Manchester City trainee scored 15 goals in 27 League Two games for Lincoln City last season and, if he had arrived on loan earlier, Grimes probably would have single-handedly kept the Imps up, despite his poor attitude and disciplinary record.

If Rochdale are to avoid ‘second-season syndrome’, Grimes will be expected to do more of the same.

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