League One does not look a strong division on paper ahead of the new season. Perfect timing then for an outsider to put together a promotion charge...
|With Charlton, Sheff Wed and Huddersfield promoted last season, League |
One looks unusually weak as teams prepare to go again in 2012/13
Cast your eyes down the League One table for 2012/13. Then, once you've finished yawning, pick your two teams to get automatic promotion.
Congratulations on immediately selecting Sheffield United before, thinking yourself slightly shrewd, opting for MK Dons as your second pick. We've all got those two as well. Still, give yourself a pat on the back.
Now the hard bit: pick your four teams for the play-offs.
This is you: "Hmm.... errr.... ooh, bit tricky.... crumbs.... can I get back to you?"
This year's League One looks like depressingly humdrum fare on paper. In most other seasons, relegated sides in dire financial straits like Portsmouth and Coventry would be settling for consolidating in mid-table, content to avoid the dreaded back-to-back relegations. Yet among such an average crop, they might actually fancy their chances. Although having just read this about Portsmouth's plight, perhaps not.
Most of the famous names that have slipped into this league in recent times have now managed to haul themselves out again. In a division that increasingly looks like a gathering place for the country's most tedious teams to wallow in their inoffensively low-key mediocrity, if ever there was a season for surprise packages this is surely it.
Carlisle looked to be quietly building something last season, and probably didn't get the credit they deserved for almost making the play-offs. Likewise Stevenage kicked on from their excellent run in recent seasons, only narrowly missing out on a date at Wembley as Sheffield United managed to nudge them aside in the play-off semis. Both sides will hope to go a step further this season. Heck, they'll never have a better chance.
There are also great heaped tablespoonfuls of pressure on Preston and Bournemouth to have strong seasons. Both are ambitious and itching to get promotion, but we know from
Preston manager Graham Westley, known for his eccentric methods and gruelling marine-like training regime, doesn't seem to be endearing himself to Preston's squad, recently informing a whopping eight players by text message that they needn't bother turning up for pre-season training. One of the eight was Iain Hume, considered not only one of Preston's best players but one of the best in the division. Westley does things his way and it either works or it doesn't, but it wouldn't be a huge surprise to see the Preston board's trigger finger twitching if they start the season poorly.
|Could Swindon be a surprise package |
and win back-to-back promotions?
The Bournemouth board are determined to win promotion this year, with Mitchell rarely one to shy away from a bold statement. In any other season you'd put him saying "I want the club to win the league and that's the main aim" down to naivety, but with League One so lacklustre on paper perhaps that is a genuinely achievable ambition. Much like Preston though, don't be overly surprised if an early-season managerial change disrupts Bournemouth to such an extent that they start planning for 2013/14 season earlier than most.
Anyone else? Notts County quietly went about their business in finishing seventh last term. They could be dark horses again. And what of promoted Crawley and Swindon? Under the thoughtful stewardship of Sean O'Driscoll, Crawley will play nice football and could challenge provided there's still some mysterious money left in the mysterious money pot. And who would bet against Swindon carrying on as they left off last season, as manager Paolo di Canio continues to inspire and impress in equal measure.
There appears to be a great heaving mass of teams that seem unlikely to get promoted but are perhaps too good to go down: Brentford, Bury, Colchester, Doncaster, Hartlepool, Leyton Orient, Oldham, Scunthorpe. Most of these sides will expect to snuggle up to the cosy embrace of mid-table security. Yet while relegation is probably as likely as promotion for most of them, if ever there was a season to throw the kitchen sink at a promotion push, this is it. Brentford would seem most likely to surprise as Uwe Rosler continues his steady progress there. They seemed a bit of a Jekyll and Hyde team last season, but if they can find some consistency then anything is possible.
If we get one or two surprise packages in League One this season, it could be all the more exciting for the lack of big names in the division. However, if those surprise packages fail to emerge, it could easily become brain-meltingly tedious.