Our bogey team of last season begins this one mired in a scandal surrounding a rape accusation of several of their first-team players. Despite this Crewe have every reason to look forward to this coming season. Despite losing key players in Luke Murphy, Braden Inman and Chuks Aneke, they have kept their influential manager Steve Davis despite overtures from local rivals Wolves. Some might suggest that after two consecutive seasons of success following Davis’s ascent to Football League management that he is due a difficult season. I would counter this notion by pointing to how last summer Crewe lost three key players in Nick Powell, Lee Bell and David Artell and due to Davis’s insipired approach to recruitment they were able to secure their newly found place in League One with relative ease, winning the JPT on the way. The signings this summer are once again low-key with perhaps former Stevenage and Southend midfielder the pick of the bunch. Crewe displayed so clearly in that JPT area final their qualities both individually and as a team and with players such as Steve Phillips, Mathias Pogba and AJ Leitch-Smith still around it’s hard forseeing a struggle for Crewe this season other than trying to replicate the highs of their past two seasons. For me Crewe are at least a mid-table side and at best one of the dark horses for the play-offs should they avoid injuries to key players.
For all of Martin Allen’s years as a football manager, Gillingham last season were the side that he ever achieved promotion with. Last year Gillingham built an effective team unit centred around a strong defence and utilisation of wingers and set-pieces. This season you would imagine that the defensive advantage they enjoyed over lesser opposition will be tested if not entirely eroded. The onus then is on Gillingham’s strikers to convert the chances to lessen the burden of their defenders. With a tight budget, Allen has elected to centre his sides hopes around reigniting the 2010-11 Gills strike partnership of Adebayo Akinfenwa and ex-Sky Blue Cody McDonald, both of whom lack a proven record at League One level. That being said his defenders do possess a large amount of third-tier experience in the form of Leon Legge and Adam Barrett who look to be their pivotal players in avoiding an immediate return to League Two. At the very least their defensive solidity should prevent a repeat of their last campaign at this level where they failed to win a single away match. My prediction is that Gillingham will have a relegation battle on their hands this season, especially with such a small squad at this present moment.
The last team to win a football match at the Ricoh Arena are for the forseeable future Leyton Orient. Their visit to Coventry came at the zenith of their league season which once appeared to be on the verge of disaster but eventually resulted in a highly respectable 7th place finish for Russell Slade’s side. The main departures for the O’s have been former Q.P.R. pair Lee Cook and Martin Rowlands as well as ex-Chelsea youth teamer Jimmy Smith who has now signed for Stevenage. It’s doubtful whether O’s fans seriously expect a repeat of last season’s finish but would perhaps expect a more solid start than last year’s where they were struggling for goals as well as points up until mid-November. So far business has been muted with ex-Millwall winger Shaun Batt signing permanently and a chance being taken on French trialist Yohann Lasimant. The core of last season’s squad is just about there and with the attacking threats of Kevin Lisbie and Dean Cox still around they have potential to threaten most teams in this division on their day. However given their currently shallow squad size and the sheer number of improving teams in the division I anticipate that Orient shall have to endure another battle in order to achieve anything other than mid-table obscurity and could be an outside bet for relegation should injuries go against them.
Milton Keynes Dons
After failing yet again to achieve promotion and this time seeming to take a backwards step in failing to reach the play-offs, the pressure is on cocky MK manager Karl Robinson to deliver a promotion in order to maintain his reputation. Furthermore their summer business appears to suggest that the financial reigns at Milton Keynes are being drawn in as the years tick by without second tier football. The departure of defensive pairing Gary MacKenzie to Blackpool and Mathias Doumbe appear cost-cutting measures whilst the loss of academy product Adam Chicksen to Brighton is perhaps less likely to trouble Milton Keynes due to their ability to hold on to key left-back Dean Lewington. The signings so far have been free transfers and loans of young players who, aside from Lee Hodson, are yet to prove themselves in the third tier. However loanee Jason Banton and the aforementioned Hodson could prove to be insipred signings despite their inexpensiveness. The other key man at Stadium:MK looks to be Daniel Powell who’ll now have to take even more of the goal-scoring burden given the club’s continued failure to replace Sam Baldock’s departure two seasons ago despite players such as Ryan Lowe and Izale McLeod giving it a shot. MK shouldn’t be too far away from the play-offs this season though I anticipate that they’re too many better teams than them for to seriously expect a concerted challenge following this summer’s budget cuts.
Notts County started last season looking like genuine promotion contenders but an inability to win home games soon put paid to their early season form and ultimately the job of Keith Curle. Now under former Ipswich and Arsenal striker Chris Kiwomya the Magpies will be looking to trouble the upper echelons of League One for the duration of the whole campaign. Gone is influential winger Alan Judge but in his stead are several potential match-winners at this level all with little if any expenditure. In addition to ex-Coventry man David Bell, they’ve signed the pacey Danny Haynes and Mustapha Dumbuya as well ex-Hoffenheim midfielder Mark Fotheringham who impressed on trial at Meadow Lane. All four players have the ability to change games in their team’s favour although there are fitness doubts over both Bell and Haynes. In addition striker Francois Zoko is another potentially lethal player at this level and midfielder Joss Labadie will be hoping to cement a regular spot after standing out towards the end of last season. Should things click for Notts County they could be one of the more fun teams to watch this season and could seriously challenge for the play-offs and automatic promotion, however given the lack of managerial experience that Kiwomya has and fitness doubts over some of their key players then a more realistic prediction would be upper mid-table.