After narrowly escaping relegation, Lee Johnson’s next task as Oldham manager seems likely to be the same. Key players in the shape of Jean-Yves M’Voto, Dean Furman and Lee Croft have all left and Oldham are seemingly in need of a rebuilding job. Wingers James Dayton and Sidney Schmeltz have been brought in and are probably the stand out signings so far and should provide some pace and trickery out wide. Former Swindon and Birmingham striker Adam Rooney has been on trial at the club and could be a crucial signing were he to be signed. Otherwise this Oldham squad are lacking in quality and numbers in most areas and will be looking for academy graduates such as James Tarkowski and David Mellor to deliver on their potential in order to prevent another end of season relegation scrap. Of those who have stayed from last season James Wesolowski and Cliff Byrne will be key, especially if the former shakes of his fitness issues. With Lee Johnson still largely unproven as a football manager it’s hard to tell what he can achieve with a squad perhaps capable of upper mid-table but it does seem that the materials provided limit his expectations for anything other than a long season around those relegation spots.
An unfortunate free-kick decision, a lapse in defensive concentration and a farcical finish in the Huddersfield-Barnsley game provided the fine margin between safety and Peterborough’s current reality of League One football. Although you can point and say that had Peterborough not started last season so poorly then they wouldn’t have had to hope for a final-day win in order to survive but given their performances at various points last season, relegation for the Posh did seem to be particularly unlucky and cruel. You’d imagine though that Peterborough will be able to take those various disappointments in their stride and dust themselves off for another entertaining season of football. For a team that were relegated they seemed to play very well, have outstanding individuals and not a particularly strong sense of dismay and defeat at the club. The main departure has been £6,000,000 man Dwight Gayle who only played half a season at the club so they have money to spend. As of yet though the only main signing has been their former loanee Jack Payne. That £6m has been burning a whole in their pockets though with their chairman confirming that they tried to break their transfer record in order to sign Bradford’s Nahki Wells. At the moment though it seeems that keeping players such as Michael Bostwick, Lee Tomlin and Tommy Rowe could be the best business that the club has been able to do. Unlike Wolves, Peterborough know they don’t belong at any level and also don’t have the same sense of malaise around the club, Posh could infact be the best placed team to go and win this whole league despite lacking perhaps the squad depth that Wolves have.
In unlikely circumstances, former Sky Blues manager Mickey Adams led Port Vale to automatic promotion from League 2. Considering that they started the season in administration they ended up as runners-up in League 2 with relative comfort. The goals of Tom Pope as well as wide-play from Jennison Myrie-Williams and the now departed Ashley Vincent, Adams stumbled upon a simple but effective formula. When January came he made moves to strengthen the defence in the shape of Darren Purse (now released) as well as midfield in ex-Sheffield Wednesday winger Daniel Jones and bolstered his attack with the controversial Lee Hughes. The recent takeover at Vale Park has transformed their expectations from League 2 also-rans to outside League One play-off contenders. The signings of hard-men defenders Carl Dickinson and Chris Robertson add further steel to Port Vale’s defence. The signing of another ex-Sheffield Wednesday player in the form of Chris Lines could prove crucial, not only is he a proven performer at this level but is a set-piece specialist, it’s not hard to imagine how Mickey Adams shall set his side up this season, defend well, break at pace or win set pieces for the big men to head in. Perhaps it lacks subtlety but we saw time and again last season how well simple football, based around getting the basics right, can be in this league. A lot depends on how the previously goal-shy Pope is able to continue his form of last season, now at a higher level, as well as whether their defence might be caught for pace should they push too far up. From the looks of things Port Vale look like mid-table material with a decent chance of becoming one of the league’s genuine surprise packages.
Preston North End
Preston’s dalliance last season with their now former manager Graham Westley looked to have cost them what seemed to be a fantastic chance for promotion. With money seeming to be tight at Deepdale, Westley’s tenure was marked by both budget cut-backs and bombastic behaviour from everyone’s least favourite David Brent impersonator. Perhaps it was a sign of a once proud football club on its very knees, now though the sense of foreboding around the club’s short-medium term future looks to have dissipated. Preston ended last season as one of the league’s form teams and now under serial third-tier promotion getter Simon Grayson all seems a lot more healthier in Lancashire. By far the stand-out signing is ex-Bolton and England striker Kevin Davies who turned down moves higher up the league pyramid as well as abroad in order to play for Grayson’s Lilywhites. It seems like quite the coup for Preston and a reversal of the penny-pinching of the previous few years at the club. The signing of pacey ex-Motherwell winger Chris Humphrey though could also turn out to be a masterstroke from Simon Grayson, providing the penetration and crossing for Kevin Davies to take advantage of. As far as departures go there are none to really speak of that would harm Preston’s promotion hopes. They now have two keepers who could probably play for any other League One side in Thorsten Stuckman and Declan Rudd, the defence looks solid, Nicky Wroe, Will Hayhurst and John Welsh can all be important players in midfield on their day. Their attacking options, Davies excluded, remain very strong in the form of Joe Garner, Iain Hume and Stuart Beavon. It’s tough not to anticipate Preston improving on their previous two seasons in this league and are genuine promotion contenders, though more likely to find it via the play-offs.
After spending a decent few years away after being locked out from Millmoor, Rotherham returned to their home town last season and immediately clinched promotion. It was perhaps a more drawn out affair than anticipated but after years in the doldrums Rotherham finally have something on the pitch to be proud of. Although Steve Evans is not one of the most popular managers in the Football League he has been able to deliver the results that his behaviour demands. Although Crawley and now Rotherham are not the toughest lower league jobs it still takes a lot of character and nous to turn wealthy teams into winning ones. After a busy summer last time out it appears that Evans has his core of the team in place and ready for League One football, these players include Ben Pringle, Kari Arnason and Daniel Nardiello who all showed last time out they belong in a league above. Evans’s siginings this summer have largely been younger albeit proven players, Joe Skarz and David Worrall both proved their pedigree at this level with Bury and fomer Carlisle man Adam Collin has plenty of experience at this level. The missing piece for much of the summer has seemed to be their main striker, after failing to sign numerous players including ex-Falkirk striker Lyle Taylor, Evans eventually plumped for his ex-Crawley striker Matt Tubbs who struggled at this level with Bournemouth. Rotherham to me look like solid mid-table material and should they tread into dangerous waters it seems they’ll be more than able to buy their solution.
The past two seasons have seen Sheffield United fall agonisingly short of promotion back to the second-tier. The sacking of Danny Wilson just before the play-off campaign seemed like a desperate move for a club looking for a quick fix for their simple problem of being in the wrong league. After experimenting with ex-player Chris Morgan and after a worldwide search that spread as far as former Australia manager Graham Arnold they eventually decided to go for former Rangers centre-back David Weir, who has yet to manage at first-team level. Whether Sheffield United have blown their best two chances for promotion remains to be seen but it is clear that this is another summer of budget cut-backs for the Blades. This time out the departures are less eye-catching those of Stephen Quinn, Lee Williamson and Matthew Lowton but will have reduced their considerable wage budget in allowing the likes of Barry Robson and Richard Cresswell off the books. The main signings have been ex-Falkirk man Lyle Taylor who struggled to impress in his last spell in English football but scored 24 in 34 appearances in the Scottish First Division last season. Additionally Liverpool’s England under-20 captain Conor Coady has joined on loan and is looking for his first taste of first-team football and ex-Walsall striker Febian Brandy will offer pace in attack. Weir has talked of implementing a more attractive style of play at Bramall Lane and it remains to be seen whether he’ll be able to achieve and also satisfy an increasingly frustrated fanbase who are looking for the Blades to restore their fearsome reputation in the Football League. I anticipate that Sheffield United will fall short of the the play-offs this season and will have another tough summer in 12 months time to balance the books.