The Other 23 – Part 4

Shrewsbury Town

Survival in League One last season was a significant achievement for Graham Turner’s Shrewsbury Town side. On one of the smallest budgets and with a squad the lesser of one or two of the four that eventually fell through the trap door, Shrewsbury’s survival proved manager Graham Turner’s continued excellence as a lower league manager. The task this season is no easier though. With budget restrictions similar, if not worse, and without the momentum of a promotion from the previous season Shrewsbury are one of the relegation favourites. Key players such as left-back Matt Richards, striker Marvin Morgan and winger Mark Wright have all been let go seemingly by choice and the squad is looking threadbare at the moment, particularly in attack. The signing of experienced defenders Dave Winfield and Tamika Mkandawire will further solidify Shrewsbury’s defence, who on their day can stifle even the best in the league. Shrewsbury’s star player right now is probably young winger Jon Taylor who they managed to keep despite interest from bigger clubs. A lot will depend on how Turner uses the loan market with a new striker or two seemingly a must, at the moment though they have done little to dispel the sense that they are temporary residents in the third tier.

Stevenage

Despite a strong start last season under former manager Gary Smith the Hertfordshire club lost momentum and eventually retreated to mid-table as the season fizzled out. On the way the re-appointed their Smith’s predecessor Graham Westley after a tumultuous spell in charge of Preston. What this says about the club’s ambitions is hard to say, it still seems strange that Stevenage are even a Football League side, stranger still that they challenged for promotion to the second tier two seasons ago, even stranger is that Gary Smith was sacked for failing to challenge for the play-offs. In that mix is the re-appointment of Westley who failed at a ‘bigger’ club in the same division, on the one hand it could be interpreted as a move to recapture the glory of their two, nearly three, successive promotions, on the other it seems like a retreat into their comfort zone. Westley’s transfer business so followed a similar vein to his bargain hunting at Preston, signing mostly from League Two and the Conference though most notably perhaps Jimmy Smith from fellow League One side Leyton Orient. As of the time of writing the biggest name to leave has been Anthony Grant to Crewe yet Westley has talked both of trying to overhaul his squad and also of his resignation to the departure of winger Lucas Akins and midfielder James Dunne. Whether Westley will recapture the formula that was once so successful at this club is difficult to really say both before the season has started and the end of the transfer window. They could get dragged into a relegation battle should this nostalgia trip fail but I believe that Westley’s football might actually be able to wind enough opponents up in order to avoid that fate, so I predict a lower mid-table finish.

Swindon Town

Yet another side that have had a tumultuous 12 months whereby now their expectations have been transformed. Gone are the big spending days of Paolo di Canio and after a surprise resignation so is the Italian’s replacement in Kevin MacDonald. All is not well in Swindon, especially after an exodus of key players from last season taking in Adam Rooney, Alan McCormack, Raffaele de Vita, Tommy Miller, Aden Flint, Simon Ferry and James Collins added to January’s sale of winger Matt Ritchie. The main replacements have all been Tottenham youth-teamers and the implication has been that MacDonald wasn’t entirely involved in the selection of these signings. At the moment former Peterborough flop Mark Cooper will have another shot at Football League management and is tasked with steadying what seems like a sinking ship. On the plus side, keeper Wes Foderingham signed a new contract and Paul Caddis and Alan Navarro remain at the club, all will be key players. Whilst things could all go horribly wrong at Swindon, it’s easy to forget that they reached the play-offs last season, a penalty shoot-out away from Wembley. Furthermore the players left as well as new signings Ryan Harley, Massimo Luongo and Alex Pritchard all have the pedigree to perform well at this level. It could go either way for Swindon, if they get the right manager they could be an outside bet for the play-offs, get it wrong and they could be relegation battlers. I aniticipate though that the truth will lie somewhere in between with a mid-table finish.

Tranmere Rovers

As late in the season as March, Tranmere were in with a good chance of promotion. By the end of April they lay in 11th with no prospect of even the play-offs, they only had the role of party-poopers for Bournemouth after refusing to allow them a trophy presentation that ultimately never came to pass. Perhaps Tranmere were punching above their weight last time out but it did seem that Ronnie Moore has stumbled upon an interesting formula that was eventually undermined by a series of key injuries. The main departure thus far has been left-back Zoumana Bakayogo who refused a new contract and eventually joined Leicester. The core of last season’s squad remains and gives Moore a chance to build on last season’s disappointment. The signings of veteran strikers Akpo Sodje and Ryan Lowe are a clear attempt to solve the striking crisis that they suffered following Jake Cassidy’s return to Wolves last January. Holding on to key players such as Owain fon Williams, Jean-Louis Akpa-Akpro and James Wallace could be key provided they all stay fit for the duration of the season. However as much as it would interesting to see Tranmere in the Championship it just seems like they missed out on their best chance in a while last season and will regress to the mean this time out, my prediction is mid-table.

Walsall

Another of last season’s surprise packages, Walsall’s late season surge towards the play-offs ultimately fell short but they did teach a lot of other teams how to go about their business both on and off the pitch on a limited budget. Manager Dean Smith finally squeezed out the potential that many of the Walsall academy players seemed to possess and forged a strong team unit who improved as the season wore on. However due to being a small club, this summer has seen a systematic dismantling of that successful team, particularly their attacking trident of Jamie Paterson, Will Grigg and Febian Brandy, all of whom have departed. it’s hard to tell the extent to which this was antipated but the noises from the media suggest that perhaps Walsall were blindsided by the level of interest in their star players. Perhaps had they known they would have kept players such as Richard Taundry and George Bowerman despite both underwhelming last time out. The replacements thus far have followed a similar vein to Walsall’s budget shopping last summer, Troy Hewitt of Q.P.R. is Grigg’s replacement and Milan Lalkovic on loan from Chelsea replaces Paterson/Brandy. The difference between relegation and mid-table seems to be whether Smith can re-build and re-ignite his side after a disappointing summer in the transfer market. My prediction is that they’ll just about come out the right side of a relegation battle provided injuries don’t bite at their squad too hard.

Wolverhampton Wanderers

After a double relegation in successive season Wolves suddenly find themselves in the third-tier of English football. After two different managerial experiments in the form of Stale Solbakken and Dean Saunders last season the Black Country side eventually tumbled into League One with a whimper. The temptation then would be for new manager Kenny Jackett to attempt a complete squad overhaul, only 4 first-teamers from last season have actually left with 3 more on the transfer list. The signings so far have been limited to former Bolton defender Sam Ricketts who is probably Premier League quality should he remain fit. Jackett looks likely to build a side around rejuvenating players who seemingly have lost their apetite for professional football. More will be expected from David Edwards, Kevin Foley and Kevin Doyle, players like Leigh Griffiths and Jake Cassidy will be expected to perform after impressing out on loan and the return to fitness of Wayne Hennessey and George Elokobi should be a welcome boost for Wolves. Perhaps a major transfer is just around the corner but right now Wolves are trying not to through their babies out of the bathwater and just keep things steady after two tumultuous seasons. Getting off to a strong start will be crucial but it does seem like Wolves simply have too much quality for this league and are awaiting a capable manager, such as Jackett, to lead them back to where they belong. My prediction is automatic promotion but probably first place due to their squad depth.

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