The Other 23: Half-Way Review – Part 2

Crewe Alexandra

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What I Predicted

After an impressive season in 2012/13 which saw Crewe win the JPT as well as achieve a comfortable mid-table slot in the league, the club were expected to go from strength to strength. The loss of Luke Murphy to Leeds seemed off-set by re-signing Brad Inman and Chuks Aneke as well as retaining most of the core of the team. I predicted that Crewe were solidly mid-table with a chance of troubling the play-off positions.

How They’re Doing

It’s been an absolute stinker so far for Crewe. From the massive rape allegation that beset their team prior to their opening fixture, attitude problems with several key players, players losing form and just generally being rubbish. Crewe have struggled for consistency both in their results as well as in their starting line-up with some players falling out of favour and a number of loanees taking their place. They’re currently only in the relegation zone on goal difference thanks to the recent loan signings of Tom Hitchcock and Ne Bangna Mesca but both are set to return this month.

How Will They Do?

It seems likely that manager Steve Davis will have to turn to the loan market to save Crewe’s season. Players like Inman and summer signing Anthony Grant may be offloaded in order to free up some salary for arrivals. Injuries and loss of form to key players from last season have plagued the Alex this season and with clubs below them looking like they’ll strengthen over the coming month they face a tough challenge to keep up with their relegation rivals. I have a feeling that Crewe will be relegated.

Gillingham

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What I Predicted

Despite winning League Two last season, Gillingham began the season as one of the favourites for the drop. Few signings were made and those who did come didn’t seem to provide an improvement to what they already had, Cody McDonald aside. As such I tipped them for a relegation battle.

How They’re Doing

Martin Allen lumbered through the first quarter of the season despite a long winless run to open the campaign. He eventually was replaced by managerial journeyman Peter Taylor who has seen steady and modest improvement at the Priestfield. Without making many changes, Gillingham have become much harder to beat and are playing slightly better football than the ‘hoof-ball’ of Martin Allen’s tenure. Their recent win over Wolves at the Priestfield was emblematic of their recent recovery, they defended well and nicked a goal via Cody McDonald. They currently sit pretty in 14th, 5 points away from danger.

How Will They Do?

Gillingham have been unspectacular thus far and are focused more on not losing over winning games of football. With them currently in relative safety this safety-first policy may see them through unscathed until the end of the season. However they may lack the creativity to force the issue should they get dragged into a relegation scrap should Sheffield United, Bristol City and Notts County vacate the lower reaches of the table. Ultimately I think they’ll be able to save themselves for this season at least.

Leyton Orient

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What I Predicted

After a summer of losses and gains in the transfer market, Leyton Orient kept together a small nucleus of key players like Nathan Clarke, Kevin Lisbie and Dean Cox. Nothing great was expected of the O’s who’s small squad size prevented any serious tilt at the play-offs. I predicted that mid-table was the best they could wish for and that they could even been outsiders for relegation.

How They’re Doing

Another gulf between pre-season expectations and current performances has been observed here. Orient raced out of the blocks, winning their first 8 league games and have remained in the top 3 for most of the season. What was unusual about their early form was that Russell Slade had a reputation for producing teams who started the season slowly. The unexpected form of unheralded players such as David Mooney, Romain Vincelot and Mathieu Baudry has helped elevate them from a season that promised, at best, an upper mid-table finish.

How Will They Do?

Leyton Orient seem a different side to the Tranmere one which burned out so massively in the second half of last season. They seem better able to cope with sides seeking to park the bus against them and they have a variety of strengths across the pitch. That being said they have shown signs of lagging off their initial blistering pace at the start of the season and have had to call in some reinforcements as a result of a spate of injuries. Whether they keep up with the leaders will be one of the stories in the league in the second half of the season. I reckon they’ll drop off the pace slightly and end up in the play-off positions.

Milton Keynes Dons

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What I Predicted

After a failed attempt to sneak into the play-offs last season, MK Dons once again had to make budget cuts to keep their club sustainable. Whilst many outside observers may have felt that this might finally have been MK Dons’s year in terms of achieving promotion, I felt that the lack of forward momentum at the club would see them drop into the upper reaches of mid-table.

How They’re Doing

11th place, and I think that counts as just about upper-mid-table. They’ve had to cope with a seemingly endless list of injuries that has robbed them off key players at multiple times this season. After a poor run in November the pressure was beginning to mount on the unlikeable Karl Robinson but he has slowly steered MK back on course towards an outside chance of the play-offs. The goals of Patrick Bamford have kept them in the top half and the worry is what happens now that he’s been moved on to Derby.

How Will They Do?

On the one hand the loss of Patrick Bamford is a hammer-blow for MK’s promotion prospects. On the other though is that key men such as David Martin, Luke Chadwick and Antony Kay are beginning to recover from their injuries. A new striker is a must given that their only alternative is an out-of-form Izale McLeod, they’ve currently got Everton youngster Chris Long for a month but there’ll be significant doubts over his ability to play at senior level. Their current movement in the transfer market suggests that they don’t have the room in their budget to get a high quality replacement for Bamford so you’d expect them to stay mired in the mediocrity of mid-table for the rest of the campaign. Shame.

Notts County

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What I Predicted

After a reasonably successful summer transfer window which included signing Danny Haynes, David Bell and Mark Fotheringham who all came with a decent pedigree Notts County seemed to have quietly built a decent side. The only question mark was over the ability of the softly spoken Chris Kiwomya to translate his playing resources into an effective team unit. With this in mind I felt that they had enough about them to be mid-table and play-off outsiders.

How They’re Doing

It’s been a nightmare season for Notts County. In addition to being in 23rd position at the time of writing they’ve sacked yet another manager, an annual occurrence at Meadow Lane. The new man is Shaun Derry, like Kiwomya in his first managerial role, assisted by ousted Carlisle boss Greg Abbott. After being rooted to the bottom position things have slowly improved under Derry and Abbott with notable performances from loanees Jack Grealish and Callum McGregor helping the Nottingham side’s cause.

How Will They Do?

They seem like they’ll continue their course of recovery. Will that be enough to see them survive though? It’s tough to tell given that there are a few sides in the relegation picture who seem as if they could win 2 or 3 games in a row and lead themselves to safety. I expect the league will begin to tighten up as a whole as the underperformers from the first half of the season continue to improve. Can Notts County be one of those sides to lift themselves away from danger? That’s another difficult question, they’ll seemingly need to replace Callum McGregor but with one or two quality additions they should be able to scrape survival.

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