The Other 23: Half-Way Review – Part 3

Oldham Athletic

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What I Predicted

Oldham diced with relegation in 2012/13 and only survived thanks to a mini-revival led by the league’s youngest manager Lee Johnson. The summer was one of upheaval and no-one was really sure where this left the Latics for the coming season. Out were the previous stars of the side in Lee Croft, Dean Furman and Jose Baxter and in were a collection of unknowns and youngsters. I felt that this would be another season of struggle at Oldham.

How They’re Doing

Although they are only out of the bottom 4 by goal difference, Oldham have had a largely trouble-free season. The quality of play has largely improved under Johnson and several youngsters (including former Sky Blues Clarke-Harris and Philliskirk) have put in promising performances. Their recent performance in defeat against Liverpool in the FA Cup is emblematic of the progress that Oldham have been making over the past few months.

How Will They Do?

Despite all the promise, the spectre of relegation still looms over Boundary Park. They need to pick up more points to avoid being overtaken by the improving Bristol City and Notts County. Lee Johnson has been looking to add experience to the side with Adam Lockwood, Gary Harkins and David Worrall added to the side recently. The look a side who shouldn’t be relegated by they’ll need to add results to their performances over the next few months. I expect they have enough to stay up this season and they should emerge with a nucleus of a more upwardly mobile side.

Peterborough United

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What I Predicted

After being unluckily relegated from the Championship last season Peterborough had retained much of the same side that at times were a match for the bigger teams in the second tier. Unlike Wolves, I felt that Peterborough already had a team that could hit the ground running early on in the promotion race. I felt that this just about made them favourites for the league title.

How They’re Doing

After racing out of the blocks, Peterborough spectacularly went off the boil in November failing to win 6 games until a lucky win over Wolves. However they never have really recovered from their blip and a defeat to Coventry on Boxing Day caught the Posh in the stomach and they’ve struggled to retain their form. The signing of Britt Asombalonga has been a success, although his performances have, like his team, dipped in recent months. Peterborough find themselves in 5th place, 12 points from Leyton Orient in 2nd but will be more concerned now with retaining their spot in the play-offs zone.

How Will They Do?

This January will be an important transfer window for Peterborough. Despite Tomlin and Assombalonga’s performances they’re lacking quality in midfield and attack which has seen them call upon Coventry academy reject Shaun Jeffers. They’ve off-loaded Tyrone Barnett and Gabriel Zakuani and are looking to bring in Rochdale’s Scott Hogan, Kidderminster’s Joe Lolley and Livingston’s Stefan Scougall. All of whom are attackers and unproven  at this level, however that is very much the Peterborough way. Generally the Posh are a class above much of the teams in this division and I can see them remaining in the play-offs until the end of the division.

Port Vale

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What I Predicted

Following promotion from League Two last season Port Vale consolidated their playing resources with a number of experienced pros such as Chris Lines and Chris Robertson. To me they looked like a side who’d be tricky customers with their defensive steel and set-piece prowess, in a similar manner to their city rivals Stoke. This made them my tip for being one of the division’s surprise packages, although more likely to be comfortably mid-table.

How They’re Doing

No-one’s really talking about them but Port Vale lie in 8th position, just two points from the play-offs. This is a remarkable achievement for a side that just 18 months ago were on the verge of liquidation and in League Two. A goal difference of -1 speaks of how attritional it has been at times at Vale Park but Adams has found a pretty successful formula at a team that others were tipping for struggle this campaign.

How Will They Do?

Whilst they’ve gone under the radar it may be because they’ve never really strung together a long unbeaten run, they’re longest being just 3 games. Greater consistency would be required for them to really put the top 6 under pressure and the lack of quality in the final third will always mean they’ll struggle to regularly win games. If they can find that quality in the transfer market remains to be seen, but they may already be content with being mid-table on their current budget. For this reason I predict that they will drop down slightly into mid-table territory.

Preston North End

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What I Predicted

After two seasons of underperformance in League One since relegation, Preston finally seemed like having some positive momentum behind them. Experiments with Phil Brown and Graham Westley in charge had at times threatened relegation to the 4th tier but they found their man in Simon Grayson who seemed like a safer pair of hands. I tipped them to challenge for promotion but via the play-offs rather than automatically.

How They’re Doing

They haven’t threatened the top two in the league but Preston have been solidly 4th place for most of this season. The marquee signing of Kevin Davies hasn’t really produced goals but his presence on the field has given leadership to the side. They’re a robust side with bags of experience so they know how to eek out results and this aspect of their game has often proven the difference given the amount of inexperienced teams looking to play passing football in this league. Furthermore Grayson has started to bring through a couple of young players into the side who have made key contributions.

How Will They Do?

They’re a very consistent team and I suspect that they’ll be able to weather any nerves that my come with increased pressure towards the end of the season. Not only do they seem to have already secured a place in the play-offs, they’re well placed to push for automatic promotion. With Orient and Wolves not looking assured in 2nd and 3rd respectively, Preston’s know-how and experience could lead them into 2nd place and the Championship. In fact they’re now my tip for automatic promotion.

Rotherham United

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What I Predicted

Like Port Vale, their summer’s transfer business following promotion from League Two was solid but not particularly exciting. They wanted that elusive 20-goal a season striker that every team craves but came back with Matt Tubbs and Danny Hylton. Not being particularly impressed by Rotherham’s squad list I felt that mid-table was the best the Millers could hope for.

How They’re Doing

They’re currently having a great season, sitting in 6th place after a successful past two months. Despite lacking a goal-scorer up front they’ve had plenty of goals from midfield and have been defensively robust enough to hold onto narrow leads. That being said, their home form is nothing short of woeful, winning only 3 games this season and it’s becoming a real mental block that the team has been facing in recent weeks.

How Will They Do?

After losing Nouha Dicko who was recalled by Wigan, Rotherham have lost a little impetus in attack. They’re once again desperate for a lethal centre-forward and whether they’ll be able to secure one will be the difference between success and failure for them in their play-off push this season. Rotherham are well placed at the moment but the signs are that they’ll drop back into mid-table come the end of the season.

Sheffield United

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What I Predicted

They’re expectations for the season were completely flipped around when a Saudi paper tycoon invested in the club on transfer deadline day in August. Whereas Sheffield United were seeking to build a progressive, youthful side under David Weir, they were now chasing promotion. I was tipping them to finish just outside of the play-offs prior to the takeover.

How They’re Doing

The announcement of Saudi investment seemed to completely disrupt the club and in particular David Weir’s plans for the campaign. In came Marlon King on big money and with a big reputation. However they struggled to live up to their new expectations and found themselves mired in the bottom 4. David Weir was sacked 48 hours before their encounter with us at Sixfields. His successor Nigel Clough hasn’t produced spectacular results, a cup upset at Villa aside, and the Blades are currently just one point above the relegation zone.

How Will They Do?

It seems likely that Sheffield United will seek to strengthen once again during this transfer window. The names being linked with them are currently Derby County forwards Conor Sammon and Johnny Russell but whether either will be willing to drop a division to aid the Blades remains the sticking point. They’re an improved outfit under Nigel Clough but this campaign already appears to be a write-off at Bramall Lane with a safe mid-table finish the best they can hope for.

Shrewsbury Town

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What I Predicted

The Shrews scraped survival last season and didn’t really seem to strengthen during the following summer. This factor made Shrewsbury many peoples’ favourites for relegation this season and my prediction was no different.

How They’re Doing

Remarkably, Shrewsbury are both outside the bottom 4 and have never really been inside those relegation spots. They started looking very much like relegation fodder but regrouped and took wins and points whenever they could. An ever rotating cavalry of loan players have resulted in inconsistent performances at the New Meadow however it’s been a case of ‘so far, so good’

How Will They Do?

Another of a group of teams looking over their shoulder as teams in the bottom 4 look to be improving. They’ll need to pick up their rate of picking up points to keep their heads above water. Despite Shrewsbury looking on paper to be one of the worst teams in the division, their manager Graham Turner has the experience to keep this young looking side calm under pressure. Ultimately I still feel that a lack of quality in the side will see them drop into the bottom 4.

Stevenage

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What I Predicted

Stevenage were regarded as highly fortunate to be in League One. This is not down to their performances at this level, having yet to be in a relegation battle in the third tier, but rather their stature and reputation as a club. For many people they appeared to be one of the weakest sides in the division but I still tipped them to be lower mid-table, mainly due to their nuisance factor under Graham Westley.

How They’re Doing

They’re bottom of the table and are being cut adrift by the improving performances of Bristol City and Notts County. They haven’t been too bad this season but have struggled for goals and have been making sloppy errors at the back. They’ve been lifted by the signing of Francois Zoko but ultimately that has only seen them remain just about in touching distance of the rest of the bottom 4.

How Will They Do?

With so many sides looking like they’re improving above them in the table it’s hard to see Stevenage clawing themselves back into contention for survival. Maybe it speaks more of the evenness in the division this year but Stevenage haven’t been a poor side, just ineffective. The difference between sides at the top and the bottom has been an ability to take opportunities when presented to them, Stevenage have failed to do so. This is why I can see them remaining in the bottom four until the end of the season.

Swindon Town

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What I Predicted

After a summer of upheaval that say almost their entire first eleven leave, as well as the manager Kevin MacDonald, they’ve had to start at square one this season. After bringing in a multitude of players to the club, the majority being from Spurs, it was hard to tell where Swindon stood for the upcoming campaign. I predicted a middle of the road finish due to the small sprinklings of quality that had been brought into the club.

How They’re Doing

They’ve surprised many be looking for most of the season like play-off contenders. The performances of Alex Pritchard, Yaser Kasim and Nile Ranger have been the most eye-catching as Mark Cooper has forged a reasonable amount of collective strength in a short space of time. They currently find themselves in 9th position after a drop-off in recent performances.

How Will They Do?

The main question mark over their second half of the season will be how this bunch of promising youngsters will perform under pressure. It’s one thing being in the top 6 in the early months of the season, another to be in those spots in March and April. Nile Ranger seems set for an exit due to his disciplinary issues and the Wiltshire club will need someone to replace his presence as a fulcrum in their attack. I anticipate that they’ll challenge but ultimately fail in a push for the play-offs.

Tranmere Rovers

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What I Predicted

Tranmere’s summer transfer activity was relatively successful. After a season undermined by a late collapse in form which saw them go from promotion contenders into mid-table mediocrity, Tranmere kept hold of most of their key players and added a few experienced heads. The feeling though was still that Tranmere had over-performed in 2012/13 and didn’t have enough to push on and into promotion contention. I tipped them to be comfortably mid-table.

How They’re Doing

The fall-out from their end of season collapse last time out was worse than many expected. They’ve been in the bottom 4 for most of the season with only a mini-revival in November currently keeping them out of the drop zone, and even that’s only on goal difference. Their defence has been their main problem although their inconsistency in attack has also undermined their campaign thus far.

How Will They Do?

It would be some decline to go from promotion challengers to being relegated in just over 12 months. However at the moment Tranmere have got a battle on to avoid that fate. They’ll need to produce more consistent performances in order to take them away from danger. The return of James Wallace in midfield is a welcome addition and they’ll need him back at his best to keep themselves up. I still feel that Tranmere have enough about them to maintain their third-tier status for the upcoming campaign.

Walsall

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What I Predicted

After losing their three best attackers in the summer and replacing them either with loans or untested players from Premier League academies, Walsall looked weaker for the coming campaign. From the outside it looked likely to be a season of struggle for the Saddlers with many tipsters, myself included, foreseeing a relegation battle for Dean Smith’s side.

How They’re Doing

Being in 7th position is a remarkable given the resources that Walsall had at their disposal at the start of the season. The star performers have been Milan Lalkovic, on loan from Chelsea, and Romaine Sawyers, signed from West Brom. They’re a closely-knit unit and this collective strength has allowed the Saddlers to take points off the supposed better sides in the division.

How Will They Do?

They still look to be lacking quality in a number of areas and have the appearance of a side over-performing. Competition for a play-off spot will be tight and Walsall find themselves better placed to do so than this time last season where they were in the bottom half of the table. It seems like they need to strengthen in order to maintain their play-off challenge but they may elect against that. I predict they’ll remain just outside the play-offs.

Wolverhampton Wanderers

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What I Predicted

After suffering the ignominy of double relegations, Wolves were a club on their knees in the summer. With a large squad of overpaid and underperforming players there was pressure on new manager Kenny Jackett to overhaul his playing squad. However his summer business was relatively modest and he seemed to be wanting to see his new side in competitive action before sorting the wheat from the chaff. Like many, I tipped Wolves for automatic promotion and the title.

How They’re Doing

Wolves have been underperforming to a small extent this season. They may be third in the table but their budget, and fanbase, demanded better than what has currently been produced. Performances have been uninspiring and not dominant, teams are happy to take points off Wolves by sitting back with the Molineux side struggling to break teams down. They lack creativity and a cutting edge up front and on recent performances will struggle to challenge for the top two.

How Will They Do?

They need to strengthen in the coming transfer window to improve their promotion credentials. Michael Jacobs and James Henry have both penned permanent deals after successful loan spells but Wolves’s deficiency is largely in the centre of midfield and in attack. Kevin Doyle and Leigh Griffiths have underwhelmed with their current goals return and the back-up brigade of Bjorn Sigurtharsson and Jake Cassidy do not look to be good enough. If they can add to their areas they currently lack in then they’ll secure that second spot at the very least, otherwise they’ll have to take their opportunity in the play-offs.

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