I think of Morecambe as one of the good guys, a nice club with a really good ethos and welcoming atmosphere. I’ve only enjoyed one trip to their place, but they were a credit to the town. Unfortunately I can’t see niceness winning them football games, and that is one thing they may struggle to do.
They won just once in 14 games at the end of last season, and I fear that remaining in the Football League is going to be a massive battle for them. They’ve lost Paul Mullin to Swindon, although with just eight league goals perhaps that isn’t as much of a blow as they might think. They have added Vadaine Oliver to their ranks, he a tough cookie but whether he can cut it in the Football League is up for debate.
If Jim Bentley can turn the terrible form of last season into a distant memory then they may have a fighting chance of staying in the league, but it will only be in a low position. I don’t think there’s many around the club who would see that as anything less than a resounding success, and I sincerely hope they do manage it.
Stacey West Prediction for Morecambe: 21st
Newport played the lead role in their very own great escape last season, at one point they looked dead and buried but a late goal against Notts County ensured their survival at the expense of Hartlepool. It might have been a choker for Jeff Stelling, but in this beleaguered corner of Wales it was the fairy tale ending to a miserable season.
They enough issues for ten clubs last season with their pitch, tenancy at Rodney Parade and changing managers, but Michael Flynn managed to arrest the slide and orchestrate an unlikely escape. They will be looking to push on this time around, but it won’t be easy.
They’ve been speculating somewhat in the summer, and if one or two of their gambles pay off they might surprise a few people. Lamar Reynolds is a graduate of the Jamie Vardy Academy, and the press are making the usual comparisons between him and the Leicester striker. Frank Nouble is a pretty big name striker that has also arrived in the summer, he’s a former West Ham man looking to resurrect a flagging career. Robbie Wilmott is another eye-catching signing, he’s a flying winger most recently at Chelmsford.
These are not play-off quality signings, certainly not when they’re joining a team that would be National League were it not for a remarkable turn of events, but they are a sign that Flynn is building a half-decent squad. Will they trouble the top ten? Absolutely not, but if you ask me about their survival chances then I’d say they were favourable.
Stacey West Prediction for Newport County: 19th
Notts didn’t have a great season last time out, but the appointment of Kevin Nolan arrested their slide and gave them a nice push up the table. By their own standards 16th probably isn’t acceptable, but after being threatened by the drop I expect few fans complained.
They have a big squad but one that doesn’t inspire me. Their three marquee signings have been Jorge Grant on loan from Forest, Lewis Alessandra from relegated Hartlepool and of course our Terry. Most fans are putting these three across the middle, backing up a front line of elder statesmen Jon Stead and Shola Ameobi. Stead hit 14 league goals last season, Ameobi just four and much will depend on their ability to convert whatever the midfield three can create.
I have a nagging doubt about County but I’m not sure what it is. I’ve always liked Kevin Nolan and he definitely had an impact last season, but they feel like a team in a deep transition and I’m not sure if this season is the one in which they move forward. Hawkridge is a good signing, but is he a Paul Anderson or a Nathan Arnold? Is the ageing partnership of Ameobi and Stead really the partnership that Kevin Nolan wanted to go into the next season with, given rumoured interest in Matt Green?
Their wretched pursuit of Liam Noble was hard to watch at times, after being rebuffed a couple of times they kept digging like a dog trying to find a stick he’d buried. It felt as if they didn’t have another target, someone else they could move on to, and overall their summer business has been ‘good but not great’. There has been progress within the squad and I think that will be reflected in a marginally better finish. I’m not sure Kevin Nolan knows exactly what he does need at Notts County though, but I do think he’ll find it eventually. He has a half-decent career in management ahead of him, but this isn’t the season he makes any headlines.
Stacey West Prediction for Notts County: 12th
It was a stinking campaign for Port Vale last time around, relegation to the bottom division won’t be something they’ll be able to bounce back from quickly. One of their main issues is the ongoing saga over their ownership, and it contributed towards their relegation. At present that still isn’t resolved, and until it is I can’t see them troubling the top seven.
Their summer business has been average at best. Rekeil Pike has joined on loan from Huddersfield, and he will possibly see action alongside Tyrone Barnett, a player dropping down from League One. Barnett scored just twice for Wimbledon in League One last season, but he has had success at this level with Shrewsbury, Crawley and Macclesfield. They’ll be hoping that at 31-years old he still has plenty in the tank. Goals were a real problem last season, especially after Alex Jones moved to Bradford. He left in January and still ended up with more league goals than any other Valiant.
They’ve also brought in winger Marcus Harness from Burton Albion, again a player they’ll be hoping can capture some sort of form for them. They’ve certainly restructured in the summer, ad that will stand them in good stead for consolidating in League Two. I think it will take a season or two for Vale to settle and start to make strides forward. Until the ownership issue is sorted there will remain a cloud of uncertainty over the club, and that isn’t helpful for a promotion push.
Don’t be fooled in a season or so Port Vale will be right up there fighting for their place in the third tier, and whilst they will be a solid prospect for sides this season, I just don’t think they have a play-off challenge in them.
Stacey West Prediction for Port Vale: 15th
Under Teddy Sheringham, Stevenage looked like aside destined for life outside of the Football League, but since the arrival of Darren Sarll they’ve improved dramatically. Last season they finished 11th, that was above fancied teams such as Cambridge and Mansfield Town.
In the main they’ve kept their squad together as well Matt Godden banged in 20 league goals after a prolific spell at Ebbsfleet, and retaining his services was really important. They’ve also recruited wisely, Millwall left-back Joe Martin joins after his release from the New Den, and more importantly winger Blair Turgott has stepped back up from Bromley. I really liked Turgott last season and I think he has what it takes to make a real impact at this level. Harry Beautyman is another good signing although he hasn’t yet had a chance to shine. All in all in has been a fruitful summer for the Hertfordshire side.
It isn’t all roses and meadows though, winger Tom Pett is looking for a move away after rejecting a new deal, and central defender Fraser Franks is attracting significant interest, not least (allegedly) from us. They’ll need to be resolute in holding on to these key players through August, but if they can do that I fully expect them to be in the play-off mix once again, although whether they can crack the top seven remains to be seen.
Stacey West Prediction for Stevenage: 9th
Swindon should be in the top three, they’re a big club for this level make no mistake. They had one season down in the doldrums back in 2006/07, but then they achieved automatic promotion. I’m not so sure it is going to be that east this time around.
David Flitcroft has been promoted from League Two before, he guided Bury back to the third tier not so long ago. He then suffered an awful run of 11 games without a win, and the itchy trigger finger ensured he had a spell out of the game. Now he’s back with a certain Ben Futcher as his assistant, looking to capture the essence of his promoted Bury side.
I think Swindon will suffer a bit of the ‘Port Vale’, in that they won’t be bouncing straight back. Over the course of the next season or two maybe, but after a torrid 2016/17 I can see a season of gentle consolidation. Forward Jonathon Obika would have been a terror at this level, but he’s gone to Oxford and in his place comes untested new faces such as Harry Smith and Paul Mullin. Swindon heralded the arrival of Mullin as a coup over Morecambe, but he’s never been prolific and has an awful lot to prove.
I have a feeling it will be a tough ride for Flitcroft early on in the season, some of the rougher sides in the division will see Swindon as a fairly big scalp and how they cope with that will be crucial. I can see them being bullied in games, and ultimately that will be reflected in a poor finish.
Stacey West Prediction for Swindon Town: 18th
Saturday’s opponents certainly offer a tough test, they’ve been in or around the play-off race for a couple of seasons now, and I can’t see this campaign being any different. Gareth Ainsworth always puts out a combative and organised side, and the presence of the big ‘un (in Danny Cowley’s words) is testament to him picking up tips from his old master, John Beck.
That isn’t to say Wycombe are a long ball side, but they play to their strengths. They ping the ball towards the lump and get runners around him, which sounds very much like ourselves. They’re organised and have player capable of getting on the ball and creating something, much like ourselves. They had a mean defence too, conceding the second-lowest amount of goals at home last season. That, again, sounds like us from last season.
They did struggle for goals last season, their haul of 29 at home was less than any side in the top half of the table. Aging strikers Nathan Tyson and Garry Thompson have joined in the summer looking to bring something they lacked for most of the season. Dayle Southwell is fit and hoping to get his chance to prove his worth, and Scott Kashket will be hoping his 10 league goals from 21 outings is something he can improve on.
In essence they’ve kept the majority of a very good squad together, they’ve added sensibly but cautiously as well, and again consistency is king here. They’re not going to win the league, but I would be very surprised if they weren’t right up there for most of the season.
Stacey West Prediction for Wycombe Wanderers: 4th
Yeovil finished four points clear of safety last season, and they’ve celebrated by adding three gold stars to their kit to represent fifteen seasons as a Football League club. As churlish as that sounds I suspect they may as well enjoy it while it lasts, because I think this could be a long season for them.
The main problem is goals, and I still don’t see where they’re coming from this season. Olufela Olomola has arrived on-loan from Southampton, and he may be the man to partner Francois Zoko up front. He’ll need to instigate a real step change though, they scored less at home than all-but two other sides last season, and away from home they scored less than both relegated teams.
Alefe Sanots is an exotically-named Brazilian winger signed after a successful trial, and Guadeloupe defender Stephane Zubar furthers the international flavour to the Glovers side, but will these players have the stomach for a fight on a cold Tuesday in Morecambe, or indeed against the onslaught expected against teams such as Luton Town? Yeovil have had a great stay in the Football League, but my instincts tell me it is only a few months away from ending. Enjoy those stars boys.
Stacey West Prediction for Yeovil Town: 23rd
Tomorrow: Full league table and of course, prediction for Lincoln City.