I’ve waited until the last possible moment of pre-season to start my usual previews. the reason is simple; there are still many clubs I feel will be influenced by what happens between now and the transfer deadline.
There are two mentioned in my first six sides that I feel might have their season heavily impacted by players going over the next couple of days. Further down the list, there is one side who still need a striker and a defender; they’ve got money to spend though (Oxford) and who they bring in will see them either in the bottom eight or the top six.
That’s how close League One could be. Sure, Sunderland, Portsmouth and Ipswich should be forming a breakaway group at the top, maybe with Rotherham too, but is there a great amount of difference between us, Fleetwood, Southend, Gillingham and a host of other sides? No, not really.
Therefore my preview has waited until as late as possible. Some teams showed their hand early, Peterborough made a statement early on by signing Mo Eisa yet it feels as though he’s been there ages it was so early in the summer. Then you have Oxford United at the other end of the scale, waiting until the very last minute. some might say it’s getting a bit too late.
Anyway, let me introduce you to the first six sides on my list. There will be no prediction on here, the final part will have my league table. Do remember this; in the last two years, I got our position spot on. There is a lot riding on this for me!
When you elevate yourself to the third tier for the first time in two decades you probably hope for a more illustrious opening fixture than Accrington Stanley. We should have expected it though, we went there and watched them lift the trophy fourteen months ago and they’re the first side waiting for us when we follow suit a year later.
There is little doubt they’re a side without the means of their peers. Only Bury and Bolton are likely to spend less this summer and whilst they didn’t do badly last season, my gut feeling is they do need to recruit. Last season they relied heavily on Sean McConville and Billy Kee, both of whom were key figures when they went up.
Kee didn’t find goals as easy to come by in League One, him and McConville led the scorer’s charts with 15 and 13 at Stanley, but other than that they didn’t have anyone who truly stood out. In order to evolve a side must recruit and that’s where Stanley struggle.
Don’t underestimate John Coleman’s ability to mould his side into something greater than the sum of its parts
They rely heavily on shrewd acquisitions and much of their success this season, or lack of it, will depend on their signings. Lamine Sherif is one who might be a real find, he’s come from Leicester’s Under 23 side and allegedly had other offers to consider. Defender Ben Barclay arrived from Brighton, he played senior football for Notts County last season and will likely get a start in the middle of the defence.
Football is a game that’s all about goals and Stanley will hope Colby Bishop is their ‘Mo Eisa’ figure. He’s come from Leamington and is something of a unknown quatity. When you look at their signings, plenty of League Two clubs would describe them as underwhelming.
However, don’t underestimate John Coleman’s ability to mould his side into something greater than the sum of its parts. He’s much like Keith was in that respect, which might be what keep Accrington out of the bottom four again this season.
The Blackpool story has been one of collapse and recriminations in recent years. They went from Premier League to League Two in a handful of seasons and fans boycotted matches to avoid funding the Oyston family. It seemed as though the club was slowly being suffocated by belligerent owners intent on pushing out supporters.
Persistence won the day though; the Oystons have now gone and lifelong fan Simon Sadler has taken over. This will be their first season with a positive outlook in a long while, perhaps since they dropped out of the top flight.
There are reasons to suspect they might do well, but one or two things to be aware of too. Firstly, they’ve made a couple of decent signings. Their forward line wasn’t terrible, but Nathan Delfouneso and Armand Gnanduillet together simply didn’t bring the level of potency they needed to get into the top six. They’ve added Ryan Hardie to their ranks; he’s one I like the look of. He’s come from Glasgow Rangers and offers something a bit different. He’s strong, well-respected north of the border and hungry to prove himself.
Simon Grayson, like the whole of Blackpool, is perhaps seeking some redemption for the past couple of years
Throw ex-Imp Adi Yussuf into that mix and they’ve got options. For Imps’ fans reading this, that’s what you call it when you have more than one centre forward on your books. You’re welcome.
Ryan Edwards has signed too, he’s a committed and experienced centre half who leaves Plymouth having played plenty of times at this level. He might be partnering one of the best defenders outside the top two divisions, or he might not.
The aspects of pre-season I wouldn’t be happy with at Blackpool are the players they might still lose. Marc Bola is a cracking left back who settled quickly after leaving Arsenal last season; however, they’ve just signed James Husband amid rumours Bola is off. If he goes, it’s a blow. The same goes for Edwards’ potential partner Curtis Tilt. He’s come through the non-league scene but, in two years at Bloomfield Road, he’s seriously impressed. He’s being linked with a move and losing both would set the Tangerines back a bit.
Finally, there’s Simon Grayson. He’s the new man in charge, having been a key part of their rise towards the top flight. In the years since he’ s built a decent reputation with Preston, but seen it dashed with ill-fated spells at the likes of Sunderland and Bradford. He didn’t come out of the Sunderland documentary with a lot of credit and, like the whole of Blackpool, he’s perhaps seeking some redemption for the past couple of years.
Is it fair to do a preview on Bolton Wanderers? Gab Sutton, an excellent lower league pundit, thought not.
On the face of it, they’re in dire straights. Starting 12 points behind everyone except Bury, they’re going into the new season with a cobbled-together playing squad, no idea of budget and well behind everyone else. A relegation battle surely looms and few believe they can get out of the mire.
Few except me.
Here’s my angle on it; let’s say the takeover completes this week, as planned. They get an injection of cash, not a serious amount, but enough to secure their future. Players like Harry Brockbank, David Wheater and Josh Magennis stay put; there is the nucleus of a side already in place. Add the likes of Daniel Lafferty, a trialist from Sheffield United, and maybe you start to see a team developing.
My gut feeling is Bolton Wanderers will earn their survival at the end of the season
Phil Parkinson has already earned promotion from this division with the Trotters, whilst working under a transfer embargo. If they do come out of the other side of the mess they’re a decent draw for a free agent too; let’s say the deadline passes and a host of players now having trials with clubs are still looking; where are they going to go if offered terms? The likes of Bury and Accrington, or a club with Premier League facilities currently on its arse?
My gut feeling is Bolton Wanderers will earn their survival at the end of the season. There are a few hoops to jump through yet and I can’t see them outside the bottom eight, but a season is a long while and if they can begin to sort themselves out by early September, they might be in with a shout of staying up.