Ah, the return of Rochdale. Throughout my childhood, there were few certainties in life. One was school, another was not completing a Panini sticker album and the third was a fixture with Rochdale, as much a basement division side as we were. Between 1998 and 2010 there was only one season where we didn’t get the delights of a visit to Spotland.
If you’re a fan of going to Rochdale, it might be worth making this trip because they’re likely not to be a League One side next season.
That might seem a bit unfair, but for two years in a row they’ve struggled near the bottom of the table and I’ve seen nothing to suggest this season is going to be any different for them. Much of their recruitment has been speculative; all of their new faces are under the age of 22.
Rekeil Pyke could be a important figure, he’s on loan from Huddersfield and has impressed for their Under 23 side but not quite made the step up to senior football. Dale’s own academy produces some good prospect too, Fabio Tavares steps up to the first team with a huge amount of potential. Another loan player, Rhys Norrington-Davies comes from Sheffield United and will hope to add pace in the wide area.
Callum Camps is a homegrown talent who is impressing at spotland too, but none of these signings scream anything other than brave midtable finish. At best.
Can rookie manager Brian Barry-Murphy step into the shoes of Keith Hill? Their former manager and his legacy are now consigned to the past and it’s a new era for a club always on the borderline between releagtion and survival.
Was it really two years ago we went to Rotherham in the League Cup? Back then the whole Football League thing was new and exciting and we put on a decent show against a side fresh out of the Championship.
One promotion and relegation later for them, two trophies later for us, and we’re back at the New York Stadium as equals. I got my ticket last night, did you get yours?
The Millers are going to expect to be a top six side. They’re bouncing between the Championship and League One, always competitive in both but often too good for one and not quite good enough for another. Manager Paul Warne is forging a reputation as a skilled tactician and a man who uses the transfer market well.
Losing Will Vaulks and Semi Ajayi might have detracted from their side somewhat, but with nine new faces they’re going to be a deeper squad this season. Daniel Barlaser and Jamie Lindsay will add value where Vaulks has left a hole, with Shaun MacDonald also bringing experience. Under Warne’s management expect a side that fights for each other and refuses to lose.
There is a worry over two of their new signings though. Julien Lamy was injured early in pre-season and hasn’t been seen since, whilst Trevor Clarke signed and got injured on the same day. They’ll be worries for Wanre, that’s for sure.
The one area I have a concern is up front. They’ve bet on Freddie Ladapo recreating his Plymouth form for them this season, but it’s a bold gamble. Ladapo had one good season for the Pilgrims, with the creativity of Graham Carey and Ruben Lameiras to feed from. Can the functional Rotherham unit provide him with the sort of quality he needs?
If they can, Rotherham will certainly be one to watch this season.
The Shrews were a real promotion prospect a couple of years ago under Paul Hurst. We put them to the sword at Wembley and they suffered play-off agony against Rotherham a month later. Last season they struggled in a period of transistion; Hurst took some of the squad and John Askey didn’t prove to be the right man to replace him.
Former Wrexham boss Sam Ricketts did a decent job of steering them away from the bottom four, just. This season they’ll be looking to push up the table after some strong recruitment.
They’ve bagged veteran striker Steve Morison from Millwall, he’ll add a focal point to their attack. They’ll be hoping to get him feeding Fejiri Okenabirhie, one of the Shrews squad from last season with nothing to prove this time out.
Defensively, they’ve recruited really well. Donald Love might not have been flavour of the month at Sunderland, but regular matches and far less pressure will surely seem him thrive. Ethan Ebanks-Landell comes in on loan from Wolves, he’ll be a rock at the back alongside another new capture, the excellent Aaron Pierre from Northampton. Luke Waterfall might struggle for a start this season, although the Shrews 3-5-2 formation will afford him chances.
I’m excited to see how Daniel Udoh gets on; he’s been incredible for Telford in recent seasons and Ricketts has taken a punt on him. If Morison doesn’t play every game, we might see Udoh break through. He’ll certainly feature in the EFL Trophy and who knows where that might lead?
My one reservation is around manager Ricketts. He likes to play three at the back and be adventurous. There isn’t anything wrong with that, but at times this division calls for a plan B and Ricketts hasn’t yet convinced me that he has that in his locker.
That said, they should be well clear of the bottom four come May, they’ve got some real talent in their squad and should not be under-estimated.