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League One preview – part I

Well here we are again, back in the 3rd Division of English football. Some old friends remain like Sheffield United, who face their 6th consecutive season after being relegated in 2010/11 and for the 6th time start the season as the bookies’ favourite. Oldham Athletic also remain and with a tenure of 10 years are the division’s longest serving member. Millwall are back there as well, as are Gillingham, but strangely only 9 teams remain from our promotion season. They are Sheffield United, Oldham, Chesterfield, Colchester, MK Dons, Notts County, Rochdale, Walsall and Saturday’s opponents Bury.

We will welcome back to The Valley Phil Parkinson, now manager of Bolton and perhaps will look longingly at Chris Wilder and Keith Hill who were both interviewed for the Charlton manager’s job in the summer before it was given to Russell Slade. Amongst ex-players we will be reacquainted with are Jerome Thomas (Port Vale), Franck Moussa (Walsall), Paul Konchesky, Scott Wagstaff (both Gillingham), Marvin Sordell, Kyel Reid (both Coventry) and Eggert Jonsson (Fleetwood). Excited yet?

So, old friends, old foes, new teams, new grounds and I will cast my captivated eyes over them one by one. Not in any real detail like Kyle, but just enough to get your juices flowing with anticipation. No?

First of all a team that the majority of us will welcome playing, AFC Wimbledon, the only football club with rights to the history of their name. Promoted through the play-off’s, they beat Plymouth at Wembley 14 years to day of their formation from the ashes of their stolen identity. Kingsmeadow, where we played a pre-season friendly a few summers ago, will be the smallest ground that Addicks will visit this season, at least until they can return to their rightful home.

Well travelled Striker Lyle Taylor, who scored 23 times last season will be hoping to crack League One but when CEO’s talk about a top 6 budget I would expect that the Dons would struggle to feature in a top 20 budget. They have added a couple of players including Dean Parrett from Stevenage and Dominic Poleon from Oldham. Sadly they lost the huge character of Adebayo Akinfenwa to Wycombe and ex-Addick Adebayo Azeez made the strange choice to play in Scotland and not accept the offer of a new contract.

Despite climbing to another level, under the careful guidance of Dons’ legend Neal Ardley they should not be underestimated, especially at home, and I suspect this fairytale will not be ending anytime soon. Promotion odds 14/1. Relegation 3/1.

Next a team that have come from the other direction. Bolton Wanderers were in the Premiership when AFC Wimbledon were in the Conference. Bolton, relegated with us, have not been this low down the ladder since 1993. Parky was bagged from Bradford, but with new owners stabilizing their huge debt many of the high earners have been moved on such as Emile Heskey and Neil Danns. Losing young defender Rob Holding after one season to Arsenal is a blow. However two additions with Millwall connections should be seen as a positive, centre-half Mark Beevers and midfielder Chris Taylor.

Parky knows the lower divisions well and I’m will sure have the Trotters competitive even though I don’t think he has shaken his defensive and long ball tendencies. They have held onto a lot of their young talent such as Zach Clough, Derek Oside and Josh Vela. Like us this season could well have some uncomfortable moments for Bolton fans, but I think they are more prepared to sustain a promotion challenge. Promotion odds 4/1. Relegation 12/1.

Parky left Bradford City after 5 years and they turned to Bantams legend Stuart McCall to continue the steady but progressive work that Parky had done. McCall, like Neal Ardley at Wimbledon, knows every inch of what it means to play and manage Bradford City. New foreign owners have not tinkered with the very progressive relationship the club has with it’s fans, and as such are one of the best supported in the division.

The new German owners promised transfer funds but City have been quiet in the market apart from the addition of the experienced Romain Vincent and goalie Colin Doyle from Blackpool. I think there could be a little bit of a transition this season for the Bantams but they remain a team to beat to win promotion. Promotion odds 4/1. Relegation 16/1.

Bristol Rovers have won two successive promotions which only scares me to how close the apparent parallel universe of League One and the Conference really are. Rovers manager Darrell Clarke has done a wonderful job and wasted no time in turning down a move to Leeds in the summer to continue his work at the Memorial Ground.

Clarke has made little changes to his squad, many of them moving up two divisions with Clarke. Prolific striker Matty Taylor who has carried on his goal scoring instinct from the Conference will be key and like his manager and many of the promotion heroes has signed a new contract.

We have had our battles with Rovers over the years and despite a mostly downward spiral since the turn of the century they are well supported and will be looking for a season of consolidation after a relegation and two promotions in the last three. Promotion 6/1. Relegation 7/1.

Bury are our opponents on opening day and are one of League One’s smaller clubs with an average attendance of 3,700. Under Gary Flitcroft the Shakers more than held their own last season after promotion from League Two the season previous. There has been a lot of summer turnover and a whole host of in’s and out’s although Flitcroft finally lost top scorer Leon Clarke to Sheffied United last week. Clarke and top scorer in the same sentence hard to imagine for Addicks.

One time Addicks loanee Tom Soares will be expected to line up on Saturday, although Chris Eagles was released. Incomings that caught my eye were defenders Antony Kay from MK Dons and Leon Barnett from Wigan plus ex-Palace and Bolton midfielder Neil Danns.

Bury on paper and according to the bookies will be relegation strugglers but I think Flitcroft is underrated and Bury, depending if they can replace Clarke’s goals to some extent, should have enough to survive. Promotion 18/1. Relegation 5/2.

Chesterfield have made headlines this summer by signing convicted rapist Ched Evans, and it will be interesting to see what kind of reception the Welshman gets as he embarks on his first season since 2011/12 and whether Chesterfield’s owner will be judged as brave or stupid.

Last season the Spireites flat-lined after a couple of fine seasons. Losing Paul Cook to Pompey was a big blow and after a another disastrous managerial spell by Dean Saunders, the most experienced manager in the division, Danny Wilson will want to reverse fortunes.

Chesterfield look weak on paper and are probably another club with a bottom 6 budget. I don’t expect Evans commanded a big salary. One player I recognise is Bermudian striker Rai Simons, who did well last season and was offered a new contract. Chesterfield’s highlights get shown here because of Simons and he will be expected to be a third striking option to Sylvan Ebanks-Blake and Ched Evans up front.

Wilson is a wily old fox, but I think the Irishman, who has managed over 1,000 games (he played over 700) will need all of his experience to keep the Spireites out of a relegation battle. Promotion 20/1. Relegation 5/2.

One of the big names in the division are Coventry City, who will play their 4th season in the third tier after relegation in 2012 saw them drop to their lowest level in 48 years. We should have much empathy with the Sky Blues who were forced to play their home games in Northampton for a season, back they are now back at the slightly soulless Ricoh Arena, where they still pull in 15,000 crowds.

Tony Mowbray is manager and how they missed out on a play-off spot last season after spending almost the entire season in the top 6 was mind boggling. Mowbray has been allowed to re-build his squad with some high level departures such as the failed experiment of Joe Cole and Darius Henderson. Losing midfielder John Fleck to league rivals Sheffield United was less welcoming.

Despite a lot of speculation City have brought in many players, thus far. One time Addicks target Jodi Jones joined from Dagenham & Redbridge and, drum roll please, Marvin Sordell also walked into the building. The most interesting signing perhaps is that of Kyel Reid from Bradford. To complete the Charlton connections Marcus Tudgay is there and goalkeeper regular is Reice Charles-Cook, older brother of Charlton’s Regan.

Mowbray will be desperate to start well otherwise pressure could build on him pretty quickly. There is also the on-going saga of the Ricoh and how much longer the Sky Blues can play there, as it is now owned by Rugby Union club Wasps. I foresee a season of difficulty and indifference for Cov. Promotion 11/2. Relegation 12/1.

Fleetwood Town are the other team the Addicks have never played in a league match, or any match come to think of it. Strangely their manager Steven Pressley resigned just last week, to be replaced by Uwe Rosler, and we thought that Russell Slade was brought in late to the proceedings. I wonder if Pressley got a little disillusioned by lack of support from up top and it appears Town’s fans.

Fleetwood threw some decent money to get to where they are today, but now they are amongst many bigger name sides in this division, the money doesn’t go as far. They have lost some of their better players to rivals such as midfielder Antoni Sarcevic, who went to Shrewsbury. Chris Maxwell and steady centre-half Marcus Nilsson have also left as has promising right back Tyler Hornby-Forbes.

Pressley had already found replacements in right back Michael Duckworth from Hartlepool and centre-back Ashley Eastham from Rochdale, ten players in all joined but you have to wonder what Rosler will make of them. I’m unsure as whether this league might now be too big for Fleetwood or that they will continue to progress as they have done since they were established under this name in 1997. With Rosler, also, you just don’t know what you are going to get. Promotion 14/1. Relegation 9/2.

Part II to follow.

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