Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Early prospects

Things seem to be hotting up around the divisions as the summer merry-go-round builds up pace and some League Two sides have been very busy.
While Cheltenham have recruited Russ Penn and rubber-stamped Marlon Pack's arrival, we have seen Wes Thomas leave for Crawley, who seem to be most people's tip to win the title next season.
But it is shaping up to be a very tough league in 2011-12 - and I could make a case for as many as 15 or 16 clubs to battle it out for a place in the top seven - and at the moment I don't include Cheltenham in that.
Mark Yates has come back from his holidays  and says he has identified the players he wants... now it's a case of going out and getting them, which could be the hard bit.
I've already mentioned Crawley, and besides Wes they have landed John Akinde, so they will have goals in them with Matt Tubbs there as well.
You can bet that Shrewsbury and Torquay will be pushing to go one better than last season - but Torquay could depend on who they appoint to succeed Paul Buckle.
He has gone to Bristol Rovers, and you can bet your bottom dollar that the Gas will not want to hang around in League Two, and he has taken Scott Bevan, the giant goalkeeper from Torquay, and added Craig Stanley - in my book one of the best midfielders at this level - to his squad.
I suspect also that he will be after Jake Robinson after Shrewsbury let him go, as he had him down at Plainmoor, and there is talk of a six-figure move for the Shrews' big forward Matt Harrold (the Prince Harry lookalike who came on at our place towards the end of the season).
Swindon and Plymouth have been quiet so far, as have Dagenham, but I am sure they will also be under pressure to get back into the higher division.
Swindon will depend on how long the Di Canio circus will last. My opinion is that we need to play them before Christmas if we want to see him in the opposing dugout.
Plymouth is all about the off-field woes and how they will affect Peter Reid's plans - they have let a lot of players go, and Yannick Bolasie has joined Bristol City. Can he replace them?
Dagenham will go one of two ways - either be right up there or struggle, and I am backing John Still to get them challenging to bounce back.
Rotherham have landed Gareth Evans from Bradford, a good signing in my book, and he will help compensate for Adam le Fondre's expected departure, and Ben Pringle from Derby is another good arrival for Andy Scott, a manager I rate highly - unlucky to get the push from Brentford I thought.
Port Vale, with Micky Adams back, will be another team up there challenging after all the shenanigans there last season saw them falter badly, and if Crewe can keep Clayton Donaldson and Shaun Miller, they too will go close.
Gillingham have lost Cody McDonald, Bayo Akinfenwa and Andy Barcham - three big players - and Andy Hessenthaler was in the mix for Wes Thomas, but I would back him to bring in decent replacements with his decent budget to get them in the top echelons.
Akinfenwa has gone back to Northampton, and they will have a much-changed squad this season. Although I am not Gary Johnson's number one fan by a long chalk, Bayo and Shaun Harrad will get goals at this level, and in Michael Jacobs they have one of the best young talents around. They will have a better season.
One team making a big statement and some big moves so far is Oxford United. They have brought in defenders Andy Whing and Tony Capaldi and forwards John-Paul Pittman and Deane Smalley - all useful performers - and topped that off with former Chelsea and Leeds centre-back Michael Duberry as well.
Not cheap I would imagine - so Chris Wilder had better have them in the top eight or 10 very quickly with a promotion challenge to follow, or the P45 could be forthcoming.
Bradford City must surely perform better than they did last season. How can they keep failing with 10,000-plus crowds and presumably decent resources? The latest to try and solve that riddle is the wily and experienced Peter Jackson, and he has been linked with several high-profile players and I expect him to get them moving this season.
The enigma could be Accrington. Brilliant at home last season (except when we went there and played them off the Crown Ground beach) they question will be whether they can do it again.
John Coleman has done an unbelievable job there and has taken them to a higher league position in every season he has been in charge - that means he will probably have to get them automatic promotion this time to keep up that record.
That might be beyond him, and their fortunes could depend on whether he can keep Jimmy Ryan, Sean McConville and Terry Gornell.
So that's Crawley, Shrewsbury, Torquay, Bristol Rovers, Swindon, Plymouth, Dagenham, Rotherham, Port Vale, Crewe, Gillingham, Northampton, Oxford, Bradford and Accrington - 15 clubs who could, in my opinion, all mount a top-seven challenge.
Aldershot are bubbling under that list. They were functional under Dean Holdsworth, who seems to be taking non-League players and giving them a chance - Alex Rodman from Tamworth, Jamie Collins from Newport and Bradley Bubb from Farnborough for example.
Stevenage did that last season, and look where it got them, so could Holdsworth do the same? Don't rule them out.
So that leaves 8 other clubs - ourselves, Morecambe, Hereford, Burton, Barnet, Southend, Macclesfield and AFC Wimbledon.
The latter will be an unknown quantity, while I can only see it being very tough for Barnet, Macclesfield, Hereford and also for Burton, who still have not replaced Harrad and have lost Penn to ourselves.
They have re-signed the winger Cleveland Taylor - but they look like losing Jacques Maghoma, who is another of their best players, and the goalkeeper Adam Ledzgins is wanted by Derby. Tough prospect for Paul Peschisolido.
Morecambe have lost Sammy McIlroy and gone internally for Jim Bentley as manager. Sorry Shrimps fans but to me that smacks of a cheap option - a club without much money - but they have signed Kevin Ellison from Rotherham, a good, experienced player, but I can only see them being in the lower reaches.
Southend started last season in crisis, but Paul Sturrock got a squad together which was solid in mid-table, yet I can't help thinking he will need a few more rabbits to get them up there.
That leaves us - and on paper League Two looks very tough indeed, and as it stands I can't see us breaking into those top eight or 10 places, unless Mark can bring in the players we need.
That's two strikers, a winger (or two), a centre half, a goalkeeper and - if there is anything left in the pot - a goalscoring midfield player and cover for left back.
Russ Penn and Marlon Pack are good for starters, but the biggest work of the summer is still to come.