As has so often been proven, making pre-season predictions about league football is the most certain way for a journalist, blogger or pundit to make an absolute fool of themselves. Placing your words and reputation on the line before a ball has been kicked is, in 90% of cases, a true recipe for disaster.
It is far more sensible to take a step back, wait for the dust of the first few weeks to settle, before rolling up the sleeves and delving into the tricky task of calling what the score will be come May.
So throughout October I’ll be doing what I call my Quarter Season Predictions for each division of the English Football League, this week or League One. Who will be promoted and relegated? Read on for the cast iron truth:
Last season, the champions were in position by around this time. Bristol City were by far and away the strongest side in the division, and cantered to promotion with 99 points. There will be no such runaway this year – there looks to be a very even field at the top.
Of those teams, at the start of the season, that I would have predicted to be in the five or six to challenge for promotion, Burton Albion would not have been among them. Then again, the Brewers seem to have a standard of over-achievement for a club of their size.
With decent coaching pedigree in the Netherlands, convincing Jimmy-Floyd Hasselbaink to start his managerial career in the English fourth tier was a master stroke. At this level, his very reputation can be enough to inspire players, and he can inspire them to become champions for a second straight year.
Of the runners and riders for second spot, there are a lot of bigger and more reputable teams than Burton who are finally proving some of their worth. Sheffield United are always the bookmaker’s favourites, and Wigan Athletic are already planning an assault on the Premier League once again as a target.
The sleeping giant I prefer is Coventry City. Tony Mowbray is rebuilding his reputation after a disappointing spell at Middlesbrough, and has used the loan market to great effect – Jacob Murphy from Norwich, Adam Armstrong from Newcastle, and now, remarkably, Joe Cole. Yes, that Joe Cole. The former Golden Generation man could be the spark that sets off the Sky Blues after a decade of malaise.
I mentioned Wigan and Sheffield United before, and I see those two falling just short of automatic promotion. I see those two teams meeting at Wembley for the play-off final. I see Wigan gaining instant passage back to the second tier. The Blades, after all, simply don’t do the play-offs; and Wigan have the squad and resources to make it back up, someway and somehow.
For relegation candidates, it might be lazy to go for the current bottom club, but Crewe Alexandra have been struggling at the wrong end ever since they came up three seasons ago, and this may well be the time we finally say goodbye. They will be joined by Blackpool. Need I explain more?
I worry about Swindon Town too. The last time they lost a play-off final (to Milwall in 2010), they went down the season after. After being crushed by Preston last year and losing 20-goal striker Andy Williams to rivals Doncaster, it may be an impossible dream for Mark Cooper’s men to stay out of League Two, maybe they should go back to Paolo di Canio.
Similarly, I fear for Chesterfield, who were also in the play-offs last season, beaten by Preston. When your manager then leaves for a side the league below (Paul Cook to Pompey), you know you have over-achieved, and what your true level may well be.