2012/13 League 1 Preview
With less than a week to go until the start of the 2012/13 League 1 season, here's a lowdown of all the movers and shakers in English football's third tier.
I think it's fair to say that this year's renewal is decidedly weaker than last season's competition. The three teams promoted to the Championship (Charlton, Sheffield Wednesday and Huddersfield) were strong, financially well-backed and at times dominant over the rest of the league. Only Sheffield United and at times MK Dons challenged these teams for promotion and these two clubs look the likeliest candidates for the League 1 title once again.
Sheffield United suffered play-off heartbreak at Wembley losing out to Huddersfield, after agonizingly letting slip a five point advantage over cross city rivals Wednesday in the race for the second automatic promotion place. The Blades have managed to keep the backbone of that squad (Maguire, McDonald, Quinn and Porter) while adding extra defensive quality in the form of Tony McMahon and Matt Hill. If Danny Wilson's men can recover from the disappointment of last year, they should be the pick of the promotion candidates. To win the league 5/1, promotion 13/8.
MK Dons ultimately came unstuck in the first leg of their play-off semi-final against Huddersfield and couldn't retrieve the tie at the Galpharm. Manager Karl Robinson knows this league though and his players have the experience necessary to make a push for one of the automatic places (To win the league 6/1, promotion 7/4). Robinson has signed proven goalscorer Ryan Lowe (14/1 top goalscorer) from Sheff Wed as well as veteran forward Alan Smith who spent time on loan at MK last season.
The best of the rest could well be Paolo Di Canio's Swindon Town (8/1 to win the league, 11/4 promotion). With several of the team that secured promotion from League 2 having been replaced with established Championship and League 1 players, Di Canio and his chairman are sending out a signal of intent that Swindon Town won't be content with just survival, they are aiming for the Championship.
One of the main reasons why I believe that League 1 is weaker this time around is the state of the clubs that have been relegated from the Championship. Doncaster Rovers, Coventry and in particular Portsmouth all endured disastrous campaigns in last season's second tier and therefore find themselves in this league.
Portsmouth are a football club on its knees, financially crippled by years of mismanagement, the Pompey fans are thankful just to still have a club at all, with threats of closure all throughout the summer. With all of their first team staff either sold or released, they will depend on the Fratton Park youth players in their bid for survival. Michael Appleton also has to contend with a 10-point penalty and in all likelihood, I'm guessing he would take an upper-bottom half finish right now. Pompey are 25/1 to win League 1 and 11/2 to get promoted.
Doncaster (12/1 to win the league, 4/1 promotion) and Coventry (10/1 to win the league, 7/2 promotion) are experiencing somewhat ‘transitional' pre-seasons, with large numbers of players leaving and joining the respective clubs. Doncaster seem to have bought well, with Rob Jones joining from Sheff Wed, and David Cotterill and Robbie Blake also signing up.
Coventry manager Andy Thorn has embarked on a Football Manager-style shopping spree - Kevin Kilbane, Stephen Elliott and John Fleck all joined the ranks in a flurry of summer activity, followed soon after by Callum Ball and Reece Brown from Derby and Manchester United respectively.
Looking at the rest of the table, it will be interesting to see how Crawley, Crewe and Shrewsbury adapt to life in League 1 after escaping League 2 along with Swindon. Crawley looked the best equipped after securing a second straight promotion, but managerial upheaval has seen Richie Barker take over the hot seat and with only a short amount of time to weigh up his squad, it will be fascinating to see how the ‘Red Devils' cope.
Notts County, Carlisle, Brentford and Bournemouth all flirted with the play-offs last season and a solid start from any of these clubs could see them put in a challenge for promotion. Keith Curle's Notts County have made some decent signings over the summer but the team I've made my dark horses are Brentford. Under Uwe Rosler they played some excellent football towards the end of the last campaign and if the season had continued for another month they could well have sneaked a play-off spot. Brentford to win the league 14/1, promotion 9/2.
A set of supporters that I believe will be less than thrilled about the summer activities will be those of Stevenage. A host of clubs, including Preston, managed by former boss Graham Westley, have pinched almost all of their stars, meaning the base of their double promotion has left Broadhall Way. To win the league Stevenage 20/1, Preston 10/1. Promotion Stevenage 8/1, Preston 7/2.