It’s that time again when all the so called experts in the media give their predictions for the forthcoming football season. As usual they will get the majority hopelessly wrong, but claim credit for the few blatantly obvious one’s they get right. Our newsletter service ‘Tipped at the Post!’ has for the past 2 season’s joined in the fun and has actually done reasonably well. So not to be left out I’m publishing below my thoughts for how all 92 clubs will fair over the next 9 months.
In the Premiership it doesn’t take a genius to work out the usual suspects, but which order? I quite like the look of the 8/1 being quoted for Liverpool. They have improved each year and the signing of Craig Bellamy could be inspired. They just get my vote in what could be the closest finish for years. Naturally Chelsea and Man U will push them close, but by the end I actually believe Arsenal might be their nearest rivals. Either way I think there will only be single figure points between all 4. Spurs will be desperately disappointed to have missed out at the death last time and their squad seems to get bigger every year. They should figure prominently again, but only as the best of the next little group which will include West Ham, Newcastle, Man City and once all the dust has settled Aston Villa. Plus hanging onto their tails I believe Reading will have a cracking first season in the top flight. They play the game the right way and will surprise many.
After that we’re in to the bottom half and that’s where I see Blackburn and Portsmouth finishing without ever getting sucked into the dog fight below them. The remaining 8 clubs will I believe all flirt with relegation, with the likes of Bolton, Middlesbrough, Wigan and Charlton all having much worse seasons than previous. I don’t see any of them dropping out, but they may well have a few scary moments and I wouldn’t expect them to be comfortable until the final few weeks. Of the other 4, Fulham always seem to do just enough, so that leaves promoted Watford who, whilst having a lot of pace in their side, look very suspect defensively; Sheff Utd who I think will struggle from start to finish – reminiscent of Sunderland last year and controversially Everton. I doubt if anybody else will be tipping the Merseysiders for the drop, but even with the signing of Andy Johnson I just don’t like the look of them. Still even if I’m miles off the mark, you can’t beat a bit of controversy.
In the Championship, every year the division seems stronger on paper, but the reality often shows so called “big clubs” living off their name and the truth is that any club who can put together a consistent run of results will be in with a great chance – i.e Watford last term! Birmingham look to have signed the right type of player for this league and their early favouritism would seem justified. The 3 losing play off clubs: Leeds, Palace and Preston, should all be there or thereabouts and I expect much better seasons from a trio of midlands clubs: Coventry, Derby and Leicester.
They all could feature heavily from the turn of the year and I’d expect at least 2 of them to be in the top 6 come the finish. Southampton too should make a strong challenge, but I can see Wolves having a bad time of it. I see their big rivals West Brom just missing out, unless they get off to a flyer. Plymouth, Hull and Cardiff seem solid enough, which is as good a description as I can give to Norwich, which won’t be enough to allow them a sustained challenge. I’m not sure what’s going on at Sunderland, but they look nothing more than a mid-table outfit to me. Ipswich have always been well fancied but I can see a difficult season ahead for them, likewise Burnley and Luton.
Sheff Weds should have a slightly easier time of it and of the 3 promoted clubs I think Southend look the most likely to adapt. Barnsley and Colchester may well be scrapping with each other come the end with the other 2 relegation spots being filled by QPR – who looked poor last year and maybe surprisingly Stoke, who pulled out some cracking results last time, but appeared to me to flatter to deceive!
In League One, Forest are everybody’s favourites – everybody’s except me that is! Granted they had a terrific run at the end and only just missed out, but I still have my doubts. The other team who came with a storming run late on get my vote and that’s Bristol City. I’ve tipped them 2 or 3 times over the past 5 or 6 years and they always managed to mess it up somehow, but I think this could actually be the year they get it right. Joining them I like the look of Doncaster, who have some progressive ideas and a smashing young Manager. Huddersfield and Swansea ought to feature strongly, plus Tranmere and relegated Crewe. The 5 B’s: Bradford, Brentford, Bournemouth, Brighton, and Blackpool are all capable of top half finishes. Of the promoted clubs I fancy Leyton Orient to do the best closely followed by Carlisle. The other 2: Cheltenham and Northampton may well go on a return journey. Gillingham, Chesterfield, Millwall, Oldham and Yeovil have a lower mid-table look about them, which leaves Port Vale, Scunthorpe and Rotherham who need a minor miracle as they have to start 10 points adrift.
Like any other season League 2 is the most difficult to call. So many times in recent years top 6 and bottom 6 are only separated by single figure points for the vast majority of the season, so picking the successful one’s is a thankless task. I’m going for Hartlepool who were a little unlucky to go down, to bounce straight back. MK Dons will have a good go at joining them and Wycombe will be kicking themselves at missing out after their fabulous start and will want to put it right this time. Lincoln seem destined to finish in the play-offs every season but fail each time and a repeat can’t be ruled out. I like the chances of Wrexham and Chester, plus maybe a little surprisingly Notts County. Grimsby, Darlington and Peterborough were all up there last season and should be there again this, along with Shrewsbury and Bristol Rovers. There is no reason why newly promoted Accrington and Hereford can’t force their way in, they certainly needn’t fear anybody. Swindon under Dennis Wise will be an interesting proposition and he could just galvanise them, but I have my reservations. The rest I see a long hard battle, with ultimately Barnet and Bury crashing into the abyss that is the Conference!