A sense of doom and gloom often follows a relegation, and it is no different with Crewe fans this pre-season. The pre-season began well with 2 wins on the same night, but since then, we have failed to win and have only scored in 1 of the 5 friendlies we have since played.
The three new signings have settled in well on the whole. Julien Baudet has looked solid during the pre-season, whilst Darran Kempson was one of few bright points during the dull visit of Wolves. Neil Cox's arrival has been hampered by injury, with an unfortunate car crash leaving him with whiplash, and no sooner had that cleared up than his hamstring tightened up. The full backs also look promising, with Billy Jones likely to shine in this division, whilst Crewe's style of play should make it easier for Jon Otsemobor to adapt to this division this time around. All in all, it looks like we should be OK defensively this season.
However, the goals for column may not read so well this season. Traditionally, Crewe have always been able to score goals, with creative midfielders aplenty and, more often than not, a competent striker or two. This season, we can no longer rely upon the creativity of Kenny Lunt, so much will depend on whether David Vaughan can rediscover his form of the 2004/05 season.
Despite Lunt's departure, our midfield still looks fairly strong. Our attacking options, however, will require strengthening if we are to find ourselves anywhere in the top half of the table. Luke Rodgers should score goals in this league, and if he can get around 15 goals, then we should do OK. It is the issue of Rodgers' partner that is of greater concern, however, with Michael Higdon the only feasible option we have for the big striker role. It is only right that Higdon should be given a chance this season, but to have him as our main striker, especially with Pavol Suhaj the only competition, would be foolhardy. Huddersfield's Pavol Abbott appears to be a good option for around £250k, and although the club have concerns over his mobility, Abbott has a good goalscoring record at this level. Michael Reddy has handed in a transfer request at Grimsby and can hold a ball up well, whilst Hull are looking to offload one of their strikers, leaving Jon Parkin, Ben Burgess and Billy Paynter as possibilities.
Overall, if our defence can continue its good form, we should finish at least 16th. In order to climb higher up the table, Luke Rodgers will need to score goals, and a big striker who can hold the ball up and contribute 10 goals or more will be required, whether that be Michael Higdon or otherwise.
Elsewhere in the league, Bristol City, Nottingham Forest and Swansea stand out as the outstanding teams of the division. Usually in League One, all doesn't go according to plan, and one of the fancied teams struggles to make it to the play-offs, though it is particularly hard this season to see any of these three teams failing. I expect Steve Brooker to fire Bristol City to the top of the league, whilst Forest will play good football and outclass teams into second place.
In truth, any four of about ten teams in this division could consume the play-off places. Swansea seem certain to finish above the chasing pack, whilst Huddersfield look to have done a good bit of business in recruiting Luke Beckett. Doncaster should reach the play-offs, though don't be too surprised if the loss of Michael McIndoe hits them harder than I have predicted. Bradford have goals in Dean Windass and David Graham, whilst loan signings Nathan Doyle and Lee Holmes should see them off to a good start.
Elsewhere, Tranmere's busy summer should see them finish much higher than last season's 18th, but the play-offs might be a step too far. Scunthorpe have goals in Andy Keogh and Billy Sharp, whilst Chesterfield appear to have a good all round team. Millwall's radical changes this summer should prove worthwhile, but it'll take them a season or two to shape themselves into promotion favourites, whilst Port Vale may rue a lack of goalscoring options. Bournemouth shouldn't do too badly with James Hayter up front, though Oldham appear certain to miss the goals of Luke Beckett. The goals of Michael Bridges and Karl Hawley should see Carlisle safe and Leyton Orient should survive despite the loss of Gabriel Zakuani to Fulham.
Rotherham's 10 point deduction should prove too great a burden for them to overhaul, with Yeovil likely to join them in League Two, despite a few decent summer signings. In a similar fashion to Hartlepool last season, I expect Brentford to be relegated having missed out in the play-offs the season before. The loss of Martin Allen is likely to be a blow, though on the field, the departures of Sam Sodje, Michael Turner and Jay Tabb could prove even costlier. Cheltenham don't appear to have enough to worry anyone in League One, though the momentum of promotion may see them surprise a few people.
Predicted League One table in full:
C 1st Bristol City
P 2nd Nottingham Forest
PO 3rd Swansea
PO 4th Huddersfield
PO 5th Doncaster
PO 6th Bradford
13th Port Vale
20th Leyton Orient
R 21st Rotherham
R 22nd Yeovil
R 23rd Brentford
R 24th Cheltenham
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