(More) Remembrance of the season past

Posted by on Jun 30, 2010 in Uncategorized | 4 Comments
With the pre-season almost upon us, and a day bereft of World Cup action, our two ex-League 1 supporters took some time to reflect on the previous campaign.

Stanley: On a personal note, the season started sluggishly, but ended in celebration, victory in the play-off final providing a just reward for a hard-working and ruthless Millwall team. But what of the other 23 clubs? Despite opening with a catastrophe, Norwich City finished the season as deserved Champions, while Leeds United finally made the upward move they have craved since taking up residence in the third tier. Others who left their imprint on the upper reaches were Huddersfield, whose collection of expensively acquired ingénues entertained all season, and Swindon, whose turn-around from the previous year was as impressive as their patient play. There were, however, some disappointing performances among the top 12, most notably McDons. The return of the self-styled `Guvnor’ perhaps being too much of a contrast for Roberto di Matteo’s 3rd placed finishers of 2009. For me, the decline of Franchise illustrated the competitiveness of the top half. It was refreshing, in a wider English game that has the whiff of stagnation, to have a league in which the final outcome was difficult to predict. Indeed, the intrigue pervaded the league as a whole, as the bottom of the league was just as closely matched as the top. At which point, Scarf, you might wish to offer some insights. Without wishing to gloat, I’d imagine that you are in a better vantage point from which to judge the efforts of the strugglers.

Scarf: It was indeed pleasurable to see the demise of Franchise, yes. For all their grand plans and supermarket-funded ambition, the club that stole a league place in 2002 have become a middling League One club, and the appointment of 29-year-old rookie Karl Robinson as manager suggests that the club’s coffers might not be quite as full as the marquee signing of Dieter Hamann might suggest. As an advocate of fan involvement in the running of clubs, it was also nice to see Exeter City defy their pre-season billing as relegation favourites to remain in the division. They were joined by Oldham, who just about managed to remain in the division before sacking manager Dave Penney in the close season, and Tranmere, where physio-turned-manager Les Parry did a sterling job keeping the club up after a disastrous start under former rapper (and sometime top England footballer) John Barnes and despite a modest playing budget of £800,000. Of the relegated teams, my own club Stockport never looked like finishing any higher than 24th in a season dominated by administration and repeated threats of ultimate extinction, whilst Wycombe found the jump from League 2 to League 1 too hard to complete successfully. Southend, like numerous others, were overwhelmed by financial problems in the end, which led to their demise, whilst Gillingham’s inconsistency saw them surprisingly relegated on the last day of the season.

Whilst several of the bigger teams made relatively short work of the division, other well-fancied teams like Southampton, Charlton and Colchester, found the division rather more tough going. In your view, Stanley, what were the factors that meant that Millwall succeeded whilst other, more fancied teams, did not?

Stanley: Though not possessing the creativity of Norwich, Millwall certainly had some force in attack. Steve Morison, in his first season of League football since dominating the non-league scene, came through an early struggle for form to score 23 goals, and was ably assisted by all time record goalscorer Neil Harris. Having the most miserly defence in the league and a formidable home record also helped. But the most influential factor was the management of Kenny Jackett. His strategies were, for the most part, absolutely correct in games against immediate rivals, while his low-key transfer dealings considerably strengthened the squad compared with the previous season.

Among the other clubs you mention, Charlton’s failure is perhaps most easily explained. After spending much of 2009 in the top two places, tactical inflexibility and a lack of potency upfront allowed teams of less repute to overtake them. Similarly for Colchester, who were set-up in the characteristic style of their (now former) manager, Adrian Boothroyd. Despite their undoubted physical prowess, Kevin Lisbie and his fellow forwards did not provide enough of a cutting edge. Indeed, the possession of a reliable goalscorer was requisite to any level of success in League 1 last year. For the first time in recent memory, several sides had talented forward lines: Rickie Lambert and Lee Barnard were a major factor in Southampton’s late, and ultimately vain, surge toward the play-offs; Huddersfield Town’s Jordan Rhodes proved a point after being discarded by Championship mediocrities Ipswich; Grant Holt and Chris Martin, assisted by Wes Hoolahan, powered the Canaries to the league title; and, of course, Charlie Austin at Swindon Town provided the media with a rags-to-riches narrative on which to base their otherwise disinterested coverage.

The exciting forward play was an overall highlight of the season for me. What would you say were the most enjoyable parts of the campaign for you?

Scarf: On a personal note, I can truthfully say the one and only enjoyable part of the campaign was at the very end, once the season had finished. We’d been put out or misery on the playing front and, earlier this month, we finally came out of administration. Though I’m quite sceptical about the new owners, I’m just relieved to have a club to support again. Elsewhere, it was nice to see Paul Tisdale – a massively intelligent coach – doing well at Exeter, and Kenny Jackett recover from his harsh dismissal from Swansea to get promotion with Millwall. It was also nice to see that money didn’t necessarily buy success and, whilst Norwich and Leeds were arguably the biggest clubs in the division, others did struggle, as we have already alluded to. I think the clubs entering in the division next season will freshen it up a bit after what, for me, was a relatively staid season in that I thought Norwich and Leeds would get promotion – they did – and I thought us and Wycombe would go down – we did. Dagenham and Rochdale haven’t been in this division in living memory, whilst much has changed at Bournemouth and Notts County since their last forays into the third tier. The three teams coming down all have quite a bit of work to do on the pitch if they want to challenge at the top, too. Whilst wishing to leave predictions for another time, I think next season will be a very interesting one in the division. I look forward to it immensely.

Stanley
As a kid, Stanley undertook an odyssey around the football grounds of London and North Kent before alighting at Millwall. Despite the efforts of Jason Dair and many others, as an adult he decided to move closer to the arena erroneously known as the New Den and is now a proud season-ticket holder.

4 Comments

  1. Lanterne Rouge
    July 2, 2010

    Hard to see past Southampton for the title next season which would be boring. It would be great to see an unfancied side come out of the pack.

    Reply
  2. Lloyd
    July 4, 2010

    Good stuff. I'd agree that next year's League 1 ought to be more exciting. Even at their peak, Southampton were a little iffy here and there and the end of season speculation surrounding Pardew's future indicates that he's under significant pressure to perform. So it should be quite open.

    After losing a couple of key players, Rochdale could be next year's Stockport, but as Scarf says, we'll hold off on the predictions for a few more weeks yet.

    Reply
  3. Stanley
    July 6, 2010

    For me, Huddersfield have to be the favourites next season. They already have a lot of young talents in the side, but just lacked the mental strength that comes with experience. Lee Clark identified the problem right after the play-off semi and has wasted no time in putting it right.

    As for Southampton, I just think they could be getting ahead of themselves a bit. All the talk of playing `the Southampton way', etc. There were already statements of discontent from the chairman after last year's performance, which was excellent considering their pre-season predicament. Pardew will be out of a job if they aren't 10 points clear by October.

    Reply
  4. Lanterne Rouge
    July 7, 2010

    Sheffield Wednedsay's recruitment policy has bene judicious thus far but how many times do we predict the clubs with the big fans bases will triumph and an unlikely challenger comes out of the pack? Brentford maybe?

    Reply

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