Summer Mailbag: Part Two
Pre-season thoughts, transfer musings, manager analysis and more...
What was that? The Ashes. The Open. Sunshine. Rain. Beer gardens. Barbecues. Holidays. Weddings. A litany of mornings, afternoons and evenings spent with friends and family. Nick Hornby wrote that any event of any significance has a footballing shadow. The summer shadows are shortening, and the tick-ticking of the clock counts us down to the start of a new season.
Now football reimposes its inevitable order on our lives once again. The fixture list. The big games. The fallout. And at NTT20, that schedule has begun this week. On Monday, we plotted out our predictions for 2023/24 with our 1-24 podcasts for the Championship, League One and League Two (Apple/Spotify). Today, we’re placing a full stop on the season of sun with our second and final part of the Summer Mailbag.
OK, so it’s not a full stop. It’s more like an ellipsis… because we will keep answering as many of your questions as we can over the course of the season. So drop them here!
…but first, summer questions – let’s go!
Which club in each division do you feel the most positive about in contrast to when the season ended (and vice versa; negative to positive)?
Negative to Positive:
Birmingham - takeover complete and really fun recruitment (Ethan Laird, Siriki Dembele, Lee Buchanan) means I think we will see a very different Birmingham this season.
Charlton - another club who have been bought over the summer and have signed a host of proven League One quality. With Alfie May and Panutche Camara added to the ranks, Dean Holden may have a squad capable of challenging right at the top end of the table.
Walsall - they are perennial under-achievers in League Two, and it’s hard to judge Head Coach Mat Sadler, but I really like the mix of quality experience (Chris Hussey) and youthful exuberance (Aramide Oteh) that they’ve brought in over the summer.
Positive to negative:
Blackburn - despite the poor results there was lots to like in Rovers’ performances at the backend of last season, but with Ben Brereton Diaz gone but not replaced, and manager Jon Dahl Tomasson clearly not happy with the lack of investment in the team, it’s been hard to retain any of that hope.
Cambridge - I’m a huge Mark Bonner fan but, having only just stayed up last season, they’ve lost so many key players for nothing. Dimitar Mitov, Lloyd Jones, Sam Smith and Joe Ironside have all moved on and there is little in the way of quality that’s come in, so I think Bonner will have to do an incredible job to keep them up.
Tranmere - I’m really surprised that they’ve decided that Ian Dawes is the best man for the job and even more so that they still haven’t looked to rectify the clear lack of creativity in midfield. Losing Josh Dacres-Cogley and Ethan Bristow makes Dawes’ job even harder.
Of the 10 teams to have dropped into a lower EFL division last season, which one would you say is best placed to make an immediate return?
It’s sad that this question isn’t even more difficult to answer. Once again, several clubs come down in a state of off-field distress, whether it’s in the form of points deductions (Wigan), a transfer embargo (Reading), takeover troubles (Morecambe) or disgruntlement towards the owner (Forest Green). With Accrington joining the extensive cast of 21st-Century Lancastrian Footballing Misery, it’s all a bit bleak.
Amid the malaise, though, MK Dons are preparing well in League Two, while the Championship could have all three rich and resourceful relegated sides finishing in the top six. But of the ten teams to have dropped down, might it be Blackpool who have the fewest questions about them right now?
A peace treaty has been struck between Tangerine supporters and Neil Critchley, with no inflatable snakes on the horizon just yet. Somehow, Critchley’s return to Blackpool comes less than a year after his unpopular departure – last season really did last forever – and many familiar faces remain from his first two excellent campaigns.
Callum Connolly, James Husband, Marvin Ekpiteta and Kenny Dougall were among Critchley’s most trusted players when they collected an impressive 60 points in the 2021/22 Championship campaign. CJ Hamilton is a threat at this level. Shayne Lavery’s promising pre-season suggests he could find the net often if he can find his fitness first. And joining them all is some proven League One talent, including Matt Pennington, James Norburn and Albie Morgan.
With a bit more elbow room at the top of this division following last season’s overcrowded buffet, Blackpool could reclaim their seat at the table.
Who do you think will be in the League 1 relegation battle?
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