by James Oddy
League two- Southend
Perhaps not a surprise package- they did reach the league 2 play off final- but their close season recruitments have been good, and the Shrimpers have built well on the foundation already laid. In particularly, the return of Freddy Eastwood, so prolific in the clubs rise up the divisions, is a massive boost. Returning to familiar surroundings and desperate to prove that his times at Coventry and Wolves were just blips, he could provide the final piece to Paul Sturrock’s side. Ryan Cresswell, another player proven at this level, should help keep things tight at the back.
League one- Swindon town
League one looks like it could be the most competitive of all four divisions, with Preston, Sheffield United, Doncaster, Scunthorpe, Coventry, Colchester and even Portsmouth possibly providing a threat. But Swindon have two things in their favour- momentum and an erratic, brilliant Italian. Paulo Di Canio is a force of nature, controversial, passionate and impossible to work out. Yet despite (or because of) these combustible traits, he still managed to inspire his squad to find there way out of the bottom tier. He appears almost to be a lower league Mourinho, courting controversy and acting as a lightening rod while his team goes about their business. If he also manages to retain in demand winger Matt Ritchie, the club could be heading for another unforgettable season.
Like most over teams I’ve selected, it’s the quality of the recruits that have joined the club that suggests they should be in line for a good season. If he can stay fit, Jonathan Woodgate may be the best player in the division. He has spoken of his desire to help his local club secure a place in the Premier League, and it may be a fitting finale for a player who has never quite reached the heights he seemed capable of in his early career. Similarly, Tony Mowbray must be desperate to prove himself in the top flight again, after coming unstuck with Celtic and West Brom. His blend of passing football aligned with a new defensive solidarity could make them genuine title contenders.
Premier League- Aston Villa
After a dreadful season just gone, the appointment of Paul Lambert was a major boost for the club’s attempts to propel itself into the upper echelons of the division. With a top six more or less established in the Premier League mainly due to financial clout (Chelsea, Liverpool, Spurs, City, United, Arsenal), Newcastle have shown that good value recruitment and sensible management is the key for those clubs attempting to gate-crash the party. Lambert is an expert in both those things, carefully assembling his Norwich team from lower league players and upper league outcasts. With a larger budget to work with at Villa, a proven goalscorer in Darren Bent, a skilful if erratic winger in N’zogbia and a crop of exciting new talent, Villa fans can hope for a better season.