So, the Third Division really does beckon. If you believe in home advantage, you read from the tables, and take into account local derbies and rivalry then this is our easiest game of the season.
It's at home, the two lowest finishing teams in our division last season were Wycombe and Gillingham. The Kent based club (just down the road from here) will no doubt be more up for the game with Charlton than Wycombe will be. Thus this is, potentially, our easiest game. When you take into account the fact that we are likely to sell more talent than we are going to buy between now and the end of August this really is a game we should win.
It's not exactly a must win game. I'm not sure that we will have many (if any) of those this season - save for local derbies. We could well lose this game and still go on to reach ten games with a very respectable points total. I'd still rather win, however.
This seems like as good a time as any to make my prediction for the season ahead. Before I do that I will admit that my preseason predictions for the last two seasons were 1st and 5th. Needless to say we were no where near either of those, but I was in good company with my 1st, and there were quite a few that expected us to make the playoffs last season. Doh!
So, having accepted that I am no Mystic Meg I suspect that you will all be appalled to hear that I expect us to finish second. That's right, it's no typo, one place off the top. Automatic Promotion.
Now that you've all finished coughing and/or laughing I'll set about explaining my reasoning for such a bold prediction, and why I may well have to completely back track in September.
Here's my logic - and remember that I have almost no knowledge of third division teams: The teams that are established in the second division that fall into the third historically finish in the playoffs or above. It is more an illogical consequence of the playoffs themselves that you can be the third best team in the division and fail to be promoted. Last season three of the top six had been relegated in the two seasons previous, and Leeds had finished third in their first season in the third division. The other three of the six teams relegated in the two previous two seasons were Luton (points penalty) Southend (finished 7th, after making the playoffs the season before) and Colchester (with two seasons in the second division they had lost their few players of any quality). In 2007/08 two of the three teams that were relegated made the playoffs. The team that didn't make it was Luton, who have suffered points deductions.
Thus you can see that the difference between the second division (even the bottom) and the third division is too great over a season for a relegated team to not make an impact.
This is, I suspect, the only real logic that the bookies use when they offer their odds. I understand that some teams go down and have to sell all their players - a little like us - but we have managed to keep a number of players that I think will be just too good for this division.
On the basis that most of the teams in this division will be lacking in talent but will play to a certain system and will be big, strong and enthusiastic, the teams that finish in the top positions will be those that can find a way to break down stubborn defences and score that elusive winning goal.
I accept that we are looking to sell just about every player we have on our books right now, and we might even manage to find buyers for all our talent, but I would suggest that all of the following have the ability to be match winners in the third division:
I accept that there are differing levels of talent in those players, and I don't intend to justify my decisions, but I would anticipate that there will be a number of teams that our current side (even with a few of those missing) will be able to brush aside on a day where we do not perform to the best that we can.
Lloyd Sam, for example could be too much for every full back in the division. If you take Bailey, Racon or Shelvey and put him alongside Semedo we are likely to control the midfield against all but the best half-a-dozen teams in this division. I also have a lot of time for Matt Spring. He was not given much of a run in our side last season due to the return to fitness of ZZ, but he was considered good enough to be involved at Sheffield United last season, and they were far from poor in the second division.
On the basis that we need money I accept that some of those players will have to be sold, but if we do not receive the kind of offers we want for them then I think they will stay, and if they do I think we will be too good for the dross that genuinely should be in the third division. I know that sounds arrogant, but if I'm honest I think that twelve years in the top flight and seventeen in the second division since we last played at this level allows a little bit of confidence.
Thus the three teams that were relegated are going to have the best chances in this (or any for that matter) division. Southampton are clearly going to have to go some to make up a ten point deficit, which is why I have settled on second. Norwich were very poor when I saw them play last season, but they have gone out and signed a whole new side, and they will still have some second division quality knocking about.
Thus, second it is then.
I would also add that despite the fact that I wanted Parkinson to not be appointed in November, to not be kept on in December and to be 'let go' in May I believe that he is a third division manager, and under the circumstances I can see no reason as to why he cannot find a winning formula with the excess of talent he will have at his disposal, along with the draw of managing such a big club in this division. I'm sure that Parkinson did nothing to prevent it, but I'm somewhat confident that the free transfers came because of the club's recent history, not because he managed to pull 5 wins out of the bag in the 28 games he was in charge.
However, rather like last season, I now intend to give our manager my full support until further notice, as he is proven at this level, he clearly cares about our results (irrespective if it is for his own career) and he is all we are going to get anyway.
Thus we have an adequate defence, injuries aside, and there may well be more movement in the centre back department. We have a very strong midfield for this (and the above) division. Up front we have Burton, who is limited but capable and Andy Gray who should be able to score thirty goals in this division if he has his head on straight. Either of those players should be able to do a job with the other strikers we have at the club, and we can (and I suspect we will) play with five across the middle so we will only need one of those two to play.
It now looks like Andy Gray's move to Barnsley has broken down. On the basis that we have limited options upfront and little money it has maybe become apparent that giving him away (or selling him on the cheap) and paying him to play for someone else is not exactly good business. As for the player I hope that he can deliver for us this season. I have no say in his contracts, but we have been caught out before with players that moved to London to benefit from a large pay rise then decided that they wanted to go back home without suffering a pay cut, and maybe it's time to make a stand. If you want the money we offered you to play for us then you play for us. If not then you go and earn what Barnsley (or who ever) pay their players.
For all the reasons I've already mentioned a half decent second division striker should find the defences in the third division little trouble if they have the right attitude. I think we can count on Burton to give his all - I don't know why but I just think he will. Andy Gray could well make our season. If he is really up for it (and for what he earns he should be) then I cannot see many sides being able to stop him scoring.
As I confessed earlier, my only knowledge of Wycombe is the FA Cup Quarter Final that they won with a goal from a player that they signed the week before, and the League Cup Quarter Final at The Valley. For this reason I am going to base my prediction of this game on the fact that we should be way too good for them. I'll go for a 3-0 win.
Up the Addicks!