We will never forget the crazy seconds that landed us promotion as Champions in April, but it’s back to reality for Doncaster Rovers on Saturday.
The new season always seems a long distance away, but here it comes, with Blackpool the first opponents of what will be a tough campaign back in the Championship for Paul Dickov’s men.
Pre-season preparation has taken much the same form as last year. Whereas Dean Saunders’ hands were tied because of players having to leave before others were brought in following relegation, it has been takeover talk that has stalled Dickov’s progress in the market.
Exactly why that has been the case, I’m not so sure. Although I appreciate that shopping lists are different for Harrods and Aldi, you still need a core squad in place to form the basis of any champagne signings.
I know football is a game now dictated by players and agents but getting your business done early is vital in any industry. We still haven’t agreed contracts with all of those players who reported back to pre-season without one.
Some will say that losing key player Tommy Spurr a couple of days before the season starts, which appears likely given the reported wages offered by Blackburn, is just one of those things.
But it could have been avoided. If Spurr didn’t want to commit to the club, why not have given him a contract deadline? We may as well have had James Husband playing the pre-season games because he will be filling the sizeable void left by Spurr on Saturday.
As for Ross Turnbull, a thoroughly decent goalkeeper who has been trusted at Chelsea, he will face the Tangerines having never played a game with his new colleagues. Turnbull will soon get to know them but it is not like he has 500 professional games under his belt.
The bottom line is this – if it costs a goal on Saturday, then how crucial could that prove to be?
I, for one, am not fussed about any potential takeover, because I’d rather have John Ryan and the current directors in charge than sell up to those who chasing a Premier League dream. Doncaster Rovers have never been a club designed to be in the Premier League, nor should be aspire to do it in a way that does not suit us.
We should not throw ridiculous money at the situation trying to achieve it. If we were to have a good campaign and were able to sneak into the top flight, then that would be brilliant. But we are a Barnsley, or Saturday’s opponents Blackpool – we’d be there for a good time, not a long time.
Quite simply, sustained Premier League football should not be on our agenda. The one annoying thing about the takeover talk is that is proved a distraction and has meant that Dickov is now scrambling a squad together at the last minute.
But we were worried about that last season and the rest is history. What Dickov has managed to do is keep together most of last year’s squad, including the influential Rob Jones and David Cotterill, and bring in a blend of players that suits the image of the club.
We have players eager to make the step up in Harry Forrester, Mark Duffy, Dean Furman and Mark de Val Fernandez, a good goalkeeper in Turnbull and a centre half who has Championship experience in Bongani Khumalo, Furman’s international captain at South Africa who has never had a look-in at Spurs.
Forrester and Duffy are livewires who will fit into our system and style, so we now just need some extra bite in central midfield and another striker to add to our roster. If Spurr’s wages have been freed up, that may allow us to get Richie Wellens for a second spell – if not, then getting John Lundstram back for a second loan spell should be a priority.
Goalscoring forwards are never easy to find but Dickov has decent contacts and I expect he may look to the Premier League for a loanee once things have settled down in their squads.
It will be tough in the Championship – you only have to look at Blackpool to realise that. Although written off by many, they have made two astute signings in Michael Chorpa and Steve Davies, still have Tom Ince pulling the strings and have Matt Gilks in goal. They are a step ahead of us and still not seen as one of the top-half contenders!
You can throw a handkerchief over most of the division but three teams stand out to me. A lot are tipping QPR and Reading out of the relegated sides but I like the look of Owen Coyle’s Wigan.
They have retained many players, including the influential Shaun Maloney, have added steady players in James Perch and Chris McCann and snapped up great firepower in Grant Holt and former Rovers loanee Marc-Antoine Fortuné.
Coyle is an under-rated operator at this level – he’d have been my Donny choice had money been no object – and I think he will fit in well at the DW Stadium. I fancy them to have a really good crack at instant promotion back to the big time.
But talking of fits, there is no better one than Billy Davies and Nottingham Forest, and I fancy this to be their season. Although they are mad not to have snapped up Billy Sharp on a permanent deal, Forest look as though they mean business.
Jamie Mackie is a fine player at this level while Darius Henderson, Dexter Blackstock and Simon Cox also know where the net is. Dorus de Vries is a damn good goalkeeper and Jack Hobbs is the sort of steady defender you need at this level.
There is not a better midfield in the division with players of the quality of Henri Lansbury, Andy Reid, Chris Cohen, Adlène Guedioura, Radoslaw Madewski, Jamie Paterson and Simon Gillett. The fact that Lewis McGugan has had to go to Watford for regular football shows the strength of Forest’s engine room.
The other team I really like the look of is Ipswich Town, who probably have the best manager in the league. No-nonsense, intelligent and streetwise, Mick McCarthy is the sort of leader who organises and motivates his troops for the rigours of a 46-game battle while having the tactical insight to alter the course of tight games.
His influence at Portman Road was obvious last season; only two teams picked up more points than the Tractor Boys when he took over. And you only have to look at the shambles at Wolves to see how important he was at Molineux.
Signings have been intelligent, with Christophe Berra adding competition alongside the reliable Tommy Smith and Luke Chambers, while Jay Tabb, David McGoldrick and Daryl Murphy have signed on permanent deals.
Dean Gerken, Cole Skuse and Paul Anderson were three good performers in Bristol City’s horror season, and Town already had some talented players on their books, including Scott Loach in goal, Aaron Cresswell at left-back and Anthony Wordsworth in midfield.
They may lack a guaranteed goalscorer but you could say that about most teams in the league. McGoldrick could be the trump card if Ipswich get the best out of him, and if McCarthy can’t, then nobody will.
Of everyone else, Leicester City are tipped to do well every year and as Paul Merson once said, if you keep walking past the barbers, then you’re going to get a haircut eventually.
They will be better for not having as much pressure and expectation on their shoulders but Nigel Pearson could have done with strengthening his squad. Dougie Freedman and Gary Bowyer have made big impressions at Bolton and Blackburn respectively, while Reading will surely be there or thereabouts.
As for QPR, they are hard to ignore and will add unpredictability to an already unstable league! Expect them to finish anywhere between 1st and 18th.
Relegation tips? Could be anybody not in the top ten if last season is anything to by! It will be a struggle for the promoted trio, while Millwall and Burnley could face long seasons too.
Champions: Nottingham Forest.
Automatic promotion: Wigan Athletic.
Play-offs: Reading, Ipswich Town, Bolton Wanderers, Blackburn Rovers
Top-scorer: Jordan Rhodes.
Three to watch: Mark Duffy (Doncaster Rovers), Paddy Madden (Yeovil Town), Matt Richie (Bournemouth).