It looks like it’s a season of extremes ahead for the capital’s Football League clubs if the predictions at www.statto.com are to be believed. The site showcases an index based on 25 years of league results and claims a 92% correlation between its forecasts and the results of actual matches. On the eve of the big kick-off the index is predicting that Crystal Palace, Millwall and Brentford will be pushing for promotion while Queens Park Rangers, Leyton Orient and Barnet will be striving to avoid the drop. Here’s our take on their predictions.
In favour of the prediction: Peter Taylor, the man who made Beckham captain of England, is now in charge and has exciting attacking midfielder Tom Soares, a protégé of his in England’s youth sides, gaining experience and ready to shine. New signing Matt Lawrence impressed us at centre half during Millwall’s run to the cup final and, according to a survey on the independent CPFC bulletin board, 2/3 of Palace fans believe the team will at least make the playoffs.
Against the prediction: Three goals in the second half of the home leg of last season’s playoff semi-final against Watford triggered the departure of five starters from that side – talismanic leading scorer Andy Johnson and the entire defence. Iain Dowie’s acrimonious departure to rivals Charlton has left Taylor with a rebuilding job and a tough act to follow.
Verdict: Eight and a half million for Johnson plus continuing Premiership parachute payments should aid the reconstruction and help to ensure that Palace can compete. Taylor looks a good choice and the spine of the team looks strong. We predict another run to the playoffs.
Queens Park Rangers
In favour of the prediction: Last season’s dramas off the field must have had an effect on the team’s performance no matter how subliminally. Director Dunga’s departure to manage Brazil has stirred up uncertainties again where some tranquillity is sorely desired and the imminent departure of Danny Shittu is already keenly felt. Gary Waddock had a difficult baptism in his first managerial post and has not had the smoothest of pre-seasons.
Against the prediction: They haven’t spent any money on recruits, but Rangers have kept the majority of last season’s experienced squad together and have added a new cutting edge in exciting Polish loanee striker Adam Czerkas. Some promising youngsters are coming through, too. The support will be strong and committed as always and noises coming out of the boardroom suggest a desire to sort out any remaining issues.
Verdict: The bottom end of the Championship promises to be much tighter this year than last and we fear Rangers will be amongst a group of as many as a dozen closely matched sides going into Easter not sure of their survival. However, we believe the experience in the squad will begin to tell in the run-in and help them to enjoy the final day at home to Stoke with second tier football secured for another season.
Picture of QPR fans off to Loftus Road via currybet's Flickr stream.
In favour of the prediction: After two narrowly unsuccessful attempts to storm the gates of promotion new manager Leroy Rosenior replaces Martin Allen (as he did for QPR in the 1986 League Cup Final) and has been chosen partially for his desire to play a more ground-based game which so far the fans have admired in pre-season glimpses. He also has a knack of getting the best out of strikers and has brought ex-Arsenal forward Jo Kuffour to Griffin Park from his former club Torquay.
Against the prediction: Rosenior will need to be good with strikers as most of last season’s goalscorers have departed over the summer, including key central defender Sam Sodje who got five and has joined Reading in the Premiership. Fans see the necessity of the sales, but are concerned about whether the club can adequately fill the gaps. The Bees are trying hard to be prudent with the clubs finances while still giving the manager some funds to work with.
Verdict: We expect Brentford to shine in patches but not quite to have the cohesion to mount a serious promotion challenge this time. However, we believe they will be well-placed to try again the year after.
In favour of the prediction: As usual for promoted sides, it’s likely to be tough for the Orient as they move up a level, especially as so far they’ve only been able to add David Partridge to last year’s squad while defensive cornerstone Gabriel Zakuani, a player we’ve thought highly of for a couple of seasons, has left for Fulham. Pre-season suggests that the back four is yet to adjust properly to his absence.
Against the prediction: O’s fans still seem to be basking in the warm glow of that May afternoon in Oxford and so there’s little pressure from them to do anything except survive. The settled squad contains a good mix of talent and experience that could prosper with a couple of judicious additions.
Verdict: Rotherham start the season on minus 10 points and there are some other clubs fighting to arrest a decline, but we think it’s going to be a long slog this year. Loan signings could be crucial. We predict a last day do or die encounter at Huddersfield and we hope it results in the same explosion of joy we shared with the travelling supporters at the Kassam Stadium.
In favour of the prediction: Whatever happens at the New Den this season it should be fascinating. It was sad to see the club comprehensively relegated so soon after witnessing their biggest days at Old Trafford and the Millennium Stadium, but new manager Nigel Spackman has wasted no time in assembling almost a new full matchday squad including some promising youngsters who couldn’t quite break into Premiership sides such as goalkeeper Lenny Pidgeley and midfielder Filipe Morais from Chelsea alongside veterans such as Richard Shaw and Neal Ardley. Chris Hackett, a tall, pacy winger we’ve seen a few times could turn out to be a surprise hit. There’s bags of optimism and plenty of desire go back up at the first attempt.
Against the prediction: Exciting as the summer has been, it’s a rare manager who can acquire that many players at one go and blend them quickly and successfully. The trick is even harder when the manager himself is new to the club. More settled sides may take advantage, especially in the first half of the season.
Verdict: We see Millwall in mid-table at Christmas while they work everything out before launching a roller-coaster offensive on the playoff places. Lessons learned from the Cardiff experience could yet turn out to be very handy.
In favour of the prediction: While Orient were winning promotion, Barnet also clinched a vital away win on the last day of League Two, but in their case to finally leap clear of the relegation trapdoor after a long flirtation with an immediate return to the Conference. Only a couple of new faces have been added since then.
Against the prediction: We think there’s plenty of reason for optimism here. Pre-season results, including a draw against an Arsenal XI, have been good and the hard work of surviving the first season back in the big time has been achieved.
Verdict: Experienced players such as Paul Warhurst and Andy Hessenthaler should be able to help manager Paul Fairclough steer the side a little further clear of relegation this time. We sense a spot of mid-table comfort for the Bees.