After a quiet summer break, with no World Cup or European Championships to entertain and little but rumour and hearsay in the transfer market, the football season begins this weekend. The three divisions of the Football League kick off on Saturday, while the Community Shield match between Manchesters City and United will be held at Wembley on Sunday.
In the first part of our season preview, here's what the teams scrambling at the lower depths of the League can look forward to over the next ten months:
A rare rags-to-(relative) riches story admist the thuddering juggernauts of capital that power the modern game, the rise of AFC Wimbledon, formed just nine years ago by fans disgruntled at the prospect of their beloved Dons moving to Milton Keynes, is remarkable. Wimbledon reached the Football League via a play-off victory over Luton in May, and to judge by some pre-season results the promotion hangover hasn't worn off yet: a defeat by Godalming Town and a first-round Carling Cup loss to Crawley weren't the ideal preparation, the latter particularly galling as, had they progressed, their opponents would have been erstwhile rivals Crystal Palace. The departure of midfielder Steven Gregory is a blow, but the team should have enough mettle, and that, combined with the understandable euphoria of the fans down at Kingmeadow, will probably see them safe.
Our prediction: Mid-table safety.
The Bees clung onto their position in the Football League last season, but barely: a dramatic final day saw them beat Port Vale to survive, at the expense of Lincoln City, by a solitary point. The hope this year is simply to avoid such a nail-biting conclusion, and it will be up to new manager Lawrie Sanchez, who has Premier League experience managing Fulham, to ensure a positive start to the season. Shoring up the defence is key: Barnet kept only eight clean sheets last season. Off-field, the future of ageing home ground Underhill remains uncertain, and the club still hopes to to move to Copthall in Mill Hill, a ground also coveted by Saracens rugby club. Yet if new midfield signing Sam Deering makes the same impact he did as a loan player last season, the Bees should pull through.
Our prediction: Another long but ultimately successful battle against relegation awaits.
Dagenham & Redbridge
Back in the Football League's lowest echelon after a solitary season in League One, a final-day drubbing at Peterborough sealing a miserable year, the Daggers should be contenders again at this level. That's not the way the bookies see it, which probably reflects the number of key players, in particular midfielders Danny Green and Romain Vincelot, who have left the club during close season. Goals were in short supply in 2010/11, and the club hasn't rectified that situation; last season the departing Green and Romain served up nearly half of the side's paltry 52 goals, so the club need to find a few new options in attack, and fast.
Our prediction: May sneak into the play-offs, but the lower end of the top half is more realistic.
Agree with our predictions? Or are we talking a load of old bull. Let us know.
Tomorrow: League One preview