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League One Preview - Notts County, Oldham, Peterborough, Plymouth, Rochdale

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Part 4 of my League One pre-season preview. Nearly there!

Notts County
Stadium: Meadow Lane (20,300)
Manager: Craig Short (since June 2010)

Transfers In: Rob Burch (Lincoln City) - free, Stuart Nelson (Aberdeen) - free, Ben Burgess (Blackpool) - free, John Spicer (Doncaster Rovers) - free, Jon Harley (Watford) - free, Liam Chilvers (Preston North End) - free, Krystian Pearce (Huddersfield Town) - free, David Grof (Hibernian) - free, Kevin Smith (Dundee United) - free, Mark Marshall (Elche) - free, Jake Jervis (Birmingham City) - loan
Transfers Out: Russell Hoult (released), Kevin Pilkington (Luton Town) - free, Jamie Clapham (released), Matt Hamshaw (Macclesfield) - free, Ben Fairclough (released), Ade Akinbiyi (released), Sean Canham (released), Delroy Facey (Lincoln City) - free, Kasper Schmeichel (Leeds United) - free, Johnnie Jackson (Charlton Athletic) - free

To Win League One: 25/1
To Be Promoted: 7/1
To Be Relegated: 7/1

It's certainly been a slightly less hectic summer at Meadow Lane this time around compared to the sheer mentalism we saw this time last year with the ill-fated Munto Finance takeover, the Sven and Sol Campbell experiments, lavish spending on transfer fees and wages - generally just a bit of a circus. Since Ray Trew rescued the club from a pretty precarious situation, things have settled down somewhat, many of the higher earners have left the club and a much more realistic budget is starting to be put into place.

Kasper Schmeichel, signed for 1m+ on wages reported to be 15,000 a week, has been allowed to leave on a free transfer to Leeds United simply to save on his wages, and judging by his performances last season he'll be a big loss for them. Johnnie Jackson, another Munto headline signing, has also departed to Charlton, although one might argue that there are frying pans and fires in play there with the Addicks' financial situation far from clear.

While things appeared to be settled both on and off the pitch at the end of last season, with Steve Cotterill leading County on a fantastic run of 14 wins from 18 games to snatch the League Two title from a stuttering Rochdale in the run-in, Cotterill himself then decided he fancied something a bit different. He preferred an even bigger financial basket case in the form of our near neighbours Portsmouth, where he'll have a hell of a job on his hands to keep them in the Championship. In his place, Craig Short, a former County player in their top-flight days in the early 90s, has been brought in, having learned the managerial ropes in somewhat unconventional circumstances at Ferencvaros in Hungary. He looks a sensible appointment at this level.

In terms of player signings, Short has brought in a number of experienced players including Ben Burgess, who helped Blackpool to promotion to the Premier League, and former Chelsea and Watford left-back Jon Harley. Midfielder John Spicer from Doncaster looks to be a very shrewd signing as well. Short has brought all these players in on free transfers, so County appear to finally be getting their financial ship in order.

With the players at their disposal, they shouldn't be in any danger of relegation - although the goalkeeping issue is slightly up in the air - and they're more likely to be at the other end of the table for most of the season. With Swindon and Charlton significantly weaker this season, they may see a chance to sneak into the playoff mix, although I expect them to fall just short this time around.

Last Season: 1st in League Two
Prediction: 8th

Oldham Athletic
Stadium: Boundary Park (10,900)
Manager: Paul Dickov (since June 2010)

Transfers In: Paul Dickov (Leeds United) - free, Ritchie Jones (Hartlepool United) - free, Warren Feeney (Cardiff City) - free, Jason Jarrett (Port Vale) - free, Dean Kelly (Crumlin United) - free, Rod McDonald (Stoke City) - free, Jean Yves M'voto (Sunderland) - loan, Oumare Tounkara (Sunderland) - loan
Transfers Out: Hasney Aljofree (released), Danny Whitaker (Chesterfield) - free, Chris Rowney (released), Liam Dawson (released), Michael McKerr (released), Phil Ojapah (released), Rene Steer (released), Keigan Parker (Mansfield Town) - free, Pawel Abbott (Charlton Athletic) - 20,000, Joe Colbeck (Hereford United) - free

To Win League One: 80/1
To Be Promoted: 20/1
To Be Relegated: 11/4

Another change of course for Oldham this summer has seen the experienced Dave Penney and his dour play-for-a-goalless-draw tactics which were losing season ticket holders pushed aside in favour of the lesser-seen player/manager role, given to managerial rookie Paul Dickov. It was an appointment that certainly raised a few eyebrows, but judging by some of their pre-season results - including a ridiculously comfortable 3-0 win over a full-strength Bolton side - it might just work for them.

Don't expect them to be rampaging to the title or anything like that, as the club still possesses one of the smallest budgets in League One which is likely to be cut further with the news that one of the three owners of the club is looking to move on in the very near future. However, Dickov has scoured the free transfer market and signed wisely. Ritchie Jones is an excellent signing from Hartlepool, quite what possessed them to let him go is a mystery, and Warren Feeney has plenty of experience and pedigree at this level, although his injury record in the last few years has been appalling. A striker pairing of Dickov and Feeney could quite possibly be the smallest in the whole of the Football League, and the departure of the high-earning Pawel Abbott to Charlton will ensure the Latics have to rely on those two for the majority of their goals this season.

Their defence, which was the main reason they stayed up last season, remains intact, although they probably still need to sign a decent goalkeeper after a series of high-profile blunders by Dean Brill and Darryl Flahavan last season almost cost them enough points to see them slip towards the bottom four. Address that issue and they'll be safe enough this time around.

Last Season: 16th
Prediction: 14th

Peterborough United
Stadium: London Road 15,314
Manager: Gary Johnson (since April 2010)

Transfers In: Dave Hibbert (Shrewsbury Town) - free, Grant McCann (S****horpe United) - free, Mark Little (Wolverhampton Wanderers) - free, James Wesolowski (Leicester City) - undisclosed, Kelvin Langmead (Shrewsbury Town) - undisclosed, Nathaniel Mendez-Laing (Wolverhampton Wanderers) - loan, Seth Nana Ofori-Twumasi (Chelsea) - free, Arron Davies (Yeovil Town) - free
Transfers Out: Alfie Potter (Oxford United) - undisclosed, Shaun Batt (Millwall) - undisclosed, Tom Williams (released), Jamie Day (Rushden & Diamonds) - free, Scott Rendell (Wycombe Wanderers) - undisclosed, Craig Morgan (Preston North End) - 400,000, Sergio Torres (Crawley Town) - 100,000, Kwesi Appiah (released), Liam Hatch (Darlington) - loan, Toumani Diagouraga (Brentford) - undisclosed, Exodus Geohaghon (Rotherham United) - loan

To Win League One: 12/1
To Be Promoted: 7/2
To Be Relegated: 16/1

Despite all sorts of fallings-out last season during a disastrous campaign in the Championship, Peterborough have somehow managed to retain the majority of the squad that got them promoted two seasons ago, including getting George Boyd tied down to a new three-year contract. They've also appointed a shrewd manager in Gary Johnson, a man who knows how to get promoted from this division, so they'll be in the mix at the right end of the table.

What Johnson will be keen to stamp out is the naive (and often pathetic) defensive mistakes that blighted their season in the Championship. There were many games where they had established a foothold only to then lose concentration for a split-second and the game was taken away from them. That said, they still managed the hilarious and impressive feat of recovering from 4-0 down against Cardiff to force a draw, so there is a bit of mental toughness in there somewhere.

Grant McCann and Arron Davies are good faces to bring in to freshen up the midfield, McCann seemingly happy to take a step down to League One in the hope of getting back to the Championship in a year with S****horpe United overwhelming favourites to be relegated this season.

The financial situation at Peterborough is unclear. The owner, Darragh MacAnthony, was reported to have lost a fortune on property in the credit crunch, and yet none of their big names - keeper Joe Lewis, midfielder George Boyd and strikers Aaron McLean and Craig Mackail-Smith - have left the club (although McLean continues to be on the transfer list at his own request). It's either a gamble of Pompey-sized proportions, or the finances aren't quite as bad as people first thought. Either way, assuming they keep them for the season, they'll be contenders.

Last Season: 24th in the Championship
Prediction: 3rd

Plymouth Argyle
Stadium: Home Park (19,500)
Manager: Peter Reid (since June 2010)

Transfers In: Bondz N'Gala (West Ham United) - free, Anton Peterlin (Everton) - free, David Button (Tottenham Hotspur) - loan, Lee Molyneux (Southampton) - free
Transfers Out: Jamie Mackie (QPR) - undisclosed, David McNamee (released), Yoann Folly (released), Lloyd Saxton (released), Gary Sawyer (Bristol Rovers) - free, Simon Walton (Sheffield United) - free, Ashley Barnes (Brighton & Hove Albion) - free, Alan Gow (released), George Donnelly (Stockport County) - loan, Chris Barker (Southend United) - loan, Damien Johnson (Huddersfield Town) - loan

To Win League One: 20/1
To Be Promoted: 6/1
To Be Relegated: 12/1

Plymouth were relegated in rather tame fashion last season, on the same night Newcastle's title win was confirmed, and the Home Park PA man decided playing "We are the champions" was a good idea. Almost as good an idea as expanding Home Park to seat 45,000 in time for the 2018 World Cup - the sort of scenario the phrase "white elephant" was tailor-made for. Paul Mariner couldn't keep the Pilgrims in the Championship this time around, and his contract wasn't renewed at the end of the season, so in came Peter Reid, who had been itching to get back to hands-on management after his time as Tony Pulis' right-hand man at Stoke. Or perhaps he just wanted to get away from Pulis...

Reid is a bigger name than many expected Plymouth to be able to appoint, particularly as they were about to begin a season in the third tier for the first time since 2003, so that's one plus point for them. Quite how Reid will take to third-division football is unclear, but by all accounts they've looked useful in pre-season, so they'll be contenders. There's not much difference between the top half of League One and the bottom half of the Championship, so I'd expect them to be in the mix for the playoffs and possibly automatic promotion if they keep key players fit.

They appear to have a large squad, but do lack quality beyond the first-choice starting eleven, so when injuries and suspensions start to hit, they could find themselves carrying a few passengers, and it'll be interesting to see if they can cope with that. They've signed a couple of players from Premier League academy/reserve structures, and have also made the rather perplexing signing of Lee Molyneux, whose contract was cancelled by Saints a few weeks ago, and who failed to even make a first-team appearance for Port Vale during a three-month loan spell at the end of last season. Any more signings like that should get the Green Army worrying!

Last Season: 23rd in the Championship
Prediction: 5th

Rochdale
Stadium: Spotland (10,249)
Manager: Keith Hill (since December 2006)

Transfers In: Brian Barry-Murphy (Bury) - free, Joe Widdowson (Grimsby Town) - free, Josh Lillis (S****horpe United) - loan, Jean-Louis Akpa-Akpro (Grimsby Town) - free, Anthony Elding (Ferencvaros) - free, Alan Goodall (Chesterfield) - free, Matty Done (Hereford United) - free
Transfers Out: Rory McArdle (Aberdeen) - free, Chris Dagnall (S****horpe United) - free, Michael Lea (released), Kallum Higginbotham (released), Ciaran Toner (released), Kenny Arthur (Grimsby Town) - free, Tom Kennedy (Leicester City) - free

To Win League One: 150/1
To Be Promoted: 33/1
To Be Relegated: 9/4

It famously took Rochdale 33 years to finally get out of the fourth division when Keith Hill's side stuttered over the line last season, but since promotion was confirmed, things haven't exactly gone according to plan. They lost key players Chris Dagnell to S****horpe United and Tom Kennedy to Leicester City, and the most devastating thing for the Dale was that both were on free transfers after their contracts had expired.

They've managed to keep hold of Chris O'Grady, though, who was their top scorer with 22 league goals, so they will still pose a threat going forward. However, it remains to be seen what sort of effect the loss of Kennedy at the back will do, although they have so far managed to retain the highly-rated Craig Dawson, who has been watched by Premier League scouts.

Manager Hill is an interesting and often outspoken character, regularly taking a public swipe at clubs who have experienced financial difficulties in the recent past, so expect plenty of bitter comments in the build-up to our games against them later in the season. That slightly strange issue aside, he's done a fantastic job at Spotland. For a club with little budget and even less glamour, he's had them playing attacking, entertaining football, and obviously accomplished something many before him had failed to do - win promotion. That particular joy will probably be short-lived though.

Last Season: 3rd in League Two
Prediction: 24th

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