Rough guide to
About this rough guide
How our predictions went
Rough guide to Division Two: what happened next
So Town confounded everyone's predictions and managed to get relegated despite beginning the 2003-04 season with what looked on paper like one of the strongest squads in their division. But how did the authors of CA's rough guide to Division Two fare with their assessments of the other teams' chances? Let's ask them to explain themselves.
Simon Wilson wrote: "If the transfer embargo is lifted then it's a matter of how much money they have in the coffers to pay for wages. Some depth needs to be added to the squad. If the embargo isn't lifted... relegation."
What happened: The Peter Ridsdale experience - a slew of 'big' signings, albeit mostly loans; his own man brought in (Paul Hart, to ensure they finished in the play-offs) and the obvious disappointment of missing out on the Champions League of Division Two - the play-offs. Six points adrift when Gudjon Thordarson was dismissed, finished the season 11 points behind Hartlepool. And to think they were doing fine under Thordarson before they had some money. Lost 6-1 at Blundell Park though. Can't complain.
Al Wilkinson copped out: "I'm no good at the predictions thing, so it's over to Peter Gillat, editor of Seasiders.net..." Peter Gillat wrote: "A play-off place is achievable."
What happened: Wimpish indeed, I predicted nothing; and cowardly indeed, I contacted others to explain. So what went wrong? The usual excuse of inconsistency, as they won 4-0 against the team (Hartlepool) that would eventually claim the last play-off spot, only to "drift into a somewhat embarrassing 14th". But the old favourite of "what was going on behind the scenes" led to Steve McMahon offering his resignation in January: it was withdrawn due to "contractual concerns" but he and Blackpool eventually parted company last week. So there you go - it was disharmony what done it, 'onest, guv.
Miles Moss wrote: "I'll say sixth."
What happened: While compiling the preview, one Bournemouth fan I spoke to confidently predicted a top ten finish. He was not wrong: the Cherries finished ninth, three places below my personal stab in the dark for them. I can't help it feeling it could have been just that little bit better for them; they might have made the play-offs were it not for blips such as a winless December (morale surely dented by being knocked out of the FA Cup by Accrington "who are they?" Stanley), only one win from their last eight matches, and only getting two draws out of Grimsby, for God's sake. Captain Carl Fletcher lived up to my hype, being nearly omnipresent, but my tip to watch out for young striker Alan Connell was a bit previous: he only played one match this season. Maybe next year, eh son.
Andy Holt wrote: "They'll either push for promotion or finish in the bottom half... Fourteenth."
What happened: Well, they did indeed finish in the bottom half. Seventeenth, though, rather than fourteenth. Maybe if they'd stuck with Wally Downes they'd have managed 14th. They gave Town six points. Not many teams did that this season.
Mark Stilton wrote: "I'll say fourth."
What happened: I said fourth, and fourth it is. They started strongly under Coppell, but Division One called and the much-travelled manager made his way to Reading. Assistant Bob Booker took over, and they thrashed Town 3-0 in his first match in charge, but he was replaced four games later by ex-Millwall and Wolves manager Mark McGhee. After a
shaky start under the new manager, Brighton found their feet, their 2-1 defeat at Blundell Park proving to be the end of a poor run of form. They lost only two games after that match in February and now face Swindon in the play-off semis.
Richard Dawson wrote: "City will probably finish one position above Grimsby due to their superior home record."
What happened: Bristol City had a good season as expected, and finished a very creditable third. Town underperformed woefully. Yes, I really did see Grimsby as a
top-six side before the season started. What went wrong? I still look at our squad on the opening day (plus Pouton and Coldicott to come as fresh players part way through), and think it had decent credentials to do well. Bristol had a determined manager, and the players were disciplined, and worked their socks off. Could that have some bearing on City finishing third and Town 21st?
Sam Metcalf wrote: "McFarland is looking to add names to the playing list, so let's say a nice mid-tabled 12th if things go well."
What happened: 12th? What a twat I am. It pains me to the very core of my trousers to think what these wonky-churched buggers did to us on the last day of the season. And while we had their spunkrat of an ex-manager sat in our dug-out too. Meet your new least favourite team.
Andy Holt wrote: "If they continue the form they showed from February onwards for the whole of next season they'll amass 79 points and finish eighth... A slight slip in mid-season, however, leaves me thinking a 10th-place finish is not beyond them."
What happened: They didn't continue the form they showed from February onwards for the whole of this season, so only amassed 64 points and finished 11th. Only two points behind tenth though. I was close. They shared the
points with Town, three apiece.
Sam Metcalf wrote: "Eighteenth at best; 24th at worst, and back to the bad old days."
What happened: The surprise team of the division, and a team responsible for the lowest point of Town's season - apart from the last day, of course. That slagging I got on their Rivals site is completely justified, and I can only
apologise and offer myself up for a public flogging. Or can I just buy them a pint. Good luck to them in the play-offs, for they hammered Town not once, but twice.
Andy Holt wrote: "Upper mid-table. Let's go for ninth again."
What happened: Tenth. On goal difference. So joint ninth really. I'm claiming this one. Selling last season's second top scorer Tony Thorpe to QPR way back in August didn't help their cause. They gave Town six points this season too. Maybe I should write all the rough guides next year.
Sam Metcalf wrote: "Everyone locally remains optimistic that the 'good times' are just 46 games away. I think they're being a bit daft. Mid-table at best again, I reckon."
What happened: Hey, I got one right! Sort of. As piss-poor and disjointed as Town for much of the season, getting rid of Billy Dearden hardly helped them. Their relegation means that I'll only have to wander down Loughborough Road and across Trent Bridge to watch Town at least once next season. Let's hear it for relegation!
Simon Wilson fudged a bit: "Dowie's a shrewd manager. Last season Oldham were a tough team to beat... On the eve of this season he's lost key players, the spine of his team... Would you like to hazard a guess? Personally, I hope they do all right."
What happened: "Dowie's a shrewd manager." And so it proved. Just before Chrimbo, Dowie left Oldham for Palace - hovering above relegation - and took them to the play-offs. Meanwhile back in Oldham, a football club on its knees continued to live and fight, eventually finishing in a respectable mid-table position. Let their continued existence and sparky football in difficult times be a lesson to every team in the country. Shame their Celebration Day saw them rip Town to shreds. Only scoring six was kind of them though.
Tony Butcher wrote: "Somewhere in the middle after a crazy flight they'll be up, down, flying around, looping the loop and defying relegation by nine points."
What happened: Like a Mansaram shot, way off. They got 52 points, finishing 18th. That's just the two points off whoever finished fourth from bottom. More like nine goals from relegation. They did have a crazy flight with the Crazy Bedpan in charge and did defy relegation; it's just the facts that are wrong. 'Twas ever thus for a Town fan.
Tony Butcher wrote: "Dunno. Do you? Does anyone? An arbitrary mid-June prediction of 10th is as good as any thought this fine morning."
What happened: And they finished an arbitrary first in that weird division, scoring loads of goals with loads of points. Who'd've thought that last summer? Not me, that's for sure. They should have finished 10th. Well, they couldn't beat ropey old Town, could they. So I was right all along in the parallel world of the should-bes.
Pete Green wrote: "Another relegation struggle would be surprising but regime change in the dugout may be a prerequisite to any kind of serious push for the play-offs. I'm gonna say 14th."
What happened: Didn't they do well! Robust home form, coupled with the emergence of Steve McPhee as an unstoppable goal machine and Staffordshire sex god, propelled Vale to an eventual seventh place. Were it not for Brian Horton's surprise departure in February, they might have finished even higher. The moral of the story is not to listen to a word I say, ever.
Tony Butcher wrote: "Somewhere between second and sixth I'd guess, dependent on the weather, the referees and the crop rotation policies of the Malian government. And who can predict that these days?"
What happened: The Malian government had a good year, and so did the superhoopers; their beaming smiles are going to blind us, laughing, having fun. Second is at the upper end of the margin of error, and so I stake a wobbly claim to accuracy, foresight, brilliance and munificent magnificence.
Tony Rogers wrote: "Division Two is where former Conference clubs who hit the league running start coming down to earth. Diamonds will plateau and finish – oooh – 9th."
What happened: RDFC looked good for an upper-mid-table finish until Max Griggs pulled the plug in mid-season. Cue much tightening of belts and the departure of several key players (Lowe, Hall, Bignot, Underwood), leading to a sickening plunge down the table to end one place below Town in 22nd. Never trust the suits.
Richard Dawson wrote: "The pundits say they will be there or thereabouts. I have trouble believing them, to be honest... The table at the moment is alphabetical, which puts the Owls in 19th place. About right? Hmm, maybe."
What happened: The Owls finished one point, and three places, above the 19th-placed club. Their season ended with yet another home defeat in front of a large and loyal crowd. Still seduced by delusions of grandeur, the latest circus to hit Sheffield has Ken Bates as its ringmaster promising to restore the Owls to 'where they belong' - in the same sentence as a resolve to sack the manager, the board and the tea lady immediately upon being allowed to buy the club. Same old, same old...
Miles Moss wrote: "They're very much a Jekyll/Hyde team, but if they gel, let's say seventh place."
What happened: The fans I spoke to knew their teams well: "we may drop down to the third before we rise up again," one fan told me last June - and he was so nearly right, the hapless Hatters being deep in trouble, and only hitting form when it counted. Oh, and right before we played them and needed to win. Cheers. Being beaten by Barnsley on the last day of the season didn't matter - they were already safe, despite having only two more points than Town. The turnaround in form can be credited to their change of manager. I'd mentioned how pleased the Stockport fans were when Carlton Palmer stopped playing to concentrate on managing; they were doubly pleased when he gave up both to concentrate on gardening, and Sammy McIlroy took charge of that set of reins that every football club mysteriously has.
If Luke Beckett kept his form, I predicted, Stockport could finish seventh. Beckett was injured for much of the season; perhaps this is the main reason for their disappointing year, and my disappointingly inaccurate prediction. Or perhaps I was just too full of the joys of last summer - after all, in saying Stockport would finish at the top end of the table, that's where I was assuming Town would be too.
Mark Stilton wrote: "You'd have to say they have an outside chance at the play-offs. I'll say eighth."
What happened: Swindon finished fifth in the end, although they were equal on points with sixth and seventh place, so I wasn't far out. Despite losing 3-2 to Sheffield Wednesday in the opening game of the season, Swindon remained undefeated for the rest of August and September, inflicting a 2-1 home defeat on Town en route. However, October saw them flounder, defeated in five matches - a poor run which coincided with top scorer Sam Parkin missing the whole month through injury. The ship was steadied over the following two months and the new year brough another rich run of form which saw them go undefeated until Plymouth beat them in March. Their run-in to the end of the season has been poor by their own standards, and fans will be hoping Parkin finds his shooting boots in time for the play-offs.
Miles Moss wrote: "If they can pick up where they left off, they might be good for an automatic spot this time round. Second."
What happened: Now then, I could easily fill this preview review with vitriol - not because Tranmere sealed Town's relegation, but because of the joyful way Prenton Park greeted their winner, Chesterfield's goal and Grimsby's demise. There's no need for that kind of childish behaviour. Mind you, the away end was chock-full of fully paid-up members of the National Society of Morons as well (oh so many funny Scouser taunts, when the opposition aren't even Scousers... durrrrr), so perhaps I'll simply let sleeping dogs be bygones.
Tranmere could claim to be a little too good for the second division, I said, and predicted automatic promotion in sceond place. They had a man in charge who had the club in his blood; things weren't going well; they gave him the push. Sound familiar? This is where the similarities end: where we got Little Brain, Tranmere got Brian Little, and they rose to eighth in the table, having won all but two of their last ten games. And let's not forget that they only lost out to Millwall in the FA Cup quarter-finals. See, I said they'd do well.
Miles Moss again wrote: "I'm going to say second."
What happened: "Against Grimsby, things could barely be closer," I mentioned, before reeling off a load of statistics which proved how evenly matched our two sides were. "It could be close," I said. Yeah, right. Wrexham beat Town 3-1 and 3-0 this season, without even trying. Still, I was quite pleased that I told you to watch out for Llewellyn, Armstrong, and Edwards: when they won at Blundell Park, the former two both scored, and the latter set up all three goals. Well, when I say I was quite pleased...
"I expect us to do well but I think our squad will not be strong enough to maintain a play-off place," a Wrexham fan told me. Wow, these fans really know their shit. I should have listened to him; I said second place (even though I'd already said that for Tranmere), but he was right, I was wrong.
Simon Wilson wrote: "I spy with my little eye Wanderers finishing, ooooh, top... of the bottom third."
What happened: Family rivalry had me I saying I would settle for finishing higher than them. I hoped that meant at opposite ends of the table, not the cushions in the relegation zone. They were far worse than I expected, but their last 15 games have shown some promise that they could be useful next season. And they have stuck by their manager and his plan to 'reinvigorate' the club. Sometimes you have to endure pain.