Let’s have some good news shall we? While Europe appears to be grinding to a halt and Iceland’s list of enemies grows by the second, let’s take a moment to focus on the good tidings the Football League has to offer us following another exciting weekend. This column has highlighted the relegation issues of many sides over the last few weeks, but for now, this will be a relegation free zone.
Saturday’s action saw many sides toasting their season’s work thus far as promotion places were confirmed whilst others have ensured they will compete in the end of season lottery that is the play-offs. The obvious place to start has to be the happy end of League Two, where both Notts County and Rochdale have had their automatic promotion confirmed following victories against Morecambe and Northampton respectively. Keith Hill’s Rochdale have looked a certainty for promotion for the vast majority of the campaign but have struggled to cross the finish line in the last few weeks. Having comfortably led the division for much of the season, Dale might now miss out on being crowned champions but for their long suffering fans, promotion itself could not taste any sweeter. Following defeats against Torquay and Darlington, at the third time of asking, the Greater Manchester side have confirmed that they will be playing League One football next season. After a string of recent near misses, their promotion is fully deserved.
Notts County’s season is certainly one for the record books. Year after year of mid-table obscurity and even flirting with dropping out of the Football League now feels a distant memory as Magpies fans toast the delight of promotion. County have generated a wave of interest this season – new owners, talk of mass investment, Sol Campbell and of course everybody’s favourite Swede (not Ulrika Jonsson) enjoying a brief role at Meadow Lane. Even now, there is a certain amount of uncertainty as to the finances of the club, but for the fans it has been a season to remember. A glorious F.A Cup run has now been topped by promotion, and with the Magpies having a game in hand on Rochdale, they look a good bet to be picking up the League Two title shortly.
A quick glance at the playing staff at Meadow Lane will show why they have been so successful this campaign. Starting at the back, County have Kasper Schmeichel between the sticks, a youngster who may not live up to the high standards that his father once set but has certainly shown he is worthy of being judged on his own merit – this shot-stopper will undoubtedly return to a higher level in the future. In midfield, Ban Davies has proven himself a great talent in the lower leagues and has certainly won over the County faithful with his competitive displays. The forward line has successfully been led by Lee Hughes and it has been his goals which have seen County make the step up. The former West Brom striker has shown fine form since moving to Meadow Lane and although he will be entering the twilight of his career, it seems that his goal scoring touch has not yet deserted him.
It was not just in League Two where the champagne was cracked open however, as Norwich confirmed their immediate return to the Championship with a 1-0 victory over fellow promotion hopefuls Charlton. The amazing turnaround of the Canaries season has been well documented and does not need to be repeated here, but the impact Paul Lambert and his staff have had on the Norfolk side is nothing short of phenomenal. Who could have seen this coming following their disastrous start to the campaign? Just one point from their final three games will see them return as champions. An unbelievable season for then for Lambert’s men – they can look forward to next year with great expectation.
The final promotion places are close to being confirmed but the question now is how the sides will fair in a higher division. This writer would suggest Notts County should be comfortable in their new surroundings for the reasons cited above. They have a fantastic blend of experience and talent in their squad and so long as they can keep hold of their stars, a season of consolidation should be the least they achieve. Rochdale may find the step up slightly trickier, and the vultures are already rumoured to be circling Spotland. Inevitably, a club that achieves promotion will feature players with a growing list of admirers. The squad will need to be strengthened – the examples of struggling Exeter and Wycombe Wanderers show that the step up to League One should not be underestimated – but much will depend on whether they can keep hold of their key players. As for Norwich, with a new face or two to freshen up the squad, they should be comfortable next season. Much will depend on Paul Lambert’s position, with the former Celtic player already being linked to the vacant post at his former club. Norwich have stated clearly that they will block any approach from the Scottish giants, but this is certainly a situation to monitor over the summer.