By Paul Hodgson
It’s a fact in football, just the same as in any other aspect of our everyday lives, that nothing stays the same.
The Football League is no different. In each division there is no such thing as a standard season. Some seasons are more competitive than others; tougher due to the level of competition that term and the quality of the clubs/teams. In such a season it is much more difficult to gain promotion.
As the 1997/98 season ended, Geoffrey Richmond looked back at the campaign and the teams involved and compared them with the teams City would be competing against in 98/99. He came to the conclusion that the upcoming season would be weaker than the last. Based on this assessment the board sanctioned what was, for City, unprecedented levels of spending on players that close season. In came Lee Mills, Gareth Whalley and the rest. We all know what followed in 98/99.
With time on my hands, I have looked at the 2015/16 League One: the other clubs, managers and teams involved this term, and the games already played. My conclusion? This is one of those “weaker” seasons. There are no teams of the calibre of MK Dons or Preston North End, much less of the standard of Bristol City last term.
No disrespect to Burton, Walsall and Gillingham, the early pacesetters, but they aren’t quite the same class and should hold no fears for City. Sheffield United can arguably claim to be the biggest club in the division and had more close season spending power than City, but they have hardly impressed so far (including last Sunday when City bossed the game for over an hour and they by contrast looked distinctly ordinary).
My inescapable conclusion is that City will have a much better chance of promotion (and therefore automatic promotion) this time than they did last term. We have put together a very good squad. They may have stuttered early on, but this was primarily due to some players’ late arrival – they had to use the early season games to gel as a team when this would normally have happened in pre season friendlies.
Our only concern since the signing of Devante Cole is regarding what will happen when Reece Burke returns to his parent club. He has filled the void left by the departure of Andrew Davies and, while not wishing to be deliberately unkind to Nathan Clarke, we have no other centre back of that calibre on the books.
So, in conclusion I think that all talk of “aiming for the play offs” should end, and we should already be aiming for automatic promotion this term. This is not just bravado. Football clubs are no different to people in everyday life. We all have aims and sometimes we fall just short in those aims.
If City fall just short when aiming for automatic promotion, then they will at least have the consolation of a play off place. Although some fans tend to forget the lottery this entails, it is, at best, a 3/1 chance f leading to promotion. On the other hand, if we aim for the play offs and fall just short, we have the disappointment and the depressing prospect of yet another season at this level.
Everyone has their own opinion and I know there will be many fans with a different view to mine. My challenge to them is simple: have a serious look at the League One and name two clubs who you think are stronger than us, with a better squad, and likely to finish ahead of City come the end of the season. I think you will struggle.