Twelve months on from our first appearance in tier three for nearly 30 years and I find myself, along with a few others judging by the drop in season tickets sold, lacking a little bit of enthusiasm for the prospective joys of a second season in League One. And a second successive pre-season defeat to Barnet, although this year with a full strength side, doesn't do much to raise our levels of expectation. But, then again, in complete contrast to our thoughts regarding our national side, if you believe the papers that is, perhaps that's all normal and in looking back 12 months to this time last year I find; "Unfortunately, there can't be many out there willing to predict an automatic spot this time and in fact even Killer is getting nervous about an even further drop in our status". So obviously nobody was too hopeful even back then.
We all know what followed and after a record breaking opening six wins on the trot our mood had brightened somewhat and we carried on a 4 month fight with Leeds for top spot. However, it turned out that the second half of the season was much more relevent and we were overtaken by two late starters, Norwich and more irritatingly, the spanners.
So, after such low expectations at kick-off time, perhaps we should be pleased with last season after finishing 4th, just 3 points away from automatic promotion even if once again our second half of the season left much to be desired.
On the down side, however, we didn't do a Leicester, are still in League One, failed to get to the Play-Off final, and we can now look forward, rather painfully, to the first season since 73-74, a long 36 years ago, below both local rivals Palace and the spanners..
Finding the reasons for our eventual failure are perhaps not so difficult. Our top goal-scorer Deon finished in 19th place in the Divisions highest scorers, equal with Kevin Lis, but a full 17 behind the League One best Lambert (Saints) and even one less than another ex, Charlie MacDonald, with the Bees, and not surprisingly all the other 6 clubs in the top 7 managed to out-score us with only Swindon having a worse goal difference.
Consequently we entered the play-offs far from confident mainly because our record against the other sides in the top 6 last season wasn't very encouraging with only 1 win (home to Huddersfield) in the 10 games although there was 7 draws and only 2 defeats. As for our overall home record, 14 wins and only 3 defeats looks good but we had almost identical figures against both top and bottom half clubs with 7 wins and 3 draws apiece but while we only lost once at home to a top half club in Norwich you could point to our two defeats against 13th placed Brighton and 17th placed Orient that cost us dear. Just three more points would have got us up into 2nd place.
But our away record against the bottom half of the table was much better and was as good as anything in the Division. A total of 8 wins, 3 draws and only 1 defeat (Carlisle), whilst in complete contrast once again our away record against the top teams was very suspect with only 1 win, at MK Dons, against the top half of the table. Four defeats at the spanners, Southampton, Colchester and Bristol whilst we managed 6 draws to complete the 11 games.
Back at the Valley, those problem twins, Brighton and Orient, are still around but with the introduction of seven new teams, only one of which, surprisingly Bournemouth, have won more games at the Valley than they have lost but we have at least got rid of Leeds and the spanners who, of course, had that exact record. And after facing no less than 4 clubs last season that we have never played before in the League, this year there's only Dagenham and Redbridge, who 3 and a bit short years ago were 4 Divisions below us.
So's who are the rivals this year? Two stand out, Southampton and Sheffield Wednesday. Pardews lot have signed a couple of new players, both ex-Addicks, full-backs Danny Butterfield and our front-page man from last August 8th, Frazer Richardson. Meanwhile, Wednesday have signed 8 new players in order to re-adjust to third division life again after just 5 years away. They includ Clinton Morrison (still only 31 and with 11 goals at Coventry last season), Neil Mellor (11 goals with Preston last year), Jon Otsemobor (ex Saints), Daniel Jones (ex Wolves and Bristol Rovers striker), Chris Sedgewick (ex Preston), Paul Heffernan (ex Doncaster and Bristol Rovers) but they still managed to lost 2-1 away to last seasons League Two relegation club, Grimsby last weekend and have still to sort out their inconvenient winding-up order from the tax man.
As for our play-off bogey, last season's most improved side Swindon (up from 15th to 5th) have, of course, lost 29 goal Billy Paynter to Leeds but retain his partner 19 goal Charlie Austin and have been doing well in pre-season with a decent 3-2 away win over German tier two side Karlsruher SC last week.
And there's a couple of newcomers that can't be dismissed either. Craig Short takes over at Notts County after leaving Hungarian side Ferencvaros because he didn't have a UEFA PRO-licence and the League Two winners by a massive 10 points last season are having a good pre-season, recording a credible 0-0 home draw with Stoke City last week before beating tier three Austrian side SC Austria Salzburg 2-1 in Austria. Meanwhile another new boy is Peter Reid at Plymouth who has taken the Pilgrims to Holland and beaten NAC Breda 1-0, draw 3-3 with tier two Cambuur and only lose 0-1 to AK Alkmaar, three good results that could pose a bit of a threat to the top two although they have still to find a replacement for last seasons top scorer Jamie Mackie sold to QPR in May.
But what about the bookies? Over at William Hill there's no surprises as they go with the Divisions two S's to get the auto spots but have placed Huddersfield and Peterborough as 3rd and 4th bets. Huddersfield have signed eight new players, including the experienced pair of 32 year old ex Evertonian Gary Naysmith and Joey Gudjonsson from Burnley and they beat Blackburn Rovers 1-0 last week. As for Peterborough, now on their ninth manager, ex Bristol City Gary Johnson, in the last 5 years are yet another team with 8 new boys, are on 11/1 to win the Division while the Addicks are an optimistic 5th best on 12/1.
And perhaps we shouldn't forget Gus Poyet and the dark horses, Brighton. Taking over back in November last year when the seagulls were 20th he added an impressive seven away wins (including the one at the Valley) to their total and took them up to 13th. Perhaps you weren't looking forward to their coming visit on October 16th but now you can because you'll be able to enjoy a touch of nostalgia on the day as Gus has done us all a favour and bought back our Premiership legend Radostin Kishishev to the UK and installed him in shirt number 12. Now why didn't you think of that Parky? Probably because on Friday Kish enjoys his 36th birthday.
But the big question as far as we're concerned is, are we going to follow in the footsteps of last seasons MK Dons (dropping from 3rd place to 12th) or perhaps emulate Tranmere's nasty slide from 7th to 19th or heaven forbid Southend's crazy plummet from a healthly 8th place down to a relegated 23th? At least we can look at the size of the summers clearout and, perhaps, see some sign of good coming from it, well there's a couple I wouldn't miss. Looking at the player listings from last season including loanees, a massive 24 of them are no longer with us, although unfortunately both players to make it into double figures in goals scored, Burton and Bailey, are amongst the 24.
Currently on trial are two forwards hoping to take their places, the 21 times icelandic international 29 year old Gunnar Thorvaldsson and the 25 year old Spaniard Guillem Bauza. After good reviews at home, Thorvaldsson left for Sweden and was that countries premier league top scorer in 2005, but after moving on to Germany and Denmark his luck seems to have left him, perhaps with injuries that we're seen ourselves and he's just spent 6 months on-loan at Reading without scoring. As for Bauza, he's an U-19 international, but spent his early career in Spanish tier three football with Mallorca B and Espanol B teams before moving to Swansea for the last 3 years, making 49 appearances (mostly from the bench) and scoring 9 goals. He's been to the Valley before, playing in the swans opener on August 9th 2008, with this comment in the match report "Players to watch included Spanish striker Guillem Bauza, expected to start on his own up front". He had a couple of further remarks but was replaced after an hour.
And as we continue our search for that elusive number 9 that's going to cure all our problems, perhaps we should console ourselves with the thought that, at least in football, the month of August is not so important in the scheme of things and remember that after 10 games last season the spanners had only won twice and were a full 12 points behind the Addicks.