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League One

Andy Ritchie's Blog 5

19 September 2012

Punching above your weight is something I know a little bit about having been part of an Oldham Athletic side that exceeded expectations back in the 1980s, so I look at npower League 1 right now with a big smile on my face.

The so-called little guys are doing fantastically aren't they?

Let's start with second-placed Stevenage who must be so, so excited with the start to the season they've made. We all know that the Lamex Stadium is a hard place to go and that opposition sides rarely have an easy ride there, but it's not just that that's a positive for them.

Gary Smith is forging a terrific new-look side that home and away are proving extremely hard to beat. They are playing fast, positive football and scoring some seriously good goals, too. Can they keep it up? Maybe they can because nothing seems to worry them, they have a real confidence about the work that they do.

Having been an underdog for a lot of my career I know what a lovely feeling it is to be surprising people. The Stevenage players will be getting up bright and early each day with a spring in their step, and feeling on top of the world that they are professional footballers. Causing upsets will be fun and addictive.

In that position you never know where these unexpected runs will take you and that also brings added excitement. Whether it's promotion as a team or individual recognition, you know that people will be looking on and rating the achievements you're producing.

There will be a lot of laughs and no one will want to leave the training ground early, but a defeat or two will occur soon and it's how they deal with that which is more important. If Stevenage can retain their self-belief, even when results aren't going their way, they can be genuine promotion contenders.

Crawley Town are another ex-Conference outfit that continue to shock and surprise. Some people wondered if they'd struggle in this division but npower League 1 doesn't seem to be causing them too much concern so far. Will injuries hurt them as the season goes on? Perhaps, but as it stands they are more than a match for anyone despite the fact that they are a very small fish in a decent sized pond.

I think that the absence of very big clubs has given everyone else more of a fighting chance in 2012/13. The likes of Charlton Athletic, Huddersfield Town, Sheffield Wednesday, Leeds United and Norwich City were always among the favourites, and justifiably so, but this time around only Sheffield United have that genuinely big club feel about them. There's Preston North End and Coventry City too, of course, but those two are regrouping right now.

This is why a club like Tranmere Rovers have their best chance in years of winning promotion back to English football's second tier. It's wide open and everybody has a pretty even chance, no matter how big they are or how many fans come and see them every week.

The Wirral side have been outstanding to date and such are their high spirits that I see they've even stripped off to make a naked calendar in aid of Prostate Cancer UK. They must be feeling good about themselves.

I did note that Ronnie Moore hasn't got his kit off for the calendar but then again that's probably wise as they will need to keep the sales figures up!

Before I go I must say a few words about my old boys Oldham Athletic who have snapped up strikers Matt Derbyshire and Jose Baxter since my last blog.

As far as Derbyshire is concerned, I believe it's a real coup for Paul Dickov to have attracted him to Boundary Park on loan. Not so long ago he was extremely highly-rated and knocking on the England door, and he has plenty of pedigree and class about him. Two goals in two games suggest he's in decent shape, too.

And as for Baxter, I applaud his bravery in rejecting a new contract at Everton to find his own way in the npower Football League.

He made his debut at 16 years and 191 days, becoming the Toffees' youngest ever player in 2008, but his progress has stalled and he just wants to play first-team football now.

Jose trained on his own in pre-season and has somehow found his way to Oldham, where I really hope he can resurrect what looked sure to be a promising career.

If he can pull it off it will be fantastic for him, and wonderful for Oldham. I wish him all the luck in the world.

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