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League One

Andy Ritchie's Blog 41

28 May 2013

Make no mistake, this season's npower League 1 campaign was a vintage one.

It was fitting in a way that Brentford's infamous last-minute collapse at home to Doncaster Rovers provided the climax to the regular season. It hasn't always been that dramatic of course, but as a whole, League 1 has been a real thrill-a-minute affair. That unbelievable moment crowned it.

Starting with the champions, I must pay huge credit to Brian Flynn and the Doncaster Rovers players for bouncing back to the Championship at the first attempt.

It's easy to forget what a mess the club were in last year. The chairman and board had adopted an unusual policy of bringing in big-name players on short-term deals, and then shipping them out just as quickly to someone else whenever an offer came in. They were the closest we had in English football to a feeder club.

It didn't work. And let's credit John Ryan and the board for recognising this, and for changing direction so quickly ahead of this term. Altering the culture of a club isn't easy - no matter how short that period had been - so those guys need a bit of sugar for doing that. To rip things up and start again was brave. It paid off.

What a year it's also been for the boys who went back. They used to say it was folly for managers to be tempted into returning to previous clubs, but Gary Johnson and Eddie Howe have proved that adage to be a load of old rubbish.

I predicted that Yeovil would come 23rd, and I wasn't the only one expecting them to struggle. Their success story has been wonderful to see, and will give hope to every small, unfancied club next season.

The same goes for Bournemouth, too. I know they've got some big-hitting financial backers now, but the Cherries aren't Football League heavyweights. What they've achieved is also fantastic, not least given that they were deep in the bottom half of the table earlier this season. That upsurge in form they experienced under Eddie Howe was frighteningly good.

Walsall didn't win any trophies this season, and in the end they missed out of the Play-Offs by six points, but for me they were the league's highest over-achievers.

Dean Smith and his players don't get a lot of publicity, and they aren't what you'd describe as a fashionable club but together they performed heroics to claim ninth place.

The signing of Febian Brandy was a clever one, and as a group they managed to create an admirable level of consistency - not just at home but on their travels, too. Without a lot of money to play with, the Saddlers remained an extremely competitive outfit.

Those who'll head off to the beach feeling tired and deflated will include Stevenage, Tranmere Rovers, Preston North End and Coventry City. All four clubs have reason to feel blue.

I was a little surprised at the way Stevenage capitulated from a promising position earlier on in the season, and Tranmere will feel even worse. They led npower League 1 for long periods, only to end up in a disappointing 11th spot.

Preston's season never really got going, and was blighted by disenchantment within the dressing room, while Coventry City's stadium nightmares continue to provide more twists and turns than your average daily soap opera.

All four clubs will be hoping to come back refreshed and rejuvenated next term.

As a player and a manager I was lucky enough to be so laid-back that I could switch off for a few weeks during the summer, but I know that I was in the minority.

This will be an anxious time for a lot of footballers and their families as they wait to tie up new contracts, and for the bosses there will no such thing as a break.

These days you just can't afford to switch your mobile phone off. If you miss out on a player you really fancied, it could make all the difference. It's been a full-on season and for the gaffers, their work will continue apace.

As for me, that's it for a while. With a bit of luck I'll see you all back here for more chat next season.

Bye for now.

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