What WSC contributors got right and wrong
20 July ~ "With the appointment of Martin Allen as manager, previous gaffer Andy Hessenthaler still on the scene and long-standing chairman Paul Scally still in charge, it's a volatile mix," wrote Gillingham contributor Haydn Parry in the WSC 2012-13 Season Guide. "It could be brilliant, it could be disastrous." It turned out to be brilliant. Gillingham got 22 points from their opening eight games and held off sustained challenges from Port Vale and Rotherham United to return to the third tier after three seasons in League Two.
The Gills' excellent season came as a surprise to the rest of the League Two contributors, who had predicted them to finished a solid tenth. Instead, their tip for the title were Rotherham – finally back playing in their own town after a stint in exile at Sheffield's Don Valley Stadium. Millers fan Phil Kye agreed: "We should finally crack the top three." They did, winning the most games in the division – including the final five in a row – to book a return to League One after being relegated in 2007.
In third place were another team not fancied by other supporters. Port Vale were predicted to finish 15th, most likely because they began the season in administration. Vale fan Rob Rushton was a little more optimistic, expecting "a tilt at the play-offs". However, led by Mickey Adams, they were top scorers in the division with Tom Pope getting 31 league goals – his previous best tally was ten for Crewe in 2009. Having pushed Gillingham all the way for the title a string of draws in the final four games saw them slip blow Rotherham in the final standings.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of League Two in 2012-13, though, were Burton Albion. "Like any new manager, Gary Rowett has half a season to deliver," Brewers fans Mark Rowe said. "He may do, so lower mid-table." Supporters from other clubs weren't so sure – they had Albion to finish 22nd, narrowly avoiding relegation. But Rowett did deliver, beyond all expectations. Despite the odd heavy defeat – notably 7-1 to Port Vale in April – he guided Burton to fourth and their highest ever finish. In the end, though, their promotion hopes were scuppered by a team who had perhaps the most remarkable season in any of the divisions.
Bradford City were predicted 12th in the final table, though Jason McKeown has higher hopes: "Despite five years of failure… optimism is high we are finally going to get it right this time. A play-off push is the minimum expectation." He also said that his club's fall from grace had left them with an identity crisis: "I'd like us to feel comfortable in our own skin and enjoy ourselves more." That they did, with a run to the League Cup final that included wins over Wigan, Arsenal and Aston Villa, before they finally succumbed to Swansea at Wembley. Three months later they were back, this time in the League Two play-off final, having dispatched Burton in the semi-final. On this occasion the Bantams were victorious, beating Northampton ("Anything better than mid-table would be a bonus," said Cobblers fan Mark Pacan) 3-0.
At the bottom Barnet were expected to struggle by everyone except James Castle, the Bees fan, who described himself as "cautiously optimistic" before claiming anything other than having to save their League status on the final day would be progress. In the end Barnet took a step backwards, despite the presence of Edgar Davids. Another final-day escape proved too much as they lost 2-0 at Northampton to drop into the Conference.
Bottom were Aldershot Town, whose contributor John Corner was expecting them to be "in the mix for the play-offs". Others had them safe in mid-table but a season of financial difficulties culminated in relegation and administration for the phoenix club. That meant a reprieve for Dagenham & Redbridge, widely tipped to take the second relegation place. "We don't seem to be allowed dull seasons where there's no sort of struggle involved," said Daggers fan Matt Sullivan, "so a scrap at one end of the table or other seems likely. Possibly we'll finish ninth, more likely 22nd." He should buy a Lottery ticket with foresight like that.
The WSC 2013-14 Season Guide will be on sale in shops on August 1