As my predecessor always used to say, these predictions are for fun – I have no active ties to any of the clubs and my comments below are purely based on my observations over the last few seasons…
With All Saints added to the mix I would expect the race for the top spot to be tighter than previously. Although its true they are not the first team to rise rapidly through the divisions, they are a team who play a very slick passing game, not unlike Clarendon. And they often do it at pace – not unlike Clarendon. So finally, it would seem Clarendon have a team to match them in every way…However it’s one thing to impress when you’re in a division where the other teams aren’t playing a passing game and another when other teams are playing that style. Moreover, I think Division One may well turn into 3 separate battles – a top group of four, a middle group of four, and a bottom four.
In the top 4 I see All Saints, City, Clarendon and Sheldon tussling for the Championship. Although Clarendon start the season without one of their key players, they have always had strength in depth so I doubt it will affect them to any great extent. Sheldon actually won more games than Clarendon last season, but were hamstrung by losing all of the other games, whereas Clarendon drew some of theirs. This season I expect these two and City to be stretched by the introduction of All Saints but I would expect the top slot to be occupied by one of the three pre-existing Division One teams – my heart says Sheldon but my head says Clarendon.
Division One’s bottom 4 will include Halesowen Zion, Rowley College, Sandwell and Zion Athletic. This is the group nobody wants to be in, but with a top four as powerful as the ones named above you know that there are going to be a lot of goals conceded again this year so to avoid the drop these four will need to ensure that their back 4 and keeper are unbreakable. In goal difference terms, the worst performing last season was Halesowen Zion so I would expect them to be in the bottom 3 for certain. But joined by whom? That’s a tough one because all three (and even Halesowen Zion) have a tendency to go on successful runs which, for differing reasons are then broken up. However I must choose three so dropping out of Division One I’m going for Halesowen Zion, Rowley College and Sandwell United.
To me, ever since we expanded to three divisions, Division Two has always been a scrappy division with teams in the top 3 often being at as much risk of relegation as teams in the bottom 3 (and vice versa). That said, there has been a tendency for whoever wins Division Three (comfortably) going on to win Division Two (comfortably) the following year and I see no reason to not see that happening again this season…sort of! The thing worth noting is that though Chawn got the highest number of points in Division Three Wollaston comfortably outscored them. So the top two in Division Two come our next AGM will definitely be Chawn and Wollaston but who will be joining them? That’s even harder than in Division One because any one of the following three could do well – Charlemont, Connect or Lighthouse. But as I must pick I would say that Chawn, Wollaston and Charlemont will go up.
Unlike Division One who leaves Division Two is rarely as straight forward because, in part, it will depend on how many teams get added to the League and how many leave. What I will say however, is that it is unlikely to be Rockmount or Selly Oak – yes they both got a thumping last season, but that was when they had to face Man Utd, Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal, so under those circumstances anyone could come off looking bad. Whereas when they have previously been in the second flight Rockmount and Selly Oak have always performed adequately. Of the remainder I see Darkhouse as being the most likely to get ‘automatic’ relegation based on the fact that of the retained teams from last season they won the fewest, scored the fewest points and had the worst goal difference.
Division Three, due to its mix of teams who “just love to play” and new teams is almost impossible to provide a prediction for. One of the things that Ed was dedicated about was that of keeping on top of what happened in every friendly – something which I’ve not mastered this time round. However, my heart suggests that Living Hope will bounce straight back, with Pye Green (who have been steadily improving year on year) and perhaps one of the new teams.