Updated: Sunday, 12th July 2020 @ 9:02am

Promotion, mid-table or relegation? MM predictions for Manchester's five

Promotion, mid-table or relegation? MM predictions for Manchester's five

| By Alex Mays

While the FA Cup continues to perplex football forecasters around the country, MM take a look at Greater Manchester's five league clubs below the top flight and their prospects for the rest of the season...

Championship

Bolton Wanderers: Current league position – 16th

Since Neil Lennon has taken over the reins, The Trotters have vastly improved in form, registering 28 points from 15 league games and securing a fourth round F.A. Cup tie away to Liverpool where they managed a 0-0 draw to guarantee a replay.

Defensively they look more assured, with six clean sheets and the Bolton boss puts their improved defensive rigidity down to the coaching of his former Celtic teammate and assistant manager Johan Mjallby.

They have also improved at the other end of the field, more than doubling the amount of goals scored under ex-boss Dougie Freedman. The latest acquisitions of Premier League veterans Eidur Gudjohnsen and Emile Heskey, both 36, has added experience, as well as further attacking impetus to bolster a squad which has been depleted by injuries in recent weeks.

Lennon is seeking to add creativity to the squad and has long been an admirer of Kris Commons from his old club Celtic, but may face stiff competition from clubs higher in the football pyramid. He also remains interested in signing Bradley Wright-Phillips from New York Red Bulls on a short-term loan deal, before the start of the MLS season in March.

It may be too late to mount a serious challenge in the next four months, but the appointment of Lennon has instilled great belief into this group of players and they could definitely challenge for the play-off places next season.

Verdict: Mid-table mediocrity

**

Wigan Athletic: Current league position – 23rd

On the pitch, fortunes have not improved at all under the leadership of Malky Mackay, with only five points from the past 10 games.

Wigan are a team devoid of confidence and it shows: scoring on average only just over a goal-a-game, the attacking players are not showing the clinical touches which make all the difference at this level.

They certainly don’t lack creative or flair players: Callum McManaman, James McClean and the outgoing Shaun Maloney are all more than capable of thriving at this level and have shown this in previous seasons. More goals are coming from midfield and that tells its own story.

It’s understandable that Wigan continue to struggle to attract potential players due to their perilous position, being just five points adrift from Rotherham in 21st. They have, however, managed to secure one signing, although temporarily, in Liam Ridgewell on loan from MLS club Portland Timbers until mid-February. His vast Premier League experience is unquestionable and could help less-experienced members of the squad during his month here, while they contest a gruelling relegation battle.

Following their stunning rise from the wilderness of the old Division Three to the Premier League in the late 90s/early 00s, the fear for most Latics fans must be the risk of a similar fall down the football league pyramid to Portsmouth. Sadly, at this rate, they may struggle to avoid such a fate.

Verdict: Relegation strugglers

League One

Oldham Athletic: Current league position – 14th

Lee Johnson and his men have been ticking along nicely considering their financial capabilities. Johnson, 33, was the youngest manager in the Football League until December, and his inexperience in management has not yet told, with Oldham mounting an unexpected play-off challenge.

Although the team suffered a slump in form over December, conceding 14 goals in four games and gaining no points, they still only remain three points off the play-off places.

A major part of their success this year has been the form of Jonathan Forte, who has proven to be a talisman up-front, with 13 goals in the league to his name already – making him the third highest goal scorer in the league so far.

Uncertainty off the pitch has led to inactivity in this transfer window: their only publicised interest is in non-league Blyth Spartan’s Jarrett Rivers who was an important part of The Spartans' run in the F.A. Cup this year which attracted the interest of seven league sides. His pace and fearless style of play could add a different dimension to Johnson’s side and he is currently on trial with the Latics.

Reaching the play-offs is not beyond Oldham but it seems there are better-equipped teams above them in the table who could make a better go at it.

Verdict: Mid-table mediocrity

**

Rochdale: Current league position – 5th

Newly promoted Rochdale have performed well above expectations this season and find themselves in the midst of a play-off tug of war.

Assistant manager Chris Beech likened the youngsters in the squad to a lower-league ‘Class of 92’ earlier this year and with their free-flowing and attractive style of play with end product there is no wonder the comparison has been drawn.

Of the 45 league goals scored, nearly 70% of them have come from midfielders Matt Done (10), Peter Vincenti (nine) and forward Ian Henderson (12). To combat this and take some goal-scoring pressure off the midfield players especially, Dale have delved into the transfer market and brought in Febian Brandy(ex-Manchester United youth player) and Reuben Noble-Lazarus on permanent basis, following his loan spell from Barnsley. However neither of these forwards have ever been prolific in their careers so far.

Following Rochdale’s F.A. Cup third round win over big-spending Nottingham Forest, that result plus the next round tie with Premier League side Stoke City this evening could prove to be a money-spinner for the club.

The management team has done a superb job to consolidate a high position in this league, among higher profile sides. Their mentality of merely looking to outscore their opponents and the extra revenue from the cup competition will certainly help them strengthen and push for the play-off places.

Verdict: Promotion chasers

League Two

Bury: Current league position – 7th

Dismal away form has been one major reason for Bury’s lack of success so far this season: with just three away wins in the whole campaign, plus 15 points from the last 14 games, is certainly not promotion-pushing form.

However, here are certainly positives for Bury to take in their push for promotion. For one, they boast one of the best home records in the league: they've lost only three times all season having recorded 25 points from 12 games. This is a consistency they could do with translating to their away form.

Manager David Flitcroft’s philosophy is clear to see, he has belief in youth and has invested wisely in it.

Flitcroft has brought in Hallam Hope, 20, on a permanent basis from Everton, following his previous spell at the club. Nick Pope, 22, has been bought on loan until the end of the season from Charlton to act as a a more realistic challenge for Rob Lainton as No.1 goalkeeper and their trio of transfers is completed by Joe Riley, 23, from nearby Bolton Wanderers has been signed on a permanent two-and-a-half year deal.

In the long-term, the club will reap the benefits of their youth development but Bury at this present time lack the necessary character and ruthlessness away from home to challenge for an automatic promotion position. Yet the play-off positions aren’t out of the realm of possibility.

Verdict: Promotion chasers

Main image courtesy of The Football League via YouTube, with thanks.