Three months without competitive, league football finally come to an end this weekend as SkyBet English Football League One action returns.
Optimism among fans, players and management has been renewed, pitches have been relaid, and squads have been rigorously revamped so all that’s needed is the football itself.
It is clear that it’s shaping up to be another exciting season in League One. England’s third tier is packing some serious talent this season, making the race for promotion rather interesting and intriguing. Not to mention the calibre of the sides who have dropped down from the Championship, including former Premier League side Blackburn Rovers and 2015/16 League One Champions Wigan Athletic!
Wigan Athletic – Paul Cook replaces interim manager Graham Barrow
Portsmouth – Kenny Jackett replaces Paul Cook
Oxford United – Pep Clotet replaces Michael Appleton
Top five transfers…
1) Luke McGee – Tottenham Hotspur-Portsmouth – Undisclosed
2) Stephen Taylor – Ipswich Town-Peterborough United – Free
3) Kyle Dempsey – Huddersfield Town-Fleetwood Town – Undisclosed
4) Dean Bowditch – Milton Keynes Dons-Northampton Town – Free
5) Bradley Dack – Gillingham-Blackburn Rovers – £750,000
Blackburn Rovers 4/1
Wigan Athletic 7/1
Oxford United 12/1
MK Dons/Charlton Athletic 14/1
Shrewsbury Town 5/4
Oldham Athletic 11/8
*all odds supplied by SkyBet
Race for Automatic Promotion…
The League One promotion race will be an exciting one, with plenty of teams thinking they can make the all-important top two. Like with every season, the three relegated sides will be hoping that they can bounce straight back to the division above.
It is perhaps hard to overlook both Blackburn and Wigan as certain contenders for automatic promotion back to the Championship. However, the Ewood Park side find themselves in unfamiliar territory, having not played in England’s third tier for 37 years. Fans of the Lancashire club have seen the club’s plight as inevitable as a result of the well-documented ownership of the club by Venky’s who described the club’s relegation to League One as ‘a temporary setback’.
Keeping Danny Graham will be crucial to Rovers’ chance of promotion, however manager Tony Mowbray now possesses a strong midfield core having signed Peter Whittingham from Cardiff City, the free-scoring Bradley Dack from Gillingham, Ben Gladwin from Queen’s Park Rangers and Richie Smallwood from Rotherham United.
While they’ve strengthened the midfield, Rovers appear to be lacking in the defensive area of the pitch. Goalkeeper David Raya Martin is the club’s current first-team keeper following Jason Steele’s departure, while Championship side Sheffield Wednesday are interested in Charlie Mulgrew.
Blackburn begin their campaign away ay at Southend United on Saturday (August 5).
Wigan manager Paul Cook knows all about what it takes to achieve promotion after wining the SkyBet League Two title with Portsmouth last season. The Latics have been busy over the summer signing the likes of Chey Dunkley and Gavin Massey although potentially losing want-away striker Omar Bogle will maybe hurt them.
Wigan kick off their season with a trip to Milton Keynes on Saturday (August 5).
The race for the playoffs…
One team who will be happier than most to see a team promoted is Bradford City. The Bantams have been beaten by newly promoted Millwall in each of the past two League One play-off semi finals and were left heartbroken this time around courtesy of a Steve Morison goal five minutes from time at Wembley in May.
The 2017/18 season is the club’s fifth at this level and manager Stuart McCall’s main task is to get the squad looking forward to those dizzy heights again. However the task is made even more tricky by the departures of a number of key players such as Mark Marshall (now at Charlton) and defenders James Meredith, Stephen Darby and Rory McArdle, who have joined Millwall, Bolton and Scunthorpe respectively.
However, Bradford should still be play-off contenders again. They have a particularly strong home record at Valley Parade, having gone unbeaten at home last season, albeit with a large number of draws.
Southend missed out on the play-offs by a single point last season, but could be in line to clinch a place this term. Manager Phil Brown is another in the league who has experience of winning promotion after taking the Shrimpers up from League Two in the 2014/15 playoffs and even took Hull into the Premier League way back in the 2007/08 season.
Up until now, they have so far managed to keep most of their squad intact and have also made a number of additions, with Michael Kightly, Stephen Hendrie and Michael Turner arriving at Roots Hall.
Milton Keynes Dons are another club out to better their position from last term. Despite losing seemingly key players in George Baldock and Nicky Maynard, manager Robbie Neilson has made some fantastic loan signings with Ethan Ebanks-Landell and Aaron Tshibola both arriving in Buckinghamshire.
Gillingham survived the drop last season by the skin-of-the-teeth, and have now seen the departure of star striker Bradley Dack to Blackburn. Seemingly poor recruitment over the summer may mean that it will be tough for manager Ady Pennock to turn things around.
Like Gillingham, AFC Wimbledon have lost key players over the summer. Jake Reeves has joined Bradford, while Tom Elliot has signed for cross-city neighbours Millwall. The Wombles also failed to score in eight of their last none games last season and the way they start the season this time around will be the key to their survival.
One club in the league who have a particularly low budget is Walsall. This means that they may have to punch above their weight to avoid the drop. There are also doubts among the clubs fans as to whether manger Jon Whitney is fully equipped to guide the club to survival.
Shrewsbury Town narrowly escaped the drop last season and despite conceding the fewest goals of any of the bottom seven clubs last term, goalkeeper Callum Burton’s move to Sky Bet Championship team Hull City could leave them vulnerable again.
Portsmouth could be seen as surprise League One title contenders. Paul Cook’s former side now possess a manger who has experience of winning promotion from the league in the form of Kenny Jackett (promotion winner twice with both Millwall and Wolves). New additions Tareiq Holmes-Dennis, Brett Pitman and Luke McGee all have invaluable experience of the league, with the latter having signed a permanent contract from Tottenham Hotspur after a loan spell with Peterborough United last term.
Despite ongoing unrest among the club’s fans last season which saw the club meander to a 13th-place finish, Charlton Athletic have been done shrewd business both on and off the pitch this summer. Manager Karl Robinson has brought in Lee Bowyer and club captain Johnnie Jackson into his coaching staff and has been organising his squad in preparation for his first full season at The Valley. He has also secured the season-long loan of Jay DaSilva from Chelsea, who impressed with the Addicks last term.
They have, however, lost Nicky Ajose who has joined Bury on loan. The Shakers are another surprise team this season. Despite losing top scorer James Vaughan to Championship newcomers Sunderland, they have a straightforward, ready-made replacement in the shape of Jermaine Beckford. Not only is Beckford a proven talent at this level, but manager Lee Clark also has a decent record in League One.
Peterborough United could also be dark horses in terms of the play-off fight this term. Like many other teams, The POSH have been busy in terms of recruitment, bringing in a range of different players to try and avoid yet another season in England’s third tier. They include free-scoring Ricky Miller from Dover Athletic and former Stockport County star Danny Lloyd. Fans can expect a good season if the gamble on these prolific non-league goalscorers pays off.
Projected final table…
1) Blackburn Rovers
2) Wigan Athletic
4) Bradford City
5) Fleetwood Town
6) Peterborough United
7) Doncaster Rovers
8) Scunthorpe United
9) Northampton Town
10) Milton Keynes Dons
12) Charlton Athletic
13) Oxford United
15) Bristol Rovers
16) Southend United
17) Rotherham United
18) Plymouth Argyle
20) Shrewsbury Town
22) AFC Wimbledon
24) Oldham Athletic
Players to watch…
Danny Graham (Blackburn Rovers)
Striker Danny Graham is a proven goalscorer not only in League One but higher levels of the Football League too. He will surely be favourite to take the league’s top scorer award.
Will Grigg (Wigan Athletic)
Once the subject of the infamous ‘Will Grigg’s on fire’ chant, League One defences may still be slightly fearful of the Wigan striker. Grigg may have only scored seven goals for the Latics last season, but his record at this level is far better, having netted 28 times during the club’s 2015/16 title winning season.
Ricky Miller (Peterborough United)
Despite being banned for the first six matches of the campaign, Peterborough striker Ricky Miller could be another player to watch this term. The free scoring, former Dover Athletic forward netted 42 times in 43 games last season and was crowned the National League’s Player of the Year. He also has previous League experience when at Luton Town.