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After previewing the Championship in our recent post, we now turn our attention to the drama of the third tier of the English Football League, the Sky Bet League One.
As the Championship becomes richer and more like a mini-Premier League, it has a knock-on effect to League One, which is growing in quality year on year and becoming increasingly difficult to get out of, as Bradford City and Scunthorpe United know all too well, consistently knocking on the door.
This season looks no different, and here at Football League Scout we dissect which sides are those to look out for next season.
The clear standout name in this season’s League One is the that of north east giants Sunderland. It’s been a miserable two years at the Stadium of Light, with the Blacks Cats enduring back to back relegation’s from the Premier League to League One.
This time round, relegation should act as a massive wake-up call for Ellis Short, as the club have been poorly managed by the boardroom over the last few seasons. As with Blackburn Rovers last season, relegation may end up being the best thing to happen to the club, as it allows for a period of regrouping and starting again.
Yet another managerial departure took place, with Chris Coleman leaving the club, and the poisoned challis has been handed to the young former St Mirren manager Jack Ross, who impressed after guiding The Buddies to the Scottish Premiership last season.
Ross has got to grips with his new role already, clearing out some of the wage bill, with the likes of Callum McManaman, Jason Steele, Paddy McNair, Wabhi Kazri and finally Jack Rodwell leaving the club. Some top earners such as Didier N’Dong, Lee Cattermole, Lamine Kone and Papy Djilibodji remain at the club, but should they leave, Ross will be in a good position to continue his consolidation and steadying of the ship.
The glory time has well and truly gone for Sunderland, with the reality of life in League One hitting home following the arrivals of goalkeeper Jon McLaughlin from Hearts, defender Tom Flanagan from Burton Albion, former Hearts defender Alim Ozturk, Jack Baldwin from Peterborough, Chris Maguire from Bury, Dylan McGeouch from Hibernian, Reece James from Wigan and Glenn Loovens from Sheffield Wednesday. Again, like Blackburn, this appears to be a strong side for League One, and Sunderland are a massive club so are still an attractive proposition for this level of player, so it could appear as though there will be reason to cheer and enjoy football at the Stadium of Light once again.
Joining Sunderland in League One from the Championship this season is Burton Albion, who return after defying the odds by having back to back seasons in the Championship.
Keeping hold of seasoned professionals John Brayford, Kyle McFadzean, Ben Turner, Lucas Akins, Lloyd Dyer and Marvin Sordell may be key for a League One season, as their experience gained from the Championship campaigns will be vital. Adding the tricky winger David Templeton to this resolute group will provide added grit and flair, and with the experience and know-how of Nigel Clough still at the helm, don’t be surprised if Burton continue to defy the odds and challenge for promotion.
Barnsley also came down and have turned their attention to unknown former Hannover manager Daniel Stendel, who will be the only foreign manager to operate in League One next season. The German has been given the task of guiding The Tykes back into the Championship, however with a lack of English football experience, and the rumoured departure of Tom Bradshaw, the job may be very difficult for The Tykes in what is a very packed out league next season.
Last time they were in League One though, Barnsley came from nowhere to achieve a dramatic promotion, and have an extremely talented young side, so it’s difficult to predict how their season will pan out.
There is also two former Premier League stalwarts making their managerial debuts next season, as Lee Bowyer remains in charge at Charlton Athletic for the time being.
Bowyer impressed during his spell in temporary charge last season and has been renamed as Caretaker manager until further notice. A record of 6 wins in 12 games was enough for Bowyer to guide The Addicks into the play-offs last season, however a 2-0 aggregate defeat to Shrewsbury saw Charlton consigned to yet another season in League One.
With just 19 first team players registered for next season, and some of these, including Josh Magennis, set to leave, it could be a difficult job for Bowyer to impress enough to earn a full-time job. The signing of striker Lyle Taylor will certainly help though, as his record in 55 goals in all competitions for AFC Wimbledon over three seasons is very impressive.
Perhaps the most interesting managerial appointment of all is that of a certain Joey Barton, given his first managerial job at Fleetwood Town. It appears as a very left-field appointment, however Barton has been on trial at the club a few years ago, where he was very impressed with the club, speaking highly of his admiration for Fleetwood Town, calling them a very well-run football club and a ‘proper football club’ to use Joey’s words.
We all know how much of a volatile and passionate football man Joey Barton is, so it’s very intriguing to see how he makes the transition into management. One thing we know for certain is that he will attempt to make them very hard to beat and very difficult to play against, and the signings of Lewie Coyle from Leeds, Dean Marney from Burnley and Tommy Spurr from Preston reinforce this.
In attacking sense, bringing in Chris Long from Burnley and of course, Ched Evans from Sheffield United to add to the options of Paddy Madden, Wes Burns, Conor McAleny, Ashley Hunter and Bobby Grant gives them more than enough fire power to be a force next season.
Barton will of course use his proud Evertonian roots to work with the likes of Long and McAleny, who came through the Everton youth ranks, so expect these two to make themselves a household name in League One next season.
Other sides to watch out for are Derek Adams’ Plymouth side, whose monumental run at the end of last season saw them go from the relegation zone to the verge of the play-offs, and they’ve strengthened well, bringing in defensive reinforcements Ashley Smith-Brown from Manchester City, Peter Grant from Falkirk and Scott Wootton from MK Dons, and keeping hold of Graham Carey is huge, as he was one of the best players in League One last season.
If The Pilgrims can continue their momentum, expect them to be challenging at the top of the table next season, as they will no doubt be backed in their masses by the fans as the make their long journeys around the country.
Kenny Jackett’s Porstmouth side will also inevitability be a force again, and will also no doubt be strongly supported by the Pompey fanatics on again. Bringing Tom Naylor in from Burton is a shrewd piece of business, as his versatility will allow for a number of systems to be used by Jackett. Of course, the return to fitness of Brett Pitman, who scored 18 goals last season before his injury will be like a new signing at Fratton Park next season.
Joining the division from League Two are free-scoring Luton Town, whose goal-hungry side will be looking to cause a stir, Accrington Stanley, who dominated League Two in dramatic fashion and will be making their maiden League One appearance, and the beast’s side, Adebayo Akinfenwa’s Wycombe Wanderers. They are joined by Coventry, where Mark Robins has done a terrific job steadying the ship and guiding the Sky Blues to promotion, and the signings of Jonson Clarke-Harris and Abu Ogogo, who captained Shrewsbury doing their fantastic season least season, put them in a strong position to continue their recovery to the big time.
Another impossible league to call, with so much talent on display, League One is again looking like a very difficult league to escape from next season, and it will be intriguing to see which team is best equipped to cope with the gruelling demands.
And of course, we can’t rule out the possibility of another Shrewsbury-esque season for one of the less fancied sides, and throw 3 million pound richer Peterborough United into the mix, and it appears to be one of the most exciting leagues around.