League One 2022/23 Outright Preview & Predictions

Andy

Squad Assessment & Transfer Business So Far

Ipswich Town were the League One title favourites for the majority of the summer, even though they finished 11th last term. That goes to show just how impressive they were in the second half of last season, and how much respect they have from the rest of the division. The Tractor Boys ran out of road in pursuit of the play-offs, but on their day were one of the toughest teams to take on in the league, being held back by a slow start like many others. Wigan Athletic and Rotherham United won promotion with a defensively sound back three last season, and Ipswich are in a great position to emulate their success, with Christian Walton between the sticks one of the best gloves men below the Premier League, let alone League One.

Dominic Ball, Marcus Harness and Freddie Ladapo are all very smart additions, with the latter playing a key role in the Millers’ promotion push last term. Lee Evans and Samy Morsy bring tonnes of experience and knowhow in central midfield, and, even though Wednesday have crept above them in the outright odds recently, with a few more signings between now and the end of the window, it could become impossible to form a case against them at least being in the mix for automatic promotion.

Verdict

Ipswich are heading into their fourth season since relegation from the Championship, and they have not achieved a top six finish in that time, but Kieran McKenna has certainly looked the part since replacing Paul Cook in the dugout, and the former Manchester United first team coach will back his tactical nous against any one of his third tier counter-parts. Harness can supply the extra finishing touch that was lacking last season, and with a set way of playing under McKenna they are going to be very hard to beat.


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Squad Assessment & Transfer Business So Far

Sheffield Wednesday were one of the best teams in the third tier for the final six months of 2021/22, and had they not started so slowly, the Owls would have probably kicked on to achieve automatic promotion. In Barry Bannan, 32, Wednesday have arguably the most gifted midfield conductor in the division, and with the talent, and more importantly running, around him the Owls are favourites to win the league title with good reason.

They lost out to Sunderland, 2-1 on aggregate, at the play-off semi final stage, running a Black Cats side close, who are expected to comfortably stay up in the league above. Wednesday’s business this summer has been particularly eye-catching, Michael Smith and Michael Ihiekwe will strengthen them aerially, in both boxes, arriving from Rotherham United, who finished second in the third tier last season, with Akin Famewo, Will Vaulks and Reece James all players who have demonstrated in patches that they should be playing at a higher level.

Verdict

The Owls were not far off last season, and with a bit of pace added to their forward line, they may be capable of steamrolling their way to an automatic promotion spot. They are the biggest club in the league, with Sunderland going up last season, and the demands from the stands will be for them to act as such in 2022/23. 

The relegated clubs from the second tier are not expected to be as strong as they were last term, and that opens the door for teams like Wednesday, who have a group of players that a considerable portion of the second tier would envy.

Team: Sheffield Wednesday


Squad Assessment & Transfer Business So Far

Peterborough United are in good shape heading into the 2022/23 third tier campaign under Grant McCann. The former player and manager of the Posh is back for a second spell and built some optimism in the final months of last season after replacing Darren Ferguson in the dugout. 

The Northern Irishman led Hull City to the League One title in 2020/21, after a successful spell with Doncaster Rovers, such that has aged very well with what has come after, and he knows what it takes to succeed at the level.

The Posh have been renowned for excellent recruitment, particularly in attacking areas, over the years, and that looks set to continue with the additions of pacey winger David Ajiboye and attack-minded midfielder Ben Thompson. 

Ajiboye played a starring role in Sutton United’s sensational 2021/22 campaign, reaching the EFL Trophy final in the first season in their history in the EFL, along with finishing eighth in the fourth tier table, having flirted with the automatic promotion places for the majority of the campaign.

Posh have not lost any key players over the summer, and Jonson Clarke-Harris is set to return to League One as one of the most feared strikers in the division, having bagged 31 league goals as the Posh sealed automatic promotion in 2020/21, before netting 12 times in the second tier last term. 37 points is an awful total last season in the Championship, but it is an enormous step up and they were able to build some momentum with three wins from five to finish the campaign.

Verdict

Typically very dangerous on their home patch, outside the bigger spenders in the division the Posh will command a lot of respect for past achievements and the attacking quality in their squad. Peterborough are one of three sides in the division to have a manager who has previously won promotion from the third tier, they will be aiming for a top six finish as a minimum.

Team: Peterborough United


Squad Assessment & Transfer Business So Far

Bolton Wanderers will be confident of building on their promising ninth placed finish in their first season since promotion from League Two last term. The Trotters were on automatic promotion form for the majority of the second half of last season, and if such abnormally high points totals were not required to finish in the play-offs, Wanderers would have been right in the mix.

In a 5-2 win at Ipswich Town, a 4-1 win at Charlton Athletic and a 6-0 win at home to Sunderland, the Trotters demonstrated just how dangerous they are on their day, and Ian Evatt will be aiming for promotion. The Trotters are heading into their third season under Evatt, have a very sophisticated way of playing and will be one of the toughest away days in the division. James Trafford and Conor Bradley have arrived on loan from Manchester City and Liverpool respectively, the former after impressing at The UniBol in the second half of last season.

Dapo Afolayan is one of the most exciting players in the division on his day, and as it stands the West Ham United academy graduate is set to stay put for 2022/23. With a good understanding of their own style and the financial ammunition to compete towards the top end, Wanderers should be in and around the top six as a minimum.

Verdict

At this stage of the window no key players have departed and Wanderers will be very capable in operating with the deep squad they heavily invested in during last season’s January window. The Trotters probably have the funds to strengthen again if they are off the pace come January 2023, but given the way they finished last season, the club are in a great position to hit the ground running this term.


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Squad Assessment & Transfer Business So Far

Derby County managed one of the most respectable relegations in living memory last season in the Championship. With a squad composed of mainly academy graduates and free agents with very little depth, Wayne Rooney achieved an incredible points total of 55 in the second tier, but the Rams were relegated, despite showing tremendous solidarity to make survival seem possible, due to suffering a deduction of 21 points. 

Rooney has moved on to DC United, leaving Liam Rosenior in charge as interim manager, with a view to being made permanent, as it stands, and the former Brighton and Hove Albion man is unproven as the commander in the dugout. The Rams have been busy in the transfer market since David Clowes completed the takeover of the club, targeting experienced players who have achieved a lot in higher divisions. 

The headline additions are Conor Hourihane, 31, David McGoldrick, 34, and James Collins, 31, players that have such high reputations that many neutral supporters are expecting County to be well in the mix for automatic promotion. Looking at the size of the supporter base and the quality in the squad, they should be, but it is not simple to gel so many new faces quickly, and many are on the way down in their careers.

Key players from their impressive displays through adversity last term have also left the club, with Tom Lawrence, Festy Ebosele, Malcolm Ebiowei, Lee Buchanan and Ravel Morrison all leaving sizable holes in the squad.

Verdict

With a month of the transfer window remaining when the season starts the Rams could go into September looking very strong, but it is more than likely that there is some transition period, and they get stronger as the campaign goes on. The Rams are rightfully automatic promotion contenders with the bookmakers, but the vast majority of their League One counterparts have had more productive and organised preparation for the season.


Squad Assessment & Transfer Business So Far

Milton Keynes Dons finished third last season and were in with a chance of achieving automatic promotion heading into their final game, of which they dispatched Plymouth Argyle 5-0 at Home Park.

The Dons were fancied to be a serious threat in the play-offs, but were upset by Wycombe Wanderers to a 2-1 aggregate scoreline at the semi final stage. The club have kept hold of manager Liam Manning who is fully believing in the long term project that the club provides, but on the pitch the Dons have lost a lot of quality. Central defensive leader Harry Darling has moved on to reunite with former manager Russell Martin at Swansea City, Scott Twine went for big money to Burnley and attacking midfielder David Kasumu has signed for Championship play-off finalists Huddersfield Town.

Jamie Cumming, Jack Tucker, Bradley Johnson, Ethan Robson and Nathan Holland all represent shrewd business in the transfer market as the club continue to lead the way in their progressive approach, without spending significant transfer fees. Darragh Burns and Dawson Devoy have both arrived for fees from the League of Ireland and it will be interesting to see how they adjust.

Darling is arguably the biggest loss from this squad, but with Manning at the helm and an incredibly smart scouting department trusted with rebuilding the squad, they should definitely be around the top six once again.

Verdict

The Dons have a clear identity and style of play that makes their approach far more repeatable than most other clubs in the league, and with Manning remaining at the helm there is no reason why they cannot put together another serious promotion push.


Squad Assessment & Transfer Business So Far

Oxford United fell away at the crucial time last season, after looking like certain play-off fodder for the vast majority of the campaign. Yellows have been able to establish some very healthy continuity, where many EFL clubs have not, in their playing squad, but also with Karl Robinson in the dugout. Robinson enters his fifth full season at the Kassam Stadium this summer and United have a clear identity and style of play. Mark Sykes and Luke McNally have moved on to Championship clubs this summer, both are replaceable in Robinson’s system, and the club’s recruitment has been amongst the best below the second tier in the last few seasons. Going forward they have the potential to be devastating and were the joint-top scorers in the division last term, despite finishing eighth. In Ciaron Brown and Yanic Wildschut both appear to be very shrewd pick-ups in the summer window, and the Yellows usually attract very good loan players, most of which will arrive towards the end of August. 

With Cameron Brannagan, one of the classiest midfielders in the division, remaining at the club this summer, Matt Henry still a potent force from attacking midfield and Matty Taylor, one of the deadliest finishers in League One, Yellows will not be too far away barring a major injury crisis.

Verdict

Robinson will continue to be bold with his tactics and play an entertaining brand of football, that sometimes leaves them open to concede, but on the whole brings the best out of the squad. It feels very unlikely that Oxford will slip out of the bottom half and their repeatable processes should stand them in good stead for another play-off push.


Squad Assessment & Transfer Business So Far

Portsmouth were very, very up and down last season, showing themselves as one of the best teams in the division in patches, but unable to hit their straps in others, eventually resulting in a tenth-placed finish. Heading into their second full campaign under Danny Cowley, Pompey should be less inconsistent but it all depends on whether they have the attacking firepower to compete at the top end, having been unreliable at the back last term.

Josh Griffiths has arrived on loan from West Bromwich Albion to replace Gavin Bazunu, with Colby Bishop and Joe Pigott strengthening the forward line. George Hirst was a key player in the second half of last season, and has been linked with a return since going back to Leicester City, with versatile forward Marcus Harness leaving for direct rivals Ipswich Town. Pompey do not have the finances, despite immense support from the stands, to battle it out for the most in-demand players in the division, therefore an automatic promotion seems unlikely given the overwhelming strength of League One compared to previous editions.

Verdict

The talent and potential is there for a top six finish to be achieved, and they should be in the mix for the majority of the season. Further depth is required in certain areas and it does seem like Cowley is going to go for a three at the back formation, so the South Coast outfit could be one to monitor in the first few weeks, as the window plays out, to assess their promotion credentials with more evidence and pass a more well-rounded judgement on their outright price. Top 12 minimum, but it is hard to justify why Pompey will force their way above others to finish in the top six.


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Squad Assessment & Transfer Business So Far

Argyle missed out on the play-offs on the final day of last season, after being tipped for relegation by many heading into 2021/22. The Pilgrims have a clear identity and have carried on in the same way, with Steven Schumacher stepping up to the manager’s role, where he was previously assistant before Ryan Lowe departed for Preston North End. Squad depth is an issue in judging their promotion credentials, and the club will be braced to receive interest in some of their key players as the window reaches its closing exchanges. 

Argyle cannot compete towards the top end financially, but have conducted some excellent recruitment in recent years, with three exciting loanees arriving at the club this summer. Bali Mumba, from Norwich City, will add an attacking threat from full back or wing back, Finn Azaz, from Aston Villa, produced a jaw-dropping highlight reel on loan at Newport County in League Two last term from attacking midfield, and Morgan Whittaker has joined from Swansea City, after an eye-catching loan spell at Lincoln City last term. The Pilgrims have also picked up Mickel Miller on a free, after the versatile forward chipped in as an important fringe player for Rotherham last season.

Verdict

In such a competitive division it feels unlikely that Argyle are able to establish themselves in the top six this time around, but the extremely well-run club should continue their steady progression on and off the pitch, with Schumacher growing into the role in the dugout. Upper mid table, with flirtations with the play-off places appears to be the most likely outcome of their 2022/23 campaign.


Squad Assessment & Transfer Business So Far

Barnsley’s 2021/22 season was desperately poor. The Tykes finished fifth in the second tier in 2020/21, but were unable to capitalise on that success and only managed a miserable 30 points from 46 games last term. Michael Duff is a very shrewd appointment though and will ensure that the club land safely in the third tier, but a sustained promotion push seems like a longshot at this stage. 

Carlton Morris, Cauley Woodrow and Callum Brittain are very sore losses for the squad who struggled enormously in front of goal last season, and with a new board appointed at Oakwell, there is going to be a lot of adaptation required. Callum Styles and Michal Helik seem more likely to leave than not in the coming weeks, with Bradley Collins potentially set to receive interest in goal. 

Duff performed very well with Cheltenham Town over an extended period, taking the Robins from the bottom half of League Two to mid table in League One, and in the long term it is a smart appointment. But with a losing mentality deeply embedded in the squad, an overwhelming amount of quality towards the top end of the division, and some high profile departures, it does appear to be something of a start from scratch job. 

Herbie Kane is an excellent deep lying playmaker for the level and Aaron Leya Iseka had his moments last term, however with how competitive it is going to be, Barnsley’s floor is lower than their ceiling is high heading into the campaign.

Verdict

The attacking contingent at Oakwell is below par compared to the other clubs eyeing promotion, and given how porous their defence was in 2021/22, it could be another fairly slow and underwhelming campaign, as Duff gradually gets his methods across and kicks off a new era in Yorkshire. Upper mid table and a play-off push would be a very admirable effort from Duff in his first season at the helm.


Squad Assessment & Transfer Business So Far

The Chairboys were comprehensively beaten by Sunderland in the 2021/22 play-off final, but deserve an enormous amount of credit for getting there in the first place. Gareth Ainsworth has consistently helped the club over perform compared to their budget, and keeping him at the club will be the best business that they do all summer. David Stockdale and Anthony Stewart have left Adams Park, significantly denting the experience of their defensive contingent, and reinforcements are needed to replace them and add some depth to the backline. Even though they have been competing towards the top end of League One and in the Championship in recent years, Wycombe’s budget will be in the bottom section of the league, and they may have to wait until later on in the window to strengthen. It is a huge ask for them to make the top six again, but you can guarantee that with Ainsworth at the helm, they will give a good account of themselves. Somewhere between mid table and the play-off mix seems the most likely section of the table, continuing to be incredibly strong from set pieces and on their home patch.

Verdict

A clearer picture will emerge by the end of the window, but closer to mid table does seem likely with Ipswich Town, Bolton Wanderers, and others who did not finish in the top six last term expected to be far stronger this time around. Wycombe cannot be taken lightly and will perform well against the best teams in the division, but without the squad depth to rival others, it is more likely that they fall away into mid-table this season. That said, Ainsworth and the supporter base will be fully believing in another fairy-tale season for the club.


Squad Assessment & Transfer Business So Far

The jury is out on Ben Garner’s credentials as a League One manager, and the former Bristol Rovers boss will be implementing a very different style of play to what Johnnie Jackson was trying to achieve for the majority of last term. Playing out from the back with players of League One standard is a lot easier said than done and it will be a fresh-looking defensive contingent at The Valley. Going forward they have the potential to be devastating with Charlie Kirk, Corey Blackett-Taylor, Scott Fraser and Jack Payne set to be a lot to handle for opposition teams, but keeping them out at the other end could be difficult.

Eoghan O’Connell seems to be a very shrewd signing from Rochdale at centre back, but there is a glaring hole in the squad in the left back position, with right-footed Steven Sessegnon set to begin the campaign in the role. The Addicks finished 13th last season, and were very up and down, not too dissimilar to Portsmouth in their form in the second half of the campaign. There is an abundance of midfielders at the club, which will make room for manoeuvre in the closing exchanges of the transfer window, with just one loan signing added so far, they could try to use Garner’s possession-based style of play to lure some high profile younger players to South London from Premier League clubs.

Verdict

Heading into the campaign the Addicks feel like a team to look to the overs goal markets with, after Garner’s Swindon Town finished sixth in League Two last term, despite being the highest scoring team in the fourth tier. Blackett-Taylor will be one of the trickiest wingers in the league if he stays fit, but in Garner’s first full season it is a huge ask for the team to produce a promotion push, although their ceiling is very high as a group.


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Squad Assessment & Transfer Business So Far

Bristol Rovers hit the headlines with a simply ridiculous finish to the League Two season, snatching third place on goals scored with a 7-0 win over Scunthorpe United. The Gas produced an incredible second half to the season, having been firmly inside the bottom half at the turn of the year, and with that they will carry great momentum into this campaign. 

Joey Barton has managed at the level before, and the job he did at Fleetwood Town has aged very well, having the club competing for a place in the Championship via the play-offs at times. The former midfielder always divides opinion and will receive some hostile receptions from opposition supporters this season, but after the way the club won promotion, the Gas could not care any less and will be backing themselves to return to the third tier with a bang. The squad is deep, compared to the other newly promoted clubs, and the attacking contingent is looking very healthy to take on the challenge. Aaron Collins and Ryan Loft have looked capable of stepping up a division in their last couple of campaigns in League Two, while John Marquis arriving on a free could be one that slips under the radar as one of the most impressive pieces of business in the transfer window.

Verdict

There is a strong case that the Gas are the strongest side coming up from League Two and it will be interesting to see if they can ruffle some feathers with the wealthier clubs in the division from the off. In Antony Evans they have one of the most accomplished attacking midfielders in what is expected to be the bottom half of the third tier, along with a very positive blend of youth and experience in the squad. Relegation should not be too much of a concern.


Squad Assessment & Transfer Business So Far

Out with Michael Appleton who left at the end of last season, and in with Mark Kennedy, on an ambitious four-year contract, for just his second job in senior management. The Imps were very up and down in 2021/22, and finished 17th despite showing their true quality in a number of scalps over sides competing at the top end. The talent is still present in the squad for Lincoln to kick on and compete for a place in the top half this season, and a clearer picture will emerge after monitoring their progress in the first couple of months under Kennedy. Carl Rushworth, Paudie O’Connor and Charles Vernam all appear to be very smart pick-ups, and Anthony Scully is one of the most devastating attacking players in the division on his day. Keeping the West Ham United academy graduate at the club this summer is very impressive business in itself. The depth is very healthy and in the long term they are a club heading in the right direction.

Verdict

Last term there was an understanding that the top of the division was too strong for them to realistically compete towards the top end, after reaching the play-off final in 2020/21, that reasoning probably still applies and I am expecting a small improvement in consistency but otherwise more of the same, with Lincoln being one of the more dangerous bottom half sides in League One. If everything clicks at an early stage, a top half finish will be realistic, but given their stark peaks and troughs in form last term, it is hard to trust them to adapt quickly to Kennedy’s fresh ideas. The individual quality within the squad should ensure that they are well clear of the drop conversation, and instead become a team who show a lot of promise for the coming editions of League One.


Squad Assessment & Transfer Business So Far

At one stage last season, as they were streaking away at the summit of League Two, it looked as if Forest Green could be a force to be reckoned in the third tier this season. However, they stumbled over the line in the end and have lost key personnel in a variety of positions this summer. Rob Edwards probably being the most high profile departure to take on the manager role at Watford, who were only relegated from the Premier League last season, demonstrating just how impressive FGR were in the first half, in particular, of last term. Kane Wilson, Ebou Adams and Nicky Cadden have all departed, the former two to the Championship, leaving a lot to be done on the transfer front this summer. 

Rovers have recruited extremely smartly in recent years and had been knocking on the door for promotion from League Two for some years. Ian Burchnall, most recently of Notts County, does appear to be a very clever appointment, the 39-year-old has never managed above the National League in England, but he has experienced a lot in his coaching career to date, mainly in Scandinavia, it is a very modern choice, which suits FGR down to the ground. Matty Stevens and Jamille Matt should still be very difficult to deal with in League One, and they have bolstered their ranks with the impressive signings of Corey O’Keefe and Reece Brown. Brown was playing in the Championship on loan at Peterborough United last term and has won promotion from the third tier previously in his career.

Verdict

League Two to League One is a smaller jump than League One to the Championship, and with a continuation of the sensible recruitment that has taken them this far, there is no reason why the Green should not be consolidating with some comfort this season.

Team: Forest Green Rovers


Squad Assessment & Transfer Business So Far

Accrington Stanley enjoyed an impressive season under John Coleman yet again last term, finishing 12th in one of the strongest League One fields in living memory. Andy Holt, Coleman and the club’s recruitment team continue to play a huge role in helping the club punch above their weight financially, and they are in a good position to spring some surprises and compete towards mid table once again. 

There could be an understanding that Stanley’s chances of ruffling some feathers towards the top six are very unlikely with the big-hitters in the field this season. Therefore, Accy have been fairly quiet in the transfer market, and in their long term vision, they may be viewing this campaign as another one of consolidation. Key players in the form of Colby Bishop, Ross Sykes and John O’Sullivan have left this summer and in the absence of some note-worthy incomings, it is going to be difficult to improve or equal last season’s finish. With that I am looking for reasons why Stanley should not be in my relegation-threatened section of the table, but given what they have achieved in recent years, the strength of their home form and Coleman’s tactical nous alone, it is hard to justify why they will be embroiled in any kind of relegation battle. Shaun Whalley arrived on a free transfer after leaving Shrewsbury Town, and the 34-year-old wideman typifies the club’s value with his hardworking style.

Verdict

Further reinforcements are needed in the attacking third to provide greater depth, but the loan market will likely facilitate that, and Stanley have been able to bring in some very useful loanees in recent years. Where many other clubs in the league do not, Stanley have a clear identity and style of play, honed over an extended period under Coleman and that should see them compete safely towards mid table.


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Squad Assessment & Transfer Business So Far

Cambridge United enjoyed an outstanding 2021/22 season to finish 14th in League One, without ever having any concerns about their third tier status, in their first campaign since promotion from League Two. Mark Bonner definitely should have been higher up in the agenda for Manager of the Season conversations, but the Amber Army will be pleased that their main man in the dugout continues to fly under the radar. Dimitar Mitov, Sam Smith, Joe Ironside and others, stepped up to League One level with ease as the U’s exceeded the expectations of many to achieve a mid table finish. Jack Iredale departed for Bolton Wanderers, but with the 26-year-old reaching the end of his contract, the club were able to plan ahead in terms of finding a replacement. With Brandon Haunstrup coming in from Kilmarnock to bolster the left back berth. There have not been any key departures, despite an impressive season, which goes to show how well the unit performed as a whole last term. The team is far greater than the sum of its parts, and Bonner will be confident of causing some upsets against the division’s big boys, along with maintaining a strong enough home record at Abbey Stadium to keep them away from the trapdoor.

Verdict

The U’s will receive more respect from opposition sides this time around, which could negatively impact results, but without losing too much from what made them successful last season, they should be able to stay away from any relegation nerves this season. The newly promoted clubs from the fourth tier do seem ready to make the leap, but with clubs losing their managers and experiencing significant rebuilds this summer, the stability in place at Abbey Stadium stands them in good stead. The Amber Army will have to pick their battles, operating one of the more modest squads, player for player, in the division but in their third full season under Bonner it would be a surprise to see them embroiled in a battle for their place in the third tier. With further additions to come the core is strong enough to build on a very promising 2021/22 campaign.


Squad Assessment & Transfer Business So Far

Former Walsall and Bristol Rovers manager Darrell Clarke led Vale to a dramatic promotion via the League Two play-offs last season, where the club were a spot kick away from being knocked out in their semi final victory over Swindon Town. James Gibbons and Jake Taylor have since left the club to strengthen direct rivals in the form of the Gas and Morecambe, and incoming signings have been very slow so far this summer. 

That said, Vale were amongst the elite in League Two last season, and if it was not for a major injury crisis, and losing Clarke to an extended period of compassionate leave during the season, there is a good chance that they would have sealed automatic promotion. The likes of Tom Conlon, James Wilson, Ben Garrity, David Worrall, Connor Hall and Nathan Smith are more than ready to look the part in the third tier, it is a case of whether their supporting cast is strong enough over 46 games. Attacking reinforcements are definitely required with Wilson and Jamie Proctor currently the only options up front, and the loan market could be a very important avenue for them to prioritise in the coming weeks.

Verdict

Potentially some recency bias creeps in, but there is an enormous sense of unity and optimism at the club at the moment, and with a few more shrewd additions they have the quality, and definitely defensive solidity, to make the step up comfortably.


Squad Assessment & Transfer Business So Far

Michael Duff has left Cheltenham Town in the lurch a little this summer, after being the main man at Whaddon Road for well over three seasons. The Robins never looked in danger of being sucked into a relegation battle last term and appeared to be prepared to lose Duff at some stage. Wade Elliott will step up to the manager’s role after being involved in a coaching capacity last season. 

The former Birmingham City midfielder will take on the reins for the first time as a manager in senior football, however, spending some time to get to know his surroundings at the squad in place at Cheltenham should stand him in good stead for a smooth transition. There are parallels to be drawn with the Lowe to Schumacher changeover at Plymouth, and the Duff to Elliott change at Cheltenham, with another season of consolidation definitely representing success in 2022/23. Alfie May was one of the best strikers in the league last term with 23 goals and should be a force to be reckoned with once again, if the Robins can keep hold of him for the remainder of the transfer window.

Verdict

There is a nice blend of youth and experience in the squad, and some strong leaders who have been at the club for some years now, giving Cheltenham an advantage on the majority of the newly promoted clubs and a chance to carry on their upward momentum. The Robins posted a very respectable total of 56 points last season, and they could have dealt with more ups and downs this time around, but at the moment they seem fairly well-prepared to continue establishing themselves in League One.


Squad Assessment & Transfer Business So Far

Shrewsbury Town have been amongst the strongest defensive teams in the division in recent seasons and 2021/22 was no different. Steve Cotterill’s men did flirt with the relegation conversation at times, but had the minerals to pull themselves away from any danger before any real concerns emerged about their third tier status. 

The additions of Chey Dunkley, at centre back, and Tom Bayliss in midfield should make them an even harder nut to crack this term, so expect similar trends to last season with the Shrews one of the more solid teams in the bottom half. Being so solid at the back, provides a platform for the Shrews to crack the top half if they can improve their effectiveness in the attacking third. The signings of Jordan Shipley and Aiden O’Brien, to complement the front two of Daniel Udoh and Ryan Bowman gives them a chance of achieving this, and if squad depth, particularly in midfield, can be addressed, they should not have too many worries about staying in the league.

Verdict

Some are tipping the Shrews as dark horses in the third tier, and they are the most fancied team outside of the top half with the bookies, but they still have a way to go in their squad building. Shrewsbury’s record at New Meadow has been key to their success in the last couple of seasons, and that will likely be the case again, typically setting up to contain opposition even more on their travels. 

It is a league of two halves, and it is going to be difficult for Shrewsbury to bridge that gap when their second string is as weak as it is at the time of writing, a significant injury crisis could result in them being fairly toothless in the final third. I have a lot of confidence in their defensive resolve, but need to see a lot more before ruling out any kind of relegation battle, time will tell if they have stepped things up a gear with their new additions.


Squad Assessment & Transfer Business So Far

At the time of writing, Exeter City are yet to complete a summer signing, which is a very worrying state of affairs. Matt Taylor has spoken out about how it has been difficult for the club to attract players, due to their fairly unique geographic location, and therefore they will be relying on players who served them well in League Two last season to step up to the third tier. The Grecians have been able to deal with recruitment stumbling blocks in recent years and have supplement the first team squad very well with aspiring younger players, such that they will be tested in a way they never have been before this season. 

Taylor is heading into his fifth full season in the dugout at St James Park and will have complete buy-in from the players through thick and thin, which could count for a lot in coming up against teams who have experienced a lot of change in the summer window. All four newly promoted teams stayed up in the third tier last term, with Morecambe, Bolton, Cheltenham Town and Cambridge United all stabilising, the latter two leading the way for clubs who had been in the fourth tier for a long while. Matt Jay, Archie Collins, Timothee Dieng and a handful of others jump off of the squad list as players ready to assert themselves at League One level, but there are serious shortcomings in other areas and squad depth remains an issue. 

Verdict

The Grecians had been battling hard for a decade in the fourth tier, with many near misses at promotion, but if they do not get their act together in the closing exchanges of the transfer window, it could be a very brief stay in League One. Taylor is an exciting young manager, but he needs the tools to make a good go at staying up, at this stage it looks to be an uphill task.


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Squad Assessment & Transfer Business So Far

Jimmy-Floyd Hasselbaink has done an excellent job at Burton in the last two seasons, saving the club from what seemed like destined relegation in 2020/21 and having them comfortable in mid-table for the majority of last term. 

That said, many supporters would not have been too down if the Dutchman left for Barnsley this summer, after talks took place between Hasselbaink and the Tykes. Keeping Joe Powell at the club is a huge positive, but the way that the Brewers play, there is likely to be a ceiling on how high they can finish in the table. Davis Keillor-Dunn looks like a great signing, after the 24-year-old caught the eye in a very poor Oldham Athletic side last season. Depending on how the newly promoted sides in the division perform, the Brewers could be sucked into a relegation battle, after slowing down at the back end of last season rather concerningly.

Verdict

The Brewers are set up very well defensively, and will take points off of teams towards the top end as a result, but being so cautious in the attacking third, under Hasselbaink, could make it difficult for them to put together extended positive runs. It feels like Hasselbaink’s head could also be turned, with players in the squad well aware that he explored the possibility of an exit this summer. The Brewers won just two of 14 to end the campaign and their summer business does not fill me with confidence that they are going to be able to improve on that form significantly, with the strength of League One potentially going up a notch once again.


Squad Assessment & Transfer Business So Far

Morecambe stayed up in their first ever season in the third tier last term, with a very modest total of 42 points. Derek Adams returned to the club and hauled them away from relegation, while teams around them failed to pick up points. The Shrimps won just three of their last 19 games in the division, and even though it is likely that clubs will survive with low points totals this season as well, the Shrimps being amongst the favourites for relegation is justified. It is a surprise that Cole Stockton is still at the club heading into the new season, with the 28-year-old having one of the standout campaigns in the EFL last term, scoring 23 league goals which included some truly unbelievable strikes. 

Farrend Rawson is a smart pick-up after the 26-year-old left Mansfield Town, and the Shrimps are set to be a very defensive side. They cannot rely on Stockton to score as many, and Adam Phillips returning to his parent club, Burnley, will be a blow. Again, depending on how the newly relegated clubs acclimatise to the third tier, another relegation scrap is definitely on the cards for the Shrimps. Adams has a reputation for being a good fire-fighter, and he does set up sides extremely well out of possession, but their goals for column could be so lacking that regardless of a solid rearguard, the brutal bottom four places may be their destiny.

Verdict

It will be easier to draw conclusions about the Shrimps’ prospects after the window has ended, with loan signings set to be key, but at this stage it is hard to make a case for them staying up, with Stockton’s 2021/22 campaign mainly being a one-off by law of averages. There is a clear divide between the top and bottom half financially, and the outright prices reflect that, it will be tough for Morecambe to defy the odds for a second season running.


Squad Assessment & Transfer Business So Far

Fleetwood Town endured a terrible second half to last season and stayed up on goal difference, after managing just 40 points. The Cod Army won just one of their last 21 league games, and it was against Crewe Alexandra who finished rock bottom, putting in an extended run of worrying performances under Stephen Crainey. Crainey has returned to his role as the club’s U23 manager since and former Celtic hardman Scott Brown has arrived at Highbury Stadium for his first managerial role. The 37-year-old has been given some money to spend, had outstanding leadership qualities as a player, but that said, it definitely feels like he will be in the midst of a relegation battle pretty quickly. 

Callum Morton and Brendan Wiredu stand out as very exciting signings this summer, particularly the former, with the livewire forward showing his class in glimpses across an injury-hit last few seasons away from West Bromwich Albion on loan. Now away from The Hawthorns on a permanent basis, the 22-year-old will be tasked with scoring the goals to maintain the club’s League One status. Callum Camps and Jordan Rossiter will be missed in midfield areas, and it will be interesting to see the ideas that Brown is looking to implement.

Verdict

In the majority of seasons, a run of one win in 21 will relegate a club, and there were no signs in performances that things were going to turn at Fleetwood, this is going to be a baptism of fire for Brown in the EFL. The Cod Army did bring through a handful of promising youth players last season, and they may have to rely on them even more so this term, if they can fill in effectively for Brown the fixture schedule should be manageable, with a fairly deep squad compared to the other clubs expected to be down the bottom, but if the old habits creep back in, there will only be one outcome.


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