The League One promotion race was the most exciting of all the promotion races across the three Football League divisions. With the picture constantly changing at the top, a last minute goal sealing the title for Doncaster and preventing Brentford’s promotion seemed symbolic of just how small the margins were between the top six clubs.
With big teams coming down from the Championship and the sides at the top of League One last season strengthening, it promises to be another entertaining battle for promotion. Survival will also be hotly sought after, with clubs at the bottom looking stronger than ever and picking four sides for the drop almost impossible.
All information correct as of 27/07/2013.
Since the Bantams’ relegation from the Premier League in 2000/01, there hasn’t been much to celebrate for fans of the Yorkshire club. Administration, two further relegations and five sorry years in League Two, including two consecutive 18th placed finishes, before last season paints a rather gruesome picture of Bradford’s recent history.
That all changed in the season just gone; a season Bradford fans will never forget. First of all, an incredible League Cup run that saw them beat three Premier League sides, Wigan, Arsenal and Aston Villa on their way to Wembley, where they were outclassed by a rampant Swansea who won 5-0. That looked like it couldn’t be topped, especially after a drop in form around the time of the final defeat left the Bantams clinging on for dear life in the play-off race, but it was. Another trip to Wembley, this time for the play-off final, saw Phil Parkinson’s men hit three past a hapless Northampton Town without reply to begin what every Bradford will hope is the start of a journey back up the Football League.
It would appear Parkinson is confident the squad that achieved so much in the last campaign can replicate that form in a higher division as sales and signings have been at a minimum. Zavon Hines, whose career has taken backward step after backward step following early promise at West Ham, and Will Atkinson, a first team regular, and heroic penalty saving goalkeeper Matt Duke are the only major departures from the club. The experienced Irish winger Mark Yeates comes in to fill the void left by Atkinson, whilst Jason Kennedy, a central figure in Rochdale’s midfield over the past four years, comes in to link up with his old team mate, Gary Jones.
The likes of Stephen Darby, Gary Thompson and Nahki Wells will be vital if Bradford are going to be a force in League One this season. Even with such a well-drilled unit supported by a number of very talented players, the Bantams are likely to face a season where consolidation is the key objective. 15th
Drawing 0-0 with Doncaster Rovers heading into the final seconds of the season, Brentford were handed a promotion lifeline. Needing a win to leapfrog their opponents into an automatic promotion position, Toumani Diagouraga was hauled down during a goal mouth scramble and the referee pointed to the spot. Young Fulham loanee Marcello Trotta, much to surprise of everyone inside Griffin Park, stepped up to take the kick ahead of regular penalty taker Kevin O’Connor. The effort crashed back off the underside of the bar, the preceding goal mouth scramble failed to turn the ball towards the Doncaster goal and the away side broke away. Paynter to Coppinger; Coppinger beyond a stranded Moore. Doncaster were champions; Brentford were heart broken.
But the Bees regrouped for the play-offs; a second chance at promotion glory. The irony of O’Connor scoring an injury time penalty to equalise against Swindon in the semi-final first leg wasn’t lost on anyone, but it put Brentford in a fantastic position going into the second leg. Brentford were ahead by two goals at two different stages during the game, but contrived to concede a 95th minute equaliser from Aiden Flint. Extra time couldn’t split the sides, so both sides faced a daunting penalty shoot-out. Brentford edged through five penalties to four; was their luck changing?
Not quite. The Bees were 2-0 down to Yeovil in the play-off final at half time and, despite a spirited comeback that saw Harlee Dean pull one back, just didn’t have enough gas left in the tank to perform a minor miracle. It was Heartbreak all over again for the fans and Uwe Rosler’s men; Heartbreak that Rosler will hope to turn into determination for the coming season.
Rolser himself has acted throughout the summer in a determined manner, securing the signatures of some highly rated players. Czech international winger Martin Fillo comes in to replace Harry Forrester, who has left for, of all teams, Doncaster. With Forrester the only meaningful departure, the rest of the summer’s signing and both quality and strength in depth to the promotion chasing side. Javi Venta, a 37-year-old Spanish defender most recently at Villarreal, bolsters the defence alongside former Swindon captain Alan McCormack, who can also play in midfield, and the permanent signing of Jake Bidwell from Everton. Talented young midfielder George Saville joins on loan from Chelsea whilst Will Grigg has been snapped up from Walsall after scoring 19 times last season. A lifeline has also been offered to 19-year-old keeper Jack Bonham after his release from Watford following his unfortunate howler against Leeds when called upon in the final game of the campaign just gone.
With the likes of Sam Saunders, Clayton Donaldson and, after agreeing a new deal, Dean still at the club, this Brentford side has all the makings of one that will make the 2012/13 season a distant memory. 2nd
After six campaigns in the Championship, Bristol City will contest a season in League One for the first time in seven years. The Robins failed to emulate the success of their first Championship season, in which they were losing play-off finalists, and could only muster mid-table mediocrity in the following three seasons. Unable to compete in a division full of sides that looked down on City as one of the smaller clubs, relegation at the end of last season came after narrowly avoiding the drop in 2011/12. The Ashton Gate faithful will now be expecting nothing less than a challenge for promotion back to the second tier of English football.
For manager Sean O’Driscoll, appointed in January after Derek McInnes’ sacking, it’s been a tough start to life in the City hot seat. After failing to drag the club away from the foot of the Championship table, this summer has seen him have to contend with several key players leaving the club. Cole Skuse, who had been at the club for nine years and racked up almost 280 league games, fans favourite Jon Stead, and player of the year Tom Heaton stand out as the highest profile departures.
However, O’Driscoll has evoked a positive feeling towards the new season with some excellent additions to the previously depleted squad. Frank Fielding, a ‘keeper who was on England’s radar not too long ago, joins from Derby, whilst Aiden Flint, part of a Swindon side that reached the play-offs last term, and Derrick Williams, an Irish U21 international snapped up from Aston Villa, bulk up the defensive options. A swap deal that saw Paul Anderson depart for Ipswich and Jay Emmanuel-Thomas arrive has pleased both parties with City’s new signing looking to revitalise his career after a disappointing few seasons, whilst the talented winger Scott Wagstaff joins from Charlton. Youngster Jordan Wynter also joins, on a free from Arsenal.
With tricky winger Albert Adomah handing in a transfer request and striker Steven Davies subject to a bid from Blackpool, more rebuilding may need to be done, especially if Davies ops to join the Tangerines, which would leave options upfront at a minimum. However, with relatively large transfer fees expected to be paid for both players, O’Driscoll would have the resources to recover from the significant sales.
In addition to exciting youngsters, such as Bobby Reid, the likes of Sam Baldock and Greg Cunningham provide proving quality in a City squad that would appear to be one of the strongest in the division despite the major losses to the playing staff. I expect the Robins to be right up there come May. 5th
The Cumbrians are one of those sides that you could so easily forget exist; not a lot seems to happen at Brunton Park. One play-off appearance and a Football League Trophy win aside, Carlisle have spent their time yo-yoing between the higher and lower ends of League One without much drama, only once coming under any serious threat from relegation. It’s the sort of stress free mediocrity that fans of some clubs would do anything for.
But for United, they want a little bit more than just settling on what they already hold. A 17th placed finish last time out was seen as a huge disappointment following the 8th place of 2011/12. However, it’s difficult for the Cumbrians to compete. Isolated in the absolute north, a small core of fans and without the finances to hold on to their best strengthen, pushing for promotion is never going to be easy.
They’ll take inspiration from Yeovil Town, a similarly sized club who achieved promotion through the play-offs last season; it can be done.
But a number of significant departures will dent any hopes of climbing the table. Long standing players Peter Murphy, Frank Simek and Jon-Paul McGovern are amongst those released, as is the talented Rory Loy, who had his playing time restricted in his spell with the club due to injury. Adam Colin, who once played 146 consecutive games for the club, has also departed after growing frustrated with manager Greg Abbott’s policy of ‘keeper rotation.
David Amoo, a former Liverpool trainee, comes into the club after leaving Tranmere, whilst Reece James joins on loan from Manchester United. Journeyman striker Lewis Guy also comes in after a successful trial.
However, the trio of signings do very little in terms of strengthening a somewhat weak squad. Only the goals of Lee Miller give the side any real quality. The Cumbrians will do well to keep their necks above water. 21st
The Us suffered their lowest finish for 15 seasons last time out, ending the campaign just three points above the relegation zone in 20th. After four seasons on the outskirts of the play-offs following their relegation from the Championship in 2007/08, Colchester will view last season as a major disappointment.
Manager Joe Dunne, who replaced John Ward in September 2012, considered resigning from his role in January, but stayed on and will be looking to have a positive impact on the club in his first full season in charge.
John-Joe O’Toole, whose career has plummeted after early signs of potential at Watford, and long standing defender John White are the only major departures as Dunne looks to shape a squad that will be able to avoid the struggles of last season. Craig Eastmond and Sanchez Watt join permanently from Arsenal after successful loan spells, whilst defender Daniel Pappoe and goalkeeper Sam Walker come in on loan from Chelsea.
Whilst the days of Antony Wordsworth and Steven Gillespie putting Colchester into play-off contention are a thing of the past, the squad still contains highly talented League One stars, such as Mangus Okuonghae, Kemal Izzet and Marcus Bean. Young strikers Freddie Sears and Gavin Massey will be trusted to get the goals for the Us that will lead them to comfortable mid-table finish and prove last season was just a blip. 17th
No club has had a tougher summer than Coventry City. Whilst other crisis clubs, such as Portsmouth and Bury, have begun to rebuild, the Sky Blues remain in administration and have been forced to play their homes games 35 miles away at Northampton’s Sixfields after an agreement couldn’t be reached with the owners of the Ricoh Arena, that despite the stadium owners offering Coventry the opportunity to use the stadium without paying rent.
The crisis has deepened into on the field matters with a transfer embargo preventing manager Steven Pressley from bringing players in, leaving the first team squad down to its barebones after a number of departures. Defensive trio Nathan Cameron, Jordan Stewart and Richard Wood have all left the club, along with midfielder David Bell and forward pair Stephen Elliott and Cody McDonald.
The Sky Blues will be looking to avoid relegation at all costs, and with players such as John Fleck, Leon Clarke and Gary McSheffrey retained by the club, that should be an achievable goal. But the more pressing matter is the future of the club and where it will call home. With Coventry fans distraught that their club has been taken from their city, off the pitch events will no doubt dominate the coming season. 19th
Just four seasons ago, Crawley finished 12 points off a Conference play-off place. Last season, after two promotions in as many years, the Red went under the radar in a frantic League One season to sneak into 10th place. Whilst the fans might have been hoping for a ‘Football Manager’ style trio of successive promotions, a top half finish in Crawley’s first season in England’s third tier was an incredible achievement.
Richie Barker, appointed as manager last summer after Sean O’Driscoll left the club without taking charge of a single game, will be looking to build upon last season’s relative success and push on in search of a play-off position.
The signings of the experienced utility man Andy Drury and former England U20 international defender James Hurst are signings that move the club in the right direction. However, after a number of players on short-term deals left the club, along with David Hunt, Matt Sparrow and Shaun Cooper, Crawley’s squad lacks the strength in depth for a sustained promotion push.
Barker will be hoping he can bring a few more fresh faces to supplement the likes of Kyle McFazdean, Sergio Torres and Jamie Proctor before the season kicks off. 11th
After taking over from Mr Crewe Alexandra, Dario Gradi, in November 2011, manager Steve Davis has worked wonders for the Railwaymen. With the club languishing in the bottom half of League Two at the time of his appointment, Davis quickly developed a style of passing football that saw Crewe claim the final play-off spot come May, followed by a win at Wembley to gain promotion to League One for last season. A solid 13th placed finish and a Football League Trophy victory adds another feather in the cap of Davis, whose reputation continues to grow with the success of his Crew side.
One reputation that doesn’t need any growth is that of Crewe’s famed academy, with Gradi still at the club helping to continue the talent production line. After Nick Powell’s transfer to Manchester United last summer, Luke Murphy has joined Leeds in this one for a seven figure sum. Although Murphy is a huge loss to Crewe, the likes of AJ Leitch-Smith, Max Clayton and Harry Davis maintain the club’s tradition of developing from within, with the trio amongst an XI of academy graduates that took to the field in Crewe’s final game of last season against Walsall.
In addition to the exciting home-grown talent, Crewe have made some impressive summer signings in the shape of midfielder Anthony Grant from Stevenage, defender Lee Molyneux from Accrington and former France U19 international Thierry Audel snapped up from Macclesfield. Don’t be surprised if the Railwaymen compete for at least a play-off position this season. 10th
It was a case of third time lucky for the Gills last season after finally gaining promotion to League One following finishing one position outside of the play-off places for two consecutive seasons. Martin Allen’s side bypassed the play-offs altogether and romped to the league title with 83 points.
With third tier football returning to the Priestfield Stadium for the first time since 2009/10, Allen will be looking to consolidate Gillingham’s position in the division after the previous two campaigns in League One ended in relegation.
A summer clear-out in preparation for League One has seen Deon Burton, Andy Frampton and Lewis Montrose return to League Two, whilst Jack Payne joins Peterborough permanently after a successful loan spell. Midfielder Amine Linganzi joins from Accrington, whilst striking trio Cody McDonald, who has enjoyed two prolific loan spells with the club, Antonio German, another successfully loanee, and Adebayo Akinfenwa, in his second spell at the club, give the Gills plenty of options up top.
With the likes of Leon Legge, Chris Whelpdale and Myles Weston at the club already, the Gills have all the ingredients to comfortably survive in League One. 18th
After finishing one place above the relegation zone in 2011/12, the O’s sprung a surprise by ending the 2012/13 season one position below the play-off places; a feat they matched in 2010/11. The seemingly unpredictable nature of Russell Slade’s side means they could equally be fighting for survival or battling for a play-off spot come the end of the season.
Whilst eccentric chairman Barry Hearn may not be, Slade is a realist and will know a solid mid-table league position for a club the size of Leyton Orient is a relatively successful season. The loss of nine players over the summer, including Martin Rowlands, Leon McSweeney and Charlie MacDonald, makes a top six finish almost impossible, with only three transfers in.
Shaun Batt, who linked up with the club following communication with Hearn via Twitter, joins from Millwall, young goalkeeper Jake Larkins has been snapped up from West Ham, whilst former French U20 midfielder Yohann Lasimant joins after a successful trial.
Whilst Scott Cuthbert, Dean Cox and Kevin Lisbie give the O’s quality in several departments, the squad lacks consistent talent throughout. Orient may well find this season a little tougher than last. 16th
MILTON KEYNES DONS
It’s the same story every season for the Dons. They’re tipped to go up, win the league by some, but end the season in humiliation and disappointment. Karl Robinson’s side had gotten used to play-off failure, with three semi-final defeats in four seasons prior to last, but a poor run or results in the second half of the season meant they spent time in the bottom half of the table and could only muster an 8th placed finish with a respectable finish to the campaign.
Once again, Karl Robinson will be expecting to lead his side to promotion. But with the quality of the division improving massively on last season, it’ll be another tough test for the Dons to finally step foot into the Championship.
But Robinson has kept most of his squad intact, losing just four players over the summer. However, an unsettled Ryan Lowe’s move to Tranmere apart, the Dons have lost key players. In Mathias Doumbe and Gary Mackenzie, Milton Keynes lose their strongest centre back paring, whilst the talented Adam Chicksen has been given the chance to impress in the Championship with Brighton.
However, Robinson has bought well in the transfer market. Lee Hodson joins from Watford to replace Chicksen, whilst Jason Banton, who joins on loan from Crystal Palace and Ben Reeves, a permanent capture from Southampton, are two exciting attack minded midfielders. Patrick Bamford also joins on loan from Chelsea following success in a similar deal last season.
The Dons will need to find some centre backs to fill the void left by Mackenzie and Doumbe, but the team looks strong in all other departments. With experienced pros, like Luke Chadwick, Izale McLeod and Darren Potter, supported by a crop of young players coming through the ranks, such as England U17 international Dele Alli, the Dons yet again have the potential to be there or thereabouts come the end of the season. 8th
Not so long ago, County were fighting League Two relegation battles. They were also fighting for their future after gaining promotion to League One after their mega rich Middle Eastern owners, who attracted the likes of Sven-Goran Eriksson, Hans Backe and Sol Campbell to the club, left the club in a state of turmoil.
But those days are a distant memory for Notts County fans as their club has stabilised and become a consistent figure in the battle for a League One play-off position. After finishing 7th in 2011/12, the 12th placed finished of last season was seen as a major disappointment by all concerned with the club, and manager Chris Kiwomya will be looking to put the Magpies back into the play-off picture in his first full season in charge.
However, the loss of some key names meant the summer got off to a bad start. Talismanic midfield figures Jeff Hughes, Neal Bishop and Alan Judge have been central to County’s success over the last few seasons and will be difficult to replace. Kiwomya has turned to David Bell, who joins form Coventry, Mark Fotheringham, who has been snapped up after a successful trial and Andy Howarth, formerly of Rochdale to fill the void left the trio. Three very talented players, but it’s hard to argue for them being as good as those who have departed.
The stand out arrivals come in the shape of right back Mustapha Dumbuya, who impressed whilst at Portsmouth and Crawley last season, and Danny Haynes, a high quality Championship player when his body isn’t letting him down. Haynes especially is a huge signing; if he can keep himself fit, he may well be signing of the summer in the division.
With regulars such as Alan Sheehan, Fracois Zoko and Jamal Campbell-Ryce still at the club, there is a degree of quality within the County squad. I expect them to be knocking on the door of the play-offs once again. 9th
I might have been a little harsh on Carlisle earlier; Oldham take the award for side you could most easily forget exists. The Latics are entering their 10th season in League One; currently the longest amount of time spent in one division by any of the 72 Football League Clubs. Boring.
However, that stat was so close to being lost last season. Oldham were in the relegation zone when Lee Johnson took over midway through March with 10 games left. But Johnson’s appointment sparked an upturn in form that saw the Latics pick up 15 points, including three against Johnson’s father’s Yeovil, during their run in and end the season in 19th, three points above the final relegation spot. Stattos everywhere breathed a heavy sigh of relief.
After his impressive start to life in the dugout, Johnson will now be looking to show his success wasn’t just beginner’s luck and push Oldham up the table. Johnson has had to learn quickly that managing a club like Oldham isn’t easy; key players Dean Furman, Lee Croft and Jean-Yves M’voto have all left the club, whilst Matt Smith, star of the uncharacteristically exciting FA Cup run that saw the side beat Liverpool and earn a reply with Everton, has also departed.
With 12 players leaving Boundary Park in total over the summer, Johnson has added eight names to his squad to help plug the gap. Goalkeeper Mark Oxley joins on loan from Hull, helping to lessen the damage left by Alex Cisak joining Burnley and Dean Bouzanis heading to Greece. Midfielder Korey Smith joins permanently from Norwich after impressing in a loan spell last season and winger James Dayton moves down from Johnson’s former club, Kilmarnock. Youngsters Jonson Clarke-Harris and Anton Rodgers join from Peterborough and Brighton respectively, whilst Johnson has been quick to exploit his dad’s contacts signing unknown Latvian Edijs Joksts and Dutchman Sidney Schmeltz.
A 46 game season will undoubtedly be tougher than a ten game spell for Johnson, but he’s bought well to support a squad that contains Jose Baxter, James Wesolowski and Jonathan Grounds. Even so, it’s going to be another struggle for the Latics. 22nd
It took Peterborough eight games to pick up any points last season. By the 45th, they had 54 and were outside of the relegation zone on goal difference. With two minutes left of the season, Posh were safe; with one minute left of the season, Posh were down. An 89th minute winner from Crystal Palace’s Mile Jedinak condemned Peterborough to League One. That they have every right to feel a sense of injustice shows what a remarkable fight the club put in to survive.
Darren Ferguson, in charge of a squad that caused problems for the bigger sides at times in the Championship, will have the duty of raising heads and getting Posh to play with the confidence and ability that saw them almost stay up when all looked lost just two months into the season.
The goals of Dwight Gayle were a significant factor in Posh’s upturn in form, with his 13 in 29 games an excellent record for a youngster snapped up in hope from Dagenham and Redbridge. His big money move, believed to be in the region of £6,000,000, will help to stabilise the club financially, but there’s no doubt he’ll be a big miss, along with Mark Little, who failed to agree a new contract.
But, although only Jack Payne, who spent the bulk of last season on loan at London Road, has joined the club, Posh can boast a high quality League One side with their squad largely still intact. The likes of Gabriel Zakuani, Michael Bostwick and Lee Tomlin are a class above League One.
With chairman Darragh MacAnthony promising signings to come for the Posh, there squad may be about to get stronger. There’s no reason why they can’t compete for an immediate return to England’s second tier. 3rd
After several mediocre seasons in League Two, including a spell in administration in 2011/12, Micky Adams’ side went against pre-season predictions and achieved promotion in a style that can be deemed anything but mediocre. Despite finishing 3rd, the Vale played some of the best football in the division, with only occasional drops in form, including a stutter as the finish line neared, preventing them from challenging successfully for the title.
Vale’s first season in League One for six years will be all about survival, with Adams strengthening his squad accordingly. A summer clear out of the League Two dead wood has paved the way for defenders Anthony Griffith, in his third spell with the club, Chris Robertson and former Stoke left back Carl Dickinson to join. With the back four bolstered and Chris Lines joining to dictate play in the centre of midfield, the additions of winger Kaid Mohammed and striker Gavin Tomlin add extra attacking options to a side that scored 87 goals last season.
31 of those goals came via Tom Pope, and keeping him at the club will be crucial for their survival bid, whilst Lee Hughes guarantees further finishes. Richard Duffy and Daniel Jones add to the strength in depth in defence, whilst skipper Doug Loft will look to partner lines in midfield.
There’s certainly some quality within the Vale squad, who are led by a manager who knows his way around the Football League, but will it be enough? Frailties were exposed during poor runs of form at times last season; it’ll surprise me if it is enough. 23rd
PRESTON NORTH END
What on earth are one of England’s traditional great clubs doing in the lower half of the third tier for the second consecutive season? The truth is, for a number of different reason, Preston simply haven’t been good enough over the past four seasons. The main contributing factor to last season’s failure was manager Graham Westley; who left the club midway through the season to the delight of players and fans alike. With Simon Grayson about to face his first full season in charge of the club, the former Blackpool, Leeds and Huddersfield Town manager will be looking for his fourth promotion to the Championship.
Grayson clearly has faith in the squad from last season as only four players, including Ben Davies who joins York on loan have departed. The likes of Scott Laird, Bailey Wright and Jeffrey Monakana are all excellent players in this division. But Grayson has also strengthened well, bringing in exciting young goalkeeper Declan Rudd on loan from Nowich, defender Tom Clarke from Huddersfield and Jamaican winger Chris Humphrey from Motherwell.
That leaves on standout name as Preston’s biggest signing of the summer. In fact, he rivals Danny Haynes as capture of the transfer window in League One. After 74 goals in 351 games for Bolton, along with one England cap, Kevin Davies has joined North End on a free transfer. The 36-year-old was a forgotten figure at the Reebok last season, and the experienced target man will be looking to end his career in style. One thing’s for sure; he won’t give League One defences a moment’s rest.
A club whose status suggests they should be playing at a higher level and one that has the resources to challenge for promotion; this season won’t be anywhere near as disappointing as the last two in League One for Preston fans. 6th
The Millers had always been there or thereabouts when it came to League Two promotion, but fallen at the final hurdle or had an end of season shocker that saw them finish way off the play-offs. Thankfully, moving to their New York Stadium put years of disappointment, administration and horrible viewing from the Don Valley Arena behind them as they finished second and finally gained promotion to League One.
The charismatic figure of Steve Evans will no doubt have another promotion in his sights, but a season of consolidation would be an excellent achievement for Rotherham. Evans has moved quickly to strengthen his squad and make it worthy of its place in England’s third tier. Out go Nicky Hunt, John Mullins, Ian Sharps and Dale Tonge, who all return to League Two, clearing space for seven summer arrivals. Dependable keeper Adam Colin joins from Carlisle to challenge Scott Shearer for the number one jersey, whilst Richard Brindley and Joe Skarz strengthen the defence. A trio of midfield signings, Robert Milson, Michael Tidser and David Worrall, along with forward Danny Hylton, make for a successful summer in the transfer market.
In Kari Arnason, Claude Davis and Alex Revell, the Millers have a reasonable amount of quality in their side, whilst Steve Evans would sooner die than oversee a side to relegation. They’ll have enough to survive, but it won’t be easy. 20th
What do Nottingham Forest, Leeds United and Charlton Athletic have in common? They’re all massive clubs who took three seasons to escape from League One. After a second play-off failure in a row, Sheffield United will be looking to follow in their footsteps. New manager David Weir has been given the task of finding the extra spark that will finally see the Blades promoted back to the Championship.
The summer departures have been few and far between, Barry Robson, Dave Kitson and Richard Cresswell the three first team players to leave, with Weir building upon a strong base that contains the likes of Harry Maguire, Ryan Flynn and Jamie Murphy. Young defenders Jasper Johns and Sean McGinty have a point to prove after being snapped on free after failing at Everton and Manchester United respectively, whilst Conor Coady is an exceptional loan signing from Liverpool. The midfield is strengthened by the signing of Stephen McGinn, who will looking to provide assists for forward pair Febian Brandy and Lyle Taylor, two signings that give the Blades an unbelievable wealth of talent up top.
It remains to be seen if Weir’s leadership skills on the pitch can be utilised in his managerial career, but there’s no reason why he can’t be a strong motivational influence on a squad that includes young prospects such as Joe Ironside, George Long and Callum McFadzean.
The squad is there. If Weir is a success, Sheffield United will challenge once again, this time without failure. 1st
After three play-off failures in five seasons, Shrewsbury finally made it out of the fourth tier two seasons ago with a second place finish. In their first season in the third tier since 1996/97, the Shrews pulled off a respectable 16th place finish; a fantastic achievement for a club of Shrewsbury’s size to avoid relegation back to League Two. The club will once again be looking to survive In League One.
Losing Mark Wright, Marvin Morgan and Matt Richards will be a blow to manager Graham Turner, but the Shrewsbury icon has made some excellent additions to his squad. The highly rated defender James Tavernier, who has enjoyed a number of successful loan deals at League One clubs, joins on loan from Newcastle, whilst Birmingham striker Akwasi Asante also comes in on loan after spending a brief period at the New Meadow last season. The experienced defender-cum-midfielder Tamika Mkandawire signs on a free after being released by Millwall, whilst, at the other end of the spectrum, youngsters John Mardsen and Alex McQuabe join from Celtic and Bolton respectively.
The acquisitions are added to a side that already contains the likes of Paul Parry, Aaron Wildig and Luke Summerfield. Even so, their squad is weak, lacking in both quality and depth. They defied the odds to stay up last season, but it might not so straightforward this time around. 24th
In a play-off place midway through December, Stevenage’s promotion push capitulated with a dire run of form in the second half of the season leaving them in 18th. The form saw the dismissal of Gary Smith, who pushed the Boro into the play-offs in the season prior to last, and the return of former manager Graham Westley, who led them to two promotions in as many seasons to get the club into League One. Westley, who came under heavy criticism during his time at Preston, will be looking to galvanise his squad and push Stevenage back up the table.
However, Stevenage will have to regroup without talismanic figure Mark Roberts, with the defender leaving for Fleetwood. The departure of Anthony Grant will also be a bitter pill to swallow, whilst defenders Bondz N’Gala, Miguel Comminges and Andy Iro have all been released.
But Westley has utilised the transfer market well and snapped up some exciting additions to the Boro squad. Defender Luke Jones joins after impressing in the Conference for Mansfield, whilst midfielder Sam Wegbury, who gained attention whilst also playing non-league football for Macclesfield, comes in. The midfield also strengthened by the signings of Jimmy Smith, who leaves Leyton Orient after over 150 appearances, and Simon Heslpo, a steady performer for Oxford in previous seasons. Striker Oumare Tounkara will bolster an attacking force that only managed to score 47 goals in 46 games last season.
Stevenage were always overachieving in battling for the play-offs, even more so last season with the likes of Lawrie Wilson and Michael Bostwick moving on. In fact, remaining in League One for two seasons without any real fear of relegation is really quite something for a side that played their first Football League game in 2010. The squad has some talented players, with Luke Freeman, Filipe Morais and James Dunne the stand outs, but it remains to be seen what sort of impact Westley will have in his first full season back in charge. I think it’ll be a positive one. 13th
Bit of a quiet one at the County Ground last season. Just a manager walking out, financial instability, a transfer embargo, a prolonged takeover, failing to gain automatic promotion after being in a strong position to do so and a play-off semi-final defeat. Swindon’s summer has been fairly low key too, sacking a manager, signing six players on loan from one club in addition to four other players and seeing nine players leave.
Jokes aside, it does seem that Swindon are a magnet to drama. Sacking manager Kevin MacDonald and, at the time of writing, not replacing him leaves the club in a state of instability going into the new season. Whilst every other manager will have spent the summer preparing for the season and building the team he desires, the new man at Swindon may come in with the season already underway. It isn’t ideal.
Losing Tommy Miller, Aiden Flint and Alan McCormack also isn’t ideal for the Robins as they look to mount another promotion challenge. Coming in to replace the experienced names that have departed are a crop of youngsters. Alex Smith joins from Fulham, whilst unknown Tijane Reis comes in from Portugal. Ryan Harley, the only experienced name to come in, is joined by a heard of Spurs loanees. Jack Bartham, Nathan Byrne, Grant Hall, Ryan Mason, Massimo Luongo and Alex
Prichard joins a club who is fast becoming Tottenham ‘B’. With only four loan players allowed in a match day squad from one team, there is a high chance the loanees will end up being a disruptive influence to the Swindon side.
There’s quality and strength in depth all over the pitch, but the chaotic pre-season will no doubt dent Swindon’s early form. Once the manager comes in, he’ll have to settle quickly and preach his style of football without adequate time to imbed it into the players. They’ll challenge for the play-offs, but not as successfully as last time out. 7th
League leaders until the end of January, it looked as if Rovers were set to pull off an unlikely promotion. However, they fell away horribly towards the end of the season and ended it in 11th place. Rovers fans who had dreams of the Championship at the forefront of their mind were left bemused and angered by the dramatic slide down the table. Manager Ronnie Moore has some heads to lift in order for to lead his side on a more prolonged promotion challenge this season.
Moore has kept the majority of his squad intact, with Adam McGurk, David Amoo and Zoumana Bakayogo the only significant departures, whilst strengthening with some excellent additions from back to front. Experienced defenders Stephen Foster and Evan Horwood bolster the back four, whilst youngster Chris Atkinson joins on loan from Huddersfield and the untried Jason Rowe comes in from Forest Green. Long term target Ryan Lowe comes in after a frustrating time at MK Dons and will look to score goals alongside Akpo Sodje.
Even with the likes of Owain Fon Williams, James Wallace and Andy Robinson on hand to help Tranmere form a promotion push; it’s unlikely that they will do so. However, never write off a Ronnie Moore side. He organises his sides well and gets the very best out of all of his players. No matter what, they’ll give it a good go. 12th
After two seasons of just about fending off relegation, finding 9th last season was a huge achievement for Dean Smith’s side. The goals of Febian Brandy, Will Grigg and Jamie Paterson fired the Midlands side up the table. However, with those three now departed, it promises to be a slightly tougher season for Walsall.
In addition to the attacking trio, George Bowerman and Richard Taundry have also left the club, meaning Smith has had some rebuilding to do this summer. Keeper Richard O’Donnell comes in from Chesterfield, whilst striker Troy Hewitt and Romaine Sawyers join from QPR and West Brom respectively. A forth signing sees forward Milan Lalkovic sign on loan from Chelsea. Three inexperienced youngster brought in to cover the losses of Brandy, Grigg and Paterson; it’s a huge gamble.
But a club like Walsall can only afford to take punts and gambles on young players who may well reward them for their faith. There’s experience in the side, such as Craig Westcarr, the Chambers twins and Andy Butler that allows for youth to be accommodated.
However, the squad is considerably weaker than it was last season, and a play-off challenge looks out of the picture. A mid-table finish should be considered a success. 14th
Where did it all go? Wolves began the 2011/12 season with two wins a draw from their opening three Premier League games. They ended it bottom of the league. The 2012/13 season started with Wolves favourites for promotion and in and around the play-off picture. They ended it 23rd and became the first club in the Premier League era to go from top flight to third tier in two seasons. They’re not the first team to fall from the Premier League to League One, and they won’t be the last, but the club and their fans will have to adjust quicker and more dramatically than any other club before them.
The first adjustment involves getting a manager who knows this league well. Step forward Kenny Jackett, an excellent appointment to replace Dean Saunders, who looked out of his depth as Wolves slide into League One. The second is to get highly paid players off the books. Christophe Berra, Jody Craddock, Sylvan Ebanks-Blake, Stephen Hunt, Slawomir Peszko, Adam Hammill, Dorus De Vries, Karl Henry and Steven Mouyokolo have all left the club, with several others, including Jamie O’Hara, Kevin Doyle and Stephen Ward, set to follow.
Waiting for the players to depart has meant Jackett has been limited in the transfer market so far, only brining in defender Sam Rickets. However, with O’Hara and Doyle expected to leave shortly, some new names may well be brought in in time for the new season.
As Wolves’ squad stands now, even without any additions, it should comfortably win the league. It should have done well last season too, so Wolves fans won’t taking anything for granted. The likes of Bakary Sako, Razak Boukari and Tongo Doumbia are far too good for the third division of English football; they’ll soon realise what they’ve got themselves in for when Wolves travel to the likes of Oldham, Walsall and Crawley. Young players such as Leigh Griffiths, Jake Cassidy and Zeli Ismail will also be key to a successful promotion push.
They will do it, won’t they? They have to. Something’s telling me it won’t be so straightforward. 4th