Given the nature of the unexpected successes that occurred throughout English football last season, it’s not unsurprising that the occasional relative overachievement went without the attention it deserved.
And not nearly enough attention has been given to Scunthorpe United for their efforts in 2016. The Iron losing just three league games in the entire calendar year, which included a period of two months without a permanent manager, with only goal difference meaning that ultimately promoted Barnsley were able to claim the final play-off spot ahead of them.
A devastating near miss, especially given the realisation that repeating such a challenge will be a tough ask, but an incredible relative achievement all the same for a club of Scunthorpe’s stature. Their resources and perceived quality of their playing staff, despite enjoying success and a period in the Championship under Nigel Adkins, comparatively much smaller to many other clubs in the division.
And an achievement made even more incredible considering the position the Iron were in when they dismissed Mark Robins in January. Andy Dawson and Nick Daws given the reigns on a temporary basis with the club in 16th, and the Glanford Park side only two places higher when Graham Alexander was appointed with nine games of the season remaining.
The Scot’s overseeing of seven wins in that period the main reason why Scunthorpe were able to get so close, and why there is a degree of confidence among the club’s supporters. The success of Alexander, who has been able to keep most of the side together and make a handful of useful additions, in the closing stages of last season meaning there is an excitement to see what he can achieve in a full campaign.
To challenge again, whether successfully or to just fall short, would be seen as an unexpected overachievement by the wider footballing public. But such is the momentum and optimism created in the final months of last season, you can understand why there’s a belief around the club that it’s possible.
The Manager – Graham Alexander
It might have taken just over two months for Scunthorpe to get round to finding a replacement for Mark Robins, but it was certainly worth the wait.
Not only because Dawson and Daws did a commendable job in the interim, but the appointment of Alexander has proven a very promising one. Seven wins from his nine games in charge, including scoring six without reply against Swindon along with defeats of Burton Albion and Sheffield United, providing belief that the former Fleetwood boss could achieve something special at Glanford Park.
Of course, there is a danger of getting carried away. Nine games not the largest sample size, and competing throughout the duration of a season against perceived stronger opposition a tough ask. You can’t expect or demand a win percentage above 75% to be maintained.
But there’s no reason why there shouldn’t be a sensible amount of belief in Alexander after such an impressive showing in the final weeks of the previous campaign.
Activity has been minimal over the summer at Glanford Park, but that not necessarily a bad thing. Key players retained and the additions made of quality.
No real surprises among or disappointments among those who have departed, given that Andrew Boyce, Niall Canavan, and Gary McSheffrey all spent the final part of last season away from Glanford Park. Sean McAllister, who made just 11 league appearances in the previous campaign though was the club’s Player of the Year in 2013/14, completing the list of players allowed to depart.
In their place come midfielder Sam Mantom, who impressed for Walsall in their promotion-chasing campaign, the versatile Josh Morris, who struggled for game time at Bradford last season but played 45 League One games while on loan with Fleetwood, and attacking midfielder Duane Holmes, who was wanted by Charlton and arrives with plenty of potential and promise.
But quite possibly the best news among it all is that forward Paddy Madden, always likely to be linked with moves away having scored 20 time last season, remains a Scunthorpe player.
You could make an argument for there needing to be a touch more depth and individual talent in order to compete over the duration of a season, but there’s enough quality in Scunthorpe’s squad to suggest their run of form towards the end of the previous campaign was no fluke.
That true from back to front. Luke Daniels, who once spent time on loan at Charlton without making an appearance, an excellent goalkeeper, with Joe Anyon experienced enough to offer a useful replacement.
The defensive line, too, appears strong. Former Huddersfield defender Murray Wallace and the experienced David Mirfin likely to form the centre-back partnership, with Jordan Clarke and Conor Townsend likely to claim the full-back positions ahead of Scotts Wiseman and Laird. Youngster Charlie Good providing a central alternative, but maybe some more cover required.
Less of a concern about depth in midfield, given that the new arrivals add quality to what is already in place. Skipper Stephen Dawson, the experienced Neal Bishop and former Rangers man Jamie Ness among those that Mantom, Morris and Holmes will be attempting to get ahead of.
Morris and Holmes, however, more likely to be deployed out wide, and provide competition to winger-cum-forward Luke Williams, and Hakeeb Adelakun, who featured regularly under Alexander.
While in attack, Madden could be supported by Dutchman Kevin van Veen, who returns to the club having spent the second half of last season on loan at SC Cambuur. Former Leicester striker Tom Hopper, who scored eight times last season, and Williams providing the most obvious alternatives.
A few question marks over the lack of depth at the back, but otherwise a very tidy unit.
Fans View: Max Bell (@UseTheLeftWing)
The momentum you had in the final part of last season was so strong that it was only on goal difference that you found yourselves finishing outside of the top six. Was that run of form simply just an unexpected run of form, or a display of the genuine quality you possess?
In truth, it was a bit of both. There can be no doubt that the level of quality required for such runs is within the players – because not only were we excellent throughout it with no luck involved; but it wasn’t the only time throughout the season we showed flashes of such quality.
But ultimately, if you’re still in the relegation zone in October and getting thrashed 5-0 by Blackpool in January (this is not a joke: that actually happened), then you’ve clearly got problems with consistency and only have yourselves to blame if your season’s hopes and dreams fall just short.
The job Graham Alexander, with a nod towards the Dawson/Daws double act, has done is a mightily impressive one. What does he need to do this season in order to allow Scunthorpe to challenge for a top six place again?
It was a certainly a surprise when the Daws / Dawson double act was brought to an abrupt halt – with them already having been promised the job until the end of the season, although all of our bets had already been paid out by unusually reasonable bookmakers, so Iron fans were philosophical!
That said, Alexander’s win ratio plus the associated quality performances and relationship with the fans, has undoubtedly earmarked the decision as an extremely popular and beneficial one thus far – hopefully giving everyone a great platform ahead of this season.
You’ve not been too active in the transfer market. Subtle additions to the midfield, and that’s about it. But is that all that was really needed?
In truth, probably not. I think most Iron fans would probably have preferred to see us strengthen defensively. Whilst we did undoubtedly improve under Alexander, it’s safe to say that we’re not sold on our ability to defend well over the course of a whole season – and certainly don’t have enough depth at Centre-Half. Despite Mark Robins’ actual attempts to sell him last season, without lynchpin David Mirfin steadying the ship, we often resemble a rather bad Sunday league side at the back.
The return of well-liked striker Kevin van Veen from his loan spell in the Dutch Eredivisie is certainly welcome though, and should help us have a rather more fluid option up top – especially if Alexander persists with his popular and successful 442 from last season. Unless the ambiguous midfielders recruited are going to be wingers though, our lack of options out wide may well curtail that at some point sadly though.
Paddy Madden and his goals. Where would you be without them?
Desperately trying to sign a striker no doubt! The hard-working and effervescent Irish striker is not only an effective goalscorer – but an absolute vital lynchpin of the side, despite being ridiculously shunted out wide for large spells of last season.
Perhaps not too unsurprisingly popular, with just one international cap to his name – if he can keep scoring following the inevitable retirement of Robbie Keane and co, a return to the Republic of Ireland’s senior squad may yet be back on the cards at some point for him too.
And finally, where will you finish this season?
An excellent question! If Alexander can nail our long-standing inconsistency problems and start this season like we ended the last one, then the Top 6 is a definite and realistic target. Unlucky to miss out on 74 points when a mere 68 would have got us in the season before – you just hope that complacency hasn’t snuck in over the Summer, especially given our relative lack of movement in the transfer market.
But for once, I’ll be brave and stick my neck out. 5th.
In a relatively strong place after their run of form at the end of last season. Could push for a play-off place, but will certainly be among the chasing pack. 10th
A fifth successive failure to escape from the third tier, an incredible run of failure for a club of Sheffield United’s size, and this a serious contender for the most painful.
At the very least, it wasn’t too far off the first unsuccessful attempt to return to the Championship in 2011/12, which saw rivals Sheffield Wednesday beat them to the second automatic promotion place before a penalty shoot-out defeat to Huddersfield Town was suffered in the play-off final.
For not only did the Blades stutter to 11th place, their lowest finish since 1982/83, but they had to deal with Wednesday receiving nationwide plaudits as they reached the Championship play-off. That the Owls suffered defeat to Hull City not much of a sweetener, but at least meaning the inflicting of further punishment was avoided.
Nor was there a cup run, with semi-finals of the FA Cup and League Cup incredibly reached in the two campaigns prior to last season, to soften the blow of league disappointment. Nigel Adkins’s sacking, despite being seen as the man who would finally return the Blades to the second tier upon his arrival at Bramall Lane, inevitable and unavoidable.
So step forward the latest man to attempt to complete what is becoming an impossible job, irrespective of the fact the Blades, in status and quality, seemingly remain above this division’s standards. Chris Wilder departing a stable job and a promising project at Northampton Town to attempt to guide his hometown club out of the third tier.
And in appointing Wilder, who also made over 100 league appearances as a player for the Blades in two spells, a slightly different approach has been taken. A manager who has impressed in League Two, and has personal momentum behind him, recruited, rather than one that had departed a Championship club, like Adkins and Nigel Clough before him.
An approach that Blades supporters will be desperate makes a difference, and finally sees them return to the Championship at the sixth attempt.
The Manager – Chris Wilder
There have been appointments to seemingly get excited about at Bramall Lane since United’s drop to League One, so it would appear naïve for supporters to lose themselves in the idea that Wilder is the perfect man for the job of finally getting his hometown club out of the third tier.
That a few doubts can be listed, therefore, is understandable. Wilder has never led a club of this size, and with this expectation, before, and the persistent failure that the Blades have endured means a sense of caution is unavoidable.
But there is no denying that there are reasons to feel optimism in what the 48-year-old can achieve in the red and white half of Sheffield. His managerial ability, his understanding of the Blades, and the nature of his appointment all offering encouraging signs to supporters trapped in what has been a continuous cycle of barely believable disappointment.
Wilder stolen from the cusp of Charlton’s clutches. Possibly because the Addicks wouldn’t offer the assurances he wanted, but his attachment to Sheffield United definitely a decisive factor in his decision. Regardless, his commitment to the Blades undoubted, and his desire to bring success to the club likewise.
His chances of bringing success to the club, which for now equates to taking them back to the Championship, appear high. His efforts at Northampton exceptional, leading superbly in a time of crisis before overseeing a cohesive and organised side to an emphatic winning of the League Two title, and the talent displayed at Sixfields transferable to Bramall Lane. There’s a reason why the Blades needed to beat off other large League One clubs to appoint him.
A reason why there is faith in this appointment, despite five previous seasons of disappointment.
It’s not just the appointment of Wilder that sees positivity outweigh an expectation of disappointment at Bramall Lane, but the activity the new boss has overseen in the transfer market. An attempt made to halt that habit of underperforming.
First, the outs. In addition to the disruptive influence of Jose Baxter, inconsistent and often frustrating performers, such as Jamal Campbell-Ryce, Jay McEveley and Ryan Flynn, are among those allowed to leave.
The decision to terminate the contract of the universally disliked Dean Hammond also applauded, while players that haven’t lived up to reputations – Kieron Freeman, Paul Coutts and Martyn Woolford among them – occupy the transfer list.
In their place comes some tidy additions, who either have experience of performing at this level or the promise and potential to do so.
Arrivals who can play in the centre of defence plentiful, with the consistent James Wilson, signed from Oldham, and Jake Wright, with well over 200 appearances for Oxford to his name, likely to form United’s new pairing. Competition provided by 22-year-old Jack O’Connell, who joins from Brentford.
Left-back Chris Hussey, who arrives with a decent potential having performed solidly for Bury in recent seasons, likely to be the third fresh face in United’s back four. Developing an understanding the issue faced, but certainly no lack of quality.
Further forward, Mark Duffy joins from Birmingham having impressed on loan at Burton Albion last season, while John Fleck, unquestionably one of the best playmakers in the division, has been snatched from Coventry City. Certainly more consistent in their efforts than those allowed to leave.
And if frustration existed from centre-back Kyle McFadzean and forward Alex Revell opting for Burton and Northampton Town respectively ahead of the Blades, then the signing of prolific forward Leon Clarke has addressed that. A prolific partnership with Billy Sharp on the cards.
At times last season, it was the goals of local lad Sharp alone that provided hope and solace to supporters of the Blades in another season of disappointment. The boyhood fan scoring 21 times.
And while forwards don’t traditionally make for good captains, there seems no better man to lead United in the coming campaign than the 30-year-old goal-scorer. His talismanic influence, mentality, and connection with the club meaning Wilder had no doubt in awarding Sharp the captaincy for the coming campaign.
He’ll lead a very strong looking squad, which begins with goalkeeper George Long. The 22-year-old three shy of a century of league appearances for the Blades, and has the mentality and qualities of a much older shot stopper.
Long will stand behind a very different looking back four to the one seen last season, with right-back John Brayford the only member of it likely to have kept his place from last season. O’Connell and Wilson seemingly the leading contenders to start in the centre, and Hussey brought in from Bury to be first choice left-back.
Kieran Wallace and Freeman, with all but Woolford of those transfer listed taking part in pre-season, in addition to the versatile Chris Basham providing cover in the full-back positions, while trialist Alex Davey looks set to join Wright as alternative centre-back options.
Options relatively strong in midfield too, with Couts and James Wallace, both transfer listed but seemingly in Wilder’s plans if pre-season is anything to go by, adding extra depth. Logic suggests that Basham and impressive youngster Louis Reed will compete for the deeper role behind Fleck.
Stefan Scougall, suited to the role that Fleck is likely to play but also capable of playing out wide, another midfield option, having been welcomed back into United’s ranks after spending the final part of last season on loan at Fleetwood.
His best chance of playing probably does come on the wing, though numbers in the wide areas are helped by striker-by-trade Matt Done and exciting forward Che Adams’ natural ability to play there. One of that cohort likely to start on the opposite flank to Duffy.
While in attack, there are numerous options for United’s new boss to utilise, including Done and, more likely, Adams should he wish to deploy them centrally. But there no reason why the Clarke-Sharp partnership shouldn’t be a success, with the former’s strength and hold-up play perfect for the latter to make the most of.
Mark McNulty and 19-year-old Dominic Calvert-Lewin, despite both spending last season on loan at League Two Portsmouth and Northampton respectively, provide further alternatives.
And with Wilder insisting he will look for loan signings to provide further depth, that it appears quite a healthy unit.
Fans View: Ross Gregory (@ross_sufc)
Is Chris Wilder the man to finally get you out of this division?
I believe Chris Wilder could be the man to get us out of this division. He is looking to bring exciting, attacking football to Bramall Lane which has been lacking with previous regimes, he knows the club inside out and knows what our club means to the supporters.
What does he need to do differently to previous managers to make sure you perform consistently for the duration of the season?
The big difference will be the high pressing game that he is looking to implement into the team. Under previous regimes, we have sat back and invited teams onto us, so I believe taking the games to teams from the off could be the big difference if we are to be successful.
There’s been a great deal of change to your squad over the summer. Underperformers removed, and some tidy additions made. How would you assess your transfer activity, and your squad overall?
Our squad is looking very promising. The addition of John fleck in midfield is a real positive as we have missed that creative midfielder our side, we have taken a few gambles on players such as James Wilson and Chris Hussey but with Wilder’s man management I believe they could do well. With Billy Sharp and Leon Clarke with 40 goals combined last season at this level we could score for fun.
A boyhood fan as manager, and a boyhood fan as captain. How important is Billy Sharp’s leadership, and his goals, going to be to your promotion efforts?
Billy’s Leadership will be absolutely huge for us, he is a blade through and through and lives, eats, and breaths the football club. His goals as always will be a key factor in our season once again and I’m sure other players will thrive off Billy’s passion and love for this football club.
And finally, where will you finish this season?
I think we will be in the top 6 with the players we have but it will be a tough battle for the automatic promotion spots as always.
Well placed to achieve promotion. I wonder what exciting way they’ll find to bottle it this year? 1st
Supporters of clubs facing relegation from the Championship often make light of what awaits them in League One with a self-pitying chant of “que sera sera, whatever will be will be, we’re going to Shrewsbury”.
But for a period, it seemed as if supporters of Bolton, Charlton and MK Dons would not be able to act upon their half-tearful tune. Shrewsbury Town, having been promoted to League One at the conclusion of the previous campaign, were in danger of an immediate return to the fourth tier right up until the penultimate weekend of the season.
In fact, with six of their final eight games resulting in defeat, it was largely the incompetence of those around them that allowed Micky Mellon’s side to remain in League One. Safety itself confirmed when Shrewsbury’s defeat to Peterborough with a game to go was matched with losses for the shambolic Doncaster Rovers and Blackpool.
Their 20th place finish a job done of sorts, and made more bearable by an impressive run to the fifth round of the FA Cup, but certainly not a comfortable and convincing one. Mellon himself stating that safety was achieved in a way he was “not at all happy about”.
The task for the Shrews this campaign, therefore, is to allow supporters of clubs facing relegation from the Championship to start singing about trips to New Meadow with confidence some weeks prior to its conclusion. A more comfortable consolidation of their third tier status required, with Mellon looking to end the club’s yo-yo years.
And steps have been taken to increase the chances of that occurring. Eight players with League One experience, and respectable ability at this level, snapped up prior to pre-season beginning as a new Shrewsbury unit is shaped. Maybe not quite “the Harlem Globetrotters” as Mellon puts it, but the Shrews have certainly given themselves a chance of being more competitive this campaign.
The Manager – Micky Mellon
A season flirting with relegation hasn’t at all damaged the confident demeanour of Shrewsbury boss Mellon.
Nor has a period of uncertainty over his job, resulting in the need to have his future confirmed by chairman Roland Wycherley, done his bullish character any harm. The 44-year-old, who led the Shrews to promotion prior to last season’s semi-struggle, adamant a successful rebuilding of his side would be overseen the moment his position was secured.
Adamant, too, that a side that featured 37 players last season will be far more successful, competitive and cohesive this campaign.
“I want us to have a really good pop at the teams at the top end of the league and the aim is to get closer to them. That’s where I believe the club wants to be,” said Mellon during the summer. “I want to try to fill this stadium more and I want to be managing and coaching kids of a good age of massive energy and great power as a team people are proud of watching.”
That sort of energy and enthusiasm towards improvement, while bosses of bigger clubs tentatively touch on the subject of promotion, can only offer encouragement.
An attempt to avoid flirting with relegation again has been made with a very productive summer of transfer activity for Shrewsbury.
The only real disappointment being Nat Knight-Percival’s decision to reject a new contract at the club and instead join Bradford City. The centre-back’s departure coming alongside ten others, released or allowed to leave the club. Matt Tootle, Jermaine Grandison, Jean-Louis Akpa Akpro, Zak Whitbread and James Collins among them.
In their place come players who have all impressed to one degree or another at League One level in recent seasons, all signed on two-year contracts.
Adam El-Abd, signed following his release from Bristol City, a no-nonsense centre-back who spent time last season on loan at Swindon Town and Gillingham, and could form a partnership with Olly Lancashire, snapped up after his departure from Rochdale.
The full-back positions also strengthened with a fee paid for Bury’s young right-back Joe Riley, and former Leicester City and Manchester City left-back Ryan McGivern one of three players signed from Port Vale. Attacking midfielder Louis Dodds, who made more than 300 appearances in all competitions, and forward AJ Leitch-Smith, having scored 11 times last season, the other two recruited following Vale’s rather odd clear-out.
Elsewhere, there’s now plenty of competition in midfield, with the wonderfully bearded Gary Deegan, a more combative central man, arriving from Southend, while the creative Antoni Sarcevic and Jim O’Brien, both capable playing behind the front man or out wide, join from Fleetwood and Coventry respectively.
Few risks, few gambles. Just solid League One additions for a club looking to consolidate. Roland Wycherley, seemingly a better Roland than Charlton’s one.
The high turnover of players, and the possibility of trouble being had in gelling a unit together, made much easier by the fact a core of players remain at the club from last season.
First choice goalkeeper Jayson Leutwiler agreeing a new deal with the club, along with regular left-back Junior Brown, while the experienced Mat Sadler and young Dominic Smith provide alterative defensive options. Another centre-back probably needed, though.
Unquestionable depth, however, to be found in the centre of midfield. Aby Ogogo featuring 42 times last season, the talented James Wesolowski hoping to rebuild his career after a leg break that saw him miss almost the whole of last season, and one-time Scotland international Ian Black providing plenty of competition for places in addition to the new recruits. So much so that former Leicester midfielder Richie Wellens has been transfer listed.
Decent option in the forward positions, too. Shaun Whalley’s presence providing another wide player for Mellon, alongside Sarcevic, O’Brien and Dodds, while Tyrone Barnett’s appearances in pre-season games having returned from a loan spell at Southend United suggests he has a Shrewsbury future, and will compete for places in attack with Andrew Mangan and Leitch-Smith. Certainly a need for one more forward should Barnett depart, however.
Nonetheless, there’s a reasonable amount of quality in Shrewsbury’s squad. A squad added to, rather than an entirely new one created.
Fans View: Liam Northwood (@liamnorthwood96)
Despite flirting with relegation for much of last season, does strong support still exist for Micky Mellon? His own confidence would suggest so.
I believe most of the fan base are definitely still 100% behind Mellon. Last season showed that he can sometimes be quite weak tactically which cost us points, but hopefully he has learnt from those mistakes to give League One a much better go this time around. I am definitely behind him to try and improve the team and himself as a coach.
You’ve made some very impressive signings, all of them with a history of performing at this level. Is Mellon’s desire to push towards the top six a realistic ambition as a consequence of those additions, or is stability the aim this season?
I have been very happy with the majority of our new signings. I haven’t seen a few of them play as much as others, but this summer’s recruitment has been much better than the previous L1 season. To be honest, I would be happy with a solid mid table finish this season and then hopefully continue improving on that. After last season, anything above 16th would be a successful season. If we can push for the play offs, that would be an extra bonus.
Any concern that gelling this new side together may prove difficult, or does the fact that most were brought in before pre-season started provide enough time to put together a cohesive unit?
With Mellon in charge, I’m not really worried about the amount that have been signed. We went back up from League Two a couple of years ago with about 16 new players and they all gelled together quite quickly. Hopefully this will be the same and we can have a quick start. It also helps that some of the new players have played together before, such as Dodds, Leitch-Smith and McGivern at Port Vale.
Despite the positive additions, are there any of those that have departed who you’re particularly disappointed to see leave?
When Nathaniel Knight-Percival rejected a new contract to join Bradford, I was quite disappointed. I considered him our best defender and although our defence conceded a lot of goals last season, he was the best of a poor bunch. He was brilliant before he suffered a long term knee injury, and last season he was still trying to get over that.
Sullay Kaikai’s loan spell also ended with him returning to Crystal Palace. We will definitely miss his goals as he single-handedly kept us in the division. Hopefully we have replaced him well.
Finally, where will you finish this season?
I am going to go for a solid 13th placed finish.
Strengthening of squad should see them comfortably clear of the bottom four. Maybe even looking towards the top half. 12th
It something of a relief that Southend’s League One status was all but assured before the end of February in their first campaign back in the third tier since 2009/10.
For the final period of last season was a relative disaster. Possibly a consequence of motivation being lost with little to play for, while uncertainty over the future of manager Phil Brown probably didn’t help, but winning just two out of their final 13 games inexcusable whatever the cause. A drop from the outskirts of the play-offs to the bottom half.
Nonetheless, even five consecutive defeats as the season drew to a close isn’t enough to get away from the fact that it was a case of job done for the Shrimpers. Their mid-table finish commendable, and relegation never at all flirted with. Frustration in the end of season form, rather than outright outrage.
The issue for Southend, however, is that emulating last season and achieving a comfortable mid-table finish appears a much harder task this time around. If momentum being lost as a result of the end of season form isn’t necessarily an issue, given that it’s something that can be addressed during pre-season, then the departure of several key players certainly is. The squad arguably weaker.
So much so that looking to build on their 14th place finish might not be a realistic ambition. The conclusion to last season, a question mark or two over Brown and the breaking up of his squad meaning that avoiding any sort of flirtation with relegation would be a success of sorts for the Shrimpers this campaign.
The Manager – Phil Brown
Clarity over Brown’s future as Southend boss, having been linked with Bolton Wanderers for much of the second half of last season, is undoubtedly welcome at Roots Hall. The clarity itself, that is, and not necessarily that Brown remains in charge.
For though there is respect for the job that the former Hull boss has done, and a healthy number of fans that remain supportive, a sense of disappointment existed among some that his move to the Macron never materialised.
That end of season form, in an addition to Brown being a character that’s very difficult to like when things aren’t quite going to plan, meaning a section of Southend support wouldn’t have at all minded if he had made a move to Bolton, and the Shrimpers were given the opportunity to make a new appointment.
Nonetheless, Brown’s relative success at Roots Hall means he deserves a degree of support, and there certainly isn’t a desire to force him out or that he oversees failure this season.
Instead, there is hope that confirmation over his future will see him be able to coordinate an improvement in the Shrimpers, and see them compete successfully in the third tier once again.
As a manager with a little bit of fan pressure on your back, I’m not entirely sure that handing a trial to Nile Ranger after losing a number of first-team players is the best thing to do.
Nor is referring to Ranger, who hasn’t played since 2014 after going AWOL at Blackpool, as a “good lad” and speaking with some positivity about his footballing ability. The whole point of a trial, obviously, to have a look at a player, but considering signing such a controversial figure having seen key members of last season’s side depart isn’t exactly the boost Southend supporters were after.
For among the many manageable departures, with Gary Deegan (Shrewsbury Town), David Worrall (Millwall), and Cian Bolger (Fleetwood Town) among the eight players allowed to leave the club without much of a fight as Brown seeks to take the club forward, are some more disappointing exits.
Particularly losing 23-year-old goalkeeper Daniel Bentley and 21-year-old playmaker Jack Payne for no more than compensation. Bentley snapped up by Brentford, and Huddersfield signing Payne.
And an attempt made to re-sign Noel Hunt, who was released at the end of the season but Brown remained in discussions with the Irish forward, proved unsuccessful. The former Reading man rocking up for a trial at Portsmouth while Southend’s offer remained on the table.
The frustration increased by how slow Southend have been to secure replacements. The five who have arrived – goalkeeper Mark Oxley (Hibs), right-back Jason Demetriou (Walsall), centre-back Jakub Sokolik (Yeovil), winger Jermaine McGlashan (Gillingham), and forward Simon Cox (Reading) appear decent additions, but the squad remains lacking in strength and depth.
Unquestionably weaker than it was last season, but there are certainly worse squads in this division.
At the very least, despite losing their first choice goalkeeper, there are squads in the division with greater concerns between the sticks. Oxley taking the number one jersey, but Ted Smith has England youth caps and Paul Smith has a wealth of experience.
Options in defence not too bad either, with Adam Thompson likely to be competing with Sokolik for the centre-back spot alongside the experienced Adam Barrett, who is closing in on 300 league appearances for Southend over two spells. Demetriou and the dependable Ben Coker, despite possessing arguably the worst haircut in professional football, in pole position for the full-back slots, with John White and Luke O’Neill providing alternative defensive options.
It is, however, hard to get away from the fact that the midfield losses a considerable amount of quality without Payne in it. A situation which isn’t helped by the long-term absence of the creative Anthony Wordsworth, and a hamstring injury sustained by Michael Timlin that means he’s likely to miss the start of the season.
There might well be, therefore, an opportunity for 20-year-old Jack Bridge, who was handed his league debut towards the end of last season. Ryan Leonard, remaining a consistent performer as he enters his sixth season with the Shrimpers, and Will Atkinson, naturally a winger but capable of playing centrally, to dislodge first.
Once Timlin returns, Atkinson is likely to be competing with McGlashan and Stephen McLaughlin for a place out wide. A feeling that both centrally and on the flanks, Brown’s side is a little stretched.
And there probably a need for one more body in attack, irrespective of whether Ranger is awarded a contract or not. Former Charlton forward David Mooney, unimpressive at The Valley but has developed into a useful League One striker, and Cox could form quite the tidy partnership, but not a great deal beyond that.
As is the case in midfield, a possible opportunity for a youngster, after 20-year-old Jason Williams scored seven times in 13 games on loan at Chelmsford City last season, and featured in blue towards the end of the previous campaign.
The squad, therefore, not in a terrible state by any means, but there certainly a need for further depth.
Fans View: Rylee Doe (@rylee_doe)
Job done last season, but would it have been better for all involved had Phil Brown departed over the course of the summer? He appears to divide supporters.
Not at all, although some fans question Phil’s loyalty there is no doubt over the positives he has brought to us as a club. Even though most of our fans aren’t happy with him constantly on the TV he does bring a lot of publicity to the club. Without Phil we definitely wouldn’t have been able to sign Simon Cox who has already scored a couple of goals in pre season. If Brown did leave there is not a lot of managers who would probably want to come to Southend and do a good job.
What does Brown need to do in order to win back the trust and support of those fans who question him?
I think if he carries on doing his job the right way, getting the right results and making some good signings, our fans will see what a good manager he is. I also think if he stops openly stating his desire for other jobs (Hull, Sunderland and England Assistant) than he will definitely be appreciated by all fans
How much more difficult has Brown’s job been made by the loss of Bentley and Payne over the summer?
There is no question over the quality of Bentley and Payne however no player is irreplaceable. The two were always going to move on at the end of their contracts and Brown still tried his up most best to keep them. Ted Smith and new signing Mark Oxley, both looked sharp during preseason and will definitely be battling it out for the number one shirt. However with just two fit centre midfielders Brown will definitely be looking for at least 1 more singing for a little more backup to an already small squad.
Though Simon Cox, goal-shy for a few seasons but will undoubtedly prove a threat at this level, is one of several tidy additions. What more does your squad need?
Yes absolutely, as stated earlier Cox has already been among the goals and his partnership with David Mooney seems to be working fine. Nile Ranger has also been signed on a one year deal, and already seems to be saying and doing the right things. One or two more centre backs, a winger, one centre midfielder and a proven goalscorer and I think Southend will be set up for a good season.
And finally, where will you finish this season?
At the moment, with the small squad we have I think mid table will be the expectation but if we make a few more good signings I wouldn’t rule out a playoff push however that is very unlikely. Anything higher than last season’s 14th placed finish and I will see it as a successful season. Up The Blues!
The lack of depth and maybe a slight in question mark over quality in certain areas makes it uninspiring, while Brown’s powers are waning. Enough to avoid relegation, but this season likely to be a touch more uncomfortable than the last. 19th
The last time Charlton Athletic were relegated to League One, it was Swindon Town and their prolific forwards that denied the Addicks an opportunity of an immediate return to the Championship.
On this occasion, Charlton helping themselves to a prolific Swindon forward at a price believed to be considerably less than the reported £800k has been one of several factors that denied supporters of the Robins an opportunity to dismiss the alarm bells that have rarely stopped ringing since the ball bobbled before Charlie Austin shaped to shoot at Wembley six years ago.
For Nicky Ajose’s goals were a rare positive in a season that can best be described as a messy one for Swindon. The decision to cash in on the 25-goal striker after just one year at the County Ground providing further frustration to a sizeable amount of supporters, unhappy with the manner in which chairman Lee Power is operating.
Power’s crimes, aside from overseeing a drop from play-off finalists to 15th, including imposing restrictions on local media, bizarrely briefly appointing himself as caretaker boss following the rather harsh dismissal of Mark Cooper, and a failure to strengthen adequately after the departure of a number of key players. On the pitch success seemingly sacrificed in favour of an almost complete focus on financial stability.
But the departing Ajose has called on supporters to get behind the chairman and head coach Luke Williams, irrespective of the sales and last season’s on-the-pitch failings. Power doing things his own way and leading a club that doesn’t have a top six budget in a clever way, while Williams’ style of football, irrespective of the fact it didn’t always produce results, is enough to attract players to the County Ground.
That a departed player, however, has to give a message like that is as big an indication as any that things aren’t quite right at Swindon. The need to replace that departed player, and his 25-goals, a concern, but not a concern as large as the mistrust in the club and the sense of disappointment among supporters.
The Manager – Luke Williams
There were periods under the control of Williams where Swindon impressed last season. Enough periods were enough was shown for Power to award Williams, originally interim boss, with a five-year contract.
A style of attacking football played that resulted in Power calling him “a fantastic coach, the best I’ve come across in 25 years of football”. Probably a touch of hyperbole in that, but a reflection of the fact that the 35-year-old was able to prove his worth in his first job in management.
So too, however, were there clumps of poor form and performances. Six wins in his first ten games in charge, four of those coming against sides ultimately relegated, followed by a run of nine without victory. Williams’ reign far from faultless.
Nothing to prove to Power, it would seem, but maybe still something to prove to supporters of Swindon.
It’s not just the loss of Ajose that provides frustration to Swindon supporters, or that he was sold to a club in the same league for a relatively low fee, but the fact he hasn’t been replaced.
In fact, despite the Robins’ struggles last season and further eight players departing of various importance, only a handful of additions have been made to the squad.
Goalkeeper Lawrence Vigouroux, who spent last season on loan at Swindon, joining on a permanent basis from Liverpool, John Goddard, a winger with no football league experience, bought having impressed in the National League for Woking, and Conor Thomas, having played just three times last season, signing following his release from Swindon. And that be that.
Meanwhile, Michael Smith (Portsmouth) and Miles Story (Aberdeen) have been allowed to leave the club on a permanent basis having spent much of last season away on loan, while Fabien Robert, having played 34 league games last season, and Drissa Traore, a relative bit-part player, among those released.
At least Jon Obika and Yaser Kasim remain, despite the former rejecting a new contract and the latter attracting interest from elsewhere. Chairman Power insisting that the former Charlton forward will remain at the club regardless of his contract situation, while discussions with Kasim are ongoing.
Concerning. Very concerning. Gaps in almost every area of the squad, though at least Vigouroux returns to stand between the sticks.
And the goalkeeper will probably have quite a bit of work to do, given both the lack of quality and lack of numbers available in defence. Raphael Rossi Branco and Jamie Sendles-White the only natural centre-backs at the club, with natural right-back Nathan Thompson probably going to have to play centrally. Bradley Barry, who played 37 times after arriving from Brighton last season, taking the right-back spot, with former Arsenal trainee Brandon Ormonde-Ottewill likely to start at left-back ahead of James Brophy. Minimal experience beyond Thompson and Branco.
The situation not much in a midfield that was largely beefed up by loanees last season. At least in the shape of Kasim, Thomas and Anton Rodgers, there’s three central options with decent Football League experience, but little beyond that. 18-year-olds Tom Smith and Jake Evans, in addition to 16-year-old Jordan Young all used last season and will probably have some involvement this time around.
Not a great deal of quality or depth out wide, either, with hope that new signing Goddard will prove his worth in the Football League. Ellis Iandolo, an 18-year-old who can play on the wing or up top, another option, in addition to Jordan Stewart, who spent the final part of last season on loan at Grimsby and has made just one appearance for the Robins.
Stewart, like Iandolo, can also play up top, where the situation is rather desperate. Obika the only member of this Swindon squad with any sort of goal-scoring record, with Jermaine Hylton, who has one goal to his name in 31 appearances for the club, his alternative.
Weak, inexperienced, and worrying.
Fans View: Gabz Benony (@OneGFB)
Lee Power’s running of Swindon has been, at best, controversial. Can you return to challenging for promotion with him and his strategy overseeing things?
Controversial is one way of putting it! In my years as a Swindon fan I’ve never seen so much friction between fans as Power is causing with his policies. I’m not ruling out the possibility of returning to challenging for promotion with him at the helm however many things will drastically have to change for that to happen.
Having strength and depth in the squad instead of having to rely on teenagers when injuries occur and signing players that have Football League experience would be my starting point. Power always moans that if the fans do not turn up to home games then we cannot make the signings we all desperately want. However why would anyone be willing to pay £25 to watch a team with an average age of 22 persistently foul and attempt to play fancy football with Sunday League mistakes occurring regularly? I can only see attendances dropping once more and people losing interest unless his business model doesn’t change.
Did Luke Williams show enough in the second half of last season to prove he’s the right man for the job, or do you still have doubts?
From what I’ve heard internally within the club Williams has very much always been the man running things on a day to day basis with him feeding to Power regularly. Personally I haven’t seen enough to be convinced to travel to places like Oldham on a Tuesday night like I would do with no hesitation when managers like Danny Wilson & Paolo Di Canio were at the helm.
How much harder is Williams’ job going to be without the goals of Nicky Ajose? Did they alone keep you away from a genuine relegation battle last season?
I dread to think what would’ve happened last season without the goals of Nicky Ajose! Williams’ job can potentially be easier if we actually get a replacement for Ajose. What I have seen in pre-season it seems like we will very much be reliant on Obika who is rather injury prone. I’m still surprised that we are yet to sign a striker. That must be the priority I hope.
You’ve not exactly been quick to look to replace the departing Ajose, and your squad overall doesn’t appear to be in the best of states. How worried are you by the state of your side, and are there any fears you might found yourselves in the bottom four?
I’m very worried. It’s got to the stage now where I don’t even check the club twitter account or BBC Wiltshire when on lunch break as I don’t expect any signings. Worst thing is I honestly still expect more departures before the end of the transfer window.
And finally, where will you finish this season?
Honestly, right now I’ll take 20th!
An incredibly weak squad and an owner insistent on creating controversy isn’t a great mix. 21st
Taking in a campaign in League Two and two further bottom six finishes in League One, Walsall had waited 12 seasons to mount a serious attempt to return to the second tier before last season’s promotion push.
In the first insistence, the outstanding nature of the Saddlers’ achievement to agonisingly miss out on automatic promotion, and consequently suffer a play-off semi-final defeat to Barnsley, cannot be ignored. This a club that have spent just six seasons in the second tier since the end of World War II, rely on clever recruitment and the development of their own to compete, and had to deal with Dean Smith, the long-serving boss that shaped together an impressive side, departing for Brentford halfway through the season.
Without the disruption caused by Smith leaving, the one additional point required to leapfrog Burton Albion into second place would have probably been achieved by his exciting and dynamic side. Replacement Sean O’Driscoll overseeing a period of five wins in 14 league games that ultimately forced Walsall to take the bold decision to dismiss the Irishman and allow Jon Whitney, assistant to Smith and caretaker in the immediate aftermath of his departure, to take the reins. A strong end to the league season not followed with success in the play-offs, and Walsall supporters left to rue what might have been with stability.
And the question of what might have been becomes a more desperate and frustrating one when replicating, and potentially bettering, the success of last season appears an extremely difficult task. Though there have been promising replacements, the departures of key players, particularly Romaine Sawyers and Tom Bradshaw, leaves the Saddlers in a weaker position than they were at the start of the previous campaign.
A campaign that was unquestionable a fantastic achievement, but also potentially a missed opportunity. To make another competitive promotion push in this season, something this slightly reshaped Walsall side will contest that they’re capable of, would be an achievement even greater than last season’s near miss.
The Manager – Jon Whitney
Whether it be that some coaches are unable to transfer their skills from assistant to top boss, players struggle to respect a man they struggle not to see as the number two, or it simply the case that the assistant is lost without his old boss, appointing from within after a successful boss has been snatched rarely sees the continuation of that success that a certain logic might suggest.
But, despite this being Whitney’s first managerial job, replacing from within proved much more fruitful for Walsall than attempting to find someone from the outside to continue Smith’s work.
O’Driscoll – particularly with draws against ultimately relegated Blackpool and Crewe Alexandra in addition to defeats to promotion rivals Millwall, Wigan and Barnsley – a huge disappointment. Performances and results, though seemingly unable to pick his players up for the play-offs after missing out on automatic promotion, immediately improving once Whitney had been placed in control.
Though those performances and results, eight wins from 12 games prior to the play-offs and an additional victory in a league game as caretaker earlier on in the season, come from a small sample size. While Whitney has certainly done enough to show he deserves a chance, he will, in his first full season as a manger, need to prove he’s up to the task over the duration of a campaign.
But support for Whitney, appointed on a permanent basis having been in interim charge at the end of the season, is high among supporters, and there is a belief that the 45-year-old, who has been at the Bescott Stadium in one capacity or another since 2003, is the right man to attempt to build on last season’s relative success.
A failure to achieve promotion was always likely to result in a number of Walsall’s key players departing, and that has proven to be the case.
In fact, of those that were likely to depart, only 19-year-old full-back Rico Henry remains. Remaining despite each day bringing about a new rumour of a seven-figure bid from a Premier League or Championship club, with no shortage of interest in the highly-rated academy graduate.
Of the ten permanent Walsall players that started the play-off semi-final second leg defeat to Barnsley, six have departed, with all three of those who came off the bench during the game also leaving the club.
The biggest losses being the extremely talented playmaker Romaine Sawyers, who moves to Brentford, top scorer Tom Bradshaw, signed by Barnsley, and consistently performing full-back Jason Demetriou, snapped up by Southend. A serious amount of top League One-level quality lost.
But that isn’t to say that departures of Paul Downing (MK Dons), Anthony Forde (Rotherham United), Milan Lalkovic (Portsmouth), Sam Mantom (Scunthorpe), Andy Taylor (Blackpool), and Jordan Cook (Luton) won’t also be felt. An almost entirely new squad needing to be built.
The rebuild beginning with young centre-backs George Dobson and Jason McCarthy arriving on loan from West Ham United and Southampton respectively. Dobson lacking any sort of experience, but McCarthy spent most of last season at Wycombe.
Former Walsall loanee Florent Cuvelier, who most recently endured an injury-hit time at Sheffield United, and Joe Edwards, having impressed for relegated Colchester United, arrive to add some steel to a depleted midfield, while the diminutive Erhun Oztumer, a skilful performer for Peterborough, and Franck Moussa, looking to rebuild his career after a torrid time at Charlton, provide impetuous going forward.
But a great deal more needs to be done to have Walsall’s squad in competitive shape, particularly in attack. Losing out on Jordi Hiwula, who opted to join Bradford City despite spending half of last season on loan at the Bescot, particularly disappointing, though Simeon Jackson, arriving after his release from Blackburn, has a decent record in League One.
The additions promising, but no hiding away from the bashing that Walsall’s impressive squad of last season has taken.
Well, erm, there’s not much left of it. At a push, there’s ten who remain from last season, and most of those were not anything like regulars.
In addition to Henry, former Charlton goalkeeper Neil Etheridge, mightily impressive for the Saddlers, defender James O’Connor, and long-serving captain Adam Chambers the only regular starters who are still with the club. Kieron Morris also stays, having played 42 times last season, but many of those appearances came from the bench.
And it’s the influence of midfielder Chambers in gelling this new side together that arguably makes him, at least in the short-term, the most important retainee. Leadership required from the 35-year-old, who has over 200 appearances for the club.
There could also be a need for bit part players from last season to step up. More football for 21-year-old defender Matt Preston, 21-year-old midfielder Reece Flanagan, and 20-year-old full-back Liam, son of Mark, Kinsella.
Forward Amadou Bakayoko, 20, another who has staked a claim to be involved, with a prolific pre-season.
Regardless, given the success of last season, it all just feels a little underwhelming. Particularly in attack, where there is a great deal of pressure to make up for the goals lost by the various forward departures.
Fans View: Stu Jones (@StuJones94)
Last season. An incredible achievement or a wasted opportunity? The break-up of the squad suggests the latter…
Both really. We were superb for months but just bottled it big time towards the end. We had a couple of results in April which weren’t helpful in the slightest and once we finished third, a lot of people knew our chance had gone with the form Barnsley were in.
The break-up of the squad doesn’t really bother me too much. Even if we’d have gone up, 2/3 of our first team were just about okay in League One and would’ve needed replacing anyway. I was even okay with Romaine Sawyers going. He was an absolute pleasure to watch for 3 years but he was just too technically gifted for League One. He needs to prove himself in the Championship now and show everyone how good he is.
Do the departures over the summer mean you’re going to have to be forced to accept a season without a promotion push, or can you challenge again regardless?
It’s hard to say really. If we start well again then who knows. Anything could happen. It’s a very weird league. Barnsley proved that. Obviously we had a lot of team spirit last year which got us a lot of points, which we might be lacking in this season.
Overall, I think we’ve recruited really well in fairness to Whitney. For example, Cuvelier/Dobson are better than Mantom and McCarthy should be better than Downing. Oztumer too is a class act.
Jon Whitney oversaw some impressive performances and results last season, but are you a little concerned about his lack of managerial experience in the context of an entire campaign?
Yeah I am a little bit as it’s his first go at management. He’s very good at motivating and if his tactics are spot on (mostly) then we’ll have a good season again.
Also, most people are forgetting that the 4/5 very good players we’ve signed have bought into what he’s trying to do after meeting/speaking to Whitney a couple of times.
He did well last year as it wasn’t his squad and we were a bit out of form. I’d expect the likes of Dean Holden, Neil Cutler and John Ward as back room staff to guide him through a hell of a lot too.
After the departures of just about every single player at the club who knew how to put the ball in the net, where are your goals coming from?
As long as we replace Bradshaw’s goals then we should be fine. Easier said than done but not completely out of the question. Our top scorers in the last four seasons (Bradshaw, Westcarr, Grigg) all got at least 15 in a season. If Cuvelier stays fit, he’ll get as many as Mantom and I’m tipping Morris to score as many as Lalkovic did. We’ve got more direct players this season who are going to create chances and probably shoot as much as they can.
And finally, where are you going to finish this season?
Lower top half I’d imagine. Anything better and Whitney will deserve an incredible amount of credit. I’ll go with 9th but I said exactly that last season so what do I know? (Can’t wait to come back to this naive shite in May once we’ve been relegated.)
Will undoubtedly struggle to repeat the relative success of last season, but have a structure in place that means they should be comfortable. Should. 11th
All information correct, or at least it should, as of 29/07/2016. All photos my own, or marked for reuse by others. Thanks for taking the time to read through my League One Season Preview. Sure you don’t agree with all of it, not even sure if I agree with what I’ve written myself, but a decent amount of effort has gone into it so appreciate every minute set aside to take a glance through it.