EFL expert Tom Love casts his eye over League One, predicting the full table alongside providing a host of betting tips.
The Race For Promotion
Peterborough (1st) may have lost star striker Ivan Toney to Brentford this summer but few teams are so adept at recovering transfer setbacks than Posh. They have always have a conveyor belt of top strikers and huge kudos has to go to recruitment team implemented by Darragh MacAnthony at London Road. They’ve replaced Toney with Jonson Clarke-Harris from Bristol Rovers who, when fit, has a decent goals per 90 minutes record at this level. He’s a big lad but is also mobile and possesses a hammer of a finish on him. Sammie Szmodics is back at the club and he is a player with so much potential, he will be another to provide goals from midfield.
I’m excited to see Siriki Dembele have a starring role this season, the tricky winger pops up with a fair few goals too and is very highly rated by the club. Mo Eisa was playing second fiddle to Toney for a lot of the season, but he’s scored plenty of goals for Cheltenham the other season. The signings of Reece Brown and Ryan Broom are classic Posh and I’m sure both will excel in this team. The ever-improving Jake Taylor who signed from Barnet is one to watch in midfield too. Captain Mark Beevers adds vital experience to the backline and Frankie Kent will only improve beside him.
The Cambridgeshire club have planned ahead and if it wasn’t for the league stoppage they may well have gained promotion last season. I’m expecting them to go one better and win the league this time around.
Oxford United (2nd) are a team going in the right direction. Excellent centre-half Rob Dickie may have departed to QPR but Rob Atkinson looks comfortable in taking that mantle. Sean Clare will add an attacking threat from right-back after showing his worth at Hearts. Matty Taylor will no doubt be charged with the goal getting and tieing him down to a permanent deal was a major win for the U’s.
Cameron Brannagan has stayed put, to my surprise. He is easily a Championship midfielder, and may well be one with Oxford next season. He will be partnered by Liam Kelly who is so calm on the ball, he links up from Feyenoord of all places! To carry on the continental theme, Marcus McGuane, formerly of no other than Barcelona, has joined on loan from Nottingham Forest. I will be keeping a close eye on how he does this campaign.
I think that they have improved on last season’s squad and it looks a well-balanced one too. I’m backing Yellows to oust some of the so called ‘bigger teams’ to the second automatic promotion place.
Sunderland (3rd) have finally managed to trim down their squad after plenty of shambolic seasons. Phil Parkinson likes to have a tight-knit squad rather than a bloated one and he’s now got a full squad of 22 which is an ample amount to deal with the raft of games that will come their way.
Josh Scowen will fit right into a Parky team, adding bite to the midfield, he could become a fan favourite on Wearside. Will Grigg has looked back to his best this pre-season and if he and Charlie Wyke can hit it off they could be a serious force. Aiden O’Brien looks another impressive capture from Millwall. They just look like a team with great character this season, something you’ve not being able to say for a while. They will challenge.
Portsmouth (4th) always seem to be there or there about under Kenny Jackett and although the former Millwall gaffer has come in for criticism from some of the south coast faithful, his teams are always pretty competitive. Jackett will be hoping to get the most out of striker John Marquis who has proven he can score at this level, defensively they will be pretty sound as most Jackett teams are.
They’re poised to bring in a few more bodies to add greater depth but a fully fit Marcus Harness and Ronan Curtis either side of Marquis is a very strong front line. Tom Naylor is one of the more impressive defenders/holding midfielders in this league and the signing of Sean Raggett is classic Pompey, very strong. Despite murmurs of discontent in the fanbase trust them to be in the mix up come May.
Blackpool (5th) have been one of the most notable teams in the transfer window. It looks to me like Neil Critchley is going to adopt a ‘we’ll score more than you’ approach given the nature of his signings this summer and it should mean plenty of goals in games featuring the tangerines.
Bez Lubala and Jerry Yates were two of the top six scorers in League 2 last season whereas CJ Hamilton had a rip-roaring season with Mansfield recently and he’s also in the door now to add even more pace to the electric looking frontline.
Liam Feeney may be getting on a bit now at 34 but that didn’t stop him supplying a terrific 14 assists last season. Sully Kaikai, Ethan Robson, Oliver Sarkic, Dan Kemp and Keshi Anderson can also fit in various positions in the attacking half of the pitch. It’s an abundance of riches that Critchley has at his disposal and it looks like attack will be the best form of defence. I’m going to side with it paying dividends for the Seasiders.
Gillingham (6th) occupy the final play-off place for me. It’s a bit of a left field choice but Steve Evans’ has had time to build a squad fully in his mould now and he’s tended to be successful wherever he’s gone, no matter what you think about his colourful nature. I do like the business he has done with physical strikers Vaidaine Oliver and John Akinde fully in the ‘Evans’ mould. Behind them there looks to be an interesting array of options with Kyle Dempsey, Trae Coyle and fan favourite Jordan Graham providing a pacey outlet.
Zach Medley is very well thought of at Arsenal and will slot in at centre half alongside another youngster Jack Tucker who fans at the Priestfield were raving about. Ryan Jackson and Connor Ogilivie are a good pair of full-backs too. I think they could be dark horses this season.
Fleetwood Town (7th) managed to gain a play-off place last season and I expect Joey Barton’s side to give it another good go this year. You could easily argue that the Cod Army have the most talented midfield in the league with the experience of Paul Coutts and Glenn Whelan, so long Championship quality. They’re joined by the more youthful, and future championship pair Callum Camps and Jordan Rossiter who are excellent permanent additions by the Fylde coast club. Not to mention the eye-catching addition of Mark Duffy who was so influential for Sheffield United in their promotion to the premier league. He could be one of the best players in the league if he stays fit, adding craft and creativity.
Paddy Madden is almost a guaranteed goalscorer at this level and should get plenty of chances with that midfield behind him. They were in talks to re-sign the excellent Harry Souttar from Stoke but could miss out to Portsmouth if reports are to be believed. That could be the difference between a play-off spot and just missing out.
Doncaster Rovers (8th) are a team I fancy to go pretty well this season. Darren Moore is a manager I like, he was harshly sacked by West Brom a couple of years ago and I’m surprised he had to drop down to League One to get his next gig. The gentle giant is a manager players want to play for and his first XI looks a strong one to me.
Fejiri Okenabirhie is a striker Moore is very fond of and has said will be the main central striker for Donny this season, he impressed in the spell he had at the club last season. Central midfielder Taylor Richards is someone who I feel will have a breakthrough season on loan from Brighton, the former Manchester City academy graduate has so much to his game to be hugely influential for the South Yorkshire club this season. Their ranking in 8th probably depends on if they can keep hold of Ben Whiteman who is no doubt being looked at by Championship teams. He keeps things ticking at the base of midfield.
Ipswich Town (9th) are a side that have done relatively little in the transfer market this season and Paul Lambert is putting faith in the side that failed to reach the play-offs last season to go one better, but I can see them stagnating again. Personally, I’m shocked that owner Marcus Evans gave Lambert a bumper contract last year, he’s never convinced me as a manager, at least in the last half a dozen years.
At the time of writing they’ve managed to keep striker James Norwood but rumours remain lingering about his future, the same can be said about winger Gwion Edwards. Overall their squad should be strong enough for a play-off place but on the evidence of last season, they didn’t deserve one and they’ve done next to nothing to rectify it.
Charlton Athletic (10th) have fond memories of this division. That late Patrick Bauer strike at Wembley in the 18/19 play-off final will live long in the memory. The odds were stacked against them last season in the Championship and they didn’t do quite enough to survive. They have kept the majority of that squad though but Josh Cullen is unlikely to return, he was a class act for the Addicks in holding midfield.
Their first XI looks very decent for this level but there’s a worrying lack of numbers at the club and given the amount of midweek games that are going to occur this season, fatigue could set in unless they strengthen further, there’s still a lot of the transfer window left, to be fair. Macauley Bonne and Connor Washington should score enough goals to keep them in contention for another play-off push but I do think they’ll just fall short this season given the increased competitive nature in League One.
The Mid-Table Mire
Plymouth Argyle (11th) have a good vibe around the club at the minute. Ryan Lowe is a refreshing manager and has brought a new and intuitive way of playing to the Devon-based side. The focus is mainly an attacking one and the 3-5-2 formation opted for has seen a new role for the now permanent signing, George Cooper. Cooper excelled last season and fans are over the moon that he is back.
Danny Mayor is too good for League 2 and the step up should be seamless for him whilst Ryan Hardie is back for another spell, Panutche Camara was a key player for Crawley last season, having a lot of the right attributes for a central midfielder. Defender Kelland Watts has a lot of promise and should fill in the left sided centre half slot nicely whilst Ben Reeves and Frank Nouble add something different if Lowe chooses to mix it up. I think they’ll be just fine, especially with the impressive Lowe at the helm.
Hull City (12th) had a shambles of a 2020 and simply couldn’t get out of their rut after losing Kamil Grosicki and Jarrod Bowen in January. It’s always tough for sides to regain a winning mentality after such a long time without a win. There’s still decent players at the KCOM though, especially at the top of the pitch with Northern Ireland striker Josh Magennis, big Tom Eaves and the lively Malik Wilks can all get goals.
Greg Docherty comes with positive reviews too and it’s easy to forget about Norwegian winger Martin Samuelsen who could restart his career, he’s certainly got the quality and technique to succeed. The Tigers defence does worry me though, they were a joke in the second half of the season and they’ve done little to rectify it in the market. They could be one of the well fancied teams to struggle.
Lincoln City (13th) have a manager I do like in Michael Appleton and the business he has done looks good. Liam Bridcutt will come in as captain and bring that toughness and leadership in midfield. TJ Eyoma is back from Spurs to slot into defence, Dutchman Lewis Montsma is a bit of an unknown and the rest of their defence I can’t say I know how good they will be, it’s a pretty big shake up.
Connor Morton was superb at Northampton last season and it’s a real coup for the Imps that they got him through the door. We know the quality Jorge Grant has too, Appleton needs to get the best out of him if they’re to push the play-offs. They are still lacking a few bodies for me and another mid-table season is on the cards.
Burton Albion (14th) are facing a rare season without Nigel Clough at the helm. Clough did a superb job on a very tight budget at the club and Jake Buxton has big shoes to fill. Charle Vernam joins from Grimsby who I’m not sure is a great player at this level, but local lad Kane Hemmings will fill the void of Liam Boyce, finally.
They’ve always gone with a tight squad at the Pirelli and this season is no different. I doubt there’s a team with such little churn in the past five or so years. There should be enough know-how to keep them clear of danger but don’t expect a promotion push.
Swindon (15th) have lost their top two scorers in Jerry Yates and Eoin Doyle as well as Keshi Anderson, that’s 45 combined goals gone from the team and that has to worry Robins’ fans. I do like the business they have done though with Brett Pitman coming in as a Doyle replacement, he’s always been a penalty box poacher and if the impressive figure of Richie Wellens can keep this side playing in the same style as they did last season I do think they will score goals.
Dialling Jayesimi has come back on a permanent deal from Norwich after and excellent time on loan last season and Johnny Smith on loan from Bristol City is a player I love to watch, he will fit right in. Jack Payne will be hoping to recapture his firm of a few years back after struggling to settle. I do worry about the defensively though, it’s not the best backline for this level and that makes me think around a mid-table finish looks about right as these front players may take some time to gel.
Shrewsbury (16th) are a side that have been underwhelming in the transfer window and have a manager in Sam Ricketts who has failed to progress the club and I fear another season of stagnation for Salop. They look extremely light in attacking areas and we’ve not seen enough of Rekeil Pyke and Dainel Udoh to convince us that they can supplying the goals.
Ricketts is a disciple of the Kenny Jackett school of management and it’s not a particularly pretty watch. It’s quite dour and defensive and to be fair I do think their backline will keep them up. Aaron Pierre is a very good centre half at this level whilst Ro-Shaun Williams and Ethan Ebanks-Landell are monsters at the back. It looks like a meh season for the Shrews, again.
Milton Keynes Dons (17th) have the EFL’s youngest manager in 34 year old Russell Martin and I’d say if he can keep his side comfortably away from the relegation zone then it would be a decent enough season for an inexperienced manager. MK have signed Carlton Morris on loan from Martin’s previous club Norwich, as has Louis Thompson which shows him using his contacts well.
Sam Nombe showed glimpses of what he can do, Ben Gladwin impressed in his nine games last season and he has re-signed for this season. However, Jordan Moore-Taylor, Ben Reeves, Connor McGrandles, Jordan Bowery and Rhys Healey have all departed making depth a slight issue.
Crewe Alexandra (18th) were mightily impressive with their array of young talent in league two last season and I have faith in most of them being able to make the grade at third tier level. Look out for wide forward Charlie Kirk, full backs Harry Pickering and Perry Ng as well as goalscoring midfielder Tommy Lowery this season. All excelled last season as did Ryan Wintle and Callum Ainley.
This group has played with each other throughout their youth team days and it’s reflected with the chemistry between them all on the pitch. Dave Artell does have some experience to supplement the youth with the likes of Eddie Nolan, Chris Porter and Daniel Powell. They’ll play attractive football and have the requisite quality to be safe from a drop back down to League Two.
The Relegation Battle
Accrington Stanley (19th) have continued to outperform expectations year after year and so much credit has to go to managerial duo John Coleman and Jimmy Bell for their canny scouting. Accy have slipped into the non-league market for Dion Charles and Colby Bishop, both of whom did well last season. They’ve used the loan market in order to beef up the squad this campaign though which is a sensible move given the tight finances.
Forwards Tom Allan and Ryan Cassidy have joined from Newcastle and Watford respectively whilst Tariq Uwakwe and Mo Sangare have been drafted in from Chelsea and Newcastle again. Most importantly, star man Sean McConville remains at the club. They do still need a first choice goalkeeper though, which is worrying given how close we are to the start of the season although there’s been talk over a deal for 21 year old Nathan Baxter from Chelsea. I trust Coleman and Bell to work their magic again and keep Stanley in League One.
Wigan Athletic (20th) have had one of the most tumultuous summers of any team in the EFL. The shambolic joke of ‘owners’ at the club have caused the club to ask for donations to get through these difficult times. Pretty much all the key players from their decent Championship campaign have departed in order to regain some finances.
Kieffer Moore, Jamal Lowe, Antonee Robinson, Cedric Kipre, David Marshall, Jensen Weir and Joe Gelhardt are just some of the players to have left the club and the money just isn’t there to replace them all. The man who made it work for the Latics, Paul Cook, has also departed and it leaves the club in a sorry state. I do think the players in situ will give their all for the suffering fans and I think they’ll just about stay up (if they don’t get any points deductions).
Bristol Rovers (21st) occupy the first relegation spot. I’m surprised how much respect the bookies are giving them this season. They have the Gas rated as a top 10 side and I can’t for the life of me work out why. They’ve lost their key striker Clarke-Harris and guess who was their second-top scorer in the league last season? Abu Ogogo with three goals. Everyone else managed two or fewer goals. Now someone please tell me why they are rated as a top ten side!
James Daly and Jonah Ayunga are the only recognised strikers at the club and they have a combined total of 3 EFL games to their name. Defensively they’ve got a half decent lot of centre back options but they look weak at full back, whilst classy midfielders Liam Sercombe and Ollie Clarke, so long a positive partnership for Rovers, have departed. They’re one of my favourite bets of the summer at a huge 8/1 for relegation.
Northampton (22nd) had a brilliant promotion via the play-offs last season and Keith Curle made his side very difficult to beat. They have lost key men though, it must be said. Defensive lynchpin Charlie Goode moved to Brentford, Vaidaine Oliver joined Gillingham whilst midfield star Callum Morton has opted for a loan move to Lincoln after a superb spell at Sixfields on loan from West Brom last season.
Other starting centre halves Scott Wharton and Jordan Turnbull are also no longer at the club meaning it’s a completely new defence for the Cobblers and they will have had a shorter pre-season than most given their involvement in the play-offs. There’s certainly promise between strike duo Joe Nuttall and Benny Ashley-Seal but they’re yet to prove it so it’s hard to grasp as of yet, how they will do. There’s too many question marks around the change in this squad and it could come back to bite them.
AFC Wimbledon (23rd) may feel a bit hard done by with this ranking but I fail to see enough quality in the side to not be down there. Ollie Palmer is a decent signing from Crawley and he should get them a few goals if they play to his strengths, their defence looks ok as well but I’m struggling to see where the craft and creativity is in midfield. There could be a lack of pace at the top of the pitch too and strength in depth looks once again an issue for the Wombles.
Rochdale (24th) look really thin on the ground and understandably so given the financial hit smaller clubs are facing. Key men have departed and not really replaced. Captain and ever-present Ian Henderson has left for Salford, influential midfielder Callum Camps has joined Fleetwood, flying full-back Rhys Norrington-Davies was only on loan and hasn’t returned.
They rely heavily on their good academy but there’s a lot who are untested. It is a squad that in all honesty I could see finishing bottom half of league two. It’s a shame because they are a great club that are run in a sensible manner. I just think they are sorely lacking goals and League One quality.
Full League One Table Prediction:
- Peterborough United
- Oxford United
- Fleetwood Town
- Doncaster Rovers
- Ipswich Town
- Charlton Athletic
- Plymouth Argyle
- Hull City
- Lincoln City
- Burton Albion
- Swindon Town
- Shrewsbury Town
- MK Dons
- Crewe Alexandra
- Accrington Stanley
- Wigan Athletic
- Bristol Rovers
- Northampton Town
- AFC Wimbledon