League One preview 17/18 – part I
Last season was one to forget for Charlton fans, a dismal and depressing campaign means we are back for a second consecutive season in League One and the names of Fleetwood and Rochdale are becoming more familiar than those of West Ham and Crystal Palace. The 3rd Division looks to have a lot more quality to it this time around strengthening the feeling that last season was such a lost opportunity.
League One this season has a very northern feel to it so I’ll start my look at our rivals by beginning up north and then work my way down. Remember as in other years this is just a few paragraphs of each side, if you want a proper preview then head here.
Uwe Rosler’s new summer contract was a real boost for Fleetwood Town, who came so close last season to the rarefied air of The Championship. The Cod Army spent almost the entire season in and around the play-off’s and at one point went unbeaten for 18 games.
Rosler has had a busy summer and sadly lost two of his most talented players in Conor McLaughlin and David Ball moving to Millwall and Rotherham respectively. The oft-injured midfielder Jimmy Ryan also left, he went to local rivals Blackpool. However Rosler has brought in two right backs to replace McLaughlin with Harvey Rodgers looking the pick. The 20-year old joins from Hull and spent the second half of last season impressing on loan at Accrington.
Exciting midfielder Kyle Dempsey returns after signing permanently from Huddersfield and Rosler went back to Huddersfield to pick up striker Jordy Hiwula on loan. The ex-Man City youngster could be an astute signing after playing over 40 games for Bradford last season scoring 9 times.
The other signing that catches the eye is that of Conor McAleny, who couldn’t hit a barn door when with us on loan, but at Oxford last season scored 10 in 18 games including, of course, one against us.
Rosler has had a pre-season to work with his players, and it would not surprise me to see the Cod Army dispel doubts that last season was a one-off and will again be competing at the top end of the table.
Key player – Kyle Dempsey
CA expectation – Just outside of play-off’s
8 miles down the coast is the sad mess that is Blackpool, who despite everything still managed to get promoted via the play-off’s last season, a Wembley game that was sadly watched by just 5,000 battered and bruised Blackpool fans. The poisonous Oyston family remain but Blackpool find themselves promoted after years of mis-management thanks mostly to the astuteness of Gary Bowyer, who didn’t in all honesty have much to work with.
Similar to the Addicks, each summer has seen a raft of ins and outs and this summer has been no different with playmaker Jack Payne, surprisingly choosing Ebbsfleet over League One and skipper Tom Aldred turning down a contract to join Bury. Decent keeper Sam Slocombe was released and ended up at Bristol Rovers.
From Bury though comes experienced ‘keeper Ben Williams, young forward Max Clayton joins from Bolton and a lot will be expected of Jimmy Ryan, who drove down from Fleetwood. Three loan signings from bigger clubs are interesting. Young midfielders Callum Cooke from Middlesbrough and Sean Longstaff from Newcastle plus the much travelled goalie Ryan Allsop from Bournemouth.
I think Bowyer will have his side organized and prepared and ordinarily the step up from 4th tier to 3rd most clubs take in their stride, but sadly Blackpool rate not most clubs.
Key player – Jimmy Ryan
CA expectation – Relegation battle
Everyone’s promotion favourites are Blackburn Rovers, which might be a little fanciful because they have all the markings of a club on a steep and long slide. Tony Mowbray was appointed in February but was unable to put the brakes on a first season in the third tier for 37 years. The ex-Coventry, West Brom and Middlesbrough boss certainly improved results but there were too many draws as Rovers fell on goal difference.
It’s not just laziness by the bookies that has Rovers as pre-season favourites, they have also spent big in the summer window. £750,000 on Bradley Dack, and Cardiff legend Peter Whittingham joined on a free. Two other quality midfielders snapped up were Ben Galdwin and Richie Smallwood. Add Liam Feeney, Craig Conway and Elliott Bennett and that is some midfield.
Up front Danny Graham, who clubs have collectively paid £10m for, remains but even with the addition of Reading’s Dominic Samuel they look a little short in the striker department. Charlie Mugrew alongside newly added Paul Caddis offer lionhearted strength at the back though, and they will miss ‘keeper Jim Steele, who has signed for Sunderland.
They are certainly the team to beat but the squad overall looks a little shallow as many of the clubs’ high earners left as did young talent Connor Mahoney.
Key player – Bradley Dack
CA expectation – Promotion probables but not at a canter
Along the M65 into Yorkshire we find last season’s play-off losers Bradford City. Stuart McCall will during pre-season have attempted to shake his players from their Wembley disappointment and also put together a plan into how his team can turn draws into wins.
Going so close to the prize but just coming up short always brings with it changes as players moved on, some by design, but some others jumped ship such as Mark Marshall and Billy Clarke, who find themselves at The Valley of course. Steven Darby and James Meredith moved to promoted Bolton and Millwall and long serving Rory McArdle went to Scunthorpe.
McCall raided AFC Wimbledon for wide man Dominic Poleon and classy midfielder Jake Reeves as well as snapping up out contract Adam Chicksen, who will need to be consistent to step into Meredith’s left-back shoes.
McCall is too experienced to let Bradford slip, and they again will be tough to beat, but although they gave it a much better go than Charlton, I think the Bantams will also be kicking themselves for missing a great opportunity for promotion.
Key player – Jake Reeves
CA expectation – Just outside of play-off’s
I picked Scunthorpe United this time last year as my dark horse and they did not let me down. In fact they led the table as it headed into it’s final few months but a run of bad form saw the Iron finish in 3rd and lose to Millwall over two games in the play-off semi-finals.
Graham Alexander operates very much under the radar but is a good young manager who has his Scunny side organized and resilient. Alexander has kept the crux of his squad together but were unable to re-sign Matt Crooks, who was magnificent last season. Stephen Dawson chose Bury and goalie Luke Daniels leaving for Brentford is a loss, and replacing him with middle-aged Matt Gilkes is a gamble.
Centre-half Rory McArdle being paired with Murray Wallace will be one of the better defensive pairings in the division. Up front remain the very good at this level Paddy Madden and Kevin Van Veen.
Scunny without the wild expectations of Blackburn, Portsmouth, Charlton and Bradford remain a force in this division and the top two is a very good possibility.
Key player – Murray Wallace
CA expectation – Promotion a distinct possibility
Life is never boring at Doncaster Rovers. Three relegations and two promotions in six seasons, the last one coming in May as Donny bounced back into League One at the first time of asking. Keeping faith in boss Darren Ferguson, who had struggled to replicate his success at Peterborough, proved a good decision as Donny comfortably won promotion despite somehow contriving to throw away the League Two title.
Where the board showed faith in Ferguson he has similarly shown faith with the majority of his promotion winning squad and it is pretty much intact apart from a few not so key departures and a couple sent out on loan including ex-Addick Ceddy Evina. Ferguson missed out on the experienced defender Steven Taylor but did make Neil Mason a permanent after spending last season on loan at the Keepmoat. Winger Alex Kiwomya, the youngest of a football playing family, signed from Chelsea after having a good season on loan at Crewe.
Donny have goals in them with ex-Millwall youngster John Marquis scoring 26 in his first full season. Marquis finally looks to have settled after 9 different loan spells from Millwall. Tommy Rowe and long time Rover James Coppinger score goals from midfield, and Andy Williams can deliver as well. The squad does look a little light in places though and they will be relying on Marquis to step up, but I can’t see them struggling this season.
Key player – John Marquis
CA expectation – Bottom half but outside of relegation troubles
After clinging on for two seasons in The Championship Rotherham United finally fell untidily through the trap-door to League One last season. Three managers oversaw a disaster of a season that saw the Millers concede almost 100 league goals. Surprisingly novice manager Paul Warne was retained and has been joined by Richie Barker as together they attempt to rebuild confidence and the squad which has seen a number of departures. The most high profile being Richie Smallwood and Danny Ward to Blackburn and Cardiff respectively.
Incomings include MK Don’s Darren Potter and David Ball, both tried and trusted at this level. Attacking full-back Josh Emmaneul arrives on loan from Ipswich.
Prior to their promotion last time from League One, United were on an upwards trajectory, but all impetus appears to be lost and Paul Warne has a big question mark over him for me. The Millers have had a good pre-season though as they start to clean the slate, but I think they will struggle to adjust back in League One this season.
Key player – David Ball
CA expectation – A flirtation with relegation
We move down to the Midlands next.