League One preview 17/18 – part IV
Right then, my final part and the good old South of England. I’ll start my way from the eastern most club to the one furthest west.
One of a few seaside clubs in the division, Southend United chased a play-off berth all the way to the final game of last season, a nod to what a bit of experience and stability in these trigger happy days of football management can do. Only Keith Hill pips Phil Brown in the League One longevity stakes.
Southend ‘lost’ Franck Nouble and Dave Mooney in the summer, both moved on. A much bigger loss was that of defender Adam Thompson, who joined Lee Clark at Bury. However Michael Turner is a fantastic replacement, still only 33, and with 350 league appearances under his belt. Winger Michael Kightly also joined from Burnley and the Shrimpers made left back Stephen Hendrie permanent from West Ham.
With a month to go until transfer deadline the much sought after Ryan Leonard remains at Southend, just. Anton Ferdinand will form a central defensive partnership I suspect with Turner. Anthony Wordsworth pulls the strings in midfield and Simon Cox adds goals up front.
It might be tough for Brown to pull off another play-off chase, especially without Leonard, but I am sure he will have them close.
Key player – Michael Turner
CA expectation – top half
Down in Kent Gillingham have gone from being play-off candidates to relegation favourites and I’m not sure why. One reason maybe Adrian Pennock, who has struggled to assert himself at Priestfield but appears to have the support of looney chairman Paul Scally.
Bradley Dack, not surprisingly was cashed in and joined Blackburn Rovers. Cody MacDonald also left for AFC Wimbledon, scorer of 12 goals last season. Ex-Addick academy player Ollie Muldoon was released.
Incoming are Conor Wilkinson who has had a recent nomadic loan career. The 22-year old striker signed from Bolton. Gabriel Zakuani could be a positive and defender Alex Lacey joined from Yeovil.
Ex-Addick triumvirate Scott Wagstaff, Josh Wright and Lee Martin all remain however, but Pennock has a lot of improving to do if the Gills aren’t going to slip back into the 4th tier.
Key player – Josh Wright
CA expectation – Relegation
Just two London teams in League One this season then and one of them is AFC Wimbledon, everyone except Karl Robinson’s second favourite team. Neil Ardely has possibly the least resources available to him amongst his managerial peer group in League One so last season’s comfortable stroll to mid table can be considered a raging success. The problem Ardley has had this summer is holding onto their key players as the vultures from the rest of the clubs in this division take their pickings.
Three Dons strikers left the club. Dominic Poleon went to Bradford City, Tyrone Barnett to Port Vale and the biggest loss of all was player of the season Tom Elliott joining Millwall. Renowned lower league goalscorer Cody MacDonald was brought in though as was Kwesi Appiah from Palace.
Another loss was young midfielder Jake Reeves, who went to Bradford with Poleon. Liam Trotter was added from Bolton and Jimmy Abdou came from Millwall, on loan. Another loanee is ‘keeper George Long from Sheffield United.
So some key changes in personnel for Ardley, and a different spine to what Dons’ fans got used to. Squad depth is an issue, but not something that is unusual at Kingsmeadow. Nonetheless they are going to miss a couple of key players such as Elliott and Reeves, and they have less obvious quality now than a year ago. Survival is the goal after their rapid rise back to this level. It might be touch and go but Ardley can achieve that goal.
Key player – Lyle Taylor
CA expectation – A relegation battle ending in survival
I’m not sure what has gone on Oxford United during the summer. In May I’d have said that they would be definite play-off contenders for this season but much has changed. The much-maligned Michael Appleton rebuilt his reputation at the Kassam, and to outsiders looked as of he was on the cusp of taking Oxford to the 2nd tier for the first time since the late 90’s. But Appleton who has a habit of packing his bag and doing a runner did just that in the summer and joined Craig Shakespeare at Leicester City.
Then on the player front defenders Joe Skarz went to Bury as did Phil Edwards, who did really well on loan last season. A big loss was Chey Dunkley, grabbed by Wigan. Three of Oxford’s back four from last season gone.
In the middle skipper John Lundstram is a big loss. He has gone to Sheffield United after a chase that has lasted all summer and Liam Sercombe signed for Bristol Rovers. Up front Chris Maguire left and the U’s were unable to re-sign surprise goal getter Conor McAleny.
To replace Appleton the U’s board showed both ambition with perhaps an educated gamble in appointing Pep Clotet. Brought to Swansea by Michael Laudrup, the Spaniard has had a good career mostly as an assistant and has spent the last couple of seasons working with Garry Monk. Clotet, articulate and suit wearing, also does a fair bit of media. Some foreign managers have struggled in the lower leagues of England but Oxford’s owner Darryl Eales, who runs a tight but forward thinking ship, will hope Clotet is more Martinez than Ribeiro.
Quite a summer turnaround for Clotet then and he has brought in long time Charlton target James Henry from Wolves, and centre-half Mike Williamson also from Molineux. From Swansea Clotet picked up 31-year old forgotten man Dwight Tiendalli, who is a right back. Jon Obika signed from Swindon, and he can definitely do a job as we know. The most eye-catching of all was 22-year-old playmaker Xemi from Barcelona’ B side.
A very different looking Oxford United though and I will watch with interest to see if Pep Clotet can replicate the potential that was growing under Michael Appleton.
Key player – James Henry
CA expectation – Mid table
People talk of big clubs that find themselves in the lower reaches, and there are various fan definitions, but Portsmouth meet all the criteria’s. With average crowds still in the high teens Pompey finally managed to find the League Two escape route and added the title into the party on the last day of the season.
Mind you, it hasn’t been all plain sailing since. Manager Paul Cook left for Wigan, taking his coaching team with him. On the flip side a huge positive is that today former Disney CEO Michael Eisner and his family completed their takeover of the club. Oh for a Mickey Mouse owner at The Valley….
The other positive was that Cook made his decision early and Pompey moved quickly to replace him with a manager I have always liked. Kenny Jackett took over in June giving him the whole pre-season and the transfer window to get his plans into place. Jackett has brought in ex-Addick Tareiq Holmes-Dennis arriving on loan from Huddersfield Town plus the experience of Brett Pitman, who has taken the captain’s armband. Jackett convinced Swindon’s Nathan Thompson to pick the south-coast over many other options and he also signed a good young ‘keeper in Luke McGee from Spurs.
One player that Jackett won’t be able to call upon was last season’s regular left back Enda Stevens, the Irishman moving to Sheffield United. It was also a shock to see captain Michael Doyle dropping back down a division to Coventry.
Portsmouth are one of Charlton’s oldest foes and we have played them more than almost any other club in our history and of course 25-years ago they etched their name onto our modern day history. It’s good to see Pompey back and under Kenny Jackett they will be a force in League One this season.
Key player – Kal Naismith
CA expectation – Promotion credentials
Charlton kick off the season at home to Bristol Rovers, and if only last season we could’ve played them every week we may have won the league! Rovers upwards trajectory under Darrell Clarke continued last season as they finished a very credible 10th above the likes of us. Clarke, who has won 4 promotions in his short career as a manager, has a built a team, a real team, that together is better than it’s parts.
So what is next for Clarke? Is mid table good enough or is there an expectation that they could emulate their City rivals and move up to the next tier? The summer has seen little disruption to the playing squad with only two players leaving. Two goalkeepers were signed. Sam Slocombe from Blackpool and Adam Smith from Northampton. Both are capable so I’m unsure who Clarke will turn to. I’ll guess we’ll find out on Saturday!
Also incoming is Liam Sercombe from Oxford, who Clarke will need to man-manage carefully with the midfielder having various disciplinary issues. In attack Tom Nicholls arrives from Peterborough but the signing that has had the most attention is that of Tom Broadbent, who Clarke has offered a chance in professional football after coming out of the Army.
Top 10 maybe a harder job this year for Rovers with the improvement in the league’s quality and strength, but I can see them being a top half feature probably ending up about halfway.
Key player – Liam Sercombe
CA expectation – Mid table
Finally our road trip ends in Devon, and the leagues western-most point. League One welcomes back Plymouth Argyle, who have also suffered more than their fair share these past few seasons crashing down the leagues, navigating through a financial crisis and then falling heartbreakingly short in the play-off’s two seasons in a row. That was until last season when an excellent season under Derek Adams was rewarded with promotion.
Derek Adams has done great things for Plymouth, a long way from his last home in the Scottish Highlands, and had the Pilgrims playing some great counter attacking football, well suited to League One as well.
Plymouth have had a good window, hanging onto important players such as Graham Carey and Jake Jervis, but adding good squad quality such as defender Ryan Edwards from Morecambe, midfielder Jamie Ness from Scunthorpe and wide man Joel Grant, taken from rivals Exeter.
Adams’ team has a strong spine starting with keeper Luke McCormick, through centre-half Sonny Bradley, and then Carey and Jervis and this team carries good attacking options from out wide. I think Plymouth will be challenging for promotion.
Key player – Graham Carey
CA expectation – Play-off push
Right, that is it. The car is parked and time for a pre-match meal and pint.