Fallen giants – the battle for League One glory
For fallen Premier League clubs, English football’s third tier has become an all-too-familiar residence over the last five years. Leeds United, Nottingham Forest, Leicester City, Norwich City, Sheffield Wednesday, Southampton and Charlton Athletic have all been visitors, with success rates varying between each side.
Leicester and Norwich ensured their stays were mere loan spells, but for the others life has not been so easy. Nottingham Forest made it back after three seasons, whilst Leeds also huffed and puffed their way through three long campaigns to finally regain promotion last season.
Of the seven clubs listed above, four have managed to clamber their way back up to the Championship, Sheffield Wednesday being among the division’s most recent additions. The Owls join Southampton and Charlton in the battle for promotion this season.
For this trio, promotion is certainly imperative. Leeds have proved that floundering around in the third tier for too long has its detrimental effects and none will look forward to an extended stay in the third tier following the exploits of the Elland Road outfit.
Saints marching on
Southampton go into next season’s League One campaign as hot favourites for league glory and may have been plying their trade in the Championship this coming season had it not been for their ten-point deduction at the beginning of the campaign.
With financial difficulties a thing of the past thanks to a takeover from Swiss businessman Markus Liebherr, the south coast club are expected to make waves in the division under the careful stewardship of Alan Pardew. Their form in the second half of the season was certainly worthy of a place at the top of the table, thoughts echoed by the Saints faithful who hold with them expectations of the highest order ahead of the big kickoff.
And quite rightly so. The goal-scoring exploits of Rickie Lambert provide the Saints with a man guaranteed to find the net on a regular basis. The impressive Lee Barnard – a steal from Southend last season – also looks capable of scoring frequently to act as the perfect partner in crime for the mercurial Lambert. Every team promoted from the division over the years has relied on specific players for goals, and Southampton have plenty of them to call upon.
Wednesday look to bounce back
Meanwhile, Sheffield Wednesday will hope to put their financial troubles behind them as they prepare to mount a successful promotion challenge. The Owls are no strangers to the third tier, having been relegated to the division in 2002/03. Play-off victory two seasons later proved a reward for their efforts, but life in the Championship was often a struggle.
Holding onto key assets is crucial for Alan Irvine this summer, although it appears that Lee Grant is finally set to land a move to Burnley after a series of rejected bids.
Wednesday have been busy in the transfer market so far, with Irvine seemingly electing for experience in his quest for success at Hillsborough this season. Leon Clarke has long departed on a free transfer to Queen’s Park Rangers after being released earlier in the summer, his replacement arriving in the form of experienced forward Clinton Morrison. A good swap, most would agree.
Attack-minded wingers Gary Teale and Chris Sedgwick, as well as Doncaster striker Paul Heffernan, have all been drafted in on free transfers, while Neil Mellor has been snapped up on a season-long loan.
Sheffield Wednesday fans have not had it easy in recent years and, with better teams in the division this season, promotion may prove elusive. Irvine possesses a capable squad, but quite whether they can quickly adopt winning mentality required in League One remains to be seen.
Addicks go back to the drawing board
Finally, Charlton Athletic complete our fallen trio. The Addicks came within touching distance of the Championship last season, but fell short in the play-offs at the hands of Swindon Town. This season is proving increasingly difficult for manager Phil Parkinson, who has already witnessed something of a mini-exodus from The Valley this summer.
Influential captain Nicky Bailey has departed to Middlesbrough, while last season’s top goalscorer Deon Burton has left on a free transfer for Azerbaijan. Right-back Frazer Richardson – featured in last season’s League One team of the year – has joined fellow promotion hopefuls Southampton and tricky winger Lloyd Sam has linked up with Simon Grayson at Leeds.
Parkinson already has his work cut out and his dealings in the transfer market to replace those departed so far leaves a lot to be desired. Charlton should find themselves in a comfortable position come the end of the season with promotion still a realistic aim, but the questions surrounding these departures remain.
With a season in League One already under their belts, the majority of the squad will know exactly what to expect when the campaign gets underway. Parkinson will be relying on his experienced heads to get the job done when the going gets tough, but all in all may see even his seasoned stalwarts fall short of success.
The way forward
For all our troubled clubs, League One has already proved itself to be a useful stepping stone towards redemption. Nottingham Forest and Leicester in particular have strengthened significantly as a result of their fall, while Norwich and Leeds are hoping successful campaigns last year will stand them in good stead for the impending Championship calendar.
Southampton certainly appear best-equipped to force their way back to the second tier, but ruling out the other hopefuls would be foolish at this stage. League One is set for a batch of surprises this season, leaving it to be perhaps the most wide open battle we have seen for some time.
Written by: Joe Brewin