TTU Go Predicting: A Club-by-Club League 1 Preview 2016-17

Posted by on Aug 3, 2016 in Previews | No Comments
TTU Go Predicting: A Club-by-Club League 1 Preview 2016-17

Our League 1 preview this year is a joint effort between regular contributors Tom Furnival-Adams, a Coventry City supporter whose work has appeared in a host of organs including When Saturday Comes and The Guardian and Tom Bourne, the man we have called upon in the past to account for all things Port Vale. Each has taken 12 of the competing teams in the coming season’s third tier to analyse with the cut-off point decided on an alphabetical basis. Tom and Tom can be followed on twitter here and here respectively while this week’s Championship preview is available here.

AFC Wimbledon

The genuine Dons arrive in League One as the neutrals’ darlings, making the third tier for the first time in their short history. Last season’s play-off victory, which came 14 years to the day since the club’s formation at a Wimbledon Common pub in 2002, was so draped in narrative it could have constituted the basis of an English Literature textbook’s foreword. After five seasons in League Two, Neal Ardley’s side found form at the ideal moment to surge into seventh place with six wins from their last eight games at the end of last season. A 2-0 Wembley play-off triumph over Plymouth secured promotion and the right to call themselves equals of the club that stole their identity and moved it 50 miles away. Adebayo Akinfenwa, he of penalty-stealing and muscle fame, has moved on – via Whatsapp, presumably – to Wycombe Wanderers, but much-admired striker Lyle Taylor remains after pocketing 20 goals in League 2 last season. Spurs academy graduate Dean Parrett joins to bolster options in midfield after the Dons reportedly beat a number of teams to the former Stevenage midfielder’s signature. Winger Chris Whelpdale also arrives from Stevenage with a reputation for contributing more than his fair share of goals. Promoted sides have a history of adapting well to life in League 1, and there’s no reason why club legend Ardley can’t guide the newcomers to safety.

Verdict: Middle of the Road

Bolton Wanderers

As Sam Allardyce eases into his brand new St George’s Park desk chair, the club at which he forged his reputation is still dealing with the aftermath of his era’s excesses. A bottom-placed Championship finish in May was the culmination of a disastrous few years, with Neil Lennon having to contend with a transfer embargo and an HMRC winding up petition as he struggled to steer his team through heavy turbulence. Weary fans will hope that the Dean Holdsworth-fronted Sports Shield consortium’s March takeover heralds a fresh start, and the new owners have been helped in no small part by former owner Eddie Davies’ willingness to write off nearly £200m of debt. In Phil Parkinson, the Trotters have an experienced new manager with a proven track record in the lower leagues, whose first task will be to instil some much-needed stability. Regardless of personnel, Parkinson will build his side from the back, prioritising resilience and organisation above all else. The sale of defender Rob Holding – a rare shining light amidst the gloom of last season – is disappointing but the reported £2m incoming fee is big money in League One terms and should help to fund reinforcements. 29-year old midfielder Chris Taylor is a smart acquisition, and his former Millwall teammate Mark Beevers is a fine defender at this level. The Trotters also have high hopes for last season’s top scorer Zach Clough, who looks a genuine talent and should shine this year. Anything but promotion will be a disappointment.

Verdict: Chasing the Play-offs

Bradford City

The epic (in modern football terms) Phil Parkinson era is over. Replacing the much-loved Bolton-bound man in the Bradford dugout is Stuart McCall, who has spent a combined 13 years at Valley Parade as a player and manager. The temptation may be to warn against going back, but McCall will have learnt much during his spell at Motherwell and Rangers and returns with added knowledge and experience. The club is also under new ownership, having been sold to German investors Edin Rahic and Stefan Rupp, who have worked hard to bring fans onside since their arrival with an approach of openness and transparency. The Bantams have strengthened during the summer transfer window and look well-placed to mount another promotion challenge, having finished fifth last season and ultimately missing out on promotion following defeat to Millwall in the play-offs. In midfielder Romain Vincelot and defender Nathaniel Knight-Percival, the Bantams have invested in proven quality at this level, although the return of midfielder Nicky Law from Rangers has been met with mixed reactions from fans. McCall has managed to retain the spine of last year’s squad – Rory McArdle, Tony McMahon and James Hanson – and has been vocal about his desire to further strengthen his squad before the transfer window closes. A lengthy spell in the top six is inevitable.

Verdict: Chasing the Play-offs

Bristol Rovers

It’s been an eventful few years for Rovers, who have recovered from relegation to the Conference two years ago with back-to-back promotions, securing third place in League 2 on the final day of last season at the expense of Accrington. Relatively inexperienced 38-year-old manager Darrell Clarke has been in charge throughout the rollercoaster years and will relish the chance to test himself in the third tier for the first time. A takeover in March left the wealthy Jordanian Al-Qadi family with a 92% stake in the club and it will be fascinating to see how far they’re willing to take their new acquisition. Last season’s top scorer Matty Taylor chipped in with an impressive 27 league goals, making the League Two Player of the Year three-man shortlist as he outscored everyone else in the Football League. Assuming he stays, Taylor could form a formidable partnership with 21-year-old Luke James, who arrives from Peterborough on a season-long loan with a view to a permanent deal. Given their financial clout the Pirates should have enough about them to consolidate their third tier status, with a top half finish a realistic aim if they can reinforce their squad with some further additions.

Verdict: Middle of the Road

Bury

Last summer’s hyperactivity in the transfer market seemed to represent an all-or-nothing promotion lunge, but another busy summer has left Bury with a strong squad that suggests the Shakers are as serious as ever about mounting a promotion challenge – even if it remains unclear to most people how their spending is being funded. Prolific journeyman striker Leon Clarke and left-back Chris Hussey have left for Sheffield United, while 34 year-old Peter Clarke – last year’s player of the year – has joined neighbours Oldham Athletic. Former Barnsley manager David Flitcroft remains at the helm after previously guiding the Shakers from the depths of League Two to their current position, and he enters 2016-17 with something of a point to prove after arguably failing to make the most of the resources handed to him last season. The additions of veterans Chris Kirkland and Neil Danns will bring some additional experience, while former Rangers striker Nicky Clark arrives on a two-year deal to shoulder some of the goalscoring burden left behind by Leon Clarke and the probable departure of Tom Pope. Flitcroft will hope that the signings of goalkeeper Ben Williams from Bradford and centre back Anthony Kay from MK Dons improve a defence that was worryingly prone to shipping goals in large quantities at times last season. A top half finish is a realistic aim, and the play-offs are certainly not out of the question.

Verdict: Middle of the Road

Charlton Athletic

Much like fellow relegated club Bolton, Charlton spent the majority of last season surrounded by misery and chaos. The shambolic ownership of Roland Duchâtelet led to angry supporter-led protests and a motley succession of managers, but neither Guy Luzon, Karel Fraeye or José Riga could prevent the Addicks’ inevitable drop to League One. Enter Russell Slade, who appears a surprisingly smart choice to take the reigns. The 55-year old is one of the most experienced lower league managers around and, after a so-so spell at Cardiff – where it felt he was never really embraced by supporters – he knows what it’s like to work under an eccentric owner against a backdrop of unrest. Just three years ago Slade led an unfancied Leyton Orient side to the League One play-off final, and his former club’s subsequent decline is perhaps illustrative of just what an achievement that was. Fans will be disappointed to see the back of Iceland star Jóhann Berg Guðmundsson, who joins Premier League newcomers Burnley following an unforgettable Euro 2016. Midfielder Ricky Holmes arrives after an outstanding League Two promotion season with Northampton, while Nicky Ajose and Lee Novak are proven strikers at this level and should be more than capable of scoring the goals to keep their new club in the promotion hunt. That said, Slade will need to address defensive weaknesses if his side are to return to the second tier at the first attempt.

Verdict: Chasing the play offs

Chesterfield

If your club happens to be managed by Dean Saunders on the final day of the season, there is an extremely strong likelihood that you’ll be relegated. Thankfully for Spireites supporters, the club’s hierarchy realised this relatively early on last season and dispensed with the Welshman in November, just a few months after appointing him. His replacement, Danny Wilson, guided the club to safety thanks, largely, to the goals provided by Birmingham City loanee Lee Novak, who has since signed a permanent deal with rivals Charlton. Following a couple of largely inoffensive seasons at this level, Chesterfield seem intent on making enemies in 2016-17 after offering Ched Evans a career lifeline and conveniently brushing his upcoming retrial under the proverbial carpet. The club made further headlines over the summer after awarding a competition prize to a fictional winner to make up for a lack of entries. If any real-life Surrey residents named James Higgins have decided to support the club as a result of the debacle, they should anticipate another season of struggle for their new team. Former Stockport striker Kristian Dennis could be an astute signing if he can bring his National League goal scoring form with him, but the club’s survival may rest on the pairing of Evans and Sylvan Ebanks-Blake, who exceeded expectations by chipping in with ten goals last season.

Verdict: Looking over their shoulders

Coventry City

2015-16 was a season of two distinct halves for the Sky Blues. A barnstorming start took them to the top of the table in November, but it turned out to be a momentary high, with an impressive crop of young loanees suffering from the effects of fatigue and expectation. An 8th-place finish in its own right represents undeniable progress from the previous season’s final-day relegation scrap, but fans were left ruing what might have been rather than celebrating what was. Many of last season’s stand-out performers have departed over the summer, including influential midfield pairing Romain Vincelot and John Fleck, and 20-goal striker Adam Armstrong, who returns to parent club Newcastle as something of a Cov legend. Bulgarian midfielder Vladimir Gadzhev joins from Levski Sofia and looks a class above League One, while former Bradford winger Kyel Reid arrives with high expectations having proven his credentials at this level in the past. Former Team GB Olympic striker Marvin Sordell is running out of chances to fulfil his potential and will need another forward with whom to share the goalscoring load, having admitted to struggling to handle pressure in the past. 18-year old winger Jodi Jones, who joined toward the end of last season from Dagenham & Redbridge, is one to look out for, but significant reinforcements are still required if Tony Mowbray’s side are to bother the top six again.

Verdict: Middle of the Road

Fleetwood Town

When Steven Pressley was announced as Fleetwood Town’s replacement for sacked manager Graham Alexander, the Cod Army were 23rd in League One and winless in seven. His arrival heralded impressive wins over eventual promoted sides Burton and Barnsley amongst others, and the Scot ultimately guided them to safety by moulding them into a side difficult to beat, if not always adept at winning games. After a busy summer of transfer activity, it therefore came as something of a surprise when it was announced that Pressley had left the club just a couple of weeks before the start of the new season. His resignation came following an apparent disagreement over the club’s future direction. Why this wasn’t thrashed out at the beginning of the transfer window rather than the end isn’t clear, but anyone familiar with Pressley knows that his approach can be somewhat intense and single-minded. Uwe Rosler has been parachuted in with a reputation to salvage after unconvincing spells in charge at Wigan and Leeds, and his immediate mission will be to secure his new club’s third tier status for another year. Last season’s top scorer Bobby Grant remains, as does midfielder Jimmy Ryan, who should be an important figure again after a strong showing last season. Imposing his own identity on what is essentially Pressley’s squad is an unenviable challenge for Rosler, and anything but relegation will be an achievement of sorts.

Verdict: Looking over their shoulders

Gillingham

2016 has been an odd year. Leicester won the Premier League, the UK defied every ounce of common sense to vote to leave the EU and Donald Trump is on the verge of becoming the most powerful man in the world. And, in deepest darkest Kent, Bradley Dack remains a Gillingham player. Despite numerous rumours of various Premier League and Championship clubs hovering in readiness to snatch last year’s League One player of the season, Gills manager Justin Edinburgh remains stoic in his assertion that Dack will start the season at Priestfield. Promising 23-year-old centre back John Egan has already rejected the offer of a fresh contract to step up to the Championship with Brentford, and Edinburgh moved quickly to replace him by securing another loan deal for Deji Oshilaja, whose partnership with Max Ehmer will be pivotal. Fellow defender Paul Konchesky arrives with a wealth of valuable experience, and Rory Donnelly will hope to build on a decent first season which saw him reach double figures. Midfield signings Billy Knott and Mark Byrne also look like good business from Edinburgh and should do well. The club may not be quite as well equipped as last season, particularly if Dack does move on before the transfer window shuts, but no one will relish facing them and they may yet bother the top six again.

Verdict: Middle of the Road

MK Dons

When MK Dons were promoted to the Championship at the end of the 2014-15 campaign, there was a sense of resignation about their rise up the football pyramid. With an impressive stadium, a highly-regarded young manager and a fruitful academy, it was assumed by many that they would consolidate, establish themselves in the second tier and build towards their ultimate goal of Premier League football. There will be some disappointment for fans, then, that they now find themselves in the same league as AFC Wimbledon. Long-serving manager Karl Robinson – still only 35 despite six years at the club – has seemingly committed for at least another year after a brief flirtation with Massimo Cellino’s Leeds United over the summer. His willingness to explore other options hints at itchy feet and don’t bet against him being elsewhere come May, especially if a strong start is not forthcoming. That said, the Buckinghamshire side look well-positioned to bounce back at the first attempt, boasting stability that the likes of Bolton and Charlton can only dream of. Many members of 2015’s promotion-winning side remain, although losing imposing centre back Kyle MacFadzean to their Championship replacements Burton Albion is a blow. The signing of midfielder Ed Upson, who was Millwall’s 2014 Player of the Year, may prove astute if he can rediscover his form of old. Goals were hard to come by last season, but the likes of Simon Church and Nicky Maynard should have more luck against League One defenders. The Dons look like a good shout for automatic promotion.

Verdict: Promoted

Millwall

It took a while for Millwall to get up and running in their first season back in League One, but the Lions finished impressively, losing just three times in the league after defeat to Barnsley on January 2nd. And it was the Tykes who eventually hammered the nail into the coffin of a decent season for the South East London club, beating them convincingly in the play-off final to consign them to a second season of third tier football. Neil Harris proved his managerial credentials with a no-nonsense approach and a simple 4-4-2 that has got the best out of many of his players, including 25-goal top scorer Lee Gregory. Having performed major surgery on a bloated squad following relegation from the Championship he heads into the new season with a group of players that are very much his own and there will be a degree of expectation following the Lions’ brush with promotion in May. Goalkeeper Jordan Gregory, last season’s player of the year, will be an important figure again, and the arrival of wingers David Worrall and Greg Wylde, from Southend and Plymouth respectively, suggests an intention to stick with the tried-and-tested formation of last season. Influential centre back Mark Beevers has left for rivals Bolton, but if he can be replaced Millwall may well be in with a shout of the top two.

Verdict: Chasing the Play-offs

Northampton Town

After taking League Two by storm last season, the Cobblers are another side to begin the new campaign under a fresh regime. Rob Page will be looking to continue the work he began at Vale Park, having concluded life would be decidedly easier with the security of a three year contract at Sixfields rather than living under the constant fear of the sack in the Potteries. Page inherits a side on the up, but might find life harder than initially expected.The Welshman may adopt a slightly different, more methodical and patient style of football from his predecessor Chris Wilder, and will, crucially, have to do without the creative force of Ricky Holmes, Northampton’s stand out player of last season, who opted in favour of a move to fellow League One side Charlton Athletic. Other Wilder favourites, Nicky Adams and Danny Rose, are among those to have left but supporters will at least be hoping for calmer waters off the field – last season’s promotion was a remarkable achievement given its context after Northampton Borough Council petitioned for the club to be placed into administration after calling in its £10m loan. Kelvin Thomas’ subsequent takeover alleviated any such fears and now Northampton have strengthened the squad with the signings of the experienced Gabriel Zakuani from Peterborough as well as young midfielders Jak McCourt and Harry Beautyman. The evergreen Marc Richards will be expected to lead the line.

Verdict: Looking over their shoulders

Oldham Athletic

After 18 successive years in the third tier, Latics supporters will be hoping this is the season to break that duck. Unfortunately, it appears more likely to be another long hard campaign fighting relegation than a genuine tilt at promotion. Chronic instability, both managerial and financial, have dogged Oldham over recent times. With the club seeking fresh investment, but with little signs of movement on that front, it is hoped that new boss Steve Robinson can at least offer a degree of freshness. Starting last season with another rookie, Darren Kelly, proved a short-lived experiment and David Dunn fared little better before former boss John Sheridan returned late on in the campaign to steer the Latics to eventual safety. Sheridan’s departure to Notts County sees the arrival of the former Luton Town midfielder Robinson and having served as Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill’s number two, the Oldham board will be hoping some of the feel good factor that has accompanied the national side will rub off at club level. The appointment of the venerable Sean O’Driscoll alongside him will provide some much needed experience, although O’Driscoll himself needs to rebuild his reputation somewhat after a disastrous period at Walsall where he proved unpopular with players and local media alike. On the playing side, defender James Wilson has left to join Sheffield United, with midfielder Ryan Flynn heading in the opposite direction and Ollie Banks adds more midfield depth after signing from Chesterfield. The departure of the enigmatic and injury prone Jonathan Forte leaves a hole in the final third, one which Robinson will hope can be filled by Billy McKay, if he can recapture the scoring form he showed at Inverness Caledonian Thistle.

Verdict: Relegated

Oxford United

After a start to his managerial career that produced much derision, Michael Appleton has found a home with the Yellows and promotion back to the third tier following an absence of some 15 years – and a JPT final appearance at Wembley – have shown that both he and Oxford are a club on the up. One of the overriding features of the summer has been the willingness of teams higher up the pyramid to purchase League 1 and League 2’s hottest talents. Oxford have suffered more than most in this respect, losing the highly regarded attacking pair of Kemar Roofe and Callum O’Dowda to Leeds United and Bristol City respectively. The loss of Roofe’s 26 goals will prove especially difficult to replace, but Oxford have recruited well over the last couple of seasons, with a philosophy very much based on young talent which can be nurtured under the right guidance. Arsenal loanee Dan Crowley fits into this category and a brief spell at Barnsley last term should stand him in good stead. Fellow midfielder Joe Rothwell joins from Manchester United, while Rob Hall will look to put his injury woes behind him and recapture his best form after rejecting a stay at MK Dons. The loss of Jake Wright looks to have been filled adequately with the shrewd capture of Curtis Nelson from Plymouth Argyle – the 23 year old has a vast amount of experience having racked up over 200 appearances for the Pilgrims – while the recent signing of Kane Hemmings, fresh from an outstanding season with Dundee, the well-travelled Wes Thomas and a permanent deal for Chris Maguire go some way to strengthening Appleton’s resources up-front.

Verdict: Chasing the Play-offs

Peterborough United

Club stalwart Grant McCann takes up the reigns on a permanent basis as the Posh look to build on a frustrating end to last season – the decision to appoint ex marine Dave Robertson proved an ill-fated experiment. By September, the ever-popular Graham Westley had replaced him and saw an immediate up-turn in fortune. However, a valiant FA Cup defeat to West Bromwich Albion was the beginning of the end for Westley whose side embarked on a disastrous run of form. Despite the January sale of Conor Washington, goals weren’t hard to come by and Peterborough were very much the division’s entertainers – their 82 goals were only bettered by eventual champions Wigan Athletic and the midfield roster contains a lot of attacking talent, though Posh will require a harder edge to their game to push on this time round. Luck hasn’t shone on their pre-season, however. Brad Inman, one of the few shining lights in a desperate Crewe side, opted for a move to London Road ahead of League 1 rivals, but cruelly suffered a broken leg ruling him out until November. With young striker Lee Angol also on the long-term injured list, much hope will be pinned on the returning Paul Taylor who has re-signed four years after leaving for Ipswich Town.

Verdict: Middle of the Road

Port Vale

Events in ST6 will surely be worth keeping an eye on over the coming months with Vale’s maverick chairman, Norman Smurthwaite, having wrung the changes in dramatic fashion. Stoke-on-Trent may have overwhelmingly voted for Brexit, but the Valiants are decidedly pro-European, with 10 additions from abroad. A mid-table finish under the stewardship of Robert Page looked a decent return for a side that narrowly avoided relegation the season before but, still smarting from an FA Cup defeat at Exeter City which cost Vale a lucrative tie with Liverpool, Smurthwaite has opted for what is either a colossal gamble or an inspired move. Many supporters hope for the latter but fear the former – Page was effectively forced out after seeing his out of contract players offered huge cuts in wages; something Smurthwaite publicly admitted to being a deliberate ploy. The majority of Vale’s out of contract players soon departed and loyal clubmen such as Louis Dodds will be missed. In comes friend of Jose Mourinho and former Vitoria Setubal manager Bruno Ribeiro, along with a licorice allsorts ensemble of foreign players. These range from Paulo Taveras, a Portuguese midfielder with a wealth of top-flight experience, to Anthony de Freitas, a promising youngster from Monaco. Others, from such far-flung footballing outposts as the Norwegian third division, may well find the intensity of League 1 football a step too far and Smurthwaite will hope that Ribeiro and his newly formed squad can gel quickly. The Valiants have kept a core of their key English talent, though questions remain over the balance of the squad – youngsters JJ Hooper, Nathan Smith and Remie Streete may need to develop quickly. Persuading last season’s player of the year Anthony Grant to remain in the Potteries after he recently submitted a transfer request will be key.

Verdict: Looking over their shoulders

Rochdale

Keith Hill and his side continued to defy the odds last term. A 10th place finish and a brief flirtation with the play-offs proved another excellent return for a side many expected to be fighting relegation. Indeed, ‘Dale’ achieved their highest ever points tally at this level. Along with the redoubtable John Coleman at Accrington Stanley, Hill is a manager who has seemingly found a niche in repeatedly over-performing given budget restrictions at a small club. Although his brief spell at Barnsley wasn’t massively successful, he can count himself unfortunate that bigger clubs haven’t come knocking once more. Not that Rochdale supporters will be complaining.The coming season looks no easier, however, and Hill will have to use all his wiles to continue the upward curve. Despite the club being run on an even keel and having recently regained full ownership of Spotland, money is sparse, so transfer activity has been fairly limited thus far. Sanmi Odelusi has made the short journey from Wigan Athletic on loan and Niall Canavan makes his move permanent after signing on loan from Scunthorpe earlier in the year. Hill will be looking towards his talented youngsters such as midfield tyro Callum Camps and striker Joe Bunney to lead the way. In Josh Lillis, Rochdale boast one of the best goalkeepers in the league.

Verdict: Middle of the Road

Scunthorpe United

The appointment of former player Graham Alexander saw a remarkable upturn in fortunes for Scunthorpe, who finished the season in storming fashion, winning 7 of their final 8 matches and only narrowly missing out on the play off spots. Alexander took over from Andy Dawson, who had done a commendable job himself in a temporary capacity after replacing Mark Robins.The Iron begin their final ever season before bidding farewell to Glanford Park (delays not withstanding), and will hope their brand spanking new stadium as part of the Lincolnshire Lakes development will be welcoming Championship football for the start of the 2017-18 season. Goalscoring responsibility will once more fall to Paddy Madden who looks likely to miss the start of the campaign through injury, although he has been tenuously linked with moves away from the Iron. Alexander has added to his midfield ranks with the signings of Bradford City wide man Josh Morris and Huddersfield Town youngster Duane Holmes. Box to box midfielder Sam Mantom, scorer of 9 goals for Walsall last season, further adds to Alexander’s options.

Verdict: Chasing the Play-offs

Sheffield United

United and expectation haven’t been comfortable bedfellows over recent seasons, with Nigel Adkins the latest manager to pay the price for failing to secure promotion to the Championship. A mid-table finish was an unacceptable return especially as Nigel Clough had previously departed after falling short in a semi-final play off defeat to Swindon Town.The challenge now falls to Sheffield native Chris Wilder, so successful in steering Northampton Town through murky financial waters to the League Two title. Wilder seems to have recruited sensibly thus far. Fewer big reputations on big wages seem to be the order of the day in favour of some League One nous. The signings of Mark Duffy, so impressive on loan at Burton Albion last season, and the talented John Fleck from Coventry City look savvy bits of business in particular; while the arrival of centre halves Jack O’Connell from Brentford and James Wilson from Oldham should add some mobility and ballast to the back line. Loyal Wilder lieutenant Jake Wright joins from Oxford to add some leadership qualities. The future of young star Che Adams remains uncertain, although Wilder has secured the signature of the prolific Leon Clarke from Bury, which should ease the burden on last season’s top scorer Billy Sharp.

Verdict: Promoted

Shrewsbury Town

Following on from promotion to League One, Shrewsbury endured a difficult return to the third tier, finishing in 20th spot. As a result, manager Micky Mellon has moved quickly in the transfer market in a bid to improve fortunes this time around. Opting to take up the ‘buy one get two free’ policy at Port Vale, Shrewsbury have lured defender Ryan McGivern and forwards AJ Leitch-Smith and Louis Dodds to the club. Dodds and Leitch-Smith formed an effective partnership at Vale Park last season, with both arguably enjoying the best and most consistent form of their careers but whether they can reproduce that with Shrewsbury remains to be seen. Given the loss of last season’s loan star Sullay Kaikai, who netted 12 times, there will be pressure on them both to deliver. McGivern was less highly thought of in the Potteries, and the signings of the Northern Irishman along with the lumbering Oliver Lancashire from Rochdale won’t inspire an awful lot of confidence in the Salop back line. Adam El-Abd should offer a bit more stability following his release from Bristol City, Jim O’Brien and Antoni Sarcevic should prove decent acquisitions in midfield and Mellon will be hoping that he has added sufficient quality to enjoy a more fruitful season.

Verdict: Looking over their shoulders

Southend United

Manager Phil Brown has seemingly spent the summer linking himself with available jobs, even if no one else was interested. If ‘Big’ Sam Allardyce can resist the temptation to lure the perma-tanned one to the FA, then Brown can concentrate on his day job, one in which he has actually done a decent job. A season of consolidation was a fair return for another side, who at one point in the season, harboured hopes of a top six spot.Brown has to deal with the loss of his two best players, however. Jack Payne, one of the brightest talents in the division, has made the step up to the Championship with Huddersfield Town – his goals and creativity will prove tough to replace. Meanwhile, after being linked with a host of sides over the last year, Brentford have swooped for his impressive young goalkeeper Daniel Bentley so it will be a test of Brown’s recruitment to ensure Southend aren’t looking towards the bottom end of the league. The signing of Republic of Ireland international striker Simon Cox from Reading looks a decent one, while Jermaine McGlashan effectively replaces David Worrall who has departed for Millwall and will offer the Shrimpers some pace down the flanks.

Verdict: Middle of the Road

Swindon Town

It was a fairly prosaic season at the County Ground last term, if that is the right term for a side that made two managerial changes. Luke Williams, appointed on a whopping 5 year contract, oversaw a 15th placed finish, whilst never really threatening either end of the table; Mark Cooper having earlier paid the price for a post play-off final defeat hangover, while Martin Ling sadly had to abort his short-lived comeback into management. The front pairing of Nicky Ajose and Jonathan Obika proved pivotal throughout but Ajose has since left for Charlton Athletic, while Obika has rejected the offer of a new contract – Swindon’s colourful chairman Lee Power has insisted that he will see out the final year of his deal. Another side that will need some strengthening over coming weeks, a source of frustration for many supporters, the hope is for a return to top form this season from players such as Yaser Kasim. Power has relied heavily on the loan system over recent seasons, utilising it with much success, notably via a relationship withTottenham Hotspur, although a change in regulations for the coming season will mean clubs in the bottom two divisions will have to be a lot more judicious.

Verdict: Middle of the Road

Walsall

In what was a largely poor quality division last year, the Saddlers were one of League 1’s leading lights. Going into the final game of last season with a mathematical chance of automatic promotion, the team upheld their end of the bargain with a resounding 5-0 win at Port Vale but sadly, any hope that momentum would carry them through to the Championship was quickly extinguished with a crushing defeat to Barnsley in the play offs. Following Dean Smith’s departure to Brentford and the removal of his unpopular replacement, the uncharismatic Sean O’Driscoll, it was very much business as usual as caretaker Jon Whitney oversaw an upturn in form towards the back end of the campaign. Having being awarded the job on a permanent basis, Whitney faces what looks an uphill task after several of his key men have departed the West Midlands. The quality front-pairing of Tom Bradshaw and Romaine Sawyers have left for Barnsley and Brentford respectively, whilst the Saddlers have also lost Jason Demetriou, Milan Lalkovic, Sam Mantom, Andy Taylor and the ever-reliable centre half Paul Downing.Whether new signings Simeon Jackson, Franck Moussa and Theo Vassell have the necessary quality to replace those that have left remains to be seen. The return of Florent Cuvelier four years after a highly successful loan spell looks a good bit of business if he can regain full fitness, while the club look set to smash their transfer record with a £300,000 move for Anorthosis Famagusta striker Andreas Makris.

Verdict: Middle of the Road

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The non-partisan website with an eye on the Football League

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