MARK O’Haire (@MarkOHaire) shares his verdict on the 2015/16 League One campaign, rating all 24 clubs as well predicting the end of season table.
1. Sheffield United (9/2 Bet365)
For the third time in four seasons Sheffield United begin their League One campaign as pre-season favourites. It’s a tag that doesn’t often translate well for punters – Wolves are the only ante-post favourites to clinch top spot in the past 20 years – but with three big-hitters leaving the league and no standout side dropping down, is now the time for the Blades to finally justify the bookmakers mark?
There’s most definitely a degree of intent and optimism swirling around Bramall Lane. Nigel Adkins’ appointment has inspired supporters and with three previous League One promotions in his locker, it’s easy to see why. Under Nigel Clough the Blades finished 20 points off the automatic promotion places and Adkins has addressed their need for a consistent goalscoring edge.
With Billy Sharp’s return and the arrival of Conor Sammon, Adkins believes he has the firepower at his disposal to wreak havoc in the third tier. The two headline signings will compete with Marc McNulty, Che Adams, Michael Higdon, Jamie Murphy and Matt Done for a place in the United XI and few teams in the Championship can boast such an array of talented forwards.
The club is crying out for excitement, consistency and success and there’s most definitely a feel-good factor around Bramall Lane. Whether expectations can be managed successfully remains to be seen but United have the squad strength and resources to walk the league, if they wish. League One looks a good deal more escapable than it did 12 months ago and with Adkins at the wheel, they should be heading in the right direction.
2. Bradford (16/1 Bet365)
It’s 15 years since Bradford experienced Premier League football and after 11 years heading in the wrong direction, the past four under Phil Parkinson have brought about year-on-year improvement. The Bantams finished just four points outside the play-off positions last season but there’s renewed optimism around the club that a promotion charge may be on the menu for 2015/16.
City fans snapped up cheap season tickets in their droves over the summer and with 18,000 fans at Valley Parade, they’ll not be short of support. But a season-ending injury for Filipe Morais and the loss of centre-half Andrew Davies to Ross County has left a void in Parkinson’s preferred XI. The Bantams boss still needs four or five players to flesh out his squad but the arrivals of Mark Marshall and Luke James should at least add pace, an ingredient that was missing in 2014/15.
The Bantams are unlikely to win prizes for their aesthetics – they remain a direct team with James Hanson and Billy Clarke leading the line – but they’ll prove a match for most. Their recent cup excursions should stand the side in good stead for a decent tilt at promotion and it’s well worth noting that the last nine teams to reach a cup quarter-final from the bottom two tiers have all improved upon their league position in the following campaign.
3. Barnsley (14/1 Bet365)
A late surge (W7-D6-L3) under Lee Johnson’s charge almost saw Barnsley squeeze into the top-six last season and following that impressive charge, many are expecting the Tykes to feature prominently in the end of season shake-up this time around.
But the mood has been dampened around Oakwell due to the slow process of recruitment. Johnson’s admitted he’s disappointment but remains confident things will fall into place but it’s clear to see the squad is short on experience as well as personnel and although there’s a very competitive XI to field, a couple of injuries could really work against the Reds.
It’s worth noting that should John Stones complete a move to Chelsea from Everton, Barnsley would be due windfall from the sell-on clause included in their sale to the Toffees and that could easily prove to be the game-changer in the Tykes attempts to get back to the second tier.
Former loan star Ryan Williams has rejoined on a permanent basis as well as Manchester United loanee Ben Pearson but a move to bring Jonathan Forte to Oakwell from Oldham broke down. Crawley’s Izale McLeod has been linked with Johnson desperate to bolster a strikers department that currently includes just Sam Winnall and Conor Wilkinson.
Last year the Reds stats were poor and they’ll need a vast improvement if the club’s expectations are to be met – only Crewe and Crawley fired in fewer shots but a change in formation to suit midfield mystro and Player of the Season Conor Hourihane has been put in place to solve their impotent offence. A fully fit Sam Winnall will also provide plenty of menace but it’s a case of watch this space as Barnsley look to get business done before September.
4. Scunthorpe United (20/1 Bet365)
In the past nine League One seasons, the side with the hottest attack has finished in the top-four – on six occasions they’ve won automatic promotion – and judging by Scunthorpe’s summer signings, the Iron are intending on blasting their way through the third tier.
With hot-shot Paddy Madden likely to be used centrally this term, manager Mark Robins has brought back sacked Leicester starlet Tom Hopper and Middlesbrough’s Luke Williams after successful loan spells as well as snapping up veteran Darius Henderson in the off-season. Stephen Dawson’s battling qualities in the middle of the park will be welcomed and Preston trio Scott Laird, Scott Wiseman and Jack King are all interesting captures.
Robins, a boss I rate highly, has put his own marker down on the squad with cover in almost every position. He’s been backed by an ambitious board who’ve handed out plenty of long-term contracts in a bid to get back to the Championship in time for their move away from Glanford Park next season. The investors want promotion and I expect the Iron to feature heavily in the top-six battle.
5. Doncaster Rovers (20/1 Bet365)
Promotion may have never been the major aim for Doncaster last year but after steadying the ship under Paul Dickov and giving as good as they got at a play-off push, Rovers are now ready to rumble in the race for Championship football.
He might be the last bloke I’d fancy going to the pub for a pint with but Dickov’s summer business has raised hope and expectation. In has come Swindon’s 22-goal striker Andy Williams (I’ll leave the musical references alone) to fill the requirement for a clinical finisher whilst Gary McKenzie and Richard Chaplow should provide steel and experience.
Winger Kyle Bennett and workhorse Dean Furman turned down deals to go elsewhere, two of nine off-season departures, and both will be missed but Dickov is pleased with the current make-up of the squad. A number of youth team products are being outlined with Mitchell Lund, Harry Middleton and Billy Whitehouse all earning their stripes with the first XI.
Last season only five of the top-six attempted more efforts on goal whilst Rovers faced the sixth fewest efforts on target from opposition sides, so the addition of Williams could prove pivotal if they’re to transform themselves from also-rans into serious promotion candidates. The last two summers have seen failed attempted takeovers disrupt preparation but with a clean bill of health, Dickov’s own stamp on the site and gaps plugged, Donny should be a top-six team.
6. Wigan Athletic (13/2 Bet365)
A League One club in 2003, a Premier League side for eight years, FA Cup winners in 2013 and now beginning life back in the third tier. It’s fair to say it’s been a rollercoaster ride for the Latics in the past 12 seasons but few fans would argue Athletic are underachieving when plying their trade in League One.
A lot has changed at the DW in the past 12 months too. Wigan’s disastrous 2014/15 campaign saw Uwe Rosler and Malky Mackay sacked before Gary Caldwell was given the role and the remit to bring about an immediate return to the Championship. Outspoken chairman Dave Whelan has handed his role over to grandson David Sharpe meaning the new-look club are essentially being led by novices.
Despite still benefiting from parachute payments and with a big budget at their disposal, it’s hard to justify any sort punt on the Latics doing serious damage this year, purely because of the management structure. Sharpe’s followed his granddad by making bold and outlandish declarations, even publicly stating that reaching 100 points was their main target for 2015/16, and that lack of football experience could easily derail any on-field progress.
Will Grigg, Craig Morgan and Craig Davies are the pick of the signings but Sharpe indicated he wanted 15 new faces before the league season kicked-off and although they’re on target to reach those demands, the sheer size of the turnover in playing staff will surely prove too detrimental to mount a top-two challenge.
7. Bury (20/1 Bet365)
How sustainable Bury’s spending is remains to be seen but since chairman Stewart Day arrived on the scene in 2013, the Shakers have been throwing cash about in their quest to reach the top two tiers. Promotion was secured during David Flitcroft’s first full season back in charge but it wasn’t quite as straightforward as we probably expected.
A run of W3-D2-L7 before Christmas threatened to thwart their promotion bid but their W17-D3-L5 response from Boxing Day silenced the doubters. The club had recruited League One standard players to lead their promotion assault and Day has had the chequebook out again this summer to ensure another season of progress is achieved.
The Shakers will have aspirations to follow in Chesterfield’s footsteps from last season and judging by the new-look strike-force, you wouldn’t bet against Bury. Tom Pope and Leon Clarke will be a match for most offenses in the division and Danny Nardiello has signed an extended deal to stay at Gigg Lane. Jacob Mellis and Peter Clarke add experience and know-how to the spine and with Manchester City’s former training ground at Carrington being used, everything seems in place for another top-half finish.
8. Gillingham (33/1 Bet365)
Gillingham often tend to go under the radar but the appointment of Justin Edinburgh midway through last season may help the Kent club receive their fair share of headlines in 2015/16. The former Newport County manager made an immediate impact at the Priestfield and I’d like to think the Gills could progress on their 12th-placed finish.
Having lost just four of their final 21 games last season, Gillingham know what’s required to grind out results. A play-off chase could well come into fruition if Edinburgh’s young squad fire but they’ll have to make-do without John Marquis who opted to sign an extended contract with Millwall instead of joining permanently.
Rory Donnelly and Ben Williamson have made the move to the south-east but Chelsea loanee Jordan Houghton’s the name that’s gotten Gillingham fans purring – the 19-year-old captained Chelsea’s U21’s last year. Adedeji Oshilaja should provide strong competition for Player of the Season John Egan and Max Ehmer at centre-half and Edinburgh has indicated he’ll be happy to play the loan market again to further bolster the ranks.
Whether Gillingham can pierce the play-off positions may come down to Cody McDonald’s fitness. The striker is struggling to be available for the big kick-off and with relegated Yeovil attempting more efforts at goal than the Gills last time out; it’s an area that requires addressing.
9. Shrewsbury Town (25/1 Bet365)
Shrewsbury may have yo-yoed between the bottom two Football League divisions in the past two years but with mid-table being targeted as a bare minimum, Shropshire’s finest are not expecting to be battling against another relegation.
Having inherited just six players, Micky Mellon quickly moulded together an enterprising team that, especially when playing at the New Meadow, took League Two by storm. Even Chelsea struggled to see off Salop when visiting in the Capital One Cup and their attacking style should serve them well on their return to League One.
Mellon’s men were badly lacking in full-back areas but Matt Tootle and Matt Sadler have been snapped up – two solid and experienced third tier performers. But arguably Shrewsbury’s best bit of business has been keeping hold of the spine of their outstanding 2014/15 team; goalkeeper Jayson Leutwiler kept a club record haul of clean sheets whilst centre-half Connor Goldson had been attracting interest from Leeds. Central midfielder Ryan Woods was the subject of a £250,000 bid from West Ham in January and was one of League Two’s hottest properties whilst striker James Collins, scorer of 17 goals with Swindon at League One level just a few seasons back, has also stayed put.
Last season the Shrews fired in more shots than other divisional rival whilst also facing by far the fewest and should they continue in a similar vein across the next nine months, they’ll have serious claims of finishing in the top-six. Having seen Chesterfield achieve just that, Shrewsbury are aiming high.
10. Coventry City (25/1 Bet365)
You have to wonder how Coventry fans have stayed sane over the past 10 years. Having spent 48 years in the top two divisions, Cov now enter their fourth campaign in League One having finished in the bottom-nine in each of the past nine seasons. Imagine that, NINE seasons in the bottom-nine. *shudders*
For the first time in a decade though, Sky Blues fans have reason to feel positive. The move back to the Ricoh must be used to their advantage and although consolidation and stability is craved, the club is in a much healthier and happier place than 12 months ago. Tony Mowbray has been given the seal of approval by players and fans alike and it’s time to start turning the Coventry ship around.
Eight players left City in the summer but no major names were on the outgoing list whilst the club forked out a transfer fee for the first time in three seasons to snare Romain Vincelot from Leyton Orient. Sam Ricketts’ experience will be vital but Mowbray must address their lack of striking options before thoughts turn to a top-seven push. Highly-rated Newcastle forward Adam Armstrong looks set to join on loan and his arrival would certainly raise expectations.
Last season the Sky Blues faced the fifth fewest shots-on-target and managed to hold Bristol City, MK Dons, Swindon and Sheffield United away but only Colchester held a worse home record of the sides that stayed up. It’s clear where improvements are required to inch closer to that elusive top-half finish.
11. Fleetwood Town (20/1 Bet365)
Fleetwood’s remarkable rise shows no sign of letting up. In their maiden League One voyage, Graham Alexander led the club to a creditable 10th-placed finish. Three defeats in their final five games and a lack of goals thwarted their chances of a play-off place but plans are afoot to keep the Cod Army marching forward.
A £6m first-team training facility has opened just a few miles from their Highbury home and in conjunction with Director of Football Gretar Steinsson, the management are overseeing a squad overhaul in a bid to bring the average age of the squad down. Alexander believes they’ll be harder, faster, fitter, stronger and younger despite operating on a strict wage budget.
A number of key players have been moved on but Jimmy Ryan was a marquee recruit and if young Scottish striker Declan McManus can deliver the goals, they may be around the play-off picture. McManus was prolific on-loan at Morton with Aberdeen boss Derek McInnes eager to keep hold of the U21 international.
Three wins from 18 matches against teams above them last season proved costly but Alexander is a canny operator and the Cod Army are clearly calculated in their approach. With little sign of regression anytime soon, you’d have to assume Fleetwood will continue to push on in the right direction but a top-seven finish might be beyond them.
12. Peterborough United (14/1 Bet365)
It was unusual not to see Peterborough in the promotion shake-up last season and although outspoken (and great Twitter follow) Darragh MacAnthony has been clear that promotion is their only target in 2015/16, I’m unwilling to lend Posh any support at the prices.
Bookies appear to have chalked up the Posh on reputation. With Darren Ferguson leaving with a quarter of the season to play, academy boss Dave Robertson stepped up, won his first three fixtures and got given the gig full-time. His appointment was not universally applauded with supporters suggesting he lacks the experience and knowhow to win promotion – not an ideal start.
Robertson has brought back club hero Grant McCann to assist and has promised to win promotion playing attacking football, a characteristic Posh have been well versed in over the past five years. Jack Collison’s return to the club where it all began is a real coup but the signing does represent a gamble with the Welsh international’s unfavourable injury record.
MacAnthony’s superb support doesn’t appear to be waning and he recently claimed that another £1m has been pumped into the club this summer. But none of the off-season signings have really captured the imagination and Posh might be pinning their hopes on finding the next big non-league star – not necessarily the formula you’d expect of a 14/1 shot.
13. Millwall (11/1 Bet365)
The Den was an inhospitable place to be for Lions players and warmly welcoming for visiting teams during their relegation season. Only Blackpool and Wigan collected fewer points in front of their home fans but Millwall supporters are feeling positive about their first season back in the third tier since 2010.
Neil Harris was handed the management role full-time and his appreciation of the club’s DNA and his place in Lions folklore meant the new boss required little winning over in South London. A marked uptick in results and performances during his caretaker spell aided his bedding in period; Harris took a directionless team, demanded hard work and implemented more of the traditional Millwall values back into the club – a breadth of fresh air after the Ian Holloway debacle.
Tony Craig’s arrival bolsters the backline and should form a strong central defensive partnership with either Mark Beevers or Sid Nelson but Millwall focussed their off-season attentions on ridding the dead wood from the group. The Lions let 18 players go in a huge clear-out but with an exciting and talented bunch of youngsters waiting in the wings; the future appears to be bright in Bermondsey.
The club harbour top-six aspirations but may lack a striker to support Lee Gregory and John Marquis to successfully challenge for promotion. Fans remain buoyant and Harris confident but rather than risk an outright bet on the Lions, look towards the corner markets in their league fixtures – the boss has asked for the pitch to be extended by six metres as he bids to use width and stretch the opposition – Millwall’s corner stats in pre-season have reflected their new approach.
14. Burton Albion (28/1 Bet365)
I’ll hold my hands up, I didn’t see Burton taking top spot in League Two when Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink was given the gig. Burton had lost seven of 10 games as rumours circled that Gary Rowett was heading to Blackpool before he accepted Birmingham’s offer and Jimmy’s appointment took the majority of us by surprise.
But JFH hit the ground running and suffered just three defeats in his 30 league fixtures in charge (W19-D8-L3). The final game of the season was the only occasion that Albion conceded two goals or more in a match under the Dutchman. Only MK Dons have won more points in the fourth tier than the Brewers 94 accrued last season – three very impressive stats, eh?
Assisted by David Oldfield, Hasselbaink wasn’t afraid to make big calls. He shipped out skipper Ian Sharps on loan, making John Mousinho his knew skipper and the flexible systems he employs suggest Burton should be competitive and difficult to beat in their debut League One season. No specific aim has been put in place by the club but survival should be ensured without too much trouble.
If the Brewers do have their sights set higher, a goalscorer might be required. Stuart Beavon will lead the line for the time being but elsewhere, Hasselbaink’s brought in a raft of solid experience – Tom Naylor’s made his loan move permanent after an excellent spell towards the backend of last season, Callum Reilly and Callum Butcher boast Championship and Scottish Cup final pedigree whilst Remi Matthews is a highly-rated goalkeeper from Norwich. Expect a comfortable introduction to League One football for Jimmy et co.
15. Rochdale (33/1 Bet365)
Keith Hill’s Rochdale surpassed all expectations in their first season back in League One last term, achieving the club’s highest ever Football League finish. But Dale will need to work doubly hard to come close to matching the dizzy heights of eighth this time around with big-name players poached and funds remaining tight at Spotland.
Hill has said he’s aiming to improve his squad on the training paddock rather than splashing what little cash he’s been given but the captures of forward Lewis Alessandra and centre-half Jim McNulty have provided a welcome boost. All-action midfielder Stephen Dawson has departed and at the time of writing last year’s top scorer Ian Henderson appears close to moving on.
It’s not all bad news. Peter Vincenti has committed his future along with Matty Lund and Tom Kennedy and following an annual trip to Tenerife as part of pre-season, Hill confirmed he’s confident the squad is strong enough for another solid season. Dale took 70% of their total points tally off clubs in 16th and below (W14-D2-L2) and were only held to six draws – that all-or-nothing approach should stand them in good stead.
Whilst maintaining last year’s progress may prove difficult, Dale’s boss is more than capable of pulling rabbits out of hats and we should expect a comfortable mid-table finish. But should Henderson leave Spotland and Hill does enter the transfer market, don’t be surprised to see Rochdale hovering around the top-10.
16. Walsall (33/1 Bet365)
They say money talks but that’s not been the case when judging plucky Walsall over the past few years. In their last eight seasons at League One level the Saddlers have averaged a 14th-placed finish but after slow regression from ninth, 13th and then last term’s 14th, fans are anxious for a play-off push this time around.
Dean Smith and the club have confirmed a crack at the top-six is their aim but lack of squad depth due to one of the smallest budgets in the third tier is likely to infringe upon any play-off dreams. Walsall boasted an outstanding record against the leading lights at the Bescot (W7-D6-L1) but still struggled to find the net consistently and Smith has confirmed he’s keen to see more goals and forward-thinking play, especially at home, in 2015/16.
Squad depth remains a big talking point around the Bescot. Last year’s Player of the Year and goalkeeper Richard O’Donnell has left and been replaced by Neil Etheridge but James Chambers’ surprise retirement has left the team short at centre-half. Sam Mantom’s injury issues appear to have cleared but lack of central midfield cover and back-up for last year’s 20-goal striker Tom Bradshaw are also causes for concern.
Milan Lalkovic has signed permanently and the maverick attacking midfielder will hope to build on a number of bright performances from a previous loan spell but without too many comings and goings, Walsall appear capable of continuing their fine tradition for playing tidy football and remaining clear from danger in the division’s middle reaches.
17. Southend United (40/1 Bet365)
Southend are back in the third tier for the first time since 2010 but that honeymoon period following promotion is starting to wane and Shrimpers fans are concerned a lack of signings could negatively impact the season. Boss Phil Brown has just 16 players on the books and already suggested the crop are struggling to cope with the stress and strain in pre-season.
The Blues are working overtime to plug the gaps with last year’s loan star Stephen McLaughlin close to sealing a return but moves to snap up striking duo Noel Hunt and Joe Pigott have failed to materialise at the time of writing. David Mooney and Jason Williams are the only forwards in Brown’s squad with last year’s top goal-getter Barry Corr gone and Ryan Leonard forced to play out of position in attack during their 2015/16 preparations.
Anthony Wordsworth’s an experienced campaigner at this level and represents a shrewd addition whilst 21-year-old stopper Daniel Bentley remains at Roots Hall despite interest from the top-two tiers of English football. A top-half finish looks beyond them but a respectable lower mid-table campaign can be achieved. However, much will depend on the quality of the four new faces that Brown has claimed are on his shopping list.
18. Swindon Town (16/1 Bet365)
My colleague and good friend Chris Graham (@chrisgraham79) often sights the ‘hangover effect’ as a cause for concern and I have to admit, having scaled the heights of fourth, against the odds, last year, I’m not sure Swindon are tooled up and ready to go again in 2015/16.
There’s financial stability at the County Ground and chairman Lee Power has continued the strategy of bringing in talented youngsters from Premier League clubs but I know little about Liverpool duo Jordan Williams and Kevin Stewart, nor much regarding Arsenal academy player Brandon Ormonde-Ottewill, who’ve joined in the off season.
What we do know is, the departures of last year’s spine are bound to have an adverse effect on the Robins’ fortunes. Midfield mystros Mass Luongo and Ben Gladwin left for QPR whilst top-scorer Andy Williams and keeper Wes Foderingham were released. In fact, eight of the players to feature in the play-off final defeat have moved on, leaving Mark Cooper with a big rebuilding job on his hands.
Speculation surrounding Cooper’s future can’t have helped during a below-par off-season. Four of the last 12 play-off final losers have bounced back to win promotion the following year but stability has been key in those campaigns and I can’t help but feel Swindon’s short-term policy isn’t the answer.
Just 13 players are registered at the time of writing and the Robins must add two defenders, two midfielders and a striker to the ranks if they’re to have any sort of realistic aims to successfully follow the 2014/15 vintage. Don’t be surprised to see them struggle.
19. Port Vale (100/1 Bet365)
A terrible run of results (W1-D3-L7) towards the back end of last season almost saw Port Vale relegated after the early promise of Rob Page’s arrival in the hot-seat but the Burslem club are hoping to keep their heads well above water this time around. Page signed a new deal and he’s dismantled the squad over the summer in a bid to ensure progression is met.
Money remains tight at Vale Park but the former stalwart centre-half is looking to make the most of the Valiant’s notoriously big pitch and stretch teams. But they’ll have to make-do without Tom Pope’s goals after the striker was lured away by newly-promoted Bury. Uche Ikpeazu’s tasked with filling Pope’s boots and is a capable marksman at this level, as is another new face AJ Leitch-Smith.
Anthony Grant and Sam Foley improve the midfield and Page was delighted to bring back central defender Ryan Innes from Crystal Palace following a successful loan spell. Should the new faces gel, Vale have enough about them to cement themselves in the lower reaches of the League One table. A top-six push is beyond them but they’re capable of consolidating under Page’s charge.
20. Chesterfield (25/1 Bet365)
Chesterfield defied their 33/1 pre-season price last term to surge into League One’s play-offs following their title-winning season. But following their semi-final loss to eventual play-off winners Preston, the vultures have circled the Proact Stadium, dampening spirits and expectations.
I could copy/paste what’s already been written about Swindon here but unlike the Robins, the Spireites have lost their manager Paul Cook as well as three of their top performing starts of recent years. Gary Roberts, Jimmy Ryan and Sam Clucas have all left the building and reports suggest Sam Morsy and Tendayi Darikwa may also be heading for the exit.
Dean Saunders has taken over Cook’s role and has been impressed with the squad, suggesting there’s nothing stopping the club repeating last year’s feat. Chairman Dave Allen admits Championship football is a must to help clear the debt so the £1.3m received from Clucas’ move to Hull should at least boost the finances but Saunders’ appointment was met by a hostile reaction from supporters initially.
Saunders often gets pilloried for the three relegations suffered under his watch at Wolves, Doncaster and Crawley but that’s perhaps a touch harsh. However, he’ll need to use the incoming cash wisely if he’s to avoid adding a fourth to his CV. Should Sylvan Ebanks-Blake stays fit the Spireites might have a decent forward at this level but much depends on the new faces needed to flesh out the squad if Chesterfield are going to avoid a difficult campaign.
21. Oldham Athletic (33/1 Bet365)
No Football League side has played continuously in the same division as long as Oldham and starting their 18th straight season in the third tier brings about more challenges at Boundary Park. With a recent history of appointing fairly left-field and inexperienced managers, the arrival of Darren Kelly took most people by surprise, again.
Kelly’s an unknown quantity but will at least be assisted by Dean Holden, who did enough to guide Athletic to a mid-table finish towards the end of last season following Lee Johnson’s move to Barnsley. It should be noted that after Johnson jumped ship, the Latics form did drastically deteriorate – the Latics W3-D5-L7 under Holden’s watch – and so Kelly will hope to hit the ground running as the club undergo yet another rebuilding process.
Last season’s top scorer Jonathan Forte remains at Boundary Park; a move to Barnsley collapsed and should he form a decent partnership with former Dagenham hitman Rhys Murphy, Oldham should feel positive about securing another solid finish. Skipper Liam Kelly remains at the club too but there are numerous concerns that will require addressing.
Only Colchester conceded more goals on home soil, the Latics lost seven of 12 matches against bottom-seven sides and only five teams attempted fewer efforts on goal. As already mentioned, the initial promise seen under Johnson dissipated and Oldham failed to find the net in 10 of their final 27 outings. Kelly’s spending power is limited meaning new centre-back signings must be found on a shoestring and so Athletic may find the going tough under the rookie boss.
22. Blackpool (40/1 Bet365)
How on earth do you start with Blackpool? There’s off-field problems, there’s on-field problems, there’s problems in the changing rooms, a chairman banned from the ground, abandoned matches, fans protests, fan takeover attempts and now a completely new team with a new man in charge. And breathe…
Neil McDonald’s been given the unenviable task of steadying the ship and Sam Allardyce’s experienced former assistant is looking to build the foundations to bring the Tangerines back from the doldrums. A campaign free of drama would be high on the agenda but it’s highly improbable whilst the imbecile Oyston owners remain around Bloomfield Road.
Blackpool managed the Championship’s lowest ever points tally, winning just once post-November. The Seasiders conceded 15 goals more than the next worst defence and were 20 points off survival when May rolled around. The club do, surprisingly, have money to burn and a raft of new recruits have been sought in the hope of avoiding another difficult campaign.
Highly-rated Carlisle midfielder Brad Potts has joined impressive League Two performers Jack Redshaw and Mark Cullen at the club, Liverpool’s U21 captain Lloyd Jones has joined the ranks and Nile Ranger’s even returned; nutcase Nile had previously gone AWOL for eight months claiming the ‘joke contract’ he signed with the Tangerines left him ‘struggling to fill the fridge’.
As much as I’d love to see Blackpool’s long-suffering fans enjoy a slice of success and McDonald’s appointment work out, it’s incredibly difficult to find real positives. The young group lacks an experienced head and building a squad from scratch for the second successive season with 18 months worth of negativity still floating around suggests another tough campaign awaits.
23. Colchester United (125/1 Bet365)
A superb end to the season (W5-D3-L2) ensured Colchester’s League One survival but a nail-biting season came to the final day. Having looked dead and buried at various times throughout the campaign, Tony Humes did the impossible and has set out a task to avoid such an anxious finale this time around.
Only Swindon and the promoted clubs attempted more efforts on goal than Col U last season but with just relegated Crawley conceding more goals and Notts County and Crewe facing more shots, sharpening up a porous defence must be the priority ahead of the 2015/16 renewal that again sees the Essex club written off.
Joe Edwards will add plenty of experience and leadership following his arrival from Yeovil whilst Richard Brindley’s permanent signing and George Elokobi’s muscular presence should help stiffen that leaky defence. But pre-season indications suggest more creativity is required and although George Moncur remains at the club and striker Chris Porter has arrived, skipper David Fox moved on and Humes has sighted their lack of forwards as an area of weakness.
That’s a worrying sign if Humes’ doubts are to be believed, as any dip in their attacking output could prove fatal. The U’s still lack the quality to harbour potential top-half thoughts and it’s difficult to disagree with their current mark up as one of the relegation favourites yet again.
24. Crewe Alexandra (100/1 Bet365)
Notoriously slow starters, Crewe lost nine of their opening first 11 matches last season leaving boss Steve Davis clinging to keep his job. But the Alex head coach managed to pull a rabbit out of the hat, switching to a five-man defence and leading the club to survival on the last day of the season – the second successive League One campaign safety was secured on the final day.
It’s then no surprise to see Crewe favourites for the drop once more. Davis, veteran of four years in the job now, has promised to revert back to their traditional passing philosophy in a new possession based 4-3-3 system and their summer business reflects that. Attritional Anthony Grant was allowed to leave with midfield a priority for strengthening.
David Fox from Colchester, Billy Bingham from Dagenham and Adam King on-loan from Swansea have been drafted in but Alex are still hoping to find a few rough diamonds in the loan market. A left-back and centre-half is being mooted to offset the loss of club captain Matt Tootle and Anthony Stewart but working under the smallest budget in the league has its restrictions.
Crewe are still hoping to tie down Ryan Colclough to a new deal so expect plenty of faith to be invested in their famed academy but it’s hard to think after two seasons of serious struggle, Alex won’t find the going a bit too tough in 2015/16. Last term only rock bottom Yeovil scored fewer goals, no side fired in fewer shots and only relegated Crawley faced more attempts on goal. Survival remains the sole aim but it’s going to be tough. Very tough.
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