How Did It End? — EFL League One 21/22
You know the drill.
I predict the tables, where everyone’s gonna end up, I follow my hunches pretending I have a clue about what actually goes into competing at that level of football based on patterns that have formed in my mind from two decades of exposure to the beautiful game.
I have fun, and it brings me joy.
The first time I did this (for the 19/20 season), I posted a score of -86.
For the scores, I wanna be getting as close to zero as possible, with points taken off for the difference between my predicted finishing spot and the actual finishing spot. For example, if I had Oxford finishing 5th and they actually finished 9th, that would be a score of -4 added to my tally.
Last season (20/21), I did considerably worse when I got -106. But that’s probably because I cheated.
Regardless, the trend is not good.
But this year, I stuck to the rules, got my predictions in on time, and came up with a table that looked just like this:-
1. Sheffield Wednesday
2. Rotherham United
3. Charlton Athletic
4. Wycombe Wanderers
5. Ipswich Town
8. Bolton Wanderers
10. Lincoln City
11. Crewe Alexandra
12. Burton Albion
13. Accrington Stanley
14. Oxford United
15. Fleetwood Town
16. MK Dons
17. Shrewsbury Town
18. Plymouth Argyle
19. Doncaster Rovers
20. Wigan Athletic
21. Cheltenham Town
22. Cambridge United
23. AFC Wimbledon
And here is where they actually finished:-
1. Wigan Athletic
2. Rotherham United
3. MK Dons
4. Sheffield Wednesday
6. Wycombe Wanderers
7. Plymouth Argyle
8. Oxford United
9. Bolton Wanderers
11. Ipswich Town
12. Accrington Stanley
13. Charlton Athletic
14. Cambridge United
15. Cheltenham Town
16. Burton Albion
17. Lincoln City
18. Shrewsbury Town
20. Fleetwood Town
22. Doncaster Rovers
23. AFC Wimbledon
24. Crewe Alexandra
Right off the bat, I can see one glaring error that does not hold me in good stead.
But onwards we shall press. I already know I’m not gonna be in single digits, but if we can avoid the worst possible score, which is somet like -288, I’ll be glad. If we can beat -106, I’ll be happy. But if we can beat -86, I’ll be… Perhaps not ecstatic, but happier. Happy enough to treat myself to a slice of pork and apple lattice perhaps.
Let’s see how the boy did.
Predicted: 13th / Actual: 12th
Not a bad start! Any issue Stanley might have had was seen as clear as day this season. Jay Rich-Baghuelou, Ross Sykes, and Michael Nottingham got up from the back to net a veritable hatful of goals each and between them. But they were also a part of defences that conceded 80 goals this season; only fewer than Fleetwood, Doncaster, Crewe, and Morecambe — sides from the bottom six. Stan’ll be happy with the consolidation though; there’s definitely something to build on and in the post-pandemic, they’ve been savvy and, comparatively, are reaping the rewards.
Predicted: 23rd / Actual: 23rd
Listen to this insanity — Wimbledon’s last win in the league was on December 7th. From then, they played 27 times without victory. I say ‘in the league’, but that actually goes for all competitions. Leads couldn’t be held, comebacks couldn’t be completed, and that’s because signings couldn’t be replaced and experience was fleeting. Mark Robinson might not have been able to turn it around, but Mark Bowen didn’t inspire anything either — and never seemed likely to pre- or post-appointment.
The plus is that a reasonably young side has been granted experience at a good level, and if further departures are to come, that could be paramount going forward.
Predicted: 8th / Actual: 9th
Bright start, rocky middle, strong finish. Like a good haircut.
A bright summer transfer window initially paid off for The Trotters, but when things did turn sour, Evatt quickly and clinically isolated causes and sought to fix them. His solution? Fall out with Antoni Sarcevic and sign five attackers in January. From there, they bullied opposition, losing only four times in the latter half of the season and only failing to score three times.
Evatt’s ruthless philosophy is swiftly bleeding into this Bolton side, and if he can identify what was behind their winter lull this time out, we could be looking at serious contenders next season.
Predicted: 12th / Actual: 16th
I’d trust Jimmy Floyd. I’d let him watch my kids or cut my hair or transport vases. If I feel like that about him, then I imagine the people of Burton could count on him to give ’em open heart surgery. If this season was akin to that procedure, then it was trying to perform it during an earthquake.
Loan terminations and departures of reliable experience fed an unsettled eleven that meandered wildly through the season. In three January weeks for example, they lost their top scorer from the season prior, their top scorer in this season, and one of their all-time top scorers. In an attempt to find quick replacements, the three strikers they got could only combine for six goals for the rest of the season. They occasionally threatened to hurtle downwards, but it appeared that it all clicked late on when they decided that if they couldn’t score as many, then they wouldn’t concede as many — a late run of four clean sheets (three 0–0s) arrested the slide and ultimately kept ’em clear of danger.
Predicted: 22nd / Actual: 14th
For many clubs, lockdown and the pandemic created financial difficulties, and while it was always likely to hit clubs further down the pyramid harder, for those in the EFL, it seems to have been somewhat of an equaliser. I overestimated its effects on those coming up from League Two, and Cambridge are just the first example of my poor judgment in that arena alphabetically.
However, certain departures (Knoyle, Mullin) did support my decision here, but The U’s addressed that better than I imagined with the grabs of George Williams and Sam Smith who took to the division like ducks to a pond. From there, it was about stepping up and stepping in — it seems as if there isn’t a manager who knows his side quite like Mark Bonner, and to see Ben Worman coming in to impress as well as the likes of Knibbs, May, Ironside, and Mitov make the step-up seamlessly and impressively says to me that Bonner knows what’s best for this side going forward.
Predicted: 3rd / Actual: 13th
I believed in the legend of Nigel Adkins, and he fecked me on the deal.
But then I got Johnnie Jackson! He gave his lads an inspired bounce, pulling ’em well clear of danger and settling in mid-table. That should be the ceiling for a side that appears to be gelling as they play. Whether it was the change in leadership or philosophy or both, something was/is shifting at The Valley. Loanees will depart and streamlining will commence with a trusted hand on the tiller, and a real fraternity could develop from there.
Predicted: 21st / Actual: 15th
Another promoted side I underrated. And I dig Michael Duff and what he’s got going on for The Robins, so I gotta side with what I’m into a bit more.
Like Cambridge, it was gonna be about stepping up, and also like Cambridge, big presences departed (Tozer, and eventually Hussey), leaving those remaining to pick up the slack. And they did! Defenders stayed amongst the goals, and Alfie May made himself irresistible exactly when his team needed him to. Another case of trusting your squad coming in handy for a promoted side, and then a decent emulation of a tenured League One side in Accrington, with the addition of a golden boot contender paying off. Can they go on from here though?
Predicted: 11th / Actual: 24th
Artell took ’em as far as he could; until the wheels fell off.
There’s no doubt he demanded intensity and passion from day one and he got it in every season, except this one. They pushed, but it was a bridge too far for a defensively inexperienced side that lacked credible depth. A pivot was necessary but not forthcoming, and both manager and club paid the price.
Like Wimbledon however, the upside is in the experience gained by the younger members of the squad, and though they’ll need some sprucing up here and there, next season could see the effects of that oft-lauded academy take hold.
Predicted: 19th / Actual: 22nd
To fight to the final day like they did was commendable considering the position they were in just weeks prior. Inexperience was their stand-out issue at the start of the season, and they failed to address it, with Richie Wellens falling afoul of it before McSheffrey suffered for it. January acquisitions were bright and took hold as much as they could in the squad, but despite a slight uptick, the damage was done. Heart may have been displayed, but more rigorous testing was required.
Predicted: 15th / Actual: 20th
The recurring theme of the teams down at the bottom is a lack of experience. Exhibit D, The Cod Army. An experimental squad at the season’s start, there were stand-outs among them whose moments, necessary throughout the season, were fleeting. Joe Garner, Callum Camps, and Danny Andrew made for a wavering spine, and it was perhaps in Fleetwood’s application of new talent that their season prospered. Names like Harrison Biggins, Paddy Lane, and Gerard Garner were no strangers to the honour roll, and as they chipped in with individual moments of brilliance to add to the pack, that is what proved enough to beat the drop. Somebody needs to weave this team, and Stephen Crainey is the man with a hell of a job to do at the loom.
Predicted: 7th / Actual: 21st
Well damn. I personally didn’t think there was anyone alive who overrated Steve Evans, and yet, here I am.
Three wins in their first twenty-eight games of the season. If that was the only stat you had to go on, you’d say they were down. I thought cracks were covered and departures replaced and that they’d get right back up on the horse, but they just could nae seem to get their shit together, blowing leads and fighting on the back foot for no reason.
Neil Harris certainly galvanised a side that seemed physically poisoned against itself, but three months is a very short space of time to rid folk of bad habits, and though he delivered five wins in his first twelve, no wins in the final six sent ’em down.
There’s work to do, but a lot of the bricks are there.
Predicted: 5th / Actual: 11th
As I had with Adkins, I hopped aboard the Paul Cook express and it rode me direct to the wrong conclusion.
It seemed a coup when Ipswich brought him in, but some marriages, no matter how good they seem on paper, just don’t work out and Paul was shipped off back to his ex. And then The Tractor Boys took a chance… And it paid off. Kieran McKenna joined in mid-December and saw them post only four defeats for the rest of the season. He almost immediately streamlined the squad in his image, and did the brilliantly unique job of only making signings that made an impact.
For the first time in a while, Ipswich seem to have clear direction, and it’ll be nice to see if McKenna can continue his transfer streak into the summer.
Predicted: 10th / Actual: 17th
Needed an outing in the loan market like last season and did not get one, leaving them the best of the bottom third.
They mishandled the excellent Josh Griffiths, and though Lewis Fiorini paid off, loans for Morgan Whittaker and Brooke Norton-Cuffy came too late. Other signings didn’t take either, at least, not as impactfully as their predecessors, though fire was still there from the likes of Akelakun and Bishop. It was the comparable old guard that led the charge, with Anthony Scully doing what he could.
With Appleton’s spell at Sincil Bank at an end, a change in culture is on the way, and surely that will mean finding more like Scully rather than taking a chance on the loan market.
Predicted: 16th / Actual: 3rd
I predicted efficient advancement in this side to come gradually, but Liam Manning has no patience and guided a ruthless side to the brink of automatic promotion.
They ended up with all the hallmarks of a classic team: defenders who get up and score goals while maintaining reliability at the back, a group of hungry attackers, and on top of that, a star man seemingly capable of anything you ask of him. Consistency across key positions and adaptability when presented with a problem, they look a smart side who with a few additions could easily adapt to a level higher.
Now they just have to get there…
Predicted: 24th / Actual: 19th
Happy to be wrong on this one. I’m sure plenty had them going down after the departures of big players and a manager before the season had even started. But if you thought that was a bad time to lose a manager, I’m sure many would rather have the aforementioned than a walk out before the final stretch. But back waltzed that man that had left them before the sun came up to complete the job before the sun went down.
Credit here goes to the players. They knew they had to stand up and be counted, and the way they committed themselves, namely Cole Stockton (not just for his goals, but for his drive and application) was admirable. Diagouraga, Gnahoua, Leigh, and Phillips, along with aforementioned Stockton, etched their names into storybooks this season, and now that dad’s come home, they’ll be looking to press on and maintain their no-relegation record.
This might have been tough, but second-season syndrome’s a killer.
Can’t emphasise enough — cracker job from these lads, great to see.
Predicted: 14th / Actual: 8th
I started my prediction by saying that they would finish just outside the playoffs. And then I finished by saying they would finish 14th. Huh?
I predicted a season off, so of course they finish as top scorers on the season.
This might not be the most wrong I’ve got a prediction in terms of numeracy, but it feels the wrongest. Karl Robinson’s side are always a threat and it was only an unsettled season at the back that seemed to cost ’em. Many would kill for the attack Oxford possess and if Karl can work his magic with recruitment next season while keeping the approach fresh, The U’s could be right in amongst it once more.
Predicted: 18th / Actual: 7th
An entire season voided thanks to one dreadful day.
Argyle were quality across the board this season, springing forth with a real sense of harmony across the squad. Ryan Lowe really seemed to breed that in his time there, and though he left, Steven Schumacher came in and got the exact same. But at the end of the day, the bus for the play-offs could only carry four and Plymouth were that fifth. It’s cruel, but it came down to that final day and they folded.
That shouldn’t sully a solid season though. And they might lose a few going forward, but the foundations on the South Coast are a lot more solid than they were just half a decade ago.
Predicted: 9th / Actual: 10th
They always seem to be able to threaten, but that doesn’t mean that they are always threatening. Bright spots throughout the season would swiftly be joined by runs that made little sense. Three wins on the bounce would be followed by spells of seven without scoring. It’s the equivalent of going on a rollercoaster, coming off looking happy as Larry, hooting and hollering about how great a time you had, and then vomiting everywhere and wanting to go home.
Dominant and toothless in almost equal measure.
Predicted: 2nd / Actual: 2nd
Who thought they were gonna tank it? There were moments, right? And Dons pushed them all the way on the final day there, but was there ever any doubt that this most yo-yo of clubs was gonna return to the second tier at the first time of asking? Not for me.
Paul Warne has got this club singing and though his song is slow, it’s a banger. From the back he’s assembled a formidable side for this level, and now the middle of the park and the top of it have joined in. More support may be needed for Warne to finally pull of Championship survival, but season on season, he gives The Millers better odds.
Predicted: 1st / Actual: 4th
I put them first because of Darren Moore. If he wasn’t at the helm, I would’ve got this spot on.
Keep in mind, at the start of this season, Moore was still properly settling in. To the job, of course, and then to the league, the new squad, and the mission. Things looked shaky but secure initially; they weren’t conceding a lot, but they weren’t setting the world on fire — in their first twenty-three games, they’d won nine, lost four, and drawn ten.
Then, with no real fresh additions, the new year kicked ’em into a higher gear, they lost one more game (five), but they drew only three times and won fifteen of their final twenty-three. Everyone seemed to come alive and it took them from one of the chasing pack to genuine contenders.
They’re in ruthless form entering the play-offs, and nobody wants to be in their way.
Predicted: 17th / Actual: 18th
Yeah. This isn’t an impressive prediction. I wouldn’t be surprised if everyone had Shrewsbury finishing in one of these spots.
They had undefeated runs of three or four games at a time that kept ’em the right side of the drop and it almost felt as if the rest was… Expected. The Shrews aren’t gonna score a lot of goals, they’re not gonna win a lot of games. But they won’t concede many goals, and they’ll win enough games. It’s a worrying trend, and though it seems to be working for now, doing whatever the opposite of reaching for the stars is might have negative effects down the line.
Predicted: 6th / Actual: 5th
They were going through League One life constantly missing that one ingredient (or so they thought). Do they think they’ve found it?
Or is Alex Neil just the one who has happened to deliver it? Despite rough patches, Lee Johnson was treated harshly, and if Sunderland had failed to make the play-offs, frustration would somehow be more palpable at the Stadium of Light. But Neil came in and stuttered before going thirteen unbeaten to take The Black Cats to a post-season.
The major difference this season was the clutch play. Late goals were rife; the sign of a team pushing to the very last in every sense. Can Wembley be their very last this time out?
Predicted: 20th / Actual: 1st
Alright, would you all stop laughing for one minute?
My reasoning is thus: I just didn’t think the turnaround would happen so swiftly. I thought they might have needed a season or two to get everything silky again and then they’d be off. I did think it would be a comfortable 20th as well, I didn’t have them struggling.
But it was a stupid call. It was stupid then, and it’s somehow more stupid now.
First off, their signings; banger after banger. The contributions across the squad were something to behold, with seemingly everyone on the books, be they youth player or tea lady, at least bagging an assist.
They played it better than anyone else, and they did it in a measured and appropriate way — not the Wrexham, but the Wigan Way. And Leam Richardson can have that if he wants.
Predicted: 4th / Actual: 6th
Akinfenwa’s career extended by a few games at least…
A Wycombe of old would have been turned by that mid-season seven-game winless streak. They’d have dropped off, disheartened and defeated. But it is testament to the philosophy Ainsworth has instilled at this club that they came charging back just before their fingers slipped from the ledge. It’s the sign of a never say die attitude.
It’s one of them squad with few frills on first glance, but with an overabundance of efficiency and heart. A team that you think can’t keep relying on their whims, that’ll drop off, that are one-season wonders — but The Chairboys ain’t kicking back anytime soon.
Okay, looking back, -86 was a good score. I’d take that this year. Scoring -106 was the worst I felt all of last year. That’s how fine the margin is. I reckon if I keep it to double digits, I’ll be able to live with myself. But if I can beat -86, I’ll send an apology and some flowers to Leam Richardson and Wigan Athletic.
In fact, I should be sending flowers to every member of every club because they have provided me with another stellar year of entertainment. I was sat on that final day keeping an eye on all the scores, trying to do the maths in my head as to who’s going up and who’s going down, and I realised, that’s like most Saturdays for me. I’ll tell myself there’s work to do, but those scores’ll call me, and it goes from keeping an eye to having my full attention.
It had it this season, it had it last season, and it’ll have it again next season.
To Crewe, Wimbledon, Doncaster, and Gillingham, it’s not really goodbye, more just ‘watch you a little later on EFL on Quest next season’. And to Wigan, Rotherham, and one of MK Dons, Wycombe, Sheffield Wednesday, and Sunderland — I’ll be seeing you a smidgen earlier.
And there’ll be a new cast of seven to welcome, and what a cast it is… Forest Green, Barnsley, Derby, Exeter, Peterborough, and still two mysteries to come — you’d think one would get bored of riding the same rollercoaster.
As for this time round… How did I do?
My score was…
Oh my days.
I was actually quietly optimistic, y’know?
That’s the worst thing I’ve ever seen.
That’s apparently only halfway down, but that is shocking. It seems for every one that I got bang on, or within one or two, there was one I was out by six, or eight. And then there were too many double digits wrongers.
I thought my younger self was a feckin idiot, but no, I’m the idiot.
MY BIGGEST WINNERS — Wimbledon, Rotherham — 0, Accrington, Bolton, Portsmouth, Shrewsbury, Sunderland — -1
MY BIGGEST LOSERS — Wigan — -19, Gillingham — -14, MK Dons, Crewe — -13, Plymouth — -11, Charlton — -10
That’s a quarter of the table I was off my double digits on.
But over a quarter of the table I was bang on or within one…
Next season suddenly means so much more.
Just when I thought it could nae get any better…
Keep it streets ahead,