How’s It Gonna End? — EFL League One 21/22
Last year, I cheated. I waited until a few games had been played and then I made my picks.
That clouded me. I thought it was the time of Lambert’s Ipswich and Barton’s Fleetwood. Oh, how wrong I was.
This time, no such errors shall be made. It’s back to wild shots in the dark based off transfer activity, ‘vibe’, and whether it feels like it’s a club’s time to be heading up top.
I’m gonna predict where each 21/22 League One side is gonna end up and then tot up a score based on the difference between that and where they actually finish. For example, if I pick Cheltenham to go straight back down in 24th place but they actually finish 14th, that would net me a score of -10.
Let’s see how I do this season. Back to double digits, hopefully. Single digits? A man can dream.
Just how is the 21/22 EFL League One season gonna end?
Robinson might have given Wimbledon the new manager bounce when he was appointed in January, but I reckon it’ll be a different story when starting from day dot. The Dons have always harboured a good philosophy within the club and it breeds players who play for the shirt, so commitment and application won’t be an issue — it’ll be in the execution. Main goal-threat Joe Pigott has departed, and it’s now tricky to see where the goals will come from. Youngsters have been trusted in pre-season and haven’t looked too out of place, so this could be a baptism of fire for some of them.
Their proud defence along with the likes of Ethan Chislett and Jack Rudoni are gonna have stand taller than ever, but it might not be tall enough.
Stanley seem to exist in their own bubble, safe from the prying eyes and grabbing hands of the rest of the football world. If you settle in Accrington, you can settle for life. This is the only explanation for how they manage to maintain a cracker squad that they can build upon each season. I mean, we saw John Coleman try to leave, but he had to come back…
And it’s been reasonably smooth-sailing ever since, with this coming season looking no different. They won’t be the most feared force, but they’ll still be one to be reckoned with.
Of the promoted sides, Bolton came up best-positioned for a continued push. Transfers have reflected that, with proven League One talent and promising starlets joining Evatt’s already impressive side. Momentum is very real and with Evatt’s big ballsy appraoch and a hungry side, The Trotters’ first season back could be one hell of a re-introduction.
The rebuild under Hasselbaink has been impressive and he’s stamping his authority further with a veritable smorgasbord of new acquisitions. Ryan Edwards’ departure is a black mark, but the mixture of experience, proven talent, and potential is a sign of good times for The Brewers.
Their might be a bit of gelling and clicking, discovering the best line-up with new personnel (with only a few of last season’s loanees returning), and they might not be fully recognised until it’s too late, but the charge is on for Jimmy Floyd and Burton.
This is probably Mark Bonner’s first backwards step as Cambridge gaffer, immediately after the biggest step forward. Promotion is obviously a double-edged sword, and that second edge has sliced The U’s open and sent Kyle Knoyle, Paul Mullin, and Luke Hannant tumbling from them. Replacements and additions haven’t been massively inspiring, and it will be down to Bonner, and his relationship with the squad, to see ’em finish the right side of the line.
Try and pin this one on Wes Hoolahan.
I used to write off Nigel Adkins, and I have no idea why. I think it’s ‘cos he looks like an accountant. But this numbers man is a cracker manager and he’s proved it near enough everywhere he’s been. I don’t think Charlton will be any different. They already showed change at the tail-end of last season, and with the Summer to adapt, they’ll come into this new day competing with the rest of contenders.
I don’t know what an Addick is, but this season, they could be winners.
Also, Adkins’ Addicks has a good ring to it.
Defence has been the name of the game for Cheltenham since Duff strolled back into town, and this’ll be the biggest test of that back line. Hussey, Boyle, Tozer and co. have shown their mettle against the likes of Manchester City, but League One’s a different beast. Last season’s League Two Player of the Season Josh Griffiths ain’t returning, but Owen Evans is back between the sticks after his good spell two seasons ago to add to that defence, but it’s up top where they’ll struggle, with the opus on Alfie May to perform.
This stage ain’t a forgiving one, and the curtain could come down hard on The Robins.
A one step forward, two steps back, one step forward season was obviously frustrating for The Railwaymen. Perry Ng’s departure was never gonna be a good thing, but they adapted decently and now have to move forward. Tommie Hoban is a solid addition that could be a dark horse for signing of the season, and he joins a scorpion of a side that can sting you out of nowhere. Their lines of attack are obvious, it’s just consistency needed for Crewe. Artell can drill that into them — and hope their legs won’t give out along the way.
In the transfer market, they’ve lost just as much experience as they’ve recruited, but to retirement they’ve probably lost more experience than the remaining squad put together in James Coppinger. Him sticking around at the club as they transition to Richie Wellens’ management could be key.
Quality is there, but a lot of it is untested, and that’s gonna make Wellens’ first season a toughie. They’ll apply themselves and they’ll grind out some important and entertaining results with their roster of impressive strikers carrying the goalscoring burden, and they’re a reliable bunch.
This Summer has seen Simon Grayson able to shake off a large part of the Barton funk that was hanging onto The Cod Army. But it may have been premature, as his fragrance hasn’t hit the market yet. This has left a squad smelling anonymous, lacking in essence, and therefore not viable to pass through the doors of progression.
There’s no doubt a team there, and the players remaining have an obvious case for being there, but depth is a vital thing, and as the season wears on, Fleetwood could be out of theirs as they fall away from the more prepared pack.
Steve Evans lost a few big names over the Summer, with the likes of Bonham, Graham, and Ogilvie heading out, but with the likes of Ben Reeves and Olly Lee coming in, and Max Ehmer coming back, you’d think Gillingham had set themselves up once again for a push at the play-offs. There’s no doubt that Steve Evans is effective in delivering such a thing.
It’s a squad that feels like everyone has a place, and you can see everyone doing their job — if they’re as on-form as last season and have pushed on, their mix of poise and power could threaten the top sides.
Love a bit of Paul Cook. He’s got the goods for Ipswich, I reckon. With a clearout that would make Kim and Aggie proud, Cook has already proved that he’s pulling nae punches in the job. Ipswich seemed cursed, and he’s dusting everything off ’til he finds it and shaking the hoodoo out of Portman Road. Long time servants like Freddie Sears, Cole Skuse, and Luke Chambers have been shipped down the road, and promising youngsters like Andre Dozzell and Tristan Nydam have hit the bricks as well. But that has allowed Cook to put his side together: to a solid core including Downes and Woolfenden, he’s added a League Two standout stopper, an SPL wunderkind, proper League One experience and quality, as well as untapped potential. This could be a break from bad breaks for The Tractor Boys, but they’ll have to have eyes on the back of their head up top.
The beaten play-off finalists needed to take that chance last season. It was a side full of promising talent, and that was only temporary. With loans having expired, Appleton will have to do it again in the market, and he’s got off to a great start with the signing of last season’s League Two Player of the Season Josh Griffiths to take over from fellow Baggie Alex Palmer in goal. Jorge Grant is another big departure, but Chris Maguire fills the gap, coming aboard with a level of shithousery hitherto unseen at Sincil Bank.
There’s still a few gaps to plug for The Imps, but they’re a club on the rise, and the presence of Landon Donovan alone should inspire a push up the table, if not a mad dash to the top.
There’s no doubt that Russell Martin has been, and is been, given the time to craft the squad he wants. Last season showed vast improvement from the team that only acted when under immense pressure, as they became an unpredictable League One side.
I reckon this season could see ’em being the chancers — scoring a lot and conceding a lot, but the important thing will be progression within their ranks. Loanees and settlers will keep ’em afloat this season, but it’ll be the marching on of the next generation that’ll see efficient advancement.
As soon as they went up, they lost their manager and their star player. That’d be enough to dampen any excitement, but then the deluge continued, with player after player who played a key role in the promotion taking off or ducking out. Stephen Robinson hasn’t rested though, and to a senior squad of only nine players, he has added reinforcements across the pitch.
It’s a swing really. Shots in the dark. The quality of the players is undoubtable, but there seems to be little rhyme or reason beyond that. It was already going to be difficult for The Shrimps to compete, and a manager rarely leaves if there isn’t trouble on the horizon — and this was probably that trouble.
Morecambe will put forth a hearty battle, but it will be in vain come season-end.
Oxford are in recovery at the start of every League One season, as they lose a player or two that made them look so formidable previously. They find a replacement, go again, stutter, and then finish well — play-offs or just outside.
Here’s that again.
Atkinson and Ruffels have jumped ship. Seddon and Williams fill a gap. We’re off again. Only we’re still short a centre-back because Williams isn’t one. It’s a lot of presence to lose at the back, and those stepping in will do well to match it. Oxford have quality enough, but the constant drive can get tiring, and like Newport before them, a season off is inevitable — this is gonna be it. It won’t be dangerous, but it won’t be too exciting either.
The Pilgrims have done well to keep hold of an experienced midfield, a promising strike-force, and suitable custodeans, but they’ve done this at the expense of their entire defence. There now are eight players with nine first-team appearances between them for the club. There’s applicable quality there, and they’ll come in and do a no-nonsense job at first before getting to grips with the Plymouth game, but it’s those in front of them we’ll be looking at to stay in the race this time. Ryan Lowe and his got off to a good start last time out but fell away, and with no major changes, Plymouth supporters will be hoping there’s a game plan going forward. Maintaining their status wouldn’t be a bad result right now, but they don’t wanna tip over into stagnation either.
Bolton, Cannon, Close, Whatmough, Williams, MacGillivray — the list of departures is a depressing ones for Pompey supporters. But the arrival of The Cowleys signals a new dawn, even if results at the end of last season didn’t signal an immediate one. Championship-proven players with League One experience have arrived to back up a waning, yet still powerful structure. They’ve seemed desperate the past few seasons, and it’s made them vulnerable; Cowley and Cowley will be looking to lead them from that malaise, and setting their sights higher.
But a mild odour of helplessness will fester as the reek of power can only repress so much. Early and late stutters will see them crack once more.
Okay, so we’re back here again. The dance of Rotherham is an eternal one, as baby steps are taken to securing second division membership for longer than a singular season at a time.
At this point, Paul Warne and his boys know League One like the back of their hand and anyone would be foolish to doubt that this side is going anywhere but the top six. Not just because of the personnel, but because I’m more than 5% sure that they’ve been planning this. Every Championship season they grow stronger — but they go down — but they’re too good for League One now, and then one of these days, one season, they shall be too good for the Championship relegation zone, and then they build on that, becoming better than 20th in the Championship, then 19th — and by 2136, they might just be getting relegated from the Premier League instead.
And Paul Warne’s grandson will be in charge of his 500th game.
The Championship spell is over once again, and Darren Moore didn’t dwell on it. With a working experience of League One as if practicing for this job, Wednesday have themselves positioned well with Darren. Departures obviously haven’t been kind, but their retained list is impressive reading, with the likes of Barry Bannan, Liam Palmer, Chey Dunkley, and Callum Paterson all fitting to have cracker seasons at this level. The recruitment has also been pretty sparkling, with Burnley’s Prem-tested goalkeeper Bailey Peacock-Farrell joining on loan, along with the near-enough mercurial Lewis Wing, and Bristol City’s Jack Hunt.
The Owls can hammer back big-time here and march back to the second division a force to be reckoned with once more.
Steve Cotterill has done an excellent job building on the exisiting defensive philosophy of the team that came before, and spinning that into one that attacks as well. There’s promising menace within the side now, and though it ain’t gonna rumble like Thor across the league, it’ll do enough damage to stake a claim for a place in League One next season.
They seem like a unit now, a real foundation to spring off.
A new owner and a first full-season under Lee Johnson makes for some (obviously cautious) optimism. A new squad shape boasts a few Championship quality players along with bags of League One experience, and you feel they could be one starring striker away from being right in the hunt.
But, like Portsmouth, there’s a curse on the land, a desperation that kicks in as expectations reach a fever pitch — I believe Sunderland can stave it off and reach the play-offs once more, but despite the top-six finish, I guarantee it’ll feel like another vomit-inducing rollercoaster for any Black Cats supporter.
The dramatic and unexpected survival of last season has positioned them to push on when many were preparing for the worst. Leam Richardson has proved that he can galvanise this team, and he’s done a safe and cracker (safe cracker) job in bringing in plenty of proven League One talent to find that combination and make sure Wigan’s safety is secured in less-dramatic fashion. There’s still work to be done, and it’s gonna be long, hard work, but there’s a beating heart at The DW, and it won’t be silenced.
They were expected to be relegated from the Championship last season, okay? And a lot of folk expected them to come along more quietly than they did. I think they’d be dumb not to have prepped for it, and they did. They absolutely did. All the resources they could have mined from the second division were fed back into the club, and although some players had to be sacrificed, it all secured the growth of The Chairboys. The signings of Kaikai, Scowen, and Vokes no longer make Wycombe seem out of place up top here, and with a passion that’s tough to match, Ainsworth and co. will continue to be a tricky team to topple.
Alright, let’s have a gander at what I went for.
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
There’s something bugging me about this one… But it’s locked in so I’ll deal with it.
The three relegated sides finishing in the top four? Three of the four promoted sides going straight back down? All seems a bit too cut-and-dry, doesn’t it? Well, it’s a new climate we’re playing in, and right now, it ain’t kind. All we can do is hope we all survive and come through the other side raring to get at it all again.
And that light at the end of the tunnel is growing ever-brighter.
This season can hopefully be a return to a bit of normality, and we can let our passions reign at the grounds of our choosing, from the Stadium of Light to Home Park —bask in the success of your team and console them in defeat, be one with your club, be a literal supporter.
And who knows where you’ll end up?
I can only guess how League One is gonna end.
Is this how it’s gonna end?
Keep it streets ahead,