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The new League One season is around the corner and EFL pundit Gab Sutton shares his 2021/22 season preview, complete with his 1-24 predictions.

Check out his League Two preview here

Read his Championship preview here


Milton Keynes Dons


MK Dons might have finished 13th last season but, catching the eye with an expansive, enterprising style, the plaudits they earned were akin to those for a promotion contender.

The task, this season, is to add prizes to those plaudits, a remit highly achievable if Russ Martin and Luke Williams remain in charge amid links with Swansea.

The dream duo’s squad is once again strong in midfield, where Martin will be working with the familiar faces of dynamo David Kasumu and box-to-box man Matt O’Riley, plus the new boys: goalscoring extraordinaire Scott Twine and the more understated Ethan Robson.

Up top, meanwhile, neat-footed finisher Mo Eisa and sharp Max Watters – who scored a remarkable 13 goals in 15 games for Crawley – hitch up at MK1, accomodating a switch from 3-4-2-1 to 3-4-1-2 which will give the team a greater cutting edge in the opposition penalty box.

Further back, goalkeeper Andrew Fisher distributes superbly and thus fits Martin’s style of play, while defender Harry Darling will be hoping to extrapolate the excellent performances he delivered after joining from Cambridge in January over a full campaign.

Fellow centre-backs Warren O’Hora and Zak Jules, 22 and 24 respectively, are improving all the time; O’Hora is incredibly vocal for his age, while Jules offers crucial left-footed balance when stalwart Dean Lewington is absent.

The spine looks strong, but wing-back positions needed to be addressed with Ethan Laird back at Manchester United and Matthew Sorinola now in Belgium.

The latter can be replaced well by Daniel Harvie, who was arguably the superior left-sider until the latter stages of last season, while Martin hopes to have found the replacement for Laird in an unlikely place.

Josh Martin is an exciting talent on loan from Norwich, whom Martin and Williams plan to convert into a wing-back – a role they think will maximize his quality of final ball, arguably superior to that of Laird.

There is a catch, though: the head coach has experimented in pre-season with using left-footed Harvie on the right and right-footed Martin on the left so, if the wing-backs are not influencing proceedings on their natural side, the inverted runs will bamboozle many opponents.

If MK can keep the width in those scenarios via outward runs, either from wide centre-backs or midfielders, then their attacking play could become extremely difficult to predict due to heavy rotation.

Plus, what Martin’s side have to their advantage over wealthier competitors is that they are at a more advanced stage of their tactical development, having worked towards this style for 21 months, this system for 12 of them.

Having written numerous metaphorical cheques with their performances in 2020-21, the task for Russ Martin’s side is simple: find the productivity to cash them.

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Wycombe Wanderers


Having greatly excelled as an underdog specialist for so long, Gareth Ainsworth may need a minor update to his trusty handbook for motivation.

The club ‘Wild Thing’ described as “Little Old Wycombe” in League Two became comparatively tiny in League One and miniscule in the Championship yet, following relegation from that level, the Chairboys come into this campaign with, dare we say it, a small hint of expectation.

Wanderers have been helped through the fanless period with a combination of TV revenue and financial support from the Couhigs who, along with Ainsworth, have implied aspirations of an instant return.

And why not? The Buckinghamshire outfit performed like Play-Off outsiders in the latter stages of their second-tier stint, accruing 16 points from eight games after switching to a wing-back system.

Goalkeeper David Stockdale, tall, ball-playing centre-back Ryan Tafazolli, set piece specialist Joe Jacobson, ball-winner Curtis Thompson, springy utility man David Wheeler and brisk creator Anis Mehmeti all stay to provide a reliable core.

Josh Scowen rejoins from Sunderland to add further tenacity to a side that, whilst still more than capable of being effective without much possession, are starting to execute crisp, vertical passing sequences on top of their direct play.

To perfect the latter, Wanderers must replace Uche Ikpeazu; it will be hard for any recruit to match the physical front-man’s full range of attributes, including mobility and individual quality, but Sam Vokes is heavily linked with a move from Stoke.

The target man might struggle as a lone striker but, in a two-up top system paired by nippy poacher Scott Kashket, Wycombe could compensate for not having a striker as well-rounded as Ikpeazu by operating with a pair of forwards who would bring a wide array of qualities between them.

Plus, there will plenty of creators capable of supplying the front-men, besides Mehmeti: Garath McCleary is an intelligent operator between the lines, Sullay Kaikai, who signs from Blackpool, is a strong ball-progressor while livewire Daryl Horgan is hoping to replicate the form that won him Ireland appearances.

Fred Onyedinma might have left, but Wycombe have a ready-made replacement in Jordan Obita which means, on both flanks, the team will have a balanced wing-back and wide centre-back combination:

The athleticism of right-sided centre-back Jack Grimmer and left wing-back Obita complements the respective intelligence of right wing-back Jason McCarthy and left-sided centre-back Jacobson.

While most teams need a major overhaul after relegation, Wanderers can look for quality over quantity: Little Old Wycombe, nowadays, might not seem quite so little.

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Ipswich have huge ambitions which, due to recent changes, now look achievable: a top six finish would start new regimes on the right track.

Gabriel Sutton



It’s easy to see why Ipswich are among the promotion favourites.

The Suffolk club has, at long last, an ownership regime to move it back into the upper echelons of English football, after controversial, long-serving chairman Marcus Evans sold to a US Consortium led by Brett Johnson.

The Tractor Boys also now have, in Paul Cook, a manager who has won three EFL titles in his career, so the ingredients for success are in place upstairs and in the dugout.

On the field, though, Cook has plenty of work to do to evolve a squad that has endured a three-year decline, so the Liverpudlian has been quick to add energy and dynamism in midfielder Lee Evans and versatile right-sider Wes Burns.

Václav Hladký looks an astute addition between the sticks, Joe Pigott has the minerals to lead the line on his own in Cook’s possession-based 4-2-3-1 system, into which left-footed technician Scott Fraser will fit like a glove.

Nonetheless, more attacking midfielders for the trio behind the striker will be required, although Albanian talent Armando Dobra is capable of the spectacular.

Town are set to add George Edmundson, who demonstrated a rawness to his game in the second half of last season with Derby, but the ball-playing centre-back might relish a full season in League One, strengthening an area where the squad is light.

Luke Woolfenden is gifted but lacks concentration, Aristote Nsiala is athletic but lacks the ball-playing qualities for the style while Elkan Baggott, even after a great loan spell at King’s Lynn Town, is unlikely to start regularly just yet – and the funds available mean he will not have to.

Ipswich have huge ambitions which, due to recent changes, now look achievable: a top six finish would start new regimes on the right track.

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The phrase “It’s always darkest before the dawn” is especially relevant at the Stadium of Light.

While Sunderland face a fourth consecutive season at their lowest ever level, they have gained an ownership structure that could take them to their highest.

Kyril Louis-Dreyfus has the wealth and will to win with the Wearsiders, having already revamped the structure at the club by appointing Kristjaan Speakman as Sporting Director and Lee Johnson, a man with Play-Off chasing experience in the Championship, as head coach.

There had been some restlessness this summer but, in some respects, slow transfer business shows the club is methodical in their work and will not make rash financial commitments.

The first signing for the Black Cats was advanced playmaker Alex Pritchard who, after a tough few seasons, is hoping to replicate the excellent mid-2010s form for Brentford and Norwich that once earnt him Premier League football with Huddersfield.

Another exciting addition is Callum Doyle: on paper, signing an 17-year-old for a club with high expectations is risky, but the Man City loanee arrives with rave reviews and has enjoyed a sensational pre-season.

There will be a lot of pressure on the youngster, though, with uncertainty over the defence: athlete Jordan Willis is out for the season, Arbenit Xhemajli is yet to feature due to injury, organiser Bailey Wright has been linked away and there are question marks over Tom Flanagan’s credentials at this level.

Similar doubts could be applied to goalkeeper Lee Burge and, with no senior full- backs at the club, Johnson has had to make contingency plans in those positions, especially with spirited utility man Luke O’Nien favoured in midfield.

Midfielder by trade Carl Winchester has started at right-back in pre-season – though the club are linked with a move for Exeter’s Josh Key – while youngsters like Daniel Neil and Tyrese Dyce have had their chances at left-back.

Sunderland could start the season with imperfections in almost every defensive area, so it is understandable that Johnson has added seasoned, steady midfielder Corry Evans, who may provide sufficient protection to stop issues at the back from being brought to light.

Going forward, at least, the Wearsiders boast quality out wide with bright Jack Diamond, energetic Lyndon Gooch and enigmatic Irishman Aiden McGeady, plus in attacking midfield with driving force Elliot Embleton as well as Pritchard.

The SR5 outfit might yet gamble that poacher Will Grigg, who has scored 19 or more goals in four of his last eight seasons at this level, could resurge in the right system, though natives are unconvinced.

Aiden O’Brien has tended to be shunted out wide rather than trusted to lead the line, so Ross Stewart – surprisingly quick at 6’5” – may be the man tasked with emulating the departed Charlie Wyke’s 30-goal heroics.

The attack is strong and may be required to carry Sunderland in the early weeks, while the defence figures itself out: only then can Johnson’s side gauge their automatic promotion chances.

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Charlton Athletic


Charlton’s 2020-21 campaign was nothing if not streaky.

A six-game winning run and a separate sequence of one defeat in 15, alone, gave the Addicks enough points to stay up, but the other 25 games yielded a paltry 26 points and thus, they missed out on the Play-Offs.

The challenge for Nigel Adkins, who replaced Lee Bowyer in March, is to extrapolate the hot streaks over longer periods and, to do that, he has re-signed target man Jayden Stockley, who proved a crucial focal point in the second half of last season.

At the other end, Portsmouth recruit Craig MacGillivray has a huge part to play with his shot-stopping proficiency behind aerial dominator Ryan Innis and ball-player Akin Famewo.

Those centre-backs must stay fit, in order to ensure that youth prospect Deji Elerewe is not hurled in before time and to reduce the demands on veteran Jason Pearce, who remains a strong leader but is waning in form; it’s a similar story for Chris Gunter, who backs up dependable right-back Adam Matthews.

An upgrade may be required on conservative left-back Ben Purrington, likewise additional creativity in midfield to augment dynamos George Dobson and Sean Clare, with experienced anchor man Ben Watson deemed not a first team starter by Adkins.

Additional quality out wide is also needed to take attentions off Diallang Jaiyesimi and ensure Conor Washington is not shunted out of position too often, although left-footed winger Charles Clayden could take advantage of the immediate dearth of options after impressing in pre-season.

There remains lots of unknowns and owner Thomas Sandgaard plans to invest: Charlton have a strong core in place already, but late business will be central to their promotion chances.

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Accrington Stanley


Once again, Stanley hit new heights.

Not only did John Coleman’s side secure a fourth consecutive season at this level with one of the division’s lowest budgets, but they did so finishing 11th; their highest ever place in their current incarnation.

So, what’s stopping them pushing on further and being this year’s dark horses? It certainly won’t be their usual Achilles’ heel: departures.

Just six players left East Lancashire going into late July and none of the exits are likely to hinder Coleman, who enters this season with a squad much stronger than the one that achieved a top half berth.

Key forwards Colby Bishop and Dion Charles are on course to remain in situ, with both gaining fresh competition from athletic Burnley loanee Joel Mumbongo and Joe Hardy.

The latter made Liverpool’s 25-man Premier League squad in the second half of last season while goalkeeper James Trafford, on loan from Man City, featured in several match-day squads in the Champions League knockout stages last season.

These players have been considered worthy deputees by two of the most successful managers of all-time and there is potential for either to rock League One.

Ross Sykes will himself be almost like a new signing, bringing aerial dominance at either end and rampaging runs from the right of a back-three; also fit again is Joe Pritchard, who brings energy as well as quality from left wing-back.

There is depth in midfield, where Seamus Conneely, when back fit or Liam Coyle will provide defensive insurance for overlapping defenders; 6’5” Harry Pell, box-to-box Matt Butcher and non-league riser Tommy Leigh are all-rounders contending for the other spots in a 3-5-2.

In fact, the strength of central competition suggests direct runner John O’Sullivan, embarking on his second stint at the Wham Stadium (Crown Ground), will offer an adventurous right wing-back alternative to Harvey Rodgers, allowing Stanley to carry an attacking threat on both flanks.

Coleman has never been so excited about a Stanley squad, so 2021-22 could be the best chance the club will ever have to make serious waves at this level.

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Oxford United


Oxford secured a second successive top six finish last season thanks to a late run of form, but big-game frailties let them down.

The Yellows accrued a paltry 10 points from 16 games against fellow top nine opposition in 2020-21, with their only victory in that sequence coming against a severely depleted Lincoln side.

While Karl Robinson deserves some credit for the 64 points from 30 against middling and struggling outfits, therefore, the keep-ball connoisseur must find a stronger defensive formula when it matters, like it did in the Play-Off Semi-Final defeat to Blackpool.

Such a formula could be found by securing the midfield: Alex Gorrin was injured for parts of last season and while Cameron Brannagan did his best in the destroyer’s absence, the former Liverpool trainee plays best when let off the proverbial leash.

Robinson might benefit from recruiting a rotation option for Gorrin, or adding pace in defence, where Elliott Moore will be the dominant presence.

If no new centre-backs come in, Rob Atkinson’s exit for Bristol City necessitates either a reliance on veteran John Mousinho or a significant step-up for 21-year-old Irishman Luke McNally, who is yet to play a game for the club.

That area might be weakened, but Steve Seddon represents a more athletic, aggressive and direct left-back option than departed stalwart Josh Ruffels, right-back Sam Long’s offensive game is improving, while summer signing Marcus McGuane is capable of running the show in midfield.

A big season is also expected from versatile forward Dan Agyei, who offers an injection of pace and power into the Yellows’ patient, possession-play and could turn into a key man, like goalkeeper Jack Stevens did last season.

Oxford will be in the mix but vulnerabilities may remain in key areas – it’s hard to see why they will be stronger when it matters.

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On paper, Rotherham have a top six squad, but we could see Warne’s methods lose elements of their efficiency at this level and his side may narrowly fall short.

Gabriel Sutton

Rotherham United


Paul Warne’s record of two promotions and two relegations in four full seasons as Rotherham manager mirrors, in some respects, the mixed nature of his status.

Warne’s supporters, the majority of the fanbase, argue that the bottom-three budgeted Millers would have stayed up last season without March’s health crisis, which prompted an unhelpfully congested backlog of fixtures.

2020-21 shot data reflected kindly on the South Yorkshire club, who tried to press and were not found wanting for effort or heart, but perhaps missed an element of athleticism and quality in key areas.

Warne’s doubters, however, suggest that his emotive man management techniques account for too great a proportion of his overall skillset and that, tactically, he has not learnt too much from the 2018-19 Championship campaign.

The 48-year-old employs direct methods that, it is argued, has made the team over-reliant on target man Michael Smith’s combination play with Matt Crooks – now at Middlesbrough – whilst underusing technical talent such as Daniel Barlaser, Ben Wiles and Kieran Sadlier.

The former fitness coach puts great emphasis on physical endurance and negating the opposition’s strengths, perhaps at the cost of a stronger belief in Rotherham’s own.

Nonetheless, goalkeeper Viktor Johansson, versatile defender Wes Harding, aerial centre-back Michael Ihiekwe and selfless midfielder Jamie Lindsay, along with Barlaser, Wiles and Smith, represent a good core at this level.

Right-sided defender Shaun Rooney – the fifth player to score in a Scottish Cup and Scottish League Cup Finals in the same season this century – is set to join in late-July, along with versatile full-back Hakeem Odoffin and midfield terrier Jamie Allen, all of whom would strengthen the Millers.

On paper, Rotherham have a top six squad, but we could see Warne’s methods lose elements of their efficiency at this level and his side may narrowly fall short.

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Lincoln City


Even off the back of their highest finish for 39 years, this could be an awkward season for Lincoln.

Michael Appleton worked his magic in 2020-21 after an underwhelming debut campaign, leading the Imps 11 places up to fifth.

That stellar campaign, though, was inspired by loanees – goalkeeper Alex Palmer, defender TJ Eyoma plus forwards Brennan Johnson and Morgan Rogers.

The advantage of relying on the loan market is that Appleton has the contacts and knowledge to make the right moves and, it is hoped, driven Southampton striker Dan Nlundulu plus midfield forward-thinker Lewis Fiorini could be the next temporary treasures to grace Sincil Bank.

Nlundulu and Fiorini join a reliable core, comprised partly of springy focal point Tom Hopper, intelligent right-back Regan Poole and left-back Tayo Edun – who simply loves a slick, vertical, first-time pass.

There is excellent competition at centre-back, too, where the coaching team must pick two of goalscoring specialist Lewis Montsma, aggressive Joe Walsh and leader Adam Jackson.

The midfield is also strong, despite the sizeable loss of technician Jorge Grant: any three of tidy Max Sanders, all-rounder James Jones, tactically diligent Conor McGrandles, anchor man Liam Bridcutt and Fiorini could start in Appleton’s central trio.

The former Oxford boss has addressed the goalkeeping position, too: Josh Griffiths is hoping to emulate Palmer’s brilliance on loan from West Brom, having kept 21 clean sheets in League Two last season for Cheltenham, so the biggest question mark lies in the wide positions.

The pace and movement of Johnson combined with the individual quality of Rogers carried Lincoln through at times last season, so new wide man Hakeeb Adelakun, among others, have a lot to live up to.

Adelakun was highly rated as a youngster at Scunthorpe due to his searing pace, before a premature move to Bristol City was followed by League One stints with Rotherham and Hull; ironically, both won automatic promotion, without the Hackney-born winger being an especially prominent figure.

Another top two finish for the 25-year-old is unlikely because, after key departures, Lincoln’s season is about replicating last season’s remarkably lofty standards, rather than using them as a springboard for better things.

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Wigan Athletic

Wigan might be playing this season in the same division as the last, but the mood around WN5 is completely different.

A club that was fearing for it’s future 12 months ago can now look forward to a bright one, thanks to the takeover from Phoenix 2021 Limited.

Between those two summers, everyone associated with the ‘Tics worked wonders to keep it running, especially Leam Richardson who, with a youthful squad and skeleton staff, showed incredible perseverance to preserve the League One status.

Richardson has been justly rewarded by new chairman Talal Al Hammad with a three-year contract and will be targeting a top six tilt, after the West Lancashire club were able to make a series of high-profile signings, including talented defender Jack Whatmough from Portsmouth.

Physical front-man Charlie Wyke is the headline addition, with the man who scored 26 League One goals last season for Sunderland poached on a free transfer, competing to lead the line with Stephen Humphrys, who had a strong campaign himself with Rochdale.

The arrivals of Tom Naylor, Jordan Cousins and Max Power mean Richardson will frequently name a solid, hard-hitting double-pivot in his 4-2-3-1 system, so attacking full-backs Tendayi Darikwa and Tom Pearce will have freedom to push forward.

Wigan hope to do likewise, but going from relegation candidates to promotion contenders in a year is a big ask: the ‘Tics may need to set up camp in the top half before setting sights any higher.

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Bolton Wanderers

If Bolton’s 2020-21 campaign is not a shining beacon of the merits of standing by a manager through tough times, nothing ever will be.

The Trotters, operating at their lowest level since 1987-88, were 19th in early February, yet the hierarchy kept faith with Ian Evatt, who steered them to automatic promotion with 16 wins in 22.

Classy Kieran Lee, anchor man MJ Williams, left-back Declan John and lively forward ‘Dapo Afolayan were among the winter recruits who transformed the Lancashire outfit’s fortunes, augmenting more reliable performers like complete centre-back Ricardo Santos and predatory poacher Eoin Doyle.

Evatt is clear in his ambition to push for a second successive promotion but, for a club that was in crisis seven months ago, is that ambition realistic?

This level will be another big step up, not just for last season’s personnel but also for goalkeeper Joel Dixon, who signs from Barrow, albeit having made the most saves in League Two last season.

On-loan winger Xavier Amaechi is an England U20 international but had an uneventful spell in the 2. Bundesliga last season with Karlsruher SC, while neither right-sided defender Will Aimson nor raw-running forward Amadou Bakayoko have necessarily stood out at this level previously.

The reason why Bolton are likely to pull away from the sides they came up with, therefore, is largely down to squad depth: the Trotters have around 27 players who could be good enough, whereas for most of their competitors, that number is much lower.

A top half finish is eminently achievable, but a stronger first XI will be required for Bolton to break into the top six – and it might be impractical to assemble such a line-up this season.

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Plymouth Argyle

After achieving successive fourth-tier promotions with Bury and Plymouth Argyle, Ryan Lowe can be graded a 6/10 for his first full season as a manager in League One.

The driven Liverpudlian kept his side away from the relegation battle that fellow promotees Swindon and Northampton were embroiled in throughout, despite three extensive losing streaks.

The Devoners showed potential in attack, where dribbler Danny Mayor, pressing forward Ryan Hardie and poacher Luke Jephcott all enjoyed periods of excellent form.

On top of that, Niall Ennis made a lively impression on the front-line after joining in January while Panutche Camara brings incredible enthusiasm and athleticism in midfield which is vital to the press.

Between the sticks, meanwhile, Michael Cooper made 153 saves, more than any other goalkeeper in the division.

The fact Argyle finished as low as 18th, therefore, highlights defensive deficiencies stemming from a lack of experience in key areas, with Kelland Watts along with loanees Tyrese Fornah and Jerome Opoku all 21 or 22.

32-year-old James Wilson, Player of the Year at Ipswich last season, represents a solution to these issues if the centre-back can dodge the injuries, while Dan Scarr should at least be aerially accomplished.

There are doubts, though, as to whether either Wilson or Scarr can acquire ball-playing qualities and therein lies the crux of Lowe’s challenge: the 42-year-old must make his team better at the defensive basics, whilst also staying true to the core playing identity.

The man to help them achieve the latter is Adam Randell, who thrived enormously on loan at Torquay last season.

Just as effective at ferocious pressing as he is when delicately turning on a sixpence to jink past opponents, Randell was operating on a different planet to almost everyone in the National League in 2020-21.

If the 20-year-old steps up to League One as well as hoped, Argyle can push for a top half finish.

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The EFL harbours many hardworking managers, but Danny and Nicky Cowley are the ultimate connoisseurs of exactitude.

Ambiguity over Portsmouth’s budget, at a time when the club has just completed an acquisition of land to enhance their training facilities, is one explanation for the slow summer business, but another is that the Cowley brothers do not rest until they find the perfect fit.

This season, therefore, Pompey will be powered by excellent tacticians, but hindered, perhaps, by a squad lacking in depth because of the slow business: the Cowleys would rather not sign anyone at all than sanction a deal they are uncomfortable with, which is a risky business with a recently ravaged academy.

Nonetheless, the dogged dugout dwellers have landed possible gems like Norwich loanee Gassan Ahadme who, in pre-season, has looked excellent attacking foil for John Marquis.

Marquis was misused under the previous regime but, if handed more floor-based service, could start to bring the value first hoped after an expensive move from Doncaster back in 2019.

Joining Marquis in an ex-Millwall contingent are midfielders Shaun Williams and Ryan Tunnicliffe; the former brings a fine left foot while the latter is hardworking and tenacious, but positional rivals are in short supply.

Pompey may need to sell wide forward Ronan Curtis – the only plausible subject of immediate Championship interest – to rebuild a lopsided squad best illustrated by the full-back positions.

The Portsea Islanders possess two excellent right-backs in confident operator Callum Johnson and the intelligent Kieron Freeman but, at left-back, their options are confined to declining stalwart Lee Brown and youngster Liam Vincent, who was not signed for regular first team action.

With so many areas unaddressed at an advanced stage, Portsmouth risk regression and could drop into the bottom half.

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Despite this, there has been an overhaul on the field, with 13 players leaving on frees this summer including the old guard of Tom Lees, Keiren Westwood and Adam Reach.

Gabriel Sutton

Sheffield Wednesday

Wednesday have not had the top-to-bottom transformation they needed this summer.

Dejphon Chansiri, who has been criticised for his relationship with agent Amadou Paixao and a lack of transparency, is still chairman.

Despite this, there has been an overhaul on the field, with 13 players leaving on frees this summer including the old guard of Tom Lees, Keiren Westwood and Adam Reach.

Julian Borner is set to leave, too, for Hannover 96 and Darren Moore has experimented with destroyer-by-trade Sam Hutchinson as an auxiliary centre-back in pre-season, when dabbling with a 3-4-3 as well as a more familiar 4-2-3-1.

Despite the financial uncertainty, the Owls have still made decent additions in returning right-back Jack Hunt, who might not have the natural pace at 30 but still possesses the drive to carry the ball forward, something new midfielder Dennis Adeniran can do intelligently.

Adeniran completes a reasonable set of midfield options including Barry Bannan – long regarded as one of the top Hollywood ball merchants in the Championship – and Massimo Luongo, who when fit will bring plenty of thrust.

In attack, meanwhile, springy battler Callum Paterson remains having spearheaded Cardiff’s Play-Off campaign in 2019-20 and the South Yorkshire outfit have thus far retained relentless runner Josh Windass for much of the summer, though the forward will miss the start of the season through injury.

Question marks linger over whether goalkeepers Joe Wildsmith and Cameron Dawson are good enough, so there could yet be movement between the sticks like there has been at left-back, where Huddersfield recruit Jaden Brown and 20-year-old Ryan Galvin are unproven.

The good news, though, is that Olamide Shodipo added product to pace at Oxford last season by scoring 11 goals and the hope is that Andre Green can do likewise.

Still, paying bills has looked at times problematic for Chansiri and, while debts are currently settled, there is a lingering lack of stability that could undermine any hopes of an instant return.

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Following three flirtatious mingles with the drop, Gillingham have achieved successive 10th placed finishes and now threaten to establish themselves as a permanent fixture in League One’s top half.

The 2019-20 season was impressive because they were on course to accrue 12 more points than the previous one, then the departures of various key players rendered last year’s work equally commendable.

The man behind these two steady showings is Steve Evans, who has built a side in his image: uncompromising, aggressive and robust.

Evans is boosted by the return of Gills stalwart Max Ehmer who, after a tough season at Bristol Rovers, hopes to resurge alongside talented defender Jack Tucker or, potentially, Connor Ogilvie, if the 25-year-old returns to the club from whom he rejected a contract earlier this summer.

Ogilvie would be one of the key players, though, like target man Vadaine Oliver, who hit 20 goals in all competitions last season.

The question, though, is whether Oliver will be given the quality, speedy strike-partner he appeared to be crying out for last season, with John Akinde stylistically similar and Gerald Sithole inexperienced.

It is unclear whether Evans has deployed 4-2-3-1 in pre-season to prepare his team for life without a second striker, or for practical reasons, while he waits for one to come in.

A one-striker formation might allow Mr Consistency Kyle Dempsey to further utilize his energy in the press, plus recruits Olly Lee, Danny Lloyd and Ben Reeves would be freed up to show their technical capabilities in front of a solid midfield platform led by battler Stuart O’Keefe.

The Kent outfit also have an excellent goalkeeper in Jamie Cumming, who joins on loan from Chelsea after keeping 17 League Two clean sheets last season at Stevenage.

Nevertheless, the absence of the right strike-partner for Oliver might leave Gillingham predictable and one-paced, unable to build on the solid foundations laid over the previous two seasons.

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AFC Wimbledon

AFC Wimbledon represent the greatest story in the history of English football – and a new chapter is being written.

Supporters who have gone 30 years or a lifetime without ever truly watching a home game can, for the visit of Bolton on 14th August, finally do so at New Plough Lane.

The 9k capacity stadium will host some exceptional talent including left-footed technician Jack Rudoni and forward Ayoub Assal, who has both the neat feet to out-skill an opponent and the pace to out-run one.

Assal was April’s EFL Player of the Month and undoubtedly the subject of interest from afar, so his decision to sign a new long-term contract highlights a collective belief that the club can make huge strides under the current head coach.

Having been involved with the club since 2005 in various roles, primarily with the youth setup, Mark Robinson has built numerous excellent teams at academy level and his ability to develop young players is a huge feather in his Wombles cap.

If centre-backs Will Nightingale and Ben Heneghan plus tenacious captain Alex Woodyard can start around 40 league games, then the Londoners will have the platform for midfielders George Marsh and Luke McCormick – signed from Tottenham and Chelsea respectively – to showcase their talents.

Wimbledon have taken a youngster on loan from Chelsea, too, in Henry Lawrence: a highly-rated, versatile full-back or wing-back, who possesses a top-notch understanding of the game and sublime technique.

Lawrence and others will be guided by the returning Darius Charles, who has been brought in for his dressing room influence: the veteran’s doctor told him he would never play professional football again in summer 2019, before the centre-back started in a League One Play-Off Final victory for Wycombe 12 months later – exactly the attitude demanded of any Wimbledon player.

After Joe Pigott’s exit, the big question lies up top: Brentford loanee Aaron Pressley has the strength, aerial prowess and goalscoring instincts to fill the void, but as essentially a newbie to senior football, the 19-year-old must acquire the maturity to thrive with his back to goal.

The ultimate aim for the Dons is to stabilize in League One over the next half-decade, developing saleable assets whilst elevating themselves into the midtable bracket: a big ask but, in Robinson, they have the man for the job.

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Burton Albion

While Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink was matching the goal tallies of Alan Shearer and Ruud Van Nistelrooy with Chelsea in 2001-02, Dino Maamria was helping Leigh RMI stay in the Conference.

The two men are from vastly different footballing worlds but, as if creating a Hugh Grant film, they have come together with beautiful results.

Burton were eight points adrift of safety when the dream duo took charge – having played between one and four more games than all their relegation rivals – with just two wins in 22.

Hasselbaink and Maamria, though, immediately transformed the Brewers, who have since acquired League One’s fourth-best return with 44 points from 24 games.

Chairman Ben Robinson should be credited for backing Jimmy and Dino by sanctioning 12 January additions, with full-back Tom Hamer making a particularly sizeable impact – the long-throw specialist has continued his influence into pre-season, winning man-of-the-match in a draw with Leicester.

Business has been reasonable this summer, too and emphasis on solidity is highlighted by the fact that defensive utility man Deji Oshilaja – a tough man to beat on the ground or in the air – is not planned to be used exclusively as a centre-back.

Going forward, meanwhile, Burton’s game will be all about the wide forwards: they will tend to operate with two of fleet-footed Jonny Smith, athlete Omari Patrick, agile operator Danny Rowe and stalwart Lucas Akins, either of whom must be granted the freedom to pick up goalscoring areas.

With summer recruit Louis Moult injured, though and Aaron Amadi-Holloway unlikely to be much more than a Plan B, the big question is whether Kane Hemmings – best known for goalscoring – can acquire the selfless mentality to bring Smith, Patrick, Rowe or Akins into dangerous positions.

Attacking patterns might not emerge quickly enough for a top half tilt, but a stern rear-guard should ensure the route to comfortable survival is flat rather than diagonal this time around.

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Doncaster Rovers

The fact Doncaster have made just one managerial sacking in 10 years, one would think, highlights their loyalty, yet the statistic also exposes a lack of it from some dug-out incumbents.

Ironically, the three managers in that period to jump ship to the Championship have all been relegated at the earliest possible point – Dean Saunders in 2013, Grant McCann in 2019 and Darren Moore in 2021.

Appointing a boss with huge coaching potential, as the latter two have, brings inherent risk of instability – then again, the alternative is hardly appealing.

Chief Executive Gavin Baldwin must think so too, because he and the board have hired an exciting young coach in Richie Wellens, who led Swindon to the League Two title in 2019-20.

The Mancunian motivator, who favours an exciting, expansive style of football, has endured a tough 2020-21 campaign that can be reasonably attributed to Swindon’s ownership issues and Salford’s impatience.

After inheriting a squad thin on League One performers, though, Wellens is having a busy summer and must balance the efficient use of the loan market that has benefited Donny in recent Play-Off pushes, with the need for a more sustainable form of squad-building.

Energetic right-back Kyle Knoyle, 2019-20 Player of the Year Tom Anderson, physical defender Cameron John and technical left-sider Tommy Rowe represent a respectable back-four to Wellens to work with.

The quartet will not be protected by much of a tenacious midfield presence, though, with neither Portsmouth recruit Ben Close nor inventive Arsenal loanee Matt Smith likely to be quick to a challenge, so AJ Greaves may end up taking on a more important role than initially expected.

The other challenge, meanwhile, will be to get the best out of the forwards: speedy Jordy Hiwula, enigmatic Fejiri Okenabirhie and the physical Omar Bogle. All three have shown promising patches of work previously in the EFL but neither have form behind them – Doncaster don’t, either.

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Bowman was at best streaky in League Two and may have fewer chances at this level, while Udoh has only consistently threatened in non-league with Telford.

Gabriel Sutton

Shrewsbury Town

Steve Cotterill might have divided opinion at times in his EFL career, but rarely will he need to buy a pint in Shrewsbury.

The charismatic Cheltonian inherited a side 23rd by late November with just one win to it’s name in 13 games and the turnaround was instant.

Salop subsequently accrued 15 points from the following seven encounters, thanks to 1-0 wins over high-flyers Hull, Lincoln, Doncaster and Blackpool.

Cotterill unfortunately contracted COVID in mid-January and, through an incredibly difficult time on a personal level, showed incredible defiance to continue doing his job from the hospital bed:

While Aaron Wilbraham and David Longwell led the team in person, Cotterill analysed games and training session on video, made calls with players and conducted team talks via FaceTime.

Thanks to the 57-year-old’s exceptional spirit, the Shropshire outfit maintained their good form into late-February with 13 points from a further seven encounters – including wins over Peterborough and Sunderland – before a late regression.

With the former Bristol City boss healthy again and ready to manage from the dugout, optimism is high: especially after 2019-20 League One title-winning goalkeeper Marko Maroši signed from Coventry.

The excitement over Elliott Bennett, who joins from Blackburn, may be harder to justify, especially if the ex-Premier League utility man is deployed at right wing-back, a role he may not quite have the legs for at 32, though Nathanael Ogbeta is a hugely exciting talent on the other flank.

Cotterill hopes neat, hold-up front-man Ryan Bowman, signed from Exeter, can coax a new level of explosivity out of raw and willing striker Daniel Udoh, but there is a risk: Bowman was at best streaky in League Two and may have fewer chances at this level, while Udoh has only consistently threatened in non-league with Telford.

Any shortage of firepower up top in a 3-5-2 setup would become even more problematic due to issues in midfield, where Oli Norburn, Josh Vela and David Davis found the net just seven times last season between them, so the addition of a quality number 10 is of paramount importance.

Hopes are high in Salopia but, baring a handful of individuals, the squad could be overrated and last year’s shot data backs that up: this could be a season that promises much but delivers little.

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Cheltenham Town

Cheltenham Town’s first ever promotion to the league and their first ever EFL title might have come 22 years apart, but Michael Duff has been right at the beating heart of both.

The former centre-back, who scored a crucial header against Yeovil in 1999, was the managerial brains behind last year’s operation, imparting his defensive knowhow on the current crop.

The Robins kept 21 clean sheets, making them the strongest defensive unit out of all the sides making the jump to the third tier, which is thanks in part to the work of goalkeeping loanee Josh Griffiths – preceded and now succeeded by Owen Evans.

The 24-year-old, who starred on loan from Wigan in 2019-20, re-signs permanently to be protected by Charlie Raglan, Ben Tozer and Will Boyle, who position themselves with the telepathic precision one might expect from a trio who have played together regular since February 2019.

While Raglan brought ball-playing qualities, Tozer specialized in long throws – an iconic aspect of the promotion campaign – with 6’3” aerial specialist Boyle often the reference point.

Given how rarely Tozer’s gift was maximized in the 2019-20 near-miss, it was lucky that Duff did find a new angle of attack, on top of the excellent deliveries from left wing-back Chris Hussey, because Cheltenham were relatively short on open play firepower.

Their top goalscorer, Alfie May, was joint-25th on League Two’s overall list, with the goals spread across 16 different players.

May makes up for his inconsistency in finishing with his pace and persistent channel-running, but the 5’9” striker requires a taller, stronger, experienced strike-partner who can finish: a role that George Lloyd will not suit while Williams, now 34, cannot be relied upon in every game.

Midfield craft will also be required to complement maturing young leader Conor Thomas and athletic forward-thinker Liam Sercombe, in order to beat the drop.

Where Duff is involved, though, there’s always hope.

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Crewe Alexandra

Crewe come into this season following a half-decade of progression, including promotion in 2019-20 and a deserved top half finish in their first season back in League One.

This progression, though, has been inspired by a core of academy graduates: primarily right-back Perry Ng, left-back Harry Pickering, deep-lying playmaker Ryan Wintle and left-sided forward Charlie Kirk.

The Alex lost Ng to Cardiff in January, when Pickering arranged his summer move to Blackburn – where he’ll face Wintle as well as Ng for the Bluebirds – while Kirk may have late interest, despite having been narrowly outperformed by Player of the Year Owen Dale.

Behind Dale, Southampton loanee Kayne Ramsey could fill Ng’s shoes after a positive pre-season – showing his athleticism in an encouraging 1-0 win over Wolves – but still left-back Rio Adebisi plus midfielders Regan Griffiths and Josh Lundstram must grow quickly.

New recruits – no-nonsense centre-back Tommie Hoban, deep, simplistic midfielder Shaun MacDonald and runner-in-behind Chris Long – must adjust to an expansive 4-3-3 system.

Those arrivals could be stylistically at odds with the pre-requisites for that very setup – ball-playing centre-backs, a deep midfielder with long-range passing ability and a back-to-goal centre-forward – Mikael Mandron for the latter role will be key.

The Railwaymen have tried to offset the loss of peak-age performers by adding experience to aid the youth, but this may have left them with one group of players who are unsuited to the game plan and another who might not be ready for the level.

Crewe are notoriously loyal to managers, though and, through what could be an arduous campaign, Artell has enough credit in the bank to rightly retain local faith – whatever the ultimate outcome might be.

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Winning at Wembley to secure third-tier football for the first time in their 101-year history was magical for Morecambe, but the warm glow fans felt when celebrating under the arch turned into a summer of upheaval.

Manager Derek Adams subsequently exited for Bradford, followed by athletic anchor man Yann Songo’o, while key forward Carlos Mendes Gomes left for Luton for an undisclosed fee with 10 other players departing for nothing.

Adams was replaced by Stephen Robinson who, after a good spell with Motherwell, returns to England with a point to prove following a tough stint at Oldham, though the 46-year-old will be wiser while his current employers are in a stabler position.

Co-chairmen Graham Howse and Rod Taylor have gained huge plaudits for their smooth running of the club, likewise engaging directors such as Charlie Appleyard and James Wakefield, the latter in regular dialogue with the Shrimps Trust.

Plus, while it’s tempting to attribute much of Morecambe’s success to Adams – and rightly so – it was the whole club that won promotion and not just the manager.

Maturing defensive leader Sam Lavelle, attacking right-back Ryan Gooney, tough-tackling left-back Liam Gibson, goalscoring midfielder Aaron Wildig and hold-up striker Cole Stockton remain from last season’s success and although there has been many personnel changes, that is not entirely a bad thing.

Robinson has intriguing options on the left-wing, where Walsall recruit Wes McDonald and Rangers loanee Josh McPake have both enjoyed strong pre-seasons while Alfie McCalmont, on loan from Leeds, could be an excellent addition in midfield.

Despite this, many will doubt Morecambe and not just because of their modest stature at this level: widespread alterations after promotion is extremely unusual.

Over the last five years, four externally appointed managers in the EFL have inherited a newly-promoted team and the move did not work out well for Rob Page at Northampton, Mark Yates at Macclesfield, Graeme Jones at Luton nor David Dunn at Barrow.

Life in the third-tier could be tough, though Morecambe are at least capable of keeping their hopes of safety alive going into the final weeks.

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Fleetwood Town

Much like Tony Pulis was the Premier League survival specialist and Neil Warnock has been the Championship expert, League One once belonged to Simon Grayson.

The Yorkshireman won third tier promotions with Blackpool, Leeds, Huddersfield and Preston North End, but his most recent triumph at this level was now six years ago and his stock has since fallen.

Forgettable stints at Sunderland and Bradford could have been mitigated, in isolation, by structural issues at those clubs, but in his second spell at Blackpool he did have the resources to compete, yet results tailed off while the football remained predictable and uninspiring.

In the 51-year-old’s first four months at Fleetwood, he has at least done the job asked of him: offer some experienced guidance to rookie Simon Wiles and stabilize an out-of-form side in midtable.

Grayson’s chances of reclaiming his status as League One’s top dog though are slim, with chairman Andy Pilley making cutbacks that have seen established performers Paul Coutts, Mark Duffy, Josh Morris and Glenn Whelan released, while Wes Burns has left for Ipswich.

The management team will be tasked with lowering the average age and promoting youth, so it is lucky the Cods already possess a talented young core including goalkeeper Billy Crellin, defender James Hill and midfield dynamo Jay Matete plus others further back on the conveyor belt.

Still, Grayson is not known for youth development: the nightmare scenario would be that Fleetwood bypass midfield technicians like Callum Camps and Jordan Rossiter, instead going direct to young forwards Ged Garner and Ryan Edmondson, neither of whom possess great aerial prowess.

The plan for stabilization is understandable, but there is little evidence to suggest Fleetwood have the right man for the process.

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Cambridge United

Mark Bonner had barely finished secondary school when Cambridge were last playing third tier football but, now 35, the boyhood U’s fan has led them back there in his first full season as head coach.

The most impressive aspect of the rookie’s work is his ability to get the best out of Paul Mullin, previously a single-digit striker, who hit 32 goals in 2020-21 but has now departed.

The good news for incoming striker Sam Smith is that he can lean on the sublime creativity of veteran Wes Hoolahan, who has graced Old Trafford – never mind The Abbey – with his balletic touch and sublime creativity.

The question is how to incorporate Hoolahan, plus the new recruits: on-loan Brighton midfielder Jensen Weir, attacking left-sider James Brophy, speedster Shilow Tracy and inside forward Jack Lankester.

A 4-4-2 would mean neither Smith nor natural grafter Joe Ironside are isolated up top, but Cambridge’s main attacking selling points come from Weir, Brophy, Tracy and Lankester, who would enjoy greater creative freedom in a 4-2-3-1.

That freedom would be facilitated by reliable anchor man Paul Digby, conservative right-back George Williams and maturing left-back Jack Iredale.

Nonetheless, there is an unavoidable gulf between United’s performance data from last season and their results: goalkeepers Callum Burton and Dimitar Mitov made 121 saves between them, the seventh-most stops from any team in League Two.

Shot data supports the notion that the CB5 outfit they did not control their games in the division below, but rather relied on isolated moments of brilliance.

Individualism might have carried Cambridge through League Two, but they could come unstuck in League One.

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Odds are correct at the time of posting

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