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The League One season is around the corner and EFL pundit Gab Sutton shares his extensive League One Season Preview complete with 1-24 predictions.

Read his League Two Season Preview here.

Oxford United

1st

Last season, Karl Robinson oversaw Oxford United’s highest finish since 1998-99.

Though the Yellows lost the League One Play-Off Final 2-1 to Wycombe, the campaign has allayed any doubts that he’s the right man for the job.

The former MK Dons boss has a reputation for developing talent in English football and that is furthered by the development of centre-back Rob Dickie, who’s star performances see him linked with a bigger move.

Robinson hopes the physical Elliott Moore, the mature Rob Atkinson, the experienced John Mousinho and perhaps one more could thrive in Dickie’s absence, while Sean Clare signs from Hearts to bring much-needed quality from right-back.

The Yellows rear-guard boasts one of League One’s most reliable shot-stoppers in stalwart Simon Eastwood but a more recent addition, Alex Gorrin, does an outstanding job at the base of a three-man midfield.

Liam Kelly arrives on loan from Feyenoord to potentially challenge Gorrin, whose defensive work hands extra freedom to newly contracted dynamo Cameron Brannagan and tidy technician Marcus McGuane, who joins on loan from Nottingham Forest.

Matty Taylor was also on loan last season from Bristol City and, crucially, the front-man returns permanently to his boyhood club, though the athletic Daniel Agyei is a capable squad striker, as he showed in the Play-Offs.

The movement of James Henry and Mark Sykes, contenders to play to Taylor’s right, will encourage their corresponding full-back to overlap and underlap respectively, while other wide options include quick, strong Derick Osei Yaw and Joel Cooper, called up by Northern Ireland.

Regardless of Dickie’s future, Oxford will enter this season with a stronger squad than the one with which they began the last – so with the right final touches in the loan market, the club could emphatically end it’s 22-year wait for second tier football.

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There were valid grounds for the EFL to make the decision they did in unenviable circumstances, yet there are equally valid grounds for Peterborough United to feel deeply aggrieved.

Gabriel Sutton

Peterborough United

2nd

Peterborough United were arguably the biggest victims of the EFL’s call to decide last season on points per game.

They finished just three points behind Rotherham and in exceptional form from late-January. Yet the Millers were handed automatic promotion with Posh denied so much as a Play-Off berth.

There were valid grounds for the EFL to make the decision they did in unenviable circumstances, yet there are equally valid grounds for United to feel deeply aggrieved.

The club’s “revenge season”, as boisterously coined by ever-animated Director of Football Barry Fry, will likely begin without their star man.

Ivan Toney was by some distance League One’s best striker last season, showing strength, mobility and persistence alongside 24 league goals – nine more than any other player.

Manager Darren Ferguson expects Toney to land an expensive move away, so the club must already be lining up replacements: a well-rounded front-man is required ahead of poacher Mo Eisa and speedster Ricky-Jade Jones.

Toney, though and Bristol City loanee Sammie Szmodics were just two pieces of Posh’s promotion-pushing puzzle – and Cheltenham recruit Ryan Broom can just as easily be a driving midfield force or tough wing-back competition for selfless Joe Ward and delivery specialist Dan Butler.

Technician Reece Brown, meanwhile, extends his loan stay from Huddersfield to partner the all-action Jack Taylor, an inspired January recruit from Barnet, behind Siriki Dembele, a box of tricks between lines.

Frankie Kent offers ball-playing qualities on the left of a back-three in which Nathan Thompson and Mark Beevers bring leadership, though unproven defensive stand-ins could be stretched – goalkeeper Christy Pym hopes to add consistency in his second League One season.

Quickly rediscover post-January form and revenge could be sweet for Posh, even if they fall short of matching Fry’s league-winning assertion.

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Fleetwood Town

3rd

Fleetwood have not been affected by the current health climate as much as the change to financial regulations it has prompted.

The club rely on generous external backing from chairman Andy Pilley, so an extra three months combined without 3K home attendances has not been as much of a problem as the blanket cap of £5K per week wages.

That alteration means the West Lancashire club enter late-August yet to make any high-profile additions, though Morgan Boyes arrives with glowing reviews from Liverpool. Natives hope the centre-back’s right-sided partner is yet to arrive.

Controller Callum Camps joins from Rochdale, so the return of midfield metronome Jordan Rossiter along with the retention of Championship proven Paul Coutts and Glenn Whelan makes for hot competition, made hotter by Barry Baggley’s pre-season form.

Alex Cairns, among League One’s most reliable goalkeepers, now faces stiff competition in Huddersfield recruit Joel Coleman and the Trawlermen boast one of League One’s best left-backs in technician Danny Andrew, while Wes Burns and Josh Morris bring direct running and quality in right and left-wing roles respectively.

Harvey Saunders may get more minutes as the 23-year-old striker offers a speedy alternative to Ched Evans and Paddy Madden, two of the third-tier’s most dependable finishers.

Further additions are required but, with Ipswich front-man James Norwood linked as well as another statement signing at centre-back, it’s likely that the coastal club will kick-off with, if only on comparatively modest wages, one of the division’s strongest squads.

It’s therefore down to Joey Barton to deliver the first managerial promotion of his controversial career.

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Ipswich Town

4th

It is often said Paul Lambert can motivate a player to run through a brick wall for him, but struggles to brief that player on how.

Since the passionate Scot stopped working with trusted assistant Ian Culverhouse, the more tactically nuanced of the duo, his career has nosedived.

While Lambert maintained local goodwill after relegation from the Championship, a League One capitulation from 1st in October to 11th in March means his support could be dwindling.

A good start is imperative and key to that will be athletic full-back Kane Vincent-Young being fit for more league starts than the nine he managed last term, as well as Luke Woolfenden continuing his technical development in an otherwise limited rear-guard.

The energy and talent of Flynn Downes, in various midfield remits, has attracted Premier League interest, while forward Kayden Jackson brought searing pace last season along with his 11 goals.

Norwood also struck 11 but from 86 shots rather than Jackson’s 50: the former Tranmere striker’s pursuits of individual glory arguably disrupted Town’s attacking dynamics, which may be why the club seem open to offloading him.

Lambert may pair Jackson, if he stays, with mobile target man Oli Hawkins, who loves to create space for others with selfless movement.

The Portsmouth recruit is the most underrated signing of the League One season and, without scoring many himself, could make a transformative difference to the equilibrium of Town’s attacking play by dragging defenders away from danger areas, freeing up space for Jackson to become, potentially, the division’s top goalscorer.

Any formula, though, will require continuity, after seven different formations and 38 players were used last season.

Controversy over Marcus Evans’ and Lambert’s leadership means instability off-the-field, so Ipswich need at least some stability on it.

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Blackpool

5th

Simon Sadler has gained much goodwill for ridding Blackpool last summer of the toxic Oyston regime.

A slump to 15th convinced the Tangerines chairman to dismiss experienced manager Simon Grayson and appoint a completely different profile of head coach.

Neil Critchley has no experience of being a number one – aside from the two Liverpool cup games last season in which he stood in for Jürgen Klopp – but is credited with developing current Reds stars like Trent Alexander-Arnold.

While under Grayson, the West Lancashire outfit rarely held onto the ball and arguably sat back on leads too early, Critchley wants to get the team engaging higher and pressing with more intensity whilst using the ball with more quality and incision.

The implementation of those principles will be helped by the arrival of Keshi Anderson and Jerry Yates, who played within a similar structure under Richie Wellens at Swindon; CJ Hamilton brings pace from Mansfield while Ethan Robson is a midfield all-rounder with huge potential.

The Seasiders boast a top goalkeeper in Chris Maxwell, even if the 30-year-old has played for two of their rivals, while linked free agent Danny Fox would bring Championship experience to the rear-guard and a squad that already has the depth to navigate a congested fixture list.

We can also bet that Critchley’s relationship with Liverpool – and reputation in the Under-23s circuit – will allow him to use his remaining five loan slots to maximum effect and bring in players with the quality to fire Pool into contention.

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Swindon Town

6th

Wellens has done superbly at Swindon Town, turning the Wiltshire outfit from League Two’s underachieving bottom half fodder into title-winners in 16 months.

Fresh challenges are afoot for the Mancunian motivator, as his side enter League One with forward Eoin Doyle – who scored 40% of their goals last season – now at Bolton.

It’s plausible, though, that Swindon can get a healthy goal return from Tyler Smith – the energetic Sheffield United loanee was described as “a star in the making” while at Doncaster – or any other poacher brought in, because their attractive system is designed to create chances at will.

Losing Yates and Anderson to Blackpool was a blow. But Town have signed versatile playmaker Jack Payne, who has thrived in four of his five League One stints.

Swansea loanee goalkeeper Steven Benda, meanwhile, is set to be replaced by Manchester United loanee Matěj Kovář, compared favourably to Dean Henderson.

Gritty anchor man Anthony Grant and technician Michael Doughty have their strong midfield partnership threatened, potentially, by the loan signing of Matthew Smith, who must have been given some assurances of game-time after featuring recently for Arsenal’s first team.

The anticipated fixture pile-up means Wellens will be hoping defensive leader Mathieu Baudry, talented centre-back Dion Conroy, full-back turned centre-back Zeki Fryers, versatile full-back Rob Hunt, tough tackler Jordan Lyden, unpredictable forward Diallang Jaiyesimi and assist-maker Kaiyne Woolery can stay fit for the duration.

If so, Swindon’s swashbuckling style could see them upset some of the more obvious promotion contenders.

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Portsmouth

7th

The bare stats and local feelings surrounding Kenny Jackett and Portsmouth tell vastly different stories.

After a reasonable Play-Off tilt in Jackett’s debut season in charge, and Pompey’s first return to this level, they achieved successive top six finishes, ending in narrow Semi-Final defeats to Sunderland and Oxford.

The Portsea Island club accrued 42 points from a possible 54 on familiar soil last term and their shot data did not suggest results flattered them.

Jackett’s critics, though, believed even the data to be a red herring: Pompey’s plan was to cross deep from the left which, with an athletic and persistent but 5’11” centre-forward in Ellis Harrison, rarely gleaned instant success. Hawkins would have been the ideal reference point for such deliveries but was underused and subsequently released.

Because opposing defenders so frequently cleared the initial deliveries, Portsmouth had a high-volume of shots, which explains the data, but most were from outside the box and through a crowd of bodies – Jackett’s side rarely created clear cut chances via non-counter methods.

With conservative full-backs in James Bolton and Lee Brown, combined with a tidy but passive sitting midfielder in Ben Close partnering ball-winner Tom Naylor, Portsmouth play with the handbrake on under Jackett.

They will thus continue to rely on the individual magic of Ronan Curtis, whilst hoping for more consistency from fellow wide man Marcus Harness and more availability from Andy Cannon – arguably the only player to naturally link midfield and attack.

A return for centre-back Sean Raggett is a plus for Pompey, who have two excellent goalkeepers in Craig MacGillivray and Alex Bass, though the latter is unlikely to maintain his EFL-topping 83% save ratio.

By late-August, there have been no fresh faces coming in to dilute a growing sense of stagnation at Fratton Park, so this could be the year Portsmouth miss out.

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Sunderland

8th

If Phil Parkinson has done one thing in his reign to date as Sunderland boss, it’s strengthen the defence.

The Black Cats conceded just 18 goals in 25 games since he took charge, giving them the division’s best Goals Against record in that time frame. The rear-guard has since been strengthened by the additions of Australia international Bailey Wright and Everton youth star Morgan Feeney.

While ‘Parky’ is sometimes criticized for an overly direct style of football, he had to make do without a focal point to facilitate his direct methods.

Charlie Wyke is willing while Will Grigg can be a top poacher in a possession system, but neither are natural target men, nor is new forward Aiden O’Brien, who is likely to challenge technician Chris Maguire for a place on the left of an attacking trio.

Maguire’s form soared after the now-departed Aiden McGeady was loaned out to Charlton, while Lyndon Gooch brought energy and quality on the right of the attack in a 3-4-3 formation that yielded some success.

The relentless positivity of Luke O’Nien has helped the former Wycombe midfielder adjust admirably to right-sided roles while Denver Hume, if lacking competition, looks a promising left-sided talent.

The midfield is less convincing: Grant Leadbitter’s mobility is suffering at 34 and, while the likes of George Dobson and Max Power offer something in the press, neither have quite enough to be top six calibre. Similar questions could be asked of low-pedigree goalkeeping options in Lee Burge and Remi Matthews.

A takeover, which fans desire, would be unlikely to happen in time to majorly influence Sunderland’s transfer business, if there is any substance behind reports of bids for the club at all.

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Lincoln City

9th

Michael Appleton may be more popular, this summer, within English football as an industry than he is with his own fanbase.

The former Oxford promotion-winner is renowned for his innovative methods and development of young talent. But, much like his time at the Kassam Stadium, he has not proved an instant hit. 29 points from 26 games sufficed for comfortable survival due to prior form. But it is hardly inspirational.

The problem he had last season was not having the players to suit his expansive, possession-heavy philosophy. Centre-backs Cian Bolger and Michael Bostwick along with right-back Neal Eardley do not have the skill set he requires and the latter two have since been released.

Adam Jackson, Joe Walsh and Lewis Montsma arrive to add ball-playing qualities to the defensive options, while Liam Bridcutt penned a permanent deal to anchor the midfield aggressively whilst dictating play next to diligent run-tracker Conor McGrandles.

Anthony Scully, unstoppable at full speed, stood out in just five appearances last season and, along with highly-rated Brentford recruit Theo Archibald, could star in an attacking trio just wide of the main striker.

The athletic Tom Hopper was an expensive January recruit who, despite an underwhelming start, could be trusted to lead the line, depending on whether a loan deal can be struck for persistent, energetic finisher Callum Morton from West Brom.

Appleton managed the Albion academy prior to the Imps job, so will hope to be entrusted with the Midlands club’s top young talent; a loan for Alex Palmer would convincingly solve the dearth of a first choice goalkeeper.

Lincoln can launch a Play-Off push this season – and give their fans a clearer sense as to why their coach is so widely acclaimed.

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Lowe has long-term ambitions to manage in English football’s top two divisions and rightly so; the 41-year-old has the innovative ideas within his expansive 3-1-4-2 system to be successful, but also the passion to galvanize players and connect with supporters.

Gabriel Sutton

Plymouth Argyle

After achieving successive promotions as a manager from League Two with Bury and Plymouth Argyle, Ryan Lowe starts a season as a League One boss for the first time.

Lowe has long-term ambitions to manage in English football’s top two divisions and rightly so; the 41-year-old has the innovative ideas within his expansive 3-1-4-2 system to be successful, but also the passion to galvanize players and connect with supporters.

Lowe is a risk-taker, too. He is set to entrust Michael Cooper with the number one jersey this term, despite the talented goalkeeper not having featured in the promotion campaign.

Cooper hopes to be protected by Newcastle loanee Kelland Watts, an important addition to the back-three with question marks over Will Aimson’s recent fitness record, Gary Sawyer’s discipline and Niall Canavan’s ball-playing ability, with Oliver Tomlinson inexperienced.

Josh Grant protected the back-three superbly last season but the Chelsea loanee has since gone to Bristol Rovers, although Lowe hopes relentless runner Panutche Camara can replace another loanee, Tyreeq Bakinson, in midfield next to Wigan recruit Lewis MacLeod, who brings Championship quality.

Argyle have at least retained one loanee in Ryan Hardie, who will run in behind much like Dom Telford. Meanwhile, Welsh poacher Luke Jephcott hopes for further international recognition.

Lowe is a fine manager, more than capable of delivering great football and a top half finish – although he would likely be swayed by any bigger offer that lies closer to his Liverpudlian roots.

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Gillingham

Every Gillingham fan who could have been converted by manager Steve Evans at the time of appointment last summer has, surely, now been converted.

The Scot can be a divisive figure due to his questionable history and belligerent touchline antics. But few doubt he has drilled the Gills into shape.

The Kent outfit have looked much harder to play through than they did before Evans took charge. In a term cut short by 11 games, they kept 13 clean sheets, the same number recorded in 2016-17 and 2017-18 seasons combined.

Stopper Jack Bonham and versatile left-sider Connor Ogilvie will be key to another strong defensive performance, because next season’s rear-guard could be otherwise unrecognizable.

Stalwart Max Ehmer along with Southampton loanees Alfie Jones and Tom O’Connor have departed Priestfield, though it’s possible the latter – left-back or left in a diamond – will return and defensive talent Jack Tucker will likely remain.

Evans has added an athletic right-back in long throw specialist Ryan Jackson and defensive ability, if not natural leadership, in centre-back Zach Medley – quick, strong and good on the ball – on loan from Arsenal.

The Gunners have also lent Gillingham creative right winger Trae Coyle, who will compete with Jordan Graham. The versatile wide man would be playing higher up by now but for injuries.

Evans’ former Mansfield midfielders, Jacob Mellis and Alex MacDonald, arrive to add craft and dynamism respectively, while driving midfielder Kyle Dempsey performed to Championship standards in the mid-2010s and hopes to replicate that form.

The future of Brandon Hanlan remains unclear, but the mobile young forward would be playing off either John Akinde or Vadaine Oliver, both of whom perfectly facilitate Evans’ direct style.

With numerous top performers from last season’s 10th place finish departing, the challenge may be in merely returning to their 2019-20 levels, rather than building a Play-Off push off the back of that campaign.

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The East Lancashire club’s advantage is having English football’s best owner in Andy Holt and the best management team, pound-for-pound, in John Coleman and Jimmy Bell.

Gabriel Sutton

Accrington Stanley

Although Stanley have faced challenges in the current health climate, their return to action might prove more comfortable than that of bigger clubs.

Stanley had likely the division’s lowest wage bill and would have been expecting the fewest spectators, so their margin of loss by furloughing players and making up wages is comparatively minimal, while League One’s £5K-a-week wage cap levels the field.

The East Lancashire club’s advantage is having English football’s best owner in Andy Holt and the best management team, pound-for-pound, in John Coleman and Jimmy Bell.

The dream duo have been able to retain much of the squad that finished 17th last season and posted the division’s 11th-best shot data, although Luton-bound right winger Jordan Clark is a loss – as would be his linked away flank-partner Callum Johnson.

Clark has since been replaced by Newcastle loanee Tom Allan, who scored an impressive 17 Under-23 goals last season.

Goals, they hope, will also come from poacher Ryan Cassidy, who joins on loan from Watford to compete with Dion Charles, who loves to grapple with centre-backs, and the more technical Colby Bishop.

Charles and Bishop, through their non-league roots, bring unorthodox movement that can have a befuddling effect on third-tier rear-guards.

Stalwart Sean McConville, when fit, will contest with the skilful, exciting Joe Pritchard for a place on the left of a midfield containing all-guns-blazing presser Sam Finley and the more understated Seamus Conneely, whose disciplined work holds an otherwise open midfield together. Box-to-box man Matt Butcher offers another option, bringing great reviews from St Johnstone.

Reagan Ogle looks primed to make left-back his own after award-winning stints at Southport and, under Mark Hughes’ wing, centre-back Ross Sykes is maturing into an excellent leader. The inattention of higher placed clubs is Stanley’s gain.

Add a goalkeeper to compete with Toby Savin and Coleman could once again inspire Stanley to their highest-ever finish in their current incarnation.

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Hull City

That Hull City are arguably the most stable club of the three relegated from the Championship says nothing about the Allam regime and everything about the collective state of the EFL.

There is a lack of healthy communication from the board, who have shown little care for supporters, reportedly interfered with footballing operations, prepared poorly for transfer windows and seen the squad weaken season on season.

A mixture of anger and apathy is rife among natives, who have also voiced discontent towards manager Grant McCann, seen by some as a yes man.

Whether or not that perception is fair, McCann oversaw a paltry return of just six points from Hull’s final 20 games en route to a bottom-placed finish.

The good news is that the Tigers have made signings to give them a squad that should, in theory, be competitive in League One. Attacking right-backs Lewie Coyle and Josh Emmanuel, rottweiler Richie Smallwood along with dynamic deliverer Greg Docherty have all performed well at this level previously.

Smallwood, flanked by Docherty and either energetic talent Daniel Batty or the more composed Leo Da Silva Lopes, could make for an appealing three-man midfield, while Josh Magennis and Tom Eaves are both used to being among the better third-tier front-man.

Reece Burke and Jordy de Wijs will hope to form the centre-back pairing that got Hull eighth in the Championship and not the one that shipped eight at Wigan. Callum Elder and Brandon Fleming offer reasonable left-back options.

Though the squad may be ready for a League One promotion challenge, the structure of the club and the mood around it is not.

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Crewe Alexandra

Crewe were a delight to watch in League Two last season.

Manager David Artell should be grateful, to a certain extent, that he had been given a healthy amount of time to build a side that could challenge but boy, has he delivered.

The Railwaymen played slick stuff in 2019-20, with enough composure to pick their passes wisely but with a high enough tempo to carve teams open.

There is a young player with huge potential, in that side, almost everywhere one looks.

Perry Ng is arguably the most complete right-back below the Championship, while corresponding full-back Harry Pickering has great technical ability combined with the spatial awareness to adapt to the movement of his potent wing-partner, Charlie Kirk.

The classic arrangement between full-back and wide forward is that the former overlaps and the latter cuts inside, but Kirk often stayed closer to the touchline for the Alex, allowing Pickering to make underlapping runs that bamboozled fourth-tier opponents.

Ryan Wintle is the conducter of this Crewe side, while fellow midfielder Tommy Lowery is the guitarist. The two could make a huge mark on this division alongside what fans hope will be somebody more experienced in the mould of released Paul Green.

The only additions, so far, have been strikers, of which Mikael Mandron knows how to use his upper-body strength while Offrande Zanzala is still learning, but will still offer a speedier alternative to veteran Chris Porter.

There is much to like about in this Crewe side, if they can add a more seasoned centre-back partner for Luke Offord when Eddie Nolan is injured.

In most areas, in fact, the only options behind proven young talent is unproven young talent, so while the new kids on the block are a great addition to League One, there will also be wobbly periods when Artell may hope to call upon more practiced hands.

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Bristol Rovers

Only Ipswich, Peterborough and Wycombe took more League One points than Bristol Rovers before Ben Garner took charge in late December. Afterwards, only Bolton took fewer.

Garner and his supporters would say, with much justification, that it was a tough task for a man coming in cold from the coaching scene to implement his possession-based ideas without the personnel to suit.

Neither of those mitigating factors though will be relevant this season. Garner has now had eight months to acclimatize and been backed generously.

Max Ehmer, one of League One’s best leaders last season, joins from Gillingham, fellow centre-back Jack Baldwin signs from Sunderland while athletic yet cultured anchor man Josh Grant will be a major asset, after spending 13 years on Chelsea’s books.

The Gas have added a League One title-winner in Zain Westbrooke, who started 22 league games in Coventry’s campaign. His experience of the 3-4-2-1 system done right will aid Garner, who is expected to deploy that formation.

Westbrooke could play on the right of the advanced midfield duo while Jayden Mitchell-Lawson, who returns on loan from Derby, may start on the left to pose a threat from range.

With major assets in Anssi Jaakkola and defender Alfie Kilgour, Rovers have a highly-rated squad, so a top half venture is possible – but Garner must defy those who doubt his number one credentials.

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Milton Keynes Dons

Revered as a fine motivator in his playing days at Norwich City, Russ Martin is hoping his leadership qualities can translate into management at MK Dons.

Since esteemed coach Luke Williams teamed up with Martin to provide greater tactical nous, the Buckinghamshire outfit have taken 24 points from 19 games – not a bad effort, with the same players that had taken just one point from the previous nine games.

Goals remained a problem for MK, the division’s joint-third lowest scorers with 36 in 35, but they had been held back significantly by long-term injuries to willing runner Sam Nombe and wide forward Rhys Healey, who is among the best in the division when fit.

More injury luck would help Martin’s side, as will the fresh quality provided by forward-thinking midfielder Ben Gladwin – likely to play next to two of energetic youngster David Kasumu, disciplined Jordan Houghton and Norwich loanee Louis Thompson in a central trio of a 3-5-2.

MK have struggled to find the right long-term replacement for veteran Dean Lewington, but might have struck gold in left wing-back Daniel Harvie, hoping to replicate his quality of deliveries at Ayr United.

Harvie will be overlapped by the impressive Baily Cargill while Warren O’Hora, on loan from Brighton, could undertake a similar role on the right of the back-three for his corresponding wing-back – possibly the intelligent George Williams – while Richard Keogh will anchor the defence with his Championship know-how.

Keogh protects one of League One’s best shot stoppers in Lee Nicholls, so some improvement on 19th for MK is likely.

Just how much depends on how quickly youthful squad players like Jack Davies, Matthew Sorinola and Jay Bird could adapt if introduced, through talent or necessity, to the first team fray.

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Doncaster Rovers

Doncaster regressed three places last season from sixth to ninth, but that was no fault of Darren Moore’s.

Last summer, the former West Brom boss inherited a squad that looked far weaker than the one that achieved sixth spot in 2018-19. However, victories over Fleetwood, Rotherham, Oxford, Wycombe and Peterborough twice showed he has the tactical nous to navigate big games and make Rovers competitive.

Moore has got the best out of key defender Tom Anderson and captain fantastic Ben Whiteman, who remains despite Championship interest, as well as stopper Seny Dieng, defender Cameron John, midfielder Ben Sheaf and forward Niall Ennis.

Unfortunately for the ex-defender, none of the latter four loanees have since returned to bolster a wafer-thin squad so, much like last season, Donny could be hamstrung by injuries and suspensions to key players.

They have added an attacking free-kick-taking goalkeeper in Joe Bursik, who will provide entertainment of at least some description, while Crystal Palace recruit Jason Lokilo hopes to be closer to the rest of the squad in terms of match fitness than he was during his prior loan spell.

The tenacious Brad Halliday and classic winger Jon Taylor should be a reliable pairing on the right while Fejiri Okenabirhie has high EFL potential when he’s the recipient of balls to feet, something talented Spaniard Madger Gomes could provide now he’s had a year to acclimatize.

Rovers have the makings of a competent first XI, but any sort of depth will be added via a barrage of late transfer activity, denying Moore the chance to coach much of his squad in pre-season.

If Doncaster drop only three places again this year, they will have done better than expected.

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Burton Albion

Nigel Clough’s combined 16-year association with Burton Albion, across two spells in a playing and managing capacity, has ended this summer.

The 54-year-old has stepped down to hand the reigns over to Jake Buxton, who jumps from playing straight into senior management.

Quite how Buxton will handle that shift is unclear, but any initial struggles may be accounted for, to some extent, by a relatively generous budget.

Chairman Ben Robinson, typically frugal, has sanctioned deals for deep-crossing right-back Neal Eardley, aerial beast Michael Bostwick, experienced wide man Steven Lawless, skillful wide forward Charles Vernam, vigorous veteran Luke Varney and fellow striker Kane Hemmings, who can hold the ball up when it’s on the deck.

The additions also suggest Buxton trusts attacking midfielder Joe Powell to take on now-departed Scott Fraser’s creative role. Whether to the same level remains to be seen.

Buxton may also trust Ben Fox to thrive at the base of the trio, as the aging Stephen Quinn’s minutes must be reduced further from 27 league starts last term.

Ryan Edwards can assist Fox defensively at the midfield base one moment, then turn into a second-striker the next, such is the Aussie’s frenetic energy.

Forward Lucas Akins, meanwhile, hopes to keep his favoured role on the right of a front-three, after deputizing admirably but unnaturally last term as a right-back and centre-forward.

Without a coaching period for Buxton pre-management, this season represents a jump into the deep end – the 35-year-old hopes his squad has enough quality to keep Burton’s heads above water whilst he learns on the job.

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Shrewsbury Town

The way Shrewsbury Town’s board and fans feel towards manager Sam Ricketts may be some way apart.

Owner Roland Wycherley has overseen just one managerial sacking in 10 years and CEO Brian Caldwell has loyal instincts too, which means the club look willing to let the 38-year-old build and learn from what was, on paper, a reasonable first full season in management.

Whilst most supporters respect Ricketts personally, they were uninspired by the football on display last season with the perceived absence of a clear playing identity.

Ricketts wants to change this in 2020-21 and plans to switch from the conservative 3-5-2 we saw last season to a more expressive 4-3-3.

That shift could see Salop get more out of a fair set of midfield options; Oliver Norburn was among League One’s better players in 2018-19, Dave Edwards has Premier League experience, Sean Goss can be a competent controller, Josh Vela may lead the press and loanee Scott High will bring energy and dynamism from Huddersfield.

On the minus side, Jason Cummings cannot lead the line on his own and pre-season suggests he may be deployed on the left of the front-three; the poacher’s lack of defensive awareness could expose Scott Golbourne, causing a domino effect on the rest of the defence, even if it includes the impressive Aaron Pierre.

Up top, Daniel Udoh could be trusted to spearhead some attacks and, while the ex-Telford man has the physical minerals, he may lack back-to-goal qualities for such a role.

Wide of Udoh, Shaun Whalley’s return will be welcomed while Glenavon recruit Josh Daniels has skill and goalscoring potential, but Rekeil Pyke arrives with unenthusiastic reviews from Rochdale.

With the Shrewsbury board unlikely to rush into a managerial change, the disillusioned section of fans are left to hope that subtle indications of a braver style from Ricketts have substance.

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AFC Wimbledon

Wimbledon fans who have only attended matches from 1991 onwards have, incredibly, never seen a football match in Wimbledon.

That is, until this season, which is likely to see AFC Wimbledon move into New Plough Lane, built on the site of the original ground that was demolished in 1998, thus giving the club a long-awaited return to it’s spiritual home.

The Dons must use that romance as on-field fuel because, on paper, they have a squad comparable to some in League Two, although the spine is OK.

The tenacious Alex Woodyard should form a decent midfield combination with disciplined anchor man Jaakko Oksanen, on loan from Brentford and the more technical Anthony Hartigan. Meanwhile, Ollie Palmer’s hold-up play may free up Joe Piggott to prove his poaching potential.

Palmer will be the target for crosses from the right, where wide centre-back Luke O’Neill managed 29 accurate deliveries last season and new wing-back Che Alexander completed 36 for Barnet, the most in the National League.

On the opposite flank, either Paul Osew or Nesta Guiness-Walker will bring raw energy to provide width as well as protection for the left-footed centre-back with which Carlisle-bound Rod McDonald is replaced, wide of the physical Terell Thomas.

Wimbledon’s back-three have tended to defend their box well over the last two seasons whilst still allowing a high volume of shots, which is why they have leant on good goalkeepers in Aaron Ramsdale and Nathan Trott.

Connal Trueman, who arrives with better-quality experience than either of those keepers had when they first joined, looks an encouraging loan recruit from Birmingham.

Trueman’s showings could help Wimbledon begin their new era on stable League One footing.

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Northampton Town

Northampton Town picked the perfect time to deliver their two best performances of the 2019-20 campaign.

The Cobblers overturned a two-goal first leg Play-Off Semi-Final deficit to beat Cheltenham 3-2 on aggregate, then thrashed Exeter 4-0 in the Final to secure promotion.

It’s quite possible, though, that had West Brom loanee Callum Morton not joined in January to provide relentless running and fine finishing to compliment Vadaine Oliver’s aerial and hold-up qualities, they could have finished mid-table.

Oliver has since left for Gillingham and Morton looks unlikely to return on loan, as does Blackburn’s Scott Wharton while fellow centre-backs Jordan Turnbull and Charlie Goode have also left, with the latter earning a £1 million move to Brentford.

The release of midfield general Alan McCormack means six of the starting XI that trounced the Grecians are no longer at the club, plus goalkeeper Dai Cornell and tall poacher Andy Williams along with attacking midfielders James Olayinka and Paul Anderson.

Jonathan Mitchell, unlucky not to contend at Derby due to injury, will put heat on Steve Arnold for the ‘keeper jersey while tight-marker Fraser Horsfall, no-nonsense Cian Bolger and ball-playing Brentford loanee Luka Racic give the Cobblers much-needed options at centre-back, with the latter tipped for an international career.

Joseph Mills, among League Two’s best left wing-backs when fit, signs from Forest Green. His arrival could mean a change of role for Nicky Adams, Northampton’s most creative player, as well as the club having potentially four players competing for one position, with set piece specialist Joe Martin and young Jacob Ballinger also options.

The energetically creative Sam Hoskins should thrive on the opposite flank, having been the club’s most consistent performer in their last third-tier stay, but there is a lack of depth in a squad containing just 19 players possessing EFL experience.

Striker Harry Smith has struggled with a back injury for parts of pre-season and his only natural understudies – Hoskins as a lead front-man in a Curle system is a no-go – are currently teenagers Michael Harding, Caleb Chukwuemeka and Ethan Johnston.

Northampton must wisely but quickly re-use part of the Goode money – otherwise their latest League One stay could live shorter than the last.

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Rochdale

Brian Barry-Murphy had shown potential in his start to management at Rochdale, who were more committed last season to playing out from the back.

It is a shame, therefore, that the Dale are likely to begin the current campaign with a drastically weakened squad.

Prodigal right-back Luke Matheson is now permanently at Wolves, attacking left-back Luke Norrington-Davies is back at Sheffield United while controller Callum Camps and evergreen goalscorer Ian Henderson have taken more lucrative offers at Fleetwood and Salford respectively.

An extremely optimistic response to the departure of “Hendo” would be that the Dale may now have more mobility up top, which has been missing from their game in recent seasons.

This year, the Lancashire club hope teenagers Fabio Tavares, Kwadwo Baah or Keaton Mulvey, quick and willing if too inexperienced to lead the line regularly, can challenge defences in a different way.

Alex Newby, meanwhile, “never stopped giving” at Chorley last season and the technical midfielder could surprise at the tip of a diamond.

That diamond may also comprise of deep-lying playmaker Jimmy Ryan at the base with the energetic Matty Lund and the tenacious Oliver Rathbone operating wide, where exuberant Aaron Morley and dynamic Stephen Dooley offer decent cover, with the latter hoping to replicate his 2018-19 form.

Jimmy McNulty and Paul McShane are by far Rochdale’s most experienced defenders and more depth is required should either drop out, while it remains to be seen whether Jay Lynch or Brad Wade can be competitive League One goalkeepers.

Rochdale’s lack of quality up top and in reserve could see them end a commendable seven-year stay at this level – but not without a few youngsters starring along the way.

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Charlton Athletic

Summer events at Charlton confuse even the most esteemed football finance experts.

On the one hand, the club would reportedly be expelled from the EFL if it cannot find a buyer or evidence of funds.

That is extremely worrying, given that the efforts of a group led by Addicks fan Peter Varney and backed by Andrew Barclay to strike a deal with the dubious ownership group East Street Investments has been “fraught with obstacles”.

And yet, the club have not been selling players while only Tomer Hemed, Lewis Page and Naby Sarr have been released, with four new players coming in.

Granted, Hady Ghandour and Lucas Ness will not have cost much from Tooting & Mitcham United and Metropolitan Police respectively, but League One established Alex Gilbey and Conor Washington commanded transfer fees from MK Dons and Hearts.

This means that the decision-makers at Charlton are either far more optimistic that a buyer will be found than the external evidence suggests they should be, or massively misjudging the club’s immediate priorities.

Goalkeeper Dillon Phillips, defender Tom Lockyer and left-sider Alfie Doughty are key assets who should have long been sold to help the club raise funds.

If Charlton kick off next season at all, club legends Lee Bowyer and Johnnie Jackson have the unenviable task of leading the Londoners into yet another campaign that could be riddled with off-field woe.

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To have the romance of the on-field action snatched away by events in court rooms and in-house meetings seems out of keeping with the spirit of the game.

Gabriel Sutton

Wigan Athletic

Football should be decided on the pitch.

It represents a chance to stay in touch with our childhoods, to feel the pain, the jubilation and the emotional experience of 90 minutes.

To have the romance of the on-field action snatched away by events in court rooms and in-house meetings seems out of keeping with the spirit of the game.

Giving Wigan Athletic a 12-point deduction, which confirmed their relegation from the Championship, has not truly punished ownership group Next Leader Fund L.P., under whose new reign club funds have seemingly disappeared.

Rather, it punishes supporters as well as now-departed manager Paul Cook, who inspired his team to accrue an incredible 39 points from Wigan’s final 21 games, including an 8-0 win over Hull even after the financial issues came to light.

It also punishes the players, who were robbed of a chance to celebrate their achievements and 15 have since departed, including experienced goalkeeper David Marshall, key centre-backs Chey Dunkley and Leon Balogun, all-action left-back Antonee Robinson, promising midfielder Joe Williams and mobile target man Kieffer Moore.

Wigan’s best teenage talent in Jensen Weir, Alfie Devine and Joe Gelhardt has been snapped up by Brighton, Tottenham and Leeds respectively, so even a youthful team would be short on quality.

More departures are expected to follow with Nathan Byrne, Cédric Kipré and Jamal Lowe interesting Championship clubs, while Josh Windass is likely to sign for Sheffield Wednesday.

There is some optimism that Sam Morsy may further establish himself as a Latics legend by staying on for a relegation battle in League One, when he is good enough to play in a top half Championship side.

The ultimate showing of incredible loyalty from Morsy would, at least, warm hearts in a bitterly cold campaign.

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Odds are correct at the time of posting

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