Check Live Odds

We gave our predictions for the 2019-20 League One season back in July. Here are our updated tips.

1. Oxford United

Pre-season prediction: 11th

Summer verdict: “Oxford possess one of the best midfields in League One, with ball-winner Alex Rodriguez Gorrin joining dynamo Cameron Brannagan. If Robinson can add a proven goalscorer and a dominant centre-back partner for Rob Dickie to replace Curtis Nelson, then a Play-Off push could be on – but bringing in the required calibre of players will not be easy.”

Robinson has made the appropriate additions to turn Oxford into contenders – not just for the Play-Offs, but for the top two.

Dickie’s centre-back partner has changed at times this season but that has not mattered because the mainstay has bulked up, become more aerially competitive and, as we saw in the EFL Cup Quarter-Final defeat to Man City, he can hold his own against the very best.

The signing of Matt Taylor has helped Oxford going forward, with the Bristol City recruit scoring six league goals, but the 41 team goals have been shared across the pitch with Brannagan, James Henry and Tariqe Fosu all chipping in.

The aforementioned trio are given the freedom to make those big contributions by Alex Rodriguez Gorrin, who does the dirty work in midfield very effectively.

Oxford are well stocked on midfielders – they boast Shandon Baptiste, who could shine majorly in the second half of this season – but Robinson has been keen to add some width to the side and the imminent arrival of left winger Nathan Holland should help.

Width on the right has been provided by Chris Cadden, who will need to be replaced after the right-back’s loan spell from Columbus Crew ended this month.

The Yellows though are posting hugely encouraging shot data; they average 1.48 Expected Goals For (xGF) per game and 0.91 Against (xGA), giving them an impressive Ratio (xGR) of 61.94don are playing a lot further up under Wally Downes, deploying a 3-4-1-2 with ferocious pressing and wing-backs breaking into the final third. If Nathan Trott and Nesta Guiness-Walker prove the right replacements for goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale and left wing-back Steve Seddon respectively, then they could be surprise contenders for a top half finish.” 12th
Position as of 6th January: 19th

The ups under Wally Downes did not extend into the current campaign, which saw the manager leave his post in September.

Glyn Hodges though has done an excellent job since then, with AFC Wimbledon taking 21 points from 14 games under the former Dons midfielder to lift them to 19th.

In truth, the Wombles had threatened at that sort of rise in their early season performances, when they played well for spells but had struggled to stick two good halves of football together.

One could argue that, when they have won under Hodges, they have not played much better than they did earlier in the season but – as we saw in the 1-0 wins over Portsmouth and Gillingham – they defended their box well and took their chance at the other end.

Although, technical midfielder Max Sanders and all-action left wing-back Nesta Guiness-Walker are proving that in-form striker Marcus Forss, on loan from Brentford, is not the only player keeping Wombles’ heads above water.

2. Peterborough United

Pre-season prediction: 4th

Summer verdict: “Peterborough possess some of the most exciting attacking options in League One: Siriki Dembele is a tricky dribbler, Ivan Toney and Mo Eisa are two strong centre-forwards and we all know what Marcus Maddison can do. Posh’s forwards could fire them into promotion contention – it’s just a question of whether the midfield gives them the platform to do damage.”

That attacking trio of Maddison, Toney and Eisa has worked a treat for Peterborough; those players have scored 37 of the team’s 44 league goals this season.

Critics might suggest that, to date, the brilliance of those forwards has disguised weaknesses in other areas of the team.

Posh have conceded the seventh-most goals in League One, they have a goalkeeper in Christy Pym that has not adjusted to this level as well as hoped and a midfield that has not always been able to dictate terms.

The latter issue, though, could be solved by the signing of Reece Brown, who possesses the composure, vision, control and creativity to dictate terms and set the tempo for Peterborough far better than any of their existing players.

Mark Beevers has the potential to be a key voice in the second half of the season, having been so important in Bolton’s promotion from this level in 2016-17.

Plus, previous Darren Ferguson sides have enjoyed success purely on their attacking prowess; the 2010-11 side conceded 75 goals and still went up.

With no complete teams in this division, Peterborough can outscore their opponents en route to promotion.

3. Ipswich Town

Pre-season prediction: 3rd

Summer verdict: “Paul Lambert retains the faith of most fans but is held back by an ill-timed injury crisis. Until Ipswich have a fully fit group that can push for automatic promotion, they will need Norwood’s razor-sharp shooting to keep them in the mix.”

The first half of Ipswich’s season has gone the opposite way to anticipated.

Despite the pre-season injury crisis, Town took 27 points from their first 11 league games; Flynn Downes produced some dynamic displays in midfield and going forward, the combination of James Norwood and Kayden Jackson looked deadly.

That early return though may have given natives false confidence because, after an eight-game winless run, the promotion push is now looking more complex.

It has been difficult for Lambert to maintain a consistent first XI due to injuries – the Scot keenly awaits athletic full-back Kane Vincent-Young’s return to fitness, as well as that of Jon Nolan, to rotate with Alan Judge, Janoi Donacien, for cover in full-back areas and midfielder Cole Skuse for experience.

Some of the chopping and changing has been his choice, though, as we have seen in the goalkeeping department with Will Norris and Tomas Holy rotating number one duties.

Plan A, for Ipswich, was the hope that Lambert would identify a winning formula and stick to it; a recent four-year extension to his previous contract though, means that has now become Plans B and C as well.

4. Rotherham United

Pre-season prediction: 5th

Summer verdict: “Warne only brings the right characters into Rotherham; summer recruits, athletic right-back Matthew Olosunde and box-to-box Daniel Barlaser, fit the mould. The Millers were short of a greedy goalscorer last season – they had the seventh-most shots in the Championship but scored the eighth fewest goals – if Freddie Ladapo can solve that problem, then a top six finish looks within their grasp.”

Rotherham have won promotion via the Play-Offs in both of their last two seasons at this level and they are strongly in contention once again.

Olosunde has given the Millers the width from right-back that they did not have in the Championship last season and looks an excellent signing; he has linked up nicely with wide forward Chiedozie Ogbene.

Barlaser’s impact, combined with the rise of Ben Wiles and the form of Matt Crooks, means that Paul Warne’s side do not miss the departed midfielders, Semi Ajayi and Will Vaulks.

Rotherham still need width on the left but the main priority will be to refine their inconsistent home form.

One 6-1 and two 4-0 thrashings of Bolton, Coventry and Peterborough respectively have been mixed in with four defeats in South Yorkshire as well as draws with Tranmere and Shrewsbury, which leave some natives to ask whether this young squad would benefit more from another year in League One than another uphill struggle in the Championship.

It seems very likely that Rotherham will be in the top six come May – the more pertinent question is which part of it.

5. Sunderland

Pre-season prediction: 1st

Summer verdict: “Debts have been paid off and, now Sunderland have a team sufficiently hardworking to acquire the respect of natives, they can refine the technical and tactical details that were missing last term under Jack Ross. Last season’s underperformance came with caveats – now there can be no excuses.”

If last season for Sunderland was disappointing, in that they failed to achieve their primary aim of promotion, the first half of this season had been even more so.

In 2018-19, they had the caveat of being in the process of healing successive bottom placed finishes, as well as changing manager and owner; plus, they were always comfortably in the top six and within reach of the top two.

This season, the board and management teams can no longer be defended by the argument that the club is in transition – and results had got worse.

The Black Cats are not on course to reach the Play-Offs, let alone achieve the primary target of automatic promotion.

The narrow gap in points and performance levels between all teams within the top 10, though, means they can still make a fist of things if they find the correct formula – and there are recent suggestions that Phil Parkinson might have done that.

The under-pressure boss has been glad to welcome back physical front-man Charlie Wyke; the former Bradford striker facilitates his manager’s direct play, so it may not be the greatest coincidence that his return to the starting line-up has coincided with a five-game unbeaten run.

In fact, the 3-4-2-1 with the energetic Lynden Gooch and the technical Chris Maguire in behind.

Athletic centre-back Jordan Willis will be a key asset, while George Dobson and Max Power are starting to provide the tenacity that a peak Parkinson team requires.

There is no defending Sunderland’s form up to Christmas but, in a widely even promotion race, there may yet be scope for them to save their season.

6. Portsmouth

Pre-season prediction: 2nd

Summer verdict: “Michael Eisner has instigated steady progress at Portsmouth, who have the right leadership off the field. Lee Brown and Ronan Curtis dovetail well on it, so if they can get a full season out of Andy Cannon, then Eisner’s fairy-tale production will come to life.”

Portsmouth are not the prime promotion contenders they were hoping to be at this stage of the season, so 2019-20 for them is likely to be about securing a Play-Off berth.

There have been a lot of question marks over manager Kenny Jackett, who is perceived to set the team up too defensively; this, a lot of fans feel, has led to the team failing to create the quality (not quantity) of chances they would like and struggling to hold onto leads late on in games.

In fairness to Jackett, he has also been hamstrung by injuries and, with a lot of the budget going into replacing key departees Matt Clarke and Jamal Lowe, the team still looks short of a quality central midfielder and perhaps a natural number 10.

The signing of Steve Seddon on loan from Birmingham should improve their options at left-back, even when Lee Brown and Brandon Haunstrup return from injury; Seddon has the tenacity to press high up the pitch and offer an alternative left-sided threat when opponents double up on Ronan Curtis, which had been problematic in parts of 2019; Seddon could bring more out of Curtis in that regard, while Marcus Harness and Ellis Harrison could have strong second halves of the season.

The arrival of a powerful centre-back like the mooted move for Manny Monthe could also solve a major issue for the south coasters, with the likes of Sean Raggett and Paul Downing yet to convince since joining in the summer.

Portsmouth can secure a Play-Off berth, even if that, alone, might not be enough to satisfy Jackett’s doubters.

7. Wycombe Wanderers

Pre-season prediction: 21st

Summer prediction: “Gareth Ainsworth is one of the best psychologists in the EFL; he excels at taking pressure off his players and creating a siege mentality. Transition at boardroom level though has led to budgetary issues which could make life even harder for Wycombe. A few injuries would be fatal to the Chairboys’ chances – although Ainsworth will have them fighting to the last.”

Nobody would have envisaged such an outstanding first half of the season for Wycombe Wanderers.

They already have 44 points and will comfortably get the 50 they would have targeted during an uncertain summer so, regardless of what happens between now and May, everyone should be incredibly proud of the progress the club has made on and off the field.

The Chairboys have found stability at the back, with defenders Darius Charles, Anthony Stewart and Joe Jacobson forming a strong understanding next to the right-back, normally Jack Grimmer; ball-winner Curtis Thompson and composed midfielder Dominic Gape offer excellent protection, too.

Going forward, meanwhile, they possess more depth than was perhaps recognized in pre-season.

Ainsworth can rotate between target man Adebayo Akinfenwa and grafter Alex Samuel, as the goals come from midfield and wide areas with David Wheeler, Scott Kashket, Paul Smyth and Matt Bloomfield chipping in with healthy tallies – Fred Onyedinma returns this month too.

Injuries to Grimmer and Gape among others have halted Wycombe’s run of form, with three straight defeats over the festive period.

Missing out on promotion would at least allow the Chairboys to improve the infrastructure under the new, exciting Couhig regime and plan with a sustainable, long-term vision, rather than instantly try to adjust to a different financial landscape.

This season is not just about the eventual outcome, it’s also about the journey – and Wycombe are on one hell of a ride.

8. Coventry City

Pre-season prediction: 8th

Summer verdict: “For the second time this decade, Coventry City will be playing their ‘home’ games away from home, although the feeling around the club is slightly different to that in 2013. Increased productivity from full-backs might help Coventry break down deep-block opposition, but the key will be to add a focal point. While there is much to like about the squad Mark Robins is building, it is hard to imagine Coventry having tangible success without the sacred sense of identity that comes from playing in their home city.”

One could have been forgiven for thinking that Coventry would fare better away this season than they would at St Andrews, but instead we have seen the opposite.

The Sky Blues boast the second-best “home” record in League One, with eight wins in 12 B9 encounters, but until the final game of 2019 – a 3-1 win at Wycombe – they were winless outside the Second City.

Robins is getting the team to embrace a more patient approach this season, with the arrival of a ball-playing goalkeeper in Marko Marosi allowing increased focus on playing out from the back.

On the one hand, this has helped them pose more of a threat over long passing sequences than we saw last season, but it has also left them more vulnerable to high-pressing opposition.

Coventry have a wealth of excellent midfield options in ball-winner Liam Kelly, technician Liam Walsh, terrier Jamie Allen, dynamo Callum O’Hare along with all-rounders Zain Westbrooke and Jordan Shipley.

They are, though, short of quality in depth in attacking areas, especially with Wesley Jobello out injured for prolonged periods, Gervane Kastaneer unfancied, Maxime Biamou having started only four times and Jordy Hiwula not quite living up to his early-season potential.

Successive hat-tricks for Matt Godden have been handily timed, but still Cov may just fall short of the top six.

9. Fleetwood Town

Pre-season prediction: 9th

Summer verdict: “Fleetwood Town have made significant shockwaves in the transfer market this summer, but the question marks surrounding Barton could have an adverse impact on a competent squad.”

Results and shot data would both rank Fleetwood as the seventh-best team in League One.

The Cod Army are much closer to the promotion mix than they were last season; they average 1.42 Expected Goals For (xGF) per game and 1.05 Against (xGA), giving them a Ratio (xGR) of 57.48%.

That, though, only tells half the story.

28 of Fleetwood’s points this season came from the 15 games in which midfield metronome Jordon Rossiter started; the selected alternative, Jack Sowerby, is perfectly willing but has not quite provided the same level of class.

With Rossiter out injured for the rest of the season and Joey Barton having lost patience with the enigmatic Ashley Hunter, now out on loan at Salford, Fleetwood could be short of the craft to augment midfielder Paul Coutts.

In Paddy Madden and Ched Evans, the Cod Army possess two of the best goalscorers in League One from the previous decade – but they are poachers and need the right supply line.

Without it, Fleetwood may miss out on the top six.

Burton Albion

Pre-season prediction: 15th

Summer verdict: “Everything Burton Albion have achieved this decade has been achieved with an underdog spirit, but it is harder to be underdogs when they have recently played in a higher division. With teams around them improving and Harness, McFadzean and Allen all leaving, the Brewers must once again tap into their underdog spirit to remain competitive.”

Burton look competitive once again.

Although the Brewers have not always been within touching distance of the top six, they have delivered top six shot data, creating a high volume and quality of chances.

The front-three of Oliver Sarkic, Lucas Akins and Liam Boyce works well because, although Boyce is joint-top scorer with seven goals, he is often prepared to graft selflessly in wide areas and vacate space from which Sarkic and Akins can threaten.

Akins, a Brewers legend and stalwart, is almost too versatile for his own good: he has deputized admirably a combined five times in the full-back positions, when either John Brayford or Colin Daniel have been unavailable, but his main strengths lie going forward.

It will therefore be important for Nigel Clough to add cover for an injury-prone Brayford at right-back, as well as a rotation option for fellow veterans Jake Buxton and Stephen Quinn, at centre-back and defensive midfield respectively.

It has been vital that, next to an intelligent operator like Quinn, Burton have a midfielder in Ryan Edwards who is full of energy; one moment he can be a second holding player, the next he can be pushing up to become an auxiliary forward, giving opponents the element of surprise.

With Scott Fraser offering control and creativity between the lines using his sweet left foot, Burton have a healthy blend of qualities in their midfield trio and could reach the top 10.

11. Blackpool

Pre-season prediction: 7th

Summer verdict: “For the first time in 33 years, Blackpool start a season without the Oyston family’s involvement. New owner Simon Sadler has appointed a League One promotion specialist in Simon Grayson who, thanks to the work of predecessor Terry McPhillips, inherits a steady squad with a sturdy spine. The Tangerines might just miss out on the Play-Offs, but the real battle has already been won.”

A sense of triumphalism off the field at Bloomfield Road this summer gave way to, initially, compelling results on it.

Blackpool spent much of the first two months in League One’s top six, looking well-organised and clinical in the final third.

The organisation, which they have maintained for the most part, has been prompted by some strong performances from Ben Heneghan, who has gone up another level since re-joining from Sheffield United.

Pool’s final third incision, meanwhile, is mainly thanks to the wide play of Liam Feeney, who has managed a remarkable 10 assists this season and the expert finishing of gangly 12-goal front-man Armand Gnanduillet.

Outside Feeney and Gnanduillet, though, Blackpool have at times been short of ideas.

Supposedly their second-biggest goal threat is Sulley Kaikai and even he has bagged just once in his last 13 appearances, while every other player in the squad has scored either none, one or two league goals.

The players who would theoretically provide alternative creativity to Feeney are midfielders Matty Virtue-Thick and Jordan Thompson, who have not quite been at the ideal level – and the use of a conservative left-back or left wing-back in James Husband means a lack of width on that flank.

Expect Feeney and Gnanduillet to be targeted and possibly negated in the second half of the season – at that point, the big question is whether Grayson can quickly alter the dynamic of the team.

12. Shrewsbury Town

Pre-season prediction: 6th

Summer verdict: “This summer, Salop have increased their budget for manager Sam Ricketts, who has the valuable contacts. If the Shrews’ summer signings help them become better in both boxes, then we could be looking at surprise Play-Off contenders.”

Shrewsbury’s summer signings have certainly strengthened their squad.

Defenders Aaron Pierre and Ethan Ebanks-Landell have added extra physicality to the three-man defence in the 3-5-2 setup, next to either Omar Beckles or Ro-Shaun Williams.

While Ricketts can be questioned in some quarters for a defensive approach, the execution of that approach yields results: 10 clean sheets by Christmas.

Salop’s season could spark into life, though, if they are a bit more adventurous in the wing-back department.

Ryan Giles might feel he has shown enough quality from left wing-back to justify more than 13 starts over the steady but limited Scott Golbourne.

The midfield – which tends to include at least two of Josh Laurent, Oli Norburn, Brad Walker and Dave Edwards behind Sean Goss – offers reasonable protection, so one or two more risks could be taken out wide.

The return of Callum Lang from injury, as well as an encouraging performance from Telford recruit Daniel Udoh in the 1-1 FA Cup draw at Bristol City, expands Ricketts’ attacking options, but he needs to find a strategy to allow Shrewsbury to create more clear cut chances in open play.

Do that and a top half finish could be on the cards.

13. Gillingham

Pre-season prediction: 13th

Summer verdict: “The Gills’ two tall talismen from the previous two campaigns, Holy and Eaves, have left although the former has been replaced adequately by Jack Bonham. Steve Evans strategy requires high energy levels, so while we can expect the Gills to start well with a favourable early sequence of fixtures, the lack of quality in depth leaves them in danger of burning out before any Play-Off hopes come to life.”

Steve Evans might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but he is fixing two key problems from the previous three seasons: they were too easy to play through and struggled to win at home.

Firstly, Gillingham had conceded just 24 goals by mid-January, with defenders Max Ehmer and Connor Ogilvie performing well and Jack Tucker having a strong, breakthrough year; the Kent outfit are far more compact than they were under Steve Lovell.

Secondly, they have won seven of their 13 Priestfield encounters, having won just seven home games in the entirety of last season, with positive recruitment making a vital difference.

Alfie Jones and Thomas O’Connor have performed well since joining on loan from Southampton while Olly Lee and Stuart O’Keefe have also enhanced the midfield.

Perhaps the one thing holding Gillingham back from a sustained Play-Off push is the absence of a complete striker.

Brandon Hanlan, Mikael Ndjoli and Alex Jakubiak are all wide or withdrawn forwards who are capable in their own right but would struggle to lead the line; conversely, Mikael Mandron is a natural target man but is not wholly proven at this level.

The quality of January deal for an out-and-out striker therefore, could be decisive in their quest for a first top half finish in four years.

14. Doncaster Rovers

Pre-season prediction: 14th

Summer verdict: “Moore brings pedigree but the work ahead for he and Rovers will not be simple, especially with Wilks and Kane back to parent clubs and other key players departing. Although a strong first XI remains in place, the lack of depth points to a rebuilding job.”

Doncaster showed some potential early in the season, when able to put their best XI together.

Form suffered though over November and December due to injuries to Wolves loanees Cameron John and Niall Ennis along with Jon Taylor, while centre-back Tom Anderson missed parts due to suspension.

Ennis’ return has been welcomed, because the striker’s energy allows Donny to initiate a convincing press that forces opposing teams back.

That, in turn, helps key deep-lying playmaker Ben Whiteman dictate terms with his usual precision; although, partner Ben Sheaf is arguably too dependent on Whiteman playing well and it could be that Rovers need a more imposing midfield partner.

Taylor is a proven winger at this level and his return to the starting line-up has coincided with improved form, including an eye-catching 3-0 win at Peterborough.

Results like that – and the 1-0 win over high-flyers Oxford – shows that Darren Moore has the tactical acumen to lead Donny forward.

Due to a lack of quality in reserve across the board, though, that may not happen this season.

15. Bristol Rovers

Pre-season prediction: 19th

Summer verdict: “Rovers are in limbo. They are too far away from a new stadium and training ground to expect to push on from their current position, midtable in League One, but entering a fourth consecutive season in the third-tier, it is difficult for supporters to relish mere consolidation.”

Bristol Rovers’ 2-1 win at Ipswich in December should have been a key point in their season for the right reasons: a statement of intent, a victory to put them fourth, a sign that they can beat the biggest and best in the division.

Instead, that day might yet be remembered, perversely, as the start of the decline.

Graham Coughlan spoke afterwards, questioning his future at the club; the Irishman moved to Mansfield, reportedly owing to a lack of ambition at boardroom level and his need to be nearer his family up north.

Coughlan was replaced by Ben Garner, who is highly respected as a youth coach at Crystal Palace and West Brom but has no experience managing senior teams and is yet to make an impact, with one point from three games.

Given that Gashead by birth Ian Holloway took the Grimsby job shortly afterwards and has instantly lifted the mood there, one might wonder whether CEO Martyn Starnes missed a trick.

If Rovers do regress, Garner should not take all the blame, because their shot data implies that they have been riding their luck in a lot of games this season.

They have been good at last ditch defending through Tom Davies, Alfie Kilgour and Tony Craig; Abu Ogogo has battled well in midfield next to the disciplined Ed Upson, but they have looked short of quality out wide and rarely have they been able to truly control games.

16. Accrington Stanley

Pre-season prediction: 16th

Summer verdict: “Stanley get so much right on and off the pitch and are an inspiration to similarly-sized clubs. The Reds may need to re-jig their attack but Colby Bishop is an intriguing recruit from Leamington and they have not lost any key players on permanent deals this summer, so there is no reason why they cannot secure a third consecutive season at this level.” 

It is very hard to see Stanley going down this season.

They consistently push teams back and are always a handful, especially with Sam Finley, a ball-winner by trade, let off the leash more this season to press with vigour, break beyond the other three midfielders in John Coleman’s 4-4-2 system and pick key passes.

The quality of the finishing is inconsistent but, with 11 goals scored in home encounters with Bolton and Portsmouth, we are seeing Southport recruit Dion Charles, so persistent in his hassling and harrying, add the product in his game to match that of Colby Bishop, who is already into double-figures.

Sean McConville’s season-ending injury is a blow but it will offer opportunities to Joe Pritchard, who has looked bright from the bench this term; Callum Johnson’s right-sided partnership with Jordan Clark remains strong, too.

Defensively, Jerome Opoku has enjoyed an outstanding season so far at left-back since joining on loan from Fulham.

Centre-back Ross Sykes has had a significant breakthrough season, displaying impressive aerial prowess; if pushed, Stanley could possibly upgrade on his partner, Mark Hughes, but Coleman sees value in the Liverpudlian’s leadership, so if there is any change in that area, it is unlikely to happen this month.

At this level, “The club that wouldn’t die” continues to defy the status quo.

Milton Keynes Dons

Pre-season prediction: 17th

Summer verdict: “The current squad, with everyone fully fit, is already steady for League One, so business has been modest; Joe Mason has played Championship football and may replace withdrawn forward Chuks Aneke, now at Charlton. Tisdale, it seems, wants to test the existing squad at this level – then gauge what is required to make that next step.”

Between late-Autumn and early winter, Milton Keynes Dons went on a run of () games without a goal.

Manager Paul Tisdale was dismissed amid that wretched form, although a commonly accepted factor was the injuries to key players like Rhys Healey, Alex Gilbey and Sam Nombe.

Depending on one’s perspective, therefore, the subsequent improvement in form – 11 points from eight – could be put down either to Healey, Gilbey and Nombe’s return, or the appointment of Russ Martin as manager.

A charismatic, extraverted character, Martin has done a good job of galvanizing the club although, by the former Norwich defender’s own admission, he has needed the help of new assistant Luke Williams, arguably one of the cleverest brains in the EFL.

Martin and Williams have settled on a diamond system with the disciplined Jordan Houghton at the base, flanked by the selfless Connor McGrandles and the energetic David Kasumu, with Gilbey pressing in support of Healey and Nombe.

This strategy has brought about a series of impressive home performances, with MK deservedly beating Portsmouth, Oxford and Bristol Rovers in Buckinghamshire.

With the current management team, MK could be onto a winner.

Lincoln City

Pre-season prediction: 10th

Summer verdict: “Danny and Nicky Cowley got the Imps playing more on the deck last season and have this summer added silky playmakers in Jack Payne and Jorge Grant. Jason Shackell is an experienced centre-back who will be right at home at this level – so will Lincoln.”

Lincoln are in transition under Michael Appleton.

His predecessors, Danny and Nicky Cowley, had shown pragmatism to deliver two titles in three seasons at Sincil Bank; they meticulously assessed the strengths and weaknesses of the squad available, they analysed the opposition and tailored their strategies to suit.

Appleton has a different approach; he walks into a club with one clear philosophy – playing out from the back – and gets his players to adhere to it, then adds personnel to suit.

The Mancunian is helped by his predecessors having begun to subtly evolve Lincoln’s style of play in their final full season in charge, when the Imps displayed slick counter-attacking football en route to top spot in League Two.

The following summer, the Cowley brothers added wide technician Jorge Grant, playmaker Jack Payne and controller Joe Morrell, all of whom look suited to possession play.

In an Appleton team, though, the players who will typically spend most time on the ball are the centre-backs, which is the one area where Lincoln remain somewhat old-school.

Cian Bolger and Michael Bostwick are effective no-nonsense defenders, but will not enjoy dwelling on the ball, let alone attempting crossfield passes.

It is Appleton’s ability to address this area correctly in January that could define Lincoln’s season.

19. Rochdale

Pre-season prediction: 20th

Summer verdict: “Two influential figures have recently left Rochdale – chairman Chris Dunphy and manager Keith Hill – so the question is whether replacements Andrew Kilpatrick and Brian Barry-Murphy respectively can instigate a similar cycle of success. Dale’s brilliant academy lends them a potentially exciting future, but for now it’s a case of securing their League One status.” 

Rochdale played some good football in the first month of their campaign, when the combination play between Callum Camps and Ian Henderson made them a real threat, with Rhys Norrington-Davies making brave runs to the back-post from left wing-back.

The Dale performed with renewed positivity and looked more like the side that secured three successive top half finishes at this level whilst developing youth; teenagers Luke Matheson and Aaron Morley are both enjoying significant breakthrough campaigns.

The performance in cup competition is a huge plus, too: Rochdale held Manchester United to a 1-1 draw at Old Trafford before going out on penalties, then drew 1-1 against Newcastle at Spotland (Crown Oil Arena) to earn an FA Cup replay at St James’s Park.

In league terms, the football has not been quite so fluent over the last four months, although the recent return from injury of midfielders Stephen Dooley and Oliver Rathbone has boosted them.

20. AFC Wimbledon

Pre-season prediction: 12th

Summer verdict: “AFC Wimbledon are playing a lot further up under Wally Downes, deploying a 3-4-1-2 with ferocious pressing and wing-backs breaking into the final third. If Nathan Trott and Nesta Guiness-Walker prove the right replacements for goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale and left wing-back Steve Seddon respectively, then they could be surprise contenders for a top half finish.”

The ups under Wally Downes did not extend into the current campaign, which saw the manager leave his post in September.

Glyn Hodges though has done an excellent job since then, with AFC Wimbledon taking 21 points from 14 games under the former Dons midfielder to lift them to 19th.

In truth, the Wombles had threatened at that sort of rise in their early season performances, when they played well for spells but had struggled to stick two good halves of football together.

One could argue that, when they have won under Hodges, they have not played much better than they did earlier in the season but – as we saw in the 1-0 wins over Portsmouth and Gillingham – they defended their box well and took their chance at the other end.

Although, technical midfielder Max Sanders and all-action left wing-back Nesta Guiness-Walker are proving that in-form striker Marcus Forss, on loan from Brentford, is not the only player keeping Wombles’ heads above water.

21. Tranmere Rovers

Pre-season prediction: 18th

Summer verdict: “Micky Mellon has proved the man to re-awaken the sleeping giant – and when natives are given a team to believe in, Prenton Park can be a fortress. However, top scorer James Norwood has gone to Ipswich and without him Rovers may need to create higher-quality chances. Consolidation should be the primary target.”

Having been playing non-league football as recently as 2018, it has understandably been challenging for Tranmere to adjust to life in League One.

It has been a difficult for manager Micky Mellon to work out the extent to which he should introduce new players; too many players from the leagues below and the quality might not be there, but too many recent signings and the dynamic of the team that won successive promotions risks being disrupted.

The right-sided combination between Kieron Morris, who makes selfless runs off the ball and Jake Caprice, who loves to drive forward at any opportunity, remains effective; new ball-winner Alex Woodyard hopes to shake up an aging midfield.

Going forward, Rushian Hepburn-Murphy and Morgan Ferrier have hit brief patches of form at certain points, but neither forward is a natural line-leader and summer recruit Stefan Payne has looked more like the striker who struggled at Bristol Rovers last season than the one that thrived at Shrewsbury the year before.

Aerial powerhouse Manny Monthe has been linked with a move away – and the 4-1 home loss to Coventry offered a frightening glimpse into what Rovers’ defence might look like without the key centre-back.

A tough second half of the season could be in store.

22. Bolton Wanderers

Any fate Bolton experience on the field this season is put into perspective.

Up until late-August, there was grave uncertainty as to whether Wanderers fans would even have a club to support, due to the financial mess created by the previous regime.

Fortunately, Football Ventures Ltd saved the club by agreeing a takeover and, with Keith Hill promptly appointed manager, they made a remarkable 10 signings on transfer deadline day to give themselves a credible senior squad.

The delays have meant they were effectively having a pre-season while the league season was going on, so a return of 19 points from 21 games by mid-January is commendable in the circumstances.

The summer 12-point deduction, though, meant that their chances of staying up were always remote.

Games this season are played not to affect the outcome of the 2019-20 campaign, but to inspire hope of a substantial re-build in League Two.

23. Southend United

Pre-season prediction: 22nd

Summer verdict: “There are financial difficulties at Southend and, with Taylor Moore gone, they look short on reliable centre-backs as well as quality out wide. If an injury crisis anything like the one we saw last season rears’ it’s head, a lot of young players could be asked to step up in a difficult environment. A season of struggle may be in store.”

It has been a hellish campaign for Southend.

The Shrimpers have been by far the worst team in League One this season and Sol Campbell has been unable to repeat the heroics he performed last season at Macclesfield.

It is tempting to blame the club’s struggles on the financial problems.

Chairman Ron Martin took control in 1998, when he could invest to a significant extent, but a combination of him funding the club for two decades and the increase in net losses for clubs like Southend means it has become harder for him to offer the required support.

That, in turn, means that the club is not an attractive proposition to potential investors and thus we are seeing a vicious cycle.

Financial issues, though, only explain so much.

Budget generally affects a club’s ability to sign attacking players and, with the athletic Tom Hopper, the individualistic Stephen Humphrys, target man Simon Cox, raw speedster Emile Acquah and teenage talent Charlie Kelman, it is hard to argue with Southend’s collection of forwards.

Rather, their main weakness is a clear lack of organisation, which should cost comparatively very little.

Southend have conceded 65 times already and continuation of their current defensive woes would see them ship a total of 125 goals, more than any third-tier team since records began.

Odds are correct at the time of posting

Join the discussion