League One Season Preview 2017-18

thestar.co.uk

The last League One season saw Sheffield United secure the title, ending their six-year Championship exile as Bolton Wanderers cut short their own. The award for most dramatic promotion however, went to Millwall. Their fate was decided by two 85th minute winners: one to take the last play-off place on the final day, the other to defeat Bradford at Wembley. Here’s to more excitement this time around – these are The Football Lab’s predictions. (Click on the green links to find Q&As with fans of each club).

Blackburn Rovers have improved their midfield hugely this summer with Richie Smallwood adding grit and Peter Whittingham, guile. If David Raya, Charlie Mulgrew and Danny Graham all stay, they will complete a spine that is capable of dominating this division. 1st

Wigan Athletic have the best squad depth in League One. Sam Morsy will dominate midfields, keeper Christian Walton was a timely addition while Will Grigg is a proven goalscorer. Paul Cook consistently measures up to his resources and a continuation of that trend should mean only one thing. 2nd

Rory McArdle’s arrival to partner Murray Wallace means Scunthorpe United will start the season with League One’s best back-line, while Josh Morris provides quality in wide areas. Promotion chances depend on Stephen Dawson’s replacement and whether the team opens up to help Paddy Madden find his mojo. 3rd

Charlton Athletic have recruited strongly with new boy Mark Marshall augmenting the attacking qualities of Ricky Holmes and Josh Magennis. A promotion push is likely, should the centre-back pairing of Ezri Konsa and Jason Pearce remain intact. 4th

Shay McCartan and Jake Reeves arrive at Bradford City with the quality to light up the division. With stalwarts leaving Valley Parade though, the leadership of Romain Vincelot and Nicky Law will be essential to their promotion prospects. 5th

Robbie Neilson has been rightly ruthless with MK Dons’ old guard, freshening up the midfield with promising additions and tactical variation. Kieran Agard has the quality to put chances away so if the defence can hold firm, the first full season of this new era could be an exciting one. 6th

Losing Conor McLaughlin and David Ball isn’t ideal, but Fleetwood Town have avoided an exodus of key players. Their technical football creates chances, many of which new boy Conor McAleny should finish. With Uwe Rosler staying, the Cod Army won’t stray too far from the promotion mix. 7th

Pep Clotet looks a suitable appointment for Oxford United, who need swift recruitment after a turbulent June. James Henry will add quality while Curtis Nelson and Simon Eastwood should have another big season, but with Conor McAleny not returning and Chris Maguire leaving, they may fall short of the top six. 8th

With the technical quality provided by Tommy Rowe, James Coppinger and John Marquis now he’s staying, Doncaster Rovers will pose a huge attacking threat. Play-off hopes though could be hindered by defensive imperfections, which may be brought to light in a higher league. Expect goals – at both ends. 9th

Brett Pitman adds attacking knowhow at Portsmouth, but League Two’s title-winners must adjust to Kenny Jackett’s more conservative style. With Enda Stevens and Michael Doyle leaving, the next promotion push may have to wait another year. 10th

Bury have upgraded in almost every position this summer, Stephen Dawson the stand-out capture. They should improve, but the issues of fitness and tactical flexibility will decide just how much. 11th

Southend United competed well last season, with a strong midfield aided by Michael Kightly. However, they still miss a quality goalkeeper and need a reliably fit centre-back in Adam Thompson’s absence. Key men Ryan Leonard and Nile Ranger have had turbulent summers for different reasons, so with big clubs coming into League One, it might be hard for the Shrimpers to keep up the pace. 12th

Though Peterborough United have so far retained Marcus Maddison, it is hard to say that their squad has improved. Their chances of progression rest on Jack Baldwin’s fitness and the speed at which new forwards adjust to a higher league. 13th

Plymouth Argyle will be well-organized this season, with Sonny Bradley dominating in both boxes and Luke McCormick making key saves. Graham Carey’s new deal provides a boost, but top half prospects depend on their ability to find creativity and goals from alternative sources. 14th

As well as Bristol Rovers have done over the last three years, slow summer business means they continue to rely on the same stalwarts. Tom Lockyer and Ollie Clarke should enjoy another good season, but unless fresh quality is added in forward areas, progress may be halted. 15th

Rochdale deserve great credit for their progress and another good year is expected from their young but seasoned midfield. Defensive frailties are evident though and Dale won’t be helped by the exit of Matty Lund and Nathaniel Mendez-Laing. As other heavy-spenders enter the division, bigger challenges await. 16th

The quality of player Rotherham United have signed – David Ball a positive addition – should not be underestimated, but nor should the scale of the slump they look to arrest. 17 players remain from last year, as does Paul Warne, who is yet to prove his leadership skills. The pain of 33 defeats in one season cannot be overcome without major structural change. 17th

Northampton Town’s new centre-backs must gel quickly to improve last year’s defensive efforts, while the likes of Daniel Powell and Billy Waters must dilute the reliance on an aging attack. The Cobblers are better than most relegation candidates, but remain a little way off becoming a top half proposition. 18th

Wing-backs Kelvin Mellor and Andy Taylor will provide width for Blackpool while goalscorer Mark Cullen will be confident, meaning they should stay up. With off-field divisions remaining though, the loss of big characters like Neil Danns and Tom Aldred doesn’t make things easy. 19th

Walsall were dealt an early blow with the exit of keeper Neil Etheridge and right-back Jason McCarthy, their key performers last year. The latter should be replaced well by Nicky Devlin, while left-back Luke Leahy’s arrival means Joe Edwards’ energy could be deployed in midfield. Nobody has yet joined an attack that scored just 51 last year though, so the Saddlers once again bank on the unknown quantity of youth. 20th

AFC Wimbledon have lost three of their better players from last season, including keeper James Shea and their best technical player in Jake Reeves. The other is target man Tom Elliott, who they have not directly replaced. Deji Oshilaja’s arrival aside, the Wombles have a weakened squad used to playing in the fourth tier, where they may reside next August. 21st

As well as Paul Hurst has done so far at Shrewsbury Town, the nature of performances perhaps illustrate regression since promotion in 2015. They scrap for their lives with Abu Ogogo and Toto Nsiala the key battlers, but are no longer capable of outplaying the opposition. Without the final third quality they had last year, Salop’s rigid principles may have a shelf life. 22nd

Gillingham have lost two of their most gifted players in Bradley Dack and Cody McDonald this summer. Though improvements to the defence including Alex Lacey’s arrival have muted fan discontent with Aidy Pennock, that may re-surface when his long ball tactics return. A lack of quality in possession could be their downfall. 23rd

Oldham Athletic were well-organized last season, but have since lost the league’s best goalkeeper in Connor Ripley and key defensive performers are getting no younger. Courtney Duffus and Dan Gardner represent unconvincing efforts to improve what was, visually and statistically, the worst third-tier attack in 22 years. 24th

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