Friday, 2 August 2019

Preview: League One 2019/20 Season

League 1 makes a triumphant return with a host of sides battling to be the top side in the third tier of English Football. Ipswich, Rotherham and Bolton have fallen down but are hoping to get back on their feet while optimism newly promoted clubs Bury, Lincoln, MK Dons and Tranmere will all be looking to make an impression this campaign.

It has been a very mixed summer for the three relegated sides. Ipswich and Rotherham have quietly gone about their business this summer as they aim for an instant return to the Championship. However, it has been a horrendous off-season for Bolton Wanderers. A takeover bid fell through ultimately put Bolton in administration meaning they start League 1 with -12 points. Players and Staff haven't been paid for 20 weeks and with remaining senior players on strike, times are very tough. However, a light at the end of the tunnel has appeared with Football Ventures expected to complete their takeover soon but Bolton will begin their season at Wycombe with a team full of youngsters thrown into the fire. A difficult season lies ahead for Phil Parkinson and Bolton but this protracted takeover needs to happen quickly. Ipswich have quietly got things done this window as they build for a League 1 campaign following a very disappointing relegation. Paul Lambert has stayed at the club determined to bring them back straight away. Goals were Ipswich's problem last season in the Championship but they will hope the football league's top scorer last season James Norwood can lead them to promotion. The big striker fired Tranmere to promotion and he will hope to do the same with the Tractor Boys. Rotherham have been busy this summer moulding a squad capable of challenging at the top. Paul Warne won plenty of plaudits despite Rotherham's relegation last season. Optimism is high at the New York Stadium with the fans seeing the club break their transfer record to sign Freddie Ladapo from Plymouth as well as sign the likes of Daniel Iversen and Jamie Lindsay as well as experienced campaigner Shaun MacDonald. However, the Millers have lost key players Semi Ajayi, Will Vaulks and Ryan Williams so they may be some concern for the fans but they will still expect Rotherham to be pushing the top 6 this season.

Promotion should bring excitement, confidence and optimism but all of these have been in very short supply at Bury. The Shakers promotion in May papered over the cracks at the club with huge debts behind the scenes which have now come into the attention of the footballing world. The club is on its knees with virtually all their promotion-winning squad leaving the club as well as manager Ryan Lowe whose departed for Plymouth. Former Truro City manager Paul Wilkinson has replaced Lowe and been left in a very difficult situation. Steve Dale has a huge mess to deal with and it's even got to a point where Bury's opening league game against the MK Dons was suspended because of a lack of funding. Bury desperately need something to happen and fast because like Bolton, they also start on -12 points due to insolvers coming into the football club.

In contrast, the other three promoted clubs Lincoln, MK Dons and Tranmere head into the new season full of confidence, momentum and belief. Danny Cowley has done a magnificent job at Lincoln City with the Imps ready to give League 1 a real good go. Cowley has kept the core of the promotion-winning squad and added a few new faces including Jack Payne who impressed a very poor Bradford side last season. MK Dons are back in League 1 at the first attempt following their second-place finish last season. Paul Tisdale delivered promotion in his first season in charge having suffered play-off heartache two seasons in a row with Exeter City. Tisdale has lost talisman Chuks Aneke to Charlton but has been active in adding to his squad. Rhys Healy is back on a permanent deal from Cardiff while Ben Reeves returns to the club following two years at Charlton. Tisdale has also added players from League 2 in Regan Poole, Hiram Boateng and Brennan Dickensen who he believes can make the step up to League 1. It has been an amazing 2 years for Tranmere. Back to back promotions were secured at Wembley in May when they beat Newport in extra time. Since then, Micky Mellon has been busy strengthening his squad and building a team good enough to compete in League 1. Mellon has added experienced heads in Stefan Payne and Darren Potter while also adding young talent in Sid Nelson, Jordan Ponticelli, George Ray and Corey Blackett-Taylor. Tranmere fans are excited but will be aware the loss of James Norwood is gonna be difficult to replace but Micky Mellon will no doubt be looking to add further attacking reinforcements.

The summer brings the opportunity for clubs to make changes and some clubs have decided to make changes. Blackpool finally has new owners with the insolvers finding a buyer in local businessman Simon Sadler who finally ends the Oyston family's three-decade spell in charge. However, they were left surprised when Terry McPhillips resigned as manager despite an excellent season in charge of the club. He admitted management wasn't for him but was grateful for the opportunity. His replacement is Simon Grayson who is back for a second crack at Blackpool having managed them for three years before leaving in 2008. Grayson has inherited a good squad which he believes can break into the top 6 this season. There is a real sense of belief around Blackpool that this could be a special season. Another side who has changed manager is Doncaster following Grant McCann's exit to join Hull City. His replacement is former West Brom manager and Doncaster defender Darren Moore who is tasked with building on the good work done by McCann as Doncaster look to go that one step further on last season and secure promotion. However, they have lost John Marquis to Portsmouth and Mallik Wilks to Barnsley so goals are short in supply for Darren Moore so no doubt he will be looking to strengthen his squad in the remaining weeks of the transfer window. Gillingham also begin the new season with a new manager after sacking Steve Lovell with two games left of the previous season. His replacement is the charismatic Steve Evans who is back in management after he was last at Peterborough. Evans has been busy throughout the summer moulding a squad in his eyes can challenge the top 6. However, like Darren Moore at Doncaster, Evans has lost his top scorer as Tom Eaves has departed for the Championship. Gillingham fans are quietly optimistic about their chances and with a serial winner in Evans its hard to see why they shouldn't be. The final club to announce a new manager was Southend United but he isn't new to them as they have given Kevin Bond the top job having come in late last season when he saved the Shrimpers from relegation.

The battle for promotion will be fascinating this season with so many clubs fancying their chances of securing promotion. Can the fallen giants Sunderland, Portsmouth and Coventry finally get back on their feet and secure a return to the Championship. Sunderland came so close last season but lost in the 94th minute to Charlton ultimately sealing their fate. Jack Ross has been given another crack at getting them up but an investment deal from outsider interest has gone very quiet meaning its a more conservative push this season but they are fancied by many to go one better this season. Portsmouth like Sunderland, suffered in the playoffs losing to the Black Cats in the semi-finals but Kenny Jackett has gone back to drawing board and built again but Pompey will be without Jamal Lowe whose left for Wigan. Portsmouth fell away at the end of last season but can they put their past mistakes behind them this time around? Coventry narrowly missed out on the play-offs last season after an excellent first season back in League 1. Mark Robins has done a wonderful job at the club where off-field issues shadow the good work on the pitch. Robins has built a squad capable of gatecrashing the play-offs this season and the fans are rightly excited but will be frustrated at playing their good games at St Andrews which is Birmingham City's stadium.

Plenty of other teams will be battling for promotion this season. Peterborough, Fleetwood, Burton, Oxford United all fell short of the playoffs last season but all four clubs head into the new season believing they can break into the top 6. Meanwhile, Bristol Rovers, Rochdale, AFC Wimbledon, Accrington Stanley and Wycombe will all be looking to improve on their previous seasons with only Accrington avoiding the relegation battle last season.

League 1 will no doubt bring plenty of excitement, quality goals and plenty of twists and turns along the way with the quality of the lower English leagues getting better and better. Half of the league will fancy their chances of securing promotion while others will be hoping League 1 football remains at their respective clubs.

My Predictions:
Champions: Portsmouth
Automatic Promotion: Sunderland
Play-Offs: Ipswich, Peterborough, Rotherham, Blackpool. Peterborough to win the play-offs.
Relegation: Bolton, Bury, Wycombe, Rochdale

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