League One 2018/19 Lowdown Part II: The Eve Of The New Season

In the first part of this review, I had a look at where sides were as they returned to training. Rather than discuss already covered ground in that blog, this will look at how each side has done in pre-season, what they have done in terms of recruitment since the 1st of July and also consider their final league placing, with an emphasis on what is likely to be their first XI.

My predicted table has slightly altered from last time, which you can review here.

I am giving myself one more chance to review each club and lock in a final prediction.

Accrington Stanley

In the last review, we considered that Accrington were likely to something of an unknown quantity to League One sides, capable of blowing teams away, but lacking 2 or 3 players in their squad. Worryingly to some extent for John Coleman’s side, they have not added at all to their squad, Janoi Donacien has joined Ipswich, whilst star striker Kayden Jackson is also interesting the Tractor boys.

Tellingly, in a recent row with Salford City co-owner and Sky Pundit Gary Neville, Stanley Chairman Andy Holt revealed Stanley to be working with a budget of £1.1m for the season ahead – one of the smallest in the division, if not the smallest.

My forecast of 18th for them is therefore lower than last time, and Stanley are in real danger of an immediate return to the 4th tier I feel. However, their first XI as it stands is a strong one and they have enjoyed big pre-season home wins against Huddersfield Middlesbrough and Blackburn, 3-0, 4-3 and 1-0 respectively.

Ross Sykes has impressed in pre-season, and may replace Donacien in the left-back slot. Beyond Donacien and Aaron Chapman leaving, Stanley are likely to go with the side that served them so well at the end of last season in their opening day game against Gillingham.

Verdict: If Accrington can keep Jackson, and keep this line up fit for most of the campaign ahead, they just may surprise a few, with only goalkeeper Aaron Chapman departed from the above side that romped to the League 2 title last time out. I think that quality and momentum will just about see them safe this time around.

Prediction: 19th

AFC Wimbledon

Last month, I forecasted Wimbledon to prop up the entire of the third tier this season. Since then, Neal Ardley has set about conducting some very good business for a side on another of the smallest budgets in the league.

Experienced midfield duo Scott Wagstaff and Anthony Wordsworth have arrived from Gillingham and Southend respectively, whilst Terrell Thomas has joined for an undisclosed fee from Wigan, adding to the centre back options. Barry Fuller has been replaced with Tennai Watson, a young more powerful right-back, compared to the steady head of Fuller.

Ardely has also been forced into the rapid recruitment of Ben Purrington on loan from Rotherham to replace Jon Meades, who unexpectedly retired earlier this week. In July, they recorded impressive pre-season victories at home against Reading and Brighton, with Joe Pigott and Kwesi Appiah impressively leading the line, before a capitulation at Havant & Waterlooville last Friday.

Appiah and Pigott are likely to get the nod ahead of new signing James Hanson and Cody McDonald in attack. The big questions lie in midfield though. Mitch Pinnock on the right and Liam Trotter in the middle seem sure to start, but the other 2 are not so clear. Andy Barcham may get the nod ahead of Wagstaff on the left, whilst Wordsworth could be preferred to Tom Soares in the centre of the pitch.

Verdict: With a good crop of youngsters coming through, Wimbledon will hope they have enough to get over the line once again. My concern for them about the outright quality, plus such a rapid loss of quality, experienced faces like Fuller, Paul Robinson, Callum Kennedy, George Long, George Francomb and Lyle Taylor. I think they are better than bottom, but I still think they will be in the bottom 4 come May.

Prediction: 22nd

Barnsley

The closer we get to the start of the season, the more I fancy Barnsley to win League One in 2018/19. One month ago, I felt Barnsley’s fate depended on the retention of Tom Bradshaw and Kieffer Moore.

Whilst Bradshaw is the subject of intense Championship interest, Barnsley look like they will retain both and have at points this window rejected bids for multiple players. This gives Daniel Stendel a very powerful hand in his first season in English football.

He has also made his first senior signing in the final week of July in bringing in holding midfielder Kenny Dougall from Sparta Rotterdam for an estimated £350k – probably the one area Barnsley were really lacking. During pre-season, the Tykes have recorded impressive wins at York City and Salford City and drew with Hull City on Saturday.

Dani Pinillos is set to step in for the injured Zeki Fryers and Dimitri Cavare is set to keep Jason McCarthy on the bench at full-back, with Liam Lindsay and Ethan Pinnock the likely centre-back pairing.

Goalkeeper Adam Davies looks set to win back his place from Jack Walton with Bradshaw and Moore will leading the line. New man Dougall will anchor a midfield, partnering Alex Mowatt following his return from Oxford, whom Barnsley start against at Oakwell.

Mowatt is likely to start ahead of the likes of Brad Potts, Cameron McGeehan and George Moncur, highlighting the embarrassment of midfield riches possessed by the Tykes.

Verdict: This Barnsley side will be one the youngest in League One, but it is one packed with league experience and proven performers already. This is the one team I am backing to make an immediate return to the second tier at the first time of asking.

Prediction: 1st

Blackpool

With a lot of uncertainty surrounding Blackpool, Gary Bowyer has done well to get something of a settled side together.

Last month, Bowyer was planning for life without Armand Gnanduillet, but the big Ivorian has returned following a complication in his move to South Africa. Mark Howard is going to be the new number one for the Tangerines, whilst Marc Bola and Ryan McLaughlin have joined.

Bola arrives on a free from Arsenal whilst utility man McLaughlin has joined from Oldham after the clubs agreed a compensation fee. Kelvin Mellor and Dolly Menga have now left Bloomfield Road, with Mellor joining L1 rivals Bradford City. Curtis Tilt remains for now, but has handed in a transfer request with Ipswich Town interested.

Tilt is not likely to feature at Wycombe on the opening day, with Paudie O’Connor likely to step in at centre-back, which is a big blow for the Tangerines. In front of the new look back 4, Jay Spearing and Jimmy Ryan will offer some continuity from last season.

Ryan will miss the opening weeks of the season though and former Rangers man Jordan Thompson is set to deputise. Pre-season has seen a 1-0 win at Port Vale and a 1-1 draw away to Crewe Alexandra in their most recent game. Bowyer is likely to go with Nathan Delfouneso playing behind Gnanduillet and Joe Dodoo on the left hand side in the season opener at Adams Park.

Verdict: Blackpool still possess enough about them to hurt sides with their pace and power, but this team is weaker than the one from last season. With uncertainty surrounding the future ownership of the club, Bowyer’s job will once again be simply to stay in the league. I think they will just, but it may be a bit too close for comfort.

Prediction: 20th

Bradford City

As teams came back to pre-season, Bradford concerned me with having made very few significant signings and having appointed a rookie manager.

Given that bar one development squad win v Bradford Park Avenue, the Bantams have lost their other 5 games in pre-season, including at Carlisle on Saturday, and the team has looked disjointed.

But Bradford have undoubtedly brought in quality additions in this last month though. Hope Akpan has arrived on a free from relegated Burton Albion and the Bantams pulled off something of a coup in signing winger Sean Scannell from Huddersfield for an undisclosed fee.

Right-back, Kelvin Mellor has also opted for Valley Parade ahead of a host of interested League One clubs. The West Yorkshire outfit have also added the impressive Jack Payne to their attacking options on loan, having been part of Blackburn’s promotion winning side last season, and George Miller will add fire-power upfront and will start the opener away at Shrewsbury Town.

Bantams fans will be hoping Miller finds some new competition upfront following the departure of Charlie Wyke to Sunderland, with Preston forward Eoin Doyle heavily linked with a loan move. For now, Miller will lead the line in a likely 4-2-3-1 formation, supported by Payne, Scannell and Sherwin Seedorf.

Verdict: There is quality in this Bradford side, and good pedigree in all of the players here despite the loss of Wyke upfront. With squad depth including the likes of Miller, Tyrell Robinson, Jake Reeves and Joe Riley, City definitely have a squad to be at the right end of the league. Despite the scale of the summer upheaval and poor pre-season, this is still a squad built for the top 10.

Prediction: 10th

Bristol Rovers

I felt that Bristol Rovers would only amount to a mid-table side last month, and little has changed my mind in the last month. Though Tareiq Holmes-Dennis has arrived for an undisclosed fee from Huddersfield Town, replacing Lee Brown at left-back, the club lost star striker Ellis Harrison to Ipswich Town for around £750k.

With the market for centre-forwards being a tough place, there is little guarantee Rovers will find an adequate replacement in time for their opening day match at London Road.

Pre-season has been somewhat disappointing or the Gas so far, with a draw at League Two Yeovil Town, followed by a 1-0 loss to Forest Green and a horrendous 4-0 loss at home to Exeter City on Saturday, also of League Two.

Tom Broadbent is likely to get the nod ahead of Tony Craig at centre half, who could deputise for Holmes-Dennis, whilst he gets up to speed in the early weeks of the season.

At right-back, James Clarke may be preferred to Dan Leadbitter. Rovers are likely to go with a 5 man midfield, with Kyle Bennett and Alex Rodman flanking new man Gavin Reilly in attack in their opening day game, away to Peterborough United. Sam Matthews is likely to be handed the shirt for the first few games having impressed in pre-season and with Chris Lines carrying a knock into the start of the new campaign.

Verdict: Like a lot of teams in this league, there is a very solid base for Bristol Rovers to build on, but I would question where the goals are going to come from in this side. The Memorial Stadium will remain a tough venue for opposing sides, but this is a side almost certain for a mid-table finish.

Prediction: 14th

Burton Albion

Unlike their fellow relegated sides, there is very little expectation at The Pirelli Stadium that the Brewers will get back up at the first time of asking.

As pre-season has gone on, it has become increasingly clear that Burton are working under financial constraints with Nigel Clough barely having enough bodies for an 18 man squad for their opening day game at home to Rochdale.

The lack of competition for places has become even more the case with Hope Akpan joining Bradford, Lloyd Dyer moving on whilst Kyle McFadzean and Matty Lund are attracting interest from rival clubs.

Scottish midfield duo Scott Fraser and David Templeton have arrived on frees from Dundee United and Hamilton Academical respectively, but this is a squad that just looks too light for anything other than a season of treading water.

The quality this small squad does have should see Burton clear of danger, but a few injuries are likely to see them relying on young inexperienced pros a bit too much for the liking of Nigel Clough.

Pre-season has not been kind to the Brewers with heavy defeats to Aston Villa, Alfreton Town and Cardiff City in the last 7 days, with 14 goals conceded in total. Their attackers still have real potency though, with a front four of Lucas Akins, Marvin Sordell, Liam Boyce and Templeton capable of terrorising League 1 defences.

Verdict: This is a good side on paper, and one that can hurt teams. But Burton only have Jake Buxton and Ben Fox in reserve in defence currently, which is an area of huge concern in a 50 game season. You just feel at some point this squad will crack and could go on a very bad run. For now, I am predicting the Brewers to be bang in mid-table, but don’t be surprised to see them lower.

Prediction: 13th

Charlton Athletic

The takeover at Charlton Athletic continues to rumble on, much to the annoyance of fans and Lee Bowyer, who is finally expected to be confirmed as manager on a 12 month contract. Bowyer will undoubtedly be frustrated that in the last month, only the experienced head of Darren Pratley has walked into an already small squad.

Pleasingly, centre-back Patrick Bauer remains at the Valley for now, but Josh Magennis has joined Bolton, a player who would have been pencilled in for Charlton’s League One curtain raiser against Sunderland at the Stadium of Light, live on Sky.

Nicky Ajose is also close to a move abroad which leaves Charlton looking short of players with 10 days left of the transfer window. Charlton have looked strong pre-season though, ending with an impressive 1-0 victory against Norwich, but the worry is that for a side with top 6 ambitions, Charlton’s lack squad of depth will be exposed, highlighted by 5 injuries to senior players ahead of the opening day.

Tarique Fosu in particular will be a key miss in the season’s early weeks. It may the case that Darren Pratley plays wide on the right, much sooner than Bowyer first thought, with Mark Marshall deputising for Fosu the other flank for the first few games of the new campaign. Jake Forster-Caskey and Joe Aribo will play in the middle with Karlan Grant partnering Lyle Taylor upfront, having impressed on loan at Crawley Town last season.

Verdict: Charlton will be very much nursing the above side through the first weeks of the season, and I can see them starting slowly. Once Fosu returns along with other long-term absentees, the depth will improve and Charlton will be stronger. A keeper is still needed to compete with Dillon Phillips, with no other senior keeper on the books, so at the moment Charlton look 1 or 2 players short of a playoff side. I still think they will go close though, and will finish in the top 8 of the league.

Prediction: 8th

Coventry City

Last month, I felt that the Sky Blues could well be an outside contender for the top 6. Whilst that opinion has not totally changed, the loss of 28-goal forward Marc McNulty to Reading without a replacement as of yet signed up is certainly enough to temper expectations.

Since last month, only left-back Brandon Mason has arrived – a player who will compete with Junior Brown for the left back slot, whilst Chris Stokes has moved on to Bury. Pre-season has taken a turn for the worse in recent weeks as well with losses in the final 3 pre-season games against Stevenage, Derby and West Brom on Saturday, with a first half performance that left manager Mark Robins furious, in a 5-2 defeat.

Quite how City are going to line up on opening day against Scunthorpe is a guess for many people, but you can be sure that Michael Doyle and Abu Ogogo will play in the middle, whilst Reise Allassani will likely play on the left after impressing in pre-season, dislodging home-grown Jordan Shipley.

I am going for Tony Andreu and Tom Bayliss to complete the trio playing behind Max Biamou to start with. City are still desperately trying to bring in another striker, after a protracted chase of Portsmouth’s Conor Chaplin, in the final week to add to those attacking options and replace McNulty’s goals.

I expect Dujon Sterling will start ahead of Jack Grimmer at full back, whilst Brown will get the nod ahead of Mason at left-back. Dom Hyam will likely partner Jordan Willis at centre half with Tom Davies suspended for the first two games and Rod McDonald likely to be sold.

Verdict: City have some good depth in midfield, and an outstanding talent in Tom Bayliss, but it is the sharp ends of the pitch that have made me think the top 6 itself may be stretching it as I had originally suggested. This is still a side capable of finishing in the top half and with the right additions in the next 10 days, City should have a good first season back in League One, with a good feeling about the club for the first time in ages.

Prediction: 11th

Doncaster Rovers

When Grant McCann was appointed last month, having replaced Darren Ferguson, I mentioned how I feared for Donny this season. Whilst not down to McCann, I’ve seen little to change my mind this pre-season.

Donny have not scored against league opposition in pre-season, with defeats to Birmingham, Grimsby and Sheffield United, despite encouraging performances, and I have a feeling that is a trend that will continue into the current campaign.

McCann has added the creative Ali Crawford from Hamilton this pre-season. Crawford may well start the campaign if he runs off a knock, which currently does not look likely, so Ben Whiteman may well get the nod ahead of him, with Matty Blair also pushing for a place.

Mallik Wilks has arrived from Leeds on loan too, but neither of the signings made this month really stand out, and it is becoming increasingly apparent why Ferguson decided to walk.

With Tommy Rowe captain for the new season, playing left in a diamond, player of the season just gone, Andy Butler at centre half, and in demand forward John Marquis in attack, Donny may have enough to get over the line.

They are likely to line up close to something like this for their opening day game away to Southend United, though this could also be a 4-3-3 with the same players with Wilks and the evergreen James Coppinger playing either side of Marquis:

Verdict: If Donny can buck their bad habits that saw them finish 2017/18 so poorly, then maybe they can turn over this prediction. Unlike the other 3 sides I am tipping for the drop, they do have some quality in key areas in this side, but I just have a suspicion they are in for a serious season of struggle. I see them completing the bottom four in 2018/19.

Prediction: 21st

Fleetwood Town

In the last preview, I mentioned that Fleetwood could well be a far better proposition by the time the season comes round, and that I think has come to pass.

Joey Barton is ambitious, as is the owner Andy Pilley, and their pre-season and final month of recruitment has gone very well. Chris Long and James Wallace have added good squad depth, but it is the loan signing of striker Ched Evans and Burnley midfielder Dean Marney that have really stood out.

With Cod producing some good young players at the moment, having good coverage all over the pitch, and having recorded emphatic victories in all of their pre-season games, notably against League 2 Tranmere Rovers and Morecambe, Fleetwood looked well positioned to challenge for the top 6 this time out.

Evans is likely to be flanked by Conor McAleny on the left and Wes Burns getting the nod ahead of Ashley Hunter, with the young talent coming back from injury. New signing Jason Holt may get the nod ahead of Kyle Dempsey to partner Marney in midfield. The back 5 looks far more solid to the one last season with Craig Morgan providing key experience in the centre of a back 3.

Verdict: Barton is here to get promoted, and it is worth remembering how close Fleetwood came to automatic promotion in 2016/17. This side has a lot of experience compared to the side which fell away so badly last season. I think the transition to the top 6 will be too much to ask, but this is a top 10 squad for sure. It is evidence of the competition at the top end of the league, that I am not forecasting Fleetwood higher.

Prediction: 9th

Gillingham

In the last month, Gills have added forward Brandan Hanlan to their squad whilst Callum Reilly has signed permanently from Bury. Pre-season had been going well until a 5-1 drubbing at the hands of Colchester United on Saturday, leaving one or two questions about the Priestfield outfit in the season ahead.

Steve Lovell is likely to play a 5-1-2-2 formation this season, with player of the season Mark Byrne playing in the anchor role flanked by Reilly and other new signing Dean Parrett with Josh Rees knocking on the door.

Gills lacked creativity last season and it will definitely be hoped that Reilly, Parrett and Rees can provide goals and assists from midfield. It is likely to be needed as both star strikers Tom Eaves and Conor Wilkinson will start the season on the sidelines with injuries.

Whilst Eaves will definitely play on his return, no date has yet been put on that, and Wilkinson seems apparently out of favour, leaving the Gills looking slightly light upfront. Josh Parker will definitely start upfront, with Hanlan his possible partner, though the Kent outfit may yet look to add another front man in this last week of the window.

The other big thing Gills need to do is to hold on to Tomas Holy, who as mentioned on the last review is one of the best keepers in League One with Premier League sides interested. With Eaves out for the foreseeable future, Gills may go with the below for their first game at Accrington and for the first few weeks of the campaign.

Verdict: Lovell installed good energy into the Gills, before the bad end to the season and with some good creativity added to the side, I do not see them in a relegation fight as it stands. Eaves’ injury is a worry though, and the longer he is out, and if Holy were to leave, the Gills may be looking over their shoulders.

Prediction: 17th

Luton Town

The Hatters have impressed in pre-season and have further added in the last month with the impressive loan acquisition of Jorge Grant. Nathan Jones’ side looked strong in their 2 most recent home friendlies, despite a 3-1 loss to Norwich, rounding off with a 2-0 win v Notts County on Saturday.

For most of this season, the Hatters are likely to go with a diamond 4-4-2 system that served them so well last season, but they are without the talismanic Danny Hylton for their mouthwatering opening day game at Portsmouth, leaving James Collins to lead the line by himself.

Town may go 4-3-3 on that opening day with that in mind, and line up similarly to how they did against the Magpies in their final pre-season match, with Elliott Lee and Harry Cornick flanking Collins, leaving Andrew Shinnie on the bench to start with.

The other debate is whether Luton pick new signing Sonny Bradley or Alan Sheehan at left-sided centre half to play with Matty Pearson. Judging by recent selections, and his new status as captain, Sheehan is the likely choice.

James Justin looks likely to play at right back as Jack Stacey is set to join West Brom in the week leading up to the new season, whilst Marek Stech may get the nod ahead of James Shea between the sticks.

Verdict: Many punters are backing the Hatters to be the strongest of the promoted sides, and with one week to go before the start of the season, I am one of them. I actually think with players like Sonny Bradley, Luke Gambin, Elliott Lee, Jake Jervis and Harry Cornick in reserve, Luton have a very strong squad. I believe they will make the top 6 in their first season back in the third tier.

Prediction: 5th

Oxford United

Last month, it was suggested a difficult season may lie in wait for Oxford. I am not quite so pessimistic about their chances one month later, but I do expect Karl Robinson’s side to be a bottom half outfit, with an outside chance of being dragged in to a dogfight.

In the last month, the U’s have added Luke Garbutt on loan at left back, which looks a very good addition and have added much-needed squad depth in the form of attacking midfielder Marcus Browne from West Ham and Northern Ireland winger Gavin Whyte. The arrival of Jamie Mackie is an interesting one.

He has started to show signs of slowing down, and has now dropped into League One. It’s likely he will add competition to the forward line, with new loan signing Sam Smith likely to lead the line away at Barnsley on the opening day. Pre-season saw an encouraging tour of Ireland before defeats against Crystal Palace at home and MK Dons away, last Friday.

The big factor for Oxford is the return to fitness of both Curtis Nelson and Rob Hall who will add some zest into a side that was poor in the second half of last season. Robinson is likely to play both in a 4-2-3-1 system at Oakwell on the 4th August where the notable absentees from last term are the now-sold duo of Ryan Ledson (Preston) and Joe Rothwell (Blackburn). Samir Carruthers will play on the left with James Henry likely pivotal in any success this season.

Verdict: Oxford do have some good technicians in this side. But they look like a team that could be quite easily rolled over at the same time. The lack of bite in the team is concerning and missing out on Jem Karacan in the last few days may be a sign this could be a frustrating campaign. A bottom half finish is the most likely outcome I feel.

Prediction: 16th

Peterborough United

Steve Evans has been one busy manager this summer. 15 players have arrived to date, and Evans still wants a couple more before the close of the window.

In the last month, Posh have been busy with Jack Marriott completing a multi-million pound move to Derby County, whilst winger Gwion Edwards has joined Ipswich Town. Jack Baldwin moved to Sunderland, whilst tricky winger Danny Lloyd went to big spending Salford City in the Conference.

During July, 6 have arrived including striker Jason Cummings on loan from Nottingham Forest, with Tyler Denton (LB), Adam King (CM), Josh Yorwerth (CB), Isaac Buckley-Ricketts (RW) and Callum Cooke (AM) also arriving. Marcus Maddison is awaiting a move away and won’t be considered until such a move is finalised, whilst Anthony Grant, Jermaine Anderson and Andrea Borg remain transfer listed. Posh have enjoyed a good pre-season on the whole but were beaten by Bolton Wanderers in their last pre-season friendly.

Evans’ side that day is a good indication of how Posh may line up v Bristol Rovers at home, though George Cooper may start ahead of new boy Denton further up on the left hand side with Colin Daniel at left back. They may still need another striker and centre back yet, so keep an eye on what happens at London Road before August 9th.

Verdict: The biggest question mark with Posh is simply whether will this squad gel quickly enough. If it does, it is packed with both depth and quality throughout, minus the need for one more striking option. The issue for Evans is having spent big, he may not be afforded as much time as most. But if he can get through a tough first quarter of the campaign, Peterborough will be hard to stop. I am backing them to gain automatic promotion this season as per the last review.

Prediction: 2nd

Plymouth Argyle

Plymouth have been basically ready to go for the new campaign for about a month now and Derek Adams has had a squad focussed on going one better than last time all throughout pre-season.

They had one set back last week, with on-loan goalkeeper Harry Burgoyne breaking his ankle. Argyle have moved swiftly though and have recruited Matt Macey on loan from Arsenal, and he will start for the Greens at Walsall on the opening day of the season.

Argyle have looked okay in pre-season but did lose at Yeovil, and their final game of their tour of Holland at Maastricht. However, the return to fitness of Ryan Taylor will be key in their success, who is so instrumental in bringing in creators Graham Carey and Ruben Lameiras into play, as seen in their fantastic form in the second half of last season.

David Fox will anchor again with Jamie Ness and new signing Conor Grant ahead of him, with Antoni Sarcevic still not ready for the new season. Ashley Smith-Brown may get the nod ahead of Gary Sawyer at left back, with Joe Riley at right back. Niall Canavan and Scott Wootton may provide a new look centre half partnership at the Bescot Stadium on August 4th.

Verdict: There is a lot to be said for going early in a transfer window and Derek Adams has done that better than most in the last couple of seasons. I like the look of the depth and coverage throughout this squad and though some of the names do not scream top quality in themselves, the work ethic and the magic of Carey gives them a chance. I think they will finish just outside the top 6 again, though they will be close.

Prediction: 7th

Portsmouth

Pompey are being widely tipped to be up and among those chasing promotion this time and you can see why. Kenny Jackett has kept the bulk of his squad that went so close to the playoffs in 2017-18 and has made some solid additions.

Since the last review, Pompey have added Anton Walkes permanently to the squad, taking their total to 6 additions so far in the window. Pompey have looked very solid in pre-season so far, and bar one defeat to Stevenage early on, they have followed that up with a victory at Swindon and impressive draws against Brighton and Utrecht in their final friendly on Saturday.

Pompey are still a couple of players short, particularly a creative player and a pacey striker, with Conor Chaplin earmarked for a move away. Jackett looks set to go with a 4-4-2 in the early weeks of the season, rather than 4-2-3-1, meaning central midfielder Ben Close may lose out to fellow academy graduate Brandon Haunstrup, who will play on the left, if Pompey are unsuccessful in their attempts to recruit further, with Lee Brown behind him at left back.

Jack Whatmough will be preferred to Christian Burgess next to Matt Clarke, whilst Walkes will join new boy Tom Naylor in midfield. Ronan Curtis looks set to start alongside Brett Pitman against Luton on the 4th August, rather than on the left, and Gareth Evans will deputise in the early weeks of the season as Jamal Lowe looks to recover from a sprained ankle. When Lowe returns, Pompey may look like this:

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Verdict: This Pompey side has power throughout it, and is going to be very hard to break down. You sense Pompey need a creative spark if they are to challenge for the top 2, and somebody else up top to help Pitman, but if they do get those final missing pieces they will go close to promotion. I am going for the play-offs as it stands.

Prediction: 4th

Rochdale

Rochdale found some great form at the end of last season to escape, and whilst I do expect them to be down the lower end of the league again, I think they will improve on their 20th place finish last time out.

Since the last review, Brad Inman has returned permanently from Peterborough which has bolstered Dale’s attacking options. They have enjoyed an impressive pre-season, winning every game including impressive victories over Hull, Middlesbrough and Tranmere Rovers last Saturday.

Keith Hill is looking likely to go with the 3 at the back system deployed in last season’s run to safety, when they pipped rivals Oldham Athletic to safety. Dale’s first game is a tough look encounter at the Pirelli Stadium against Burton Albion, but they could surprise a few in that particular game.

David Perkins and Callum Camps give a very solid look to the centre of the team, whilst Inman will play in a front 3 with Aaron Wilbraham and top scorer Ian Henderson. Dale’s concern may still be a leaky looking back line, despite MJ Williams’ permanent arrival.

The lack of goals beyond Henderson also remains a concern, which is why many are still tipping them to be down there. This is how they are likely to line up against the Brewers and beyond:

Verdict: If Dale can sort out their issues from last season at the back, and find some more firepower between now and the end of the window, mid-table is not beyond them. Camps and Perkins will be as strong as most central midfield partnerships in League one, but you just feel there is a little bit of weakness that will limit how high Dale can finish. I am going for another bottom 8 finish, but a slightly higher outcome than last time out.

Prediction: 18th

Scunthorpe United

After the last few seasons where Scunny have been on the verge of promotion to the Championship, falling short may be about to catch up with the Iron this time out.

The losses of Murray Wallace, Hakeeb Adelakun and most recently Conor Townsend to Championship sides are huge holes to fill in what looks like a very small squad. Nick Daws has added 5 players in this last month. Jon Flatt will provide competition for Rory Watson, with Matt Gilks out with a long-term injury, whilst Cameron Borthwick-Jackson has arrived from Manchester United on loan as Townsend’s replacement.

Up top, Stephen Humphrys has arrived after impressing at Rochdale in the second half of last season and versatile midfielders James Perch and James Horsfield have arrived from Wigan and NAC Breda respectively. Scunthorpe have looked goal shy in pre-season and were deeply disappointing in their final friendly at home to league 2 Lincoln City where they were beaten 1-0.

Perch’s signing in the last few days will hopefully address some obvious midfield frailties and will give Daws more confidence in the 4-2-3-1 system he’ll look to deploy. Cameron Burgess and Rory McArdle will likely be the first choice centre-backs, though Charlie Goode will deputise at Coventry with McArdle suspended.

Jordan Clarke will be key at right-back, as will Funso Ojo in midfield. Josh Morris and Duane Holmes will be the creative sparks again for the new look front pairing of Olofela Olomola and the aforementioned Humphrys.

Verdict: This Scunthorpe side looks weaker than the last few seasons, and with Ojo, Morris and Holmes still easing their way back to fitness, Scunny could be in for a slow start. They may sign a few between now and the deadline, but this looks like a season of transition after the last few where they have been challenging for promotion.

Prediction: 15th

Shrewsbury Town

After heartbreak last season, and a summer of losing midfielders, goalkeepers and a manager, Shrewsbury are ready to go again this time under the leadership of John Askey.

Askey has brought in 7 new faces since pre-season, with Joel Coleman and Steven Arnold the 2 new keepers at the New Meadow, with Coleman set to start as number 1.

Midfielders Josh Laurent, Alex Gilliead and Doug Loft have joined permanently from Wigan, Newcastle United and Port Vale, whilst Charlie Colkett has also joined from Chelsea on a season long loan.

Aaron Amadi-Holloway has also arrived from Oldham Athletic to bolster the fire-power of the Shrews front line, replacing Carlton Morris who is back at Norwich.

Askey looks set to go with a 4-4-2 in the opening games of the season and the Shrews have had a good pre-season in that system, drawing at Bristol City and beating Burnley before their 4-2 win at Port Vale on Saturday.

Despite the turnover, it is worth noting that 6 of the 11 that started the play-off final will start the season, along with last season’s top scorer Stefan Payne upfront.

Jon Nolan will pull the strings with Shaun Whalley wide and the back 4 that served them so well last year will all line up against Bradford on August 4th. Coleman (GK), Laurent (CM), Loft (LM) and Amadi-Holloway (ST) are the four new signings who are likely to complete the opening day XI.

Verdict: The loss of Abu Ogogo, Alex Rodman, Ben Godfrey, Carlton Morris, Joe Riley, Dean Henderson and Craig MacGillivray were big losses that needed replacing. Askey has had a very good go at doing that though, and the back 4 being the same along with Nolan and Whalley is promising. I think the play-offs may be beyond the Shrews but this is a side that can still compete in the top half. I think that is where they will just about finish too.

Prediction: 12th

Southend United

I mentioned in the last review what a job Chris Powell has done in turning around the fortunes at Southend United and the form they were in since his appointment only being bettered by the 3 promoted sides in last seasons league.

Southend impressed in a draw against Leeds in pre-season and former Ipswich Town midfielder Luke Hyam has been added to the squad by Powell in this last month. Powell seems settled on his first choice side for the opening game at home to Doncaster Rovers on Saturday.

New signing Harry Lennon will partner Michael Turner at centre back and Hyam will partner Sam Mantom in midfield with Dru Yearwood and Timothee Dieng on their way back to fitness.

Southend are still in the market for a winger and a striker, and had targeted a move for Julien N’Goy last week, though that move appears to have stalled in the last few days meaning the front four of Michael Kightly, Stephen McLaughlin, Simon Cox and new man Tom Hopper will all play on opening day at Roots Hall on Saturday.

Verdict: Southend seem to be in a similar position to promotion rivals like Peterborough, Portsmouth and to a lesser extent Sunderland in that they very nearly have a squad capable of going all out for promotion. They are probably a winger and a striker light to provide real competition for those front 4 spots. They will be very tough to break down, and have good quality. I think they may just fall short of automatic promotion, but I am tipping them to head up the play-off spots this year.

Prediction: 3rd

Sunderland

Jack Ross has tackled the scale of the job at Sunderland well in the last month, securing 5 new players. Left-back Reece James will bring title-winning experience from Wigan, whilst centre-backs Glenn Loovens and Jack Baldwin have vastly upgraded the options in the central defence.

Jerome Sinclair has arrived on loan from Watford, whilst the permanent signing of Wycombe’s midfield terrier Luke O’Nien is an excellent piece of business, and he is likely to slot into midfield immediately for the opening day game at home to Charlton Athletic.

Sunderland are still lacking a number 9 forward though, meaning the pursuit of Charlie Wyke will be significant in defining how the Black Cats season ends up.

Sunderland’s pre-season has gradually improved. Having started poorly, losing at Darlington, they won 6-0 at St. Mirren, and were playing well at Middlesbrough before the game was abandoned at half time at 0-0 due to adverse weather on Friday.

Dylan McGeouch is a doubt for opening day along with long-term absentees Aiden McGeady and Duncan Watmore. James and Tom Flanagan are also set to miss out, meaning Adam Matthews will go to left-back with Donald Love filling in at right-back.

George Honeyman may play deeper against Charlton with Josh Maja leading the line and Chris Maguire at 10. Lee Cattermole appears to have joined Didier N’Dong, Bryan Oviedo, Papy Djilibodji and Lamine Kone in the banished corner, as Sunderland seek to move on their high earners, with Wahbi Khazri, Joel Asoro and Callum McManaman already gone. Kone is likely to go to Strasbourg in the next few days, with the other 4 likely to follow before the August 9th deadline.

Beyond Charlton, Ross will play a 4-2-3-1, with new striker Charlie Wyke leading the line with 2 of Lynden Gooch, Sinclair and Maguire on the flanks, with the former two likely to be selected.

Verdict: Sunderland are in a much better position than a month ago, but are still not in a position to justify their tag as promotion favourites in my opinion. They are simply too strong to be anything less than top 6 candidates though. Wyke is a huge signing and I think they will now sneak into the top 6 even if they start slightly slowly. If they can move on the remaining big earners before the end of the deadline, and maybe sign another winger and striker that will be fantastic business.

Prediction: 6th

Walsall

Walsall are frankly looking like a bit of a mess going into the new season squad wise. They have not replaced Erhun Oztumer, or even added at all since pre-season returned.

To compound things, promising centre-back Kory Roberts suffered a horror double leg break in the pre-season loss to Stoke, leaving Jon Guthrie as the only fit senior centre back ahead of their opening game at home to Plymouth.

Youth defender Dan Vann is on standby for his league debut should nobody come in, though Dean Keates has had players on trial for the last 2 friendlies, including former Burton Albion man Tomas Egert, who may yet sign ahead of the game, with a loan move for Manchester United’s Regan Poole also muted in recent days.

Further up the pitch, things look a bit better. Andy Cook has shone so far in pre-season since his arrival from Tranmere, scoring both in a 2-0 win over a young Ajax side and in the 2-1 win at Cheltenham last Saturday in their final pre-season game.

Cook is likely to be supported by the attacking trio of Josh Ginnelly, Kieran Morris and Zeli Ismail with Morris playing in a number 10 capacity. Luke Leahy and Nicky Devlin will support with attacking runs from full back with George Dobson and Adam Chambers holding in midfield. Until a right-sided centre-back signs, the Saddlers will be going with this:

Verdict: I can only see Walsall struggling this season. They badly need new defenders with so little coverage there. Joe Edwards, Maz Kouhyar and Amadou Bakayoko add some coverage further forward and perhaps Keates can galvanise this squad to use their late season survival last time as a springboard to safety. I cannot see it though, and Walsall are my tip to finish bottom of League One in 2018/19.

Prediction: 24th

Wycombe Wanderers

Wycombe have endured a tough month in July with only 2 new faces coming in – and those being familiar ones. Curtis Thompson has signed a deal until January following his loan spell with Randall Williams also returning on loan for the season from Watford.

The Chairboys have suffered something of a hammer blow in losing Luke O’Nien to Sunderland, who would have been key in their bid to stay in League One in the season ahead. Wycombe have struggled for goals in pre-season and were beaten 2-0 at Havant and Waterlooville, before a 1-1 draw at Maidenhead in their final pre-season fixture, with Williams netting from the bench.

Gareth Ainsworth isn’t likely to change much in the way of shape in the season ahead. Matt Bloomfield is the likely candidate to step into O’Nien’s shoes with Dominic Gape and Sam Saunders in midfield. Adam El-Abd is likely to be partnered by new signing Darius Charles when fit, though Charles has not featured in pre-season, with Anthony Stewart likely to begin the campaign against Blackpool at Adams Park on Saturday.

Sido Jombati was preferred to Michael Harriman at right back in the last few friendlies, with a front 3 likely to consist of Nathan Tyson, Paris Cowan-Hall and Adebayo Akinfenwa. The beast is likely to be pivotal once again, at the age of 36, if Wycombe are to survive.

Verdict: O’Nien is a huge loss for Wycombe, and they will need to move to replace him in the last 10 days of the window. I also feel Wycombe are still a short of one central defender. If they can get those bodies, they may just have enough to stay up. I don’t see it though, and I am predicting them to make an immediate return to the fourth tier.

Prediction: 23rd

Predicted League One 2018/19 Table – Eve of New Season

1) Barnsley
2) Peterborough United
——————————————————
3) Southend United
4) Portsmouth
5) Luton Town
6) Sunderland
——————————————————
7) Plymouth Argyle
8) Charlton Athletic
9) Fleetwood Town
10) Bradford City
11) Coventry City
12) Shrewsbury Town
——————————————————
13) Burton Albion
14) Bristol Rovers
15) Scunthorpe United
16) Oxford United
17) Gillingham
18) Rochdale
19) Accrington Stanley
20) Blackpool
—————————————————–
21) Doncaster Rovers
22) AFC Wimbledon
23) Wycombe Wanderers
24) Walsall

Will Fisk 

Photo: Tommy McMillan

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