The 200% Pre-Season Previews: League One
With the Championship starting last night, the Football League season is already underway, but League One kicks off later this afternoon. And after a season where so many sides looked strong at the top, there don’t appear to be any sides as strong as those that won promotion last season. With no real makeweights on paper either, we could well be in for one of the tightest division for a while. So, sit back, and let Rob Freeman take you through the changes to the teams, with League Two’s preview coming up in the next couple of hours…
Bournemouth start the season with a strike force containing experienced Dutchman Frank Demouge, and Josh McQuoid, who returns after spending just under two years at Millwall, McQuoid’s ex-Lions teammate Lewis Grabban (via Rotherham). Eunan O’Kane and Richard Hughes arrive from different sides of the South coast to compete in midfield, while lynchpin centre-half Miles Addison makes last season’s loan permanent. Shaun Cooper, Michael Symes and Mattheiu Baudry head the departees, and Paul Groves looks to start the season with a stronger side than he inherited, and that makes the Cherries an outside bet for the playoffs.
Brentford’s signings have been a mixed bunch, with experienced midfielder Tony Craig arriving from Millwall, youngsters Harlee Dean and Adam Forshaw making their loan spells permanent, and unknown quantities in midfielder Stuart Dallas (from Crusaders) and Moroccan forward Farid Al Alagui (Falkirk). Karleigh Osborne, Marcus Bean and Gary Alexander are the main departures, with the rest of those leaving dropping a division. The squad looks a little weaker as a result, but Rosler’s style appears to be a long term building plan, and if he can repeat or better last seasons ninth place finish (Brentford’s best in six years), and the fans stay patient, this season will be a stepping stone.
Bury were very much the surprise package last season, despite losing their best two players Ryan Lowe and Mike Jones to Sheffield Wednesday, but their signings this summer reflect their resources. Ex-Doncaster defender Adam Lockwood is their main signing, while Trevor Carson makes his move from Sunderland permanent. Forward Lateef Elford-Alliyu also signs permanently, leaving winger Marcus Marshall as their only outfield new face. On the plus side, the Shakers have only lost fringe players in the summer, but with long-serving Andy Bishop the only forward who looks to have a lot of goals in him, if he has any injury problems, Bury could struggle.
Carlisle United have gone for continuity, with just three in and three out. Veteran forwards Danny Cadamarteri and Mike Edwards (who left Notts County after eight years in the summer) add to a forward line that looks to be more about creation that scoring. Italian defender Alessio Bugno arrives from Monza, but the loss of Francois Zoko and Lubomir Michalik will hurt the defence, and Tom Taiwo’s decision to leave the club for family reasons, leaves a gap in midfield that is yet to be filled. Greg Abbott has a lot of work to do to stop the Cumbrians struggling.
Colchester United’s summer transfer policy has been all about the midfield and strikeforce. In the middle, Marcus Bean brings experience from Brentford, while Merrick James-Lewis moves from the opposite end of Essex – however he seems to be one for the future. Up front is a similar story, with much travelled Clinton Morrison joining from Sheffield Wednesday, and ex-West Ham forward Freddie Sears making last season’s loan move permanent. The U’s biggest losses are keeper Ben Williams, and forward Steven Gillespie, and while the latter has been comfortably replaced, John Ward has enough faith in Academy graduate Mark Cousins to start the season with him as first choice. The U’s were just outside the playoff race last season, but look to have the quality to be in hunt for the final promotion place.
Coventry City play in the third tier of English football for the first time in just under 50. The versatile Kevin Kilbane (from Hull) and forward Stephen Elliott (from Hearts) are the two most well-known signings. Midfielders Steve Jennings and John Fleck arrive from Scotland, and French centre-halves Kevin Malaga and William Edjenguele come from Nice and Panetolikos respectively. Midfielder Adam Barton is the only player who has been bought (from Preston). There has been a fair exodus from the Ricoh, with James McPake and Gary Deegan joining Hibernian, Gael Birgimania leaving for Newcastle, Richard Keogh moving to Derby and Jonson Clarke-Harris departing for Peterborough. With such a turnover in such a short space of time, and manager Andy Thorn still trying to learn the ropes in trying circumstances, the Sky Blues may have to wait for a promotion challenge.
Crawley Town secured back to back promotions, despite selling strikers Matt Tubbs and Tyrone Barnett. Conference sides have found that if they spend big before they arrive in the league, they can sell again after promotion, with the resulting sales enabling them to spend while keeping within the lower league salary caps. Richie Barker is the second new manager to arrive over the summer, but it was his predecessor Sean O’Driscoll who made all the summer signings so far. At the back, Paul Jones arrives in goal from Peterborough, and Mat Sadler is the new left back. Young defender Mark Connolly arrives from Bolton, Shaun Cooper and Nicky Adams add to the midfield, with Gary Alexander providing experience in attack. Dean Howell is the main departure (on a free transfer to League newboys Fleetwood Town), and with such upheaval, Crawley are probably the toughest team in the division to predict.
Crewe Alexandra’s headline grabbing transfer saw Nick Powell join Manchester United for £4million. Steve Davis has been able to spend as a result, and defender Mark Ellis (from Torquay), midfielder Michael West (Ebbsfleet) and forward Mathias Pogba (Wrexham) are all purchases, and all stereotypical Crewe players Ghanaian midfielder Abdul Osman, and Chesterfield defender Gregor Robertson complete the arrivals. As well as Powell, Shaun Miller left the Railwaymen for bigger things (joining Sheffield United), but the rest of the departures all found themselves outside of Davis’ plans last season, but the loss of Powell and Miller will hit Crewe hard, and they will struggle.
Arriving in the opposite direction are Doncaster Rovers. The first half of last season was all about bad luck and injuries, while the second half was poor judgment. This was at it’s most evident with the appointment of agent Willie Mackay as a consultant, which saw a number of his clients arrive at the club, leaving Rovers with a squad full of quantity, rather than quality. Manager Dean Saunders has a lot to prove, with seven signings looking to impress. Rob Jones, Paul Quinn and Jamie McCombe look to add quality, and most importantly consistency to the defence, while Billy Paynter, and the experienced Robbie Blake give Saunders some intriguing options up front. Midfielders David Cotterill and Dave Syers complete the incoming players. George Friend, James O’Connor and Brian Stock are the biggest losses out of over a dozen departures, as well as the long serving James Hayter, Sam Hird and Adam Lockwood. There’s too much of an overhaul to challenger for automatic promotion, but as long as the squad settles early, a playoff place is not out of the question.
Hartlepool United have done little during the summer, but the signings they have made look to be strong. Simon Walton has a wealth of midfield experience, despite only being 24, while Steve Howard has scored 150 goals since he left Victoria Park in 1999. while young midfielder Jonathan Franks looks to be an astute signing as well. Gary Liddle (Notts County) and James Brown (Gateshead) are the only two players to leave, and as a result Hartlepool could be this season’s surprise package.
Leyton Orient flirted too close to the relegation zone for comfort last season, and Russell Slade will need to improve. The signings look useful, with keeper Ryan Allsop (Millwall) defenders Mathieu Baudry (Bournemouth), Nathan Clarke (Bury), Gary Sawyer (Bristol Rovers), midfielders Anthony Griffith (Port Vale), Lloyd James (Crawley) and forward Michael Symes (Bournemouth) arriving to beef the squad up. George Porter, Matthew Spring, Dean Leacock and Jamie Cureton all depart, and the O’s will need to gel early, if they are to avoid a repeat of last season’s relegation battle.
Notts County are another side who have gone for quantity, when it comes to squad turnover, with manager Keith Curle bringing in an entire team of players. Southampton reserve keeper Bartosz Bialkowski becomes the Magpies number one. Meadow Lane also sees an entirely new back four with fullbacks Dean Leacock and Tom Williams complimenting centre-halves Carl Regan and Manny Smith. Gary Liddle, Jamal Campbell-Ryce and the promosing Joss Labadie provide the new midfield, while Francois Zoko Enoch Showunmi and Yoann Arquin are the three new forwards, Fourteen players were released, including Mike Edwards, who had racked up over 300 appearances, but he and Ben Burgess (Tranmere) are the only freed players to have so far stayed in the division, suggesting that Curle has got at least half of the equation right. The biggest question marks hang over the manager more than the team at this stage, with his spells at Mansfield, Chester and Torquay not exactly setting the world on fire. He has led the Magpies to more wins in three months than he managed in a year at Chester and Torquay combined, which suggests that he has used the last five years wisely and has learned from his mistakes. But with such a turnover, County may have to settle for mid-table, rather than a playoff push.
Oldham Athletic are opposites, in that just two of their permanent signings have League experience. Left back Jonathan Grounds looks to establish himself at a club, having spent most of his Middlesbrough career being loaned out, while centre-half Cliff Byrne arrives at Boundary Park having spent the last nine years at Scunthorpe. Midfielder Lee Croft also joins on a season-long loan from Derby. Kieran Lee has left for Sheffield Wednesday, and Milwall have signed Chris Taylor, but everyone else who has left the Latics has been via the club’s released list, and none of the nine have found new clubs. The squad is significantly smaller, and if injuries hit, Oldham may find themselves no longer being the longest established side in League One.
At the time of writing, Portsmouth’s future is not assured, and their League Cup tie in midweek saw keeper Simon Eastwood, and veteran defender Ashley Westwood as the only players aged over eighteen. Ten players have arrived since, on short term contracts (the highlights being Brian Howard, Luke Rodgers, Izale McLeod and Jon Harley), but you have to wonder how many of those are using the situation to keep fit, and use Pompey as a shop window, with every existing pro leaving the club for pastures new. Either way, the biggest news for the club will be how it fares off the pitch, so the club’s fortunes on the pitch, are likely to be incidental.
Another club whose off-field matters have been a sideshow over the summer is Preston North End, with all manner of alleged comments being attributed to manager Graham Westley and current and various players. The club has also had as much upheaval as Portsmouth. Seventeen players arrived (including keeper Richard Wright who left after a few days) over the summer, which is a contrast to Westley’s usual tactic of bringing in five players each summer. These include four of his ex-Stevenage players (defender Scott Laird, midfielders Joel Byrom and John Mousinho, and forward Chris Beardsley), keeper Steve Simonsen, defenders Shane Candsell-Sherriff, Paul Huntington and David Buchanan, midfielders Nicky Wroe, Keith Keane and Lee Holmes, and forwards John Welsh, Lee Trundle, Akpo Sodje and David Amoo. A massive 23 players left Deepdale, including the retiring Graham Alexander and Neil Mellor, with Jamie Proctor (Swansea), Paul Coutts (Derby) Danny Mayor (Sheffield Wednesday), Brian McLean (Dundee United) likely to be missed the most. Like other clubs with such an turnover, it will be a season of transition and consolidation, but the noises coming out of the club last season will need to improve otherwise Preston could continue to slide.
Scunthorpe United were surprise strugglers last season, and Alan Knill has brought in a handful of free transfers in order to reverse the club’s fortunes. Callum Kennedy, Christian Ribeiro, David Mirfin and Tom Newey form a new back four, with midfielder Josh Walker and forward Mike Grella the other main captures. Josh Lillis, Cliff Byrne, Michael O’Connor, Sam Togwell, Garry Thompson and Andrew Wright head the list of eleven players leaving the club. The Iron’s problem last season was scoring rather than conceding, but doesn’t look to have been address, so a repeat of last season seems likely.
Sheffield United eventually lost the playoff final last season, and having lost Ched Evans for the last few games after he was jailed, and James Beattie for the playoffs through suspension, it seems that the area that the Blades need to strengthen most was the forward line. Shaun Miller (Crewe) and Nick Blackman (Blackburn) arrive as forward options, but neither can be described as prolific based on past performances. The rest of the signings are defenders, with Matt Hill, Darryl Westlake and Tony McMahon being the three new additions. As well as Evans and the released James Beattie, nine other players leave. With Matthew Lowton’s departure for Aston Villa being the only sale, and Chris Morgan retiring, the other leaving players were all released, with Lee Williamson and Steve Simonsen being the main names. With the front line lacking a goalscorer, Sheffield United will need to bring a striker, if they’re going to push for promotion.
Shrewsbury Town return to the third tier, and veteran manager Graham Turner looks to have signed wisely, as the club look to consolidate. Rob Purdie is signed from local rivals Hereford, while keepers Chris Weale and Joe Anyon will have a good battle for the keeper’s jersey, winger Paul Parry will look to put his difficult spell at Preston behind him, while midfielder Luke Summerfield has great experience at this level. Aaron Wildig and Elliott Turner look to be signings for the future. Shane Candsell-Sherrif, Nicky Wroe (both Preston) and Carl Regan (Notts County) look to be the biggest departures of the nine that left the New Meadow over the summer.
Gary Smith’s first season as Stevenage manager has been busy, with eleven players arriving. Midfielder James Dunn (Exeter), defender Bondz Ngala (Yeovil) and forward Lucas Akins (Tranmere) are all purchases, with defenders David Gray, Lee Hills, midfielder Filipe Morais and forward Marcus Haber the main signings. A lot of last season’s squad have left, with Scott Laird, Joel Byrom, John Mousinho, and Chris Beardsley reuniting themselves with former manager Graham Westley at Preston, and nine players being released (including Phil Edwards, Darren Murphy, Stacy Long and Jennison Myrie-Williams). Lawrie Wilson, Michael Bostwick and Craig Reid have all been sold for undisclosed amounts, and with such an overhaul at such a small club, it could be a long season, unless Gary Smith’s appointment turns out to be as inspired as it was unexpected.
Swindon Town return to the third tier, and like last season Paolo Di Canio brings in a lot of players with experience at this level – midfielders Tommy Miller and Gary Roberts both played in the play-off final for Huddersfield, which appears to be the Robin’s target. Alan Navarro (Brighton) also strengthens the midfield, and Yeovil’s prolific Andy Williams adds to the many striking options with other new arrival James Collins (from Shrewsbury), while Troy Archibald Henville (Exeter), and ex-loanee Jay McEveley are the defensive signings. Twelve players depart, with Callum Kennedy (Scunthorpe) the only player staying at this level, and Billy Bodin (Torquay) the only one to leave for a fee. Swindon had a large squad last season, so the departures shouldn’t pinch the club too hard.
Tranmere Rovers continue to beat the odds, as one of the lowest-resourced teams in the division, with defender Paul Black (Oldham), and midfielder Danny Harrison (Rotherham) the only experienced new faces. Ben Burgess was the only forward signing, but subsequently retired before making his debut, feeling that he couldn’t contribute at 100%. Jason Wallace makes his loan from Everton permanent. John Welsh, David Buchanan, Enoch Showunmi, Joss Labadie and Lucas Akins head the departures, so new manager Ronnie Moore knows he will have a fight on his hands to stay up.
Walsall look to improve on their recent lower mid-table finishes by bringing in four new defenders in James Baxendale (Doncaster) Dean Holden (Rochdale), Ben Purkiss (Hereford), Paul Downing (West Bromwich Albion), and midfielder Nicky Featherstone from Hereford. Up front they add former Wolves trainee Ashley Hemmings and ex-Manchester United trainee Fabian Brandy. Emmanuel Ledesma, Mat Sadler, Darryl Westlake head the list of departures. The backline obviously looks stronger, but the Saddlers don’t have a proven goalscorer, and if that isn’t rectified, they may well struggle.
Yeovil Town look to finish higher than last season’s lower midtable finish, and their most important signing is likely to be keeper Marek Stech, with the club not having a permanent number one last season, and using five keepers (four of which were loanees). The stability of playing in front of the same keeper each week will help the club, and new defenders Jamie McAllister (Bristol City), Byron Webster (Northampton) Nathan Ralph (Peterborough). James Hayter (Doncaster) and Reuben Reid (Oldham) will form a new forward line, with Lewis Young (Northampton), Keanu Marsh-Brown (Oldham) and Sam Foley (Newport) the midfield arrivals. Seven players leave, with Bondz Ngala (Stevenage) the only sale. Nathan Jones leaves for Charlton, while Paul Huntington and Andy Williams rejected contract renewals, with the latter likely to be the most missed departure, and Hayter will need to settle quickly if Yeovil are to improve.
Let Rob Freeman know he’s missed that French trialist who you’ll almost certainly be releasing on Monday on Twitter by clicking here.
You can follow Twohundredpercent on Twitter by clicking here.