So its that time of the year again, that period of the season where everyone is full of hope and optimism, and all sides are tied on the same amount of points.
But who will finish where come May? Who will be falling through the trapdoor and who will be hoping to emulate last season’s champions Wigan Athletic?
Here is how I think the 2016-17 campaign may pan out…..
CHAMPIONS – Scunthorpe United
The Iron have a very canny gaffer in Graham Alexander, and they have added well to a squad that ended 2015-16 on fire. Last term they played their best football when the pressure wasn’t on, but if their new signings gel and they can hit the ground running, they seem to have enough quality in all areas to be very serious contenders.
Is that the Championship that way?
RUNNERS UP – Charlton Athletic
It’s always tricky to gage how relegated sides react the following season, but in Russel Slade the Addicks have a manager who is adept at working with what you may call ‘tricky’ owners. They have bought well, and in Lee Novak and Nicky Ajose they have two strikers who will always score goals at this level. An immediate return to the second tier could beckon.
3rd – Millwall
Will last seasons Play Off Final defeat have an adverse effect on Neil Harris’ charges? Perhaps for a while, but not for long enough to stop them having another real go at promotion. Harris knows the club and its values inside out, and if they can keep hold of Lee Gregory they will score plenty, but they may have to settle for a Play-Off once more.
Will the Lions learn from last season’s Wembley heart ache?
4th – MK Dons
For some reason the Dons could not quite replicate their free flowing football of 2014-15 in last season’s doomed foray into the Championship, but that is perhaps in no small part to the personnel they lost (a certain Delle Alli for one). However, Karl Robinson is a top boss at this level, and they will be there or thereabouts once again.
5th – Sheffield United
At times it seems as though the Blades are destined to stay in the third tier of the game for eternity, but in Chris Wilder they have a boss who won’t accept anything other than 150%, so any slackers will surely be sent packing. That hard working approach, coupled with a little bit of stardust from the likes of Che Adams, may see then finish inside the top six.
6th – GILLINGHAM
For five months last term automatic promotion was more than just a pipe dream. Sadly, a lack of adequate cover and a drastic loss of form – teams worked them out as they lurched between 4-4-2 and 3-5-2 – after Christmas saw the Gills slip out of promotion contention entirely come May. So has Justin Edinburgh learned some lessons? His recruitment on the whole has been good – Paul Konchesky, Billy Knott and Mark Byrne all look shrewd ‘freebies’– but sadly pre-season injuries to Scott Wagstaff and Lee Martin have – for now – meant a change of system is perhaps on the backburner. These setbacks, plus an alarming lack of central defenders, will need addressing, but if Edinburgh can bring in the right type of reinforcements then another shot at the Play-Offs is possible. Don’t though, and a return to lower mid-table obscurity may beckon.
Ex England left back Paul Konchesky will add vital experience to Gills’ backline.
7th – Peterborough United
The Posh look well equipped for a shot at the Play-Offs, and their policy of buying young talented players has continued (I have personally rated Ryan Tafazolli for a while) this summer. A lack of managerial experience for Grant McCann may see then come up just short though.
8th – Oxford United
Depsite the loss of Kemar Roofe, Oxford look well equipped to cope with the step up a division. They took on and beat three higher ranked opponents in cup games last term, so if they are able to do that on a more consistent basis then they may end up the highest of the three promoted sides.
9th – Bolton Wanderers
The heady days of Premier League and European football must seem a lifetime ago now, but Phil Parkinson is a very good appointment for a club that needs stability. Losing young Rob Holding to Arsenal is a blow, and Zach Clough could yet depart, but the money will help, and Parkinson’s know how will see them comfortably consolidate this season.
10th – Coventry City
I said last season that the Sky Blues were punching above their weight when they appointed Tony Mowbray, and that he and the goals of Adam Armstrong could see them challenging. For months this looked on, until an horrendous collapse saw them drift away. This season there is no Armstrong, and they won’t be allowed the luxury of 12 loanees. They have to start well or Mowbray could be on thin ice.
11th – Rochdale
A club and a gaffer that deserve huge credit, the Dale and Keith Hill have done remarkably well for the last two seasons. On a tiny budget Hill gets his staff playing to their strengths, and although they may lack the star quality to barge into the top six, they will enjoy another campaign mixing it in the top half.
Keith Hill – passionate and underrated in equal measure.
12th – Shrewsbury Town
I believe I backed the Shrews for relegation last term, so a big well done to Micky Mellon and his staff. The trick now is avoiding the dreaded second season syndrome, but they look well equipped to improve on the efforts of 2015-16. Mellon has added plenty of League One ready players to his squad, and they should enjoy a more comfortable campaign.
13th – Northampton Town
Losing both your manager and star player so soon after a runaway title success is obviously a bitter pill to swallow, especially as both Chris Wilder and Ricky Holmes will now be direct opponents. However, momentum is a wonderful thing, and this coupled with the fact that Robert Page did a fine job at Port Vale last season should ensure a trouble free campaign for the Cobblers.
14th – Bristol Rovers
Darren Clarke has done a fine job in his time at the club, and the fact that this summer he turned down Leeds United means he looks set on sticking around for the foreseeable future. One player they would love to keep is Matty Taylor – top scorer last season – as his goals could be vital again. However, at the time of writing Fulham are rumoured to be sniffing around. Keep him and they’ll be fine, but lose him and it may be a slightly tougher nine months ahead.
Matty Taylor staying could be vital to Rovers’ ambitions for 2016-17.
15th – Bradford City
The Bantams had a fine season in 2015-16, but now have to deal with losing in the Play-Offs and their esteemed manager Phil Parkinson departing for Bolton. Stuart McCall is clearly a popular appointment with the Valley Parade faithful, but whether he can irk as much from this hardworking but far from flashy squad as Parkinson did remains to be seen.
16th – Southend United
Fans of the Shrimpers would probably have taken 14th place at the start of last season, but they may not finish as high this term. Plenty of players have left, most notably Jack Payne, and the fact that they have handed Nile Ranger a contract may give an idea of where they are in terms of a real goal threat.
17th – Chesterfield
Last season was one of struggle for the Spirites, and this coming campaign will be no different. Danny Wilson knows the English lower leagues like the back of his hand and will try to recruit the correct type of player. However, Lee Novak’s goals on loan played a big part in them staying up, so will Ched Evans – who hasn’t played professionally for four years – or others be able to step up?
Ched Evans returns to the pro game. Controversial or a clever bit of business?
18th – Walsall
At times last season the Saddlers were almost unplayable, and to come so close to automatic promotion and then miss out altogether must have been a real gut wrencher. That hurt must now have been compounded for the fans having to see Tom Bradshaw, Romaine Sawyers and Sam Mantom all leave the club, so 2016-17 looks set to be one of rebuilding. Is boss Jon Whitney tactically strong enough for that job? We will find out.
19th – Bury
Money is clearly a big issue currently at Gigg Lane, so due to that you have to admire manager David Flitcroft for his work in getting Bury into League One and then keeping them there over the last two campaigns. This one may prove trickier still though with the purse strings so tight and the recent departure of Leon Clarke, whose 18 goals kept his side away from choppier waters last season.
20th – AFC Wimbledon
As soon as the fixtures for this season were released two games would have stuck out for the ‘real‘ Wimbledon fans; MK Dons home and away. But 2016-17 should be about more than just that, because staying in this division will surely equal a successful campaign as they continue their rise back up the football pyramid. Neil Ardley is highly thought of as a coach, and should have enough nous to keep this side up.
After the euphoria of Wembley, staying up must be the aim for Wimbledon.
21st – Fleetwood Town
Last term the Cod Army stayed up by the skin of their teeth, at the same time having to watch the man who Steven Pressley replaced –Graham Alexander – nearly make the Play-Offs with his new side Scunthorpe. Pressley has himself now left the club, and German Uwe Rosler has recently been appointed. However, after a bright start in the English game with Brentford he has since struggled at both Wigan and Leeds.
22nd – Port Vale
After a solid effort in 2015-16, Vale look like they’re back to square one having lost their manager Rob Page to now direct rivals Northampton Town. He had done a fine job over the last 18 months or so, and the CV of his replacement Bruno Ribeiro is hardly glowing. Key players have also left the club during the summer, and if they start slowly they could be in real trouble.
23rd – Oldham Athletic
Onto their sixth manager in under two years tells its own story, and new Latics boss Steve Robinson will pull off something of a small miracle if he can keep this side up again. He has the opportunity to put his own stamp on things immediately, inheriting just six senior pros, but whether he has the time or experience for them to gel sufficiently remains to be seen.
24th – Swindon Town
Since losing to Preston at Wembley in the 2014-15 Play-Off Final, Swindon have struggled to recover. Their squad quickly broke up and then their gaffer Mark Cooper was dismissed as their hangover lasted through until the Autumn of last year. Sadly there has still been no real evidence of the slide being stopped, and further departures mean this could be a long arduous campaign.
So there it is, my thoughts on who will excel, who will struggle and who will exceed or not fulfill expectations.
I hope you don’t all agree, as that would be boring, but I do hope you enjoyed the read.
Here’s to another exciting League One season!!