Bolton Wanderers Season Preview

Key player: Eoin Doyle

Whilst noting that Doyle hasn’t always hit the same heights in the third tier than in the forth, 19 goals for the 33 year old last season takes his tally up to forty four in two seasons,so despite turning 34 next year, Doyle is coming off two seasons of top form. That’s not to say that Doyle hasn’t succeeded in league one either, a runner up to his career best tally at Swindon is 21 goals at Chesterfield in this division for the 2014/15, ultimately earning a January move to Championship club Cardiff City.

Also scoring 14 goals at Oldham Athletic in 2017/18 in this division, Bolton fans can be hopeful that the number nine can once again hit double figures, especially in a system revolved around creating chances.

See the whole League One Season Preview 2021/22

Manager: Ian Evatt

The 2019/20 season was a very successful one for Ian Evatt, the former Defender was gaining national attention, for his work at National league Barrow. Evatt had smashed assumptions into pieces that the National League was only for teams who play a direct, physical style of football.

With an intricate fluid style where passing was paramount, the young coach played a high pressing, 3-4-1-2 formation, in which he cited Pep Guardiola and former manager Ian Holloway as his biggest influences on style.

So, naturally when Barrow were confirmed as champions on PPG for their first promotion to the Football League in 48 years there was lots of speculation of whether Evatt would move on to test his abilities on a bigger stage.

Bolton Wanderers came calling, a club with history of European nights in the Allianz Arena and being home football legends including Jay-Jay Okocha, Nicholas Anelka and Fernando Hierro.
That would be hard to turn down wouldn’t it, a club and fanbase wounded from the toil of administration, newly relegated to League Two, but fresh from the hope of new ownership, ambition and identity.
With that and a club the size of Bolton Wanderers, comes expectation and expectation for the best players.

So in comes top scorer for 19/20 in League Two, Eoin Doyle on a transfer from Bradford City after he scored 25 Goals in just 34 games on loan at eventual champions Swindon Town.

Midfielder Antoni Sarcevic arrives from Argyle too after being arguably the standout player in The Pilgrims promotion campaign, finishing with a healthy 11 goals and 6 assists in all competitions and appointed captain.
So some star signings, but as we’ve seen at all levels of football, spending big money and signing the best players doesn’t always work if they don’t suit the team’s style.

After a slow start of just three wins in ten matches, pressure began to build on Evatt and new captain and Sarcevic, who was being used as an attacking midfielder instead of the number eight position where he had just excelled the season before for Argyle. By the end of the January, Bolton were languishing in 19th, 14 points off top spot and pressure was at his highest for Evatt, who seemed to be the conversation of lower league Football Twitter.

Bolton looked to be heading for another season in league two, and their manager’s future in huge, but a remarkable run of 14 wins in 19 starting with a 1-0 win over Stevenage on the 13th of February, conceding just twelve in the process meaning Bolton went into the last day of the season having to win at Crawley to clinch automatic promotion. They did with ease a 1-4 win including a goal from Sarcevic. The most unlikely turn around had happened, Bolton had gone up in third. The dour mood had been turned into ecstasy in just two and a half months and Bolton can now go into the next season optimistic, having kept all of their key players at the time of writing this article.

Rock: Ricardo Santos

The Portuguese centre back joined from National League club Barnet at the start of 2019/20, being one of the few standout performers throughout for the Trotters. As of February 2021, Santos was top of the list for % of challenges won with 79% or 398 out of 505 and was also high up on the list for % of passes completed throughout the season.

Quick, strong and only 26 years of age, Santos was included in the PFA team of the season for 2019/20 Bolton have done well to keep to keep the centre back at the club for this season, and Bolton fans can surely look forward to the whites’ number 5 playing another key role this season.

Key transfer: Josh Sheehan

The main man for Newport County over the last five years, Sheehan is a really talented and composed midfielder, able to play in the deeper role or further forward. Much of Newport’s success over that time (getting to the league two play off final in 2019 and 2021) has been based on letting Sheehan on the ball, and he was captain for the amber army last season where they fell at the last hurdle to Morecambe in extra time.

The 26 year old could also consider himself unlucky to have missed out on the final Wales squad for Euro 2020 after being included in numerous squads over the last year, making two caps.

If Sheehan can make his impact on this Bolton side I feel that they could really benefit from his talent, both in transition with quick passing and going forward.

Target: Top-half

Having won promotion last season, that was obviously the start of Bolton’s aim to return to the top. However, after a whirlwind few years I feel that Bolton should aim for consolidation first and see what comes after that. Ultimately there are stronger more experienced clubs in this division for me to give anything other than a top half target. If they find themselves around the top half of the league with a few weeks to go and feel that they can push for the playoffs, great but I would air on the side of caution first of all.

 

Previous: Accrington Stanley Next: Burton Albion

 


League One Season Preview 2021/22

Accrington Stanley Season Preview

Key player: Dion Charles

After battling with Colby Bishop for the title of star striker at Accrington in 2020, Charles kicked things up a notch last season and ended the season with 19 goals as the league’s fifth top scorer, an outstanding tally in only his second season as a professional, first-team footballer after he joined from Southport in 2019. 

Alongside Bishop, the duo must form one of the best strike partnerships in the league, with Charles adding three assists, compared to Bishop’s 10 goals and five assists. A dangerous partnership indeed. Given how Accrington can tend to rely on goals on the counter, Charles provides a nice balance of strenght, speed and dribbling, in addition to his excellent finishing last year, to exploit the spaces that Coleman’s approach creates for him.

See the whole League One Season Preview 2021/22

Manager: John Coleman

Can anyone remember a time when John Coleman wasn’t the manager of Accrington Stanley? The Scouser has spent 20 of the last 22 years in charge at the club, with spells at Rochdale, Southport and Sligo Rovers between 2012 and 2014 the only instances of a break away from the Lancashire club. Of all the managers across the Football League, there is a case to say he is the most synonymous with a single club.

Now 58, it’s easy to see why Coleman is so revered amongst the Stanley hierarchy. His first spell saw the club win three promotions to make it back to the Football League in 2006, and another success followed in 2018 to see Stanley into League One for the very first time, and record their highest ever finish in the English football pyramid last year, ending in the top half of the table. All of this has come with a backdrop of uncertainty – Stanley have gone into the season as relegation favourites for more or less the last decade, and made it through the financial hit from Covid. Coleman’s win ratio of north of 40% in that time is nothing short of remarkable. [editor’s note, this is almost the same entry as last year, but it was so perfect that there’s no need to change it.]

Leader: Seamus Conneely

It’s hard not to include Conneely in this preview after the strong season he had last time out. Though aged 33, Conneely is not only the leader in the team, but he is still producing performances that justify his inclusion despite the fact he’s seemingly heading towards the final years of his career. Though Accrington were hardly watertight at the back – only seven teams conceded more – his efforts to screen the back four were strong. In fact, during a five game period he was absent for in March, 17 goals were shipped, a quarter of the goals let in over Accrington’s entire season!

A lot of Coleman’s success has come from his faith in the right players, leaders on the pitch who stay calm under pressure, guide others through the 90 minutes, and grind out results, despite a limited squad and often a lack of quality in the team. Conneely is just the latest in a long line of players to lead the team in this regard.

Key transfer: Harry Pell

Is this the first time in a long time that Accrington have improved their squad on paper between the end of one season and the start of the next? Sure, Accrington have improved their teams over the years, but it’s seems to me that they usually do this by unearthing gems that few others would look at. Either way, Pell and John O’Sullivan – vital to Morecambe’s promotion last season – appear to be excellent pieces of business, plus the inevitably non-league gem that will have been uncovered that I currently have never heard of.

Pell himself is a hard-working, box-to-box midfielder who should fit in with Accrington’s approach. He adds height from set-pieces, is a composed passer, and makes good late runs into the box that have helped him average five goals per-season over the past five years in League Two. All in all, a neat fit for this team to improve the overall quality of the team and their squad.

Target: Top-half

Predicting relegation for Accrington is par for the course, so it’s only natural that the first time this website doesn’t put them down as attempting to avoid relegation they’ll inevitably be relegated. Either way, I like the look of this Accrington team. Often it can be hard to predict where they’ll finish because they’ve signed players from non-league that we don’t know anything about, or they’ve lost some of their best players. However, this season, they’ve signed players that we do know a bit about.

In fact, if Argyle had a put a team like this together (with a little extra star quality), I’d be thinking we’d have an outside shot at the play-offs. It looks hard working, mentally strong and functional, with enough creative quality and a good manager. I know it’s a tough looking league, but that’s all on paper – some of the supposed big hitters are going to be found out to be living on reputation, budget and fanbase rather than the quality of their squad. I think that Accrington are going to manage back-to-back top half finishes in League One.

 

Next: Bolton Wanderers

 


League One Season Preview 2021/22

Crewe Alexandra Season Preview

Key player: Charlie Kirk

I feel like I write the season preview for Crewe every year, and every year I make the same joke about Charlie Kirk sharing a name with an American right-wing ‘activist’ with a tiny tiny face. Has the joke gotten old by now? I’ll let the editors decide. [editor’s note: no.]

Anyway, much like previous campaigns, Kirk remains vital to Crewe’s prospects. He made 53 appearances for the side in all competitions last season, involving himself in 16 goal contributions (7G, 9A). Only striker Mikael Mandron managed more. Argyle fans may also recall that Kirk scored a goal against the Greens in a 2-1 win for Crewe back in December. Others may have put it to the back of their minds to forget about Scott Wootton’s defending for the goal, which is probably the wiser option.

This may well prove to be a ‘shop window’ season for Kirk. He’s only ever played for Crewe, but his contract expires at the end of this year. Still only 23, a good start to the season could see clubs clamouring for his signature, looking to cut a deal before his contract runs down. Should his form see a dip, he may well be playing for his own contract before the season is out.

See the whole League One Season Preview 2021/22

Manager: David Artell

Artell comes across as a polarising character. The sort you’d love to have on your side, and could easily grow to hate if he represents a rival. A Luis Suarez type character, perhaps, without the appetite. With that in mind, then, it’s no surprise that the Crewe faithful have come to love their manager since he came into the role in 2017.

Well-travelled Artell played for a number of clubs across England and Wales, and also earned seven caps for Gibraltar having been born in Rotherham. Ah, the joys of dual-nationality rules. As a player he was always looking beyond the end of his career, gaining a degree in forensic biology and taking up a role as operations director at Crewe’s academy whilst still contracted a player at Bala Town. Considering the emphasis Crewe put on their youth squad, it seemed inevitable that a man as switched-on as Artell would work his way up to the top job, even if it did take three years.

Since his appointment, Crewe have made progress every season, culminating in a 12th-place finish in 2020-21. He’s only ever managed one side, and his stock is possibly the highest it’s ever been. In all honesty, Crewe have done well to retain his services for so long.

Rock: Tommie Hoban

It may seem odd listing a new player as a defensive rock so soon after joining. However, 27-year-old centre back Hoban has the potential to make a serious impression at Crewe.

In terms of his natural ability, Hoban ought to be playing well above League One level. He came through the academy at Arsenal, but it was with Watford that he initially burst onto the scene. He made 58 appearances for the Hornets in all, and combined with a loan spell at Blackburn he established himself as a reliable Championship option.

So why isn’t he there anymore? Injuries. He’s been incredibly unlucky in recent years, having his career placed into genuine danger with an anterior cruciate ligament injury. Twice. That put an end to his Watford career, and he’s recently been working his way back to fitness with a sustained spell of football at Aberdeen in the second half of last season.

Signing Hoban is obviously a risk, but if the worst of his injuries is behind him, Crewe could well have a gem on their hands. And with a number of centre backs, including Omar Beckles, leaving the club this summer, they’ll need Hoban to stay fit and perform.

Key departure: Harry Pickering

Much of Crewe’s success this season could come down to how well they deal with the loss of Pickering. Officially, he’s not been a Crewe player since January, having left the Railwaymen for Blackburn in a deal believed to be worth an initial £650,000. However, Artell’s side took him back on loan for the remainder of the campaign, allowing them to defer the trouble of replacing him for a few more months.

That time has arrived now, and what a hole he’s left. He made a name for himself as an aggressive left back, and in recent years has demonstrated his ability to play on the left of midfield and at left centre back. His ability going forward is notable – Argyle fans may recall his wonderful strike in a game back in 2020 perhaps most remembered for Chris Porter’s comical miss. It will be fascinating to see how Crewe’s attack reshapes itself without Pickering as an outlet.

His value to the side was demonstrated by the awarding of Crewe’s captaincy for the second half of last season. He is a big loss, and Crewe supporters will have to hope they cope as well with Pickering’s departure as they did with Perry Ng’s move to Cardiff earlier this year.

Target: Top-half

Crewe’s 12th-place finish last year was their highest placing in the pyramid since their days in the Championship back in 2006. A real testament to the progress the club have made under Artell. That this happened under the shadow of events off the field, which saw chairman John Bowler leave the club, was even more remarkable.

Whether they can go one step further a make a serious promotion push is another matter. There are a number of big clubs who you suspect will be fighting it out at the top of League One, and whilst Crewe have made year-on-year progress under Artell, this could be the toughest step to take of the lot.

Without doubt they’ll give it a good go, but another finish in the top half of the third tier would still go down very nicely.

 

Previous: Cheltenham Town Next: Doncaster Rovers

 


League One Season Preview 2021/22

Fleetwood Town Season Preview

Key player: Callum Camps

Callum Camps has the ideal mix of having a wealth of League One experience whilst still being young enough to have the potential to go even further. Having been thrust into the Rochdale side as a youngster, Camps went on to make 240 appearances for the Spotland outfit, scoring 30 times from the centre of midfield. He also added a very handy 23 assists to his numbers during his time at the club.

Upon leaving Dale, Camps didn’t need to travel far to his new club, with Fleetwood offering him a two-year deal in the summer of 2020. And he made a flying start. Nobody in the Fleetwood side could better his 14 goal involvements (11G 3A) across the season, and he had the ability at his best to win games on his own.

Admittedly, the stats themselves may make Camps’ season look better than it really was. 10 of his 11 goals were scored by the end of November, and his numbers were helped by two braces in big wins against Bristol Rovers and, yep, Argyle. That woeful 5-1 reverse just can’t seem to escape my memory.

But even if the second half of his season didn’t match the first, Camps is undeniably talented. He offers more than just goals and assists and, still only 25, this has the potential to be a huge season for the Stockport-born player.

See the whole League One Season Preview 2021/22

Manager: Simon Grayson

Simon Grayson, a man much more palatable to write about than Fleetwood’s previous manager, has been around the block a bit. Fleetwood are his seventh club in management; well, we can make that eight if we include the one game at Kendal Town he took charge of in place of the non-league side’s regular manager, Chris Humphrey, who was self-isolating.

Probably most remembered for fairly lengthy spells at Blackpool, Leeds and Preston, but he’s been much more nomadic in recent years. He failed to make it to a year in charge at Bradford, had a much shorter second spell at Blackpool, and starred for a few months in Netflix’s own social experiment ‘Sunderland AFC’. The 51-year-old will be hoping that his time at Fleetwood brings success over a sustained period of time.

And he’s off to a good start. Since joining the ranks at Highbury in January, the Cod Army have experienced a decent run of form. There have been a few dodgy results thrown in, such as a 5-2 loss at Burton and a 2-0 home defeat to relegated Swindon, but the good has outweighed the bad to date at least.

Stopper: Alex Cairns

Few players have made more of an impression at Fleetwood in recent years than goalkeeper Alex Cairns. Having joined from Rotherham in the summer of 2016, he’s gone on to make 196 appearances during his time at Highbury, with the promise of more to come. He was injured for a significant part of the first half of last season, but is back to full fitness now and ready to make an impression again.

It actually took Cairns a little while to find his feet in the game. He began his career at Leeds, but whilst he did manage to make one appearance for the first team at Elland Road, he spent much of his time there out on loan. Non-league Stalybridge Celtic was where he made many of his appearances, but he failed to make a single first team start after signing short-term permanent contracts with Chesterfield and Rotherham. His move to Fleetwood five years ago saw his career take off sharply.

If you recognise his name, it’s probably through numerous social media clips showing unbelievable saves he’s made across numerous games. And now 28, he’s adding a certain maturity to go with his eye-catching shot stopping. He’ll start the season as number one this season, and potentially for many more to come.

Key departure: Wes Burns

Fleetwood have a lot of attacking talent in Camps alone, but the departure of Wes Burns will certainly harm them. The right winger departs Highbury having scored an impressive 28 goals for the club in his 190 appearances primarily from the right wing. In the end, an undisclosed fee from Ipswich Town was considered too good to turn down.

26-year-old Burns started his career at Bristol City, with various loan spells (including one at Fleetwood) defining his time at Ashton Gate. Nonetheless, he still managed to make 54 appearances for the Robins before joining Fleetwood on a permanent deal in 2017. Indeed, his success there has seen him secure a move not necessarily up the Football League ladder, but to a much bigger club nonetheless.

Fleetwood have the talent to replace the creativity Burns provided. Whether they’re able to actually do so remains to be seen.

Target: Top half

Fleetwood escaped their Joey Barton era relatively unscathed (well, at least compared to Bristol Rovers), and are off to a relatively solid start under Grayson. With that in mind, they’ll have every reason to be casting their eyes to the business end of League One, rather than worrying too much about relegation.

However, one wonders whether they have the consistency to mount a real challenge for the top positions. Even when they’re in form, there’s a nagging doubt that a bad result isn’t too far around the corner. And, having never played higher than the third tier, a lack of experience may show during the latter stages of the season, even if Grayson’s appointment may negate that somewhat.

With Burns’ departure providing a challenge, a place in the top half may be the most realistic target for Fleetwood to aim for this season.

 

Previous: Doncaster Rovers Next: Gillingham

 


League One Season Preview 2021/22

Charlton Athletic Season Preview

Key player: Akin Famewo

Young left-footed centre-back Famewo joins Charlton on loan for the second season in a row, with Norwich offering the South Londoners an option to purchase this time round. He will be a crucial part of the Charlton defence in their campaign this season.

Because of an injury, he only played in 43% of available minutes last season for Charlton, but the stats don’t lie. While he was on the pitch, Charlton conceded 16 goals – they conceded 40 when he wasn’t playing. When Famewo was playing, Charlton’s defence was one of the best in the division, and when he wasn’t it was one of the worst.
If they both stay fit, Famewo will form a formidable partnership to the left of Ryan Inniss. 6’5” Inniss is a strong aerial presence, but Famewo is something classier. His ability to quietly break up play and bring the ball out of defence in an unhurried manner marks him as someone who could play at a higher level than League One.

It is key for Charlton that Famewo stays fit, if they are to challenge at the top end of the division.

See the whole League One Season Preview 2021/22

Manager: Nigel Adkins

No manager in League One has a better twitter presence than Nigel Adkins. He regularly uploads videos of himself delivering a monologue to camera, filled with inspiring messages (many of them about the virtues of exercise). These videos have been popular among Charlton fans, who clamour for a shoutout from their gaffer.

Off the internet, Adkins is a respected manager with Premier League experience. His first foray into professional management came in 2006, where he replaced long-serving Brian Laws as Scunthorpe manager. Unusually, he was the team’s physio before his promotion to manager – leading to the famous chant “who needs Mourinho, we’ve got our physio”.

Adkins spent nearly two years out of football before taking the Charlton job in March. The break seemed to do him good. After a few years with Reading, Sheffield United and Hull City that could best be described as a mixed bag, he lost just one out of the ten Charlton games he managed last season.

There is a much more positive atmosphere at the Valley than there has been for a while. A lot of this is because of their affable Scouse manager, and the attacking style he prefers his teams to play.

Creator: Albie Morgan

Charlton’s primary creative force, Jake Forster-Caskey, suffered an ACL tear towards the end of last season. It will be on the shoulders of the 21-year-old Albie Morgan to replace his production.

The academy product scored once and notched up three assists in his 14 starts last season. Typical for a young player, he is a bundle of energy who doesn’t always have the calmest head in the box – Charlton will be hoping he can add end product to his game.

Morgan has the right attitude. Over lockdown, he lost 10kg in weight. A leaner, meaner Morgan had his best season of his career in 2020-21. With Forster-Caskey out, he will be hoping he can kick on even further and make 2021-22 the campaign he blossoms into a reliable outlet for a good side.

If he does improve this season, there will be bigger clubs looking at him. There aren’t a lot of 21-year-olds who can lead a League One midfield. Charlton have invested a lot into his development, and he’s managed to establish himself as an important member of the squad. Morgan will hope to repay their faith in him.

Key departure: Chuks Aneke

Chuks Aneke had the opposite of a ‘difficult second album’ in his Charlton career. After a nightmare first season, scoring only one goal, he bagged 15 last campaign. This was made even more impressive by the fact he only started 11 games for the Addicks. His 0.88 goals per 90 minutes eclipsed even the division’s top scorer, Jonson Clarke-Harris.

His form earned him a move to Birmingham, where he will reunite with the manager who brought him to the Valley, Lee Bowyer. Charlton will miss his goals and they don’t have an obvious candidate to replace him.

Jayden Stockley was signed ostensibly as Aneke’s replacement. Like Aneke, Stockley is a tall and powerful centre-forward. Unlike Aneke, Stockley is not a proven goalscorer at this level. He scored a lot goals for Exeter City, but that was two-and-a-half years ago in League Two.

If Stockley can’t up his goalscoring output, Adkins will have to rely on either Conor Washington or Ronnie Schwartz. Washington’s waspishness is useful, but he’s never been a prolific goalscorer at any level beyond whichever league St Ives Town play in. Schwartz has struggled to settle in England since moving from his native Denmark.

Target: Play-offs

Charlton’s new owner, Thomas Sandgaard, is a little eccentric. The Dane combined his two passions of football and heavy metal music to release a single that will serve as the club’s anthem this season. He is on vocals, of course. Surprisingly, ‘Addicks to Victory’ is not a terrible track – even if Crystal Palace and Millwall fans are inevitably comparing Sandgaard to David Brent.

Sandgaard is unashamedly in-your-face but marks a welcome departure from the anonymous Roland Duchatelet. The Belgian owned a raft of football clubs around the world and seemed uninterested in Charlton. Sandgaard may be a bit too enthusiastic, but it’s no wonder Addicks fans are more confident with him at the helm.

Adkins knows what he’s doing at this level. While goals may be a problem, a defence led by Akin Famewo should be solid if he stays fit. Another canny signing was made in goal – Portsmouth’s player of the season Craig MacGillivray should be an upgrade on Ben Amos.

Charlton finished one position outside of the play-offs last season. With a full season of stable ownership and Adkins at the helm, they should be aiming to do a little better this campaign. Expect them to be nearer the top of the table than the bottom.

 

Previous: Cambridge United Next: Cheltenham Town

 


League One Season Preview 2021/22

Cheltenham Town Season Preview

Key player: Ben Tozer

“That’s a lazy choice,” I hear you exclaim in unison. “You’ve only chosen him because he was born in Plymouth and came through the Argyle academy.” And yes, whilst there is an obvious link to the Greens there, many other reasons jump to the fore to give Tozer every right to be named Cheltenham’s key player.

First of all, his tenacity is unrivalled. Tozer played every single minute in the league for the Robins last season, proving to be a vital cog in their promotion-winning machine. And whilst he’s in the team for his defending, he possesses a booming long throw that will threaten even the best defences at League One level. It’s a weapon that allowed him to notch 8 assists last season whilst playing at centre back.

Having enjoyed significant spells at the likes of Northampton and Newport since departing Argyle as a youngster, Tozer has now called Cheltenham his home for the last three years. He remains as vital as ever after promotion.

See the whole League One Season Preview 2021/22

Manager: Michael Duff

Duff is probably one of the Football League’s hottest properties when it comes to the managerial department. Cheltenham became his first experience of the hotseat back in 2018, with the Robins offering him the job on the back of a spell coaching Burnley’s under 23 side. He’s barely looked back since.

After guiding his side to comfortable safety, Duff got to work in his first full season in charge. His Cheltenham team eventually finished fourth on points per game, often involved in a tight battle with Argyle themselves over the course of the curtailed campaign. They somehow contrived to miss out on the play-off final having held what appeared to be a comfortable 2-0 lead over Northampton, but they didn’t let that impact the following campaign. After a wonderful season, a 4-1 win over Harrogate on the final day secured Cheltenham’s first ever EFL title, and promotion to League One.

Still in his first managerial role and relatively young for a manager at 43, Duff’s stock is very high. If he gets of to a good start this season, Cheltenham may well have a job holding on to him for the two remaining years of his contract.

Finisher: Alfie May

In truth, there aren’t many players in Cheltenham’s ranks who post serious numbers in terms of goals. They were successful last season in spreading goals throughout the side, with seven players notching at least five goals across the campaign. However, nobody scored more goals, or indeed posted the most goal contributions, than Alfie May.

May started his career at Millwall’s academy, but failed to make the grade. However, to his credit, he made a hugely successful career for himself in non-league, posting frankly obscene goalscoring numbers for Erith & Belvedere and later Hythe Town. Those performances earned him another chance at Football League level, with Doncaster making an approach for his services. He then moved to Cheltenham for an undisclosed fee in the 2020 winter transfer window.

As mentioned, nobody at the club bettered his 12-goal return last year. But he also managed to add six assists to his numbers, suggesting he was a key focal point of the Robins’ attack. It remains to be seen whether he can manage to play a similar role this season, but it would help his team enormously if he could.

Key signing: Owen Evans

Perhaps surprisingly, Cheltenham have experienced a relatively quiet transfer window. Duff is clearly very willing to give players who were present during the promotion campaign a shot at a higher level of football. They’ve only brought three players in, two of whom (Evans and Elliot Bond) have already spent time on loan with the Robins in the past. Bond’s time was cut short by a cruciate ligament injury, but there is enough pedigree around goalkeeper Evans to suggest he could be key to Cheltenham’s prospects this year.

Evans came through the ranks at Wigan, and was subject to plenty of loan moves early in his career. He’s worked his way up the levels during those loans, eventually experiencing League Two football with Macclesfield and, indeed, Cheltenham. He’s also picked up caps for Wales under 21s, and a permanent move to the Robins this summer presents the perfect opportunity to nail down a starting spot long-term. Still only 24, it would mark a natural step up in his career.

This section could easily be relisted as a key departure – Josh Griffiths was in goal for Cheltenham last term, and impressed. He made 50 appearances on loan from West Brom, but has joined up with Lincoln ahead of 2021-22 (coincidentally he’ll be replacing another West Brom loanee, Alex Palmer, between the sticks). It’s important for the side, therefore, that Evans lives up to his predecessor.

Target: Avoid relegation

It’s another choice that may appear relatively lazy. “Cheltenham have just been promoted so we’ll make their goal to avoid relegation” is pretty tired logic, and we know enough about League One to know that not every promoted side immediately goes back down. Far from it.

However, having just disparaged my own choice in the last paragraph, most Cheltenham fans would still gladly accept a 20th-place finish this season. There are a few clubs who could count themselves as potential dark horses, and considering their overachievement over recent years, Cheltenham have a fair case for counting themselves amongst them. But their primary target will be gathering enough points to avoid the drop before moving on to loftier targets.

Plus, if they do too well, Duff could be poached by a club higher up the pyramid. So that’s always worth keeping in mind.

 

Previous: Charlton Athletic Next: Crewe Alexandra

 


League One Season Preview 2021/22

Oxford United Season Preview

Key player: Matty Taylor

Taylor is perhaps best known for being the first man in three decades to straddle the divide of the River Avon, famously moving from Rovers to City on January Deadline Day in 2019. A top scorer in League One, Taylor (like so many) could not quite convert his skills to the Championship.

One unsuccessful spell later for the Robins, Taylor was sold to Oxford where his career has found a second wind under Karl Robinson. He initially signed on loan at the start of the 19/20 season and was electric until the pandemic impacted the season, finishing up as top scorer. This is a feat he repeated the season after, signing permanently and ending up on 18 goals.

Taylor is crucial to Oxford’s hopes. For all the chances they create, they need a striker capable to get on the end of them. Often last season, he failed to convert absolute sitters, which will need to change next year.

See the whole League One Season Preview 2021/22

Manager: Karl Robinson

For a man who has been a fixture of English football for the past decade, it is completely remarkable that Robinson is still only 40. He first began to draw the attention of the English football media when he was appointed to Milton Keynes at the age of 29, back in 2010. By a considerable distance, he was the youngest manager in the football league.

Robinson earned a reputation as someone who likes to play pretty football and establish a clear philosophy, which includes the integration of young players from the academy. This earned him time in Milton Keynes even when results weren’t going his way.

The spell came to an end eventually however and after a brief spell at Charlton, he re-settled himself in Oxford. His spell there has been an unqualified success, taking them into mid-table in his first season before two near misses at promotion in the covid-impacted seasons followed. He has been well backed but has nonetheless delivered very well on his budget and will be hoping the third time’s the charm.

Creator: James Henry

Whilst Taylor was probably the most crucial player for Oxford’s success last season, Henry was also paramount to their promotion hopes. Now a stalwart of the squad, the playmaker was bought in by Michael Appleton in the summer of 2017 and soon endeared himself to new boss Karl Robinson with a series of good performances.

A perennial drifter up to the age of 28, Henry had never really established himself as being beloved by the fans of any one club. The Oxford spell changed all this. Joint top scorer with 11 in his first full season, he put up an even more impressive 15 goals in the 2018/19 campaign.

Whilst he’s not quite hit those numbers since, he’s certainly impressed in the creative department. Top assister last season with a nifty 11, he is the main creative driving force in the team. Very capable with both feet, he can pass through the middle and cross well when he gets out wide.

It is perhaps worth noting that at 31 (Taylor) and 32 (Henry) Oxford’s two main attacking threats are both elder statesmen.

Key departure: Robert Atkinson

Having mentioned Taylor, who went from Bristol City to Oxford, the most disappointing transfer of this summer for Us fans ended up being the decision of Atkinson to reverse that journey. Atkinson had only one meaningful season with Oxford, but what a truly incredible season it was.

Everyone loves a feel good story – that player who comes up through the ranks of non-league and makes a career for themselves always makes a good story for TV compilations at the season’s end. Atkinson’s story is a rather fast tracked version of the same tale. Having initially been bought to Fulham from Basingstoke, he may have thought he’d missed his moment when he was released and ended up signing for Oxford.

He was bought into Oxford in January 2020 from Eastleigh before being loaned back to them for the rest of the curtailed season. He didn’t even make it into the team at the start of the 2020/21 campaign but he kept his place by performing fantastically when he got his chance.

At 6 foot 4, Robinson is big and imposing but in the spirit of Karl Robinson’s style, he can play it out well from the back too. He will be missed by Oxford who will find themselves more defensively vulnerable in his absence. The lack of an outstanding signing at centre-back may be the difference between making the top six again and not.

Target: Play-offs

After two play-off campaigns in a row, Oxford have kept the core of the squad that got two consecutive play-off seasons in place. They’ve released a few players but the only unwanted exits were Atkinson and Josh Ruffles. They’ve signed some decent players on paper – Billy Bodin is probably the pick of the bunch.

That said, their squad is not substantially better and the league they’re competing in certainly looks stronger than ever before.

 

Previous: Morecambe Next: Plymouth Argyle

 


League One Season Preview 2021/22

Sheffield Wednesday Season Preview

Key player: Lewis Wing

The obvious selection here would be Barry Bannan, but the Scot could well move on after six years in Sheffield. Lewis Wing, signed on a season-long loan from Middlesbrough, will need to replace Bannan’s creativity if he does leave.

He has taken a circuitous route to professional football. As a teenager, he gave up the sport in favour of golf. After getting his handicap down to five, he went back to football and bounced around a few non-league clubs in the North East. As a 22-year-old, he scored 27 goals in one season for Shildon, and was subsequently picked up by Middlesbrough. This will be his first season below Championship level since his Shildon escapades.
Despite his name, Wing usually plays through the middle as an attack-minded midfielder. He enjoyed his most successful season as a professional in 2019-20, scoring seven goals and providing two assists for Boro. He has been, however, jettisoned by Neil Warnock in favour of more defensively assured players.

A title of a YouTube compilation of Wing’s highlights calls him the “Championship KDB”. That is typically giddy, but Wing could reach double figures in goals if Wednesday give him the freedom to break into the box from midfield.

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Manager: Darren Moore

Darren Moore moved across South Yorkshire to take the job at Hillsborough in March, having previously managed Doncaster. He hasn’t spent much of that time in the dugout. He contracted Covid in March, which left him with pneumonia. However, he was well enough to take charge of Wednesday’s last game of their Championship season against Derby County – hopefully issues with his health are behind him.

Moore, who enjoyed a journeyman professional career and played twice for the Jamaican national team, is one of the few black managers in English football. The lack of opportunities for black managers is a topic Moore is vocal about, saying that there must be more diversity in the backroom staff.

Attacking football will be on show at any club Moore manages. His Doncaster side scored more goals than promoted Blackpool but conceded as many as relegated Northampton last season. Combined with an affable off-pitch manner, it is easy to see why Moore is so popular with the fans of the clubs he manages.

Wednesday have flittered between 4-3-3 and 3-4-3 formations in pre-season – whichever Moore plumps for on opening day, the Owls will not hold back.

Rock: Dominic Iorfa

In a parallel universe, Dominic Iorfa is gearing up for his first season in the Premier League. Linked with Watford last summer, either they looked elsewhere or Wednesday turned down their advances, and a year later Iorfa finds himself playing in League One.

A team-mate of Jack Grealish in the England U21 side that won the Toulon Tournament in 2016, Iorfa never kicked on at Wolves and was allowed to leave when they were promoted to the Premier League.

Iorfa was a hit in his first season with the Owls, named as their player of the season in a defence that was a bit like Trigger’s broom – was it still the same defence if every part of it, except for him, changed? In his second season, the one just gone, he only managed ten games because of injury struggles. You wonder if he would have been the difference between relegation and survival.

A rangy defender, Iorfa is good in the air and covers ground quickly for a man of his size. His strongest skill may be his tackling. In his player of the season campaign in 2019-20, no centre-back in the Championship made more successful tackles than Iorfa’s 57.

Key signing: Florian Kamberi

Sheffield Wednesday simply did not score enough goals last season. Only four teams in the Championship scored fewer than their 40, and the problem was particularly pronounced among their strikers. Jordan Rhodes, their main front man, only bagged seven – meaning Calum Paterson was often forced to play as a makeshift centre-forward.

Florian Kamberi must fill that gap. The 26-year-old has been a nomad in his career so far, moving between clubs in Switzerland, Germany and Scotland – Sheffield Wednesday represents his first foray into English football.

The Swiss-born Albanian international is tall, but his strengths lie with his feet. Darren Moore’s style, preferring passes into feet over balls over the top, should help Kamberi. He will be tasked with bringing their dynamic attacking midfielders like Wing and Josh Windass into the game – they may end up being Wednesday’s primary goal threat.

Kamberi will have to score more goals than he has previously. He’s never managed to score ten goals in a season. All of League One’s top sides last season relied on someone who could bag nearly double that – nine goals for their main striker wouldn’t cut the mustard for Wednesday.

Target: Promotion

Sheffield, a city at the edge of the Pennines, is famous for its hills. For the blue half of the city, it’s been all downhill for the last few years. Compounding this, for their fans, was seeing their cross-town rivals shoot up from the third tier to mid-table in the Premier League.

Maybe things are turning for Wednesday. Darren Moore was a smart appointment – his track record is excellent, he tries to play football the right way and he will be focused on the job now he’s overcome his battle with Covid. They have trimmed a bloated squad. Plus, it must have been pleasing to see the suffering the rest of the Premier League inflicted on Sheffield Wednesday last season.

They look likely to be solid defensively – Iorfa is probably too good a player to be marshalling a third-tier defence. Going forward, they have a proliferation of talent but few obvious goalscorers. Wing and Kamberi both making it into double figures would seriously aid their promotion push.

Sheffield Wednesday fans believe they are too big a club to be back in League One. They are hoping that Darren Moore can put the steel back in the team from the Steel City – they might just be right.

 

Previous: Rotherham United Next: Shrewsbury Town

 


League One Season Preview 2021/22

Plymouth Argyle Season Preview

Key player: Conor Grant

Now, truth is I was having difficulty deciding which Argyle player to pick for this section. Argyle seem to have a number of players particularly in midfield that are all capable of taking the creative prerogative, whether that be last years pick Danny Mayor or even talented midfielder George Cooper, who after spending most of last season out through injury will be hungry to make up for lost time this season. Even fellow midfielder Ryan Broom who joined in the week on loan from Peterborough United for the season, could have a big part to play this season.

Whilst mayor is the obvious choice for this one, his lack of assists and goals over the last two years, despite being a very useful player for the greens in attack make it difficult for me to select Mayor especially with all the other options in attacking areas available to pick from.

That is why I have gone for talented midfielder Conor Grant as my pick for key player this time out. When Grant joined from Everton in 2018 it was obvious he had the the ability to be a productive outlet for Argyle particularly with a brilliant left foot delivery, but ultimately it was always that Grant had a feeling of one of those ‘nearly but not quite’ players.

After some promising but unremarkable performances towards the curtailment of the 20/21 season, Grant was rewarded with a contract on the hope he could turn those promising performances into goals and assists.

Grant took the opportunity with both hands and had an excellent breakout season scoring 4 goals, which were all long range strikes. Contributing 12 assists, taking over the mantle from the injured George Cooper at LWB, with a series of dangerous deliveries on his left foot.

Both capable of creating from dead ball situations and in play, from central midfield and wing back, the hope will be once again that the 26 year old can once again be a key player for Argyle this season.

See the whole League One Season Preview 2021/22

Manager: Ryan Lowe

This season appears to be a particularly important one for Lowe.  Before last year, Lowe had only really tasted success in his young managerial after getting promoted twice in two seasons from League Two with Bury and Argyle respectively, Lowe’s first taste at the helm in the third tier was indifferent to say the least.

After a dramatic last minute 4-3 win against eventual play off finalists Lincoln City at the end of February propelled Argyle up to 10th in the table, an inexperienced Argyle side recorded just 2 wins in the final fifteen matches leading to Lowe becoming impatient. Leading many fans to question, whether his fiercely attack minded minded 3-1-4-2 formation was the way forward, also bringing questions up surrounding whether Lowe was able to set up his teams in a way that stopped them conceding so many goals.

After the way in which last season ended Lowe will be hoping to put any lingering doubts to bed with some good early results and prompt signings which saw a completely new defensive unit acquired.

Creator: Danny Mayor

Yes, I know, I know.  After all my justification for not putting Danny Mayor as key player he now gets the title of creator.

Despite the frustrations surrounding Mayor in terms of statistical output when you put it next to a man of his obvious quality, the truth is Argyle’s system is set up to get the best out of Mayor, and if not always ended most of Argyle’s attacks are started by carries from deep from Mayor and he was still high up on the list for completed dribbles in League One last year.

There’s no denying he is often fundamental in the way the greens look to create chances, especially with the way he is able to go past players and if he is able to combine his skill with just a bit more end product this year ( 3 goals in two years for an attacking midfielder) I think Argyle could be in a good position to push further up the table.

Key transfer: Dan Scarr

Based on comments so far, you could’ve probably guessed that the Key transfer was going to be that of a defender, however that of Dan Scarr may have risen a few eyebrows. Particularly after the acquisitions of James Wilson and Macaulay Gillesphey for example, who were both player of the year at Ipswich Town and Australian A League side Brisbane Roar respectively, last season.

Despite Scarr comes off the back of a pretty lowly finish in League Two last season finishing 19th with Walsall, and not being given the greatest report by Saddlers fans on social media, all evidence so far shows that Scarr is exactly what Argyle have been missing.

For all of Argyle’s defensive mishaps last time out, what they were really missing for large spells, was a commander at the back both in the air and vocally and Scarr appears to bring both of those attributes.

As of March 2021 Scarr was eleventh in the list of second balls won in League Two for the season with 290 and third on the list for aerial duels won with 271, and recent evidence in pre season indicates he does what his job role suggests – defends and without any frills. It is worth noting he seems that he is able to do what he needs to do on the ball to fit into Lowe’s system, without being spectacular at it.

Most importantly Scarr has appeared to fill a huge void in the side, in a key area if they want to finish in a higher position this season.

Target: Top-half

Argyle’s target for this season is the same I set them for last, there were times last season when they did look like they could fulfill that target and Lowe also hinted a few times publically that top half might be the target.

Now with a new look and more experienced defence coupled with continued heavy chance creation, I think Argyle should be aiming for that again with possibly a more realistic shot at it.

 

Previous: Oxford United Next: Portsmouth

 


League One Season Preview 2021/22

Portsmouth Season Preview

Key player: Ronan Curtis

These days most footballers are pretty sensible. Bordering on dull. They give media-trained stock answers to questions, they don’t go out drinking often, they focus on their football. Ronan Curtis is a bit of a throwback.

He was not popular with Pompey fans after two incidents towards the end of last season. He was involved in a fracas with a stranger outside a Portsmouth hotel – the police didn’t press charges, but rumours flew around about Curtis’ involvement. A week or so later, he was filmed on his Snapchat having a good time after Portsmouth lost on the final day and missed the play-offs.
Some of his public pronouncements are unintentionally hilarious – in an interview with the local paper he played down his arrogant reputation before comparing himself to Cristiano Ronaldo in the same sentence. In how he plays, however, it’s not a completely absurd parallel.

Curtis is a right-footed player who plays off the left-wing – he usually cuts inside to either set up a team-mate or go for goal himself. He racked up ten goals and seven assists for Pompey last season. While he may not everyone’s cup of tea, there’s a reason Championship clubs like Blackburn and Cardiff have expressed their interest in the Irishman.

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Manager: Danny Cowley

Cowley took over from Kenny Jackett in March. Pompey fans thought it was quite a refreshing change. Jackett may have won the EFL Trophy in 2019, but he failed in his main objective – getting Portsmouth back in the league their supporters believe they have a divine right to be in.

Danny Cowley comes as a joint package with his brother Nicky, who has been his assistant ever since his days in the Isthmian League with Concord Rangers. The Cowleys are not known for their pretty football, favouring a functional 4-4-2 or 4-5-1 formation, but their results are unquestionable.

Lincoln was the club at which Cowley made his name, bringing them from the Conference to League One in three seasons, as well as winning the EFL Trophy. He rose to national attention by knocking out Burnley in the FA Cup in 2018. Lincoln’s snarling physicality overmatched Sean Dyche’s side – hardly a set of shrinking violets themselves.

Portsmouth have relished in being the side that no one else likes. While Cowley is likeable off-the-pitch, it’s difficult to see Portsmouth suddenly becoming the neutrals’ favourites. Their fans won’t care if they go up.

Danger man: John Marquis

Marquis bounced back from a fallow year last season. Having scored just eight league goals in 2019-20, he doubled that in 2020-21 – good enough to tie Luke Jephcott for the tenth most goals in League One.

He will be hoping to go even better this season and get closer toward the 21 goals he scored for Doncaster that led to Pompey spending nearly £2m on him. He may benefit from playing in a 4-4-2, as Portsmouth have in pre-season. Gassan Ahadme, a new loan signing from Norwich, is likely to play alongside Marquis. Ahadme is more of a false nine, who will drop off to create scoring chances for Marquis.

Marquis is tough and physical, as you would expect from someone born by the Lewisham docks and brought up at the club who no one likes but they don’t care. His game is unsubtle but all about goals – he’s sure to score a few this season.

Off the pitch, Marquis was credited with saving a young Pompey fan’s life. He saw a message posted on social media from a man experiencing severe depression – Marquis reached out to him and talked to him both over the phone and in person. He is a man with a heart of gold behind his steely exterior.

Key departure: Craig MacGillivray

Danny Cowley was happy to let Craig MacGillivray go. It’s not very often that a team does that with its player of the season, even if Argyle have been the beneficiaries of Ipswich doing the same with their award-winner James Wilson.

Scottish goalkeeper MacGillivray hardly came to Fratton Park with the most glittering CV, having spent a few seasons as a backup at Shrewsbury and Walsall. He established himself as the first choice for three seasons, becoming a fans’ favourite as he gained a reputation as a penalty-saving specialist.

The new manager wasn’t impressed with MacGillivray’s distribution. While his traditional goalkeeping skills are excellent, he would struggle if asked to be a more modern ‘keeper. Despite this, it came as a surprise to MacGillivray that he had to move his family up the M3 to London, away from a city and a club he enjoyed being a part of.

Cowley has taken a risk with his replacement, too. Gavin Bazunu may be a full Irish international, but the Manchester City loanee is only 19. Pompey’s season will depend on whether Bazunu lives up to the glowing reports of the coaches who have worked with him.

Target: Promotion

Nothing less than promotion would do for Portsmouth. The last four seasons under Kenny Jackett were considered a failure – losing in the playoffs twice and not even making them in the other two seasons.

They are taking a different approach to it than before. Rather than glitzy big-name signings, all of their transfers so far have been frees. Most of them are just solid, capable League One players – the Portsmouth chairman Michael Eisner is relying on Cowley getting more than the sum of his parts.

Whether or not this is intentional, or a consequence of the pandemic, is unclear. It seems a better strategy than stuffing the team with big names. Players like Ronan Curtis and John Marquis can still provide the star power Portsmouth need to challenge for promotion.

Defensively they’re gambling a bit more. Gavin Bazunu is highly-rated, but it’s unclear whether he’ll be able to fill Craig MacGillivray’s shoes – big ones to fill. Portsmouth’s season will come down to whether Danny Cowley can make Portsmouth into a deluxe version of his Lincoln side – physical, sometimes ugly, but win a lot.

 

Previous: Plymouth Argyle Next: Rotherham United

 


League One Season Preview 2021/22