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  • Writer's pictureDaniel Stacey


1st: Derby County


Paul Warne’s first full season in charge at Derby County comes with a hell of a lot of expectation. The Rams are the bookies favourites to win the league and will be desperate to return to the Championship after missing out on the playoffs last season. They’ll be looking at the division and thinking there won’t be a better opportunity to get out of League One, and I think it’s fair to say they’re the big fish in a relatively small pond.

They’ve made some strong signings this summer and the squad looks much better than it did this time last year. Warne went back to Rotherham to bring in goalkeeper Josh Vickers and striker Conor Washington, whilst swooping for other Championship players like Curtis Nelson, Callum Elder, Sonny Bradley and Kane Wilson. Former Peterborough right back Joe Ward has also been added to the squad which now looks like one of the strongest in the division.

Promotion is the aim for Derby this season and anything less than that would be a huge failure. They have a manager who knows how to get out of this league, a squad full of players who have bags of experience at this level and above and the financial backing to continue to improve their squad. There’s a reason they’re favourites for the title.


2nd: Bolton Wanderers


Another side who will see anything but promotion as a failure is Bolton Wanderers. Ian Evatt’s side have been building a squad capable of challenging at the top end of League One for a couple of years now and after missing out in the playoff semi-finals last season they’ll be hoping to go one better and get over the line. It’s another club who will feel someone of their size should be in the Championship, but as we’ve seen so often that doesn’t guarantee results.

Bolton have made some strong signings this summer, and importantly seem to have done a lot of their business early on. Nathan Baxter replaces England U21 hero James Trafford in goal, whilst former Tranmere wing back Josh Cogley has been brought in to fill the void left by another former loanee Connor Bradley. Impressive young defender Will Forrester has been signed from Port Vale too which adds good depth to their back line.

It feels like Bolton won’t get a better chance to get promoted. They have a talented squad that works well in the system they play and several of their squad are arriving in their peak years right now. If promotion isn’t achieved this season, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the squad stripped of its talent next summer, so in that sense it feels like now or never for Wanderers.




3rd: Blackpool


Neil Critchley is back in charge at Bloomfield Road and is slowly assembling a squad capable of an immediate return to the Championship. Critchley, who left the Tangerines at the start of last season in controversial fashion, was well liked by the Blackpool fans after guiding them to promotion out of this division in 2021, but it remains to be seen if his decision to walk away last summer has been forgiven.

Star man Jerry Yates has left for Swansea, but exciting forward Kyle Joseph has come the other way. Albie Morgan adds technical quality in the midfield and the money received for Yates will likely be reinvested into the playing squad. This prediction is made on the assumption the squad continues to be strengthened in the way it has been so far.

Neil Critchley knows how to get Blackpool out of League One and in a season where there aren’t many stand out teams it could come down to experience and grittiness in the promotion race. I think they’ll miss out on automatics but could be well placed for some more playoff magic.


4th: Portsmouth


Pompey have come out of nowhere to be one of the division’s most exciting teams, and it’s largely down to the transfer window they’re currently having. After finishing last season seven points off the playoffs, it feels like the gap has been closed massively this summer and they could take advantage of the lack of structure and vision of other clubs at the level.

John Mousinho is trying to implement an attractive style of play on the south coast and has been backed by his board in the transfer market. EFL stalwarts Gavin Whyte, Will Norris, Ben Stevenson and Connor Shaughnessy have been signed on free transfers, as has exciting young wing back Jack Sparkes. Anthony Scully, who has plenty of experience at this level despite only being 22, has joined from Wigan, whilst Christian Saydee, Terry Devlin and Kusini Menhi are all exciting youngsters who will play a big part.

There’s still some business to be done and it’ll be a big challenge to make all these players gel together, but the fact they’ve done their business so early does help lessen the chance of this. Portsmouth go into most seasons’ hopeful of a playoff spot but this season anything but that would be a huge underachievement.


5th: Peterborough United


Another club who’ve made some impressive signings this summer, albeit fewer than Portsmouth, is Peterborough United. Darren Ferguson’s side missed out on the playoff final by the barest of margins last season, throwing away a 4-0 lead to lose on penalties to Sheffield Wednesday. They’ll be keen to go one better this time around.

Despite losing star midfielder Jack Taylor to Ipswich, you could argue their squad is stronger now than last year. Archie Collins has been signed as the Taylor replacement whilst Romoney Crichlow’s arrival improves the left side of their defence. Several key players, including talismanic striker Jonson Clarke-Harris, could move on this window too so more business will be needed.

Peterborough are always in and amongst the playoff picture and I think the lack of stability of other teams that would normally be fighting for the top six might allow them to sneak in once again. It remains to be seen how they’ll cope without some of last season's star men but with a young squad that will continue to improve it’s an exciting time to be a Posh fan.


6th: Wycombe Wanderers


Every year there’s one team that ends up in the playoffs that you wouldn’t have expected before a ball was kicked. In an attempt to get one step ahead I’m picking Wycombe as a wildcard option, although I wouldn’t say it’s that surprising a suggestion. They’re another team that always ends up in and around the top six and I’m backing them to get the final playoff spot.

Without Gareth Ainsworth at the start of the season for the first time in a long time a lot of people will be interested in how Wycombe go. Signings like Kane Vincent-Young, Richard Keogh, Luke Leahy and the highly sought after Man City youngster Kian Breckin have also made people take notice of the Chairboys.

Wycombe’s playoff push will be aided by their ability to grind out results against the best sides in the division. With it being such a tight league results against fellow promotion chasers could be the difference and Wycombe are well suited to take points off their rivals. It could be enough to earn them a spot at promotion.


7th: Barnsley


Perhaps slightly surprisingly I’ve got Barnsley missing out on a spot in the top six. The recent news regarding their ownership issues coupled with the losses of their manager Michael Duff and captain Mads Juel Andersen make me much more bearish on the Tykes than I was a month ago.

New boss Neill Collins is inexperienced and could struggle to make his mark on the team early on. He’ll be delighted that Luca Connell has agreed terms on a new deal but there are several other players in the squad who will be wanted by Championship clubs, and it remains to be seen if they can fend off interest.

Seventh wouldn’t be a huge disappointment for them but it felt like they were a promotion favourite a month or so ago, before the crazy few weeks that have happened at Oakwell. If promotion isn’t achieved, I fear their squad might be torn apart and a rebuild will be required. Off field issues need solving too.


8th: Reading


This season could go one of two ways for Reading. Until last week it looked as though they could really struggle with a lot of off field issues hanging over them and threatening to severely impact their preparation. However, whilst all issues are far from gone the Royals are now able to sign players and build a squad capable of challenging in League One.

Harvey Knibbs has been brought in from local side Cambridge United and several other players are linked with a move. If some of the names being mentioned do end up joining Ruben Selles’ side, they really will have a chance of challenging at the top end of the table. As of now though they’re not quite there.

Points deductions could end up being a possibility if the ownership issues aren’t solved which makes them even harder to predict. It feels like Reading could finish anywhere from 5th to 15th this year, but I’ve got them just missing out on a playoff spot.


9th: Oxford United


Liam Manning did a wonderful job keeping Oxford out of the relegation zone last season and I’m expecting them to kick on even more this time around. He sorted them out defensively and did enough to ensure survival, but work will need to be done in attacking areas if they are to make it into the top ten.

Signings have been made and the squad is looking better already. They won the race for former Notts County star Ruben Rodrigues whilst EFL regulars Mark Harris, Jordan Thorniley and Josh McEachran have been added to the squad. Exciting Premier League youngsters Fin Stevens and James Beadle have arrived on loan too.

I’m backing Manning to get things right and achieve success similar to how he did at MK Dons. I don’t think it’ll go quite as well as his time there this year, but the building blocks can be placed for an exciting few years at Oxford. Keeping hold of Cameron Brannagan will be key though, lose him and they’ll plummet down the table.


10th: Charlton Athletic


Charlton are an interesting one. A club of their size should probably have ambitions to get out of League One, but it feels like they go into every season resigned to the fact that there are teams in a far stronger place than them. This is probably the case once again ahead of the 2023/24 campaign although they’re giving it a right go this summer.

League One hotshot Alfie May has been brought in and Addicks fans will be hoping he can continue the form he’s shown at Cheltenham in the last couple of years. Harry Isted has arrived from Luton, which is another wonderful signing, the 26-year-old was immense for Barnsley last year. They’re two of the best signings in the EFL.

I don’t think the squad is deep enough to challenge for the playoffs, but they’ll definitely win more than they lose. The loss of last year’s star man Jesurun Rak-Sakyi will hit them hard, and I think they’ll fall short in the big moments. However, you’d have to say a season of development and progress will be welcome at The Valley.


11th: Lincoln City


I’m backing Lincoln City to finish exactly where they did last season, 11th. They’ve got a solid group of players who are continuing to improve and despite losing captain Regan Poole I think they’ve got enough to register another top half spot. Under boss Mark Kennedy they’ve become tough to beat and I can’t see that changing.

They’ve been active in the transfer market too and have made some nice signings. Left back Jaden Brown has arrived from Sheffield Wednesday, dynamic attackers Tyler Walker and Reeco Hackett from Coventry and Portsmouth, and goalkeeper Lukas Jensen from Burnley. Their squad is in better shape now than it was last season.

I’m sure the loss of Poole will be felt at times, but Lincoln have a good track record of settling into life after key players leave. It’s such an open division that they could sneak higher up the table too but for now I’ve got them midtable. That is still punching above their weight, and they continue to be a good example of how to run a football club.


12th: Fleetwood Town


Scott Brown’s side are another who will punch above their weight this season and the appointment of the former Celtic captain as manager looks more inspired by the month. He’s been able to use his own reputation to attract quality players to the club and has shown plenty of tactical nous when needed.

Fleetwood have made a couple of nice signings in midfield, with Ryan Broom and Danny Mayor adding League One quality and experience to the side. The retention of players like Shaun Rooney, Josh Earl and Brendan Wiredu will be vital but it’s looking increasingly likely that Brown will have a similar pool of players to pick from as he did last season.

I don’t think they’ve made enough progress to challenge any higher up the league, but it feels like they’re guaranteed a spot in midtable. It’s a solid squad with a good manager and the continuity they’ll have by keeping a similar squad to last season will be enough to see them sneak into the top half.


13th: Wigan Athletic


For the first time in a long time Wigan Athletic go into a League One season not expected to be at the top end of the table. Their eight-point deduction as a result of several problems under their recently departed owners means they’ll start the season on the back foot, and a difficult opening run of fixtures could see them well adrift early on.

It’s not all doom and gloom for Latics though, in fact there’s plenty of positivity amongst their fanbase. New signings like Matt Smith, Jonny Smith, and Bayern Munich loanee Liam Morrison have added much needed depth to their side and it’s understood that a lot more business will be done between now and the end of the window.

There will also likely be an emphasis on youth with several of the club’s under 21s set for a promotion into the first team. Manager Shaun Maloney has shown faith in youngsters before and that will need to be the case again. The Latics squad is still one of the better ones in League One and they should have enough to overcome their points deficit, and maybe challenge in the EFL Trophy too.


14th: Bristol Rovers


Bristol Rovers’ season relies heavily upon them keeping star man Aaron Collins at the club. His goals and assists made up well over 40% of Gas’ goals last season and he’s irreplaceable for Joey Barton’s side. They’ve already lost some key players who were on loan last season, losing Collins could see them fighting relegation.

They’ve added more attacking threat in the shape of Luke Thomas and Jevani Brown, who should be able to fill the hole left by Josh Coburn. The experienced George Friend looks to have replaced Lewis Gibson on the left side of their defence but it’s nowhere near as good and work needs to be done on the squad still.

They fell off massively towards the end of last season and I think they’ll be slightly more consistent over the course of this campaign. I’m not expecting them to pull up any trees though and a relatively stress-free midtable position looks to be in store for the Gas this season. Then again, Joey Barton doesn’t tend to do things ‘stress-free’ so who knows.


15th: Exeter City


Another club that really fell off towards the end of last season is Exeter City. Gary Caldwell did a good job of replacing long-term boss Matt Taylor at the Grecians but I’m worried second season syndrome could creep in this time around, particularly as some key players have moved on.

Archie Collins is a huge loss whilst the controversial Jevani Brown, who missed the last couple of months of the season due to an ongoing court case, has left too. They’ve got a lot of exciting youngsters who could be given more chances this season, but it feels like they’ll be heavily reliant on the goals of Sam Nombe once again.

I don’t think they’re at threat of relegation, but it does feel like they’re looking down rather than up. In seasons gone by they might have really struggled but there are a fair few teams weaker than them and I think if you offered an Exeter fan 15th right now, they’d take it.


16th: Leyton Orient


The best performing newly promoted side this season will be League Two champions Leyton Orient. Richie Wellens’ side raced to the fourth-tier title last season and finished six points ahead of second placed Stevenage, and I’m backing them to do pretty well in the division above this time around.

Orient have made some really good signings this summer, with former Manchester United youngster Ethan Galbraith being the standout. Sol Brynn has arrived on loan too which is a solid pick up whilst they’ve managed to bring Idris El-Mizouni back temporarily too. Lawrence Vigouroux and Paul Smyth will be missed, but replacements have been found.

I can’t see them making too much of an impact on the division as a whole, but 16th would be a great season for the newly promoted side. If their young squad can continue to develop, they could be in for a great few years, and they thoroughly deserve it after the uncertainty they’ve faced in recent years.


17th: Shrewsbury Town


This was the team I was torn on the most. I could very easily see Shrewsbury Town getting relegated this season but I’m going to back them to stay up purely because they’re not quite as weak as some others. I think the loss of Steve Cotterill will hurt them though and I haven’t seen much from Matt Taylor to convince me he’s the man to keep them up.

Matthew Pennington and Luke Leahy have left on free transfers whilst last season’s most dangerous attacking threat Christian Saydee won’t be returning to Shropshire, and neither will versatile defender Taylor Moore. There haven’t been any transfers that’ve made me take note of Salop and I think it could be a tricky season.

I think there’s enough quality in the squad to drag them to safety, but I can’t see it being a very enjoyable season for Shrewsbury. I can also see them getting involved in a cup run that takes their attention away from the league, which might see them tumble down the table even more.


18th: Burton Albion


Burton Albion continue to punch above their weight in League One and I think they’ll have more than enough to ensure another season of League One football. Dino Maamria has done a great job at the Brewers and a full season under him will do them the world of good. He’s been a great appointment.

They managed to secure the sought after signature of Cole Stockton who will lead the line after a couple of great seasons at Morecambe. Mason Bennett returning on loan is a real coup and the pair of them should have enough goals between them to keep Burton afloat. They’re solid defensively too so I can see them getting plenty of tight victories.

18th would be a success for Burton and it’s where I see them finishing for the next few seasons. I can’t ever see them falling off to a point of getting relegated, but equally find it hard to imagine they’ll ever threaten to break into the top half of the table. I think their fans would be perfectly happy with that though.


19th: Carlisle United


League Two playoff winners Carlisle United should have enough to stay up this season and they’re a team I’m really intrigued by. Manager Paul Simpson has a great record at the Cumbrians, and I can see him guiding them to survival, aided by star players like Owen Moxon, Jack Armer, and Jon Mellish.

They’ve also improved their squad in the transfer market too. Sam Lavelle, Dylan McGeouch, Dan Butterwoth and Jack Robinson are all good signings and they’ll be pleased to bring midfielder and former loanee Alfie McCalmont in permanently too. Kristian Dennis’ goals will need replacing but that should be doable.

If they can take the momentum of their promotion into the start of the season and get off to a good start it should set them up for a successful season. I’m sure there’ll be some tricky moments but I’m backing them to come through them and secure a solid enough finish, clear of the relegation zone.


20th: Stevenage


I reckon Steve Evans has got just enough about him to lead his Stevenage side to survival this season. The newly promoted side will be many people’s pick for an immediate return to League Two, but I can see them scraping their way to 50 points or so. Evans has done it before and there are few managers you’d rather have in this position.

They’ve added plenty of experience this summer, including Thompson trio Ben, Louis, and Nathan. They’ve strengthened their side enough to make me think they’ll be able to keep themselves afloat, and the personality and togetherness of the squad will help them through tough moments too.

As football evolves into a more modern and easier on the eye era it’s kind of refreshing to see a team like Stevenage, who play a pretty old school brand of football, achieve success. Steve Evans has the know-how when it comes to situations like this, and I can see him achieving more unexpected success at The Lamex Stadium.


21st: Port Vale


The team I think will just miss out on survival is Port Vale. I just think that the large turnover of their squad combined with the relative inexperience of boss Andy Crosby compared to his rivals will be the deciding factor. They did very well to stay up last season but how often have we seen the second season end in disaster for a club.

I’ve been impressed with a few of their signings but equally very concerned with the loss of young defender Will Forrester. Connor Ripley is a solid keeper who’ll keep their goals conceded to a minimum, but their lack of goals concerns me. In an open division it’ll be fine margins that decide things and that’s where I think they’ll fall short.

They could very easily stay up and it does feel slightly harsh having them in 21st spot but my gut feeling is they’ll fall just short. If they can get a goal scorer, I’ll change my mind but as of now I’ve got them going down, just.


22nd: Cambridge United


I think Cambridge’s time in League One will be over at the end of the season, I just can’t see them having enough to stay up. They’ve lost so many key players like Sam Smith, Harvey Knibbs, Joe Ironside, Lloyd Jones, and Dimitar Mitov and as of now haven’t replaced them anywhere near as well as they need to.

It’s hard when you lose the spine of your side without getting any money for them too, and we’ve seen their budget struggles with their recruitment. Jordan Cousins could be an inspired signing in midfield, but his injury issues will likely see him miss chunks of the season. Gassan Ahadme’s inconsistency will make it hard for him to replace Knibbs and Smith, whilst Joe Ironside is yet to be replaced whatsoever!

The hope will be that Mark Bonner can continue to defy the odds for the Amber Army and lead them to survival. I think they’ll find that in a season where the teams around them have strengthened significantly they won’t be able to get enough points to secure survival like they managed, just about, last season.


23rd: Northampton Town


Of all the newly promoted teams I’m picking Northampton as the team who will struggle the most, and the only ones that will make an immediate return to League Two. It just feels like, whilst their fellow promoted sides have added to and improved their squads this summer, Northampton are keeping faith in the team that got them up.

Unfortunately, I don’t think that’ll be enough for the Cobblers. They’ll be without goalkeeper Tom King, who has joined Premier League side Wolves, and Marc Leonard, who has returned to parent club Brighton, and I can’t see them being able to rely on the goals of Sam Hoskins as much as they did last year. If he gets anywhere near his tally of 22 goals, I’ll be shocked.

Jon Brady is a good coach and I’m sure they’ll pick up a few scalps this season, but across the 46 games I just can’t see them having enough. They’re quickly becoming a yo-yo club between the third and fourth tier and I think this season will be a continuation of that pattern.


24th: Cheltenham Town


Probably not an unpopular pick for relegation, I think Cheltenham Town’s spell in League One will come to an abrupt ending this season. I think it’s fair to say their two seasons of survival were achieved on the back of 43 goals by Alfie May, and now that he’s left it feels like they’re going to struggle.

In order to avoid losing him for free next summer Cheltenham decided to cash in on May and sold him to Charlton for a small six figure fee. In doing so I fear they’ve all but confirmed their relegation, and losing other players like Ryan Broom won’t help their cause either. A few decent additions have been made but I can’t see it being enough.

I could be tempted to push them slightly higher if they bring in some goal scoring threats to their squad but right now it looks like it’ll be an uphill battle for the Robins. Wade Elliott hasn’t quite made the same impression as Michael Duff did in Gloucestershire and I worry for his job too.

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