With the kick off of the League One season less than a month we turn our focus on five of the division’s biggest clubs and take a closer look at how they’re shaping up ahead of the 2023/24 campaign.
Relegated sides Wigan Athletic and Reading, promotion favourites Derby County and Bolton Wanderers and the transfer window kings Portsmouth are the clubs we’ll focus on today, but a more in depth 1-24 article on League One will be released soon, exclusively on Crowdplod.
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.
Derby finished last season in 7th place after having their playoff spot taken away from them following a defeat to Sheffield Wednesday on the final day. Paul Warne arrived in October and looked to implement the style of play that earnt him several promotions with Rotherham, but it didn’t quite work as well as many would’ve expected.
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.
Prediction: 1st (Champions)
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.
The whites have been struck with the devastating news that key man George Johnston will miss the majority of next season with a knee injury, something that could hold them back a lot. They’ll need a new left footed centre back now and with several transfers already falling through for Ian Evatt’s side it’ll be interesting to see how they go about things.
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.
Prediction: 2nd (Runners-up, Automatic Promotion)
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.
Prediction: 4th (Playoff Position)
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, Sean Clare, 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.
Prediction: 13th (Mid-table)
Another of the recently relegated clubs and another with plenty of recent problems off the pitch. However, unlike Wigan it would appear that Reading’s issues are still very much relevant and could have serious implications on the 2023/24 season. They’re unable to sign players, several important figures have left, and uncertainty is a black cloud hanging over them.
Ruben Selles has taken over as manager which is a pretty impressive coup given the fact that he was in charge of Premier League side Southampton last season. However, no one really knows what kind of squad he’ll have at his disposal given the off-field issues. Tom Ince, Naby Sarr, Lukas Joao and Yakou Meite are all quality options that have left and as of now no replacements can be signed.
Currently they haven’t been given a points deduction but that’s another thing that could impact their already hectic season. Survival still seems likely but they’re a relatively unknown quantity right now. Their squad is still pretty decent, but it won’t take much to see them in real trouble. An immediate return to the Championship seems unlikely.
Prediction: 15th Come back next week for predictions on where the remaining League One clubs will finish in the upcoming 2023/24 League One campaign.