It is fair to say Peterborough were miffed when they were bumped out of the play-offs on points per game – “this is the worst day of my life because I think we’ve been cheated” said a typically understated Barry Fry, the director of football – but they will have a chance if they can carry on where they left off. The division’s most prolific side won seven of their last nine matches, scoring four times in four of those and overcoming promoted Wycombe and Rotherham along the way. The £6m sale of top scorer Ivan Toney was inevitable but the return of Jonson Clarke-Harris from Bristol Rovers, coupled with the emergence of Ricky Jade-Jones, 17, and Flynn Clarke, 20, gives Posh reasons to be cheerful.
Phil Parkinson is still to woo some Sunderland supporters but they have the tools to compete at the right end after their lowest league finish in their 138-year history. Bailey Wright has signed permanently to reinforce a mean defence and they will be tough to beat if nothing else. Oxford fell at the final hurdle after edging out Portsmouth in the play-off semi-finals and Karl Robinson’s side are primed for another tilt towards the Championship. The return of Liam Kelly on loan and Matty Taylor should help Oxford to keep their rhythm after losing captain Rob Dickie to Queens Park Rangers. Supporters fear Pompey have grown stale under Kenny Jackett but they boast one of the division’s strongest squads and have added the Accrington defender Callum Johnson.
Blackpool have grand plans under former Liverpool coach Neil Critchley and they have bolstered their attack, adding Bez Lubala, a promising pick-up from Crawley, as well as Keshi Anderson and Jerry Yates, who impressed for a free-scoring Swindon last season. A few miles up the coast, play-off semi-finalists Fleetwood could go one step further under Joey Barton, who has added winger Mark Duffy to an already dangerous front line.
Ipswich can make the top six, with Flynn Downes one of the most talented players in the division, but there are question marks over Paul Lambert’s attacking options and they appear short of a bona fide League One striker. The same applies to Doncaster, who will give the former Manchester City teenager Taylor Richards a chance to impress on loan from Brighton.
If the Smiths – Matt, Jonny and Tyler, a trio of loanees from Arsenal, Bristol City and Sheffield United respectively – thrive then Swindon could push for back-to-back promotions. Richie Wellens’s focus has been on replacing 44 goals, with talisman Eoin Doyle the headline departure. Brett Pitman fell out of favour at Portsmouth last season but has been prolific at this level and could prove a shrewd recruit. Crewe and Plymouth may quietly fancy their chances, while a new-look Lincoln could be dark horses if new signings click.
Hull City have taken six points from the last 60, a dire run dating back to when they were on the brink of the Championship play-offs on New Year’s Day and they should cope with the going in the third tier, even if they fail to flourish. For Wigan Athletic, the priority is ensuring fans have a club to support come the end of this campaign and they are unrecognisable from the team that would have finished last season mid-table in the Championship but for a 12-point deduction. Only Sam Morsy and Nathan Byrne remain from the final day, with Wigan set to start with 12 senior players, including two goalkeepers.
If not careful, Charlton could end up in a similar predicament, with much resting on the proposed takeover by Danish businessman Thomas Sandgaard but providing the club can erase the uncertainty that has weighed heavily there is scope for optimism under Lee Bowyer. Keeping Alfie Doughty and Macauley Bonne will be key. Northampton, whose attritional style saw supporters struggle to warm to Keith Curle, will not be short of spirit but the departure of the captain, Charlie Goode, to Brentford is a blow. Rochdale appear to be on the wane after failing to retain key players, while MK Dons, who have lost Rhys Healey to Toulouse, and Shrewsbury, who saw Josh Laurent depart for Reading on a free transfer, look short of goals. Not for the first time, AFC Wimbledon, who will play home matches at Loftus Road until returning to Plough Lane in October, are likely to be against it from the off.
Three players to watch
Marcus McGuane, Oxford From the Camp Nou to the Kassam. Two years on from becoming the first Englishman to play for Barcelona since Gary Lineker, the signing of the 21-year-old midfielder on a season’s loan from Nottingham Forest represents quite the coup for Oxford.
Callum Morton, Lincoln Michael Appleton has leaned on his contacts at West Bromwich Albion to loan the bustling forward, together with the goalkeeper Alex Palmer, who excelled last season on loan at Plymouth. Morton made a memorable splash en route to promotion for Northampton, scoring eight goals in 12 matches.
Ethan Chislett, AFC Wimbledon A nimble midfielder, the 21-year-old is working his way back up the pyramid after being released by Southampton at 14. Chislett, who was born in South Africa and moved to England aged seven, flourished for fifth-tier Aldershot Town last season, scoring nine goals after joining from seventh-tier Met Police FC, from whom the Dons signed Nesta Guinness-Walker last year.