League One 2021-22 season preview

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<span>Composite: Getty</span>
Composite: Getty

Automatic promotion contenders

Rather aptly, the company formed to buy Ipswich in April is called Gamechanger 20 and the club hope to reap the rewards of a mass rebuild, with the American owners making it clear they have no intention of hanging around in the third tier with a Football Manager-style summer overhaul. Investment will bring expectation but it would be a surprise if Paul Cook, who knows the division well fails to lead a title push. Only relegated Bristol Rovers and Northampton scored fewer goals last season but the craft of Scott Fraser, one of 10 new faces, coupled with the firepower of Conor Chaplin, Joe Pigott and Macauley Bonne will almost certainly address that.

Sunderland, too, have grand plans under Kyril Louis-Dreyfus, comfortably senior English football’s youngest chairman at 24. The suffering felt by supporters since they dropped out of the Premier League four years ago continued last season with a play-off exit. In Aiden McGeady and Alex Pritchard, given a chance to kickstart his career, they have plenty of creativity but they look thin in key areas, though the 17-year-old Manchester City loanee Callum Doyle will bolster their defence.

Related: League Two 2021-22 season preview

Wycombe very nearly stayed alive in the Championship and arguably start with a stronger group, with the striker Sam Vokes the notable acquisition. Gareth Ainsworth does not have the biggest squad but a long-serving core can complement Anis Mehmeti and Sullay Kaikai, another exciting pickup. Lincoln exceeded expectations last season and under Michael Appleton, who has returned to work after surgery for testicular cancer, they can continue to flourish. Lewis Fiorini, on loan from Manchester City, could be crucial and Chris Maguire will guarantee X-factor. Lincoln were top in February.

Play-off hopefuls

Nigel Adkins will hope to build on foundations laid at Charlton last season, when they missed out on a top-six berth on goal difference after a strong finish. The permanent arrival of Jayden Stockley offers a goalscoring solution and at the other end Craig MacGillivray will replace Ben Amos, who has joined a mini-revolution at Wigan, a club finally looking up after a disconcerting couple of years. The arrival of Charlie Wyke raised eyebrows and the signings of the Portsmouth pair Tom Naylor and Jack Whatmough give further credence to the prospect of a promotion push financed by the Bahraini businessman Abdulrahman al-Jasmi.

Charlton&#x002019;s permanent signing of Jayden Stockley (right), in action against Fulham, should guarantee them goals.
Charlton’s permanent signing of Jayden Stockley (right), in action against Fulham, should guarantee them goals. Photograph: Javier García/Rex/Shutterstock

Portsmouth missed out on the play-offs by two points last season and Danny Cowley will hope the Norwich loanee Gassan Ahadme continues his fruitful pre-season form. Rotherham have been here before and stand to benefit from making no radical changes as they seek a third promotion in five seasons.

The mounting feelgood factor surrounding MK Dons dissipated after the departure of Russell Martin six days before the start of the season but their recruitment looks smart and a talented squad is illuminated by Matt O’Riley in midfield and the attacking trio of Mo Eisa, Max Watters and the Tottenham loanee Troy Parrott.

Oxford need to strengthen defensively while Crewe have a clued-up manager in David Artell and his youthful team, aided by the experience of Luke Murphy and Shaun MacDonald, could thrive. Accrington Stanley are set to keep their strike pairing of Colby Bishop and Dion Charles, pivotal if John Coleman’s side are to eclipse last season’s mid-table finish, their best since 1958.

Relegation candidates

There has been a summer exodus at Sheffield Wednesday and although they have kept Barry Bannan, a classy midfielder who holds the key to their hopes of a bouncing back, they otherwise look ordinary and short of attacking spark. The recruitment appears underwhelming and Wednesday, who failed to pay their players on time on several occasions last season, have accepted a suspended six-point deduction in the event they build up any wage arrears before January.

That Derek Adams was more enticed by another crack at League Two than helping Morecambe adjust to League One suggests he envisaged a slog. Yann Songo’o and their top scorer, Carlos Mendes Gomes, are among those to have departed, there is interest in the captain, Sam Lavelle, and it is hard to see them handing out many bloody noses. Bolton come up after losing three of 22 matches from the end of January and appear the best equipped of the four promoted teams, with Cheltenham and Cambridge, whose top scorer, Paul Mullin, dropped into non-league to join Wrexham, struggling to add reinforcements.

Morecambe&#x002019;s promotion-winning captain, Sam Lavelle, is attracting interest from other clubs.
Morecambe’s promotion-winning captain, Sam Lavelle, is attracting interest from other clubs. Photograph: Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

Fleetwood have lost some reliable performers, especially at the top end of the pitch, and the onus is on Simon Grayson to keep them punching above their weight. Plymouth endured a dreadful end to last season – they lost 11 of their last 15 games – and must hope defensive reinforcements plug a leaky back line. AFC Wimbledon will rely on the Brentford loanee Aaron Pressley filling the void left by Pigott, and Shrewsbury could also struggle to fill the goals-scored column.

Three youngsters to watch

Harry Darling, 21, MK Dons The centre-back was the club’s young player of the year despite arriving from Cambridge in January, ably replacing Richard Keogh. Comfortable striding out in possession and calm under pressure.

Nathanael Ogbeta, 20, Shrewsbury Signed from Manchester City in January, the left wing-back impressed with his athleticism. Unsurprisingly, given his inexperience, the versatile defender has work to do but he attracted a summer bid from Peterborough.

Nathanael Ogbeta celebrates after scoring for Shrewsbury against Plymouth in April.
Nathanael Ogbeta celebrates after scoring for Shrewsbury against Plymouth in April. Photograph: James Baylis - AMA/Getty Images

Rio Adebisi, 20, Crewe Another defender who made an impressive breakthrough at the end of last season and the academy graduate is set to make the left-back place his after Harry Pickering’s exit. Adebisi’s emergence signals the start of a new wave of youngsters breaking in, with Ryan Wintle joining Perry Ng at Cardiff.

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