The Verdict: League One Lowdown
Updated: Jul 16, 2019
Promoted back to League One at the first attempt, the third tier of English football looks a little different to the last time Rovers played in it. Local rivals Sheffield United have finally climbed back out into the Championship, but Rotherham return to set up a first derby game with the Millers in ten years. Wimbledon will become our newest first-time opponents later this month, whilst foes such as Oldham and Blackpool continue to follow us around the leagues. Looking away from home for today, here is the ITEN verdict on who will and won’t find success in League One this season.
The obvious starting point when discussing favourites for the title are our first away opponents: Blackburn Rovers. 11 days from now, we’ll get a good look at just how formidable Tony Mowbray’s side could be in 2017/18 as they look to arrest a years-long slide away from the top table, but after some excellent recruitment it looks set to be a good year at Ewood Park. Veteran Peter Whittingham has joined from Cardiff, whilst money was spent on Gillingham stand-out Bradley Dack, bolstering a midfield in sore need of creativity. Add Ben Gladwin, holding man Richie Smallwood and forward Dominic Samuel to that haul of new additions and it is hard to look past them for the top spot, despite questions over the strength of their defence in spite of the addition of one-time Rovers heartbreaker Paul Caddis.
Relegated with Blackburn last term were Wigan Athletic, champions last time we played at this level but a side who have undergone two managerial changes since. Even with the disappointment of last season fresh in the memory, the Latics have the means to compete again with the likes of Will Grigg, Ryan Colclough and Max Power among their ranks. Aaron Tshibola is the pick of the new boys at MK Dons who have amassed a strong squad under Robbie Nielson, expect last season’s midtable finish to be a one-off for them, meanwhile Oxford United should be able to get past losing captain and former Rovers midfielder John Lundstram, now managed by promising Spaniard Pep Clotet and with additions including James Henry to boast of.
Behind them, Charlton Athletic and beaten Play-Off finalists Bradford City have the capability to challenge, whilst Portsmouth, who pipped us to the League Two title last term, look well placed to kick on again with strong financial backing and a new manager in Kenny Jackett with a pedigree for success at this level.
Fair to Middling
Our chief local rivals Rotherham United and Scunthorpe United are among those being touted for a strong year, but recent history suggests that these two clubs should be looking slightly further down the table. The Millers were relegated in miserable fashion from the Championship, barely beating our own record for worst points tally in doing so, but will be hoping for goals out of new boys Jamie Proctor and David Ball. The Iron, along with Fleetwood Town, shocked everyone by challenging for the title in 2016/17, but that looks set to be a one-off as several senior squad members have left, although the pick-up of Bradford defender Rory McArdle looks a good one and whilst it shouldn’t be a bad year for Scunthorpe, scaling the heights they did last season is perhaps unlikely. Fleetwood as well have lost some key players, such as Jimmy Ryan and Conor McLaughlin, and have recruited promising youngsters but not enough to suggest a repeat run to the Play-Offs is on the card.
The success of Southend United is in question too, having nearly made the top 6 in the last campaign, their fate may be determined by their ability to keep hold of in-demand midfielder Ryan Leonard, especially with the news that stalwart defender Ben Coker is facing six months out injured. Bristol Rovers should fair about as well as their 10th place finish in 2016/17 suggests, having tied forward Ellis Harrison down to a new deal and bringing in goalie Sam Slocombe, plus Tom Nichols from Peterborough United. Fergie’s old team themselves have plenty about them, earning Rovers’ fans ire by snatching Steven Taylor from under our nose last week. Bury have lost star man James Vaughan but signed a number of new players to try and plug the gaps, whilst Matt Crooks and Aaron Pierre look like good pick-ups for Northampton Town.
It may be a bold call, but Rochdale may be the one upper midtable team from last year that fail to meet that aim again. There haven’t been any real stand-out signings, and Keith Hill’s side have always been one to carry an air of unpredictability about them. Promoted alongside Rovers in May, Plymouth Argyle and Blackpool may find the step-up tough to acclimatise to, with the Seasiders going up through the Play-Offs after a solid but unspectacular season under Gary Bowyer. Argyle’s main business has been keeping hold of talisman Graham Carey, but even he may not be enough to propel the Devon side up the table. Gillingham visit the Keepmoat on Saturday knowing they are under immense pressure already, one of the pre-season favourites for the drop owing to the loss of Bradley Dack and the fact they’re coming off a poor season in which they scraped survival on the final day.
AFC Wimbledon are also one of our first opponents, and a club of their stature will always be expected to have a hard time competing at this level. The Dons were comfortable last season, but the momentum from their historic promotion in 2016 seems to have worn off and it will be tough going for them one would expect. Walsall have also been tipped to drop into the relegation battle as their steady decline seems to continue, goalkeeper Neil Etheridge the key departure there, whilst Shrewsbury Town and our old nemesis Oldham Athletic both look unlikely to improve their status as perennial strugglers. The resources just aren’t there at these clubs, although both the Shrews and Latics have made a habit of defying the odds and escaping in recent years, notably of course at our expense two seasons ago.
Gun to head then, ITEN tips Blackburn for the League One title in 2017/18, with MK Dons going up in 2nd behind them. Relegation looms for Gillingham and Oldham, but what of Doncaster Rovers? In Part Two of ‘The Verdict’, published later in the week leading up to the season opener on Saturday, ITEN makes it clear how well or not we expect DRFC to do on our return to the division.
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