FOOTBALL LEAGUE lover Gabriel Sutton ( @_FootbalLab ) delivers his team-by-team verdicts on all 24 League One clubs ahead of the 2018/19 campaign, as well as revealing how he sees the end of season table looking come May.
1. Sunderland (3/1 Bet365)
Sure, Sunderland have questions to answer after last season, but they have certainly taken steps to answer them.
New owners Stewart Donald and Charlie Methven have built bridges with supporters through their transparency; it helps too, that they have appointed the PFA’s Scottish Manager of the Year in Jack Ross.
A 2017-18 Scottish Championship title-winner with St Mirren, Ross has addressed the team’s main achilles heel; conceding goals from basics deliveries.
Jon McLaughlin proved a reliable goalkeeper at Burton and aerial beast Glenn Loovens has been part of Championship play-off campaigns with Sheffield Wednesday.
Chris Maguire, a technical specialist at Oxford, should fare well alongside willing runners like Ethan Robson, George Honeyman and Elliott Embledon; Dylan McGeoch should add creativity after impressing in pre-season.
Lee Cattermole has something to prove after the last two years but is only 30 and if revitalized, could become a key ball-winner; but Josh Maja cannot be relied upon at 19 and with Joel Asoro leaving, adding another striker is a priority.
This is an open division though and in the absence of obvious challengers, Sunderland have the financial muscle to bulldozer their way through it.
2. Doncaster (33/1 BetVictor)
A surprising choice, perhaps, but we can expect more Shrewsbury-esque challengers this term and it could take a few small tweaks to turn Doncaster into promotion-contenders. Here’s why:
Darren Ferguson resigned as manager this summer at the right time, but he deserves credit for leaving successor Grant McCann a stable squad with a clear, possession-based ideology.
McCann will build on that by adding more penetration and incision; the return to fitness of left-back Danny Andrew should help.
They have one of the division’s best goalscorers in John Marquis; he always came alive whenever the team upped the tempo and if they do that for longer, the ex-Millwall man could shine.
Andy Butler has always been an aerial powerhouse and centre-back partner Joe Wright is developing nicely.
The positive of Jordan Houghton’s exit is that they won’t start him and Luke McCullough together; that paves the way for playmaker Benjamin Whiteman to offer alternative creativity and movement from deep, especially useful when space is denied for more advanced players like speedy forward Alex Kiwomya and the evergreen James Coppinger.
In flashes last season, Doncaster played with fluency and technical proficiency rarely seen at this level; add consistency and they have the ingredients to become a serious threat.
3. Plymouth (25/1 BetVictor)
If Donny feel too risky for your taste-buds, fear not: Plymouth are arguably the best-value team in League One.
Derek Adams has the goalkeeper he has wanted for the last 12 months in Harry Burgoyne, who joins on loan from Wolves.
Sonny Bradley is a loss but depth won’t be a problem, with four centre-backs coming in; besides, the team already has a stable setup.
More adventurous full-backs in Joe Riley and Ashley Smith-Brown should add width to allow the enigmatic Ruben Lameiras into the same team as Graham Carey, their key creative maestro.
The duo will be given freedom thanks to a midfield base of regista David Fox, technician Antoni Sarcevic and box-to-box man Jamie Ness.
While Ryan Taylor isn’t a great goalscorer on paper, his presence and off-the-ball work should create space for those behind him, evidenced by his mid-season impact in 2017-18.
Argyle are 5/1 with William Hill, 16th favourites, to reach the top six, but have achieved progress in each of their last five campaigns; a continuation of that trend would mean a shot at promotion come Spring.
4. Southend (28/1 Betfair)
After Chris Powell took over at Roots Hall in January, only Plymouth took more points than Southend United’s 32, such was the improvement.
Predecessor Phil Brown had gambled on experienced professionals to lead them up, but he perhaps tipped the balance too far in the direction of slow, injury-prone players; as results deteriorated, so did his mixed relationship with fans.
Powell though, has re-enthused fans and rejuvenated the squad, which now boasts the perfect blend of youth and experience.
Energetic midfielder Dru Yearwood, who may miss August through injury, can link defence and attack very quickly; Luke Hyam and Sam Mantom arrive to offer attractive alternative options, while Timothee Dieng is a muscular anchor man.
Harry Lennon arrives on loan from Charlton, which should take some pressure off veterans Anton Ferdinand and Michael Turner, while full-back Elvis Bwomono has freshened things up.
Simon Cox is a hardworking striker and now has a mobile partner in Tom Hopper while Michael Kightly, who has won Championship promotions with Wolves and Burnley, is an effective winger when fit.
The Shrimpers are an excellent bet to reach the top six at 7/2 with Betfred, considering they also have one of the best goalkeepers in the division in Mark Oxley.
5. Barnsley (17/2 188BET)
Barnsley were relegated from the Championship last season but, in some ways, that wasn’t simply down to a lack of ability.
George Moncur, Alex Mowatt, Brad Potts and Lloyd Isgrove are all capable midfielders and should do well in League One.
The bigger issue is whether that ability is spread across the squad. With Gary Gardner going back to parent club Villa, there is a holding midfield void which the Tykes hope Aussie-import Kenny Dougall can fill.
There is another problem at left-back; youngster Ben Williams may get his break with Zeki Fryers and Daniel Pinillos yet to convince.
They have three good centre-backs though in Adam Jackson, Liam Lindsay and Ethan Pinnock; youngster Jack Walton could pose a strong challenge for the goalkeeper jersey while Jason McCarthy proved at Walsall he is a good right-back for this level.
Solve the holding midfield and left-back dilemmas effectively, therefore and new, obscure head coach Daniel Stendel has a squad suited to his attacking, high-tempo approach.
There isn’t the best value on Barnsley, who are are 9/2 second-favourites to achieve automatic promotion, but they should have enough quality to make the top six.
6. Oxford (25/1 Ladbrokes)
Oxford might have finished 16th last season, but that undersells their squad.
Simon Eastwood is one of the best goalkeepers in the division. Rob Dickie is an able ball-playing centre-back, Curtis Nelson will be a fine partner when fit while midfielder Cameron Brannagan adds a range of qualities.
James Henry has played in the Championship with Wolves and is an appealing number 10 behind Jonathan Obika, who has enjoyed an excellent pre-season.
The reason that squad finished in the bottom half was because Pep Clotet firstly, recruited poorly and secondly, lacked the charisma to be a number one.
Karl Robinson is much closer to Michael Appleton in terms of managerial ability, having won promotion with a similar squad at MK Dons in 2014-15.
The Scouser has added technical full-backs Tony McMahon and Luke Garbutt, midfield talents Samir Carruthers and Marcus Browne along with versatile forward Jamie Mackie, a willing grafter.
The Yellows are 4/1 with BetVictor to reach the play-offs; after Robinson has had a summer to impart his possession principles, that is a realistic target.
7. Portsmouth (14/1 Ladbrokes)
Portsmouth mounted last season’s play-off challenge through being strong in both boxes.
Matt Clarke formed a fine centre-back pairing with Jack Whatmough in the latter stages while the hardworking Brett Pitman provided a goalscoring presence throughout, complimenting the threat of wide man Jamal Lowe.
Bigger questions though could be asked in central midfield. Their most-used player there was Ben Close and although he undoubtedly works hard, he is still only 21 and shouldn’t yet be expected to dominate games in the way that you’d want potential top six midfielders to.
That area hasn’t been completely addressed this summer; even if the return of Anton Walkes and the signing of Tom Naylor, two utility men, is positive, they still look short of that touch of class.
Lee Brown should offer width from left-back, having been a reliable stalwart at Bristol Rovers and competition for the goalkeeping jersey should intensify with Craig MacGillivray coming in to push Luke McGee.
Pace was needed up top to offer something different to Pitman; Louis Dennis, brought in from Bromley to provide that, could be a great success but his arrival represents a gamble.
Jackett appears to want to build this Pompey squad up slowly and while that’s admirable in some ways, progress might not be meteoric.
8. Fleetwood (33/1 BetBright)
Of the teams competing in League One this season, Fleetwood Town are the most intriguing.
John Sheridan did an excellent job keeping them up after the Uwe Rosler era had appeared to go stale, but has since been replaced by Joey Barton, a big name in football but a rookie in managerial terms.
Pre-season signs are positive: the team has showed glimpses of the slick interplay we saw in the 2016-17 play-off campaign as well as the tenacity that Barton wants to stamp on his team.
There’s different options up top; Ashley Hunter is a creative forward, Paddy Madden showed flashes of his 2015-16 form at the end of last season while Chris Long is a willing runner. The moral implications of signing Ched Evans are debateable, but in purely footballing terms, he is a capable goalscorer.
They should have quick full-backs in Lewie Coyle, who returns from Leeds and Eddie Clarke, highly-rated at Tranmere, while Ashley Eastham and Preston loanee Tommy Spurr should form a steady, ball-playing centre-back pairing in front of top stopper Alex Cairns.
There is though a lack of depth, especially in midfield, where the driven Kyle Dempsey and Rangers loanee Jason Holt must be present for a full season; there’s a potential gap in quality in the full-back areas, too.
However, BetVictor offer an attractive 11/8 on the Cod Army making the top half, which would make a successful debut season for Barton.
9. Luton (17/1 Betfair)
For the first time in nearly a decade, promotion for Luton is a hope, not an expectation.
In fact, with new stadium plans underway, there’s a sense that fans will be glad to see their club re-familiarize itself with this level, maintain a sensible wage structure and promote from a promising youth academy.
It’s easy to say investment was the reason Luton went up last year and they were certainly helped by the additions of goalkeeper Marek Stech, playmaker Luke Berry and goalscorer James Collins; the latter formed a deadly partnership with Danny Hylton.
Equally though, Glen Rea and Elliot Lee starred at opposite ends of the midfield diamond and neither were established 12 months ago; rampaging full-backs Jack Stacey and Dan Potts have gone up another level, too.
Nathan Jones deserves credit for sticking to his possession principles in an agricultural landscape; 5’10” Alan Sheehan was one of the best ball-playing centre-backs ever seen at that level and his lack of height is now accounted for by the arrival of Sonny Bradley.
Luton could win promotion – but not doing so wouldn’t hinder their process-driven project.
10. Bristol Rovers (25/1 Ladbrokes)
After back-to-back promotions for Bristol Rovers, 10th and 13th placed finishes represent a steady start to life in League One.
There have been various points though, when they have looked set to move on even further, only to lose a key player: Matt Taylor in 2016-17, Billy Bodin in 2017-18 and now top scorer Ellis Harrison has gone to Ipswich, although St Mirren’s Gavin Reilly could be a decent replacement.
Those sales are understandable, given the uncertainty over the new stadium, but it must be frustrating for Darrell Clarke.
The Mansfield-born manager has a core of players he trusts, evidenced by the fact that five of his six most-used players last season were part of the 2014-15 National League promotion-winning side; although left-back Lee Brown has since left for Portsmouth to be replaced by Tareiq Holmes-Dennis.
The athletic Liam Sercombe and the enigmatic Kyle Bennett are both capable, so if Chris Lines and Ollie Clarke can find form simultaneously, then new inverted wide man Alex Rodman will complete a strong midfield.
Goalkeepers Sam Slocombe and Adam Smith provide tight competition; right-back Joe Partington and centre-back Tom Broadbent did well last year, although the future of the latter’s partner, Tom Lockyer, is unclear.
That brings us to the concerns about Rovers as a whole: for all the brilliant progress they have made, key departures mean they don’t yet have the feel of a club ready to reach that next level. For now, a top 10 finish might be the best they can hope for.
11. Gillingham (150/1 Betway)
Gillingham started last season in awful form.
Adrian Pennock’s overly defensive tactics meant that they created almost no chances in open play and relied largely on their divine saviour, Tomas Holy, to claw them enough points to stay within touching distance of safety by late-September.
Enter Steve Lovell. The ex-Gills goalscoring great not only built bridges with supporters, he also got the team playing further up; the goals in the 3-1 win at Rotherham, his second victory in charge, was a clear indication of that.
Target man Tom Eaves became more influential, finishing the league campaign with 17 goals including two hat-tricks.
Gillingham will never be found wanting for endeavour under Lovell. Sitting behind tidy holding midfield Mark Byrne are two aerially-dominant centre-backs in Gabriel Zakuani and Max Ehmer, a workmanlike right-back in Luke O’Neill and a quick left-back in Bradley Garmston when fit.
What they perhaps lacked, last year, was creativity from deep; the signing of Dean Parrett, well thought of at AFC Wimbledon, plus Josh Rees, who scored 20 goals for Bromley last year, could solve that problem.
The Gills are 3/1 with BetVictor to make the top half; very generous odds, given that their 37-game form under Lovell would put them 10th over a full season.
12. Accrington (150/1 BetVictor)
The bookies are criminally underestimating Accrington Stanley, if they think the League Two champions are the most likely team to go down.
John Coleman picked effectively the same team every week during a fabulous run in the second half of last season; nine of that eleven remain, albeit with question marks over star striker Kayden Jackson’s future.
True, Aaron Chapman, now at Peterborough, deservedly won the Golden Glove and yes, Burnley centre-back Jimmy Dunne is destined for big things.
Let’s not pretend though that this situation is the same as losing six of the play-off semi-final starting eleven from 2015-16, which necessitated a far bigger re-build.
In Billy Kee, Stanley boast an intelligent striker who has scored 55 league goals across his last three seasons and can win flick-ons at 5’9”.
Mazy dribbler Jordan Clark, long-range specialist Sean McConville along with battlers Scott Brown and Seamus Conneely remain to ensure a stable midfield, while Mark Hughes adds leadership at the back.
Full-backs Callum Johnson and Janoi Donacien offer versatility, crucial in a small squad.
The lack of depth could be slightly problematic if they don’t get as much luck with injuries, but there is too much spirit in the camp for them to be anywhere near the drop zone.
In fact, BetVictor’s 5/1 on Stanley making the top half could be the League One ante-post bet of the summer.
We can expect them to start strongly, due to the novelty of them playing at this level for the first time in their current incarnation; and John Coleman has the rigorous mentality to ensure those good runs are prolonged.
13. Charlton (12/1 Coral)
Lee Bowyer and Johnnie Jackson did remarkable work at Charlton last season.
Once fans had fallen out of love with Oxford-bound Karl Robinson, Bowyer, a local lad and Jackson, a club legend were exactly the characters required to galvanize the club.
They took over in March with the team five points off the play-offs with 10 games to go and got them in thanks to an impressive return of 19 points.
Both however, are in the embryonic stages of their managerial career and their job from hereon in for the Addicks, 7/4 with William Hill for a bottom half finish, involves not just motivation but a complete re-build.
Six loanees have gone back, including goalkeeper Ben Amos, along with left-sided duo Jay Dasilva and Sullay Kaikai, through which much of their attacking play had gone.
Centre-back Ezri Konsa’s exit for Brentford might hinder the build-up play and while Darren Pratley could be a reasonable replacement for ball-winner Ahmed Kashi, the squad looks weaker than last season.
Injuries to the agile Joe Aribo or the technical Jake Forster-Caskey would be problematic and there’s question marks out wide where Mark Marshall, their only option of proven quality, must stay fit for a whole campaign.
The only improvement comes up top where Lyle Taylor, an athletic goalscorer who bagged 18 at AFC Wimbledon last term, should take the goalscoring burden off the more selfless Josh Magennis.
The biggest issue is the ownership situation: while Roland Duchatelet remains in charge, last season’s top six berth could prove an anomaly, rather than a cue for better things.
14. Coventry (22/1 Betfair)
Even though Coventry had a squad that perhaps should have been closer than nine points to the top three, their eventual promotion in 2017-18 was still impressive.
Mark Robins began the campaign with a disciplined double-pivot of Michael Doyle and Liam Kelly, hoping that spontaneous moments of magic from Jodi Jones could decide games, but that template had to change mid-season.
Doyle, Kelly and various defenders picked up injuries, as did Jones, whose absence meant they had to improve collectively going forward.
Tom Bayliss made a difference with his inverted runs from the right channel, as Jordan Shipley offered balance on the left, but the key was grafter Maxime Biamou’s partnership with the nippy Marc McNulty.
The latter became has since moved to Reading; whether Jonson Clarke-Harris or Jordan Ponticelli can step up remains to be seen.
The Sky Blues have two exciting right-siders in Jack Grimmer and Chelsea loanee Dujon Sterling, while new ball-winner Abu Ogogo reduces the reliance on Doyle and Kelly. Junior Brown, also ex-Shrewsbury, adds an attacking left-back option next to two of four evenly-matched centre-backs.
Ownership uncertainty might limit scope for further progress, but Mark Robins at least offers this deep, young squad a steady pair of hands.
15. Peterborough (16/1 William Hill)
For my money, the most overrated team in League One this year is Peterborough.
The main reason they have been widely tipped for a promotion push is the Steve Evans factor, which may not be as big as suggested.
He just kept Rotherham up in 2014-15, he had an ordinary stint at Leeds in 2015-16 and his return at Mansfield was underwhelming relative to investment.
At Field Mill, Evans could bring good League One players into a League Two club; here, he’s brought good League Two players into a League One club.
Yes, Aaron Chapman deservedly won the golden glove while at Accrington, of course, Rhys Bennett was a solid centre-back for Mansfield and true, Alex Woodyard is a reasonable midfield hassler; they aren’t bad signings.
However, it is questionable that the quality of the squad will be high enough to eclipse the downsides of having Evans in charge.
Firstly, he lied about whether his decision to resign at Mansfield was related to Peterborough’s interest.
Secondly, he called the squad the most talented he’d ever worked with in March, then stated that he’d have been embarrassed to assemble it a couple of months later, after overseeing just four wins in 12.
That kind of deceit grates with supporters, so William Hill’s 11/8 on a bottom half finish for Posh looks generous.
While some fans are content to tolerate Evans if he delivers results, it is difficult to see the club having the inner-strength to pull through the difficult phases.
16. Blackpool (40/1 Bet365)
Talk of takeover has rumbled on at Blackpool over the last 12 months and supporters feel optimistic that change will come, but for now Owen Oyston retains ownership.
It is testament to Gary Bowyer that this ongoing clash off the field hasn’t impacted the club’s progress on it, when for so many other Pool managers it did.
The ex-Blackburn boss has a solid and durable squad: winger Chris Taylor and ball-winner Jay Spearing were promotion winners with Bolton in 2016-17, as was new goalkeeper Mark Howard.
Curtis Tilt had an excellent season last year and Kelvin Mellor is a rampaging right-back, while Nathan Delfouneso finished 2017-18 in fine form: he netted a hat-trick in April’s 5-0 win over Bradford.
The Tangerines might miss the individuality of loanees Sean Longstaff and Viv Soloman-Otabor, as well as the balance Colin Daniel offered at left-back and perhaps the pace of Kyle Vassell up top; new boys Marc Bola and Dolly Menga offer potential solutions in the latter two cases.
Oyston’s unwanted presence means stabilization is the most realistic target, but while the cool-headed Bowyer is around, it’s one that should be met.
17. Bradford (28/1 Ladbrokes)
If we are being open-minded, Michael Collins could be the EFL’s next managerial mastermind and it is only fair to give him that opportunity to prove so.
However, there is no denying that in appointing the rookie as head coach, Edin Rahic and Stefan Rupp have taken a massive, massive risk.
The Germans have come under fan pressure due to a perceived lack of investment in players at their peak, poor treatment of club legend Stuart McCall and persistence with a left-field recruitment policy that few experienced managers agree with.
Thankfully, they have brought in playmaker Jack Payne, excellent for Oxford and Blackburn, a winger with Championship pedigree in Sean Scannell and a promising young forward, George Miller, on loan from Middlesbrough.
They still need a target man though, with top scorer Charlie Wyke set to join Bolton.
The arrivals of Richard O’Donnell, Joe Riley, Anthony O’Connor and Ryan McGowan though, means the Bantams could kick-off at Shrewsbury with a different keeper and almost a whole new back-four; centre-back Matt Kilgallon and left-back Adam Chicksen look the most likely candidates to keep their places.
Bradford’s abysmal form in the second half of last season hasn’t allowed them, as initially hoped, to build steadily on the previous two play-off campaigns; instead, they must start all over again.
18. Walsall (100/1 SkyBet)
Results haven’t improved at Walsall since Dean Keates replaced Jon Whitney in March; if anything, they made harder work of survival than they perhaps should have done.
What has changed though is the mentality: fans have got behind Keates, a Saddlers legend for his playing days and that kind of support is vital during this transitional phase.
The ex-Wrexham boss believes value can be found in the non-league market – two of his four additions have come from the National League – but you’d have to go back to 2014 to find the last time Walsall shopped below the EFL.
A reliance on Tranmere’s 26-goal target man Andy Cook could be risky, given how rarely National League goalscorers go on to feature in League One, but Walsall needed an aerial alternative to selfless runner Amadou Bakayoko.
Cook could profit from the winding runs of wide man Zeli Ismail and the pin-point deliveries of Luke Leahy, who could form a decent left-sided partnership with the energetic Kieron Morris.
Keates hopes to partner George Dobson, a promising all-round midfielder, with the tireless Joe Edwards once the latter returns from injury; stalwart Adam Chambers has been a terrific servant but at 37, his durability might wane.
Teenager Kory Roberts’ injury enhances the need for an experienced centre-back to partner Jon Guthrie, but at least goalkeeper Liam Roberts has shown promise.
There’s enough ability in that squad to suggest survival can be secured, but it will require unity, as Walsall once again bank on the unknown quantity of youth.
19. Shrewsbury (33/1 Spreadex)
This season promises to be a challenging one for Shrewsbury.
They have a squad of players who have spent enough time in the divisions below to suggest that the now-departed Paul Hurst did exceedingly well to turn them into League One promotion contenders.
They have lost key players; ball-winner Abu Ogogo and left-back Junior Brown have gone to Coventry (although both had spent time on the sidelines), goalkeeper Dean Henderson has gone back to Manchester United, inverted wide man Alex Rodman has moved to Bristol Rovers while Carlton Morris and Ben Godfrey are back at Norwich.
Perversely, one might suggest that after losing Hurst, who walked out in unsavoury circumstances, they might also lose centre-back Aristote Nsiala and playmaker Jon Nolan; either literally or in terms of performances. Both have only ever performed well under the ex-Grimsby gaffer and while they could reach the same level once he’s gone, there’s no guarantees.
John Askey did superbly to lead Macclesfield to the National League title last season, but his unique relationship with the club he’d served for around three decades was a factor: here, he must prove himself all over again.
Speedster Alex Gilliead and playmaker Charlie Colkett are decent additions and there should be enough depth in this Salop squad to beat the drop; they have kept some of last season’s stars including winger Shaun Whalley, centre-back Mat Sadler, auxiliary left-back Omar Beckles and striker Stefan Payne, too.
Replacing key players is a challenge, but one just as big will be maintaining performance levels of those still present.
20. Rochdale (40/1 BetBright)
Rochdale looked doomed to the drop last season, but if the last half a decade has taught them anything, it’s to trust in their manager.
Keith Hill devised a 16-game plan to beat the drop and, thanks to the impact of loanees like Stephen Humphrys, it worked.
Midfielder Callum Camps looked back to his best, Andy Cannon was adaptable while right-sider Joe Rafferty was given more freedom after the switch to a wing-back system.
Harrison McGahey developed nicely next to the more experienced centre-back Jim McNulty and the hope is James Finnerty, who joins from Villa, will follow suit.
Finnerty’s arrival is one part of a decisive window of business; ball-winner David Perkins should offer leadership while attacking midfielder Brad Inman is the most exciting of six new additions.
There’s a lack of pace up top, however: stalwart Calvin Andrew and new veteran Aaron Wilbraham are both target men, Ian Henderson isn’t the quickest either despite his double-figure consistency while Matty Gillam is willing but unproven.
The hope is that they can find extra energy in midfield and re-discover the quick interplay that made them a force in their first three seasons at this level, rather than resort to the more fearful football that we saw in the first half of 2017-18.
Dale might have enough to scrape another final day survival – it could be a bumpy ride.
21. Burton (28/1 Spreadex)
Burton Albion faced few external criticisms after relegation from the Championship; the common perception was that they were working miracles just to be there – and maybe, to an extent, they were.
In some ways though, that does a disservice to the 2016-17 outfit that had the same budgetary disadvantage but rarely looked in danger and always played with positivity, be that powerful attacks down the flanks or smooth passing through the midfield.
We saw neither of those things last season, when they lost 14 of their 23 home league games and only stayed in the dogfight until the final day due to a few fortuitous results on the road.
That squad has arguably been weakened: versatile Toms Naylor and Flanagan depart for League One rivals, as does midfielder Hope Akpan, while attacking midfielder Scott Fraser and winger David Templeton arrive as wildcards from Scotland.
80% of their squad are either over 28 or under 24, which highlights a concerning shortage of peak-age performers. While there’s some youthful talent – assist-king Joe Sbarra and midfielder Ben Fox have shown promise – there’s a possibility that kids could be put under undue pressure.
Nigel Clough, whose side are 10/1 with William Hill for relegation, is at pains to remind the fans that the club is battling a budgetary gulf it has no right to battle. While that might be accurate up to a point, his apparent pessimism dampens the sense of fearlessness that had been central to Burton’s rise.
22. Scunthorpe (16/1 BetVictor)
Scunthorpe have made the play-offs in the last two seasons and have done well to remain a key part of the League One promotion race.
This time around though, the lack of depth could be a serious problem; so much so that Betway’s 12/1 on relegation might just prove good value.
Matt Gilks is out with a long-term injury, so Nick Daws will initially have to gamble on an inexperienced keeper in Rory Watson or Jonathan Flatt.
Jordan Clarke and Conor Townsend are good full-backs, but there is little in the way of back-up should either leave or get injured.
Rory McArdle is a solid centre-back but could be partnered by Charlie Goode or Cameron Burgess, who have only 98 EFL appearances between them.
Funso Ojo had a steady campaign last year, but otherwise the midfield options look limited; especially if controller Ryan Yates doesn’t return.
Josh Morris’ form has dipped since his outstanding pre-Christmas form in 2016-17 and with Hakeeb Adelakun gone, Duane Holmes will take on a hefty chunk of the creative responsibility.
Olofela Olomola or loanee Stephen Humphrys could replace Ivan Toney, but both have shown much shorter glimpses of promise in the EFL.
Indeed, it seems telling that the number 12 shirt has been given to forward Andy Dales, who could star but is by no means a sure bet after signing from seventh-tier Mickleover Sports.
While fans of other clubs might have the patience for a scrap, Scunthorpe are used to promotion challenges and with the squad lacking the durability for the winter fixture congestion, a bad start could be fatal.
23. Wycombe (100/1 BetBright)
Wycombe did superbly to win promotion last season – for that, they deserve every credit.
They won it however, with the oldest squad in League Two and little has since been done to lower the average age, therein lies a concern.
The team is asked to press high and support Adebayo Akinfenwa, who was critical to the way they played.
‘Da Beast’ posed a threat from Michael Harriman and Joe Jacobson’s accurate deliveries from deep, with midfielders such as Luke O’Nien getting up to support him along with wide forwards, Craig Mackail-Smith and Nathan Tyson.
When Akinfenwa missed out though, nobody quite knew what to do with the ball and such a strong reliance on a 36-year-old, without a like-for-like replacement, could prove unhealthy.
It is possible, too, that they will be more exposed in transition against higher-quality opponents; their best centre-back, Adam El-Abd, is 33 and most likely partner Sido Jombati, 30, is a right-back by trade.
Ryan Allsop is a decent replacement for goalkeeper Scott Brown but on the whole Wycombe, 3/2 for the drop, are rightly second-favourites in that market.
24. Wimbledon (50/1 BetVictor)
AFC Wimbledon’s journey over the last decade is commendable and, from a romantic perspective, it is great for English football that we have a professional football club that represents the heart of the original Wimbledon.
From a practical perspective though, replicating the 1988 Crazy Gang’s template in the modern era has serious drawbacks.
Sometimes, keeper George Long booting the ball upfield leads to a goal – as it did twice in April’s 3-2 win at Walsall – and it helps that they had the most athletic goalscorer in the division in Lyle Taylor.
Take Charlton-bound Taylor out of a team that only managed 47 league goals though and the lack of creative ideas becomes problematic. For pace, they will rely on 27-year-old Kwesi Appiah, who might reach Taylor’s clinical level after a good pre-season but to do so, he would need to better his career-long total of 13 EFL goals in a single campaign.
James Hanson’s arrival suggests the Wombles will stick to the route one approach. New signing Anthony Wordsworth could produce the odd decent delivery while Anthony Hartigan is a creative talent, but one questions whether those players will see enough of the ball.
The lack of depth could be an issue, too; they have just 16 players who have completed 15 EFL games and although of course there might be some gems outside that group, a struggle surely beckons for a side 5/2 with bet365 for the drop.