With the season about to kick off Jon Harries takes a look at the likely contenders for the League 1 title, promotion, which teams are going to be in a relegation battle, and who will be this seasons Wycombe Wanderers.
With all the confusion of Covid 19 and the financial difficulties many teams find themselves in, it is certainly going to be difficult to make sense of which teams are going to be this season likely contenders. Reduced wage bills and squads either forced through the EFL directives in the shape of a wage cap, or just a plain and simple lack of a playing budget because of the hard times most clubs find themselves in. Many teams are going to have to rely on academy players to play bit parts as the games come thick and fast, with clubs being forced to potentially play three games a week at certain stages of the season.
My feeling is, and this is no great revelation, the teams that can avoid major injuries, suspensions and can successfully rotate players without it being detrimental to their set up are the teams that will figure by the time we get to May, those that can’t cope, will more than likely sink like a stone, and I don’t rule out another Bolton or Bury scenario, it will be a miracle if we end up with a full complement of clubs by the time the last ball is kicked.
I really believe there is going to be a massive divide this season, almost two mini leagues, but we will see, and I’m going to attempt to pigeon hole those teams and make some sort of prediction for what lies ahead.
The top two, I cannot look much further than Portsmouth and Hull. Both have remarkably strong squads for this level and although no team has the “right for Championship Football” I just feel their depth will see them through. Even though both ultimately failed in their goals last season, I am expecting a strong start from both that they sustain to the finishing line.
The playoffs are harder to call, on paper you would say Peterborough United, Oxford and Fleetwood should be up there. On their day Peterborough can be ruthless with Ivan Toney being the L1 player of the Year goals are guaranteed although it is highly likely he will depart London Road and head down to the smoke on a big wage packet.
Oxford and Fleetwood have cause for optimism after just falling short last season. You know what you are going to get with Joey Barton especially with their quality and direct playing style. We all obviously know about Robinson and his style of football. Expect Matty Taylor to be up there in the goal scoring charts.
Sunderland with all their off-field issues cannot be counted out. Consistency let them down last season. If Grigg can be reignited than no reason automatic promotion can be a target I just feel they are lacking an out and out goal scorer.
For an outside shot of the playoffs I would have to say Blackpool and Bristol Rovers who both respectively have recruited well and look solid sides. Gillingham have also strengthened with the impressive Kyle Dempsey who adds creativity to their side.
I am reserving judgement on both Charlton and Wigan as with both their off-field problems who knows where they are likely to finish. They should be aiming for play offs as a minimum, but both could struggle.
Ipswich seem like a team that could potentially be mid table again. Their squad has more individuals than team players for me plus the unrest for Paul Lambert has not gone away. I would also add Plymouth, Burton Albion, Northampton, Lincoln City and MK Dons to that group as it stands. Enough quality in the respective squads to be safe and with right recruitment between now and October potentially could upset a few teams above.
The relegation picture could be interesting. Swindon, Rochdale, AFC Wimbledon, and Accrington Stanley are my picks for the basement. With Swindon they always bounce up and down between divisions and the other three I believe will be affected by the pandemic financially, therefore expect them all to struggle, not only that AFC have directed just about every spare penny they have getting The Meccano Stadium ready, and they have hardly moved anyone in to strengthen their squad. None of the above teams for me have the quality in the squad for a season where Tuesday and Saturday will become the norm.
So, my predictions
Champions – Portsmouth
Runners Up – Hull City
Play Offs – Peterborough United, Fleetwood, Oxford, Sunderland
Relegated – Accrington Stanley, Rochdale, AFC Wimbledon, Swindon
(Not that I ever get it right)Surprise Package – Gillingham for possible play offs.