By Steve Manning
Hello, and welcome back to the second half of my preview, covering those clubs that have joined League One for the new campaign – both relegated & promoted.
In Part Two, I am talking about those teams who have come up from League Two, what business they have done, and what they may need to add, and how I think they may fare.
Forest Green Rovers FC
Stadium: The New Lawn (5,134 – 2,000 seats)
Year Formed: 1889 (as Forest Green Football Club)
Head Coach: Ian Burchnall
Captain: Jamille Matt
Forest Green Rovers won the League Two title (on goal difference) last season, and are embarking on an historic first season at this level of the English game.
They are a fantastically well-run club under the stewardship of entrepreneur Dale Vince, who has transformed the Green Devils from mid-to-lower table fodder in the National League into a club that has ambitions of a place in the Championship.
FGR in that time has become the world’s first Vegan football club – a concept now copied in other countries – and the New Lawn Stadium is also run completely on sustainable & renewable energy.
On the pitch, title winning Head Coach Rob Edwards was controversially poached by Watford, as Roy Hodgson’s replacement, following the club’s celebrations. And in his place, Owner/Chairman Vince has turned to Notts County’s Ian Burchnall – who led the magpies to the play-off eliminators in last season’s National League.
FGR’s transfer window so far has been fairly busy with three departures, and five signing’s for the Gloucestershire based outfit.
Out of the door on free transfers have gone: Taylor Allen (FW) to League Two Walsall, Dan Sweeney (DF/CM) to fellow League Two football club Stevenage, and Kane Wilson (RB/RM) to Championship side Bristol City.
Incomings at the New Lawn has seen a move for Sheffield United’s Harry Boyes (WB) on a season-long loan deal. And Free Transfers for Alfie Burnett (GK) from Rotherham United, Kyle McAllister (MF/FW) from St. Mirren, Corey O’Keefe (DF) from Rochdale, and David Davis (MF) from Shrewsbury Town.
Looking at the business that they have done already the capture of Davis stands out for me, he is your archetypal tough tackling midfield General, who Head Coach Burchnall will no doubt be looking to help bed his side down in the third-tier.
Obviously, the loss of Wilson is a blow for Forest Green, but they have invested in those critical area’s that was needed to be done, so far in this window. Which will go a long way to helping their survival chances in their debut campaign in the third tier – should have enough about them to finish around lower mid-table in my opinion.
Exeter City FC
Stadium: St. James’ Park (Exeter) (8,720 – 3,715 seated)
Year Founded: 1901 (as St. Sidwell’s United)
First Team Manager: Matt Taylor
Captain: Matt Jay
Exeter City won their place in League One after finishing in the runners-up spot to Forest Green in League Two.
The club has previously experienced life in the third tier under their former manager Paul Tisdale, also formerly an incumbent of the hotseat at MK1, with their highest finish being that of 8th place at this level.
Like Forest Green, The Grecian’s are now a very well run club at board level with the Exeter City Supporters Trust running the operational side of thing’s at the Devon based outfit.
Matt Taylor, not the Matt Taylor of Portsmouth fame, has been at the helm of Exeter since the aforementioned Tisdale left to take the then vacant job at Stadiummk in 2018.He has managed to put together a side that has become effective in goal scoring, with former Don Sam Nombe leading the line and impressing with some fine displays last season. They have also become hard to score against defensively, and that is something they will definitely need to continue to be at this level.
As far as transfer activity goes at Exeter,only George Ray has moved on after agreeing a deal with League Two side Barrow.
Exeter have yet to make any signings inside the summer window to date.If Exeter are to thrive, and survive in a higher division, then they are going to need reinforcements to bolster their squad. Depth in every department is needed in my eyes, as I cannot see them finishing anywhere else than in the relegation zone if they start with what they have currently.
Bristol Rovers FC
Stadium: The Memorial Stadium (12,300 – includes a mix of seating, and terracing)
Year Founded: 1883 (had a previously politically incorrect name. Before changing to Eastville Rovers FC in)
First Team Manager: Joey Barton
The Gas won their place back in League One in sensational fashion on the very last day of the season from League Two.
Joey Barton’s side sat in 4th place and were playing an already relegated Scunthorpe United, Rovers needing to overturn a sizeable goal difference deficit and hope that the team in 3rd lost – that team was Northampton Town – both scenarios would indeed bear fruit as Barton’s boys proceeded to blitz The Iron by a score line of 7-0.
And so, the Blue and White half of Bristol had returned to the third-tier after a couple of seasons away, and they will be hoping to carry on with the momentum that was built up during their successful promotion push in the 2021/22 season – how far they can go now depends on how quickly their team can adapt to life in League One again, and the type of recruits former Manchester City man Barton can get in at the Memorial Stadium.
Talking of transfers the Rovers boss has not wasted anytime in reshuffling his deck during this summer’s transfer window. He has allowed Jon Nolan (CM) to join Tranmere Rovers, Sam Nicholson (LM) to join MLS’ Colorado Rapids, Cian Harries (CB) to join Swindon Town, and Cameron Hargreaves (CF) to join King’s Lynn Town – all on free transfers. Released from The Mem are veteran’s Glenn Whelan (DM), Leon Clarke (CF), and Brett Pitman (CF). The other departee’s are Junior Brown (LB), Ben Liddle (DM), and Lucas Tomlinson (AM).
The signings made by Barton so far has seen him utilise the free transfer market well. He has swooped to pick up Port Vale’s James Gibbons (RB), Fleetwood’s Jordan Rossiter (DM), and Cardiff City’s James Connolly (CB). He has chosen Jamie Egan (CB) and Harvey Greenslade (FW) to promote from the Bristol Rovers academy.
As it stands Barton is in need of several defensive options across the centre, left and right of his backline with that department looking threadbare, at the time of writing. If he can get the bodies in that he needs then I would expect this side to be fighting for a top 12 placing this season.
Port Vale FC
Stadium: Vale Park (15,036 all-seated)
Year Founded: 1876 (disputed) 1879 (speculated)
Year Re-founded: 1907
Head Coach: Darrell Clarke
Captain: Tom Conlon
Port Vale earned their place in League One after beating Mansfield Town at Wembley in League Two’s promotion play-off final last season.
Head Coach Darrell Clarke’s effective counter-attacking style saw them climb the table towards the end of the campaign to secure their spot in the end of season tournament, finishing an impressive 5th in the fourth-tier standings.
Defensively Vale are a well drilled side, and rarely concede many goals, the Valiants are also very adept to grinding out results if that is what they need to do as well. This is evident in striker James Wilson, who made a name for himself with some very useful goals in his side’s promotion push, and I’d expect him to impress in this Vale side again as they make their step up to the third-tier.
In the transfer market Port Vale have brought in Lewis Cass (CB) from Newcastle United, and Funso Ojo (MF) from Aberdeen FC. And allowed James Gibbons to leave on a free transfer, At the time of writing this, there have been no other deals completed by the Burslem-based club.
In my opinion Port Vale are in need of several new recruits in every area of the squad if they are to make a real go of life in this division, failure to attract anyone of real quality will only go to reiterate my view, that they will be heading straight back down to where they came from.
Well, I hope you have enjoyed this two-part write-up covering the seven clubs joining us in League One for 2022/23.
Until next time, Steve.