By Steve Manning

Hello, and welcome to Part Two of my predictions for the top six, and relegation candidates this season in League One, in Part One I gave you my choices for the title winners, runners-up, and play-off semi-finalists.

In this second part, I offer up to you my choices of which teams that I believe, are destined to suffer relegation to the fourth tier of English football.

Again, it will be interesting to see how many of those four clubs I get spot on, and how many I get utterly wrong when the season wraps in May.

Here we go, my relegation candidates are:

Exeter City (21st place)

The Grecians have gone through the summer window without making any serious waves, did I say serious? I meant any waves at all in the transfer market.

Matt Taylor has retained the core of his promotion winning squad this summer and will be expected to deliver survival on a shoestring budget for the Devon-based club.

There have however, at the time of writing, been talks surrounding two goalkeepers – Bristol City’s Max O’Leary (A Republic of Ireland international), and Manchester United’s young Czech Matěj Kovář – as Taylor looks to strengthen that area of his team.

Taylor’s Exeter are severe underdogs going into the new season and will be heavily reliant on their core of veteran players to help settle their younger teammates into the higher standard of football ahead of them.

Exeter City’s lack of transfer activity will in all probability be their downfall if the same happens in January. I cannot remember a side promoted in recent memory who hasn’t at least reinforced its playing options with free transfers, and loans to give themselves at least a fighting chance at survival.

I sincerely hope they prove me wrong, that they do some business, and strengthen other areas, besides the keeper position, by the end of the summer window… I’m not holding my breath though on that.

Key Man: Sam Nombe (Striker)

The former Dons Academy graduate has become something of a fans favourite at St. James’ Park since leaving The Dons in the summer of 2021.

The attacker has found a place he can call home after his release from Stadium MK, however, injury interrupted Sam’s campaign during his side’s run to second place in League Two last season.

He’ll be looking for an improvement on his return of 8 goals, in 28 league appearances, but If Taylor can keep him match fit then there is absolutely no reason why he can’t do exactly that.

Nombe is not the answer to their survival hopes though, he’s going to need help if the club is to stay afloat in the third tier.

Fleetwood Town (22nd Place)

Fleetwood Town scraped survival by the skin of their teeth on the final day of the 2021/22 – a new broom has been swept through the management team with former Celtic FC captain Scott Brown now in the dug-out for the Cod Army.

Town have backed their rookie gaffer in terms of bolstering his squad, into the Highbury Stadium have come Josh Vela – midfielder – from Shrewsbury, wingbacks Josh Earl (Preston), Shaun Rooney (St. Johnstone), keeper Joel Lynch from Rochdale, striker Callum Morton from West Brom, and Brendan Wierdu a midfielder from Colchester United.

Six departures have gone the other way with the most notable being that of Jordan Rossiter who was snapped up by former boss Joey Barton at Bristol Rovers. That is a big loss for Brown as Rossiter seemed to me to be a big influence on the Fleetwood team last season – in terms of recycling possession for the side, him and Vela together would’ve been some threat to the rest of the third tier with their potency in attacking situations.

It’s imperative that Fleetwood get off to a decent start to their season with the number of bigger clubs inhabiting the third tier this time around they could struggle to survive if they don’t.

Sorry to say this Fleetwood Town fans, but it is the drop for you this time around.

Key Man: Paddy Lane (Attacking Midfielder)

Northern Irish attacking midfielder Lane enjoyed a great breakout campaign for his club last season with a combined 13 goal contributions (5 goals) in 37 league outings.

Under Scott Brown the Northern Ireland international will be looking to kick on, and improve that statistic, given that he is potentially in a stronger squad this time around could help him achieve just that.

If his team can learn from last season, and cut out the errors defensively, they may have a chance of staying up, that is a big IF in my honest opinion though.

Morecambe F.C. (23rd Place)

Derek Adams’ Morecambe survived against the odds last season, and the football romantic deep inside of me really wants to see the Shrimps retain their third-tier status.

I cannot see that happening; however, they’ve dipped into the transfer market to bring in Connor Ripley (keeper) from Preston North End, wingbacks Donald Love from Salford City, and Lincoln’s Max Melbourne. 

Winger Ash Hunter has arrived from Salford City, midfielder Jake Taylor has made the switch from League 2 promotion play-off winners Port Vale, and Australian midfielder Caleb Watts who has joined on a season long loan deal from the Southampton Under-23’s.

There just doesn’t seem to be adequate quality in my eyes in that squad, at the Mazuma Mobile Stadium, to see them survive for a second straight season at this level.

Again, it is the drop for you this season Morecambe fans in my honest opinion.

Key Man: Cole Stockton (Striker)

Stockton has drawn admiring glances from many scouts and has constantly been linked with moves away from Morecambe this summer and has often been on the radar for Dons fans.

The Shrimps’ survival hopes in my eyes rely heavily on whether they can keep hold of their star striker. If they can’t tempt him to stay, they’ll be in for a long arduous season with his goal contributions making up a fair chunk of the totals stacked up by Adams’ side last season.

Cole Stockton can be Morecambe’s saviour, if he stays put that is.

Accrington Stanley (24th Place)

The Stanley is like a cat with nine lives, you think that they will struggle to make an impact at the start of every season, but somehow, they always live to fight another day.

I believe that this term will be the season that their bubble will burst on them, and the Reds will tumble down to the fourth tier again.

In terms of recruitment there have been 5 incomings and 8 departures from the Crown Ground, and of those signing for John Coleman’s side only midfielder Shaun Whalley has any vast experience of League One, not enough depth in my honest opinion to be competitive as they would like to be in this division.

Out of all their departing players there are 3 that I see as maybe being a factor in my thinking that this Accrington side are destined to finish bottom of the pile.

The names in question are defender Ross Sykes who left Lancashire for Union SG in Belgium’s topflight, defensive midfielder Matt Butcher who has moved to divisional rivals Plymouth Argyle, and winger John O’Sullivan who has joined the League of Ireland’s Bohemians FC.

They need to replace at least Sykes and Butcher with some experience in my opinion, or as I am predicting they are looking at a one-way ticket to the EFL’s basement come next May.

Key Man: Colby Bishop (Striker)

As with Cole Stockton at Morecambe, much of Stanley’s fate will lay at the feet of star striker Colby Bishop who, at the time of writing, is currently the subject of The Dons transfer desires with two low bids having been submitted for the Stanley hitman. Portsmouth are said to be ready to pounce for the highly rated attacker too.

Bishop’s goals are going to be crucial in keeping Accrington in this division, if they can’t hang on to their chief goal-getter then they’ll have to replace the contributions from somewhere.

Right now, I just can’t see where that player will come from, Bishop is invaluable to Coleman and his club’s chances of staying up when he plays well, Stanley normally do well in games.

Take Bishop out of the equation and it’s not going to look too rosy for Accy this season. It is through the trapdoor in bottom place you go, Stanley.

Did you agree with any of my choices? Well hopefully you’ve enjoyed this two-part prediction, and you’re looking forward to the new season as much as I am.

I will be back with my brand-new match preview column on the 30th of July, the only place you can read my thoughts exclusively first ahead of all League and Cup fixtures featuring The Dons.

Until Next Time, SM.

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