While the Premier League is the best league in the world and the Championship is the most competitive, League One can lay claim to being the most difficult league for fallen giants to thrive in following recent high profile struggles involving Leeds United and Sunderland.
When Leeds slumped into the third tier in 2007 just six years after competing in the latter stages of the Champions League, it was expected that they would bounce back straight away. However, it proved to be a very difficult task for the Yorkshire club, and it was only in 2010, at the third time of asking, that Leeds won promotion on the final day of the season.
Sunderland, another big club with great facilities and a huge fan base have also struggled. Since being relegated with just 37 points in 2018, Sunderland have narrowly missed out on automatic promotion and then crashed out of the end-of-season playoffs on two occasions.
The most agonising defeat came in the League One play-off final in 2019 when, after taking an early lead against Charlton, Sunderland eventually lost 2-1 following a last-minute goal at Wembley. That’s the closest they have come to getting out of the division with 8th placed and 4th placed finishes following in 2020 and 2021, respectively.
Ipswich Town are the latest team to suffer League One woes. After being relegated to the third tier for the first time in 30 years in 2019, Ipswich have only managed to muster mid-table finishes. Portsmouth, winners of the FA Cup in 2008, even slipped into the fourth tier for several seasons before settling in League One.
Those placing bets on UK betting sites will understand how competitive it is. But why is it so difficult to navigate the lower divisions of the English football league? One theory is that League One now has a growing number of former Premier League sides with expectations to at least be competing in the Championship. The current division has the likes of Sheffield Wednesday, Wigan Athletic, Charlton Athletic and Bolton Wanderers, all of whom have graced the top flight.
There is also the fact that bigger teams who get relegated to the third tier and don’t get promoted immediately get bogged down. According to Sunderland fan Micky Lough: “There was a purity to our first season in League One, the shackles were off, but now it feels like every defeat for Sunderland in this division is so magnified, it feels like an indignity, an impending disaster.”
There is immense pressure on bigger clubs to bounce back quickly. While the likes of Wolves and Norwich have shown how simple it can be, teams that don’t hit the ground running can soon feel weighed down by expectations from fans and the need to get out of League One as soon as possible. This is not a recipe for success, especially if a club is changing managers regularly and struggling to win games on the pitch.
Sunderland’s frustration could continue as the Wearside club is currently on pace for another playoff finish, while Ipswich and Portsmouth are again in midtable. However, fans of each team will be hoping that with a bit of luck, it will soon be their time to climb back into the Championship, where they can again at least harbour hope of a return to the Premier League.