League One is shaping up to look like an exciting prospect for teams such as Derby County and Portsmouth, who will be eyeing up those automatic promotion places for themselves. But Pompey and the Rams will have to fend off the likes of Bolton Wanderers and the teams who suffered the drop, Reading and Blackpool. Reading and Wigan Athletic also suffered troubles off the pitch this summer, with the Royals being placed under a transfer embargo, and the Latics finally found themselves new ownership but start this season at the foot of the table following a nine-point deduction.
Newly promoted Leyton Orient will be looking to establish themselves as a League One side this season and make a statement in the division after their impressive League Two campaign last season. At the bottom of the table, Cheltenham Town will aim for another year of survival and face that task without Alfie May, who transferred to Charlton Athletic. The Addicks could certainly surprise in the promotion race with the signings they have made, and the same can be said for Oxford United, who have been busy this transfer window after their League One status was confirmed last season.
With just some of what to look forward to this season covered here, Chris of TheRealEFL previews the opening day of the League One season and what can be expected.
Blackpool vs Burton Albion
Burton Albion face a trip to the seaside in their opening day fixture, as they face relegated side Blackpool in their first game back in League One. The Seasiders will want to start strong to return immediately to the Championship, while the Brewers will be hoping for the same strong start and to improve last season’s performance. Burton Albion finished 15th in this division last season, 11 points clear of the relegation zone. The side picked up 15 wins in the league and averaged 1.22 goals per game but they also averaged 1.72 goals conceded. They will be without highest rated performer Terry Taylor this season, who joined Championship side Plymouth Argyle.
Blackpool will most likely be handing a debut to former Swansea striker Kyle Joseph, who joined the club as part of the deal which saw Jerry Yates move to the Welsh club. Meanwhile, the Brewers have their own debutant in Cole Stockton, who joined as a free agent from relegated Morecambe. Blackpool finished in 23rd with 44 points, five points away from safety, but ultimately suffered relegation to the third tier. They picked up 44 points in the league and averaged 1.04 goals scored per game, with an average of 1.57 goals conceded each game. They face a tough test in replacing Jerry Yates but will be hoping Kyle Joseph is up to the task at hand.
Blackpool 2 – Draw 2 – Burton Albion 3
Derby County vs Wigan Athletic
Derby County suffered heartbreak on the final day of last season, narrowly missing out on the playoff places in their first season back in the third tier. Defeat to Sheffield Wednesday at Hillsborough following a controversial red card for veteran defender Curtis Davies saw them miss out and finish in seventh, as Peterborough secured their playoff status. Paul Warne and his Rams will look to go again this time and look like one of the favourites to go up. But they face doing so without last season’s top scorer David McGoldrick and midfielder Jason Knight. Nevertheless, they have still added Conor Washington to their ranks, as well as Kane Wilson.
Wigan Athletic were one of the most talked about clubs in League One this summer, but most of that was for the wrong reasons, with issue after issue falling upon the club. These ranged from unpaid wages to HMRC, but with all that settled now and new owners at the helm, they can finally begin their season with some optimism and will look to pick up a result at Pride Park, hoping to overcome the nine-point deduction they were handed this summer. With all the issues plaguing the club, numerous familiar faces departed the DW Stadium, such as Max Power, who has moved out to the Middle East. Despite that, they have brought in new faces, Sean Clare among those names. And a familiar face returns to the club in Callum McManaman.
Derby County 6 – Draw 3 Wigan Athletic 5
Northampton Town vs Stevenage
Two of the four teams who joined the division from League Two meet on the opening day, and Northampton Town will be hoping to keep their run over Stevenage going. The side proved difficult to beat for the visitors last season, as the two sides drew in one fixture, with the hosts victorious in the second meeting between the two sides, despite their red card. The one talking point for the hosts has been the return of a popular face from last season, with Marc Leonard rejoining the club he helped guide to the third division in his first stint. The Brighton & Hove Albion midfielder made 48 appearances on loan last season, but that was not enough to prove himself to Roberto de Zerbi clearly, as he returns once again for a second loan spell.
Stevenage have their own loan signing to be excited about as well. They signed Manchester City wonderkid Filey Burns on a season-long loan from the European champions. They have been adding reinforcements to their squad, preparing for their first season back in League One since 2014 after finishing bottom in the 2013/14 season. And that is not the only addition they made. Aaron Pressley joined the club on a two-year deal from Brentford, and they look well-equipped for this season and set out to make a statement in the division.
Northampton Town 12 – Draw 2 Stevenage 1
Barnsley vs Port Vale
Barnsley were the same as Derby County last season in suffering heartbreak at the hands of Sheffield Wednesday. Michael Duff’s side were beaten at Wembley in the final by the Owls, as Josh Windass headed the ball into the net in extra-time to send his side to the Championship. A good run for the Tykes, who reached the final on their first attempt at returning to the second division nonetheless. Despite this, Duff is a Championship manager, swapping Oakwell for the Liberty Stadium, joining Swansea in the second tier, and goalkeeper Brad Collins has done the same, joining Coventry City. New manager Neill Collins will look for the best from his players on opening day, but this season could be difficult for the Tykes.
Port Vale were a mixed bag last season, eventually finding themselves at the opposite end of the table, embroiled in the relegation fight. They ultimately survived, finishing four points above the final relegation spot. However, they will be looking to learn from last season’s mistakes, and the best way to do so is with a result at Oakwell at the expense of the beaten playoff finalists. They have lost some players, such as Mal Benning, who joined Shrewsbury, but they have also been able to bring in some players from Championship clubs, Josh Thomas, Tom Sang and Conor Grant in particular.
Barnsley 3 – Draw 1 – Port Vale 3
Shrewsbury Town vs Cheltenham Town
The Shrews may have had a comfortable finish in mid-table last season, finishing 12th in League One with 59 points, but that did not stop the Salop from parting ways with former Cheltenham Town manager Steve Cotterill at the end of the season. They will start their campaign welcoming Cotterill’s former employers to the Meadow, having recruited numerous members of the Robins staff to their backroom team. The Salop have already added Mal Benning and Max Mata to their squad and will surely be hoping for more signings with some time left in the transfer window. Matthew Taylor will be looking forward to hopefully enjoying a winning start to life in Shrewsbury but faces doing so without his captain Luke Leahy, who moved on to Wycombe Wanderers after his request to leave.
Cheltenham Town lost their best player this transfer window, with Alfie May leaving for Charlton Athletic. There is no doubt about May’s status within the team at Whaddon Road, and he will prove near impossible to replace, leaving behind an important legacy, despite a somewhat short stint in Gloucestershire. Wade Elliott proved some critics wrong in his first season with the club, leading them to a third successive season in the third division, and the additions of players such as Rob Street will soften the blow of May’s departure. The pressure will fall on the shoulders of Street and Aidan Keena to replace the goalscoring calibre that May brought to the Robins.
Shrewsbury Town 6 – Draw 4 – Cheltenham Town 3
Portsmouth vs Bristol Rovers
Portsmouth will look to put last season behind them, or at least the first half of it. Danny Cowley’s reign at the club ended in January after a miserable run of 14 games, with just one win recorded in that time. However, John Mousinho’s arrival in the second half salvaged Pompey’s season. Now Mousinho is preparing for his first complete season at the helm at Fratton Park, and they are one of the favourites with Derby to go up. And the Pompey boss will look to utilise Colby Bishop again, whose goalscoring exploits were part of the reasoning for their fantastic run upon Mousinho’s arrival at the beginning of this year. Not only that, but the club have strengthened with some impressive free-agent signings, such as Gavin Whyte from Cardiff City and Regan Poole from League One rivals Lincoln City.
Joey Barton’s Bristol Rovers are another team with a mixed run last season. The Gas ended up finishing in the bottom half of the table last season, but do not let that take away a good run when it mattered the most, perhaps saving Barton his job. Of course, the one thing Rovers will be hoping for less of; is Barton’s controversy, which was on show occasionally last season, Lincoln City being an example of this. Aaron Collins will be vital to the Gas this season, and he stated his loyalty to the Bristolian side this transfer window. The new ownership at the club also signals a new era dawning for Barton and his men, with new signings through the door, such as Jevani Brown. Two of the busiest teams in the transfer market in League One this summer meet up in this clash that could be two promotion contenders butting heads immediately.
Portsmouth 9 – Draw 2 – Bristol Rovers 3
Wycombe Wanderers vs Exeter City
Short of the playoffs last season, Wycombe Wanderers finished one point shy of the previously mentioned Portsmouth and look to move forward. Gareth Ainsworth departed for Championship side QPR last season, and recent weeks have seen his interest in raiding the club for players such as Chris Forino. Wycombe have reinforced though adding Shrewsbury captain Luke Leahy to their ranks, and new manager Matt Bloomfield will want a winning start to the season but will find Lewis Wing on the opposite side of the pitch at Reading this season. But Bloomfield and Wycombe fans may have their sights set on a return to the Championship once more.
The Grecians finished 13 points behind their opponents in 14th position last season. Since the beginning of the transfer window, they have lost important members of their squad, Jamal Blackman left at the expiration of his contract, and Josh Key joined Championship side Swansea. Archie Collins also joined League One side Peterborough United. But the Grecians added some talent of their own, mostly from Premier League academies, with Dion Rankine of Chelsea looking to be one of the most exciting on that list. Rankine will want to make a statement as soon as possible, with Exeter being his first loan destination in his career. If he can have the same impact he does in the PL2, he could prove to be one to watch in League One this season.
Wycombe Wanderers 9 – Draw 6 – Exeter City 5
Cambridge United vs Oxford United
A derby between two sides who were almost on the receiving end of relegation last season is on the cards for opening day. And with the calibre of signings their opponents have made, Cambridge will be in for a test straight off the bat in their season. Despite a poor season, Mark Bonner remains at the helm and has added Elias Kachunga to his ranks. Bonner will be placing the burden of replacing the goals of Sam Smith and Harvey Knibbs on the veteran forward’s shoulders. And what better way to show he is up to the task than getting on the scoresheet against their bitter rivals?
Another busy team in the transfer window, Oxford United could be one of the dark horses for the League One title. Liam Manning has made a statement with his transfer activity so far. Ruben Rodrigues joins the U’s after a stellar season with Notts County. Despite winning promotion, he opted against a new contract and has moved on with Oxford United. James Beadle has joined on loan from Premier League Brighton’s academy. With James Trafford’s performances at Bolton last season, Beadle could be capable of repeating his young English compatriot’s performances. Manning disappointed in his stint with MK Dons last season, but he turned things around for himself and his new employers at the Kassam Stadium, and his former employers were ultimately relegated.
Cambridge United 3 – Draw 5 – Oxford United 6
Reading vs Peterborough United
The Royals’ pre-season has been tumultuous, to say the least. Problems off the field have plagued the club since the midway point of last season, some issues dating back longer than that. However, their transfer embargo has been lifted, meaning new boss Ruben Selles can hand debuts to new signings such as Lewis Wing and Charlie Savage. With numerous departures within the club, several of the team’s more experienced players departing, Scott Dann and Lucas Joao among those names. Andy Carroll remains with the club, and Selles will look to his striker to use his experience to lead the squad and set an example for the rest of the team. With this being the side’s first season in League One this century, they will not be looking to stay down there for long, and sights will be set on an immediate return.
Where to even begin with Peterborough United? A disastrous collapse in the playoff semi-finals saw the Posh throw away a 4-0 first-leg lead against Sheffield Wednesday at Hillsborough. Since then, the majority of the squad has been transfer listed, leaving much of what Darren Ferguson’s starting XI on Saturday will be left to the imagination. Archie Collins has joined from Wycombe Wanderers, and perhaps he could be the replacement for transfer-listed Jonson Clarke-Harris. Meanwhile, Jason Knight, also up for sale at the club, had a transfer to QPR fall through at the last minute this past week. Ferguson has reiterated the importance of staying focused this season, and this fixture will be the perfect test for that, with the protest planned by Reading fans to take place this weekend likely to provide a somewhat different atmosphere.
Reading 5 – Draw 1 – Peterborough United 3
Charlton Athletic vs Leyton Orient
Charlton Athletic have been busy this summer preparing for the new season. And they are another name who could be dark horses this season, alongside Oxford United. The attacking capabilities of Alfie May are what Dean Holden and Addicks fans will be hopeful of seeing on display following his arrival from Cheltenham Town. May has shown that he is capable of goals in this division, with back-to-back seasons with 20 goals scored by the Englishman. This is the reason why Charlton were willing to pay for the striker. Partnered with Miles Leaburn this season, the addition of May could make the club a force to be reckoned with this season. However, with Leaburn picking up an injury in pre-season, May will have to go it alone for the opening stage of the season, but as seen from his time with the Robins, the striker can thrive under pressure.
Leyton Orient took League Two by storm with a title win last season, but now the real work begins for the side. A trip to the Valley is up first for Orient, with the Addicks looking refreshed by a potential new takeover nearing completion. Not only this, but they now begin life without their best player last season, Lawrence Vigouroux, who has moved to Premier League side Burnley. The side has brought in players such as Joe Pigott and Idris El Mizouni. Pigott’s season was mixed last time out, and he departed Ipswich on a free transfer, with El Mizouni joining on loan. Sol Brynn’s loan spell from Middlesborough means he is tasked with replacing Vigouroux this season, and plenty of fans will be hoping he is up to the task.
Charlton Athletic 5 – Draw 3 – Leyton Orient 3
Bolton Wanderers vs Lincoln City
Bolton Wanderers reached the playoffs last year but fell short, losing to beaten finalists Barnsley. They will be aiming for those automatic spots this season and look to be another of the favourites on that list. Replacing the performances displayed by James Trafford last season will prove a near-impossible task, and that responsibility falls on Nathan Baxter, who joins on loan from Chelsea. Ricardo Santos will be leading the line this season from the back, and Ian Evatt will need his experience and ability if they are going to achieve their goals. Dan Nlundulu joins from Premier League Southampton, and Evatt has been full of praise for the striker in the past, drawing bold comparisons.
Lincoln City finished comfortably mid-table once more last season, proving to be a solid League One team. They finished with a near record-breaking 20 draws in the league. The side will be without the services of Regan Poole, who has now joined Portsmouth. However, the return of Tyler Walker has excited Imps fans, and the addition of Reeco Hackett should also prove one to be excited about this season. Ethan Erhahon had an impressive run in the second half of the season after joining from Scottish side St Mirren, and now his new midfield partner should allow the side a lot more control in the middle of the pitch, with Ethan Hamilton joining from relegated side Accrington Stanley.
Bolton Wanderers 4 – Draw 1 – Lincoln City 1
Carlisle United vs Fleetwood Town
Carlisle United reached the third division following their playoff final victory over Stockport County after a fifth-placed finish in the league. Players such as Omari Patrick and Morgan Feeney have moved on from the club, but Carlisle have also been busy in the transfer market bringing in players. Luke Plange joins the club on loan from Crystal Palace, and he will bear the shoulder of responsibility in the goalscoring department for the club. He will not be shouldering that entirely, with Sean Maguire arriving on a free transfer from Coventry City. Defensively the club added Fin Back on loan from Nottingham Forest and Ben Barclay from their playoff final opponents, and Dylan McGeouch arrives from relegated Forest Green Rovers. All of these can be expected to feature on Saturday, and Carlisle look for an immediate impact on the third division in their first game.
Scott Brown turned down a return to Parkhead to take over Celtic to remain with Fleetwood Town in League One. Brown brought in Adam Montgomery from his former side in his playing days. But the club have also been busy bringing in players, making two signings from the Irish leagues, a region which has proven popular recently in the EFL. The club also added Ryan Broom and Danny Mayor on free transfers after their contracts ran up with Cheltenham Town and Plymouth Argyle. Fleetwood finished comfortably in mid-table last year, and their transfer activity does not signify any danger to the top half of the table, but Jack Marriott has reportedly been a transfer target for clubs aiming for that goal, with Oxford United having a bid rejected for the forward, according to reports.
Carlisle United 3 – Draw 0 – Fleetwood Town 4