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Ranked! The 12 best managers in the Football League this season

Daniel Farke

Which gaffers are overachieveing, working wonders on a small budget or, very simply, just good at what they do? Huw Davies look at the best managers in the Championship, League One and League Two

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FourFourTwo’s May edition is in shops now, featuring our countdown of the best players in the Football League. Supporters voted for these players, so if you hate the list, you literally hate all football fans.

But if you disagree with the below, have at us. This is FFT’s pick of the Football League’s best managers this season, from the top of the Championship to the bottom of League Two (not that the bottom of League Two is especially well-represented). The criteria: achievements relative to expectations, resources and budget, plus generally being good and stuff.

First, we’ve honourable mentions for Neil Adkins and Graham Potter in the Championship, building encouraging teams at Hull and Swansea in the face of off-field problems, as well as John Coleman in League One (Accrington were promoted on one of League Two’s smallest budgets yet have just about held their own at a higher level) and Michael Flynn in League Two (an astonishing two years as Newport’s manager bringing memorable cup runs and potentially still a play-off berth).

Now, to our distinguished dozen…

12. Lee Bowyer (Charlton)

When the season started, Bowyer didn’t even know if he was Charlton’s manager. The club were in crisis, with staff working in semi-darkness to keep the leccy bill down, and Bowyer, in his first managerial role, was still caretaker in September having begun in March. To not only keep the Addicks steady but secure a play-off place, despite losing top scorer Karlan Grant to Huddersfield in January, is some effort.

11. Paul Warne (Rotherham)

Paul Warne Rotherham

Yes, really. The manager whose team lost 6-1 the other week. Rotherham are unfortunate to be in the bottom three, giving seriously rough rides to the division’s top teams and winning more points at home than the promotion-chasing pair of Bristol City and Middlesbrough, only to be undone by so many results going narrowly against them.

Warne picked up Rotherham during the worst campaign in Championship history and won promotion at the first attempt; given that half of his team have barely played at this level before, keeping them up would be even more impressive. A 2-1 win over Nottingham Forest on Saturday showed what they're capable of.

10. Danny Cowley (Lincoln)

His three seasons at Lincoln have brought a Football League Trophy, an FA Cup quarter-final, promotion to League Two, an immediate play-off place and now – well, soon – the League Two title.

So why isn’t Cowley higher? Because the 40-year-old’s good work meant Lincoln were one of the 2018/19 promotion favourites, with several players who simply shouldn’t be in League Two, including Jason Shackell, Michael Bostwick and John Akinde. That he’s in this list at all is testament to how dominant his team have been.

9. Alex Neil (Preston)

Alex Neil preston

A quarter of the way through the season, Preston were bottom of the league. They’re now five points from the play-offs, and it was previously two. Neil was present for that bad start, of course, but nevertheless his side have since been one of the Championship’s standout performers despite their squad featuring few whom the casual observer would single out as top-six players (apart from the marvellous Alan Browne and perhaps the ageless Paul Gallagher).

Neil is coaching and coaxing the best out of signings from lower divisions, such as ex-Exeter pair Jordan Storey and Jayden Stockley. Watch this space.

8. Grant McCann (Doncaster)

Several in pre-season, including FFT, thought Donny might struggle. Even their Fan File in our Season Preview – where every supporter tips their club for promotion or a play-off push – predicted a 17th-placed finish. McCann has made a mockery of such worries: in his first season, Doncaster are League One’s second-top scorers and occupy a play-off place ahead of Peterborough, who sacked McCann last year.

7. Daniel Stendel (Barnsley)

Daniel Stendel Barnsley

They press, attack and create countless chances – yet Barnsley also have the best defence in the whole Football League. Stendel’s tactical nuance and off-field bonding has created a team where everyone knows their roles, and while Barnsley were expected to manage relegation well (although so were Burton, currently mid-table), he could hardly have done better in his first year with a squad that, remarkably, features no player older than 26.

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