Welcome to the land of the fallen giants. Eight sets of fans head into this League One campaign having watched their teams in the Premier League before, while a further seven have seen the second tier this century. Expectations will be high almost everywhere, then – but where are they most likely to be met?
Finances might look opaque at Portsmouth, who have lost a few faces by force or design, but big-hitting Sunderland and Ipswich now have ownership regimes capable of delivering glory. Charlton and Wigan may not quite share their hopes of the title, but both can finally look up rather than down with their own days of disarray seemingly over.
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Juggernauts with big finances and fanbases to match make the division highly competitive, but managers can also have a say. While Fleetwood boss Simon Grayson used to be League One’s go-to, the Yorkshireman has emerging competition. Leading the automatically promoted clubs from League Two are Michael Duff (Cheltenham), Ian Evatt (Bolton) and Mark Bonner (Cambridge), who have gone up in four of their combined six full seasons as managers.
Joining the talented trio is former Motherwell manager Stephen Robinson, who inherits Derek Adams’ miracle team at League One debutants Morecambe. His job looks particularly daunting, however, and taking over a newly-promoted side can bring with it unique challenges.
Sheffield Wednesday, entering from the other direction, are blighted by financial instability. Yorkshire neighbours Rotherham rarely suffer that under chairman Tony Stewart, though, so Paul Warne can hope for a third promotion at this level. Both teams will be threatened by their fellow demotees Wycombe, who’ll be inspired as ever by the brilliant Gareth Ainsworth, and encouraged by a gallant end to their Championship journey.
The Chairboys have a clear playing identity, but so too do MK Dons. Having been commended for their expansive, possession-heavy 3-4-2-1 setup last season, optimism is high in Buckinghamshire that they may add points to their plaudits.
There’s also hope further north, where Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink’s second stint at Burton is going as well as the first, Shrewsbury are making a splash and David Artell’s Crewe, despite a few key departures, hope to build on a positive first year back.
Plymouth Argyle’s return to the third tier didn’t go quite so well, but boss Ryan Lowe has since bolstered a leaky defence which undermined their efforts. He and Artell are ready to renew acquaintances with League Two’s title-winning boss from 2019/20: Richie Wellens was unable to build on his success with Salford last season, but the Mancunian motivator could make the next step of his exciting career with Doncaster, who – like Steve Evans’ industrial Gillingham side – harbour play-off aspirations.
All can take heart from Lincoln’s rise to 5th last term, from 16th the year before. Thoughts will be with boss Michael Appleton, who has missed a portion of pre-season with testicular cancer. Meanwhile, Appleton’s former club Oxford must start picking on teams their own size after successive top-six finishes (and accompanying play-off failures).
Aiming to upset the odds as ever are Accrington Stanley and AFC Wimbledon: two spirited, reformed clubs who love to defy their doubters. John Coleman has enjoyed a combined 20 years in the Stanley hotseat, while the impressive Mark Robinson kept the Dons up last season and embarks on a challenging first full year in charge. He’ll be roared on by fans taking their seats at Plough Lane for the first time, and that feel-good factor could be key for the fan-owned club who are out to prove size isn’t everything.
This might be the land of the fallen giants – but watch out for those ankle biters too. Those who don’t take caution in this league get hurt.
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