2015/16 Sky Bet League 1 Preview Part 4

A bit later than I’d hoped, but here’s the last part of the previews for the 2015/16 Sky Bet League One season. Interestingly, Wigan were 33/1 to be relegated from the Championship this time last year

Southend United

Promoted from League Two via the playoffs

Manager: Phil Brown

Last ten games: 7-1-2 (League Two, doesn’t include the playoffs)

Promotion: 14/1

Relegation: 4/1

Back in League One after several near misses but the Shrimpers don’t tend to hang around at this level: in their last ten seasons in the third tier they’ve been promoted twice and relegated four times. Although they had a chance of automatic promotion going into their last game, Southend had been in the playoff spots since Christmas without ever really challenging for the three automatic places. A very good defensive record – including eight consecutive clean sheets – was crucial in reaching the playoffs, but half of the teams in League Two scored more goals than they did in 2014/15 and they haven’t scored more than twice in a league game at Roots Hall since March 2014. If that issue isn’t addressed by Phil Brown then 2015/16 will be a steep learning curve spent in the bottom half of the table.

Swindon Town

Fourth consecutive season in League One

Manager: Mark Cooper

Last ten games: 3-3-4 (doesn’t include League One playoffs)

Promotion: 6/1

Relegation: 12/1

Have only finished in the bottom half of the table once in the last six seasons, but that was when Swindon were relegated in 2011 after losing in the League One playoffs at the end of previous season. Could it happen again? The answer is that it’s possible: despite being top in mid January, Town won just seven of their last 20 games and limped into the playoffs where their defensive frailties were clearly on display. A playoff hangover is likely anyway, but with several key players having already left the club I think even a top half finish might be optimistic. The new ‘media policy’ would probably be seen as being too liberal by the North Korean government.

Walsall

Ninth consecutive season in League One

Manager: Dean Smith

Last ten games: 3-5-2

Promotion: 14/1

Relegation: 11/2

It would be wrong for me start this preview without mentioning the three Saddlers fans from the same family that were murdered at Sousse earlier in the summer. Patrick and Adrian Evans and Joel Richards were probably looking forward to the new season in the same way as the rest of us do during the close season. The club they supported were last season’s draw specialists and Walsall always seem to be among the pre-season favourites to go down, but their average finishing position over the last nine seasons since they won League Two has been twelfth. The 8-2 defeat at Bristol City on the last day of 2014/15 was an aberration (it was the Saddlers’ heaviest league defeat this century) and keeping Tom Bradshaw seems to be the key to where the Saddlers finish this season. Comfortably mid table springs to mind.

Wigan Athletic

Relegated from the Championship

Manager: Gary Caldwell

Last ten games: 2-2-6 (in the Championship

Promotion: 5/2 second favourites

Relegation: 33/1

It’s well over a decade since the last time the Latics played in the third tier, which not only indicates how well they’ve done since 2003 but also confirms how far they’ve fallen since winning the FA Cup. There are some similarities here with what happened at Leeds a decade ago; it took United three seasons to win promotion from League One and Wigan needed six seasons to escape the last time they were here. Their home form should be better than in 2014/15, which isn’t saying much. An eighteen game winless streak at the DW between August and April effectively sealed their fate and won’t happen again, especially as Will Grigg has joined the club, but there’s been a recent history of ‘big’ names failing to make the grade immediately and the Latics might find themselves on that list next May.

2015/16 Sky Bet League 1 Preview Part 3

The penultimate part of our season preview features two underachievers, two possible playoff candidates and two probable strugglers. Sheffield United have shortened as favourites for promotion to a best price of 7/4 since I checked the prices at the start of July: Port Vale have remained stable at 13/8 to go down, which indicates that there’s not much money for them at that price right now.

Peterborough

Third consecutive season in League One

Manager: Dave Robertson

Last ten games: 3-4-4

Promotion: 9/2

Relegation: 20/1

Having written a fair bit about Posh over the last five seasons I think it’s clear that last season was a huge disappointment and Darragh MacAnthony was right to change direction in the dug out. 2014/15 began well but a dismal streak of one win in twelve between October and January (which included a comprehensive battering on national television at home to Bristol City) was the end of the second coming of Darren Ferguson. His successor is still very much an unknown commodity and you’ve got to go back to the days of Barry Fry to find a Posh manager other than Ferguson who has lasted more than the equivalent of one season in the job. Getting Micheal Bostwick to calm down might be a move in the right direction. A top half finish should be the very least of their expectations.

Port Vale

Third consecutive season in League One

Manager: Rob Page

Last ten games: 1-3-6

Promotion: 25/1

Relegation: 13/8 second favourites

On January 3rd 2015, the Valiants were eighth in the table after a 2-1 win over Gillingham. Yet from the start of March, they only won twice in thirteen games (losing eight) and were only four points away from being relegated. I’m quite happy to acknowledge that most of the teams in League One last season were either average or inconsistent or both, but a month long record of nine games without a win at a crucial time of the season indicates that Vale weren’t good enough to compete in League One and were lucky to avoid the drop. Tom Pope has joined Bury and the free transfers and free agents that have joined in the summer need to step up quickly.

Rochdale

Third consecutive season in League One

Managr: Keith Hill

Last ten games: 3-1-6

Promotion: 10/1

Relegation: 8/1

Dale’s prospects for 2015/16 must be seen in the context of negative end to the season (six losses in their last ten) after the playoffs became impossible to reach. The second top half finish in the third tier in the last five years was achieved by winning the most games of the teams that failed to reach the playoffs and also scoring more goals than Chesterfield and Sheffield United, who did. The problem is that Dale were relegated after finishing eighth in 2011 and they’ve not managed more than two consecutive seasons outside the fourth tear for over 40 years; retaining Ian Henderson is vital to their prospects of promotion or avoiding relegation but once again they’ll need to win at least ten games at Spotland to keep themselves out of trouble. On their day that’s an achievable target.

Scunthorpe

Second consecutive season in League One

Manager: Mark Robbins

Last ten games: 3-4-4

Promotion: 10/1

Relegation: 7/1

A dreadful start meant a change of manager was necessary in mid October and although Mark Robbins seems to have been the right choice, he still has a lot of work to do. The Iron only lost one of their last ten league games at Glanford Park but haven’t won away since the end of January. Only four teams conceded fewer goals and two of them were relegated; United kept one away clean sheet last season and have conceded in their last seventeen consecutive road trips in League One; that’s likely to be a key statistic once more in 2015/16.

Sheffield United

Fifth season in League One

Manager: Nigel Adkins

Last ten games: 4-4-2

Promotion: 15/8 favourites

Relegation: 50/1

Where do you start? After their usual indifferent form at the beginning of the season, United were marooned in fifth place from mid February onwards and reached the playoffs for the third time in the last four seasons, but once again a cup run proved a distraction. The remarkable playoff capitulation against Swindon was the end of the road for Nigel Clough, but the truth is that the Blades are one of the better teams in the competition but still some way from being the best. Having a new manager and a playoff hangover is nothing new at Bramall Lane but Sheffield United have made a habit of failing to live up to their hype, I am not convinced that Nigel Adkins is a good appointment and I nearly fell off my chair when I saw they were favourites for promotion.

Shrewsbury Town

Promoted from League Two (runners up)

Manager: Mickey Mellon

Last ten games: 8-0-2

Promotion: 9/1

Relegation: 10/1

Back after one season away, it’s worth pointing out immediately that the last time the Shrews finished in the top half of the third tier was exactly 25 years ago. They were top of League Two with a dozen games left, but despite a valiant attempt to overtake eventual champions Burton the Shrews didn’t quite succeed. Were dominant at Greenhous Meadow but lost all of their away games against the teams that were either promoted or reached the playoffs by the same score (1-0), which indicates to me that their record on the road in 2015/16 will determine their finishing position at the end of this campaign. They should comfortably avoid relegation, but that might have to be the limit of their expectations this season.