Last season’s Play-Off victors Huddersfield celebrate at Wembley. This time out it could be any number of clubs in contention.

by Kieran Mather

Despite two ex-Premier League clubs entering the third tier this season the promotion spots are more open than ever this season. From a club littered with foreign loan players last season Doncaster look a new outfit and with Dean Saunders at the helm they’re not the footballer’s football team they were in the championship a few seasons ago, the most notable addition to Rovers is Burnley’s constant Eddie Blake. Coventry have a transfer embargo to cope with and the division’s regulars do not fear ex premier league clubs at all anymore having seen so many in recent seasons. John Fleck has made the move to the City of Coventry Stadium (well done whoever decided to rename the Ricoh to C.O.C.S by the way) from Ibrox north of the border. Portsmouth has witnessed a mass exodus of players and talent and it’s difficult to see an immediate return for a club which almost ceased to exist half way through last season; the club is lucky to be in League 1 considering it could be out of existence by now. As we’ve approached the season they have signed 10 players on month by month contracts including Lee Williamson and Jon Harley so actually look like a great side going into the opening weekend. I guess for prospective buyers they are more of an attraction now.

With Carlisle forever making improvements with their league standings every season they will see this as the year they break into the top 6. Stevenage won’t have been put off by last season’s play offs, they’ll be hungrier than ever but need a more attacking approach if they make it to the knockout stage of the season again. Swindon are perfectly equipped for a back to back promotion which Stevenage were so close to finishing last year with a young squad with momentum, talent, confidence and the right man in charge to install the belief that they can do it. Swindon will also benefit from one of the best supports of the division.

It would be hard to pinpoint any player in particular that will terrorise defences like Jordan Rhodes, Ched Evans and Gary Madine did last season but goals wont be in short supply. League 1 last season boasted the least amount of 0-0s along with the highest points per team average and is set to be a real free-for-all this season.

Some of the players to watch include Sheffield United’s Harry McGuire and Stevenage Borough’s Luke Freeman although Portsmouth may field a very youthful side which will be interesting to see. Tranmere Rovers have rewarded Ronnie Moore with a further 12 months on his contract after the fan’s favourite returned to steer the Wirral club away from the bottom 4 last time out. Wimbledon, sorry, MK Dons, once again will be pushing promotion, and with Alan Smith headlining the strike force they have a real opportunity to make a case for a top two spot to avoid the play offs, something which they’ve not yet navigated successfully under Karl Robinson. Dons were one of the best teams last season and look to have strengthened with the signing of Sheffield Wednesday’s Ryan Lowe.

Division regulars Oldham and Brentford will again both set sights for the play offs from the off. Brentford impressed on more than one occasion last season and would have beat Huddersfield at the Galpharm if not for Bean’s terrible miss and some dodgy refereeing.

Three teams who’ve entered the division from League two – Crawley, Shrewsbury and Crewe – will all of course be attempting to beat the drop. Crawley however are eyeing up a quick rise through the division but unfortunately many predict a short stay for Shrewsbury and the Railwaymen who’ve lost the talents of Shaun Miller and Nick Powell.

Play off final runners up (a Blades fans way of saying losers) Sheffield United will be eyeing up top spot as they’ve retained the vast majority of the squad which scored 90pts last season and were one of the highest scoring teams in Europe. Losing Williamson to Pompey and Lowton to Villa and the additions of Tony McMahon, Shaun Miller, Matt Hill and a Manchester United player on loan in John Cofie they are viewed as one of the strongest line ups in the division.

Scunthorpe United and PNE have consolidated in the league. Alan Knill’s been relatively quiet in the market where as Westlake has really shook things up at Preston and used a fair few of his texts up when telling players not to turn up to training, whatever happened at Deepdale early pre season hasn’t been the proudest moment in the clubs history, Richard Wright lasting 6 days into his contract, if the sides settled going into the 18th August they could be a real force. Later additions include Steve Simmonsen.

Despite the presence of 5/6 ex Premier League clubs in the division (Sheffield United, Swindon Town, Oldham Athletic, Portsmouth, Coventry City, MK Dons (Wimbledon)) this league will be as open as it ever has been in recent seasons, last season saw an extremely high points per team average. This season however it will be a lower points tally needed to lift the trophy. There aren’t three teams who can run away with it like last season.

Whether or not 24 teams will finish the season is not certain yet, neither is who will get promoted or relegated, the only thing that is certain is this League will produce some classic matches and a compelling narrative to keep supporters hooked throughout.