Whilst all you Premier League fans still have another week to wait, for those EFL supporters, the time has come, ten months of joy, pain, highs and lows begin from this weekend. Tuesday nights in the likes of Accrington, Plymouth, Grimsby or Middlesbrough have never been so eagerly anticipated - until you get to those destinations, on a cold, wet, Tuesday evening (you get where we're going). So, without further ado, let's crack on with our first of three EFL league previews prior to this weekend, looking at those who'll be towards the top, at the bottom and, a dark horse which may well do you proud this term in the Championship!
Is it really any surprise to see Rovers languishing in the third tier? Ever since the Venkys took over the club it’s gone from bad to worse and mainly because of them, Blackburn will be taking in trips to Fleetwood and Rochdale this term rather than Manchester United and Chelsea. Anyway, aside from that, they do have a good, experienced manager at the helm in Tony Mowbray, who’s managed to bring in a lot of experience in a big for an instant return to the Championship. Peter Whittingham’s come in this summer on a free despite many believing he could still do a job in the second tier. Further experience has been brought in in the form of Paul Caddis, Bradley Dack and Ben Gladwin, whilst Dominic Samuel should form a potent partnership up front with Danny Graham, who, incidentally is the 11/1 favourite to be the division’s top goalscorer.
A surprise shout maybe, but Bury have spent well this summer, perhaps pushing the boat out to acquire summer of their signings to ensure they won’t be in another relegation battle this time around. Adam Thompson, Chris Maguire, Nicky Ajose, Phil Edwards, Joe Skarz and Tom Aldred have all been captured from divisional rivals, as has experienced campaigner Stephen Dawson. Jay O’Shea won the title with Sheffield United last season and opted to not sign a contract with the Blades to move to the Shakers, which shows the Greater Manchester club are going for it in Lee Clark’s first full campaign in charge. Expect another summer signing in Jermaine Beckford to be in the mix for the Golden Boot in League One, too.
Paul Cook has now entered the building, returning to a club where he has a couple of good seasons as a player. Back in League One following a solitary season in the Championship, Wigan are likely to be reliant on the goals of striker Will Grigg, who’s hit a minimum of 20 goals in his last two campaigns in the division. Omar Bogle will probably partner Grigg and he too will be hoping to repeat his goalscoring exploits from his Grimsby days, having struggled at Wigan since his move six months ago. The signings of Callum Elder from Leicester and Lee Evans from Wolves – both on loan – look good business from Cook, who will be aiming for a second consecutive promotion having taken Portsmouth to the League Two title last season.
Speaking of Portsmouth, fresh from promotion – winning the title on the final day – Pompey are back in the division following a number of years spent languishing in the fourth tier. Kenny Jackett’s come in for the departed Paul Cook in what looks a great appointment. Jackett has experience at this level and won promotion during his time in charge of Wolves in League One a few years ago. He’s brought in Brett Pitman from Ipswich, who returns to the south coast having spent time with Bournemouth in the past. Another winner, Pitman was crucial in the Cherries’ rise from the division back in 2012 and will hope to provide the goals to do similar for Pompey this time around. Backed by their vociferous crowd at Fratton Park, you’d have to expect the Hampshire side to challenge.
The Play-Off Contenders…
We’ve mentioned how Kenny Jackett knows how to get out of this league, but the same can be said for Charlton boss Karl Robinson. Whilst he may appear to be a cross between James Corden and Darren Farley, Robinson knows what it takes. He took MK Dons from League One to the Championship in 2015, which is still a feat, despite having Dele Alli in the side at the time. This time at Charlton he’s really going for it, signing duo Billy Clarke and Mark Marshall from last season’s play-off Finalists Bradford, Tarique Fosu from Reading, MK Dons' Ben Reeves and managing to persuade Ricky Holmes to sign a new contract, too. They’ll be fighting for the play-offs this season.
It’s been a summer of change for Bradford, who could well go again following the play-off Final heartbreak back in May, or there could well be the dreaded hangover from that disappointment. They’ve lost the likes of Billy Clarke, Mark Marshall and James Meredith to south London clubs, but have raided Accrington to sign the highly rated forward Shay McCartan. Paul Taylor’s also come in after leaving Peterborough United, whilst Adam Chicksen and Jake Reeves have signed from Charlton and AFC Wimbledon. You’d expect Bradford to be fighting for the play-offs but they’ll need a good start to the campaign to forget about that Final.
MILTON KEYNES DONS
MK have gone with a younger squad in Robbie Neilson’s first full season in charge, with the likes of Scottish duo Conor McGrandles and Peter Pawlett hoping to get games under their belt at the impressive Stadium MK. Ethan Ebanks-Landell was a big player during his loan spell with Sheffield United last season and he’s another to come into the building, on loan from Wolves. Another loanee is Gboly Ariyibi, who excelled at Chesterfield a few years back, which resulted in a move to Nottingham Forest. Mali international Ousseynou Cisse is a big midfielder who was brought in on a free transfer and it will be interesting to see how he gets on in his first season in England.
The Dark Horse…
It’s been a busy time for Justin Edinburgh this summer as he prepares for his first full season in charge of Northampton, and with a number of new signings in through the door at Sixfields this window already, the ex-Gillingham and Newport County boss will be hopeful of a good season. Edinburgh has surprised a few with his signings, with the likes of Billy Waters, Aaron Pierre and Ash Taylor all coming in at Northampton. They’ve strengthened really well this summer and if they can get the players to gel quickly, could be in for a good season.
The Relegation Candidates…
A certain Alan Hansen famously said you don’t win anything with kids, but that’s not put off Shrewsbury who have gone down this exact route. All of their signings in the window so far look to really lack experience, with Paul Hurst raiding the likes of Norwich, Manchester United and Wolves’ U23 teams to bring in reinforcements after allowing seven players to depart this summer. One of which was popular goalkeeper Jayson Leutwiler, who’s gone to Blackburn Rovers, whilst another stopper – the highly rated Callum Burton – has signed for Hull City for an undisclosed fee.
The Dons lost Jake Reeves to Bradford City early in the window but have replaced the former Brentford man pretty well with the season-long loan signing of Millwall midfield legend Jimmy Abdou. Even at the ripe old age of 33, Abdou should still have plenty in the tank to play a starring role for the Surrey based outfit, who will begin their second season as a League One side. He’ll join the likes of Cody McDonald, Liam Trotter, Kwesi Appiah and the returning Callum Kennedy in being a new recruit for this season, whilst another signing if Sheffield United goalkeeper George Long, who’s also arrived on loan. This could go either way for the Dons, who also lost Dominic Poleon to Bradford in June.
There’s no doubting Jon Whitney would have learned a lot in his first full campaign in charge last season, and although they were never really in too much danger, this time around it could be different. Their squad features a lot of young Academy graduates, and it’s been a pretty quiet summer at the Banks’s Stadium, with James Wilson, Nicky Devlin, Luke Leahy and Jon Guthrie being the only notable names coming in. Two of those players spent last season in Scotland and it’s always difficult to judge if they’ll be hit or miss and a gamble, especially in League One. Wilson is one signing who’ll be hoping to play games – he only appeared a handful of times for Sheffield United last term.
A pretty inexperienced manager in Adrian Pennock, a lack of star striker after Cody McDonald opted to leave, and keeping a core of a side that came very close to going down last season make Gillingham our final pick for the relegation candidates. Somehow, Tom Eaves continues to get gigs at full time football clubs and he joined on a free in the summer, but one standout signing is the experienced Gabriel Zakuani who should help keep what was a pretty leaky backline more water-tight this time around.
So that’s it. Do you agree with our choices? Is there one or two surprises in there or have we missed a certain team out? Let us know in the comments section below, or via our social networks.
Love the EFL? Why not read our Championship Preview, here!
*All prices subject to fluctuation. Make sure to check StanJames.com for up to date prices.
Previous FOOTBALL articles
Bored waiting for kick off? Why not give our Football Star slot a go? This exciting 5 Reel, 243 line Slot with Rolling Reels, Stacked Wilds and Free Spins has a RTP 96.42% and is just like playing yourself! He shoots, he scores!
So what are you waiting for? Line-up the shot, take aim and let fly at the most fun-filled slot around!
StanJames - All rights reserved. "STANJAMES" is a registered trademark. Stanjames is not affiliated or connected with sports teams, event organisers or players displayed in its website(s). StanJames does not claim any intellectual property rights relating to any names or images which are used strictly within the meaning of the betting activity.