What reporters think of Wigan Athletic and the rest of League One: Part 2

Ahead of the start of the League One season this weekend, reporters from each of the 24 clubs give their verdict on who’s going up, who’s going down...and how Wigan Athletic rate against the rest!

Friday, 6th August 2021, 2:59 pm
Leam Richardson

Name: Mark Whiley

Publication: Lincolnshire Echo

Club: Lincoln City

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Key ins: Josh Griffiths, Lewis Fiorini, Chris Maguire, Teddy Bishop, Dan N’Lundulu, Lasse Sorensen, Hakeeb Adelakun

Key outs: Jorge Grant, Harry Anderson, Zack Elbouzedi, Theo Archibald.

Reasons for optimism: A fantastic 2020/21 campaign which almost yielded a place in the second tier for the first time in 60 years.

The team played some fantastic attacking football – it was just a shame no-one was in the grounds to see it live. An excellent manager in Michael Appleton, who remains at the helm after being strongly linked with West Brom in the summer.

Appleton is also back at work after undergoing treatment for testicular cancer which is great to see.

Reasons for caution: With teams like Ipswich and Wigan set to be much improved, and the relegated trio of Rotherham, Wednesday and Wycombe looking strong, competition will be much tougher this time around.

With that in mind, I hope there isn’t too much expectation on the team.

Losing last season’s star man, Jorge Grant, was a blow too but the recruitment, on paper at least, looks impressive. There are a few injuries heading into the season which is a slight concern.

Predicted finish: 6th - a play-off finish this season would be just as impressive as last season given the increased competition.

Three to go up: Ipswich, Rotherham, Wycombe

Four to go down: Cambridge, Fleetwood, MK Dons, Morecambe

Hope for the season: Better home form for what I hope will be regular 10,000 crowds at Sincil Bank.

Name: Toby Lock

Publication: Milton Keynes Citizen

Club: MK Dons

Key ins: Mo Eisa, Max Watters, Scott Twine, Ethan Robson, Josh Martin

Key outs: Cameron Jerome, Scott Fraser, Lee Nicholls, Andrew Surman, Matthew Sorinola

Reasons for optimism: After a strong second half to the season, Dons have recruited extremely well once again to bolster the squad.

Losing the likes of Fraser and Jerome, the two top-scorers last season, could have spelt disaster, but replacements are already in the building and with a stable and reliable defensive unit, Dons could be a hard team to break down this season.

Reasons for caution: For a team who finished 13th last season, aiming for the heady heights of a promotion fight might seem a little far-fetched, even for the wildest of dreamers. With the level of competition in League One arguably the highest it has ever been and a lot of clubs fancying their chances this season, Dons might just get out-muscled by some of the bigger hitters this term.

Predicted finish: 10th - it would be a solid improvement. Mixing it with the play-off scrap would be a good achievement.

Three to go up: Portsmouth, Rotherham, Wigan

Four to go down: AFC Wimbledon, Cambridge, Cheltenham, Shrewsbury

Hope for the season: Supporters get to come back and watch their teams, appreciating what they have missed and getting behind their clubs for better or worse, through thick and thin.

Name: Gavin Browne

Publication: Morecambe Visitor

Club: Morecambe

Key ins: Wes McDonald, Ryan Cooney, Josh McPake, Alfie McCalmont, Callum Jones

Key outs: Carlos Mendes Gomes, John O’Sullivan, Yann Songo’o, Nat Knight-Percival, Stephen Hendrie

Reasons for optimism: New manager Stephen Robinson certainly brings quite the CV with international and European experience to hand. There was already a feel-good factor around the club after last season’s promotion, which has been added to by the arrivals of players including Callum Jones, Alfie McCalmont and Josh McPake. They can also take inspiration from Accrington Stanley, who were written off after their promotion into League One, but have since consolidated their place in the third tier.

Reasons for caution: If Morecambe were annually tipped for relegation when they were in League Two, it’s wholly unsurprising they’re odds-on this time around.

They’ll probably have the smallest budget and attendance, while those players who haven’t featured at this level before will need to hit the ground running.

They’ll also need a good haul of points as early as possible given they face Wigan, Oxford, Charlton, Portsmouth and Sunderland in their last eight matches.

Predicted finish: 20th

Three to go up: Charlton, Ipswich, Portsmouth

Four to go down: AFC Wimbledon, Cambridge, Cheltenham, Shrewsbury

Hope for the season: That Morecambe defy the pundits by preserving their record of never having been relegated – and make it a season to remember for the returning fans.

Name: James Roberts

Publication: Oxford Mail

Club: Oxford United

Key ins: Marcus McGuane, Ryan Williams, Billy Bodin, Steve Seddon

Key outs: Josh Ruffels, Rob Atkinson, Sean Clare, Kyran Lofthouse

Reasons for optimism: Two successive play-off finishes show Karl Robinson’s United know what is needed to compete at the top end of League One.

The four signings to date have all done well in this division before, while some existing players could have big seasons ahead of them – Mark Sykes and Dan Agyei spring to mind.

There is no reason to suggest United cannot strengthen in the areas they are light before the end of the transfer window too.

Reasons for caution: The flip side of that last point. United have lost the left-side of last season’s defence and, while Steve Seddon looks a decent signing at left back, it would be unfair to expect Luke McNally to continue where Rob Atkinson left off in the middle. At the very least, they need a centre back and another winger. United’s Covid outbreak, which left 12 players self-isolating, will not have helped pre-season preparations either and they must start far better than last year – especially with League One looking so strong.

Predicted finish: 9th - Will probably change depending on incomings/outgoings, but feel United will challenge for the play-offs again. There may be too many other decent sides though.

Three to go up: Ipswich, Portsmouth, Wigan

Four to go down: Cambridge, Cheltenham, Crewe, Morecambe

Hope for the season: I’m sure everyone will say this, but simply that grounds stay open with full capacity for the whole season. Will never take it for granted again.

Name: Chris Errington

Publication: Plymouth Live

Club: Plymouth Argyle

Key ins: James Wilson, Dan Scarr, Macaulay Gillesphey, Brendan Galloway, Jordan Houghton

Key outs: Will Aimson, Scott Wootton, Ben Reeves, Byron Moore, Frank Nouble

Reasons for optimism: With Simon Hallett so supportive as Argyle’s owner and chairman, but also financially astute, the club are well placed off the pitch to build for the future despite all the implications of Covid-19.

Ryan Lowe is starting his third season as manager and knows what is required from his team in League One.

He retained some key players on new contracts, such as Danny Mayor and player of the year Joe Edwards, and has completely rebuilt his defence.

Reasons for caution: There are a number of ‘big hitters’ in League One, with Sheffield Wednesday and Bolton Wanderers added to the mix this season.

Argyle, realistically, are likely to find it hard to match them.

They will have a smaller budget than many, but their mantra is to use the money they have more wisely than others. It is important Lowe’s revamped defence is a success, otherwise there will be problems for them.

Predicted finish: 12th - That would represent a good improvement on their finish of 18th last season, and build a belief that Argyle could challenge for the play-offs in 2022/23.

Three to go up: Ipswich, Rotherham, Sheffield Wednesday

Four to go down: Accrington, Cambridge, Cheltenham, Morecambe

Hope for the season: That the fans enjoy being back in the grounds this season. Football without them in 2020/21 was soulless.

Name: Jordan Cross

Publication: Portsmouth News

Club: Portsmouth

Key ins: Ryan Tunnicliffe, Shaun Willams, Clark Robertson, Kieron Freeman, Gassan Ahadme

Key outs: Craig MacGillivray, Tom Naylor, Jack Whatmough, Ryan Williams, Andy Cannon

Reasons for optimism: Pompey have got the right man at the helm. Danny Cowley has been a breath of fresh air with his enthusiasm and ideas, after Kenny Jackett’s tenure had turned toxic and saw apathy reign. A trio of Championship regulars in Williams, Tunnicliffe and Robertston look astute recruits and the goals have flowed in pre-season for Moroccan prospect Gassan Ahadme.

Reasons for caution: Pompey have a billionaire owner but operate on a sustainable basis under Michael Eisner, that’s seen the playing budget slightly cut after haemorrhaging £750,000 a month through the Covid pandemic.

There’s been a massive turnover of players which was required, but it could be bumpy early on in the season as a result.

Senior strikers Ellis Harrison and John Marquis have failed to deliver.

Predicted finish: 5th - A play-off finish has to be the objective in the toughest League One since Leeds, Norwich, Millwall and Southampton were in the third tier over a decade ago.

Three to go up: Ipswich, Portsmouth, Sunderland

Four to go down: AFC Wimbledon, Cambridge, Cheltenham, Morecambe

Hope for the season: If it is to be a top-six finish, a play-off win would be nice - Pompey have failed to do so in eight attempts!

Name: Paul Davis

Publication: Rotherham Advertiser

Club: Rotherham United

Key ins: Shane Ferguson

Key outs: Matt Crooks, Clark Robertson, Matt Olosunde

Reasons for optimism: Rotherham have the nucleus of a good squad and still have a number of players who went up from this league two seasons ago. They’ve been there and done it. The Millers should be competitive again if they can make the right additions. The management and players know what it takes to win promotion.

Reasons for caution: The strength of the division. There are some big clubs spending big money and around 15 sides could consider themselves contenders for the top three. Maybe Rotherham are still feeling the effects of last term’s Championship relegation.

Manager Paul Warne has been concerned by the mood in the camp during pre-season. New signings would help lift things. The loss of midfielder Matt Crooks, who made the PFA League One Team of the Season two years ago, is a major blow.

Predicted finish: 10th - The Millers have gone up the last twice they’ve been at this level but are down on numbers heading into the new campaign. More recruitment is vital.

Three to go up: Ipswich, Wigan, Sheffield Wednesday.

Four to go down: AFC Wimbledon, Cambridge, Cheltenham, Morecambe

Hope for the season: A push for the play-offs, but more signings are needed for that to happen.

Name: Alex Miller

Publication: The Star, Sheffield

Club: Sheffield Wednesday

Key ins: Jack Hunt, Bailey Peacock-Farrell, Lewis Wing, Dennis Adeniran, Olamide Shodipo.

Key outs: Keiren Westwood, Adam Reach, Jordan Rhodes, Osaze Urhoghide, Liam Shaw

Reasons for optimism: Darren Mark Moore. The Owls boss had his short time at the end of last season smashed up by illness – he was hospitalised with Covid - and there is a sense within the fanbase that he is the right man at the right time to start a new way forward at Wednesday after years of decline and mismanagement. Grab a few early wins, get the Hillsborough crowd back onside and you never know.

Reasons for caution: Wednesday is a tanker trying to turn around very quickly and that’s not always easy.

The squad is threadbare and there are still off-field issues to iron out here and there, not least if they fail to pay their players on time and are slapped with the six point suspended deduction hanging over them. The biggest worry as it stands? Goals.

Predicted finish: 6th - VERY hard to say until the end of the window, and there’s no doubt Wednesday need firepower, but if you can’t be optimistic now, when can you be? The play-offs are more fun anyway.

Three to go up: Ipswich, Wigan, Sheffield Wednesday

Four to go down: AFC Wimbledon, Cambridge, Cheltenham, Morecambe

Hope for the season: For Wednesday to reconnect with its fans whether they are vying for promotion or not and for Moore to get things heading in the right direction. And world peace.

Name: Lewis Cox

Publication: Shropshire Star

Club: Shrewsbury Town

Key ins: Ryan Bowman, Matthew Pennington, Elliott Bennett, David Davis, Marko Marosi

Key outs: Ro-Shaun Williams, Sean Goss, Dave Edwards, Brad Walker, Matija Sarkic

Reasons for optimism: The manager is back. Steve Cotterill spent exactly six months away from his squad with Covid-19 and severe complications but returned for pre-season and is getting ever-fitter and stronger. Additions have been good, but more are still needed. Town were excellent in his month before illness – unbeaten and the boss claimed December’s manager of the month. There is definitely a feeling that things could fall into place for a fairytale return for the manager, though he will play that down.

Reasons for caution: There is still significant work to be done in the window. They have recruited six signings – which is not an insignificant amount – and have parted with fees and spent good wages on lengthy deals for some key captures, like keeper Marko Marosi.

But the squad is still light, they still require another handful to have enough.

Friendlies, too, have been sparse. Town played just three by the big kick-off. But the manager is happy with that.

Two key players (Aaron Pierre and Ollie Norburn) have been at the Gold Cup and missed much of pre-season.

Predicted finish: 13th - Make no mistake, Shrewsbury will privately hope for much better than 13th and want to break the top half and push for play-offs, the former they can be capable of.

But it could depend on how they finish the window, with clubs spending big.

Three to go up: Ipswich, Rotherham, Wigan

Four to go down: Burton, Cambridge, Morecambe, Plymouth

Hope for the season: The main hope is that Steve Cotterill remains fit and healthy and can oversee Town during every match of the season after his horrid ordeal last season.

Name: Phil Smith

Publication: Sunderland Echo

Club: Sunderland

Key ins: Callum Doyle, Alex Pritchard, Corry Evans

Key outs: Charlie Wyke, Max Power, Josh Scowen, Chris Maguire, Grant Leadbitter

Reasons for optimism: The players who are the club are looking in good shape during the pre-season programme.

With Aiden McGeady signing a new contract, Lee Johnson has a wealth of good attacking options available to him and, as a result, the style of play has been much improved.

This should be a much more creative team this season, especially at home where form was poor last season.

Reasons for caution: While the forward areas are probably only one or two signings away from being as strong as anyone in the division, the defensive rebuild has barely begun even as the season nears. At time of writing, Sunderland have no senior full backs and need at least one starting centre-back before the window shuts.

It’s hard to be ovely optimisitc at this point, with such an obvious deficiency still to be addressed.

Predicted finish: 2nd - I’m pinning my hopes on a strong last week or so of the window. The quality is there, but not the depth.

Three to go up: Ipswich, MK Dons, Sunderland

Four to go down: AFC Wimbledon, Cambridge, Morecambe, Plymouth

Hope for the season: Full stadiums from start to finish, and that no club has to go through the kind of protracted off-field saga that have become all too common in recent seasons. Let’s settle the key issues on the pitch.

Name: Paul Kendrick

Publication: Wigan Today

Club: Wigan Athletic

Key ins: Jordan Cousins, Stephen Humphrys, Max Power, Jack Whatmough, Charlie Wyke

Key outs: Lee Evans, Kyle Joseph, Funso Ojo, Viv Solomon-Otabor, Curtis Tilt

Reasons for optimism: Firstly, that we still have a football club, after an horrific 12 months on and off the pitch.

With the magnificent backs-to-the-wall effort to avoid relegation being followed by a huge wave of optimism and belief following the recent takeover by Phoenix 2021 Limited, the mood among the fans really couldn’t be any better.

And having added several quality recruits – and more on the way – Latics should be fighting to get out of the division at the right end this season.

Reasons for caution: Obviously throwing together a whole new playing squad - Wigan ended last season with only five contracted players - will create inevitable issues in terms of gelling and integrating. It was a similar story back in 2015-16, after relegation from the Championship, when a virtually whole new playing squad took several weeks to get going under Gary Caldwell.

But once they did, they never looked back, finishing up as champions after an incredible last two-thirds of the campaign. Hopefully, it’s the same again.

Predicted finish: 4th - Play-off winners...not been to Wembley for a while.

Three to go up: Ipswich, Sheffield Wednesday, Wigan

Four to go down: AFC Wimbledon, Cambridge, Cheltenham, Morecambe

Hope for the season: That the Covid-related issues of the last 18 months don’t resurface, and Latics fans can enjoy watching their side again after almost losing the lot. But more importantly, the return of press food.

Name: Phil Catchpole

Publication: BBC Three Counties Radio

Club: Wycombe Wanderers

Key ins: Sullay Kaikai, Josh Scowen

Key outs: Uche Ickpeazu, Fred Onyedinma

Reasons for optimism: It’s the first time in many years the Chairboys aren’t their league’s version of Oliver.

The club is in an excellent position off the pitch, while Gareth Ainsworth still has the same enthusiasm for the club as the day he arrived – only now he has a bit of backing and a few years of experience under his belt.

Last time out in League One, Wycombe were excellent and it’s a settled squad with an amazing spirit and belief.

Reasons for caution: Wycombe are normally expected to finish bottom due to their usual budget. However, a lucrative and prudent season in the Championship has placed them in a decent financial position. But with a bit more money comes expectation and pressure.

These will be new sensations for Gareth Ainsworth, and many will be expecting a decent start to the season.

At the time of writing, the club are lacking a focal point up front bar the marvellous Adebayo Akinfenwa, who will surely have to provide his magic via cameos off the bench.

Predicted finish: 2nd - Automatic promotion, while allowing one of the many fallen giants in the third tier some much-needed title winning glory

Three to go up: Burton, Ipswich, Wycombe

Four to go down: Crewe, Fleetwood, Morecambe, Plymouth

Hope for the season: It’s an excellent division which is absolutely impossible to predict, so I just hope fans can return safely and bring the soul back to the game again.

Get 20% off our sports subscription package and stay up to date with all the latest Wigan Athletic news with a year’s subscription to WiganToday for less than 9p a day. Use promo code TRANSFER20