League One Preview (Pt3) – Oxford, Peterborough, Portsmouth, Rochdale, Rotherham & Shrewsbury

There’s no need for a big introduction here; part three of my review of our League One opponents this summer.

Part One is here, Part Two followed here and you’re now reading Part Three.

Oxford

City face off against Oxford United in 2003 – Courtesy Graham Burrell

For some reason, Oxford are a side I’ve monitored closely this summer. It’s happened purely by accident, they’ve not even been that busy in the transfer market.

The U’s were an odd side last season. On the face of it, they had a really good team. Curtis Nelson and Rob Dickie were a decent pairing at the back, with creative players like Marcus Browne able to have a significant impact at this level as well. They picked up Gavin Whyte from Crusaders in the summer and he had a decent season with the experienced Jamie Mackie providing some knowledge up front. They didn’t do badly in the winter window either, bringing in Jerome Sinclair from Watford on loan.

In fact, they had a side that should have been around the top six, but instead struggled badly for much of the season. It could be attributed to a number of factors, including the rather subdued atmosphere and surroundings of the Kassam Stadium. Whilst they appear to be in decent shape an argument with thier former chairman has made them feel like outsiders in their own home.

Their manager is the belligerent Karl Robinson and he’s been lamenting his luck in the transfer market all summer. If stories are to be believed they pipped us to the signing of Tariqe Fosu, a favour we returned when signing Jorge Grant. They’ve also added Alex Gorrin and Chris Cadden, the latter in a highly controversial loan move from Columbus Crew after they were priced out of a move when he left Motherwell.

That’s set to go to FIFA if reports are to be believed and it’s just one of a number of setbacks they’ve faced. They missed out on Stuart Findlay from Kilmarnock and look like losing Gavin Whyte to Cardiff in a multi-million-pound deal. With 9 goals in 51 matches last season, it might not be such a huge loss.

They should be battling for a top ten spot, but the summer hasn’t gone well for them. I think Karl Robinson needs a strong start otherwise he might feel the pressure of a second successive season not challenging at the top. On the other hand, pick up some early points and they might be in a position to spend as the transfer window drags on, leaving them as possible top six candidates.

Peterborough

City face Posh in the EFL trophy of 2017/18 – Courtesy Graham Burrell

I’m going to find this one tough to write because deep down, I shouldn’t like Peterborough. However, I have a begrudging respect for much of what their larger than life chairman Darragh MacAnthony has done.

Their transfer policy is always relatively sound; they sign good players from the division below and usually turn a profit. This summer Matty Godden has been the subject of speculation but in the past it’s been Jack Marriott, Connor Washington, Dwight Gayle and Britt Assombalonga. MacAnthony recently said they’ll never take strikers on loan because it helps inflate their value for another club; that’s not strictly true as they had Jason Cummings last summer, but then again Evans was manager then.

Darren Ferguson is back at the helm for a third time and they’re looking as close to a side destined for the top six as ever before. They might part ways more often than a warring couple on Love Island (don’t ask me to name anyone, I don’t watch it. Too cool for that….) but they do suit each other well. He’s been allowed some freedom in the summer and alongside Frankie Kent, they’ve added Mark Beevers, Christy Pym and former hero George Boyd.

I’m interested to see if Mo Eisa can live up to the hype. He flopped at Bristol City, but if he replicates his Cheltenham form there is the next big striker to come out of London Road. I’m also keen to see how Niall Mason does. His capture was a little controversial due to a conviction for sexual assault, but he’s a special talent who could well be a surprise hit for Ferguson.

They’ve got quality all over the park, they’ve got a decent manager and have done away with Evans which is always going to give a side a boost. They’re backed well, not just by MacAnthony but also the co-owners Dr Jason Neale and Stewart Thompson, the ones you don’t see on Twitter.

It pains me to say it, but keep an eye on Posh this season.

 

Portsmouth

Let’s be honest, this is one of the fixtures we’re all looking forward too. We weren’t around when they dropped into the basement division and for many of us, this will be a first-ever competitive trip to Fratton Park. The last time we visited them was August 1981 and many of you weren’t born, whilst I was still having my nappy changed and crying when I didn’t get sweets.

They’re expected to be challenging at the top of the table. Last season they should have gone up automatically, but a horrible run after Christmas saw them drop from top to the play-offs. Winning the EFL Trophy got them back on track, but they limped over the line and were utterly toothless in their semi-final defeat against Sunderland. 1-0 on aggregate; uninspiring and tepid.

Matt Clarke has gone, he’s was their big asset at the back, but as we know he’s been replaced with class. Sean Raggett will likely be one part of their centre back pairing, with former Blackburn man Paul Downing the other. Kenny Jackett will most likely stick with the 4-2-3-1 formation he favoured last season, with Tom Naylor holding the midfield Rangers man Ross McCrorie.

They’ll be tough to beat, but if they’re going to be a threat once more they have to be more inspiring going forward. Jamal Lowe will most likely be gone by the time September starts, so they’ll be looking to former Burton man Marcus Harness to bring a threat from out wide. Ronan Curtis is a lovely little player signed from Ireland last summer and he’ll have a big role to play in that bank of three behind the main striker.

Who’ll play up front? it’s the big question as they dallied all season without ever settling on a main striker. Former Ipswich man Ellis Harrison will come in but he’s as likely to play in the middle of the attacking three as up top. Ollie Hawkins is well known to us having come close to a move to the Bank, but he’s been out of favour. Brett Pitman has been prolific for Pompey, but kept dropping out of the side last season.

They’ll be top ten, most likely top six but can they find the quality in attack to put themsevles in the top two?