It’s the final part of our League One Preview, with the remaining five teams covered.
I’ll be covering our chances and finalising the 1-24 in an article tomorrow or Friday.
I know there is a Southend fan out there who dislikes this site passionately, having rubbished my views on Jack Payne following his arrival at the club. He’s not going to like me any more after reading this, assuming I unblock his IP address, which I won’t.
Southend looked to be a decent outfit last season, pushing on towards the top ten under Chris Powell. They suffered an injury crisis, Ben Coker being one player they lost. As the knocks mounted up, they tumbled down the table and only the awful form of Scunthorpe, Walsall and Plymouth kept them out of the bottom four. It was a final day victory against Sunderland that kept them up.
This year they’re right up against it. Their big signing is Mark Milligan, a veteran Aussie international who will bring experience and understanding to the midfield. Sadly, that’s about the extent of the new faces and it doesn’t instil any sense of future success. Brandon Goodship has come in from Weymouth, Nathan Ralph from Dundee, but neither look like improving the squad enough.
They do have some hugely talented young players, Dru Yearwood is one who has held hi sown well despite being 18-years-old. Charlie Kelman is another big hope, he’s only a youngster too but announced himself in spectacular fashion on the first team stage last season. Mind you, he had too, injuries to Tom Hopper left them short up front and they still loaned out FA Cup Theo to Swindon.
Kevin Bond is the man in charge and he’s got a huge job on his hands keeping them out of the bottom four, even with Bury and Bolton’s troubles.
By rights, Sunderland should have gone up last season. They had a better squad than most, deeper resources and of course, far more supporters. It just goes to show it doesn’t matter who you are or what you have; you have to get things right on the pitch.
The Black Cats didn’t. Jack Ross played a 4-2-3-1 formation, lacking real adventure and endeavour. Josh Maja broke through in stunning style during the first half of the season, but left for Bordeaux in the transfer window. £1m striker Charlie Wyke flopped before Christmas, £4m Will Grigg did the same after. Max Power, another big signing, got sent off three times in quick succession, although one was later rescinded. All around, disappointment sprang up.
That’s not to say they were terrible. Aiden McGeady had a good season, Jon McLaughlin was solid in goal and up until very late in the campaign they scored in every game they played. The problem was, as the season wore on, they settled for draws. Losing in the EFL Trophy final was only a taster for their play-off experience too; some might say they were lucky to get past Portsmouth in the most uninspiring pair of games a League One play-off has every produced.
What’s changed? Well, very little if pre-season results are anything to go by. They drew 0-0 with Benfica B, lost 2-0 to Belenenses and 1-0 to Heerenveen. Ross has switched to a 3-4-2-1 formation looking to make his side more exciting, but it’s not proven fruitful in the early matches.
As expected, they’ve made some decent signings. Marc McNulty comes in on loan from Reading, he cost the Royals £1m last summer and makes the Sunderland attack worth £6m collectively. Jordan Willis is a capable defender from Coventry, he’ll likely form a three with Tom Flanagan and Jack Baldwin. That’s a quality back three and no mistake.
George Dobson is expected to replace Lee Cattermole too. The 21-year-old captained Walsall last summer but is too good for League Two and engineered a move to the Stadium of Light.
With their means, embarrassment of riches up front and support, they should be top two. Jack Ross has to get it right early though.
Tranmere could be classed as an old friend as much as anything; they climbed out of the National League a year after failing to overhaul our lead, then went one better than us with successive promotions thanks to their play-off win. With Mansfield and Forest Green also in the play-off race, most Imps’ fans wanted Mickey Mellon’s side to do well.
The big question for them this season is this; can they adequately replace James Norwood’s goals? He fired them to the top seven last season and now he’s gone to Ipswich, they need to find someone with 20 goals in him.
That said, let’s not pigeon hole them as a one man team; that wouldn’t be right. They had a solid, effective unit last season that worked well to provide Norwood the bullets. Manny Monthe at the back is as good as any defender we saw last season at the Bank and they’ve looked to improve over the summer too.
The man they’re hoping fills Norwood’s boots is Stefan Payne; he won’t. Payne isn’t a popular figure at Bristol Rovers, a club he struggled badly with last season. He made gestures at fans and stuck the boot in after he left. If he lets his attitude dip then he’ll be a problem to deal with. Jordan Ponticelli arrives from Coventry, again he’s struggled at this level before.
That’s the issue Tranmere have, pure and simple. They’re a decent side across the back, tight and effective with a couple of strong midfielders in Ollie Banks and David Perkins. 34-year-old Darren Potter will add to the group, but it’s all threatening to be committed but unspectacular.
If Payne does prove me wrong, they’ll be midtable. If they don’t replace at least 70% of Norwood’s goals, they’ll be around the bottom six.