1st Impressions: Predictions For 2019-20
On the eve of the season, our countdown concludes
Hello and welcome to the final instalment of Deadly Submarine's 2019-20 League One countdown.
Twelve months ago, we launched our inaugural countdown feature in preparation for Tranmere's return to the EFL. The response was incredible, and we are delighted to have been able to bring the feature back as we look ahead to Rovers' third-tier return.
With Rochdale visiting Prenton Park for the opening fixture of the League One calendar tomorrow, it's now time to bring everything we have published so far to a conclusion. Over the past nine days we've explored a plethora of topics in an attempt to bring you, the SWA, a comprehensive preview of the upcoming League One campaign.
If you have missed a piece, you can navigate between days at the bottom of each article, meaning you can catch up in just a few clicks. This may be an ideal way of discovering more detail on the thinking behind our prediction for Rovers.
Today, we'll share our thoughts on the automatic promotion, play-off and relegation places and, for good measure, will nominate a 'dark horse' who may spring a surprise. Last season, we correctly predicted the promotions of Lincoln City and Milton Keynes Dons, in addition to Mansfield Town's play-off qualification. We also nominated Forest Green Rovers as the surprise package and, as the SWA will know, they became Tranmere's play-off semi-final opponents. Furthermore, Notts County did escape League Two — albeit in the completely opposite direction!
You can find our predictions below.
Tranmere Rovers = 17th
Whilst at first a prediction of seventeenth may seem somewhat negative, it is important to remember that this would represent a 13-place improvement over 2018-19. We've discussed Tranmere's season at length over the past week and a half, so we'll be brief with the reasoning here.
Having lost star forward James Norwood, Tranmere are still searching for the personnel and tactics that will unlock goals from within the squad. As of writing, Rovers have just completed the signing of Walsall striker Morgan Ferrier which boosts the attacking options further following the arrivals of Stefan Payne, Jordan Ponticelli and Corey Blackett-Taylor over the summer. The potential is there to recreate Norwood's goals in the aggregate, but it may take time for this to come to fruition.
As we have previously explored, many of Rovers' signings came with an element of risk, mainly injuries. Unfortunately, two of the concerns on this front — Ishmael Miller and Calum Woods — have already picked up injuries. They aren't the only ones, with almost a quarter of Micky Mellon's now 26-man squad missing for the visit of Rochdale on Saturday.
Rovers' fixtures in the first half of the campaign are challenging, travelling to almost all major promotion contenders before Christmas. Conversely, they have formidable home form and Prenton Park can be a fortress again in the second half of the season.
With significant experience of the third tier, Rovers won't be daunted by the prospect of playing Sunderland, Ipswich Town et al, athough the SWA have to be realistic when setting expectations of progress.
With Scott Davies in goal, a solid and hardworking defence and a midfield containing David Perkins and Darren Potter, relegation shouldn't occur. Nonetheless, pre-season results and performances suggest there is a lot to work on at either end of the pitch. The outcome of said work will determine if Rovers return to League Two sooner than they would like.
Will be fine in the long run but could get off to a bumpy start.
Champions = Portsmouth
Finishing 2018-19 in fourth, Pompey are the highest-ranked team from last season's League One still participating in the division for 2019-20. Missing out on promotion by just 3 points, and indeed the title by 6, they appear to have every chance of completing the job this season.
In Kenny Jackett they have a manager who has secured promotion from League One twice within the last decade, winning the play-offs with Millwall in 2009-10 and the title with Wolverhampton Wanderers in 2013-14.
He leads a squad packed full of quality and, just two days before the season, has added losing play-off finalists Doncaster Rovers' 26-goal striker John Marquis to his attacking options.
It's hard to look beyond the Fratton Park club.
Automatic Promotion = Sunderland
The Black Cats lost the fewest games in League One last season, defeated on just five occasions. Ending the season in fifth, they were just 6 points from automatic promotion, their hopes of an immediate return to the Championship dashed by an astonishing 19 draws.
With a season of adjustment behind them, a squad containing the firepower of Aiden McGeady, Marc McNulty, Charlie Wyke and Will Grigg should be able to convert many of those draws to victories in 2019-20.
Former Rover Max Power seems to have a great chance of claiming a third promotion from League One this season.
Play-offs = Ipswich Town, Rotherham United, Peterborough United and Coventry City
Playing in the third tier for the first time since 1957, Ipswich Town will have to handle the pressures of being a 'scalp'. Finishing bottom of the Championship last season, the Tractor Boys had big problems to solve over the summer.
Tranmere fans will not need reminding of James Norwood's free transfer to Suffolk, the 32-goal League Two Golden Boot winner giving Town a lethal threat in attack. With manager Paul Lambert a former League One title winner with arch-rivals Norwich City in 2009-10, they have a man who can help them thrive under the weight of expectation. Their squad seems lacking in comparison to Portsmouth and Sunderland, but a play-off finish should be the minimum requirement at Portman Road.
Rotherham United have endured a yo-yo period over the past few seasons. Relegated from the Championship in 2016-17, they earned an immediate return in 2017-18 under current manager Paul Warne, before succumbing to a second relegation last season.
Having lost big players, including a £2.1m move to Cardiff City for former Tranmere player Will Vaulks, perhaps some of the spark from 2017-18 has disappeared. Nonetheless, they should be good enough for the top 6 and have the experience and manager to get there.
Peterborough United and Darren Ferguson seem to fit hand in glove at League One level. Promoted to the Championship under the Scot in both 2008-09 and 2010-11, the Posh will be aiming for a hat-trick in 2019-20.
A team that finished just 1 point shy of the play-offs last season, they have made some excellent additions to an already attacking squad. With Mohamed Eisa, Ivan Toney, Marcus Maddison, Idris Kanu and a returning George Boyd, teams will have a hard time stopping them scoring. Should be able to reach at least sixth this term.
Every so often, a club faces external pressures and thrives. Could this be the case for Coventry City in 2019-20?
Forced to play their home matches at Birmingham City's St. Andrew's Stadium, the Sky Blues' off-field predicament may work in their favour, generating a siege mentality under the guidance of an excellent manager in Mark Robins.
Having had a season to reacclimatise to the third tier after winning the 2017-18 League Two play-offs, they will be looking to improve upon last season's eighth-place finish. Most likely of the predictions to fall short, they don't seem to be of the same standard as the other play-off picks.
Relegated = Bury, Bolton Wanderers, Rochdale, Southend United
With both Bury and Bolton Wanderers due to start the season with 12-point deficits (at a minimum), their inclusion amongst the relegation selections won't be too much of a surprise.
Neither club has built anything resembling a squad and their main goal appears to be completing the season and rebuilding in League Two next season. There isn't much that can be added to the wealth of information available about each club's respective woes, so we'll just leave it there.
Rochdale ended 2018-19 in sixteenth position, however they scored fewer goals, conceded more and lost the same amount of games as relegated Plymouth Argyle, who finished in twenty-first. They had the worst defence in the division having shipped 87 goals and, unsurprisingly, the worst goal difference with -33.
Further to that, they parted with manager Keith Hill in March, with inexperienced replacement Brian Barry-Murphy taking the helm permanently in April. A manager with just 11 games to his name, can he sort their porous backline? He appears to have an uphill challenge.
Finally, Southend United seem to have a lot to do to stay in the league beyond 2019-20. In 2018-19, they lost on 24 occasions, rock-bottom Bradford City the only club to be defeated more than the Shrimpers.
Surviving on goal difference, 15-goal Simon Cox will be a huge player for them if they are to achieve similar this term. Of the four selected here, most likely to avoid the drop, but have fallen from seventh in 2016-17 to nineteenth in 2018-19. Any further and they will be in League Two in 2020-21.
Dark Horse = Oxford United
Ending 2018-19 in twelfth position, Oxford United secured a top-half finish last season.
Led by Karl Robinson who, at just 38 years old, already has almost a decade of EFL management experience under his belt, they will be looking to kick on in 2019-20. Robinson has tasted success in the third tier before, qualifying Milton Keynes Dons for the play-offs in both the 2010-11 and 2011-12 seasons. In addition, he earned automatic promotion to the Championship at the end of the 2013-14 campaign.
United have brought in some impressive signings, most notably a loan deal for Liverpool youngster Ben Woodburn and the signing of Tarique Fosu-Henry, who played 30 times for a Charlton team that went on to win the play-offs last season.
Clearly other teams will be more fancied than Oxford, however, with Robinson in charge, don't rule them out of the promotion race too early.
So, there we have it.
After ten days of coverage, we've finally come to the end of our 2019-20 countdown. Thank you to everyone who has followed the countdown in its entirety, hopefully you have all enjoyed the journey.
From the very first kick against Woking on 8th August 2015, every ticket purchased, every song lent a voice, every journey the length and breadth of the country, every heartbreaking low and ecstasy-inducing high have all been for this.
Tomorrow, Tranmere Rovers will play League One football for the first time since 3rd May 2014.
Let's enjoy every single second of it.
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