INTRODUCTION

The information in this preview is complete to 5pm on Thursday 1 August 2019.

The latest transfers will be posted here and not below!

Managerial data is as accurate as I can make it: it is almost impossible to identify the exact dates managers joined or left minor non-league clubs 25 years ago, and detailed statistical information for minor leagues is not readily available. Online statistics databases have not been used due to the errors they can contain. As the figures are self-compiled, any errors, therefore, are my fault entirely. Firstly, sincere apologies to the subjects; secondly, any errors should be minor and not affect the overall impression; thirdly, it will be more accurate than Wikipedia.

An average points per game figure is given for each manager. In order to translate that into something more tangible, the table below shows how many points that figure equates to over the course of a 46-game season. Although other factors obviously come into play, it gives an indication of how likely that manager is to be involved in a relegation struggle (under 1.20 PPG), a play-off challenge (above 1.50 PPG needed) or an automatic promotion challenge (above 1.70 PPG needed).

As for the player sections, permanent transfers and longer-term loans in are included; all shorter-term loans and season-long loans out are not included. Players given their first professional contracts from academy status are not included as new signings. Remember that the transfer window does not close until 2 September, a month after the season has begun; later signings may be significant.

Only regular pre-season matches involving first teams are listed. Games scheduled for more or less than the standard 45/90 minutes are omitted, as are games played mainly as training exercises.

One new addition this year is the inclusion of the ‘chairman/owner’ title. Due to the proliferation of such people in League One and the often problematic paths trodden by their clubs, it is of interest to note where the chairman is also the sole or major shareholder. This includes de facto ownership through separate – but solely owned – limited companies. Bookmakers’ odds are for promotion.

Finally, a caveat regarding the prediction section. Before you consider using this preview as fuel for a gambling spree, do not forget that last season I tipped Notts County to be champions of League Two. This shows beyond doubt that such forecasts are essentially subjective, and also that you do not have to post photographs of your own genitalia on Twitter to make yourself look a bit silly.

Scotimp, 31/7/2019

ACCRINGTON STANLEY

Last season: 14th
P46 W14 D13 L19 F51 A67 Pts55
Average attendance: 2,763 (the lowest in League One)

Chairman/owner: Andy Holt, 54 (appointed October 2015)

Manager: John Coleman, 56 (appointed September 2014)

John Coleman’s managerial record:

League games only – play-offs and cup games not included.

Players out (7):

Goalkeepers (1):
Jonny Maxted, 25 (Exeter City)

Defenders (2):
Ben Richards-Everton, 27 (Bradford City)
Will Wood, 22 (Dagenham & Redbridge)

Midfielders (4):
Scott Brown, 34 (Harrogate Town)
Danny Williams, 31
Piero Mingoia, 27 (Boreham Wood)
Liam Nolan, 24

Forwards (0):

Players in (8):

Goalkeepers (0):

Defenders (4):
Phil Edwards, 33 (Bury)
Zaine Francis-Angol, 26 (AFC Fylde)
Joe Maguire, 23 (Fleetwood Town)
Ben Barclay, 22 (Brighton & Hove Albion)

Midfielders (3):
Wilson Carvalho, 26 (Stratford Town)
Joe Pritchard, 22 (Bolton Wanderers)
Lamine Kaba Sherif, 20 (Leicester City)

Forwards (1):
Colby Bishop, 22 (Leamington)

Average age of players out: 27
Average age of players in: 23

Number of players in squad: 23

Player of the Season 2018-19: Jordan Clark, 25 (attacking midfielder)

One to watch: Colby Bishop, 22 (striker)

Season ticket sales: 1,100

Ground capacity: 5,450

Visiting supporter capacity: 2,300 (1,800 standing, 500 seated)

Pre-season:
P6 W2 D2 L2 F5 A4

8/7 Sligo Rovers A 0-1
11/7 Olympique de Marseille N 2-1 (played at AJ Bell Stadium, Salford)
20/7 Bala Town A 0-1
22/7 Warrington Town A 0-0
23/7 Preston North End N 1-1 (played at Lancashire FA Ground, Leyland)
27/7 Morecambe N 2-0 (played at Lancashire FA Ground, Leyland)

Commentary:

“Football club ownership and normal business ownership are as alike as crack cocaine and aspirin.” – Andy Holt

Heading into the new season with around £1.6 million in the kitty, owner Andy Holt believes Accrington will have the second-lowest playing budget in League One after Wycombe. That presents a huge challenge to a club that has come a long way in a short time, but still averages little more than 2,000 home fans per game. Scott Brown, Jonny Maxted and Ben Richards-Everton all rejected their contract offers during the summer and signed for lower division clubs, perhaps highlighting the higher financial rewards on offer elsewhere. Similar to Lincoln, John Coleman expects to have a squad of around 20 professionals this season. Coleman is a clever manager who navigates the transfer market as well as anyone in the lower divisions. One new feature will be the addition of a development squad (U23) which may lead to a reduction in the number of loan players Stanley have been forced to find in recent seasons.

The 2017-18 League Two champions found life in League One much harder and only survived by five points due to a late-season surge. In common with a number of clubs in a very tight league, lack of goals was the main problem. That outlook has not been helped by top scorer Billy Kee failing to return for pre-season training due to personal issues, and Coleman has turned to raw Leamington striker Colby Bishop to fill the void. The rest of the newcomers look ordinary, but the majority of Coleman signings look ordinary. He has a reputation for unearthing gems and selling them on, which means there may well be one or two in this summer’s intake. Ben Barclay has a good reputation but will be hoping for a better season than last: he was relegated with Notts County.

The largest item of expenditure during the summer was the £200,000 spent to prevent the Wham Stadium pitch from flooding and the renting of a new training ground from the council. With a new stand constructed last summer, Accrington are slowly improving their infrastructure at what was literally a pub pitch not so long ago. Midfielder Sean McConville believes his side can challenge at the top of League One and take Accrington to the Championship. So can they continue to not only punch above their weight, but also to progress further?

At the bookies (Sky Bet): 14/1

Prediction: Relegation battle, but Coleman has the nous to keep them up regardless of the budget.

AFC WIMBLEDON

Last season: 20th
P46 W13 D11 L22 F42 A63 Pts50
Average attendance: 4,253

Chairman: Joe Palmer, 43 (Chief Executive Officer – appointed April 2019)

Manager: Wally Downes, 58 (appointed December 2018)

Wally Downes’ managerial record:

League games only – play-offs and cup games not included.

Players out (9):

Goalkeepers (0):

Defenders (3):
Deji Oshilaja, 26 (Charlton Athletic)
Toby Sibbick, 20 (Barnsley)
James O’Halloran, 19

Midfielders (4):
Tom Soares, 33 (on trial with Stevenage)
Alfie Egan, 21 (Ebbsfleet United)
Osaze Urhoghide, 19 (Sheffield Wednesday)
Kane Crichlow, 18 (Watford)

Forwards (2):
Andy Barcham, 32
James Hanson, 31 (Grimsby Town)

Players in (6):

Goalkeepers (1):
Nathan Trott, 20 (West Ham United – season loan)

Defenders (2):
Luke O’Neill, 27 (Gillingham)
Nesta Guinness-Walker, 19 (Metropolitan Police)

Midfielders (1):
Callum Reilly, 25 (Gillingham)

Forwards (2):
Adam Roscrow, 24 (Cardiff Metropolitan University)
Michael Folivi, 21 (Watford – season loan)

Average age of players out: 24
Average age of players in: 22

Number of players in squad: 28

Player of the Season 2018-19: Will Nightingale, 23 (centre half)

One to watch: Joe Pigott, 25 (striker)

Season ticket sales: 3,050

Ground capacity: 4,850 (the smallest in League One)

Visiting supporter capacity: 819 (725 standing, 94 seated)

Pre-season:
P10 W3 D1 L6 F15 A19

29/6 Wexford A 1-0
5/7 BRENTFORD H 0-3
9/7 BRISTOL CITY H 2-3
12/7 Kaiserslautern A 0-1
13/7 Kickers Offenbach A 2-3
16/7 AFC Bournemouth N 2-3 (played in La Manga)
20/7 Plymouth Argyle N 0-2 (played in La Manga)
23/7 Metropolitan Police A 3-1
27/7 Hampton & Richmond A 3-1
30/7 CRYSTAL PALACE H 2-2

Commentary:

For AFC Wimbledon, their new £25 million stadium on Plough Lane looms large on the horizon. Already under construction, the 10,000-seat arena is due for completion in time for the start of the 2020-21 season. Things are never quite that simple of course, and Wimbledon need to raise a very ambitious £13 million towards the total cost from share issues and general public contributions. A Crowdfunder campaign designed to raise £7 million of it attracted over 2,700 pre-registrations, although the club warned that failure to reach the £7 million and £13 million targets could seriously jeopardise the wellbeing of the club. Whilst the realisation of the new stadium plans has created a sense of euphoria amongst the small but dedicated band of AFCW supporters, there are clearly some serious challenges to be overcome before a ball is kicked back in the Borough of Merton.

Once back in its traditional home of Wimbledon, the club will hope to commence a similar journey to its Bassett-inspired forebears from forty years ago. But will the locals come out in sufficient numbers to support their heroes? Therein lies the Wimbledon conundrum, the challenge that presents itself to one of the Football League’s smallest clubs. AFC Wimbledon are convinced that the town wants a Football League club, but time will tell whether they are right.

Before any of that happens, Wimbledon have the small matter of safely negotiating the 2019-20 season if they are to start life in the new stadium in the third tier. The side got away to a very poor start last time around, collecting just 11 points from the first 17 games before manager Neal Ardley left to lead Notts County to the National League. Dons legend Wally Downes took Ardley’s place and slowly turned the club’s fortunes around. Wimbledon enjoyed a last-day escape to ensure survival on goal difference.

Summer signings have been drawn from a wide range of sources from the Welsh Premier League to the Premier League academy system. Nathan Trott from West Ham looks a good signing in goal, while striker Michael Folivi returns on loan from Watford following a successful spell last year. Dons scored only 42 goals last season and will need to correct that. To that end, Adam Roscrow from Cardiff Metropolitan University is an imaginative signing, having completed his studies there.

Manager Downes claims to have assembled a database of 1,000 players from all levels of the game. Interestingly, one of the players Downes released at the end of last season – 18-year-old Kane Crichlow – was immediately snapped up by Premier League Watford on a two-year deal. Released defender Deji Oshilaja jumped up to the Championship with Charlton, while Osaze Urhoghide was picked up by Sheffield Wednesday. It will be interesting to see how those three get on.

AFC Wimbledon gave themselves a tough pre-season schedule including a couple of quality opponents during their pre-season tour to Germany. On that basis they should be fully prepared for the opening day, but can they win enough games to return home a League One side?

At the bookies (Sky Bet): 14/1

Prediction: Another relegation battle, should survive.

BLACKPOOL

Last season: 10th
P46 W15 D17 L14 F50 A52 Pts62
Average attendance: 5,516

Chairman/owner: Simon Sadler, 49 (appointed June 2019)

Manager: Simon Grayson, 49 (appointed July 2019)

Simon Grayson’s managerial record:

League games only – play-offs and cup games not included.

Players out (10):

Goalkeepers (0):

Defenders (2):
Donervon Daniels, 25
Marc Bola, 21 (Middlesbrough)

Midfielders (4):
Chris Taylor, 32 (on trial with Bury)
Jimmy Ryan, 30 (Rochdale)
John O’Sullivan, 25 (Morecambe)
Finlay Sinclair-Smith, 19

Forwards (4):
Mark Cullen, 27 (Port Vale)
Scott Quigley, 26 (Barrow)
Max Clayton, 24
Chris Long, 24 (Motherwell)

Players in (8):

Goalkeepers (1):
Jak Alnwick, 26 (Glasgow Rangers – season loan)

Defenders (2):
Ryan Edwards, 25 (Plymouth Argyle)
James Husband, 25 (Norwich City – season loan)

Midfielders (3):
Jamie Devitt, 29 (Carlisle United)
Ben Tollitt, 24 (Tranmere Rovers)
Sullay Kaikai, 23 (NAC Breda – Holland)

Forwards (2):
Adi Yussuf, 27 (Solihull Moors)
Ryan Hardie, 22 (Glasgow Rangers)

Average age of players out: 25
Average age of players in: 25

Number of players in squad: 25

Player of the Season 2018-19: Marc Bola, 21 (left back)

One to watch: Curtis Tilt, 27 (centre half)

Season ticket sales: 5,017

Ground capacity: 16,750

Visiting supporter capacity: 2,500 (all seated)

Pre-season:
P6 W3 D0 L3 F10 A7

9/7 Dundee A 0-1
16/7 AFC Fylde A 2-0
20/7 Barrow A 3-0
20/7 Altrincham A 1-2
27/7 BLACKBURN ROVERS H 0-2
28/7 Longridge Town A 4-2

Commentary:

In common with a number of clubs from the north-west, Blackpool have not enjoyed the best of times recently. Ever since the halcyon days of the Premier League, much has been written and many writs issued regarding ownership of the famous old club. Supporter protests, walkouts and boycotts have been regular features of the Blackpool experience, culminating in the disappointing spectacle of fewer than 6,000 Tangerines at Wembley in May 2017 to see the club promoted to League One.

Now the Oystons have departed, fans can look forward to a more settled board room after the purchase of the club by Hong Kong asset manager and Blackpool native Simon Sadler. Doubts over rookie manager Terry McPhillips were echoed by the man himself when he unexpectedly stood down four weeks before the start of the season. He has been replaced by Simon Grayson, who returns to the club he took to promotion from League One in 2007. Optimism at Bloomfield Road is higher than at any time in recent seasons and the fans have returned in encouraging numbers. Season ticket sales have increased to over 5,000 from 1,800 last season, which should provide a better budget than in recent seasons.

Despite finishing in the top ten, Blackpool only managed to score 50 league goals last season in a division where goals were at a premium almost everywhere. Former manager McPhillips stated that his side must score more and pinpointed goals from midfield and defence as a priority; to that end, he brought in attacking midfielders Jamie Devitt from Carlisle and Ben Tollitt from Tranmere in addition to former Imp Adi Yussuf from Solihull; new manager Grayson then added highly-rated striker Ryan Hardie from Rangers. The loss of defender Marc Bola to Middlesbrough so close to the start of the season was a setback, but James Husband from Norwich is a very capable replacement.

New owner Simon Sadler is a lifelong Blackpool fan and claims his club will probably have a top-five budget this season. He would appear to have appointed the right man to spend it: Simon Grayson has a fine record in this division, leading no fewer than four clubs to promotion from it. After so many seasons dominated by lawsuits and internal wrangling, perhaps Blackpool can finally be their old selves again.

At the bookies (Sky Bet): 9/1

Prediction: Play-offs.

BOLTON WANDERERS

Last season: 23rd in the Championship (relegated)
P46 W8 D8 L30 F29 A78 Pts32
Average attendance: 14,636

Chairman/owner: Ken Anderson, 67 (appointed April 2016)

Manager: Phil Parkinson, 51 (appointed June 2016)

Phil Parkinson’s managerial record:

League games only – play-offs and cup games not included.

Players out (19):

Goalkeepers (2):
Ben Amos, 29 (Charlton Athletic)
Jake Turner, 20 (Newcastle United)

Defenders (7):
Andrew Taylor, 33
David Wheater, 32 (training with Bolton Wanderers)
Marc Wilson, 31
Jack Hobbs, 30
Mark Little, 30 (Bristol Rovers)
Mark Beevers, 29 (Peterborough United)
Paweł Olkowski, 29 (Gazişehir Gaziantep – Turkey)

Midfielders (9):
Lloyd Dyer, 36
Gary O’Neil, 36 (training with Bolton Wanderers)
Craig Noone, 31 (Melbourne City – Australia)
Will Buckley, 29
Sammy Ameobi, 27 (Nottingham Forest)
Josh Vela, 25 (Hibernian)
Joe Pritchard, 22 (Accrington Stanley)
Jack Earing, 20 (FC Halifax Town)
Luca Connell, 18 (Glasgow Celtic)

Forwards (1):
Clayton Donaldson, 35 (Bradford City)

Players in (0):

Goalkeepers (0):

Defenders (0):

Midfielders (0):

Forwards (0):

Average age of players out: 28
Average age of players in: 0

Number of players in squad: 6

Player of the Season 2018-19: Gary O’Neil, 36 (central midfielder)

One to watch: Josh Magennis, 28 (striker)

Season ticket sales: Nil

Ground capacity: 28,723

Visiting supporter capacity: 3,000 (all seated – may be extended to 5,000)

Pre-season:
P1 W0 D0 L1 F0 A1

14/7 York City A 0-1

Commentary:

Despite being one of the biggest clubs in League One, Bolton find themselves with a mountain to climb before a ball is kicked: they start this season on -12 points for entering administration on 13 May. A summer of turmoil and increasing uncertainty led to the vast majority of last season’s squad being released, and manager Phil Parkinson has been unable to make any new signings at all.

However, the loss of the squad during the summer may prove no bad thing. Bolton scored a pathetic 29 goals and lost 30 games in a dreadful season that saw the club’s performance on the pitch mirror its performance off it. Manager Parkinson stated that he had seen things that he had never witnessed before in thirty years in football including players handing in their notice and refusing to play a Football League match. An equally shambolic close season produced food banks for staff; points deductions for entering administration and potentially for failing to fulfil a fixture; an exodus of players and a scarcity of signings; and finally a preferred bidder after a protracted sale process that left the club with just six registered players as late as the end of July. Doubt was then cast over the takeover when a dispute arose over the ownership of the hotel. Acrimony continued as the players claimed they had not been paid for twenty weeks and apparently refused to play in pre-season friendlies against Chester and Preston which had to be cancelled. Oldham then took the initiative and did the cancelling themselves, leaving Bolton with just the one friendly played.

So, no pre-season and six players on the books three days before the season proper is due to begin. We cannot assess the quality of new signings because they have not been able to make any. If the takeover proceeds as planned and Bolton have the time and funds to build a squad before the summer window closes, they should be able to recover the twelve-point deficit. Finance should certainly be available for the January window – no one takes over a club the size of Bolton and runs it on a shoestring – so the second half of the season should consist of climbing to safety. Parkinson will have a list of targets a mile long, the question being whether those players will be available by the time he is in a position to sign them.

That will be the plan, but nothing is guaranteed. At the very least, Wanderers will be hoping that a turbulent few years are finally behind them. Whatever unfolds over the coming few months, Bolton have a huge task on their hands if they are not to return to the fourth tier they thought they had left for good in 1988.

At the bookies (Sky Bet): 40/1 (second favourites for relegation)

Prediction: Survival, just.

BRISTOL ROVERS

Last season: 15th
P46 W13 D15 L18 F47 A50 Pts54
Average attendance: 8,380

Chairman: Steve Hamer, 68 (appointed February 2016)

Manager: Graham Coughlan, 44 (appointed December 2018 as caretaker, January 2019 permanently)

Graham Coughlan’s managerial record:

League games only – play-offs and cup games not included.

Players out (13):

Goalkeepers (2):
Sam Slocombe, 31 (Notts County)
Adam Smith, 26 (Forest Green Rovers)

Defenders (5):
James Clarke, 29 (Walsall)
Joe Partington, 29 (Eastleigh)
Daniel Leadbitter, 28 (Newport County)
Tom Lockyer, 24 (Charlton Athletic)
Alfie Clarke, 19

Midfielders (4):
Chris Lines, 33 (Northampton Town)
Stuart Sinclair, 31 (Walsall)
Connor Jones, 20
Lewis Leigh-Gilchrist, 20

Forwards (2):
Stefan Payne, 27 (Tranmere Rovers)
James Spruce, 19

Players in (8):

Goalkeepers (2):
Anssi Jaakkola, 32 (Reading)
Jordi van Stappershoef, 23 (FC Volendam – Holland)

Defenders (4):
Mark Little, 30 (Bolton Wanderers)
Tom Davies, 27 (Coventry City)
Luke Leahy, 26 (Walsall)
Josh Hare, 24 (Eastleigh)

Midfielders (0):

Forwards (2):
Victor Adeboyejo, 21 (Barnsley – season loan)
Tyler Smith, 20 (Sheffield United – season loan)

Average age of players out: 26
Average age of players in: 25

Number of players in squad: 32

Player of the Season 2018-19: Ollie Clarke, 27 (central midfielder)

One to watch: Ollie Clarke, 27 (central midfielder)

Season ticket sales: 4,300

Ground capacity: 12,300

Visiting supporter capacity: 1,350 (1,100 standing, 250 seated)

Pre-season:
P7 W4 D1 L2 F22 A7

6/7 Yate Town A 10-1
10/7 St Mochta’s A 7-0
13/7 Kidderminster Harriers A 1-1
16/7 Bath City A 2-0
20/7 BIRMINGHAM CITY H 1-2
23/7 SWANSEA CITY H 0-3
27/7 Plymouth Argyle A 1-0

Commentary:

When Bristol Rovers completed an instant return to the Football League in 2015, not many Imps fans would have expected another meeting with the Pirates for the foreseeable future. That number probably reduced to none at all after Rovers went straight through League Two the following season. Yet it has taken City just four seasons to catch up, and perhaps even overtake them because Rovers are highly unprofitable as a business entity. A crushing loss of £3.4 million in 2017-18 was hardly commensurate with a thirteenth-placed finish, a position which slipped further to fifteenth last season. With the loss being over £3 million the previous financial year, Rovers’ losses now total over £19 million on the club profit and loss account. Supporters have wondered where all that money has gone. And that does not take into account the numbers for 2018-19, which are expected to be broadly similar.

Having said that, the outlook is not as serious as it could be. The support of the Al-Qadi family continues to keep the club afloat, but to have the sixth largest loss in League One cannot be sustainable in the long term for a club of their size. Rovers were not safe until the penultimate game last season, and supporters are growing impatient for success after several seasons of stagnation. Plans for a new stadium at Cheswick fell through two years ago, but the owners still consider moving an imperative. A few months ago, club president Wael Al-Qadi dismissed the possibility of redeveloping the Memorial Ground and recommenced the search for a suitable site. In the interim, plans to build a new training ground at Almondsbury have also been put on hold until the position with the new stadium plans is clarified. At least they have a good pitch to play on for the time being: the pitch at the Memorial Ground won Rovers the League One award for Grounds Team of the Season last year.

Back to onfield matters, boss Graham Coughlan will be keen to make his mark in his first full season in management. There was a substantial clearout during the close season, with thirteen players departing. Rovers scored and conceded barely a goal per game last season, suggesting some astute additions to the strike force could pay immediate dividends. The experienced Mark Little from Bolton should make a good defence even stronger, while young striker Tyler Smith from Sheffield United looks an interesting signing. However, there is little to suggest that Rovers will score many more goals than last time around. That makes them one of the more difficult teams to assess for 2019-20, and perhaps status quo would be the safest conclusion.

At the bookies (Sky Bet): 10/1

Prediction: Bottom half.

BURTON ALBION

Last season: 9th
P46 W17 D12 L17 F66 A57 Pts63
Average attendance: 3,351

Chairman/owner: Ben Robinson MBE, 73 (appointed June 1995)

Manager: Nigel Clough, 53 (appointed December 2015)

Nigel Clough’s managerial record:

League games only – play-offs and cup games not included.

Players out (7):

Goalkeepers (1):
Harry Campbell, 23

Defenders (2):
Kyle McFadzean, 32 (Coventry City)
Damien McCrory, 29 (Notts County)

Midfielders (2):
Jamie Allen, 24 (Coventry City)
Marcus Harness, 23 (Portsmouth)

Forwards (2):
Marvin Sordell, 28 (retired)
Will Miller, 23

Players in (6):

Goalkeepers (1):
Kieran O’Hara, 23 (Manchester United – season loan)

Defenders (2):
Richard Nartey, 20 (Chelsea – season loan)
Jevan Anderson, 19 (Formartine United)

Midfielders (2):
John-Joe O’Toole, 30 (Northampton Town)
Ryan Edwards, 25 (Heart of Midlothian)

Forwards (1):
Oliver Sarkic, 22 (Leeds United)

Average age of players out: 26
Average age of players in: 23

Number of players in squad: 24

Player of the Season 2018-19: Lucas Akins, 30 (striker)

One to watch: Kieran O’Hara, 23 (goalkeeper)

Season ticket sales: Not disclosed

Ground capacity: 6,912

Visiting supporter capacity: 1,800 (1,400 standing, 400 seated)

Pre-season:
P6 W2 D3 L1 F14 A13

13/7 Matlock Town A 1-1
16/7 SHEFFIELD UNITED H 2-1
20/7 DERBY COUNTY H 2-5
23/7 Solihull Moors A 0-0
27/7 Chesterfield A 5-2
29/7 Nuneaton Borough A 4-4

Commentary:

“I genuinely think there is enough money in football at the moment to support everybody. I know the Premier League have so much control because they control the purse strings, but also there is a responsibility to the rest of football.” – Nigel Clough

Burton Albion manager Nigel Clough and chairman Ben Robinson form one of football’s enduring partnerships, having met when Robinson appointed Clough to his first role in management an incredible twenty-one years ago. Clough has been away in that time of course, but Burton Albion have come a long way since 1998. A new stadium, promotion to the Football League, and an unlikely journey to the Championship have transformed a provincial non-league club into a solid professional entity, and Robinson was rewarded with an MBE this summer for his work in the town. It is one of the better-run clubs in football despite the challenges of a limited support base, and their success is all the more laudable for that.

A restricted budget can only stretch so far, and Burton’s stay in the Championship ended after two seasons. Clough admits that relegation from the Championship hit his club financially. Last season should have been about stabilisation back in League One, but the Brewers attracted national attention once more by reaching the semi-finals of the Carabao Cup. Their crushing 9-0 defeat by Manchester City in the first leg was offset by an estimated £500,000 windfall from the cup run, reviving memories of the £800,000 earned from a certain cup tie against Manchester United in 2006. Burton used that original amount to pay off debts incurred from the new stadium and launch a serious assault on a Football League place, and one wonders how effectively they will use the latest sum. Burton’s ninth-place finish last season suggests that a very solid platform has been built for a promotion challenge this time around, and they now have the finance to underpin that.

Squad building has not entirely gone to plan during the close season, with a number of important players departing unexpectedly. Jamie Allen and Kyle McFadzean went to Coventry while exciting winger Marcus Harness was sold to Portsmouth. To compound the losses, former Premier League striker Marvin Sordell unexpectedly announced his retirement from football at the end of July at the age of 28. In return, the capture of highly-rated goalkeeper Kieran O’Hara from Manchester United could prove the key signing of the summer, but the main departures have not been fully replaced at the time of writing. If Burton can do that during what remains of the summer transfer window or in January, the play-off challenge could yet gather momentum.

At the bookies (Sky Bet): 11/2

Prediction: Unsuccessful play-off challenge.

Page Two: Bury, Coventry City, Doncaster Rovers, Fleetwood Town, Gillingham and Ipswich Town.

Posted by Vital Lincoln City on Thursday, 1 August 2019

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