Sheffield United improved radically in the wake of Nigel Clough’s installation as manager last October. They reached the FA Cup semi-finals and start the new campaign as title favourites. However, they must adjust to the centre-back Harry Maguire’s defection to Hull.
Time to put one of English football’s most pronounced geographical imbalances right. Bristol is too big a city to not have a Championship team and, in his first full season at Ashton Gate, Bristol City’s Steve Cotterill should correct that.
“I’m sick of the sight of other teams celebrating success,” says the Preston North End manager Simon Grayson, making it plain he is targeting automatic promotion. Formerly of Leeds and Huddersfield, Grayson is a good manager and Preston a club acutely conscious they are beneath their station. The Championship could be beckoning.
During his first stint in charge of Barnsley, Danny Wilson steered his sweet passing team into the Premier League against a soundtrack of “it’s just like watching Brazil”. Wilson returned too late to avoid relegation from the Championship last season but is on a mission to get Barnsley back there at the first attempt.
Can Russell Slade’s Leyton Orient overcome the disappointment of that play-off stumble in May after standing on the brink of the Championship for so long? Can they keep their outstanding midfielder Romain Vincelot?
Sir Alex may be retired but Darren Ferguson continues to fly the family’s managerial flag at Peterborough. He and his squad should be strong enough to make the play-offs. Much hinges on whether he can keep hold of his leading scorer Britt Assombalonga.
Bolstered by the addition of Benik Afobe, the young striker signed on a year-long loan from Arsenal, Karl Robinson’s MK Dons can make this the season when they finally reach the Championship before Milton Keynes falls fully in love with football. Well maybe. Still only 33, Robinson is a managerial bright spark with ambitions to coach his beloved Liverpool. Promotion would be a stepping stone.
An attempted takeover by the One Direction singer Louis Tomlinson and the former Rovers chairman John Ryan may have failed at Doncaster but Terry Bramall, Doncaster’s owner, has pledged to back Paul Dickov’s attempts to steer the newly relegated side back into the Championship at the first attempt.
Rochdale, Crewe, Colchester, Notts County
Unusually, there are no new League One managers this season.
Players to watch
Sam Baldock (Bristol City)
The former MK Dons and West Ham striker was League One’s top scorer last season, registering 24 goals for Bristol City. He is so integral to Steve Cotterill’s plans that the manager has persuaded his board not to sell the 25-year-old to Brighton for a healthy profit.
Joe Garner (Preston)
The former England youth striker scored a technically brilliant, world-class 25-yard volley in Preston’s play-off semi-final against Rotherham in May and contributed 19 goals throughout last season’s campaign. If Simon Grayson’s side win promotion, Garner is likely to make a big contribution.
Romain Vincelot (Leyton Orient)
Russell Slade’s key midfielder is the man who joins the dots for Leyton Orient. When Vincelot plays well, the team flows. Much admired by a queue of Championship clubs, the 28-year-old Frenchman blessed with the happy knack of interrupting opposition attacks before initiating Orient advances has not yet shown signs of leaving. The club’s best player as they fell at the final play-off hurdle last season.
Kevin Davies (Preston)
At the grand old age of 37 the former Southampton, Blackburn and Bolton centre-forward is still worrying defenders. Promotion with Simon Grayson’s side would serve as the perfect swansong to a fine career.
Benik Afobe (MK Dons)
The 21-year-old striker has joined Karl Robinson’s side on a season-long loan from Arsenal as he aims to fulfil the potential first displayed when he was part of the 2010 England Under-17 European Championship winning squad.