Written by Alex Kay
The 2015/16 League One season has come to a close, and what an advert for football it has been. The 3rd tier of English football really has been a joy to watch, well at least for some. We have had back to back promotions, back to back relegations, 8 goal thrillers and red cards for throwing bottles! The Football League has been predictably unpredictable with this League One campaign making as much noise as any other before it. This is my team by team report starting with the top 8:
Team – Wigan Athletic
Position – 1st, Champions
Season Grade – A
Key Man – Will Grigg
After a pessimistic summer and 2 relegations in 3 years, the former FA Cup winners started the season off steadily if not underwhelming finding themselves sitting in 9th place at the end of September but still in the mix. After going 11 games unbeaten in October and November, Wigan were beginning to take League 1 by storm as they were 5th by Christmas and in good spirit. Following the turn of the year, The Latics went a further 20 games unbeaten meaning only loses to Burton and Blackpool separating what would have been an impressive 33 game unbeaten streak. At the end of this run Wigan were top of the table with a superior goal difference to Burton meaning the title was all but won. Burton’s 0-0 draw with Doncaster sealed the deal meaning a last day 4-1 slip up against Barnsley wouldn’t stop The Lactics lifting the league title. The club ended the season as champions and joint top scorers in the division in a season where expectations were certainly met.
Key Man – Will Grigg has had a sensational season leading the scoring in league 1 after netting 24 times. The Northern Ireland International set the club back £1 Million in the summer and has proved his worth by making it into the League 1 Team of the Season as well as narrowly missing out on the Football League team of the season. The forward had been struggling for a home since leaving Walsall with spells at Brentford and MK Dons but may have just found one here.
Team – Burton Albion
Position – 2nd, Promoted
Season Grade – A
Key Man – John Mousinho
After winning Sky Bet League 2 last year, everyone was intrigued to see what Jimmy Floyd Hasselbank and Burton could do. They have moved up from the 6th tier of English football to the championship in an impressive 17 years showing they are a club on the steady incline. Burton got off to a flying start winning 4 out of 5 in August alone, only losing out to Barnsley and by the end of September the Brewers were top of league 1 only dropping points in 3 games. Burton’s tight defence was making it difficult for teams to get anything from them and besides a 4-0 defeat to Fleetwood in October and a 3-1 defeat by Southend no one managed to put more than 2 goals past them in the league all season. Despite patchy form in the winter months Burton again were top of the tree by the end of February, however Wigan were breathing down their necks. Burton’s patchy form continued over into March where they managed to pick up 3 wins and 2 draws but lost 2 games 2-0, to Bradford and automatic promotion battling Millwall meaning the lead at the top had been cut to a single point. 3 draws and 1 defeat at the start of April gave Wigan a chance to take the top spot, which they took leaving Burton in 2nd with 3 games to go. Wins against Colchester and Gillingham and a point at Doncaster were not enough to clinch top spot but did however get them back to back promotions into the Sky Bet Championship after what was an outstanding season. Burton’s goal keeper, Jon McLaughlin, finished with 22 clean sheets, unsurprisingly the highest in the league.
Key Man – John Mousinho has had a solid season at the heart of the best defence in League 1. The players ability to pass the ball out from the back was an important style in both Jimmy Floyd Hasselbank’s and Nigel Clough’s successful formulas. The defender has been described by a ‘Man mountain’ by the press and thoroughly deserved his place in the League 1 Team of the year.
Team – Walsall
Position – 3rd, Play-offs
Season Grade – B
Key Man – Romaine Sawyers
After surviving comfortably last year Walsall fans probably didn’t expect much from this season. However, again against the odds an underdog has been able to thrive in this league, despite going through 4 managers throughout the season. The Saddlers enjoyed an unbeaten August and had only lost 3 league games by 2016 with themselves battling with Burton for the top spot. 6 games without a win at the end of February going into March left them dwindling in the play-offs and looking down on the wealth of teams chasing them. Fortunately for Walsall, Coventry and Peterborough had similar demises meaning even after a 3-1 loss to divisional rivals Barnsley, Walsall were still 4th. However, the Saddlers then went on to win 5 of their next 7 games meaning they were 8 points clear of 7th place and chasing automatic promotion with 4 games to go. 3 wins from the last 4 wasn’t enough to secure promotion so Walsall had to settle for 3rd place and a play off tie against the in form Barnsely. Walsall also enjoyed relative success in both the league and FA cup claiming the scalps of 3 championship teams in Brentford, Nottingham Forest and high flying Brighton.
Key Man – Romaine Sawyers has been a favourite at Walsall for some years. The Saint Kitts and Nevis International is not always remembered for his goalscoring and assisting abilities, but mainly for his energy and dominating performances in the midfield. That being said he managed to have a direct hand in 14 goals scoring 6 and assisting 8. His ability to control and build attacking chances has meant he was part of the League 1 team of the year.
Team – Millwall
Position – 4th, Play-offs
Season Grade – B
Key Man – Lee Gregory
Millwall appeared to still be hungover from their disappointing relegation last season as they endured a poor start to the season already losing 4 games by the end of September. Despite being one of the favoured clubs for promotion pre season, after a 2-2 draw with Wigan The Lions were in a lacklustre 12th place going into October. After a 5-3 defeat to Peterborough, Millwall went on to only lose 1 in their next 8 games meaning they were in high spirits and only 3 points off of the play-offs going into January. Results and performances were unfortunately turning for the worse though as the Lions lost 4 out of 5 league games in January and the start of February as well as losing out to League 2 side Oxford United in the JPT semi-final in a disappointing collapse for the club. Just as the season was beginning to look like it was plateauing out, Millwall managed to turn their fortunes around. In their final 22 games of the season the club only lost 3, drawing 5 and winning an impressive 14 games including wins against both Burton and Walsall. A 98th minute winner from Lee Gregory in their final game of the season against Gillingham ensured The Lions achieved 4th spot but now have an uneasy tie against Bradford in the play-offs.
Key Man – At £250,000 last season Lee Gregory was a costly transfer, and despite making a jump up from non-league football he now appears to be paying his worth. The poacher had a quiet season last year only scoring 8 and not boosting Millwall’s survival chances but the forward had been in hot form this campaign and bagged himself 18 goals with some important goals being scored to rescue games and snatch points. Without his scoring prowess reaching the play off may not have been a possibility for the promotion seeking club.
Team – Bradford City
Position – 5th, Play-offs
Season Grade – B
Key Man – Tony McMahon
Bradford had narrowly missed out on the play-offs last season finishing 7th, so for the Bantams this was the obvious goal for the season. But they didn’t make it easy for themselves, after 2 months Bradford had registered just 2 wins. 10 games into the season they were 19th just 2 points outside the daunting relegation zone. The season needed turning around, and they did just that. Including draws against promotion seeking clubs Wigan, Millwall and Coventry they went 9 games unbeaten going into the festive season. By this point they were up to 6th and it just goes show how quickly things can change in the space of 9 games in the football league. The one thing that really let Bradford down was not being able to beat the form teams this season, where they lost to Walsall, Sheffield United, Gillingham, Burton and Wigan who all flirted with promotion this season. However, play-offs always seemed likely towards the tail-end of the season with Bradford being unbeaten in 11 out of their last 12 games including 9 clean sheets and a 5 crucial 1-0 wins. They now have to face Millwall in what promises to be an interesting play-off semi final.
Key Man – After a short loan stint with the club the Bantams last season, Tony McMahon signed on a free transfer in the summer. The former England youth player has proved vital in Bradford’s promotion bid this season not only with his wealth of football league experience but his versatility. However, the former Blackpool man found a consistent home on the right hand side of Bradford’s midfield picking up 12 assists, the 3rd highest on the entire league along with many man of the match performances.
Team – Barnsley
Position – 6th, Play-offs
Season Grade – A
Key Man – Sam Winnall
Barnsley enjoyed one of the more successful seasons in the Sky Bet Football League this season in not only reaching a play-off place but also by lifting the JPT at Wembley against League Two’s Oxford United. Despite their exciting season, The Reds went through one of the worst league runs in the entire country, making their season even more interesting. The club was hurting from their mediocre attempt to ‘bounce back’ last season after relegation from the championship 2 seasons ago and would have been looking to put it right immediately with them still being considered one of the big favourites before the season kicked off. They had a patchy start recording 4 wins, 3 loses and 2 draws before the end of September leaving them just outside the play-offs looking up. A start to build on maybe. Maybe not. The club then recorded 8 successive league defeats including a 2-1 defeat at home to bottom club Crewe Alexandra and Barnsley were sat in 23rd place and back to back relegations looked on the cards. At this point they needed their big players to produce some even bigger performances. An impressive second half of the season from Adam Hammill, Conor Hourihane and Sam Winnall (amongst others) meant that Barnsley picked up 56 point from a possible 75 not only racing them away from the drop zone but throwing them into the last play-off spot ahead of divisional rivals Scunthorpe, on goal difference, on the last game of the season, against top of the league. Barnsley now play Walsall with themselves being in deadly form. The Reds have struggled within the Football League for some seasons now but is the start of something great? Whatever it is, it’s certainly exciting.
Key Man – After signing for Barnsley last season, Winnall promised to be an exciting forward with lots of goals in him. He had previously won promotion with Scunthorpe from League Two and made it into the League Two team of the year. But last campaign he only managed to bag 9 goals, not massively helping Barnsley’s promotion ambitions. Needless to say a big season was needed for him and he duly delivered. Scoring 21 goals with 4 assists in 36 starts is exactly what Barnsley wanted and is certainly one to look out for in seasons to come.
Team – Scunthorpe United
Position – 7th
Season Grade – B
Key Man – Paddy Madden
The Iron had a successful year last time out, staying up in a comfortable 16th after winning promotion back into League One. However, the club have had an even more impressive season this campaign, finishing narrowly outside the play-offs only on goal difference. But it wasn’t all plain sailing. In the first 23 games, Scunthorpe lost 11 games leaving them adrift in mid-table looking down rather than up. Results had to improve as they were in free fall down the table, and so they went on a 20 game run where they lost just two games. On this run they beat play-off chasing Millwall and Coventry as well beating struggling Swindon Town by a hallowing 6-0. Despite this good run, the damage had already been done during their poor first half of the season. A heavy 4-0 defeat to Peterborough and heavier still 5-0 defeat to relegation battling Blackpool proved too costly when they eventually missed out on 6th spot and the play-offs by 3 goal difference. Despite this, The Iron, all in all, have had a terrific season with grounds to build on and chase promotion next time around in their bid to return to the championship.
Key Man – Paddy Madden has had two impressive campaigns in League One previously, one with Yeovil scoring 22 goals, and the other last season with Scunthorpe scoring 14. As someone with experience in this league you wouldn’t be wrong to expect a good yield from him, something he didn’t fail to deliver. The Scunthorpe favourite scored 20 goals in what proved to be a good year for him and the club. The most difficult part of the season will be holding onto him in the summer as the Irishman has attracted interest from many football league clubs.
Team – Coventry City
Position – 8th
Season Grade – B
Key Man – Adam Armstrong
Coventry City have laboured through hard times in recent years due to financial difficulty. In fact this was their first full season since returning to their home, The Ricoh Arena. However, Coventry’s season looked as if they were heading for championship. In fact they had only lost 3 games by December including an 11 game unbeaten streak with 6 wins. Coventry also knew where the net was scoring 33 goals in the first 20 games leaving them top of the league. The first half of the season was looking fruitful, it was January when the season crumbled and fell apart. Coventry lost 2-0 to Burton mid-way through January on the start of their 10 loses in 15 games dry run. This left them 13th, 11 points of play-offs with 5 games to go. The promotion bid was over, not even 4 wins from the final 5 was enough to push them back up to 6th. However, a relatively good season for The Sky Blues nonetheless. The only worry for next year is the amount of important first team players Coventry had on loan and the difficulty they could have replacing or retaining them next campaign.
Key Man – Newcastle Loanee Adam Armstrong got his first taste of the football league this season after making 15 appearances for The Toon in 4 seasons, and he didn’t half hit the ground running. His first whole season of first team action was a successful one with him scoring 20 times for the Sky Blues. With Newcastle being relegated back down to the championship they would be foolish to let the home grown poacher back out as he has been impressive this year. Coventry will do well to find a replacement for him without a big investment for next season but if they do, who knows where they could finish?
Do you agree with these grades? Let us know in the comment below and be sure to look out for parts 2 and 3 which are coming soon!
featured image by Dan Farrimond