2019/20 League One Managerial Preview: Who will thrive and who will dive?

Gabriel Sutton by Gabriel Sutton / 31 July 2019, 10:20

Many managers in League One this season must or have overcome problems at boardroom level.

Firstly, Southend United stayed up last season but had difficulties paying their players and staff for April – while this might have been an administrative error it is hardly the most encouraging sign for Kevin Bond.

Wycombe Wanderers, meanwhile, have used trialists to make up much of their squad during pre-season due to transition upstairs, although Rob Couhig has now completed a takeover; Ipswich chairman Marcus Evans is unwilling to pay a penny on transfer fees for Paul Lambert.

Paul Warne, Karl Robinson and Brian Barry-Murphy at Rotherham, Oxford and Rochdale respectively may be slightly frustrated at their boards for leaving it late to address key areas of lopsided squads – although Dale have signed Jimmy Ryan this week.

Coventry City will not be playing in Coventry this season – the board are lucky that Mark Robins’ progressive regime remains in place to project at least the illusion of positivity, when if almost anyone else was in charge it would be a full-blown crisis.

The uncertainty or transition at some clubs could hand a head-start to experienced managers like Kenny Jackett and Darren Ferguson, who lead stable promotion-pushers Portsmouth and Peterborough respectively.

Nine months ago, Wally Downes was very much a forgotten man in EFL managerial terms, but he has become a hero at AFC Wimbledon - a close-knit club that could benefit from the issues elsewhere to become surprise top half contenders.

On a final note, there are horrendous situations at Bolton and Bury which puts the existence of both clubs – as well as the livelihoods of those who support them – into serious jeopardy and we offer our support and solidarity to everyone associated.

Title winner – Jack Ross, Sunderland

In five of the last six seasons, the PFA Scotland Manager of the Year has been awarded to somebody who worked in the top flight.

In 2017-18, though, the accolade was presented to Jack Ross, who led St Mirren to the Championship title with a 12-point gap.

Ross’ achievements seem even more impressive when we consider that, when he took over in October the previous season, they were in a relegation battle.

The former Clyde player was described by Lewis Morgan, who won Player of the Year and got a move to Celtic off the back of that success, as a man manager better than anyone he had worked with.

Ross transformed the mentality at Ross County; he cultivated a first-class work ethic within the group whilst implementing an attractive brand of football and becoming a core part of a fan-owned club.

While that assessment of Ross might be just over a year out of date, it shows we are looking at a special, special manager.

Of course, Ross should not be absolved of all responsibility for last season, which saw his Sunderland side struggle to find a coherent system or playing identity.

They looked short of creativity, they were error-prone at the back and ultimately missed out on the primary target of promotion with one of the biggest third-tier budgets ever.

However, that is partly down to the cultural issues and ill-advised decisions from previous regimes that Ross partly suffered the consequences of.

For example, the likes of Lee Cattermole and Bryan Oviedo were no more than decent in League One yet took up a significant proportion of the wage budget.

Ross had to invest a lot of time and energy into changing the mentality of the club and getting 11 players on the pitch every week who would fight for the shirt; maybe that made it harder for him to fine-tune the technical and tactical aspects of his work.

We should expect an improvement in that regard this year; the new 3-4-1-2 setup will incorporate Elliot Embleton, who could be just the tonic in terms of creativity, as well as a front-two of Will Grigg and Charlie Wyke.

Sunderland have stood by Ross – it could yet prove the best decision they ever make.

One To Watch – Sam Ricketts, Shrewsbury

Since Graham Turner’s regime came to an end in 2014, Shrewsbury Town have made four different managerial appointments.

Of those, only John Askey has been dismissed by the board’s decision: Micky Mellon, under fan scrutiny, chose to drop two divisions to go to Tranmere, Paul Hurst was tapped up by Ipswich and of course Ricketts remains in charge.

Interestingly, each of these managers have got their respective jobs off the back of success in the National League.

Perhaps Roland Wycherley felt, having worked with lower budgets, they would be more comfortable with the limited resources at Shrewsbury.

Up to this point, though, the problem has arguably been that their managers have not had the contacts from higher divisions to add quality to the squad and bring sustainable progress.

Ricketts, though, bucks that trend.

The 37-year-old played a big part in the club capturing Manchester United Development Squad defender Ro-Shaun Williams on a two-and-a-half-year contract - and getting attacking left wing-back Ryan Giles on loan from his former club Wolves.

The former defender is also politically-savvy.

He kept the interim coaching team that had done well after Askey’s exit on board – then when he was asked if he wanted a new assistant, he said he was “happy” with what he had. 

Those comments did no damage to his relationship with Danny Coyne, but it also meant that in the summer, he could replace Coyne with Graham Barrow – a very experienced figure in the game with whom he worked at Wrexham – without going back on his word.

Ricketts has been backed with a healthy budget this summer and could turn the Shrews into surprise Play-Off contenders.

First Casualty – Joey Barton, Fleetwood

Fleetwood Town support their manager in his denial of causing bodily harm to Barnsley boss Daniel Stendel in April and it would be legally correct to presume his innocence until an official verdict is reached in October’s hearing.

Preparation for the court case, however, is likely to interfere with Barton’s dedication to his work at Fleetwood.

So far, the club have not publicly responded to the situation as an independent entity; rather, they have regurgitated Barton’s statement on their official website.

That same website, though, also outlines their Safeguarding Policy within a customer charter and the right people have to safety and protection from abuse or harm.

There is an argument to say that Barton should have been suspended from his job amid the uncertainty and while he could be innocent, it remains to be seen for how long his position will be tenable.

Best Summer Appointment – Simon Grayson, Blackpool

Simon Sadler is a stout Seasider.

He completed a takeover of Blackpool to rid the club of the Oyston regime and, after his first open fans’ forum at the helm, offered all supporters a free drink.

As if Sadler needed to do anything to bolster his popularity on the Fylde coast, he has appointed a League One promotion specialist in Simon Grayson as manager. 

Of course, Grayson has something to prove with a poor record at his previous two clubs – Sunderland and Bradford – but certain allowances can be made for the structural issues at both at the time. 

Before that, the Yorkshireman did a wonderful job at Preston North End, inspiring progress every year. 

He kept them up in League One in 2012-13, took them to the Play-Offs in 2013-14, led them to promotion the following season prior to a solid season in the Championship and then a Play-Off push the year after. 

Before that, Grayson also took Huddersfield to promotion from the third-tier in 2011-12; the same with Leeds in 2009-10 and of course Blackpool in 2006-07. 

The 49-year-old returns to Bloomfield Road and inherits a squad tailored to his liking.

He inherits two strong goalkeepers in Mark Howard and Christoffer Mafoumbi, two solid centre-backs in Curtis Tilt and Ryan Edwards as well as a midfield terrier in Jay Spearing.

If he can perhaps upgrade the full-back areas – including a replacement for Marc Bola – and get Rangers recruit Ryan Hardie firing up top, then perhaps Grayson can further his reputation as the go-to man for League One success.

Managers Departed

Last man down

Graham Westley
Graham Westley
16th February
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