2018-19 League One Managerial Preview

Gabriel Sutton by Gabriel Sutton / 03 August 2018, 10:02

With the 2018-19 League One season coming up, Gabriel Sutton (@_FootbalLab) runs the rule over four managerial talking points.

Title Winner

Jack Ross – Sunderland.

Gordon Strachan, Walter Smith, Brendan Rodgers; three of the illustrious men who have been named PFA Scotland Manager of the Year since the award was set up in 2007.

The latest man to win the accolade is Jack Ross, who led St Mirren to the Scottish Championship title in 2017-18, having taken over the previous season with the team in a relegation battle.

In May, The Saints gave two clubs the permission to speak to Ross: one was Championship outfit Ipswich Town, the other was Sunderland, who of course had been relegated to League One.

Will his decision to join the latter might be partly down to geography, it also says something about the new owners, Stewart Donald and Charlie Methven, who could be the men to re-invigorate the club.

Ross’ predecessors, Simon Grayson and Chris Coleman, both acknowledged the task was to bring in players who are proud to represent the club but, by the end of their tenures, both looked out of ideas.

In fact, the failings of senior players forced Coleman to lean on youngsters. While the likes of Ethan Robson, Joel Asoro and Josh Maja eclipsed their elders due to their energy and desire, there was a lack of quality in the squad, as well as an inability to handle basic balls into the box.

The board have acted decisively in the transfer market though to fix last season’s problems and in the absence of an obvious competitor to Sunderland, Ross could well win a second title in the third full season of his managerial career.

Surprise Package

Grant McCann – Doncaster Rovers

Grant McCann’s 21-month stint at Peterborough United might not have been the raving success story he might have hoped, but it was still a steady debut in management.

Under the Northern Irishman’s watch, The Posh never drifted into the bottom half and, barring a slump at the end of the 2016-17 campaign, never exited the play-off picture; reasonable results, considering they weren’t helped by injuries and didn’t have the budget to spend their way to the top.

McCann also stuck to his possession principles, even when many called for him to change, which is crucial for the Doncaster job, because it means the squad and approach need not be altered.

Darren Ferguson wasn’t perfect – and perhaps change was needed – but he deserves credit for instilling a coherent ideology into the squad, whilst assembling one of the best centre-back pairings in Andy Butler and Joe Wright.

Ferguson though tended to play midfielders Luke McCullough and Jordan Houghton in the same eleven despite them offering similar defensive qualities, whereas McCann looks set to shake things up: in the final pre-season friendly, technician Benjamin Whiteman played at the base of a flexible midfield trio.

That positive tweak could help inject creativity and purpose into this side, which will help both reduce the creative burden on veteran James Coppinger and get the best out of John Marquis, who seems to come alive during the team’s high-tempo spells.

As we saw during their promotion campaign in 2016-17, getting the best out of Marquis will bring rewards.

First Casualty

Gary Bowyer – Blackpool

This prediction isn’t based on the assumption that Gary Bowyer will be dismissed as Blackpool manager, but that he could choose to leave of his own volition.

The Mancunian has proven to be worthy of a job in, at least, the top half of League One, if not the bottom half of the Championship.

He even showed his thick skin as a kid when his father, Ian Bowyer played for Nottingham Forest: at a Christmas party, a six-year-old Gary approached Brian Clough and asked him why his dad wasn’t in the first team!

The ex-full-back had a middling playing career, before spending eight years with the youth and reserve teams at Blackburn Rovers, where he got the permanent gig in 2013 and helped stabilize on-field matters.

Following a summer which saw Rovers lose the likes of Tom Cairney and Rudy Gestede, he lost his job, perhaps unfairly, in November 2015, with the team on a three-game unbeaten run and going steady in 16th.

That was the only reason he dropped down to League Two two summers ago, before doing another impressive job at Blackpool.

He guided the Tangerines up at the first attempt in 2016-17, despite attendances remaining low and fans disenfranchised, then stabilizing them in the top half of League One.

Bowyer is quietly-spoken and does not react emotionally to situations, which enables him to provide calm and therefore achieve relative success in turbulent times for clubs.

Thanks to the 47-year-old’s work, Blackpool now have a deep squad which should be comfortable at this level, even if they won’t necessarily excite the neutrals.

Having done so much work during a crisis though, Bowyer deserves to be at a club where the sense of upward momentum is already in place.

Barton to Fleetwood

Joey Barton’s fortunes at Fleetwood Town will be one of the most fascinating aspects of the 2018-19 League One campaign.

The appointment represents an audacious dive into the unknown, because the obvious decision for chairman Andy Pilley would have been to stick with John Sheridan.

The ex-Sheffield Wednesday midfielder brings the best part of two-decades worth of managerial experience; and more recently, he has an excellent record of keeping teams up, as we saw at Newport and Oldham twice, even if he took over mid-season on those occasions.

‘Shez’ did the same job at Highbury; once the Uwe Rosler era had appeared to go stale with slow, motionless possession play, he replaced the German in February and kept the Cod Army up with some aplomb.

In fact, during Sheridan’s time in charge, the team had the sixth-best record in the division and outside the top three, only Rochdale took more points.

While the 53-year-old more than achieved his remit in terms of keeping the team up, his stylistic philosophy was perhaps out of keeping with what Pilley wanted.

Joey Barton’s philosophy is yet to be seen, but the signs from pre-season are that he wants a bit of everything.

The ex-midfielder would be crazy not to use the width that full-backs Lewie Coyle and Eddie Clarke can provide, the dynamism of Kyle Dempsey, the forward creativity of Ashley Hunter and the nippy runs of Chris Long, with whom the new boss played at Burnley.

However, he also wants his players to represent something of him as a player – and we don’t mean getting addicted to gambling.

He has brought in Dean Marney, another former Burnley colleague, who will provide the guts and tenacity Barton wants from his players and who should be an excellent performer at this level when fit.

Fleetwood have certainly thrown the dice – but that’s not to say it couldn’t pay off handsomely.

Managers Departed

Last man down

Graham Westley
Graham Westley
16th February
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