Football League promotion

Five surprising Football League promotion candidates you might not have thought of

Another EFL season is upon us, with Huddersfield Town and Burnley kicking off the opening weekend on Friday night. With that, it’s time to make some pre-season predictions.

The Football League is notorious for its unpredictability, so here are five potential candidates for promotion you may not have considered.

Millwall
The Lions pushed for a place in the Championship play-offs last season, although they found themselves six points behind ninth place. It was the club’s third straight finish in the first half under Gary Rowett, who proved a reliable operator in the second tier.

Rowett took over at The Den in October 2019 after a poor eight-month spell at Stoke City. His reputation was rebuilt after successful spells in charge of Birmingham City and Derby County.

Millwall’s defense was one of their biggest strengths last season, as they were in the play-offs in terms of goals conceded (45 in 46 games).

They were also helped by the sensational performances of Jed Wallace, who was a regular provider of goals and assists from the midfield.

Wallace leaving to join West Brom on a free transfer is a blow for Rowett’s men, but Fortuna Sittard’s Zian Flemming looks like a more than suitable replacement.

The 23-year-old striker scored 12 goals and six in the Erediie in 2021/22 before joining Millwall for around £2.25million.

Charlie Cresswell and Jamie Shackleton have moved south on loan from Leeds United. Benik Afobe and George Honeyman have also signed permanently. Millwall is maximizing its resources and is well placed to start.

Sunderland
After four long seasons blocked in Ligue 1, the Black Cats are finally back in the Championship. It’s been a tough road to get here, and they’ve made a lot of bad decisions along the way.

Their 2021/22 season has accelerated following the arrival of Alex Neil in February. Promotion via the play-offs was secured after the so-called ‘Premier League game in all but name’ – the semi-final against Sheffield on Wednesday – and victory at Wembley against Wycombe.

Sunderland’s dismissal of Lee Johnson in January was seen as a risk, although Neil’s appointment was a surefire slam dunk: a manager with two promotions under his belt (with Hamilton and Norwich City), plus a prosperous period of more than three years. in Preston North End.

Neil is rightly regarded as one of the best managers in the Championship, and his responsibility is the main reason Sunderland is on this list.

The North East side have also done well in the summer market, bringing in Arsenal academy product Dan Ballard for over £2million and Jack Clarke permanently from Tottenham.

According to the reports, Sunderland are now close to signing Everton striker Ellis Simms on loan. He will add competition to Ross Stewart, who is one to watch this season after scoring 24 times in Ligue 1 last year.

Talk of promotion may be a premature season for Sunderland, who would realistically settle for a year of consolidation. But with the quality of the Championship not what it once was, a play-off and subsequent pursuit of promotion may not be out of order.

Swansea City
The Swans are many people’s dark horses heading into the new Championship season. And it’s no wonder why.

In Russell Martin, they have an inexperienced but progressive young manager who follows ex-boss Roberto Martinez as ‘The Swansea City Way’.

After leaving MK Dons, Martin could only guide the Welsh side to 15th place in the Championship last season. A move there next season would likely spell his demise, so there is pressure.

He’s been busy this summer, raiding MK Dons for their top defender, Harry Darling. Joe Allen made an emotional return, as they also brought in Nathan Wood (Middlesbrough) and Matthew Sorinolo (Union SG).

The £12million sale of Flynn Downes to West Ham should also facilitate another major signing before the window closes.

Swansea are already familiar with attacking options. Joel Piroe was one of the stars of the Championship last season, scoring 21 times in his first season in England. The likes of Olivier Ntcham, Jamie Paterson and Michael Obafemi are proven goalscorers and creators in this division.

The Swans have finished in the play-offs in two of the last four years, and internally they expect to do better this time around.


Jeopardy is the warp and weft of football and the Premier League took it all


Plymouth Argyle
Now on to Ligue 1 for a team that has had a rollercoaster season in 2021/22. Plymouth made a great start to the campaign which left them fourth in December.

Their form was to attract the interest of their boss Ryan Lowe. That turned out to be the case as the Liverpudlian were taken to Preston ahead of the January transfer window.

His assistant – Steven Schumacher – took on the heavy lifting at Home Park. They overcame a mid-season slump to renew their promotion push, although they eventually finished three points out of the play-off places.

With Sheffield Wednesday, Ipswich Town, Derby County and co. Looking strong – on paper at least – few will have Plymouth on their list of promotion favourites.

It was even with them last season that they were sometimes one of the best teams in Ligue 1. If it hadn’t been for a few wobbles, they would have been well in the fight for automatic promotion.

Ryan Hardie, Conor Grant and Luke Jephcott will again be assets. Moreover, Rotherham United left winger Mickel Miller could easily become the league’s signing of the season if kept fit.

Plymouth will go under the radar compared to some of the division’s heavy hitters and that will suit them just fine. They haven’t played in the league since 2010, although they are on course to return in the near future.

Sutton United
The United States have been around since 1898, but remarkably the 2021/22 campaign was their first in the Football League. They also gave their supporters an unforgettable first year in the EFL.

Matt Gray’s team made it to the Papa John’s Trophy final. They took Rotherham to the wire at Wembley, eventually losing 4-2 after extra time.

The Football League newcomers didn’t let that grief hinder them in the league, as they finished eighth in League Two – just one point clear of the play-offs.

A season of what could have been for Sutton, but of which they can be extremely proud.

Given their size and overshoot, it was inevitable that the players would leave this summer. Star winger David Ajiboye is the main departure as League One’s Peterborough United secured him for an undisclosed fee.

Reinforcements came from non-league in the form of Luke Gambin and Kwame Thomas. Additionally, Isaac Olaofe, Omar Bugiel and Donovan Wilson will be eager to perform well again in hopes that they will eventually follow in Ajiboye’s footsteps.

Ligue 2 is as open a league as any and while Sutton are expected to drop from last season, they won’t be ready to do so. Gray’s men are simply having too much fun; they will attack and aim high. If that translates into a place in the play-off lottery, then, like any team, they will have the opportunity to reach even greater heights.


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