Sheffield United (1st Place)
Anyone with even a passing interest in League One knows the drill, Sheffield United start the season as promotion favourites and spend the next 46 games finding new ways to fall short despite having the biggest budget and crowds in the division. After a poor first few games, it looked like Chris Wilder’s Blades were going to be like Nigel Adkins’, Nigel Clough’s and Danny Wilson’s Blades in failing to discover that gritty, winning mentality that was once the club’s hallmark. However, three crucial changes to the side towards the end of August now sees this Sheffield United side looking ready to deliver on their perennial promise of a return to the Championship.
The signings of goalkeeper Simon Moore, centre-back Ethan Ebanks-Landell and a switch to a 3-4-1-2 formation have seen Sheffield United not just shoot up the league but absolutely dominate their opponents in almost every game they’ve played since the start of September. If there has been one criticism of the Blades this season, it’s that they’ve perhaps been overly reliant on Billy Sharp’s form in front of goal, with summer signings Leon Clarke and Caolan Lavery struggling to find form. Nonetheless, they are top of the division and are in a position to further strengthen their squads. The title favourites by some distance.
Bolton Wanderers (2nd Place)
The appointment of Phil Parkinson as manager in the summer has proven to be just what Bolton needed to avoid a difficult first season in the third-tier. Not famed for playing a particularly progressive style of football, Phil Parkinson’s no-nonsense football has seen Bolton overpower many opponents with brute force from what is a squad mostly made up of experienced and proven Championship-level performers, with Zach Clough and the now-departed Sammy Ameobi providing a small dashing of flair in the final third.
Although Bolton currently occupy a top-two position and have probably the division’s strongest squad, they haven’t been entirely convincing and have produced some pretty poor showings on occasion this season. It feels like Bolton under Parkinson will rely upon taking fewer risks than anyone else and hope that no-one below them find form to secure promotion. In this division this season, it could well be enough.
Scunthorpe United (3rd Place)
Having finished last season in excellent form, it wasn’t a massive surprise that Scunthorpe United were this season’s pace-setters. However, the main surprise with Scunthorpe this season is that they’ve much of their success has not been based around the goalscoring exploits of Paddy Madden, who’s played a relatively cameo role in the Iron’s impressive first half of the campaign. Instead, manager Graham Alexander has gotten the best out of forwards Tom Hopper and Kevin van Veen, who were already on the books, while his summer additions of Duane Holmes and particularly Josh Morris have added another dimension to what was already a strong squad.
Scunthorpe have a strong spine in central midfield and defence and have based much of their success this season on working hard and capitalising on mistakes or Josh Morris producing a moment of magic. However, they’ve won just once in their past six games and it’s looking like Graham Alexander is going to have to change things up a little to set them back on their way. The next month is going to be crucial for the Iron in restoring that lost momentum.