EFL League One 2021/22 predictions: promotion, relegation and the best of the summer transfer window

We look ahead to the 2021/22 season and discuss the likely promotion and relegation candidates, as well as the best of the summer transfer window.

Chris Maxwell of Blackpool lifts the Sky Bet League One Play-off Trophy as his team mates celebrate following victory in the Sky Bet League One Play-off Final match between Blackpool and Lincoln City at Wembley Stadium on May 30, 2021 in London, England. (Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

After a thrilling summer of football that saw England unforgettably reach the Euro 2020 Final, Denmark enjoy a successful tournament in Christian Eriksen’s honour and France fall short in a surprising loss to Switzerland – we are just over a week away from the return of League One football.

The 2020/21 campaign ended with promotion for Hull City, Peterborough United and Blackpool; whilst Sunderland and Lincoln City suffered a disappointing last leg after looking set for success earlier in the season.

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The return of league football is highly anticipated, especially since fans are being welcomed back into full-capacity stadiums to support their beloved teams for the first time since last year – and what a season it could be for fans to witness.

Joe Pigott has signed for Ipswich Town after leaving AFC Wimbledon following his contract expiry. (Photo by Alex Davidson/Getty Images)

The fight for promotion could be the most challenging in years, with the likes of Ipswich Town, Sunderland, Portsmouth and Charlton Athletic all still vying for a place in the second tier; while Sheffield Wednesday, Rotherham and Wycombe Wanderers will be joining them after being relegated last season.

We take a look at all things League One – who has spent well in the transfer window, which teams are favourites for promotion and who looks set for the drop.

Transfers

A number of League One clubs have delved deep into the transfer market this summer, with many getting a complete makeover as they look to impress during the 2021/22 season.

Charlie Wyke signed for Wigan Athletic on a free transfer after leaving Sunderland at the end of the season. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

However many clubs are struggling to bring in the players they want due to the “stagnated” transfer market impacted by the pandemic.

So who has stood out this window?

Ipswich Town

At the time of writing Ipswich Town have made ten signings – a sign of intent from their new owners.

Sam Vokes signed for Wycombe Wanderers from Stoke City. (Photo by Nathan Stirk/Getty Images)

Town were taken over in April and the intentions of a complete overhaul this summer is quite clear, with 15 players leaving the club.

Names like Andre Dozzell, Alan Judge, Gwion Edwards and Luke Chambers – who have hundreds of appearances between them for the Tractor Boys and were all key members of last season’s squad – have left the League One outfit.

Paul Cook’s side found themselves in battles amongst other League One clubs for Joe Pigott, Scott Fraser and George Edmundson and came out on top for all three.

Joe Pigott signing for the club on a free is likely to prove an absolute coup for Ipswich.

Alex Pritchard has signed for Sunderland after a difficult spell with Huddersfield Town. (Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images)

Despite spending last season battling relegation Pigott ended the 2020/21 campaign as the fourth top goalscorer in the league with 20 goals – falling only behind Jonson Clarke-Harris, Charlie Wyke and Jerry Yates, who all finished in the play-off positions.

Scott Fraser enjoyed a spectacular season for MK Dons, while George Edmundson was sent out on loan to Derby County from Rangers – with the Rams keen to bring the defender back before Town snapped him up.

With Paul Cook also bringing in Conor Chaplin and Macaulay Bonne this summer, it is clear that Ipswich won’t be short of goals.

Sunderland

Ipswich Town’s summer is very much what Sunderland fans had hoped for. They had recently been taken over by Kyril Louis-Dreyfus after the previous owners failed to meet expectation and, like Ipswich, released a large number of players at the end of last season. Many first team players left the club including Chris Maguire, Max Power and Charlie Wyke.

Despite scoring 26 goals for Sunderland last season, Wyke’s departure divided opinion. However, the Black Cats are yet to replace the striker and with only eight days until their match against Wigan Athletic, they could probably do with Wyke up top for them.

MK Dons have snapped up Mo Eisa from Peterborough United for a reported club-record transfer fee. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Lee Johnson has currently made three signings in Alex Pritchard (free), Corry Evans (free) and Callum Doyle (loan).

While the latter has looked extremely promising in pre-season, the signings of Pritchard and Evans – both injury prone – have raised some questions. While Pritchard could be a very good signing for a League One club, Sunderland fans will be hoping the negatives don't outweigh the positives.

The Black Cats’ transfer window has been an extremely slow one and fans’ concerns are growing. Despite enjoying a quietly impressive pre-season, Sunderland still only have one senior full-back and that is Denver Hume, who is yet to sign a new contract with his boyhood club.

Wigan

Wigan Athletic are another team that have made the most of the transfer window with their new owners.

The Latics have signed two of the former Sunderland stars that were part of the team that got knocked out in the League One play-offs last season in Charlie Wyke and Max Power – two very good signings.

Power spent three years at the DW Stadium before he made the switch to the North-East, helping Wigan to two promotions. Meanwhile Wyke makes the move off the back of a superb season for Sunderland, with reports suggesting Wigan offered the forward £10,000 a week.

The Latics also brought in former Stoke City midfielder Jordan Cousins and Rochdale’s Stephen Humphrys - with the latter scoring 11 goals in 29 appearances for the relegated side.

MK Dons

MK Dons are looking quietly confident ahead of the 2021/22 season, with a impressive transfer window so far. The trio of Ethan Robson, Mo Eisa and Troy Parrott are particularly exciting signings for the club.

Robson struggled to cement a place in the starting XI for both Sunderland and Blackpool before he arrived in Milton Keynes, but his former fans have been quick to praise the midfielder. The 24-year-old has plenty of potential and Stadium MK could be the place for him to discover it.

Meanwhile, a partnership of Eisa and Parrott will no doubt strike fear into any opposition.

While Eisa struggled during Peterborough United’s promotion-winning season due to the unbelievable form of Ivan Toney, the forward bagged 16 goals in League One the previous campaign. At 27-years-old Eisa still has plenty years left in the tank and at his best could shine for MK Dons. Similarly, Troy Parrott could prove to be an excellent loanee addition to Russell Martin’s squad this season, with the 19-year-old highly regarded as a future star by Spurs.

Wycombe Wanderers

Wycombe Wanderers have returned to League One after their rather controversial promotion two years ago and no doubt they are looking to make a swift return to the Championship.

Gareth Ainsworth perhaps hasn’t been quite as active as other clubs this summer, but the signings of Josh Scowen, Sullay Kaikai and Sam Vokes are looking very exciting.

Scowen – a free agent following his release from Sunderland – makes his return to Adams Park after starting his career with the club. The midfielder has also gained experience in the Championship with Barnsley and QPR at, at 28, may prove to be a great free signing.

Meanwhile, Kaikai was part of the team that saw Blackpool win promotion last season – scoring seven goals and providing eight assists during the 2021/22 campaign. Sam Vokes will also bolster Wycombe’s attack and, despite his age, should bring goals and heaps of experience to the side.

Predictions

Top Six

1st – Ipswich Town

As previously mentioned, Ipswich Town has had a superb transfer window and I imagine that will show in their performances this season.

This will be Town’s third consecutive season in League One and are yet to reach the play-offs since their relegation.

Paul Cook has been able to coach his team through pre-season after arriving in March and has been able to bring in his own transfer targets, rather than Paul Lambert’s previous side.

With some of the talent and fire power Ipswich have brought in this summer, I struggle to see them not winning automatic promotion.

2nd – Sheffield Wednesday

Sheffield Wednesday are another side that have had a complete overhaul following their relegation to League One.

While they have lost some of their key players from their time in the Championship, their action in the transfer window makes it clear their intention to return to the Championship sharpish – in particular the signings of Jack Hunt and Lewis Wing.

The appointment of Darren Moore also brings a lot of hope and with a full pre-season and transfer window under his belt, I think he will be able to guide The Owls to promotion this season.

3rd – Wigan Athletic

As mentioned previously, Wigan’s signings, their takeover and the arrival of Paul Cook is likely to catapult them into the top six following their narrow escape from relegation last season.

If Cook can get Wyke firing like he did last season – and not replicating his underwhelming previous campaigns in a red and white shirt – then scoring goals will definitely not be an issue in their bid for promotion.

Wigan will be unlucky to miss out on a top two spot and I can definitely see them potentially winning the play-offs too.

4th – Portsmouth

Portsmouth haven’t seen Championship football since they were relegated at the end of the 2011/12 season and since gaining promotion to League One in 2017 have finished in 4th, 5th and 8th twice.

Under Kenny Jackett Pompey underperformed massively – losing in the play-off semi-finals twice.

Portsmouth fans had called for the sacking of Jackett for a while and the arrival of Danny Cowley in March has finally boosted their hopes of promotion.

I expect Pompey to impress this season under Cowley – who guided Lincoln City to the League Two title in 2018/19. Whether they will have the bottle to win the play-offs I’m not sure, but they will definitely be up there.

5th – Lincoln

Since joining the EFL in 2017, Lincoln City have continued to exceed expectations.

Promotion to League One under Cowley was impressive enough, but since the arrival of Michael Appleton The Imps went onto narrowly miss out on promotion to the Championship last season and are very likely to give it another go in the 21/22 campaign.

The signing of Chris Maguire on a free could prove to be a brilliant signing if he is to replicate his form at Sunderland.

6th – MK Dons/Sunderland

My sixth place position all depends on how Sunderland do for the remainder of the transfer window.

Their activity in the window so far has been very underwhelming and they most definitely lack the talent or squad depth they need to even finish in the top six, but if Lee Johnson manages to bring in the players they need – full-backs and a striker in particular – then they may scrape a play-off position.

Meanwhile, I expect MK Dons to continue their improvement under Russell Martin and an impressive transfer window may too see them reach the play-offs.

Relegation

21st, 22nd, 23rd, 24th – Wimbledon, Cheltenham, Cambridge, Morecambe

Bar Bolton Wanderers – who I think will finish the 2021/22 season in a mid table position – I expect the promoted trio of Cheltenham Town, Cambridge United and Morecambe all to go straight back down.

Cambridge United have lost the League Two top scorer Paul Mullin this summer, while Morecambe saw manager Derek Adams return to League Two with Bradford City.

Meanwhile, AFC Wimbledon failed to tie up Joe Pigott to a new contract over the summer which has seen him depart the club. The failure to replace their former top scorer is likely to see them drop down to League Two after managing to escape relegation for the past few years.

Cambridge United failed to keep hold of Paul Mullin this summer, who left for non-league side Wrexham. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)