Many clubs in recent seasons have found the going tough upon being relegated from the Premier League, so much so that they slip almost inexorably into the third tier. Wigan Athletic were that team going into 2015-16, just two years after winning the FA Cup under Roberto Martinez and now with a new chairman in 23-year-old David Sharpe.
The man tasked with reversing the downward spiral was one of the members of that side that upset the odds against Manchester City on that famous day at Wembley, Gary Caldwell. The Scot made the bold decision to trim the squad of senior players, who made way a group of players who were beginning to forge reputations in the Football League, most notably Northern Ireland international Will Grigg.
He went on to be leading scorer in League One, ably assisted by winger Yanic Wildschut, who arrived initially on loan from Middlesbrough. The early months saw the Latics very much part of the chasing pack behind the original pace-setters, but as the season wore on they maintained a solid consistency that could not be matched by their rivals and eventually lifted the title.
This was a very good achievement, but nothing compared to that of Burton Albion, who made it into the Championship only six years after entering the Football League for the first time in their history, without being heavily bankrolled. Initially under the guidance of Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, the Brewers continued to profit from the strong collective spirit and a high level of efficiency that had served them so well in League Two.
They were in the driving seat for an automatic promotion spot throughout the entire season, and were able to hold their position despite the departure of Hasselbaink to Queens Park Rangers in December. Taking his place was the man who originally conceived their meteoric rise, Nigel Clough, and he helped them over the line by picking up the point they needed on the final day.
Another team that was in the mix all season was Walsall, who had three different managers, but regular wins eluded them somewhat towards the end and so they had to be content with a play-off place. For so long it seemed as though Gillingham and Coventry City would be certainties to join them in the top six, only to dramatically collapse in the final months and eventually miss out.
Their places were taken by Millwall and a defensively sound Bradford City side, while completing the play-off spots, remarkably, were Barnsley. The club from South Yorkshire were bottom of the table in December after going through a shocking sequence of nine straight defeats, but an incredible turnaround during the second half of the season was masterminded by caretaker boss Paul Heckingbottom after manager Lee Johnson left to take over at Bristol City.
Barnsley took on Walsall in the play-off semi-finals and it was no contest as they hit three in both legs to make it to Wembley, where they were triumphant in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy in early April. Millwall got the better of Bradford 4-2 on aggregate, but could not live with the Tykes in the final as they went behind early before eventually losing 3-1.
It was sensational for Barnsley, who always looked a team to watch out for following the turn of the year, but they had to hold off a stunning late surge from Scunthorpe United to make the top six as the Iron won their last five games on the bounce. An improved run in the final weeks also proved too late for Rochdale as gained another respectable finish in the top 10.
One team that is always tipped to be there or thereabouts at the beginning of the season is Sheffield United, but they foundered again despite having a manager with a proven track record in the third tier. Nigel Adkins was sacked after they ended 11th, ahead of a Port Vale side which ultimately lacked the consistency to achieve a play-off place but still performed above expectations.
At the bottom of the table the luck ran out for both Crewe Alexandra and Colchester United, who had flirted almost constantly with relegation in recent years. They went down this time with Crewe in a distant last place and the U’s left counting the cost of an abysmal defensive record and a lengthy run without a win that stretched from mid-October to the beginning of March.
It always seemed a tall order for Blackpool to halt their slide and so it eventually proved, falling into League Two as the supporters’ war with owner Karl Oyston continued. Joining them were a Doncaster Rovers side that totally lost form over the final months and were an unexpected casualty under Darren Ferguson, slipping into the fourth tier for the first time since 2004.
It was a close run thing for both Shrewsbury Town and Fleetwood Town, who were down there for much of the season, as were Oldham Athletic who were revived by the return of former boss John Sheridan and found a degree of resilience to stay up with time to spare and thus ensure a 20th successive season in League One.
The two sides to drop the furthest after reaching the play-offs in 2015 were Swindon Town and Chesterfield, who both underwent a change of manager. The Speirites in particular struggled and only survived relegation by seven points in the end. Elsewhere, Peterborough United and promoted duo Bury and Southend United were entrenched in mid-table.
All things considered it was a season full of the unexpected in League One, and it provided a number of great success stories. Some, such as the continuing plight of Blackpool were less of a joy to behold, but it remained an exciting and competitive league right up until all was decided on the final day.