The 2018/19 Sky Bet League One season has well and truly taken shape after 12 games.
Portsmouth are dominating at the top of the table while Oxford are struggling at the bottom, but which players have impressed the most?
Goalkeeper: Craig MacGillivray – Portsmouth
The 25-year-old, who has earned praise for his shot stopping and quick decision-making, looks the best goalkeeper Portsmouth have had for some time.
He spent the first three years of his senior career in non-league with Stalybridge and Harrogate, where he was scouted by Newcastle, before being a touch unfortunate to spend another three years behind a succession of very good Walsall goalkeepers, including Richard O’Donnell and Neil Etheridge. Now, though, he is showing just what he can do and looks ready to step up another division.
Right-back: Jack Stacey – Luton
It looks increasingly like Reading might have made a mistake letting Stacey leave permanently. The right-back, who will be remembered at Exeter for scoring a stoppage-time winner in their dramatic League Two play-off semi-final against Carlisle in 2017, has kicked on since moving to Kenilworth Road.
The speedy 22-year-old displaced a bright young talent in James Justin to start 40 league games en route to Luton’s promotion last season, when he was constantly stretching play with adventurous forward forays. While Nathan Jones is manager, full-backs will always be crucial for the Hatters in all three thirds of the pitch and Stacey takes huge credit for the club’s continued progress.
Centre-back: Ethan Pinnock – Barnsley
A centre-back schooled in non-league is often expected to have a safety-first mentality but, since joining Barnsley from Forest Green in 2017, Pinnock has challenged that stereotype.
While he is commanding in the air, he also offers the accuracy of distribution which the likes of John Stones and Alfie Mawson once displayed at Oakwell. Such an impressive range of qualities has made him arguably the Tykes’ strongest defender so far in 2018/19.
Centre-back: Matt Clarke – Portsmouth
Narrowly behind Brett Pitman, Clarke was Portsmouth’s second-most important player last season and it could be argued that he’s now top dog. The 22-year-old is not only excellent at defending his own area, he can threaten in the opposition’s box too and will hope to build on last month’s goal in the 3-1 win at Rochdale.
He can sometimes show his adventurous side in possession, too and with so many attributes to the former Ipswich man’s game, the sky is the limit.
Left-back: Lee Brown – Portsmouth
After 2016/17 Players’ Player of the Season Enda Stevens departed for Sheffield United, left-back was perhaps a problematic position for Portsmouth in their first season back at League One level. Step forward, Lee Brown. The 28-year-old had been a key part of Bristol Rovers’ rise over the last four years and, after arriving at Fratton Park this summer, has offered similar defensive stability and intelligence to Stevens.
Although unlikely to attack the byline at pace, he makes selfless runs which drag opponents away, thus creating space for left-sided partner Ronan Curtis to thrive. Kenny Jackett has done some astute work in the transfer market this summer and Brown is a fine example.
Right-winger: Lynden Gooch – Sunderland
Jamal Lowe has been impressive for Portsmouth, but we’re plumping for Gooch. The wide man offers bags of energy down the right-hand side and has put in some excellent deliveries, with four assists to his name; he also chipped in with a brace in the 4-1 win over Rochdale, two of three goals in nine appearances.
Gooch has missed the last three matches due to a hamstring problem but is expected to return shortly, which will be a huge boost for the Black Cats, who look set to challenge for an instant return to the Championship.
Central midfield: Jay Spearing – Blackpool
In the absence of technician Jimmy Ryan, Spearing was handed the captaincy at Bloomfield Road and he has relished the role. Having started 45 games for Liverpool at the beginning of his career, before skippering Bolton to promotion in 2016/17, the 29-year-old unsurprisingly possesses inspirational leadership skills.
He is also strong in the tackle, capable of holding the ball well, has an impressive passing range and, as well as bagging a brace in the 3-2 win over Bradford, he also scored a stunning strike in the 2-0 EFL Cup victory over QPR.
Central midfield: Alex Mowatt – Barnsley
The midfielder was not long ago regarded as one of the brightest prospects at the Leeds academy and, after perhaps a challenging few seasons, is starting to get back to his best. Still only 23, Mowatt is technically very impressive with an excellent left foot and, helped by very high fitness levels, is flourishing in South Yorkshire thanks to Daniel Stendel’s excellent coaching.
Left-winger: Siriki Dembele – Peterborough
A graduate of the Nike Football Academy, Dembele showed plenty of natural ability at Grimsby Town last season, his first in senior football. Any slight question marks about his application have been answered since the 22-year-old moved to Peterborough, where he has relished a free role drifting in from the left flank.
The influential Ivorian has scored three goals and reached five assists, meaning Posh aren’t quite as reliant on Marcus Maddison as they have been in previous seasons.
Striker: Josh Maja – Sunderland
The 19-year-old was once on the books of Manchester City but must be glad he switched to Sunderland in 2015, given that he made his professional debut two years later. The nippy poacher has impressed with excellent movement so far this season and bagged his ninth goal of the campaign in Saturday’s 2-1 win at Bradford, making him League One’s top scorer.
Having recruited too many old players on long-term contracts during the latter stages of their Premier League stay, it is great to see the Black Cats being brave as a club and giving opportunities to young, hungry players. In Maja, they possess one of the brightest talents of the 2018/19 EFL season to date.
Striker: John Marquis – Doncaster
Since joining Doncaster in 2016, John Marquis has scored 50 goals in all competitions, thanks to last month’s brace in the 3-2 win at Plymouth. There were a few games last season when he was isolated in the first half, but then came alive in the second once the tempo increased.
Thanks to new manager Grant McCann’s adventurous tactical tweaks, Donny have been able to sustain that high-tempo for longer and, with a plethora of creative talents around him, the ruthless Marquis has reaped the benefits.
Manager: Dean Keates – Walsall
At the end of July, the prominent emotion on the Wednesbury Road was anxiety; the squad looked wafer-thin and enigmatic magician Erhun Oztumer, who had at times single-handedly won Walsall points during the previous regime, left for Bolton without being replaced.
As it turned out, Oztumer didn’t need to be replaced. Keates added an industrious target man in Andy Cook and a fine partner for him in Morgan Ferrier, with both instantly making the step up from the National League. On a limited budget and in a short period, the former Wrexham boss has built a pragmatic yet exciting counter-attacking 4-4-2 outfit, which threatens to upset League One’s elite.