League One was the first of the EFL division to finish its regular campaign but that doesn’t mean the action ended early, with the road to the play-off final hotting up.
As League One went into its final day there was still a lot to be confirmed at both ends of the table. Top two Wigan Athletic and Rotherham United weren’t completely promoted, chased by MK Dons, while Sheffield Wednesday, Sunderland, Plymouth Argyle and Wycombe Wanderers were contesting for the final three play-off spots.
At the bottom, Crewe Alexandra were down and Doncaster Rovers needed a three-point and 27-goal swing to be safe – so were also considered relegated. But AFC Wimbledon and Gillingham had hopes of catching Fleetwood Town, the latter level on points with Fleetwood and needing to better their result. In the end their was no change at the bottom, with Gillingham given a particularly tough task of facing promotion-fighting Rotherham.
Rotherham won that game 2-0 to seal automatic promotion, behind league winners Wigan who cruised past Shrewsbury. In the play-offs it was Plymouth who missed out, thrashed 5-0 by MK Dons, with Wycombe overtaking the Devon club to join Dons, Sheffield Wednesday and Sunderland.
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1. Wycombe seal second Wembley trip in three years
Level on points with Plymouth and only down two on goal difference, Wycombe will have been positive about their play-off chances going into the final day, especially as they faced a Burton side sitting in the bottom half of the League One table. The Chairboys may have been nervous going into the game, looking to get back into the Championship at the first time of asking, but some nerves may have been calmed once news of MK Dons taking the lead against Plymouth in the 17th minute seeped through.
By the 43rd minute Plymouth were 3-0 down and Wycombe went one up, not looking back, even when Burton equalised. Jordan Obita made sure of the place in the play-offs though, winning the game for Wycombe in the 85th minute. Wycombe’s reward as the lowest-ranked play-off side was a two-legged semi-final against third-placed MK Dons, who will have been gutted by missing out on automatic promotion by one point.
But Wycombe weren’t fazed by being the lower seed, or the six-point gap between themselves and their opponents in the final league table. Gareth Ainsworth’s men cruised to a 2-0 league in the first leg of their semi-final, played at home, to put them in control of the tie. And a 1-0 defeat in the second leg wasn’t enough to end Wycombe’s Wembley dreams.
◉ 2018: Promoted to League One
◉ 2020: Promoted to the Championship
◎ 2021: Relegated to League One
Wycombe are just one game away from returning to the Championship. 👏 pic.twitter.com/Ps0cpYlSay
— Squawka (@Squawka) May 8, 2022
It’s now the second time in three seasons that Wycombe have contested the League One play-off final, having beat Oxford United at Wembley in 2019/20 to get promotion to the second tier. Standing in their way this time is either Sheffield Wednesday or Sunderland, who meet in their semi-final second leg on Monday night. Sunderland have the advantage, leading 1-0 on aggregate.
2. Will Keane fires Wigan back to Championship
It’s often said that defences win you titles but in Wigan’s case, goals were pretty important too. Will Keane, once of Manchester United, is in his second season with Wigan and has grown from a sporadically-scoring support man to the main guy at the DW.
Keane finished the regular season as Wigan and League One’s top scorer, netting 26 goals in 44 games, and there were some important ones too. Arguably the most important strikes came on the final day of the campaign, when Keane bagged a brace in Wigan’s 3-0 win over Shrewsbury to secure top spot.
Not only was the 2021/22 season Keane’s best for goals, but the 29-year-old actually scored more league goals than he managed in the rest of his career combined in senior leagues (21 goals in 138 appearances).
Keane’s 26 goals came from 93 shots, 39 of which hit the target, and an impressive 11 were scored with his head – three more than any other player in the division.
3. McConville in a creative league of his own
Sometimes a player just can’t do enough on his own to lift a team up the table, and that certainly was the case for Sean McConville. The Accrington Stanley midfielder led the way in League One for assists and chances created, but his side finished 12th in the league, just about making it into the top half of the table.
There wasn’t really a contest either when it came to McConville’s creativity. The 33-year-old recorded 17 assists across the League One campaign, four more than any other player. MK Dons’ Scott Twine was his closest rival on 13.
The gap was even higher for chances created, with McConville on 161 – 38 more than second-placed Barry Bannan. McConville was truly in a league of his own.
At the other end of the pitch, David Stockdale was instrumental in Wycombe qualifying for the play-offs, keeping 18 clean sheets across the regular campaign. He added another in the first leg of their semi-final against MK Dons, which proved vital in getting Wycombe to Wembley.
But it was another goalkeeper who should take the plaudits, even if he did concede five goals on the final day, causing his side to drop out of the play-off spots (though we can’t put all the blame on him).
Michael Cooper was a large reason for Plymouth making it to the final day of the season still in the play-off spots. The 22-year-old Plymouth academy product started every game for the Greens in League One and joined Stockdale on 18 clean sheets for the season, with no goalkeeper managing more.
But Cooper was tested a lot more often than Stockdale. The Plymouth shot-stopper more than earned that moniker, making 143 saves in League One, more than any other goalkeeper and conceded 48 goals. Stockdale was once again closest to Cooper, making 138 saves while conceding 51.
5. The Devon Derby returns
Because Plymouth fell out of the play-offs on the final day thanks to their 5-0 defeat to MK Dons, fans have been given a minor bonus of a big clash next season. Exeter City were promoted from League Two, which means the Devon Derby returns – having not been played since Plymouth went up in 2019/20.
The Greens won that last beating 4-0 at St James Park, ending a three-game unbeaten run for Exeter in the Devon Derby which included a double in the league in 2016/17.
COMING SOON: 2022/23
— BBC Sport Devon (@bbcdevonsport) May 7, 2022