Ten strikers who could be the 2022/23 League One golden boot winner.
Jonson Clarke-Harris - Peterborough United
There’s few guarantees in this life and Jonson Clarke-Harris tearing up League One is somewhere on the scale between death and taxes. The 28-year-old took his time finding his scoring touch in his career after spells at Oldham, Rotherham and Coventry along with an abundance of loans ended unsuccessfully for the forward. However, a move to Bristol Rovers in 2019 ignited the striker who scored 24 goals in 42 games for the Gas, a record better than a goal every other game. That form earned Clarke-Harris a transfer to Peterborough United where he has elevated his career, earning a League One golden boot in 2020/21 helping Posh to promotion with 31 goals that season.
Clarke-Harris gave a decent account of himself at the level above scoring 12 goals but was unable to help Peterborough avoid the drop as they were relegated from the Championship last term. The return of fellow striker Jack Marriott to London Road last year saw the two strike up a dangerous partnership up front, one that is sure to be a deadly duo in League One this season. Clarke-Harris has already broken the seal this term with a brace on opening day aiding his side as they turned around a two goal deficit against Cheltenham to win 3-2. The Posh marksman also bagged in Tuesday night’s victory over league-favourites Sheffield Wednesday and it feels like he’s only just getting started.
Making him one of the most frightening frontmen in the division, Clarke-Harris has that poacher’s knack for being in the right place at the right time with the ability to finish off any sniff at goal. The striker is also capable from range having scored a number of free-kicks with that lethal left foot and can even bully defenders in a physical battle, giving Clarke-Harris pretty much the full package.
Sam Smith - Cambridge United
When you see Sam Smith racing through on goal the writing’s on the wall. I’m sorry, please stay with me… okay I’ll stop now. For those of you unfamiliar with the work of the Cambridge striker’s namesake that opening makes for fairly confusing reading. Anyway back to football and Sam Smith (the footballer) is quite good at it. 21 goals for Mark Bonner’s side last season, 15 coming in League One and at 24 years of age the forward is only going to get better.
The former Reading youngster joined the Us on a free last year after a mixed bag of loans, the best of which came at the Abbey Stadium where he bagged 7 in 28 at League Two level in 2019/20. Since re-joining the club, Smith is a different beast and has formed a lethal partnership with Joe Ironside, striking 29 league goals combined last term. Now, another year older, part of a settled system in an ever improving team, Smith will continue to latch onto balls into the box and could prove himself amongst the division’s most fruitful goal scorers this year.
Ryan Hardie - Plymouth Argyle
The Rangers academy graduate had never broken double figures in a single season before last campaign. An early career full of loan spells before an unsuccessful move to Blackpool saw the striker sent out once again on loan this time to Plymouth Argyle of League Two. Hardie came to Home Park a man with a point to prove and fired 7 goals in 13 fourth tier games to help Argyle secure promotion in 2020. That form was enough to earn him a move to The Pilgrims on a permanent basis, where he seems to have finally found his feet.
16 goals and 5 assists in 37 League One appearances last season saw the Scotsman hit the form of his life and become a key part of Plymouth’s impressive year as they narrowly missed out on a playoff spot. This time around, Steven Schumacher’s side have had a strong window as they look to make amends on a disappointing finish and as mentioned in my League One predictions piece, I really fancy them this year. Supplied by the likes of Danny Mayor and Joe Edwards along with new recruits Finn Azaz, Mickel Miller and Morgan Whittaker, the Plymouth forwards will be licking their lips. With good competition from Niall Ennis and Luke Jephcott, Hardie will be pushed to be at his very best as Argyle look to go one better this time around.
James Collins - Derby County
One of the most exciting names of Derby County’s summer rebuild was that of experienced striker James Collins. The 31-year-old has a fine EFL CV to show with over 150 goals in English Football and five promotions to go with it. Formerly of Shrewsbury, Hibs and Swindon, to name a few, Collins’ most notable recent years came as a key part of Luton Town’s back-to-back promotion winning team as the Hatters went from the Fourth tier to the Championship. The Republic of Ireland international holds impressive numbers of 68 goals in 174 games for Luton, scoring 25 times in their 2018/19 League One title-winning campaign. The forward also showed his goal-scoring touch in the Championship, hitting 14 and 10 goals in two second tier seasons at Kenilworth Road.
Following a largely disappointing move to Cardiff after his success with the Hatters, Collins will be hungry to get back to his best at Pride Park. At 6’2 Collins offers a large physical threat and thrives off balls into the box, but also has that natural instinct of popping up in the right place and finishing any kind of chance.
The Ram’s striker will be frustrated by his start at his latest club having squandered a few opportunities to get that elusive first goal. However, an experienced pro such as Collins won’t let it get to him too much and it’s only a matter of time before the Irishman is hitting them for fun. Liam Rosenior’s side have an impressive supporting cast with the likes of Connor Hourihane, Nathaniel Mendez-Laing, Louie Sibley and Tom Barkhuizen all very capable creative technicians whilst Derby’s only other senior forward is David McGoldrick, who also favours a more supporting role, suggesting that County may be pretty reliant on Collins to be their main source of goals this season.
Michael Smith - Sheffield Wednesday
Michael Smith is another striker who will be frustrated by his start at his new club. However, like Collins, Smith has enough experience behind him to know that sooner or later he’ll be back fit again and scoring goals aplenty.
One of last season’s stand out players, the forward was involved in Sheffield Wednesday’s controversial double swoop of Rotherham United’s promotion-winning key men Michael’s Smith and Ihiekwe on free transfers. As mentioned Smith has been left out due to injuries having appeared for just 20 minutes in Wednesday’s season opener, but will be desperate to succeed after catching plenty of flack on his way out the door at the New York stadium.
The 30-year-old bagged 24 goals in all competitions for The Millers last season, with a return of 52 in 188 games for his last club. Smith has three League One promotions already to his name whilst also proving a handful in the division above, scoring 10 times in Rotherham’s 2020/21 season.
At 6’3 the former Swindon man certainly adds plenty of height to The Owls frontline and could be the beneficiary of balls into the box from the gifted Barry Bannan. Smith also brings a lot more than just his height, as he is a natural finisher with his feet, capable of all types of goals. It may have previously pained Wednesdayites to mention, but the ex-miller also has a pretty decent scoring record at Hillsborough, one that he’ll be hoping to continue now that he calls it home.
Aaron Collins - Bristol Rovers
A lesser experienced goal scorer is that of Aaron Collins who has made a fine start to his first season of League One football with three goals in the opening four games. The 25-year-old found his scoring boots after a move to Bristol Rovers from Forest Green last year, a transfer which saw the former Wolves forward kick-start his career bagging 16 League Two goals for Joey Barton’s side last season as they snuck into the final promotion spot in a dramatic end to a memorable campaign.
During his Molineux days, the striker failed to feature for the Wolves first team and was sent out on loan a number of times before a permanent move to Morecambe. After a year on the seaside, Collins signed for Forest Green where 14 goals in 72 fourth division appearances earned him that move to the Memorial.
The Bristol Rovers talisman is an exciting attacker who needs only half a sight at goal before he’s front-flipping in front of jubilant Gas fans. With those old-fashioned poachers instincts, Joey Barton’s number 10 also poses a huge threat from range having scored a number of goals with stunning finishes from outside the box last term.
Colby Bishop - Portsmouth
Pompey needed a striker this summer after losing last season’s main sources in George Hirst and Marcus Harness, casting their hopes on new arrival Colby Bishop from Accrington Stanley.
The Portsmouth new boy turned down Championship interest from Blackpool to sign at Fratton Park and has started at his new club exactly like a player capable of playing in the division above. Four goals in four games in the league as well as one in the Carabao cup at Cardiff for Bishop as he fast becomes the latest Pompey hero and could yet be on for a career high in goal scoring prowess.
The 25-year-old managed double figures in each of his three seasons at Accrington finishing up with 31 League One goals in 109 games for John Coleman’s side. The centre forward has all the physical attributes which makes for such an effective forward at this level, feeding mainly off high crosses into the penalty area.
Danny Cowley’s top scorer has quickly settled into his new surroundings and in a team with playoff ambition, supplied by the likes of Ronan Curtis, Michael Jacobs and Owen Dale, don’t be surprised to see Bishop’s name listed amongst the most prolific this season.
Dion Charles - Bolton Wanderers
When Bolton Wanderers coughed up a reported £300,000 for Accrington Stanley’s Dion Charles last January, it was the first time that The Trotters had paid a fee for a player in four years. But with Charles’ nous for goalscoring at this level, you can see why they were prepared to part with their cash and the new Bolton forward went some way to repaying that fee scoring eight goals in the remainder of last season as Ian Evatt’s side hit a rich vein of form.
His previous employers picked him up from non-league Southport and the striker quickly adjusted to the Football League scoring 8 in 33 games during his first season. The Northern Ireland international backed it up with a fantastic second season scoring 19 times in League One as he finished as the fifth top scorer in the division that year. After that things headed South for the Stanley man at the Wham Stadium as he made just six appearances in his final season before the switch to Bolton where he rediscovered his form in front of goal.
The 26-year-old is another who’s had a slow start this time around, missing most of the early games due to injury, but Ian Evatt is hopeful his number 10 will be back for their weekend clash against Sheffield Wednesday. When at his best, Charles is a dangerous customer who more often than not gobbles up any opportunity in and around the penalty area. Wanderers are another team who will be looking up at the playoff race this year and with names of Kieran Sadlier, Aaron Morley, Kyle Dempsey, Dadi Bodvarsson and Amadou Bakayoko around him, the Northern Irishman will have his hopes high on another big goals return this season.
Freddie Ladapo - Ipswich Town
Now, if you appeared in front of me in a time machine and told me that Freddie Ladapo failed to score in his first 10 games at Ipswich, fell-out with the management and had his contract terminated in January, I would probably believe you. Equally, if you told me that the Ipswich striker ended the season on 30 goals with the golden boot and a League One winners medal around his neck, I would also believe you.
The Tractor Boys signed the 29-year-old on a free following his release from Rotherham United this summer after a commendable record of 34 goals in 104 games for the Yorkshire club. Ladapo helped his team to automatic promotion last year with 11 goals which begs the question as to why he was allowed to leave on a free? After a blistering start with 8 League One goals by December, it became public knowledge that Ladapo wanted out of Rotherham and was transfer listed for the January window. The player never got his mid-season move and scored just three more times before his time with The Millers drew to a sour close.
There’s certainly no doubting Ladapo’s talent, it’s getting the best out of the striker that may be the issue. The former Crystal Palace attacker has had some impressive individual seasons; bagging 18 League One goals for Plymouth Argyle in 2018/19, scoring 14 the following season for Rotherham as they were promoted and then even to score 9 goals as Paul Warne’s team were relegated from the Championship in 2020/21 was a decent return for a struggling side. This time around at his latest club it remains to be seen whether Kieran McKenna can see the best of Ladapo. After four games the striker is yet to score but with supply coming from a talented Ipswich side including Marcus Harness, Sone Aluko, Conor Chaplin and Wes Burns it’s surely a matter of time before the enigmatic striker gets in and amongst the goals for the East Anglians.
Cole Stockton - Morecambe
With just three league goals for his previous four clubs combined, something seemed to click into place for Cole Stockton at Morecambe. A steady 5 goal debut season was quickly improved upon as the forward struck 13 times in The Shrimps 2020/21 League Two promotion season.
Stockton then took probably even himself by surprise as he turned into one of the EFL’s deadliest strikers firing 23 League One goals along with 3 cup goals last season. And, it was by no great fortune either, he was awesome at times last year. The Morecambe forward scored tap-ins, volleys, headers, Aguero-esque goals dribbling past defenders before firing home and a couple of absolutely unbelievable strikes from almighty distances. Honestly, if you do anything with your next five minutes, watch the goal compilation below and you’ll be convinced that Cole Stockton should be getting an England call-up come Qatar.
If the 28-year-old can continue his fine form from last season there’s no doubt he’ll once again be one of the top forwards in League One. However, the question is whether Stockton comes under the category of ‘one season wonder’ or if he has suddenly blossomed into a prolific centre forward. So far, this term the Morecambe man has made just two league appearances due to illness with transfer rumours around the forward’s future also swirling as Rotherham United show interest. One thing is for sure, Stockton is certainly a danger on his day and if he remains with Derek Adams’ side he could well tear up a defence or two this season.