The 2016-17 Sky Bet League Two campaign was one of many twists and turns, with Portsmouth edging both Plymouth and Doncaster to the title on the final day of season and Hartlepool being relegated after Newport’s 89th-minute goal.
The upcoming season promises to be no different, with high calibre teams both coming up from the National League and down from League One.
Among this group of newcomers are early season bookies’ favourites for promotion: are Coventry, Lincoln and Swindon; however there will be more to this season than just formalities as both Luton and Mansfield will fancy their chances at promotion following strong summers of recruitment.
The most high-profile Sky Bet League Two new-boys are 2016-17 Checkatrade Trophy winners, Coventry City.
The Midlands outfit have responded well to their shock relegation by bringing in a number of experienced additions to compliment their already high-quality core, which includes players such as Jordan Willis and Jodi Jones.
Despite the obvious quality of their additions, which includes Portsmouth’s title winning captain Michael Doyle and Rochdale stalwart Peter Vincenti, Mark Robins must act swiftly and astutely in pre-season to ensure that Coventry are not plagued by the problems they have faced in previous seasons where they struggled to assemble a coherent and high-quality unit in time for the start of the season, with their performances suffering as a result.
If Robins can find a remedy for these problems the Sky Blues should be heading straight back up to League One.
Coming into the League from the other direction are Lincoln City, the team that stole the nation’s hearts with their charge to the FA Cup quarter-final in 2016/17.
The Cowley brothers will be looking to build upon their successes in the National League last term by fine-tuning their squad so that it can compete effectively week-in-week-out at a higher level.
The high-scoring ‘Imps’ have added proven League Two goal-scorer Matt Green to their ranks in an attempt to take the burden off Matt Rhead’s shoulders; alongside this, their double signing of Peterborough midfielders Michael Bostwick and Harry Anderson is proof of their upward ambitions, amongst other things Bostwick and Anderson are likely to provide their midfield with much-needed mettle.
The Cowley brothers are proven winners and this season there will be little difference with Lincoln highly likely to be at the top of the table once again.
Swindon Town have gone under the radar so far this pre-season after they slipped out of League One without a whimper last season.
Their business so far, with new boss David Flitcroft bringing in a whole new back four amongst other things, has been solid as they looked to improve a defence that conceded 66 goals last season.
One thing that does stand ‘the Robins’ in good stead is their record in the fourth tier of English football, last time they were relegated from League One they won the title the next season, securing an instant return; David Flitcroft has a similar record in the division having won promotion with Bury in 2014/15.
The only thing that remains to be seen is whether or not both parties can wed together successfully and create a team that is capable of making its way out of England’s basement tier.
Despite the strength of the competition coming freshly into League Two in 2017-18, two of last season’s top teams will be looking to launch a serious challenge for promotion, these two teams being Luton Town and Mansfield Town.
Luton will want to go one better than last season and finish in the top three; Mansfeld will be looking to make their way into the top seven for the first time since their promotion from the National League in 2012-13.
Both teams have had strong summers with regards to recruitment, however, Mansfield have made the best signings in League Two so far, bringing in 13 players, nine of whom are dropping down from higher divisions.
However, Luton have brought in the best goalkeeper in League Two in Marek Stech, the former Yeovil Town shot-stopper has played in both the Championship and the Czech Premier League, to add to their already top class squad which boasts the likes of Danny Hylton and Scott Cuthbert.
In addition to their brilliant squads, both teams have great managers with Mansfield’s Steve Evans having been promoted from both League One and League Two with Rotherham and Luton having one of the EFL’s most sought after up-and-coming coaches in Nathan Jones at the helm.
In 2017-18 it is highly likely that there will be a repeat of the congestion around the play-off places that we experienced in 2016/17, expect to see teams such as Chesterfield, Colchester, Accrington Stanley and Wycombe around this area as they look to go one better than last season and push into the play-offs.
Away from the top end, one would expect to see both Yeovil Town and Port Vale, among others, have seasons of consolidation after last season’s disappointments.
Yeovil have taken a break from their usual penny pinching by allowing Darren Way to buy two quality players – Jake Gray and Rhys Browne.
After having to batten down the hatches financially following their double relegation from the Championship to League Two, John Fry must see this as a chance for the Glovers to have a much more positive season pushing at the top half of the table for the entire season following last season’s dramatic collapse from being in the play-offs at the turn of the year to narrowly avoiding relegation come May.
After Port Vale’s disastrous 2016-17 campaign in which Bruno Ribiero introduced a plethora of unknown foreign faces to Vale’s ranks they have sought a return to what they know having released the majority of those players before allowing manager Michael Brown to bring in tried and tested English league players.
The return of local hero Tom Pope gives fans of ‘the Valiants’ a reason to be hopeful ahead of the new campaign but I think it will take them a season to gel their new squad together before they can begin to think about challenging at the top.
Forest Green Rovers will be looking forward to their first ever Football League campaign after winning last season’s National League play-offs.
The Nailsworth outfit has proven repeatedly throughout previous seasons that when they are on form they are nigh-on unbeatable, however they are also prone to long runs without success, as they have demonstrated by finishing in third-place last season after leading the league for so long, and for this reason they could be in for a season of struggle at the bottom of League Two.
One positive Forest Green have had in pre-season is that so far they have managed to bat away interest in their captain Liam Noble from Notts County, he is sure to be an asset in the upcoming season.
However, both Barnet and Cheltenham Town are proof that even the best teams in the National League will struggle when they get promoted to League Two and even though Forest Green have signed former Hartlepool prodigy, Luke James, from Peterborough they may still struggle when it comes to scoring goals against the hardy defences found in League Two.
Alongside Forest Green, it is not unrealistic to expect to see Morecambe, Cheltenham and Barnet down the bottom end of the table again following unremarkable pre-seasons fraught with a high turn over of players.
After pulling off epic escapes from relegation in both of the last two seasons Newport look destined for the drop after a summer of lacklustre signings.
One similar example recently is Hartlepool United who after a few seasons of flirting with relegation eventually succumbed to its pull at the end of last season.
After only signing two players from within the Football League so far in pre-season, one of whom is an incredibly sub-par Frank Nouble, the South-Wales outfit look destined to be exiled from League Two once-and-for-all.
With new faces galore in the guise of both promoted clubs, clubs who have dropped down a division and a plethora of new signings, the coming League Two season could be one of the most intriguing in recent memory.