League Two Preview 2013/14

by Damian Buxton

Sky Bet Football LeagueDamian Buxton looks ahead to the League Two season and breaks down the sides he thinks will challenge at the top, flirt with relegation and enjoy mid table obscurity.

The contenders

Chesterfield: After a slow start, the Spireites ended the season with three wins in six, and will look to challenge Fleetwood for the League Two title. Paul Cook has made the most of his first pre season to add to his squad, strengthening his midfield with the likes of Gary Roberts, Sam Morsy and Jimmy Ryan. With the division’s second best defensive record last time out, Cook will be hopeful that Marc Richards can have a better season than last, and the signs are that he will, having finished the season with five goals in five games.

Fleetwood Town: Big spenders Fleetwood failed to emulate Crawley’s successive promotions to League One, despite signings of the calibre of Damien Johnson and Jon Parkin. However the spending has carried on, most notably with the signing of centre half Ryan Cresswell. The Cod Army didn’t score enough last season, and will be reliant upon January signing Jamille Matt finding his feet following a slow start. Service to him should be plentiful, with an embarrassment of riches in midfield areas. With heavy investment this summer, Graham Alexander will be under pressure to deliver, but with the squad he possesses he shouldn’t be losing too much sleep over the course of the season.

Portsmouth: The bookmaker’s favourites, Portsmouth will be the away trip that all teams look out for. Whilst Pompey don’t possess the squad that their odds would suggest, they should be around the automatic promotion places. Signing Simon Ferry represents a coup for a League 2 side, whilst their best bit of business could be keeping hold of highly rated Jed Wallace. Their squad is solid, if unspectacular, with Football League experience in the form of Pat Agyemang, Andy Barcham, David Connoly, Joe Devera and Johannes Ertl. Ricky Holmes could prove to be an astute signing and will benefit from playing for a team that are attacking more often than former side Barnet did.

Play off contenders

Bristol Rovers: Potential dark horses, Rovers underwent a mid season regeneration with the return of John Ward as manager, ending the season in good form. The return from injury of strikers Matt Harrold and David Clarkson should combine with the permanent signing of JJ O’Toole to give the Gas the firepower that most of the League is lacking. However, eight pre season have disrupted preparations, and are likely to scupper any push towards the automatic places, leaving a late season burst to the play offs as their most likely ambition.

Burton Albion: Last seasons surprise package just missed out on the automatic places, before losing out in the Play Offs to Bradford. Each of the last four League 2 seasons have seen a surprise package in the Play Off places, and Brewers fans may be well advised to ask fans of Torquay (5th 2011/12), Accrington Stanley (5th 2010/11) and Morecombe (4th 2009/10) how their second tilt at promotion went. Whilst Calvin Zola has been well replaced by Rene Howe, Jacques Maghoma’s 18 league goals will be missed. Last season’s home record was exceptional, but their away record poor, and a season of upper mid table could beckon.

Cheltenham Town: In the play off places for the last two seasons, the Robins should be there or thereabouts again this season. A lot will depend on how well new signing Matt Richards replaces Darren Carter and Marlon Pack as the creative force, of a side that at times last season looked too reliant on the pace of Jermaine McGlashan. Pack’s next move has dominated a pre season that has seen the evergreen Jamie Cureton make his 5th successive pre season transfer.

Oxford United: In what must surely be Chris Wilder’s last chance to get Oxford into the play off positions, has he put all his eggs in one Dave Kitson shaped basket? Having released much of the squad that failed to achieve promotion, the summer has seen a rebuild of the squad. Whilst they look strong in defence, Oxford’s midfield, bar Alfie Potter, lacks creativity, and Wilder is relying upon Kitson and James Constable to rediscover their form of years gone by.

Northampton Town: From the outside looking in, the release of cult striker Bayo Akinfenwa looked like Aidy Boothroyd had something big up his sleeve. Whilst the writing was on the wall regarding Akinfenwa leaving, even more so when he was left out at Wembley, most would have expected a decent replacement. Whilst Roy O’Donavan has impressed since his January move, the Cobblers currently look light on goals. The side will be solid, but no promotion chasing side would want Clive Platt leading the line.

Rochdale: The return of Keith Hill midway through last season has led to a new optimism around Spotlands. Dale boast a squad that has the strength in depth to challenge, although the loss of striker Bobby Grant to Blackpool leaves them short on firepower. A promotion push could happen if hot prospects Scott Hogan and Joe Bunney can step up to fill the goal-scoring void, but Hill appears to be gambling that they will.

Scunthorpe United: The Iron could be dark horses, having added to their squad wisely this summer. The squad boasts experience, including a member of last year’s League 2 winners in the shape of Deon Burton. The midfield looks to have been strengthened, with the signing of Andy Welsh and the return of Matt Sparrow. As is often the case with relegated teams, a good start could see Scunthorpe challenge the play offs, whilst a post relegation hangover could lead to mid table obscurity.

Mid table

Bury: A difficult side to predict, the Shakers have signed an eclectic mix of players in pre season, bringing Chris Sedgewick in from the non league wilderness, John Rooney back from the USA, and forward Jessy Reindorf in from Rwanda. Richard Hinds and Ashley Grimes will both prove solid signings, whilst loanee striker Anton Forrester struck 7 on his pre season debut in a 15-0 friendly victory. Some fans will optimistically point to Port Vale’s squad of freebies last season as a sign of what can happen, whilst others will see a squad of cast offs. It is likely to be a balance between the two, with some signings failing and others working out, leaving the Shakers mid table.

Hartlepool United: But for Portsmouth’s points deduction, Hartlepool would have been bottom of League One last season, and are likely to face that well rehearsed cliché; “a season of consolidation.” John Hughes took over the side in January, but was faced with the nigh on impossible task of turning around a side on a 20 match winless run, and was replaced by Colin Cooper at the end of the season. The basis of the squad is the same as last years, and Cooper will be grateful of the pre season break to put some mental distance between the side and their awful season.

Newport County: The exiles returned to the Football League for the first time since their 1989 reformation, beating Wrexham in the Play Off final. Newport boast an experienced spine to their squad, that should see them survive. However, the squad is small, and a few injuries, particularly in midfield and defensive areas, could see their squad stretched to the limit.

Plymouth Argyle: The Pilgrims should avoid another season at the foot of the table, with manager John Sheridan strengthening a squad that improved drastically following the sacking of Carl Fletcher. Marvin Morgan is proven in the lower leagues, whilst Romauld Boco and Lewis Alessandra both stood out last season in League 2 sides. But a season couldn’t be simple for Argyle, and off field matters could again distract from the pitch, with the Pilgrims boasting a fan base divided over controversial chairman James Brent.

Wycombe Wanderers: The Buckinghamshire side finished mid table last year and can expect the same again, in Gareth Ainsworth’s first full season. Their fan owned structure means that they will have to get used to signings of the like of Paris Cowan-Hall. Whilst money may be tighter, their squad should see them comfortably mid table again.

York City: The Minstermen were in danger of being the first newly promoted side to be relegated straight back to the Conference before Nigel Worthington took over towards the end of the season. The former Northern Ireland manager has added some height and grit to the squad, and they should avoid a repeat of last year. Mid table mediocrity beckons, unless Wes Fletcher can reap the goal-scoring benefits of finally unpacking his suitcase, following his loan filled early career at Burnley.

Getting twitchy

Exeter City: Having seen their promotion push collapse, the Grecians pre season has shown little to suggest that such a slump will be reversed. Jamie Cureton has been replaced by Sam Parkin, suggesting a shift in style, whilst uncertainty currently surrounds the club, with manager Paul Tisdale favourite to take over at Swindon. A poor start, or early season managerial saga could see Exeter continue their slide from last season, and be drawn into a relegation battle.

Mansfield Town: Returning to the Football League for the first time since relegation five years ago, the Stags should have enough to stay up, despite the loss of star striker Matt Green to Birmingham. Town are yet to replace Greens goals, instead concentrated on being hard to beat. Defensively, summer has gone well, but in wide and forward areas the squad is likely to be short enough to leave fans looking over their shoulders once the season starts.

Southend United: Phil Brown took over from Paul Sturrock in March with the Shrimpers six points outside the play off places, promising to close that gap with a winning run. One win from his eight games failed to back this up, and now Brown must dramatically improve upon that record, with a far inferior squad. Southend have lost the bright sparks of last year’s squad; Gavin Tomlin, Britt Assombalonga, Sean Clohessy and Ryan Cresswell have all opted to leave. Only offering Lewis Montrose a trial, only to lose him to York, when the midfielder had played in the League for the last three seasons showed a lack of familiarity with the league, as did pie in the sky talk of signing new Millwall man Nicky Bailey. The Shrimpers are unlikely to trouble the promotion spots, and could be looking over their shoulders rather than upwards unless Brown adapts to the league quickly.

AFC Wimbledon: The Wombles boasted the worst defence in the league last season, conceding a whopping 76 goals on their way to survival. Manager Neil Ardley has addressed that, by culling his previous rearguard in favour of experience, in the form of Andy Frampton, Barry Fuller, Alan Bennett and Callum Kennedy. A more sturdy defence should see the Dons lower mid table, but an injury to Jack Midson could see them drawn in to another battle. Charlie Sheringham has signed to hopefully share the goals around, and will have something to prove on what is probably his last shot at the Football League.

Relegation battle

Accrington Stanley: At first glance, the Accrington job hardly seems one for a novice player manager. However, whilst James Beattie may be lacking in experience, his contacts book could prove invaluable to Stanley, and if he can persuade more players of the calibre of Danny Webber to join a relegation fight then they may be able to survive again. The loss of key midfielders Amine Linganzi and Romauld Boco means that they are weaker in midfield, but the signing of Rob Atkinson will shore up their backline. Danny Webber should score enough to keep Stanley up, but his nomadic existence since 2009, combined with an inexperienced manager, means that Accrington are an unknown quantity heading into the new season.

Dagenham & Redbridge: Daggers fans will be hoping that John Still’s eye for a hidden gem has rubbed off on his former assistant, with Wayne Burnett preparing for his first full season in charge. The side struggled last season, surviving on the final day, and are likely to face another relegation battle this season. Lacking in goals up front last year, the Daggers will be hopeful that ex Arsenal man Rhys Murphy can fulfil his early potential, whilst trialist Zavon Hines could also be a useful addition.

Morecambe: 16th last season, the Shrimps would probably take that this season if offered it. Pre season has thrown up the worst possible injury, as star striker Jack Redshaw picked up an injury that will keep him out until the New Year. Redshaw had been linked with a big money move to Rotherham, but now Morecambe must do without both the striker, and the money to replace him. A tight budget has meant Jim Bentley has had to replace regular players with cheap replacements, and a season of struggle could lie ahead, although the signings of Mark Hughes and Alex Kenyon may prove to be bargain buys.

Torquay United: The Gulls were drawn into a relegation battle last season, amidst managerial uncertainty. Whilst this uncertainty has now cleared, they have lost star striker Rene Howe, and look likely to struggle for goals, which could draw them into another battle. Like many teams on a budget, Torquay’s young signings could make the difference, with Courtney Cameron the most exciting prospect. Alan Knill has spoken of his wish to add a striker and centre back to his squad, and success this season could depend on whether these are of the quality to replace Howe and Brian Saah.

2 Responses

  1. Keith says:

    Damian: Morecambe are The Shrimps, Southend are The Shrimpers.

    Expect Morecambe to be a surprise package this season. Most fans believe that the ageing senior players who left have been replaced by younger, better players. As long as we stay reasonably injury free (Jack Redshaw already a huge loss for five months) and we will be fine for mid-table and possibly play off contenders.

  2. Damian Buxton Damian Buxton says:

    Sorry. Thanks for pointing it out, I’ve changed it now.

    I based my struggling prediction on a lack of goals without Redshaw, which I think could lead to a fair few draws (although I did write that before Amond signed.)

    Difficult to predict how some of the smaller teams will fare when they’re bringing in people like Sampson who could go either way. Personally I think it’ll be Accrington and Dagenham that go

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