Written by Mark Docherty
On Saturday comes the long-awaited return of the League Two season, as the 24 clubs continue their quests for success. Although League 2 is almost impossible to predict, with there always being several surprise packages and flops, this is my best go at predicting how the league table will look, come May.
credit Kevin Neagle
The top three this season will, I think, consist of Doncaster Rovers, Portsmouth, and Luton Town. I think Doncaster will win the title and bounce straight back to League One after last season’s disappointing relegation. Darren Ferguson has signed no fewer than nine players this summer, the most prominent of which was Tommy Rowe. Rowe is a player who is surely capable of playing at a higher level, being capable of playing in both central midfield and at left back. Other notable acquisitions are Ross Etheridge, who impressed at Accrington Stanley last season, and Gary McSheffrey, who is a proven goalscorer.
credit Ben Hardinge
I think Portsmouth will come second, after missing out on promotion in the play off semi-final last season. They, too, have added strength in-depth to the squad with the likes of Milan Lalković, who scored eight goals last season in League One, and Carl Baker, who scored five goals in the Championship last term. Pompey have also gone to lengths to solve their goalkeeping problems, having signed David Forde on loan from Millwall for the season. Pompey will hope that their talisman, Gary Roberts, can stay fit this season to lead their promotion charge.
Luton, meanwhile, have drastically improved since Nathan Jones took over as manager mid way through last season. Jones has used his connections at Brighton & Hove Albion to get young goalkeeper, Christian Walton and central defender, Glen Rea on loan, while also recruiting Danny Hylton from Oxford United to take the goalscoring pressure off the shoulders of Craig Mackail-Smith. I think Luton are set for a rise up the football league, and Jones could find himself courted by bigger clubs in the near future.
The four teams who will battle it out for promotion through the play-offs this season are Colchester United, Cambridge United, Accrington Stanley, and Leyton Orient. The play-offs are a lottery at times, and are almost impossible to predict, but if I was forced to pick a winner I would back Cambridge United to surprise everybody and earn promotion to League One. Colchester will be looking to return to League One at the first time of asking. The main worry for Colchester is that they lost their star midfielder, George Moncur, to Barnsley in the transfer window, which will be a massive blow to the U’s. They have tried to bring in some talent too, however with Denny Johnstone joining from Birmingham to try to get back his goalscoring touch, while they have retained the services of Tom Eastman, who will be integral to any success they have this season.
Cambridge United will, I think, be a force to be reckoned with in League Two this season, having been very active in the transfer market this summer. They just missed out on the play-offs last season, but I expect them to go one better this term, having signed Medy Elito and Piero Mingoia to give them extra width this season. Along with Barry Corr, those two will shoulder most of the goalscoring responsibility this season as the U’s look to gain promotion. Corr is also a striker that can be relied upon to score a few goals each season, as was shown during his time at Southend United. Knee surgery halted his progress last season, keeping him out for the second half of the season, but you can expect him to be a goal threat again if he can remain injury free.
Accrington Stanley were League Two’s surprise package last season, and were very unlucky not to gain automatic promotion. Going into the last day of the season, they needed only to beat Stevenage to secure promotion, but despite hitting the woodwork three times, they drew 0-0 and a last minute winner for Bristol Rovers sent them up instead. They will be keen to right some wrongs from last season, as if it hadn’t been for a ridiculous refereeing mishap when the official blew for half time as the ball was crossing the line for a Stanley goal, they would have been promoted. Financial restrictions led to them being unable to hold onto many of their key players, with Ross Etheridge, Tom Davies, Matt Crooks, Josh Windass, and Piero Mingoia having all left the Wham Stadium, and although Stanley have brought in capable replacements, they may find it difficult to push for automatic promotion again. Billy Kee will shoulder most of the goalscoring responsibility for the coming season.
credit James Evans
I think the final team who will get in the play-offs will be Leyton Orient. They started last season in fine form, but after some devastating injuries to Dean Cox and Paul McCallum, they were soon left behind by the leading pack. However, with the return of Cox, in particular, and the arrivals of Gavin Massey and Tom Parkes, the Orient should have enough about them to challenge for the play-offs again, after just missing out last season. Jay Simpson, again, will be important to the side, as his goals were a main factor in the success of last term. Massey will be able to take some of the goalscoring pressure off Simpson, and the front three of Simpson with Massey and Cox on the wings will strike fear into the hearts of League Two defences this season.
As with every division every season, somebody has to be relegated. This season, I think the bottom two in the Football League will be Crawley Town and Morecambe. For me, neither side really offers anything to the football league and, although Crawley recently enjoyed a short spell in League One, both clubs are generally happy to hang on for dear life for their Football League existence. Crawley have seen the majority of their squad change over during the summer, letting no fewer than 13 players leave the club and signing 16 players to replace them. Although they now have a very young squad which will probably mature to be a good team, they are short of experience in their ranks, and that number of new signings may take some time to learn each other’s games and blend as a team, and I think they are destined to return to non-league this season.
I think Morecambe will be the team who occupies the bottom place of the 92 Football League sides come May. They finished one place above the drop zone last season, and their summer arrivals seem slightly underwhelming compared to their relegation rivals. Jamie Devitt will be the biggest loss for them, as he was the main factor in their survival last season. Any hope they do have of staying up this season will rest on the shoulders of right winger, Tom Barkhuizen, who scored 12 goals last season. Accrington Stanley’s Dean Winnard seems a savvy addition to the squad in defence, but unfortunately I do not think it will be enough to save the Shrimps this time around.
Surprise Package of the Season:
I think newly promoted Grimsby Town have enough about them to not only escape relegation this season, but to finish in the top half. I think a tenth placed finish is something they would be very happy with, having just been promoted through the National League play-offs. They have lost their talismanic striker, Pádraig Amond, who scored 37 goals last season, leading his side to promotion, who instead chose to join Hartlepool after his contract expired. The Mariners also lost Aristote Nsiala, also to Hartlepool. The centre half was another stalwart of last season’s promotion and will be a big loss for them. They will, however, be pleased that they managed to hold onto Omar Bogle, whose performances were also important in Grimsby’s promotion, and his goals will be enough to land Grimsby well clear of the drop zone.
credit David Sivyer
Flop of the Season:
I think Plymouth Argyle will struggle to recover from their Wembley defeat to AFC Wimbledon. They have had a very eventful transfer window, with Kelvin Mellor, Carl McHugh, Curtis Nelson, Gregg Wylde, Peter Hartley, and Reuben Reid, amongst others, leaving the club. Argyle have done their best to fill the gaps these departures have left, with Derek Adams signing 11 players so far this summer. Although the names include encouraging ones such as ex-Scotland international, David Goodwillie and ex-Wimbledon central midfielder, Connor Smith, there are also less encouraging ones such as Jordan Slew and Sonny Bradley. I think the Green Army may be in for a disappointing season and fail to make the top seven.
Here is the complete table of my predictions; I’m sure they will be very inaccurate, but that’s what is great about football – it’s unpredictable!
- Doncaster Rovers
- Luton Town
- Colchester United
- Cambridge United
- Accrington Stanley
- Leyton Orient
- Wycombe Wanderers
- Plymouth Argyle
- Grimsby Town
- Exeter City
- Carlisle United
- Notts County
- Mansfield Town
- Hartlepool United
- Cheltenham Town
- Stevenage Borough
- Crewe Alexandra
- Yeovil Town
- Newport County
- Crawley Town
What are your predictions for this season? Let us know in the comments below!
featured image by David Sivyer