TTU Go Predicting: a Club-by-Club League 2 Preview

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In the first of four divisional previews we focus today on who’s who in League 2, which once again looks set to be tight. The bookies are backing Bury, Luton, Portsmouth and Shrewbury – we think that they’ll each do well, but suggest that they’ll have plenty of competition, not least from Southend and York.

AFC Wimbledon

It’s fair to say that the AFCW squad has more or less been in constant flux since the club gained Football League status two years ago. A number of players have been and gone and it’s only now that the team is beginning to resemble one which looks up to holding its own at this level. In his first pre-season, manager Neal Ardley has performed the kind of major surgery that his predecessor Terry Brown seemed incapable of, releasing the remains of the old guard and replacing them with a crop of experienced pros that will form a steely looking spine. The defence looks particularly solid, with Mark Phillips and Jack Smith now joining the competition for a place in the back four alongside Alan Bennett, Andy Frampton and Barry Fuller. And, in attack, Matt Tubbs and Bayo Akinfenwa will ensure that the word ‘foil’ gets a thorough airing in the Dons’ match reports this season. The long-term focus on getting back to Plough Lane remains the priority but all signs point to this being another year of on-field improvement.

Verdict: Middle of the Road

Accrington Stanley

OK, I’ll hold my hands up. Still raw from his alleged disrespect of Paul Sturrock at Southampton all those years ago, I was a tad harsh on James Beattie last year, accusing him of lacking the fundamental characteristics that are essential to football management. But how he proved me wrong, showing signs of real maturity to comfortably steer Accrington from trouble after an atrocious start. Yet, Beattie must continue to contend with what’s quite possibly the tightest budget of them all in this division and with club stalwart Peter Murphy having exited to Wycombe it’ll be another challenging year. Should Accy defy the odds by starting well then there’s also the risk that Beattie might turn a few heads. Such is life at this level.

Verdict: Looking Over Their Shoulders

Burton Albion

13-14 was another impressive season for Burton as a play-off place was achieved for the second year running, but in truth the Brewers seem to have lost some of their former swagger under Gary Rowett. Having seen key players Calvin Zola and Jacques Maghoma depart last summer, Rowett gambled his budget on the well-regarded Rene Howe and Adam Reed but neither found their feet at the Pirelli and this time round a trio of players previously signed by Graham Westley at Preston – John Mousinho, Shane Cansdell-Sherriff and Stuart Beavon – headline the arrivals board. Each has played at a higher level, of course, but even if promotion is finally clinched it’s likely to be achieved in a rather unfashionable manner.

Verdict: Middle of the Road

Bury

David Flitcroft’s impact at Bury last season was impressive. Picking up the reins just days after being sacked at Barnsley, he made a purse out of the mess he inherited from predecessor Kevin Blackwell and if this summer’s signings live up to reputation then the Shakers will walk promotion. Striker Ryan Lowe’s decision to return to Gigg Lane after a three year hiatus stands out in particular, but in general Flitcroft looks to have built a side that should deliver and although I have my doubts about chairman Stewart Day’s motives in the longer-term this season seems set to be a good one for Shakers worldwide.

Verdict: Automatic

Cambridge United

In a division that’s short of desirable away trips, Cambridge’s return is a minor blessing for League 2’s travelling supporters. Yet, how long the U’s will be around for remains to be seen. The return of hotshot Kwesi Appiah on loan has probably been the biggest news round the Fens this summer but his unremarkable spell at Notts County during the second half of last season suggests that he mightn’t be all that. Otherwise, Johnny Hunt – Wrexham’s top scorer in 13-14 – has been pinched, and Robbie Simpson and Luke Chadwick have both returned home sweet home in a bid to reestablish Cambridge as a League club. All signs point towards a steady first season back, then, although key man Luke Berry’s departure to Barnsley and an injury to striker Tom Elliot last week have chipped away slightly at what’s been a pretty positive summer.

Verdict: Middle of the Road

Carlisle United

Graham Kavanagh just seems like the kind of person who’d be a good manager. He’s got a cold stare; he doesn’t suffer fools; and he talks a good game. But last season he didn’t quite have it in him to steer this tanker around. He’ll know, then, that he needs to start proving his worth this season. The early signs are decent – recruitment appears to have been strong, with Troy Archibald-Henville, Gary Dicker, Antony Sweeney and Billy Paynter all very satisfactory signings for this level, and if they gel with the club’s most promising younger talents then a top 7 finish shouldn’t be beyond the Cumbrians. But there’s been a gloom over these parts for some time and that’s not the kind of thing that disappears overnight.

Verdict: Chasing the Play-Offs

Cheltenham Town

I don’t like to brag, but in speculating whether last season was ‘the year that Cheltenham’s steady and impressive progress over the past few seasons [began] to fade’ I think I was spot on. That was mostly down to the personnel that manager Mark Yates had assembled at the time, as he struggled to replace like with like. A year on and things are looking worse. The first-team has been chipped away at further with Jermaine McGlashan and Scott Brown opting for pastures new, and although rejects, freebies and loanees characterize the vast majority of business in this division the players that Yates has brought in just don’t set the pulse racing. He’s one of the League’s wheelers and dealers so the squad will no doubt evolve further but I can’t see any improvement on last season’s 17th place finish.

Verdict: Looking Over Their Shoulders

Dagenham & Redbridge

I wasn’t so accurate when it came to predication the Daggers’ fortunes last year. But then who would have backed Wayne Burnett, going into his first full season as a manager, to take Dagenham to a 9th place finish ahead of divisional heavyweights Plymouth, Portsmouth and Bristol Rovers? I won’t make the same mistake again: the rot that had set in following John Still’s defection to Luton appears to have been treated and the Daggers’ squad has a freshness to it going into the new season. Granted, Luke Murphy could be the next player to be ticked off Danny Wilson’s shopping list and Zavon Hines and Medy Elito have already gone, but Burnett appears to have mastered the ability to sell the Dwight Gayle story to prospective signings, making the most ofhis club’s location by bringing in some of the best free agents money can buy at this level. Another season of comfort and joy lies ahead, I reckon.

Verdict: Middle of the Road

Exeter City

If times were hard this time last year at City, then they’re much worse now. Whereas signings were severely limited by a cut to the playing budget last summer, they’ve been ruled out entirely this time around with the club having been placed under a transfer embargo since June after having to apply for a temporary loan from the PFA. What’s more, there’s been trouble in the boardroom with chairman Edward Chorlton stepping down whilst the team were taking part in a much-discussed tour to Brazil. Oh, and captain Danny Coles was stripped of his armband after losing his rag on Twitter. Paul Tisdale remains at the helm despite all of this, not to mention the criticism of a vociferous brigade of fans who appear intent on hounding their club’s most successful manager ever out of the club. But the chances of him pulling things around seem to be lessening by the day.

Verdict: Looking Over Their Shoulders

Hartlepool United

United supporters must have been nonplussed by the outbreak of anger that met the FA’s proposed League 3 with Middlesbrough Reserves having already been masquerading as Hartlepool United for a year or so by then. I jest, of course, but manager Colin Cooper’s reliance on his Teesside contacts must surely be a cause of frustration round these parts. And it’s not getting any better. Both of Cooper’s signings so far – Matthew Bates and Stuart Parnaby – have strong Boro connections, and his number two position, vacated by Craig Hignett mid-season after his decision to take the assistant role at, you guessed it, Middlesbrough, has been filled by former Boro ‘keeping coach Stephen Pears. Meanwhile, near everpresents Antony Sweeney and Simon Walton have left for rival clubs and although there’s been some cause for celebration with Luke James having signed a new deal this looks set to be a challenging second season for Cooper.

Verdict: Looking Over Their Shoulders

Luton Town

This is a tricky one. There’s no doubt that Luton will be arriving with plenty of momentum having finally stormed the Conference last season and John Still isn’t someone that I’m in the habit of underestimating. Nor, for that matter, are Luton. But main man Andre Gray and captain Ronnie Henry have left, the latter to rejoin his mentor Graham Westley at Stevenage, and I wonder whether Still’s signings are of League 2 promotion-winning calibre. £100,000 has been spent on Andy Drury and experienced full-back Paul Connolly is reportedly on sky-high wages for this level so Still certainly appears to have his board’s backing. I’m not 100% convinced that his team is quite there yet, but given that the division looks to be a weaker one this season Luton ought to have enough about them for a top 7 finish.

Verdict: Chasing the Play-Offs

Mansfield Town

They’re only in their second season back in League 2, but I just can’t muster up any excitement about Mansfield and their prospects. Yes, manager Paul Cox has had a clear-out and I suppose that it’ll be interesting to see how Liam Hearn fares after two injury-disrupted seasons at Grimsby, particularly since the Stags have struggled to score goals since Matt Green’s (remember him?) departure to Birmingham a year ago. But otherwise, I can’t see Mansfield rising above mid-table fodder and, if their modest summer transfer activity is anything to go by, they might even struggle to achieve such anonymity.

Verdict: Middle of the Road

Morecambe

Morecambe’s struggles to attract the punters over the past couple of years has been well-documented and last season’s 18th place finish was, in the wider scheme of things, a triumph. Having had to get to grips with a reduced playing budget, manager Jim Bentley’s prudence has been impressive and following a summer of positive transfer activity it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Shrimps climb the league this term. Loanees Shaun Beeley, Jamie Devitt and Ryan Edwards have all returned on permanent deals, and Jack Redshaw is back to full fitness after missing last season’s opening months. Morecambe still rely on the ageing Kevin Ellison for inspiration a little more than they might but, for now, a mid-place finish should be comfortably achievable.

Verdict: Middle of the Road

Newport County

Towards the end of last season, Exiles manager Justin Edinburgh spoke of an impending overhaul of his squad but, at the time of writing, that hasn’t materialized and Newport fans have instead had to settle for subtle refinement only. At the back, Darren Jones has replaced Harry Worley while Yan Klukowski and Mark Byrne have come in from Forest Green and Barnet in place of former captain David Pipe. Full back Kevin Feely has joined permanently following a loan spell last season, too. To what extent Edinburgh’s modest activity is down to a change of heart rather than a restricted playing budget is open to interpretation, but his squad is looking balanced and he should further establish his reputation as one of the UK’s most promising managers in 14-15.

Verdict: Chasing the Play-Offs

Northampton Town

Northampton suffered a messy hangover to their play-off final defeat in 2013, dicing with relegation for most of last season. In the end, Chris Wilder managed to wheel and deal the Cobblers to safety, although the role that rookie striker Ivan Toney played, scoring three times in the final two games of the season, shouldn’t be overlooked. Going into the new season, supporters will no doubt be hoping that Toney can continue where he left off and if his good form in pre-season is anything to go by then 14-15 will be his breakthrough year. He is joined in the Northampton squad by a host of experienced signings, not least Marc Richards and John-Joe O’Toole, and anything less than a top-half finish would be viewed as a failure given the backing that Wilder has received.

Verdict: Chasing the Play-Offs

Oxford United

In last year’s preview, I suggested that it was difficult to see how Oxford could really push on until they had finally ridden themselves of their association with Firoz Kassam once and for all; a few months later, Chris Wilder turned a good few heads when he decided to swap the Kassam Stadium for Sixfields. There was surely more to it than money; for starters, Wilder never seemed to quite win over Oxford supporters and he no doubt knew as much, but his willingness to swap a promotion race for a relegation battle spoke volumes about his perception of Oxford’s future potential. The board made a humdinger of a mess in replacing him, leaving coach Micky Lewis in a caretaker role for far too long and then lining up Gary Waddock as Wilder’s permanent replacement. A predictably horrific end to the season ensued and this summer has mostly been about blood-letting, with Waddock replaced by Michael Appleton and a host of changes in the boardroom. Recruitment has been decent but too much deadwood remains and I suspect that the Yellows will be in the same division this time next year.

Verdict: Middle of the Road

Plymouth Argyle

The summer started promisingly in West Devon with manager John Sheridan, entering the second of a three year deal, releasing a number of squad players in order to make way for a clutch of well-judged signings. Chief among these was last season’s top scorer Reuben Reid, returning for a fourth spell in green but this time back on a permanent basis, and he was joined by former teammate Lee Cox, who enjoyed a successful loan spell at Argyle two season ago. Likewise, the arrivals of defenders Peter Hartley, Carl McHugh and Kevin Mellor – who each played in League 1 last season – had fans crowing about the Pilgrims’ prospects. But, following that, the sale of captain Conor Hourihane to Barnsley and the subsequent struggle to supplement the squad further has left supporters unsure as to what the coming season holds in store. Loanees will no doubt be on their way but there’s a feeling amongst the fanbase that – as with the ‘Higher Home Park Development’ – the i’s remain undotted and the t’s remain uncrossed.

Verdict: Chasing the Play-Offs

Portsmouth

For a second successive season, Pompey are one of the favourites yet this time the bookies’ enthusiasm appears to be more justified. Signings have been solid rather than spectacular but a capable squad is beginning to take shape under Andy Awford’s leadership and his team should be better accustomed to playing sides who will be upping their game. An improvement on last season’s 13th place finish will be demanded and if the funds from the revenue generated from yet another bumper number season drive can be fed into further recruitment over the season then a top 7 finish should be attainable.

Verdict: Chasing the Play-Offs

Shrewsbury Town

Blimey. Such has the turnover of players been that I could use up a few hundred words by simply listing the ins and outs at Shrewsbury this summer. Given that the incoming players number such talents as James Collins, James Wesolowski and Liam Lawrence many are predicting a strong season for the Shrews and I’m not going to be so churlish as to disagree. I’m dubious as to how sustainable such activity at a club like this is in the longer-term is but Micky Mellon has built a squad that ought to feature in the upper echelons all season, so long as his new-look team beds down sooner rather than later.

Verdict: Chasing the Play-Offs

Southend United

I’ll admit that I’ve been harsh on Phil Brown over the years. Starting with that earpiece he used to wear at Derby and Hull, I’ve never been a fan of his showiness and I’ve always willed him to fail. Last season, I used this preview to air my partiality, but then ended up feeling a bit silly when Brown expertly guided Southend to a top 7 finish. His side was up and down but – aside from one particularly horrible run of form – was one of the division’s better teams. Brown’s been limited in his business this summer, but the quality of his signings has been promising with David Worrall, Myles Weston, Lee Barnard and Shaquile Coulthirst being joined by unknown Dane Mads Ibenfeldt. I predict bright things.

Verdict: Automatic

Stevenage

It’s been a hectic summer at Stevenage, with Graham Westley continuing to put his own unique stamp back on to the club he deserted a couple of years ago. Over 20 players have departed and although two of the old guard have been drafted back Stevenage are a much-changed team. Aside from returnees Ronnie Henry and Chris Beardsley, recruitment has been predictably functional: the likes of Andy Bond, Harry Worley and Simon Walton won’t set the division alight but they will contribute to what’s likely to be a horrible team to play against. Westley knows that and, to the dismay of the rest of the league, his team should figure in the top 7.

Verdict: Chasing the Play-Offs

Tranmere Rovers

In replacing Ronnie Moore, sacked two months after he was suspended in relation to breaking – however naively – FA betting rules, first-time manager Rob Edwards has surely inherited one of the toughest gigs in football. The side he picked up was a mess and after bringing in a number of steady Eddies Tranmere look set for a middling season, which is probably just what they need after the ups and downs of the past few. Edwards has learned under one of the best in Paul Tisdale; he might end up being a maestro but, if not, the Rovers board will hopefully allow him to steadily settle into to management at Prenton Park.

Verdict: Middle of the Road

Wycombe Wanderers

Despite the odd flashpoint, Wycombe only just survived last term, sending Bristol Rovers down courtesy of a marginally less worse goal difference. Leading into the new, and Gareth Ainsworth’s second full season, supporters will be desperate to see some improvement, and the signs are good. A couple of former loanees in Aaron Pierre and Danny Rowe have been brought back, and the signings of lower league stalwarts Paul Hayes, Peter Murphy, Joe Jacobson and Sido Jombati suggest that Wanderers will be tougher to beat. Key defender Antony Stewart’s refusal to resign has been a source of frustration, but Wycombe should be just fine this season.

Verdict: Middle of the Road

York City

It didn’t exactly come pretty, but York’s finish in the final play-off spot last season was highly impressive, not least because of its unexpectedness. This time around the Minstermen won’t be afforded such a dark horse status, particularly given the rather good business that Nigel Worthington has presided over but they nonetheless find themselves outside of the fancied pack and people looking to chuck a few quid on a team to be promoted from this division could do worse than back York. Of particular note, Luke Summerfield has already proven capable of playing above League 2 and will keep things ticking over in the centre of midfield, while striker Jake Hyde has perhaps been playing below his level for a while with Barnet. Add the nippy Anthony Straker and full-back Marvin McCoy – a former near ever-present at Wycombe – and it can’t be denied that York look decent.

Verdict: Automatic

is co-editor of The Two Unfortunates. He’s 28, supports Plymouth Argyle and takes a particular interest in the fortunes of those Football League clubs west of Bristol.

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3 Comments on "TTU Go Predicting: a Club-by-Club League 2 Preview"

  1. Lanterne Rouge says:

    A great primer Lloyd. A few really interesting questions to ponder including:
    - can Matt Tubbs recapture his former glories at AFC Wimbledon?
    - whether Michael Appleton will continue his uncanny ability to be hired for new jobs despite having no record to speak of at all
    - whether Hartlepool are planning a swoop for Fabio Rochemback and Hamilton Ricard?
    - whether the former PNE trio (Beavon, Cansdell-Sheriff and Mousinho) can confirm their reputation as higher league players at Burton Albion

    I’ll admit that I find this division almost impossible to call so will leave that to the others – people who enjoyed this article should also tune in to the League 2 preview on the We are Going Up podcast to be released in the afternoon of August 5th.

  2. Grecian2014 says:

    Please don’t give Paul Tisdale too much credit. he isn’t a maestro. Much of his early success was with players brought in by the youth team and Alex Inglethorpe. Sure, two promotions but also one relegation and nearly another. If he’d gone after we just finished 8th in L1 he’d be a legend, but ever since he’s been making himself a club bellend. Rob Edwards wasn’t learning from him and Tisdale was blocking Edwards’s path into management. That’s why he had to move. And end to the dreary beige tactics and Tisdale’s reign is the best City fans can hope for in the next 9 months.

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