TTU Go Predicting: A Club-by-Club League 2 Preview 2015-16

Posted by on Aug 4, 2015 in TTU Go Predicting | One Comment
TTU Go Predicting: A Club-by-Club League 2 Preview 2015-16

Kicking off a week of divisional previews, we focus on the movers and shakers in this season’s League 2: Cambridge, Portsmouth and Luton are each backed for automatic promotion whereas we suggest it could be a long season for supporters of Carlisle, Dagenham, Hartlepool, Leyton Orient, Morecambe and Newport.

AFC Wimbledon

For the first half of last season, Wimbledon looked like they might just push on. Matt Tubbs and Adebayo Akinfenwa were dominating League 2 defences and pushed Liverpool extremely close in a memorable FA Cup third-round tie televised live on the BBC in January. But then the wheels kind of fell off when Tubbs moved to Pompey. Momentum dissipated and the season petered out into the kind of middle-of-the-roadery that was predicted on this site 12 months ago. An established and sustainable Football League club wasn’t built in a day, though, and a comfortable mid-table finish may have been just what this club needed after a couple of nerve-jangling seasons back in the League. Looking ahead, manager Neal Ardley – entering his second full season at Kingsmeadow – has released a few of the old guard signed to steady the ship a year ago and has also let midfield staple Sammy Moore go to Orient. Incoming players Jon Meades, Andy Barcham and Tom Elliott – all signed from fellow League 2 clubs – not to mention Lyle Taylor and Karleigh Osborne, who have both arrived after playing a league above last year, suggest that Wimbledon continue to get more street-wise year on-year, but to be honest no one is likely to expect a promotion season just yet. Just like a year ago, the focus remains on getting the ground sorted.

Verdict: Middle of the Road

Accrington Stanley

It wasn’t, perhaps, a huge shock that James Beattie didn’t see last season out but that he only lasted until early September was more surprising. Beattie had done ok on a proverbial shoestring but a difficult start to the campaign led to his exit which – if his comments on leaving the club were anything to go by – was self-motivated. Perhaps his heart wasn’t in it; perhaps he didn’t want his reputation to be tarnished. Who knows. But it didn’t take long for Accy to identify a replacement with club legend John Coleman returning after a two year hiatus. Stanley bounced back strongly and at one point looked as though they might even have a crack at the play-offs but a terrible start to 2015 extinguished any hopes of that as they ended up returning to the more familiar surroundings of the basement league’s bottom 8. That Coleman is back in the saddle makes their upcoming season difficult to predict, such was his success in his first spell at Accy. Having overhauled the squad, bringing in – amongst others – a few ex-Stanley players in Billy Kee and Anthony Barry, Coleman’s charges are likely to be competitive but having lost the experience of outgoing players Luke Joyce, Nicky Hunt and Rob Atkinson it’s difficult to see them finishing higher than mid-table.

Verdict: Middle of the Road

Barnet

Having more or less stormed to the Conference title last season the Bees are back, but like never before. After leaving Underhill on their relegation from the League in 2013, Barnet return having spent the last two seasons at the Hive, their training complex in Edgware. Their team will be similarly unrecognisable. An unqualified shambles on their last League airing, chairman Anthony Kleanthous has returned to his senses by handing the reins to Martin Allen after his experimenting with Edgar Davids and, as one might expect from an Allen team, Barnet look solid on paper. Kevin Lisbie, Bira Dembélé, Gavin Hoyte, Ben Tomlinson, Shaun Batt, Tom Champion and Michael Nelson all come with pretty good CVs and ought to be able to compete at this level. Mid-table looms but a foray into the top 10 at some stage in the season isn’t out of the question.

Verdict: Chasing the Play-Offs

Bristol Rovers

It’s good to see Rovers back so soon after relegation in 2014. Whether they’re a leaner and meaner version of the club that we waved goodbye to just over a year ago remains to be seen, however. Their stadium plans have hit the buffers – for now – and new signings have been few and far between, such are the wage demands for the best players at this level. On the other hand, Rovers’ popular manager Darrell Clarke has signed a new deal; the squad which won promotion pretty much remains intact; and Chris Lines is back at the Mem permanently following the ex-Pirate’s brief but successful loan spell from Port Vale last season. Things are on the up, certainly, but few will expect the fireworks of last season.

Verdict: Chasing the Play-Offs

Cambridge United

Something interesting appears to be happening at Cambridge. Eye-opening signings have been made on a nigh-on weekly basis, not least that of Luke Berry – who returns to the Abbey Stadium after a year in League 1 with Barnsley –  and Barry Corr, fresh from leading the line in Southend’s dramatic play-off final victory against Wycombe. Such activity from a club that kept a pretty low profile last year has naturally aroused suspicion and chairman Dave Doggett has spoken publicly to allay accusations of overspending. Taking into account the money generated last season from the U’s FA Cup tie against Manchester United; the cushty rent the club is paying to its landlords, the Grosvenor Group; and the net wealth of the club’s board, which seems well-intentioned, Doggett may well be right. But the sustainability of it all must be a worry. The Abbey Stadium falls squarely within the parameters of a site that Grosvenor – owned by the Duke of Westminster and his family – has long targeted for development and although a ‘Sporting Village’, slated to be a ‘vibrant new hub for sports, training, education, health, recreation, open green space and new homes in a truly sustainable location’ all sounds rather progressive such a group surely wouldn’t be interested unless there was a load of filthy lucre in it for them. What happens to the club over the next few years is anyone’s guess. Perhaps they’ll be able to buy the ground back at some point. Or, if they can’t afford it, perhaps Grosvenor will continue to act benignly. Who knows. For now the immediate future looks promising but question marks remain over the longer-term outlook.

Verdict: Automatic

Carlisle United

Manager Keith Curle has brought in a number of new players over the summer, although the main news of interest in Cumbria has almost certainly been the ongoing will they / won’t they saga surrounding the potential sale of the club. As things stand United remain in the hands of local businessmen Andrew Jenkins, Steven Pattison and John Nixon, although the departures of both Pattinson and Nixon from their roles over the summer and the anticipation that Jenkins, the current chairman, will follow suit suggests that something is afoot. The three had been in discussions with Andrew Lapping for a year or so but talks sensationally broke down when Jenkins terminated discussions via a damning statement published on the United website in July. Now, all hope appears to rest on the interest of a mystery billionaire, whose identity remains a secret because of a confidentiality clause at his or her insistence. For now, then, it’s hard to see United troubling the top end of the division, particularly when one considers how promising youngsters Brad Potts and Kyle Dempsey have left for Blackpool and Huddersfield respectively. Curle’s new singings – key amongst them Bastian Hery, Jabo Ibehre, Jason Kennedy and Luke Joyce – look steady but unspectacular and Curle, of course, is no lower league Mourinho. This could well be a grim year.

Verdict: Looking over their shoulders

Crawley Town

If it wasn’t clear before, it is now. Crawley’s access to funds has dried up – they are now just another lower league club trying to survive. There’s been another change in manager, few players from last season have been retained and their key man, Izale McLeod, is on the verge of leaving the club. Even so, it isn’t all doom and gloom in West Sussex. Despite a miserable end to his time at Cheltenham, new man Mark Yates is a fine manager at this level and he seems to be doing reasonably well with what’s likely to be a similarly challenging budget to work with to the one he had to contend with during his time with the Robins. Though some of it has perhaps been worryingly last-minute, his business in the transfer market has been decent, with Simon Walton, Luke Rooney, Shamir Fenelon, Jon Ashton and Lee Barnard providing a reassuring blend of experience and nous. Those signings aside, Crawley are likely to have to make do with untried loanees but there will surely be worse teams in League 2 this year.

Verdict: Middle of the Road

Dagenham & Redbridge

Speaking of lower league clubs whose focus is on survival, Dagenham will do well to match – let alone beat – last year’s 14th placed finish. Manager Wayne Burnett remains after reportedly missing out on the Plymouth job and his task appears to be all the harder this season following the loss of captain Abu Ogogo to Shrewsbury and Billy Bingham to Crewe. Matt McClure is a decent acquisition from Wycombe, but the signings of Nyron Nosworthy and Matt Richards seem more like acts of desperation – it may well be that there are two worse teams in the league this year, but the heady days of League 1 football  at Victoria Park now seem like eons ago.

Verdict: Looking over their shoulders

Exeter City

So inured must they be to bleak, transfer-less summers, City fans are probably feeling peculiarly optimistic at this point. Yes, Liam Sercombe and Scot Bennet – Grecians men and boys – have departed for rival League 2 clubs but joining them in the outgoing column have been varying degrees of deadwood in the form of Pat Baldwin, Clinton Morrison and Graham Cummins. Paul Tisdale’s signings haven’t been get-on-the-phone-to-your-dad exciting but in Troy Brown, Bobby Olejnik, Will Hoskins, Emmanuel Oyeleke, Lee Holmes and those who have stayed on from last season, Exeter possess players that should see them match last year’s 10th placed finish. What’s more, City’s spring clean has extended to St James’s Park – plans are afoot to redevelop the ailing Grandstand, which has been a source of embarrassment for years now. With some of the (very tidy) £1.75m taken from Swansea in return for Matt Grimes earlier this year still likely to be in the kitty, things are looking decent in Devon’s county town.

Verdict: Chasing the Play-Offs

Hartlepool United

There’s been a lot of comings and goings at Hartlepool since the end of last season, not least in the boardroom as Increased Oil Recovery Limited have sold out to the JPNG recruitment group. What a recruitment consultancy firm with offices in Essex, London and Dubai is interested in a lower league club based in the far north east of the country for is beyond this onlooker although their specialisation in construction may well have something to do with it, one suspects. On the pitch, pre-season results have been poor, a testament – perhaps – to Ronnie Moore’s new signings being largely made up of other league 2 clubs’ cast-offs. Cue plenty of exaggerated torment from Jeff Stelling on Soccer Saturday over the next 9 months.

Verdict: Looking over their shoulders

Leyton Orient

Of all the clubs in League 2 Orient is perhaps one of the hardest to predict the fortunes of. On the one hand the appointments of Ian Hendon as manager and Andy Hessenthaler as his assistant seem like a coup and the squad isn’t looking too shabby at all. Yet on the other the club is still owned by Francesco Becchetti – who currently seems to be in the midst of an ongoing ruck with Albania, yes Albania – and it’s by no means certain that its star players, Dean Cox chief among them, will be with Orient beyond the end of the transfer window. What a shame it is to see the club fall so fast after going so close to gaining promotion to the Championship just over a year ago. The chances are it’ll take somewhat longer for the club to rise back up.

Verdict: Looking over their shoulders

Luton Town

The Hatters made a very respectable return to the League last season – were it not for an uncharacteristically dire run of form in the spring John Still would have led his side to a top 7 finish. The signings he has been able to make to date suggest that the playing budget has been increased further to ensure that no such slip ups occur this season. The acquisitions of Craig Mackail-Smith, Scott Cuthbert and Josh McQuoid stand out in particular but in truth virtually all of the new boys should perform in League 2. Of course, there’s the chance that such an overhaul will result in mixed form while the squad settles and then there’s the fact that this is a club that hasn’t always thrived under pressure but whereas the Conference only had one automatic promotion place this division has three and it would be a surprise were Luton not to claim one of them.

Verdict: Automatic

Mansfield Town

While not quite acing his first stab at management, rookie Adam Murray kept Mansfield up with relative ease after taking over from Paul Cox last season and while it takes a leap of imagination to envisage the Stags mounting a promotion assault this time around Murray’s signings to date suggest that they won’t be pushed over too often. In particular, Chris Beardsley, Lee Collins, Craig Westcarr, Nicky Hunt and Matty Blair all have the required experience to pick up points at this level although question marks might be raised at the ages of many of Murray’s new recruits: incoming goalkeepers Scott Shearer and Brian Jensen, for example, have a combined age of 74.

Verdict: Middle of the Road

Morecambe

How much longer can Morecambe continue to rely on Kevin Ellison’s sellotaped knees holding out? With Jim Bentley’s playing budget further reduced, forcing the exit of a number of last season’s first-team squad and the sale of Jack Redshaw to Blackpool, Morecambe’s struggle to compete in the fourth tier has been made all the more difficult and although the few signings that Bentley has managed to make, particularly that of Peter Murphy and Tom Barkhuizen, look well-considered it’s unlikely to be enough to tempt the amount of punters needed to reverse Morecambe’s fortunes – both in the short and long-term. The Shrimps should continue to put enough points on the board at the Globe to stay up but anything more than survival would be a minor miracle.

Verdict: Looking over their shoulders

Newport County

On the back of a somewhat more publicly discussed budget cut, Newport’s new manager Terry Butcher has had to make some difficult decisions. Gone are the bulk of last season’s squad and in their place are a lesser number of new signings, many of which have stepped up from non-league. In the background, the prospective sale of the majority shareholding of the club to the Supporters’ Trust is ongoing although with the cost of doing so estimated at somewhere between £300,000 and £500,000 the purchasing power of a group which currently has just 517 members remains far from certain. Butcher’s previous spells in charge of English Football League clubs haven’t been pretty and the odds are that his time in South Wales could prove to be a similarly challenging period.

Verdict: Looking over their shoulders

Northampton Town

Despite the impending sale of the club to an unnamed Indian consortium, it’s been a fairly busy off-season at Sixfields which – by now – it seems fair to say is how manager Chris Wilder likes it. Although work has ceased on the redevelopment of the East Stand while the ownership deal goes through Wilder has rung the changes, letting 10 of last season’s squad go in order to create space for a number of new signings, key among them Nicky Adams, David Buchanan and Alfie Potter. Town’s transfer-listed duo John-Joe O’Toole and Chris Hackett remain and Ivan Toney will probably be looking for houses on Tyneside by the time you read this, so all is not completely hunky-dorey. Another 12th or thereabouts isn’t completely unfeasible.

Verdict: Chasing the Play-Offs

Notts County

What on earth is going on at Notts County? Manager Ricardo Moniz, who arrived at Meadow Lane on a three-year deal last season, seems to have been given carte blanche – 16 players have been signed to date with three more expected to follow. The result, if no one was to leave in the meantime, would be a squad totalling almost 40 players which – bearing in mind the prevailing austerity that exists at this level – seems at best irresponsible, especially so given the troubles that the club has endured in recent years. Of course, the squad needed freshening up, such was the traumatic nature of their relegation from League 1, and some of Moniz’s signings won’t necessarily be expected to compete for first-team football immediately, but players such as Jon Stead, Scott Loach and Scot Bennett are unlikely to have been persuaded by anything other than a decent wage and the number of imports from overseas raises questions about how prepared the Magpies will be for League 2 football. It should be fun to watch it all unfold from the sidelines, but less so – ultimately – for the County faithful.

Verdict: Chasing the Play-Offs

Oxford United

While last season – Michael Appleton’s first full term in charge – may not have gone according to plan, Oxford supporters have reasons to be cheerful ahead of the forthcoming campaign. Appleton seems to be crafting a decent squad, adding Liam Sercombe, Kemar Roofe – who impressed in a short loan spell last season – and Sam Slocombe almost others to a group that already possessed some quality. As with many of their divisional rivals, Oxford’s squad isn’t quite as fleshed out as it could be and question marks linger over Appleton’s ability and commitment to stick at a job but this is quite possibly the strongest Oxford have looked on paper since returning to the League.

Verdict: Chasing the Play-Offs

Plymouth Argyle

Despite the month long lull between the Pilgrims’ play-off defeat to Wycombe and new manager Derek Adams’s appointment, Argyle go into the season with new-founded confidence. Adams, the former Ross County man who himself appears to be fully rejuvenated following a short spell out of the game, has impressed with his decisiveness in the transfer market, having brought in Jake Jervis, Gary Sawyer, Gregg Wylde, Graham Carey and Josh Simpson in a quick-fire spell of activity and followed those signings up by securing Hiram Boateng on a six month loan from Palace. The jigsaw isn’t quite complete yet – the squad still looks rather threadbare – but the core of last season’s team remains intact at the time of writing and if player interviews are anything to go by then it appears that Adams will get more from his players than his predecessor did. Things could be brighter off the pitch – the long-discussed plans to develop the Grandstand are dead in the water for now and the club still has to pay the balloon payment owed to creditors after their spell in administration – but the signs are that Argyle should again be in contention for a top 7 spot.

Verdict: Chasing the Play-Offs

Portsmouth

When hurtling through the predictions of 24 teams in the space of a few days it’s always tempting to simply back the biggest club. I’ve managed to avoid doing so in Pompey’s case over the past two seasons but aside from Luton – and maybe Cambridge – some of new manager Paul Cook’s signings have been on another level to their league rivals over the summer and it’s more difficult to dismiss their prospects this time around. New recruits such as Kyle Bennett, Adam McGurk and Gary Roberts have turned their noses up at League 1 clubs to join Pompey and a whole load of deadwood has been shipped out, giving the squad a pretty mean look. Having struggled, particularly at Fratton Park, last year it’s difficult to see Pompey being transformed into an unbeatable side overnight but their superior spending power should pay dividends over the course of the season.

Verdict: Automatic

Stevenage

In replacing Graham Westley with the untried and unlikely Teddy Sheringham and allowing the vast majority of last year’s squad to depart, the Stevenage board clearly wants to see the club move in a new direction. On an aesthetic level that’s understandable: Westley’s Stevenage will be no loss to English football, but on the other hand there’s a risk that such a sudden change in approach will mean that the club has to take a step backwards before it can begin building. How big a step will be the real concern; with a few days to go until the season kicks off Sheringham has one of the smallest squads in the league and no experience of management to fall back on. Sheringham can still call on some of Westley’s old guerrillas and his signings to date – Mark Hughes, Steven Schumacher, Brett Williams and Fraser Franks – are all household names (for lower league supporters with a certain amount of time on their hands, at least…) but he’s likely to need some more, plus a few favours from ex-colleagues, if Stevenage are to avoid a scrap.

Verdict: Middle of the Road

Wycombe Wanderers

Despite the timewasting on the pitch and the ape-like gesturing from their bench, Gareth Ainsworth and his players cut sympathetic figures as after Southend climbed into League 1 at the Chairboys’ expense in last season’s play-off final. After getting the wobbles in the latter part of the season, Wycombe’s late recovery was impressive, particularly so considering the limits on their playing budget, and it will be fascinating to see how the club fares this season. Good use was made of the loan market last term and Ainsworth’s ability to attract the best possible temporary talent to Buckinghamshire will again be key. For now, a good start appears to have be made – Ainsworth will hope that Anthony Stewart, back from Crewe, and Michael Harriman, on loan from QPR, should between them adequately replace the excellent Alfie Mawson at centre half and the capture of Jason Banton will – if the former Plymouth and Palace flyer can get his head right – fill a Paris Cowan-Hall shaped hole. The spine of the team – minus the loan stars – remains. If Ainsworth can identify a suitably forceful central midfielder then Wycombe could again be a force.

Verdict: Chasing the Play-Offs

Yeovil Town

After suffering two successive relegations, it didn’t take long for new manager Paul Sturrock to press the reset button at Yeovil come the end of the season. Having almost completely gutted his squad, the Scot has spent the summer interval on the blower, bringing in wave after wave of new recruits. To date, 15 players have joined, with the signings of Ryan Dickson, Ben Tozer and Stephen Arthurworrey – who returns on loan from Fulham after a successful spell last season – perhaps the best of the bunch. Of course, it isn’t the first time that Sturrock has carried out such major surgery on a squad but after spending a couple of years out of the game his tenure is unlikely to bring immediate success as he begins to reaccustom himself with life back in the hotseat. The Glovers should be hard to beat, though.

Verdict: Middle of the Road

York City

It’s still a little too early to call whether Russ Wilcox’s ludicrously successful promotion season with Scunthorpe was an anomaly, but going into the new season his York side look reasonably well prepared. Vadaine Oliver, scourge of a number of League 2 defences while on loan with Mansfield last season, has joined from Crewe; Scott Flinders, one player whose name used to regularly appear in those ‘Best Prospects Outside of the Premier League’ lists has moved down from Hartlepool; and lower league veterans James Berrett and Eddie Nolan have signed up from Yeovil and Scunthorpe respectively. Yes, Femi Ilesanmi, Lindon Meikle, Marvin McCoy – all transfer listed earlier in the summer – are still hanging around but what with York’s new stadium looking like it might be inching forwards things are on the up in Yorkshire’s walled city.

Verdict: Middle of the Road

Lloyd
is co-editor of The Two Unfortunates. He’s 30, supports Plymouth Argyle and takes a particular interest in the fortunes of those Football League clubs west of Bristol.

1 Comment

  1. Maxi
    August 5, 2015

    Great preview! I’m a fan of the english lower leagues living in Argentina. Articles like this are so hard to find, but it’s an inmense help for us far away who want to follow as close as we can.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

MENU