TTU Go Predicting: A Club-by-Club League 2 Preview 2016-17

Posted by on Aug 4, 2016 in Uncategorized | One Comment
TTU Go Predicting: A Club-by-Club League 2 Preview 2016-17

Accrington Stanley

Regardless of whether Accrington went up last year, their team was destined to be broken up, such was their quality. With Matty Crooks and Josh Windass having already signed pre-contract agreements in January to join Rangers, Stanley have since seen fellow starters Piero Mingoia, Tom Davies and Ross Etheridge leave for a trio of League 2 rivals, rendering their squad bereft of the sheen that turned so many heads last season. Manager John Coleman can still call on the likes of Billy Kee, Shay McCartan and Matty Pearson and his canniness in the transfer market shouldn’t be underestimated – of his latest recruits, the signing of Steven Hewitt from Burnley looks particularly astute – but in the coming season it could well be a case of needing to take a step back to take a step forward.

Verdict: Chasing the Play-Offs

Barnet

All appears to be moving in the right direction at Barnet. Manager Martin Allen and last season’s top scorer John Akinde, who bagged an impressive 23 goals, have recently signed new deals, and there’s a great deal of continuity in the squad. The only fly in the ointment has been the loss of skipper Andy Yiadom to lower league poachers Barnsley but if Barnet can maintain their decent home form and pick up a few more wins away from the Hive then they might just slip into the top 7.

Verdict: Middle of the Road

Blackpool

Remember Brett Ormerod and John Murphy’s little man / big man partnership at Bloomfield Road? Well, they were banging them in for the Seasiders the last time that Blackpool featured at this level. 15 years on, one suspects that absolutely no good can come of the continued ownership by the Oystons and that the club will remain on their downward, post Premier League spiral, until the bad blood’s been let. On the other hand, the appointment of Gary Bowyer seems sensible and recruitment – two years on from the José Riga debacle – has been reasonable; in particular, Jamille Matt and Kyle Vassell have added to what should be one of the more dangerous striking rosters in the division. The real battle for the future of the club lies away from the pitch, but on it the Tangerines ought to fare better than at any other time in the post-Holloway years.

Verdict: Middle of the Road

Cambridge United

Following the appointment of Shaun Derry as manager in November, the U’s form improved to the point that on a couple of occasions it looked like they might just have a chance of finishing in the play-off positions. In the end, they came in 9th but there were definite signs of progress – not least by way of the 7-0 thrashing of Morecambe at the Abbey – and there are strong grounds for predicting another bout of forward momentum this term. Following a season of transition, Derry now looks to have built a stable and competitive squad with the cream of last season’s team joining forces with some astute new permanent signings and loanees, the captures of Piero Mingoia from Accrington and Joe Pigott from Charlton perhaps being the standouts. This time last year, we predicted automatic promotion for the U’s and we’re sticking our necks out again.

Verdict: Promoted

Carlisle United

The Cumbrians put in a decent show last season, all things considered. Indeed, were it not for the disruption to their schedule caused by the winter flooding in North West England and their subsequent poor form over the second half of the season, they may well have finished higher than 10th place. This time around, Keith Curle appears to have bulked up his squad, albeit a tad unspectacularly, with proven performers at League 2 level such as Nicky Adams, Jamie Devitt and Shaun Miller drafted in to replace the lesser lights of last season’s group of players. There has been steady progress behind the scenes, too, with former Huddersfield CEO Nigel Clibbens appointed as the club’s Chief Executive, taking on a range of responsibilities that were previously shared out between different executives and non-executives. Frustration prevails at the ongoing saga over the club’s future ownership but the Blues could well grind out a top 7 finish.

Verdict: Chasing the Play-Offs

Cheltenham Town

It was something of a surprise to see Cheltenham win the National League so effortlessly at the first attempt. Having been led by four different managers in the preceding season, the Robins had to rely on Gary Johnson’s ability to fashion a team from near-scratch, and that he did, guiding Cheltenham to a 101 point finish. Powered by the goals of Danny Wright and – in the second half of the season – January signing Dan Holman, the Robins were no match for their non-league rivals and one would expect them to assimilate back into the environs of League football with relative ease.

Verdict: Looking over their shoulders

Colchester United

Despite seeming to be quite good, Colchester have actually been quite bad for a few years now and their inevitable relegation to the fourth tier must have come as a relief to supporters in the end. Having conceded 77 goals in 2014-15, the U’s went 22 better last season, finishing with a quite spectacular total haul of 99 goals against. Rather alarmingly, a few of the same defenders still remain but on the whole the signs are positive. While Alex Gilbey and George Moncur have, quite rightly, departed for the Championship, Colchester’s first-time manager John McGreal seems to have had a reasonably productive summer in the transfer market, beating off a number of clubs to bring in midfielder Craig Slater from Kilmarnock perhaps being his crowning achievement. Otherwise, the signings of Brennan Dickenson, Doug Loft and Luke Prosser scream solid, and if young starlet Sammie Szmodics can start to fill his potential then things could get interesting.

Verdict: Chasing the Play-Offs

Crawley Town

Crawley were poor last season, so in some respects it was no surprise when Mark Yates was dispatched half way through a two-year contract shortly after Ziya Eren’s takeover. That Yates inherited an empty husk of a squad following the club’s relegation to League 2 was – somewhat predictably – overlooked and in his place came the delightfully-named Dermot Drummy, an untried former youth coach at Chelsea and Arsenal. Drummy – who is still, at the time of writing, volunteering some great Patridgisms on Twitter – has wasted no time in making his mark, bringing in no fewer than 16 new players. The capture of James Collins is the indisputable highlight but, as good as Collins can be at this level, that says more about the standard of the 15 other players signed. In the run-up to concluding his purchase earlier this year, Eren described Crawley as a club with ‘a long history’; judging by the look of the squad his new manager has put together, he’ll soon become acquainted with life outside of the Football League where his new club has, of course, spent the vast majority of its 120 years.

Verdict: Relegated

Crewe Alexandra

Having lost 21 out of his previous 92 league games, it’s been a grim couple of years for Steve Davis; were he not the manager of one of the least expectant of professional clubs in this country, nay the world, he would surely have been shown the exit by now. But remain he does, as does the bulk of the squad that finished bottom of League 1 and conceded 83 goals in the process last season. The very un Crewe-like signings of experienced strikers Chris Dagnall and Ryan Lowe ought to propel the Railwaymen to enough victories to remain in the League but Davis will surely be moving mountains to keep supporters onside for much longer.

Verdict: Looking over their shoulders

Doncaster Rovers

Having yo-yoed between the Championship and League 1 in recent years, Donny are in relatively unfamiliar territory. Tipped by various pundits to return directly from whence they came, they’re a different species to the club that last competed at this level back in 2003-04. Closing in on a decade at the Keepmoat, Rovers now possess facilities far beyond the reach of most of their divisional rivals and, by the look of some of Darren Ferguson’s new signings, a playing budget to match. Of particular note, Tommy Rowe has signed a three-year deal, a real rarity at this level, after being persuaded to rejoin his mentor; John Marquis has finally found a home after spending approximately 17,000 days out on loan; and Mathieu Baudry – once a feature in the best side Orient have had for years – has swapped East London for South Yorkshire. What’s more, Donny’s main man Andy Williams remains at the time of writing. Things aren’t perfect –defender Luke McCullough has been ruled out for the season, for example – but Rovers should be a threat.

Verdict: Chasing the Play-Offs

Exeter City

The summer months tend to be awfully quiet around St James Park, so careful is Paul Tisdale with what little money the club has, so it must have come as a surprise to City supporters when some early business was done this time around, with Lloyd James, Liam McAlinden and Robbie Simpson all joining well ahead of the usual schedule. They’ve since been followed by Pierce Sweeney and the returning Troy Archibald-Henville, and with professional gurner Clinton Morrison having been shipped out on a free to Football League Tonight things are surely looking up in West Devon. City’s ultimate fate may depend on whether they keep home-grown talent Ollie Watkins beyond this transfer window but, right now, they’re looking hot.

Verdict: Chasing the Play-Offs

Grimsby Town

With only five players from the 16 man squad that suited up for Grimsby’s play-off final triumph over Forest Green still with the club Paul Hurst’s side are a tricky one to gauge. However, having seemingly prioritised Football League experience in his recruitment criteria, bringing in the likes of James Berrett, Ben Davies, Luke Summerfield and Scott Vernon , it looks as though Hurst is determined to ensure that the returning Mariners are no soft touch. They may not reach the heights that Bristol Rovers achieved last year, but all signs seem to be pointing north.

Verdict: Middle of the Road

Hartlepool United

Following Craig Hignett’s arrival as manager in February, Pools were – for a month or two – one of the form sides in League 2. Although they finished on a downer, losing their final four games, it was definitely a case of mission accomplished for Hignett and many will be expecting the club to kick on this season, such is the ex-Boro man’s reputation. Progress on last season’s 16th place finish won’t come easy though, with key loanees Adam Jackson, Jake Gray and Luke James long gone and Hignett largely restricted to snapping up new players from non-league. Pacy striker Lewis Alessandra is one exception to that rule, and much may rest on whether he can strike up a partnership with last year’s top-scorer, Billy Paynter.

Verdict: Middle of the Road

Leyton Orient

While there’s perhaps a bit of work to be done to shore up things defensively, Orient look pretty formidable. With Dean Cox returning from a long spell out; rent-a-goal Jay Simpson being joined up front by Jordan Bowery, who impressed in a cameo contract for Oxford during the second half of last season; and midfielders Liam Kelly, Robbie Weir and Gavin Massey dropping down from League 1 to join Orient, those in control of the purse-strings will expect nothing less than promotion. And there lies the rub. Can one really trust owner and chairman Francesco Becchetti not to rip it up the moment that things don’t quite go Orient’s way? Having survived one boot up the backside during his time as assistant manager, grizzly old yard dog Andy Hessenthaler probably has as good an opportunity as any of seeing through a full season but it’s by no means assured.

Verdict: Promoted

Luton Town

Even though, in the end, Luton finished only two points behind their previous term’s total, 2015-16 was a disappointing year at Kenilworth Road. Once again, however, expectations are rising as the new season looms. On paper, manager Nathan Jones has inherited one of the division’s brightest young talents in Cameron McGeehan and has made a series of good signings over the summer; in particular, Jake Gray rightly arrived with plenty of fanfare on Monday after an excellent loan spell at Hartlepool last season and Danny Hylton is just the kind of infuriatingly gobby number 9 that will unsettle opposition defences (and supporters). One wonders whether Jones will be able to shape a squad that still has the stamp of his predecessor into promotion winners but – if he fails – he surely won’t be far off.

Verdict: Promoted

Mansfield Town

Mansfield crept into the mix a couple of times last season but ended in mid-table after failing to put together a consistently decent spell of results over the course of the campaign. Having lost a few first-teamersMatty Blair, Reggie Lambe and Ryan Tafazolli amongst them – the Stags’ chances perhaps rest on the quality of the signings that the quietly impressive Adam Murray has been able to bring in; to date, none of Rhys Bennett, Ashley Hemmings, Darius Henderson, Pat Hoban, Kevan Hurst, Danny Rose or George Taft get the juices flowing but Mansfield should once again win as many as they lose.

Verdict: Middle of the Road

Morecambe

Winning just four of their final 26 games last season, the Shrimps lived up to their reputation for packing up shop mid-way through a league campaign. Just as dismal were the two spankings they were on the end of against Hartlepool and Stevenage during the same period, not to mention the schooling they were given at Cambridge. In total, 91 goals were shipped over the course of the season – the highest number of goals conceded in League 2 – and with the average home gate dropping by some 20% or so on 2014-15 figures Jim Bentley’s playing budget isn’t likely to be any bigger this year. While the disappointing losses of Jamie Devitt and Shaun Miller to Carlisle will have freed up some wages, recruitment has essentially been restricted to untested youngers or cast-offs who didn’t play a great deal of football for their former clubs last season. In what is Morecambe’s 10 year anniversary season as a Football League club, it could be a time for commiseration rather than celebration.

Verdict: Relegated

Newport County

Warren Feeney may not have been the most clinical of strikers during his playing career, but the Northern Irishman has the air of a determined and decent manager about him. Like the club’s owners, the Newport County AFC Supporters Trust, Feeney is still finding his feet in his new role but he has set about renovating the Newport squad with vigour over the summer; eight players have been released, with contract offers subsequently withdrawn from a further four ditherers, and in their place have come 14 new signings. Despite an apparent improvement in the playing budget, the calibre of the incoming players has been modest so County may well be reliant, to some extent, on Feeney’s man management skills, tactical nous and contacts within the game when it comes to making loan signings.

Verdict: Looking over their shoulders

Notts County

Having signed enough players to fill a double decker bus ahead of last season, this summer has – somewhat predictably – witnessed a steadier influx of personnel, with new manager John Sheridan opting for quality ahead of quantity, raiding Port Vale for the services of Carl Dickenson, Richard Duffy and Michael O’Connor, as well as returning to former clubs Newport and Oldham to take Alex Rodman and Jonathan Forte respectively. While a few of Moniz’s signings have been offloaded, the squad is probably still too big; Shez has a knack for coming up with the goods at this level, though, so if anyone can turn this ship around…

Verdict: Chasing the Play-Offs

Plymouth Argyle

It is a truth universally acknowledged that it’s never easy to come back stronger following a play-off final defeat. Or so the assumption goes. Of the previous five losing finalists at this level, three have subsequently gone on to finish in the top 7 in the following season (Burton (1st); Cheltenham (5th); and Torquay (5th)); one has finished mid-table (Wycombe (13th)); and only one has struggled (Northampton (21st)), so there is hope yet for Derek Adams’s side. In any case, the team will be greatly changed. Following two successive play-off disappointments, the spine of the starting line-up has largely moved on and Adams has been busy recruiting replacements all summer. They’ve come from places far, wide, high and low, rendering it difficult to make an informed judgement at such an early stage, but if Adams’s signings last season were anything to go by then one imagines that the Pilgrims will figure in the upper part of the table again, particularly so if fans’ favourite Graham Carey has another strong season.

Verdict: Chasing the Play-Offs

Portsmouth

As was the case last season, the League 2 title would seem to be Pompey’s to lose, such is the gap in spending power between them and the rest. But where the likes of Kyle Bennett, Enda Stevens and Gary Roberts failed last time around, will Paul Cook’s crop of new recruits such as Carl Baker, Milan Lalkovic and David Forde be able to handle the pressure any better?  It’s tempting to hedge one’s bets, but having been so brittle in the backbone last season it wouldn’t be a complete shock to see Pompey prolong their stay in the basement for yet another season, particularly if they come out of the blocks anything less than rapidly. On paper, however, they have to be deemed nothing short of automatic material.

Verdict: Promoted

Stevenage

While the most exciting news of the summer may well have been the announcement of the club’s new 40th anniversary kit, manager Darren Sarll seems to have put together a solid enough squad at Stevenage. Although the end of Charlie Lee and Chris Whelpdale’s five year bromance (the latter having joined Wimbledon) was a blow, Boro should have enough to stave off relegation for another year, particularly if Glenn Roeder – Sarll’s Managerial Adviser – can pull a few strings in the loan market.

Verdict: Looking over their shoulders

Wycombe Wanderers

Gareth Ainsworth’s commitment to total football can perhaps be epitomized by the signing of human zorball Adebayo Akinfenwa this summer. Having earned plaudits for leading the Chairboys to the League 2 play-off final the season before last, Ainsworth ended up impairing his good reputation by morphing his team into a group of dark artists last year. His squad wasn’t without quality – aside from 1st and 2nd placed Northampton and Oxford, for example, Wycombe were the only club to have featured more than one player in the division’s Team of the Year – but having seemingly decided to favour a more pragmatic route to victory, the Chairboys struggled to repeat their performance of 2014-15. Going into his fourth full season at Adams Park, Ainsworth will surely be hoping that a bigger team finally takes a gamble on his services before he risks damaging his standing any further.

Verdict: Middle of the Road

Yeovil Town

The Glovers’ revival in fortune was, along with Northampton’s ascent to the top of the division and Accrington’s strong performance over the course and distance, one of the standout successes in League 2 last year. Having taken over Paul Sturrock’s hastily assembled bunch of relegation-bound huffers and puffers in December, Darren Way oversaw an impressive turnaround in form which led to the Glovers comfortably securing their League status. Way has since been rewarded with a three year contract and, ahead of the new season, has continued with his preference for bringing in unpolished youngsters from higher up the pyramid ahead of experienced journeymen. Tom Eaves, who’s impressed in some of his numerous loan spells away from Bolton over the years, seems to be the pick of the lot. A season of upward trajectory would appear to lie ahead.

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. LiT
    August 4, 2016

    As a Pompey fan, I have to agree with “On paper, however, they have to be deemed nothing short of automatic material”.

    It was a strange season 15/16 in that we had 7 professional keepers on our books of whom 5 started 1st team games and 6 were named in the 18. We never had a settled forward line either with 5 loan strikers appearing during the season. There were a number of problems that weren’t quite solved.

    Today has been active in that Paul Jones has left the club to join Norwich and we have signed Noel Hunt (Southend) and Adam Buxton (Accrington) to add depth to the squad. A couple more signings are due in as back-up goalkeeper to Forde (Liam O’Brien has been training with the squad this week) and a central midfielder (most likely a resigned Danny Hollands). The squad looks deep.

    But… Will we score enough goals? Young Conor Chaplin has that ice-in-veins quality but Smith, Main and Hunt aren’t that prolific in front of goal. Carl Baker is a proper player and will add goals but like Gary Roberts and Michael Doyle is mid-30s. Keeping Roberts and Doyle fit and on the pitch was a struggle last season. Lalkovic had a decent season for Walsall last season goals wise but as with Kyle Bennett last season will likely be seen as a marmite figure for our crowd given his playing style.

    Its a much more settled squad this season and given a year in the hot seat that I expect Paul Cook to squeeze out an additional 10 points this season to achieve promotion. I’m also expecting the season to be pretty similar to last year so I wouldn’t be surprised if we ended up in the play-offs again.

    Reply

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