The 200% Pre-Season Previews: League Two
With time being short before the first games kickoff, this division will be a little briefer than the Championship and League One. As with the other divisions, not all signings have been named, so if you notice someone, or perhaps a club that I’ve “missed”, chances are I haven’t actually missed them, just made a decision to omit them. Except for Northampton Town, who for some reason, I actually forgot to include.
Accrington Stanley start their first season of the century without John Coleman in charge, but Paul Cook has taken a similar approach to signings, with all the new faces being aged 23 or under, and the one signing older than that being Padgraig Amond, who spent last season on loan at Stanley. Most of the newcomers are relative unknowns with just a few appearances under their belt, so they will be an unknown quantity. Danny Coid, Kevin McIntyre and Ian Craney are the main depatures, with the latter two joining up with Coleman at Rochdale.
Aldershot Town look for experience as they try and reach the third tier for the first time as a phoenix club. Guy Branston is one of the most well travelled and experienced defenders in the game, while Craig Stanley, Craig Reid and Anthony Tonkin all know about this level, while Troy Brown and Ollie Lancashire have what it takes to succeed in League Two. Anthony Straker and Darren Jones are the only departures, and Aldershot of one of many sides that look stronger this time around.
New Barnet head coach Mark Robson has brought in a host of new names as he embarks on his first managerial role. Jonathan Fortune becomes the new captain, while Curtis Weston and Jon Nurse have experience in this division. The rest of the signings are youngsters from higher up the league, including four from West Ham, as Barnet’s transfer policy reflects their income. Sam Deering and Dean Brill are the only departures, and Barnet could be looking as high as mid-table.
Phil Parkinson showed signs of a turnaround at Bradford City last season, and the club had a much needed clearout at the summer, although the squad is still bigger than the Bantams need at this level. Lots of experience coming in, with the likes of forwards Garry Thompson and Alan Connell, defenders Andrew Davies and Nathan Doyle among the nine new signings. On paper, Bradford look capable of a promotion push.
Bristol Rovers surprised most pundits for the wrong reason last season, as they struggled to adapt to League Two. Over a dozen players leave (including Gary Sawyer, Mustapha Carayol and Chris Zebroski), but the new signings don’t look to have much experience of League Two between them, even if players like David Clarkson (from rivals City) and Garry Kenneth (Dundee United) have a wealth of experience despite still being in their mid 20s. It looks like a slow building process for Mark McGhee, rather than a quick fix.
Burton Albion installed Gary Rowett as manager at the end of last season, and it will be interesting to see what progress he can get the Brewers to make (if any).
Cheltenham Town were the surprise package last season, and with the exception of Luke Summerfield, Mark Yeates has kept the squad together. Full back Billy Jones, midfielder Sam Deering, and forwards Chris Zebroski and Shaun Harrad will provide competition and depth to a squad that looked a little stretched at time last season. Genuine promotion candidates.
With relegation comes a clearout at Chesterfield, with seven players, including Gregor Robertson, James Lowry and Aaron Downes leaving the club. Terrell Forbes, Sam Hird Marc Richards, Sam Togwell all arrive, and John Sheridan should be in with a chance of guiding the Spirites back to League One.
Dagenham & Redbridge looked like certainties for relegation until Macclesfield’s freefall last season, and needed to strengthen over the summer. That hasn’t happened, with Gavin Hoyte being the only summer arrival. Gavin Tomlin, Jon Nurse and Damien McCrory head the list of six departures, and John Still will need to use the loan system well if Dagenham are to stay a league club in twelve months time.
Exeter City finally succumbed to League One relegation last season, and Paul Tisdale has done same fair reorganizing. Eight new players arrive in Devon, with defender Pat Baldwin, and midfielder Arron Davies looking to be the pick. Matt Oakley and Jamie Cureton extend their loans and will provide much needed experience, if Exeter are to bounce straight back up. A dozen also leave, with long serving Richard Logan, Troy Archibald-Henville, James Dunne and Billy Jones the main departees.
Fleetwood Town have followed Crawley’s example of spending big in the Conference, then selling big after promotion to fund further promotion, with Jamie Vardy’s £1m+ transfer to Leicester grabbing all the headlines. Peter Cavanagh is the only other player to leave, but join the League. Micky Mellon has only bought two players so far, but both are forwards, with Steven Gillespie having done well in the bottom two division, and David Ball having a lot of potential. Jon Parkin also adds experience, although he’s generally played higher up the league. Dean Howell, Damien Johnson, Barry Nicholson and Youl Mawene are the pick of the other signings, but in some respects, it seems like Mellon is planning for League One, rather than Two.
Gillingham have a new manager in Martin Allen, and he’s trying to stamp his individual style on the club, with Charlie Allen, Stuart Nelson, Ben Strevens and veteran Deon Burton arriving. Allen has also got rid of a handful of players, including the long serving Garry Richards. Paulo Gazzaniga leaves for Southampton, while Dennis Oli joins divisional rivals Wycombe, but it may take time for Allen to work his magic and midtable beckons.
Morecambe have become an unpredictable side over the last three seasons with finisges of 4th, 20th and 15th (after a strong start) and this season is no exception. Little has changed terms of the team, with keeper Andreas Arestidou arriving from Preston, Andrew Wright joining from Scunthorpe and Bradford’s Robbie Threlfall also joining the Shrimps. Most of last season’s players remain, with Phil Jevons and Laurence Wilson the only two to go. Upper mid-table seems likely.
Northampton Town The Cobblers signings are strong: Chris Hackett, Dave Artell, Ishmel Demontagnac, Joe Widdowson, Clive Platt, Kelvin Langmead, Alex Nicholls all have experience at the lower end of the Football League, an experience that Northampton seem to need, as well as being the type of players that will flourish under the brand of whatever it is that Aidy Boothroyd gets his players to play. If they gel, there’s no reason why they shouldn’t be in the hunt for promotion, although it won’t be pretty. Michael Jacobs, will be the biggest loss, and Gary Johnson comes back to take four of his players to Yeovil with him, but given the contrasting styles between the two managers, the players who have left are unlikely to be type that prosper under Boothroyd.
Oxford United have only signed two players (Michael Raynes and Sean Rigg), but have loaned three youngsters from upper divisions. Asa Hall, Oli Johnson and Anthony Tokin have left, and continuity in a division like this is no bad thing, as long as the team ends the previous season on a high. Unfortunately, the last seven games passed without a win, and the Us lost their playoff place at the death. They need to start well, if they are to push for promotion again.
After a season that was more about survival than on the pitch achievement, Plymouth Argyle must be glad to be back to being a normal club again. Rene Gilmartin, Jamie Lowry and Andres Gurreri are the main signings, while Simon Walton is the only player to have left. It’s going to be a slow process for the Mariners in their quest for a return up the divisions, and a season of consolidation may be the best thing that can happen in the long term.
Port Vale are in not too dissimilar place now, to where Argyle were last year. Still in administration, they have been given special dispensation to sign Jennison Myrie-Williams, Darren Murphy, Ashley Vincent, Richard Duffy and Chris Neal. However, how long these players will be able to stay is anyone’s guess – David Artell arrived in july, but left for Northampton five weeks later. In the meantime, survival is the priority.
After a generation without a promotion or relegation, the Rochdale faithful experience both within a year. John Coleman makes sweeping changes, with eleven players arriving (including Ben Smith, Ian Craney, Craig Curran, Peter Cabvanagh, Josh Lillis and most notably Dele Adebola), and ten departures, including John-Louis Akpa Akpo, Nicky Adams, David Lucas, Dean Holden, Kevin Amankwaah and Joe Widdowson. Dale have the quality to go up again, and it would be ironic, if after 40 years of stagnation, they became a yo-yo club.
Rotherham United are more concerned over being back at Rotheham (at the New York stadium – named after the part of town, where the ground is built), than who they have signed, but Steve Evans has an overhaul, as he brings his unique brand of football to South Yorkshire. Eleven arrive, including Kayode Odejayi, Ian Sharps, Nicky Hunt, Michael O’Connor, Lionel Ainsworth and Keiran Agard, while eleven players leave, including Lewis Grabban, Ryan Cresswell and Richard Naylor. Most of the departees were on the periphery, but it will take time for the new players to settle, but with this division usually being tight, that doesn’t rule the Millers out of promotion.
Southend United have a list of signings that looks like a statement of promotion intent. Freddy Eastwood returns to the club where he was most prolific, while Kevan Hurst, Anthony Straker, Gavin Tomlin are among the other signings, most of which have a track record in the bottom two divisions. Anthony Grant and Pat Baldwin are the highest profile of the four departees, as Paul Sturrock has built a side that should be there or thereabouts come May.
Torquay United made a godo run to the playoffs, and Martin Ling will be aiming to go further this time around. He’s kept faith with last season’s squad, releasing one (Chris McPhee) and selling one (Eunan O’Kane). Three players arrive – forward Billy Bodin, defender Aaron Downes and keeper Michael Poke – and Torquay should be there or thereabouts again.
Wimbledon had a clearout at the end of the season, with nine players, including first teamers Sam Hatton, Jamie Stuart, Gareth Gwillim, Ricky Wellard and Chris Bush. With such a ruhless approach, Terry Brown clearly feels that some of the players that got the Dons into the League could only take the club so far, and new faces are needed if the Dons are to push for the next level. In has come league experience, with Pim Balkestein returning after a loan spell, and Warren Cummings and Stacy Long are the more experienced of the rest of the signings.
Wycombe Wanderers finally relinquished their grip on their League One status, but haven’t had too much of a clearout. Scott Rendell was sold to Luton, with six players released. Into the club come Sam Wood and Matthew Spring in midfield, Richard Logan and Dennis Oli up front, and the versatile returning loanee Gary Doherty. The signings are good, and so are the signs in terms of the Chairboys going straight back up.
York Cityare back in the league, and have picked up four players from League clubs (Lee Bullock, Oli Johnson, Danny Blanchett and Jonathan Smith) to give them some much needed Football League. Michael Coulson and John McReady also have league experience, even if they have most recently been at Grimsby and Darlington, and while they are unlikely to set the division on fire, they shouldn’t worry about relegation either.
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