Soccerlens continues its full season preview of the English Football League, as we move up from the Conference to League Two, which promises to be tighter than than Cheryl Cole’s pert bottom in a pair of skimpy hotpants.
Can Bury better themselves and go one goal better for promotion? Can Cheltenham and Crewe climb back at the first time of asking? And we search for answers to the question ‘Accrington Stanley? Who are they?’ Read on…
Bluffer’s guide to the league
If you’re a nostalgist you’ll still insist on calling it the ‘old fourth division’, which it was known as before the advent of the Premiership, after which it became known as Division 3. After the advent of the Championship, it changed to League Two, despite most definitely not being the second highest division in the country. In the olden days, clubs that finished bottom of the league had to apply for re-election, which they usually got. Now they just get relegated.
Traditionally the league’s basement division is filled with a couple of cash-rich ambitious teams, plenty of average sides who play the long ball game and some truly abysmal teams. Rochdale are the longest residents, having been in the division for the past 35 years.
If League Two were a footballer it would be…
Neil Ruddock. Somewhat limited in talent, but knows how to play to its strengths (namely kick lumps out of the opponents and hoof it long). Occasional flashes of class to compete with better teams but can often stretch the description of football as the beautiful game.
Last season in a Tweet
Fan-owned teams Brentford and Exeter go up. Rotherham & Bournemouth do the great escape, Luton can’t beat 30 point deduction. Chester officially worst team in league.
With some many teams primed for a push at the title, it’s nearly impossible to call a winner with any one of a number of clubs capable of taking the top spot. We’re plumping for Northampton Town, who looked the best equipped of all the relegated teams to bounce back.
The strike partnership of Steve Guinan and Adebayo Akinfenwa has plenty of goals in it and boss Stuart Gray is a smart operator. However, the Cobblers squad is a little thin and too many injuries could leave them vulnerable.
Bury have been quietly getting on with the business of constructing a decent squad and were unlucky to miss out on automatic promotion by just one goal last season. This season they’ve kept the majority of that squad intact and Alan Knill has made sensible signings. Will be a hard team to beat and should go one better than last year.
Had it not been for a 17 point penalty for financial reasons, Rotherham would probably be starting this season in League One. The Millers kept up promotion-winning form until the last few games of the season and there’s no reason to suggest they can’t repeat the same feat this time around. Star striker Reuben Reid may be off but Mark Robins’ squad is still strong enough to mount a challenge.
There’s an assumption that money can buy your way out of the lower divisions but that isn’t always the case, and thus it will probably prove with Notts County this season. Yes, the Magpies have Sven and a bundle of cash, but that doesn’t mean promotion. There’s genuine quality in Ian McParland’s squad but this was a team that finished 19th last season and an automatic spot may just be beyond them.
Crewe find themselves in the basement for the first time since 1994. During that time they’ve become renowned for developing young talent and Gudjon Thordarson has been slowly adding proven players for this level. Joel Grant, Anthony Elding and Clayton Donaldson should provide a fearsome attacking threat as the Alex look to make their stay in League Two a short one.
As the best-supported club in League Two last season, Bradford fell way short of expectations, finishing 9th. This time around Stuart McCall knows promotion is a must, but the league has got stronger over the close season. On paper, the Bantams have one of the strongest squads in the league; in reality they may have to settle for a playoff spot.
Last season Exeter City stormed from the Conference playoffs to gain back-to-back promotions. Now its the turn of near-neighbours Torquay United. Like Exeter, they have anmbitious young manager in Paul Buckle and plenty of momentum following their promotion. The Gulls have a good blend of old and new and striker Tim Sills will be desperate to prove he can cut it in the league.
Rochdale have stumbled in the playoffs in recent years and a first promotion in what will now be 36 years still looks just out of reach. But Dale are one of the league’s more consistent clubs and go about their business with a minimum of fuss. If they get off to a good start, they may well find themselves in the mix.
There’s no points deductions this year (yet), so the bottom of League Two is an even playing field, but this could be bad news for Bournemouth. The Cherries pulled off the great escape last season but could really struggle this time around. Much depends on young manager Eddie Howe being able to get the best out of a limited group of players. The new owners aren’t flush with cash and it could be a long season on the south coast.
Accrington Stanley may have been promoted into the league in 2006 but have hardly made waves since then, never finishing higher than 16th. It’s been a difficult pre-season for Stanley, with playing caught up in both betting scandals and the Steven Gerrard trial and with some of the lowest crowds in the League, there’s a sense of stagnation at the Crown Ground. May find non-league is more their level.
Joker in the pack
Burton Albion embark on their first ever season in the League as an unknown quantity. New boss Paul Peschisoldio is untested at this level, as are many of the players. The Brewers limped to the Conference title and could either carry that lethargy with them or be inspired to great things. It’s hard to tell until they find their feet after a few games.
Solid gold gaffer
John Still has been at Dagenham & Redbridge since 2004 and has worked a few small miracles in his time at Victoria Road. Led them to the Conference title in 2007, and only missed out on the playoffs on the last day of last season. One of the lower league’s most underrated managers.
Three to watch
Scott Rendell’s 13 goals played a large part in Cambridge’s 2nd placed Conference finish last season. Now Torquay United have swooped to take the Peterborough striker on loan to Plainmoor. If the 22-year-old displays similar form, he’ll be near the top of the scoring charts.
Mat Mitchel-King has acted as Rio Ferdinand’s body double in the past and Crewe’s new defender plays a bit like the Manchester United man as well. Excelled in a mean Histon defence last season and will now have to prove he can handle the step up to the League.
Nicky Law may be the son of the Rotherham legend of the same name, but he’s still got to prove he can play like his dad. Was a promising youngster at Sheffield United and could have probably signed for a League One club. Has experience at this level after a loan spell with Bradford and will be looking to prove he’s not just trading on the family name.
Be sure to check back tomorrow when we start getting among the fallen big boys in League One as Charlton, Norwich and Southampton all find themselves in the third tier. Can any of them bounce back? Read our preview and find out our thoughts as we continue our Football League predictions.