Friday, 7 September 2018

League 2: August - 1st September (First 6 League Games)

League 2 is certainly a league always full of excitement and teams wanting to improve and play exciting football for their fans. The league has returned with goals, excellent football, new managers, new teams and the managerial merry-go-round is full swing. Lincoln have made a flying start to the season with Newport and MK Dons close behind. While Notts County and Macclesfield make up the bottom 2 with fellow strugglers Morecambe, Cheltenham and Grimsby hovering nervous above them.

It has been a wonderful start to the campaign for Danny Cowley and Lincoln. The highly regarded, likeable manager has been a magnificent appointment at Lincoln since he took over in 2016. Lincoln have progressed each season. Lincoln have collected 16 points from their opening 6 games and are playing some wonderful football. The likes of Lee Frecklington, Michael Bostwick and Harry Anderson have been excellent so far as have new signings John Akinde and Shay McCartan who have been notching up goals to fire them top. It is fair to say Michael Flynn has done a sensational job at Newport since saving them from relegation. They sit in 2nd place with 13 points from their opening 6 games and the highlight was certainly their dramatic late win over Notts County at Rodney Parade. It must off been a strange summer for Paul Tisdale not preparing Exeter for the new season but instead preparing the MK Dons. Despite the change in teams, Tisdale’s methods and style of football are clearly taking affect on the team with the Dons starting strongly collecting 12 points and are yet to taste defeat under him. The play-off places are made up by Colchester, Yeovil, Oldham and Forest Green who have all made excellent starts to the season. Forest Green have been excellent making their best start to a football league season and despite losing Christian Doidge to Bolton, they have remained unbeaten so far and Mark Cooper has done a brilliant job.

Relegation takes time for teams to get over and teams must quickly adapt to a new league. While Oldham and MK Dons have been excellent in adapting under new managers in a new league. Bury and Northampton find themselves in the bottom half of the table. Bury have been good at home but have been beaten in every away game so far. The Shakers away record is horrendous, and Ryan Lowe must quickly address this should they mount a promotion charge. While Northampton are struggling for wins all round having collected just 6 points from 6 games. The Cobblers have struggled to secure victories this season with just 1 registered. Dean Austin must get Northampton into a winning habit otherwise it could become another difficult season for Northampton.

New managers walking into jobs always have mixed fortunes when they take over because it is all about hitting the ground running and installing a belief in players and fans that the season could develop into something. Certainly, Matt Taylor has done just that at Exeter. The Grecians have made their first ever managerial change since they joined the football league and they have started well under their former defender who has guided them to 10 points from their opening 6 games. The Grecians are desperate for promotion having lost consecutive play-off finals and a good August has set them up nicely with the likes of Jayden Stockley and Pierce Sweeney picking up from where they left off last season while new signings Jonathan Forte and Nicky Law have caught the eye so far. It has also been an excellent start for John Sheridan in charge of Carlisle. Sheridan has guided them to 10 points from their opening 6 games and they are on the cusp of the play-off places despite their squad being largely revamped following last season’s disappointing campaign. However, the likes of Danny Grainger have continued to be reliable figures in the Carlisle side and Sheridan will no doubt be pleased with their start to the new campaign. While, Phil Brown has also had a decent start to the season at Swindon after narrowly missing out on the play-offs last seasons. The Robins put Phil Brown in charge until the end of last season but with Brown here permanently, The Robins are planning a promotion charge and they have started well collecting 9 points from their opening 6 games. Swindon are certainly scoring but they are not higher up the table because they have conceded far too many and this is a major issue for Swindon if promotion is the aim because Phil Brown must sort out their defence. Joe Dunne was also in caretaker charge of Cambridge for much of last season but now has the job on a permanent deal and they have made an ok start to the season collecting 7 points and Cambridge are languishing in the bottom half. Goals were the issue last season and so far they haven’t scored too many and they want to be promotion contenders so this issue needs addressing during September.

Adaptation is key when you join a new league and the two teams promoted from the National League have had mixed fortunes so far. Tranmere have started very well sitting in 11th place with 9 points from their opening 6 games and striker James Norwood has been in scintillating from notching 6 goals in 6 games with some quality finishes along the way. While Macclesfield are severely struggling so far this season notching just 2 points from their opening 6 games and Mark Yates is desperate to secure their first win of the season. The opening day defeat to Swindon seems to be lingering over the club having lead going into stoppage time only for Swindon to get 2 penalties to win the game. The club has struggled since to score goals and secure a victory. Yates and his squad are still adapting a getting use to their new league and much more difficult opponents. But they must find a win soon otherwise relegation looks a serious possibility for the club.

It has been a miserable opening month of the campaign for both Notts County and Cheltenham to a point where both Kevin Nolan and Gary Johnson have been sacked. Notts County are rooted to the bottom of the table with just 1 point and the worst defence in League 2. Notts chairman Alan Hardy backed Nolan in the transfer window and while Nolan’s sacking is harsh considering his excellent record at the club, County have been poor for the most part of the season so far and its understandable the chairman felt change was required. Hardy has appointed Crawley boss Harry Kewell and his to-do list will be extremely long, but the two main points will be to find a win and sort out the defence with the early promotion favourites cracking under the early pressure. Cheltenham meanwhile have struggled so far this season carrying on from last season’s poor finish. Gary Johnson had to contend with the loss of top scorer Mohamed Eisa and as expected goals are proving hard to come by so far this campaign. Russell Milton is in caretaker charge currently and did oversee Cheltenham’s only league win so far. Former defender Michael Duff is the favourite to takeover with speculation he has been offered the job but for now Russell Milton will remain in charge for now. The sacking of Gary Johnson was a surprise and now the club move forward aiming to steer club from the relegation battle.

It has been decent starts to the season for Mansfield, Stevenage and Crewe. Mansfield are unbeaten with 2 wins and 4 draws and they lie in 8th place. While Stevenage have 8 points and sit in 13th place. Crewe have had mixed fortunes having battered Morecambe 6-0 and been battered by the same score line when they visited Colchester. The Railwaymen struggled to score goals having only scored once since that opening day victory. David Artell will be relatively happy with their start despite a mixed opening month. While Grimsby and Morecambe would off been wishing to make a start like Mansfield and Stevenage with these two sides struggling severely at the bottom. Jim Bentley and Morecambe have had a disappointing month being thrashed in their opening 2 games, but AJ Leitch-Smith vital winning goal got their season up and running but they are where many expected them to be. Michael Jolley and Grimsby have also struggled so far this season and scoring goals in once again Grimsby’s big problem. They have secured just 5 points from their opening 6 and Jolley needs a good September to keep the Grimsby fans on side.

The final side left is Crawley. They have made a solid start to the season collecting 7 points from their opening 6 games, but they have lost Harry Kewell to league rivals Notts County and it does concern fans as to where the club is heading. Senior players Jimmy Smith and Filipe Morias have been in caretaker charge and they lost at Oldham in their first game. They will have one more game before new manager Gabriele Cioffi takes over. The 42-year-old former Italian defender arrives aiming high and carrying on the good foundations set up by Harry Kewell. The well-travelled Italian played for 11 different clubs in his playing career but comes to the English game for the first time in his career. The fans will be excited and cautious at the same time but Cioffi needs a good start to his reign to install belief in the fans and the players. Crawley have a decent side and he will be watching on when they face league leaders Lincoln in their next fixture.

August brought its usual doses of goals, controversies, good football and managerial changes and I’m sure September will be no different and September does offer indications to fans and players as to where their seasons are heading and the pressure will begin to increases on all players and managers.

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