Tuesday, 15 January 2019

League 2: December Review

It was another excellent month of football in League 2 with plenty of excellent football, quality goals and surprise results as the second half of the season approaches for the 24 teams. Lincoln continue to lead the way with the MK Dons and Bury in hot pursuit. While Notts County and Macclesfield continue to prop up the table with the new manager bounce taking some time to get going. The month also saw two managerial departures as Cambridge and Oldham changed the guard leading their teams.

Lincoln are continuing to control League 2 after another strong month for Danny Cowley’s team which saw collect 12 points from their 5 games including three wins on the spin to kick off December. They head into 2019 full of confidence and a determination to go one better this season having lost in the play-off semi-finals last season. Cowley has assembled a hardworking, determined team with the likes of Jason Shackell, Michael Bostwick, Lee Frecklington and John Akinde being proven quality at this level while Bruno Andrade has adapted well in his first full in the football league and Shay McCartan has proved a shrewd loan signing. The Cowley brothers have brought real success to the Imps with promotion and a football league trophy success. Promotion to League 1 is on the agenda and they are firmly the team to beat right now and with 2019 to come you wouldn’t be surprised to see Lincoln celebrating some success in the business part of the season. It has been a strong first half of the season for the MK Dons under their new manager Paul Tisdale. Tisdale who arrived in the summer has got a real tune out of the Dons and are certainly on course for an instant return to League 1. The Dons have been strong this season but did have a difficult December winning just once in their 4 games and losing twice. The Dons have a game in hand on leaders Lincoln, but a flat month of results has them going back to basics. They had into 2019 on a three-match winless run having won 9 of the previous 11 matches prior to their current run. Chuks Aneke is their talisman and so far, has enjoyed his season notching 11 league goals thus far along with striker Kieran Agard who is an excellent striker at this level. The Dons are exactly where they want to be, and Tisdale is certainly doing a good job so far in his first role since a 13-year spell in charge of Exeter. The Dons will head into the new year with the same objective of automatic promotion and you wouldn’t put it past them to achieve that come May. Meanwhile, like the MK Dons, Bury are also looking strong to bounce back to League 1 at the first attempt after a good first half of the season. Ryan Lowe is flourishing as Bury manager with his side playing some excellent football and proving hard work really does pay off. A mixed December for the Shakers though as they notched 2 league wins in their 5 league games losing twice as well. Bury head into the new year looking to continue their good form overall and will fancy they can secure automatic promotion but will face some very stiff competition from the sides below. One man who has changed their season is veteran striker Nicky Maynard who has been a terrific signing for the club since arriving in October. The striker joined following a successful trail after a year in Scotland with Aberdeen and since signing in October the striker has found prolific form in front of goal notching 10 league goals in two months at the club which is nothing short of impressive. He will be integral to Bury’s chances of success in 2019 and no doubt club legend manager Ryan Lowe will be determined to keep him fit and get the Shakers pushing all the way in the second half of the season. The rest of the top 7 consists of Mansfield, Carlisle, Exeter and Colchester. The inform side in December has certainly been Carlisle who ended 2018 with 4 straight league wins and a place in the play-off places having been largely inconsistent for much of the season. However, they will head into their January games full of belief that they can gate crash the automatic places. Sheridan’s transfer business has been shrewd if not terrific with loan signings Ashley Nadesan, Jack Sowerby and Jerry Yates forming a deadly attack which has terrified defences throughout December with the trio notching 18 league goals between them and Sheridan will be desperate to keep hold of them with their loans expiring in early January. While not necessarily being spectacular, Mansfield are one tough nut to crack as the Stags have lost just once in their 23 league games and are unbeaten in their last 16 league games. Mansfield aren’t spectacular in matches, but they get the job done and David Flitcroft’s team head into the new year with 3 wins from their last 4 and confidence flowing throughout their team. New signings Tyler Walker, Neal Bishop and Otis Khan have been excellent while the eye has certainly caught young winger CJ Hamilton who is impressing many from afar with his excellent play from the right as well as his versatility to play any position on the right-hand side. Mansfield will certainly fancy their chances of automatic promotion and being difficult to beat could be a telling factor in who gains automatic promotion in 2019.

Other sides who enjoyed December included Cheltenham, Forest Green and Grimsby. It was a 
slow start to management for Michael Duff at Cheltenham having not won in his first 9 league games but since that difficult start, the Robins have collected 4 wins in their last 8 games and lost just once in that time. Michael Duff’s team have moved away from the relegation battle and are slowly looking up to the rest of the sides in the bottom half. Cheltenham firmly enjoyed December collecting 9 points from their 5 league games winning twice and drawing the other three. The form of Tyrone Barnett and Luke Varney upfront have been the real catalyst for improvement for the Robins with the pair notching 11 league goals between them since their turn of fortunes in recent weeks. Duff and Cheltenham head into the second half of the season full of confidence and momentum after a terrific Christmas and December overall. Meanwhile, Cheltenham’s Gloucestershire rivals Forest Green also enjoyed the festivities and December with Rovers collecting 10 points from their 4 games including a draw in the derby with Cheltenham. Mark Cooper’s team are on the cusp of the play-off places after a strong December and head into 2019 believing something special could happen. They will also be boosted by the return of Christian Doidge whose permanent move to Bolton has fallen through due to Bolton’s financial state which has been heavily criticised by Forest Green owner Dale Vince who is scathing at Doidge being denied his opportunity. Despite this, things are looking very rosy for Forest Green in just their second ever season in the football league and a promotion to the third tier is a real possibility for the most eco sustainable football club in England. It was a sensational month of action for the Mariners with Grimsby ending 2018 with 4 straight league wins seeing them charge towards the top half of the table. It has been a terrific month for Michael Jolley and his team with this being their best month in terms of results under the former Burnley Under 23s manager. They head into 2019 full of confidence and a FA Cup tie at Premier League Crystal Palace. Grimsby are on a roll right now having lost just once in their last 8 games winning six of those and will fancy, they can surprise the rest of League 2 and Crystal Palace in the new year.

However, December wasn’t all happy for some clubs as both Cambridge and Oldham dispensed of their managers. Cambridge were first to sack Joe Dunne after 9 months in charge and with Cambridge sinking down the table and hovering nervously above the bottom 2, it was a matter of when and not if Joe Dunne would see his time come to an end. He left Cambridge following a 5-match winless run but overall form of 3 wins in 16 league games and that simply isn’t good enough for a club expected to be pushing towards the promotion places. Dunne’s replacement is the former Brighton, Norwich and Aston Villa assistant manager Colin Calderwood who joins just two months after being sacked with Steve Bruce at Aston Villa. Calderwood arrives tasked with changing Cambridge’s fortunes and igniting their poor season thus far. Calderwood took charge of 3 December matches winning once and losing the other two games. Calderwood will be aware of the task ahead as he looks to push Cambridge up the table and steer them clear of the relegation battle. Calderwood has plenty of experience and will be confident he is the right man for Cambridge as the second half of the season dawns. Following a 6-0 hammering from Carlisle on Boxing Day, Oldham decided to part ways with Frankie Bunn after just 6 months in the role. Initially arriving in the summer, Bunn was tasked with getting Oldham into promotion contention following their relegation from League 1. However, for one reason or another, things haven’t worked out for Bunn in his first management role despite plenty of positive results prior to their back to back defeats in the festive period going on a 7-match unbeaten run including securing a 3rd FA Cup tie against Premier League Fulham. It was a surprise when he was first appointed in the summer and maybe a surprise he was sacked after his heaviest defeat in management. Currently academy manager Pete Wild is in caretaker charge and has overseen a win in his first game in charge and will most likely remain in charge for some of their January fixtures so it is a brilliant opportunity for him to showcase why he should potentially get the job full time. Oldham aren’t too far away from the play-off places and whoever is appointed their new manager will be tasked with making Oldham a promotion contender and pushing the top 7 hard.

One football club enduring a difficult time right now is Yeovil with the club struggling for wins, goals and confidence on the football pitch. Despite rewarding Darren Way with a new contract a few weeks ago which has been met with scepticism from many Yeovil fans, it is no doubt Way is severely under pressure with Yeovil winless since the end of October. They are winless in their last 8 league games collecting just 3 points in that time which has seen the Glovers sink towards the relegation zone. Off field issues have also affected the club with assistant manager Terry Skiverton leaving the club for a break from football but has since returned to the club as head of their academy. Darren Way is severely struggling to win a large percentage of Yeovil fans over and their form at home is pretty poor so you can fully understand their frustrations. A recent home defeat to 10-man Forest Green did not go done well with the visitors notching two stoppage time goals to win the match. Th result was met with anger and unrest towards the manager and the players. Yeovil is a difficult job because the budget is so restrictive, but the team assembled by Way should be doing a lot better than it is. A disappointing December saw Yeovil collect 3 points in their 5 games and the pressure is mounting on Darren Way with performances well below average and despite the players and board seeming content with Way in charge, the fans are the most important part of a football club because without them, you don’t have a football club. 2019 must see a drastic improvement in performances and results for Yeovil otherwise they could be sleepwalking out of football league and they must find a win and fast to ignite their season. Will Way last the rest of the season? We shall wait and see but if things don’t improve in January, I don’t hold out much hope for him.

December was entertaining and no doubt January will be the same as the second half of the season firmly clicks into gear. There are plenty of mouth-watering and crucial games to come including Grimsby vs Mansfield, Yeovil vs Cheltenham, Lincoln vs Port Vale, MK Dons vs Cambridge, Carlisle vs Mansfield, Bury vs MK Dons, Notts County vs Cambridge, Lincoln vs Grimsby, Forest Green vs Bury, Macclesfield vs Oldham, Yeovil vs Notts County, Mansfield vs Tranmere, Bury vs Lincoln and Forest Green vs Mansfield. Big matches to come at both ends of the table as the second half of the season arrives and the business end begins to make itself known.

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