Friday, 2 August 2019

Preview: League Two 2019/20 Season

The League 2 is upon us with promotion, relegation and quality football to come from England's 4th tier this season. Can fallen clubs Bradford, Plymouth, Scunthorpe, and Walsall bounce back to the top? Or will a few surprises be sprung? League 2 is one of the most unpredictable leagues and there are going to be plenty of twists and turns along the way.

Bradford, Plymouth, Scunthorpe and Walsall all find themselves back in the 4th tier following their relegation from League 1. Three of the four clubs begin the new season with new managers. Plymouth have turned to Ryan Lowe the man who guided Bury to promotion from League 2 last season. The Pilgrims are looking to bounce back straight away following a poor season last time out. Lowe has brought key men from Bury with him. Steven Schumacher arrives as his assistant manager while 5 of Bury's playing squad have moved to the South coast including talisman Danny Mayor who will be a key player for the Pilgrims this season. Scunthorpe also have a new manager with former Shrewsbury and Ipswich manager Paul Hurst taking over from caretaker boss Andy Dawson. Hurst has an excellent record but his failed spell at Ipswich would off hurt him. However, he will be determined to get Scunthorpe back up at the first attempt. Hurst has largely kept last season's squad with the exception of a few including Josh Morris who left at the end of the season. Expectations will be high at Scunthorpe with promotion top of their agenda. It has been a big summer of transition at Walsall following their relegation. The club has a new manager in Darrell Clarke who guided Bristol Rovers to promotion from League 2 in 2017. There has been a huge transition in players with 15 departures and 14 new arrivals and according to Clarke, that figure will rise. Walsall also have a new owner with long-serving owner Jeff Bonser selling the club to Liam Pomlett whose been a director at the club. There is plenty of optimism at the Bescot Stadium but they are going to need striking reinforcements after selling top scorers Andy Cook and Morgan Ferrier. Walsall will want to be challenging but they need a good start to the season to put belief in the players and fans. It has been a disastrous year for Bradford following their relegation. The club went through 3 managers and signed nearly 20 players last summer but the season ended in complete failure. The fans turned on the German owners with the fans demanding change. But, despite the off-field problems with the owners, the fans have plenty of reasons to be optimistic heading into the new season. Gary Bowyer has stayed at the club after arriving too late to save them from relegation. Bowyer has culled the deadwood at the club and brought in players to push towards promotion. The Bantams are full of optimism and are fancied by many to be celebrating in May.

Other sides feeling excited and optimistic for the new season will be the two clubs promoted from the National League Leyton Orient and Salford City. It has been a time of elation and sadness at Leyton Orient because following their promotion as champions, the club was rocked by the death of their manager Justin Edinburgh. The club has mourned throughout the summer and no doubt tributes will be made when Orient face Cheltenham in their league opener. Edinburgh's assistant Ross Embleton is in charge and he has vowed to carry on Edinburgh's hard work and the legacy he has left at the club. Orient will head into the season aiming to make Edinburgh proud but will have to do without star assets MacAulay Bonne and Josh Koroma who have left for the Championship. Meanwhile, it will be the very first time that Salford City have played in the Football League. The club is regularly in media eyes with five of Manchester United's most gifted footballers owning the club and the money put into the club has brought success. However, it is not going to be easy stepping into the Football League and no doubt Graham Alexander will be well aware consolidation would represent an excellent first season. However, the Penisula Stadium is full of optimism with the fans dreaming of a third consecutive promotion so expectations will be high this season.

The end of season and summer period allows clubs to make changes and a few clubs have made a change in management. Port Vale have given John Askey a long term deal following his brief spell at the end of last season when he managed to steer the club clear of relegation. Port Vale is certainly full of optimism heading into the new season following the departure of controversial owner Norman Smurthwaite. The new owners quickly tied down Askey and have allowed him to build his squad. In contrast, it was a surprise to see Mansfield sack David Flitcroft following a failed attempt at getting promoted. Mansfield were pipped to the final automatic promotion spot on the final day of last season and suffered defeat to Newport in the play-off semi-finals. Flitcroft will feel hard done by but that is how football is in these current times. His replacement is Mansfield's academy manager John Dempster who steps up to the top job. He will be tasked with going one better than Flitcroft and securing promotion for the Stags. The only other side to change boss this summer is Oldham following Pete Wild's resignation. His replacement is the former Monaco manager Laurent Binade who is tasked with pushing Oldham towards the play-off places having disappointingly finished in the bottom half last season. Binade has made a host of new signings as he moulds his squad. Excitement and trepidation will no doubt be high at Oldham with the club heading into the unknown with their relatively unknown manager.

The battle for promotion will be intense and exciting this season. Last season's play-off losers Newport, Mansfield and Forest Green will all be hoping to go one better this season while other sides including Carlisle, Colchester, Swindon, Stevenage, Exeter and Northampton will be looking to break into that top 7 this season. It is going to be hugely competitive with some many teams believing they can be promoted this season. Steven Pressley, Richie Wellens and Keith Curle all begin their first full seasons at their respective clubs and all have moulded squads capable of challenging. John McGreal begins his third season in charge at Colchester and despite the loss of Sammie Szmodics, he has moulded a good squad expected to challenge. Dino Maamria likewise at Stevenage has moulded a strong squad determined to gatecrash the play-offs this season. Matt Taylor at Exeter is confident about the Grecians' chances heading into his second season in charge as is Mark Cooper at Forest Green who despite losing key men Reece Brown and Christian Doidge, believes they will be pushing at the top once again this season.

Unfortunately, there will be losers in May with relegation for two sides. Macclesfield defied all expectations last season as Sol Campbell worked miracles in difficult circumstances to keep the Silkmen in the football league. Survival again would represent a tremendous season. Cambridge, Morecambe and Port Vale all narrowly escaped relegation and all will want to improve this time around. Grimsby, Morecambe and Cheltenham also struggled at the wrong end for much of last season and all will want to push away from the scrap for survival this season.

It is going to be another exciting season in the 4th tier with so many sides believing promotion is up for grabs while others are hoping to avoid the dreaded drop. One thing for sure there is going to be plenty of twists, turns, excitement, quality goals and an odd surprise along the way.

My Predictions:
Champions: Plymouth
Automatic Promotion: Scunthorpe, Mansfield
Play-Offs: Stevenage, Bradford, Colchester, Northampton. Stevenage to win the play-offs
Relegation: Macclesfield, Morecambe

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