James Beattie’s first foray into management poses a difficult challenge for him. Accrington Stanley have always had one of the lowest budgets in the Football League not helped by their average attendance; 1539 last year. But year after year they have continued to upset the odds and even managed to get into the play-offs on one occasion. The signing of Danny Webber is one that will intrigue fans, still only 31, Webber’s career has stalled of late but perhaps he could rediscover his scoring boots in League 2. Expect Accy to battle to another season of safety.
Dons Manager Neal Ardley will be hoping his first full season in charge will not end with a last day survival battle just as the 2012/2013 season ended. It will be a tough season ahead, with the budget still tight, the club will be relying on the goals of striker Jack Midson. Charlie Sheringham has been brought in to ease the burden, and it is about time he made a name for himself in League Football just as his Father did at his age.
Pirates fans will have been disappointed with last season’s performance. A 14th place finish well below what was expected. However that has done little to sway bookmakers making Bristol Rovers one of the favourites for promotion for the 3rd consecutive year. John Ward made progress last year, and the experienced Manager knows this league well. The signing of John-Joe O’Toole could be the catalyst of a promotion campaign. More goals will be needed and expected from David Clarkson though.
Gary Rowett showed last year that he was more than ready for management. He guided Burton into the play-offs and were unfortunate to lose out to a strong Bradford side. They will be hoping to go one better this year, but things haven’t been helped by the loss of Jacques Maghoma and Calvin Zola to Sheffield Wednesday and Aberdeen respectively. Furthermore Goalkeeper Stuart Tomlinson has unfortunately had to retire due to a knee ligament injury. Experience has been added through Rory Delap, who is a great acquisition for League 2. Rene Howe has also joined the Brewers and has a fine pedigree at this level. Despite some upheaval Burton will be a very hard team to beat, and will be challenging at the top.
Bury fans will be grateful they still have a club to support after their well publicised financial troubles last season. It’s fair to say the fans weren’t happy with the crisis, with a fans meeting with Blackwell ending up as a slanging match. Bury have risen from the ashes though with new owner Steven Day leading the revival and clearing the decks to start afresh. Kevin Blackwell was left with just 7 first team players, and the losses of David Worrall and Captain Stephen Schumacher could be detrimental. Recruitment has been wise though, the additions of Andy Procter and Richard Hinds add experience whilst Tom Soares signed up after a short spell last season. If he can reproduce the form he showed for Crystal Palace earlier in his career then he will be a cracking player in this league. With a decent squad assembled, Bury could find themselves repeating Port Vale’s success last year after starting with a minimal squad.
Cheltenham always seem to be hovering around the top 7 when in the 4th tier of English Football. After falling short in two successive play-off campaigns to Crewe and Northampton, they will be hoping to go up automatically this time. The addition of Jamie Cureton is a shrewd signing, given that they only managed 58 goals last year. Cureton will now play for the 12th English club of his career, and who’s to say he won’t match his tally of 21 goals last season for Exeter. A great goalscorer. The loss of Marlon Pack will hurt the Robins with a contract unable to be agreed on. They are however still paying his wages until he can find a new club and will then be due a fee. Ashley Vincent and Matt Richards are two other signings who will need to be at the best to replace the lost quality from last season.
The Spireites will be expecting a big season this year and so must Leam Richardson after being persuaded to leave his Manager position at Accrington Stanley to reunite with Paul Cook. Ian Evatt has just signed a deal with his former club and will be wearing the Captain’s armband this year. This transfer alone could be pivotal to the success of the campaign. Evatt was a key part of the Blackpool side which gained promotion to the Premiership just 3 years ago and this represents possibly the best signing in League 2 this summer. Pre-season has gone well with good results against Huddersfield and Forest, and the signings of Jimmy Ryan and Gary Roberts will add flair to the side to make them one of the strongest challengers in the league this year.
Dagenham & Redbridge
A tough season ahead for young Manager Wayne Burnett. He tried to encourage a more fluid style of play last year and the onus will be the same this season. With this style a more creative midfield will be needed. With just the one win in his 12 games in charge last season, it will be key that Burnett’s side get off to a good start. Over £1 million was received via the deal transferring former player Dwight Gayle from Peterborough to Palace and this will give some stability to the finances. It will be hoped that ex Gunner Rhys Murphy will provide some firepower but the loss of Dagenham and Redbridge legend John Still is one that could hurt for a number of years. Irreplaceable almost after the journey he took them on.
Tight finances meant the Grecians could not hold onto Jamie Cureton for another year but they have managed to keep hold of experienced midfielder Matt Oakley, a player that I have always admired and will be key to Exeter’s season. I don’t expect Sam Parkin to light up the league having slowed down in Scotland. A lot of emphasis will be on the younger players of the squad and they will be expected to step up to the plate after playing a bit part last year. A play-off push may just be out of the reach, but Tisdale has worked his magic before.
The sacking of Micky Mellon last season was one that raised a few eyebrows but the appointment of Graham Alexander seemed a sensible one at the same time. Although the Cod Army’s play-off push grinded to a halt last season, much will be expected of their 2nd year in League 2. Stephen Schumacher pushes Ian Evatt (Chesterfield) close for signing of the summer. The former Bury captain was more than capable of lighting up matches in League 1 and I expect him to be a key player for Fleetwood this year. Fleetwood’s defence was a bit leaky last year, and Mark Roberts has been convinced to leave Stevenage and League 1 which is an astute signing by Alexander. Sarvecic arrives after a superb campaign for Chester but much will be asked over whether he can make the step up. Jeff Hughes represents another signing who is more than capable of playing higher. Furthemore Jon Parkin will always be a threat at this level so expect to see Fleetwood flying for further success this year.
Colin Cooper and his assistant Craig Hignett will be looking to bounce back up to League 1 at the first attempt. Jack Compton and Nialle Rodney remain the only signings to date, and this doesn’t give the fans too much to shout about. Hopefully a young new partnership of local lads Cooper and Hignett will provide Hartlepool with a breath of fresh air. However there are better teams in this league so expect Hartlepool to be hovering around mid table obscurity.
The Stags return to the Football League after a 5 year absence and will be hoping to start this season in the same fashion that they finished the last one off. 20 wins from the last 23 games helped Paul Cox’s side usurp Kidderminster at the top of the Blue Square Premier. Top goal scorer Matt Green has left to join Birmingham City, and has yet to be replaced. Centre-back John McCombe has arrived, and arrives with much experience from his time at Port Vale. Off field problems between current and former owners aren’t what Cox will want, but at least they have a pretty face at the front of it all in the form of Carolyn Redford. Mansfield could cause a few surprises this year, and generally the Blue Square Champions do carry on their form into League 2.
The 2013/2014 season could be a tough one for the Shrimps. Attendances have dropped by almost 50% since their arrival into League 2 falling below the 2,000 mark. This has meant finances are as tight as ever and Jim Bentley has had to let go many of Morecambe’s best players. Deals were offered but at reduced to terms to Captain Will Haining, Gary McDonald and Jordan Burrow, but they left for pastures new. Perhaps the highlight from last year was the performances of Jack Redshaw and fans will be looking to him to guide the team to safety again. However Redshaw has been ruled out until the new year and that is a monumental loss for the side. More youngsters may have to be blooded but experience heads in Barry Roche and Stuart Drummond will be there to lead the way.
Newport County triumphed over favourites Wrexham in the Blue Square play-off final last season, and highly rated manager Justin Edinburgh believes that there is more to come from his side. He has compared them to Swansea City and their own meteoric rise. Perhaps not now, but in the next 8,9 or 10 years, Newport could continue climbing the ladder. With Swansea and Cardiff both now plying their trade in the top flight, perhaps Edinburgh can use this as a chance for loan players from both sides. The signing of Chris Zebroski is sound one for this level and will most likely reach double figures.
Despite narrowly missing out on promotion last season Northampton will welcome at least one League 1 side to the Sixfields Stadium this year. Coventry City will be sharing the stadium with the Cobblers this season, providing extra income and not causing any amendments to their own fixture schedule. Aidy Boothroyd will be hoping for an automatic promotion spot this year and the signings of Matt Duke and Darren Carter are of a high standard. Carter especially is more than capable of plying his trade in a league or 2 above and will prove to be a great acquisition providing both goals and assists aplenty. The loss of Adebayo Akinfenwa and his ‘Beast Mode’ this year will hurt and has yet to be replaced. JJ Hooper has joined but is far from the finished article. Good side and good Manager though, will lead to a promising campaign.
Oxford is a big city and they possess a big club which should probably be playing at least a tier above. This summer they have added a big signing in Dave Kitson who reportedly turned down offers from higher leagues. Kitson’s career has gradually slowed down since his height with Reading in the Premier League. However dropping down to League 2 for the first time since his Cambridge United days, he could rediscover his form and fire Oxford up the table. They still possess a solid team but perhaps not as strong as others in the League and face a tough test in their first match away to Portsmouth.
Carl Fletcher had a tough job on his hands last season especially with it being his first managerial job, but once he was fired, John Sheridan managed to guide the Pilgrims to safety. Fans will be hoping they can get out of the basement of the Football League having flirted with the Championship play-offs not too long ago. Many would settle for a mid table finish however after the drama of recent seasons. Marvin Morgan and Romauld Boco will grab some goals for the side and mid table beckons.
Pompey will be many pundits favourites for a lot of reasons this season. As recently as 2010 they were still playing in the Premiership and in the FA Cup Final. Defoe, Campbell, Muntari, Johnson, James, Crouch, and Diarra are all but memories now as the League 2 season dawns upon them. Off field difficulties have been the downfall of Pompey and fingers crossed these seem to be resolved now. Guy Whittingham is at the helm and has brought in an abundance of players. Patrick Agyemang and David Connolly have signed on permanently and at this level this experienced duo will provide problems for all defences. However I think Portsmouth’s main weapon this year will be there fans. They will travel in their numbers and Fratton Park will be a tough place to get points from. Despite being a potential scalp for many, expect to see Portsmouth make a swift return to League 1.
Rochdale fans will be delighted that Keith Hill is back in the hotseat. He worked wonders last time at Spotland and will be hoping for similar success this time. Matty Done joins from his former club Barnsley and that represents a key signing going forward. Rochdale were in League 2 last time for 36 consecutive seasons. This will be their second since relegation from League 1, and if they are to be promotion candidates this year their home record will have to improve. Just 8 wins from the 23 matches at Spotland last year.
Brian Laws is back where his only success as a Manager came from, and this year success can only be deemed as promotion. It’s a tough job though, with problems off-field regarding ownership of the club. Laws has brought in some old pros in Chris Iwelumo and Deon Burton. Whether they can provide any fortune for the Irons remains to be seen. This season could really go either way, but how fans will be wishing they still had Nigel Adkins in charge.
Phil Brown finally landed himself a job after publicly declaring his interest in pretty much every job going in the last year or so. He didn’t start too well, with the season panning out after a chance at a top 6 finish. A reported Jeremy Kyle half time team talk didn’t do much for Mr Brown, and I’m sure fans will be hoping for less antics like that almost replicating the stupidity of his famous on the field team talk whilst at Hull City. Brit Assombalonga will be missed having returned to parent club Watford and then onto Peterborough. Ryan Cresswell is also a big loss (Fleetwood), and with a transfer embargo in place, perhaps the retention of Barry Corr is the only promising sign of the summer.
Alan Knill takes charge for this season after Martin Ling moving on. After recent pushes for promotion fans will settle for mid table after almost all the star players from recent seasons moving on. This year Rene Howe and Brian Saah have departed, and Knill has a job on his hands. I have a question mark over the Manager’s ability and have personally never rated him so expect the Gulls to struggle this year.
With Gareth Ainsworth in charge anything is possible. This man was a magician on the pitch and I myself enjoyed watching him play for Preston North End. The passion that this man exhumes will be fantastic for the Wycombe dressing room. Expect the team to be pumped up for all games and raring to go. Stuart Lewis epitomises Ainsworth’s spirit and fight and will be key. Joel Grant has moved on to Yeovil but Jon-Paul Pittman and Paris Cowan-Hall could prove to be double digit scorers as well as double barrel names.
Nigel Worthington did a great job in steadying York to safety last year, and his heights will be set higher this season. He will have picked up a great deal of knowledge from his time as Northern Ireland Manager, and this is shown by the signing of experienced Estonian midfielder Sander Puri. Having discovered him myself on Football Manager a few years back, I have a feeling he will be one to watch this year. Wes Fletcher has been brought in from Burnley and has shown glimpses in his various loan spells that he could have what it takes to bang in the goals at this level. An improvement on last year, but still short of a play-off push.
Prediction League 2 Table 2013/2014
24.Dag + Red