The BIG GF season preview – part four

Here’s Jacob Daniel’s fourth and final instalment of his BIG Gerrit Forward season preview. This time he looks at the team’s he expects to battle it out at the top of the table.

Like it or not, he’s included our local rivals, Mansfield Town… Don’t like that? Make your voice heard in the comments section below.

Also, find out who Jacob expects to be this year’s…

Probably rubbish sides

Also rans

Promotion outsiders

Stevenage

Manager – Darren Sarll
Best signing – Harry Beautyman
Biggest strength – Exciting young team
Biggest weakness – Being Stevenage

I’m well aware that this is probably a ship with which I am going down, but Stevenage were by some distance the best team that I saw last season and I’m going to back them to build on that. The way in which Darren Sarll’s side dismantled Kevin Nolan’s otherwise organised and efficient side was really impressive, with the ball being moved quickly and with an accuracy you don’t usually associate with League Two, let alone bloody Stevenage.

It all fell apart in the final weeks of the season, for reasons that I’m not entirely sure of, and an automatic promotion push dissolved into a final position outside of the play-offs. Sarll has, somehow, managed to keep his side together, however, and another year together for an exciting young team should make them a genuine outside bet to push for the top three.

I would’ve expected Matt Godden and Ben Kennedy, at the very least, to move on – but not only have they stayed, Sarll has added more exciting, young and attacking talent to his team. Midfielder Harry Beautyman never quite made it in League One, but should improve their midfield, whilst Alex Samuel and Danny Newton are interesting additions to what is already a quality attacking force. At the risk of looking like an idiot, I think they’re going to do really well.

Luton Town

Manager – Nathan Jones
Best signing – Marek Stech
Biggest strength – Everything other than Nathan Jones
Biggest weakness – Nathan Jones

That’s harsh on Nathan Jones, to be honest, but the manager’s relative lack of experience is the only reason that I can offer as to why Luton won’t be the best team in the league this year. They should’ve done slightly better last season, but it was a more difficult league, and Jones will likely have learned enough to steer what is an improved squad to automatic promotion.

The most eye-catching of their summer arrivals is obviously James Collins who, alongside Danny Hylton, gives them two genuine goalscorers in a division where many teams don’t even possess one. Even more important, though, will be the arrival of goalkeeper Marek Stech from Sparta Prague. One of the best in the Football League when he left Yeovil Town for the Czech Republic, Stech should comfortably solve Luton’s biggest problem position. Even if time spent on the bench has seen Stech regress, James Shea is a more than adequate deputy.

With a new ground on the way and one of the most productive youth systems around having churned out another potential star in James Justin, there really are no excuses for Jones this season. They start, in my eyes at least, as obvious favourites for the league title.

Exeter City

Manager – Paul Tisdale
Best signing – Dean Moxey
Biggest strength – The power of a silk cravat
Biggest weakness – Very small squad

It was a shame to see Exeter beaten by Blackpool in the play-off final last season – a fan-owned club who have shown endless patience with their talented but esoteric manager with a core of homegrown players deserved it far more than what is essentially an empty shell of a football club, but there is no reason why Paul Tisdale can’t go one better this year.

The loss of Ollie Watkins to Brentford will be a big loss, but David Wheeler looks set to stay in Devon and his goals, along with those of Reuben Reid, should do enough to offset the loss of their best player. Experienced left back Dean Moxey has also returned to the club where it began from him and, with lots of recent playing time at higher levels under his belt, Moxey should add experience and nous to a team that can sometimes lack it.

Exeter often play some of the best football in the league and Tisdale has a knack of working talented young players into his side, but slow starts keep costing them – even an average beginning to last season would’ve seen them challenging for automatic promotion. If the Grecians can drag themselves out of the blocks then they should be right up there.

Coventry City

Manager – Mark Robins
Best signing – Michael Doyle
Biggest strength – Will one day fall to a level where they can be good
Biggest weakness – Maybe that won’t be this level

It’s hard not to feel sorry for Coventry City, with their hedge fund owners seemingly taking on a policy of deliberate apathy and their boring ground in the middle of nowhere that’s been taken over by some rugbyists from miles away.

Everyone knows that Coventry haven’t finished in the top six of any division since the stone age but, whisper it, I think this could be their year. There’s even that random extra play-off spot to try and sneak into. Mark Robins is not an exciting man, but he is quite a measured one, and he has quietly kept his best players whilst adding enough quality to suggest that a promotion push should be on the cards.

The return of Michael Doyle is the big feather in his cap, a driving force from central midfield who knows both the club and the division and is capable of being the inspiration that Coventry haven’t had for quite some time. Striker Marc McNulty should also be a danger, particularly alongside the tireless Stuart Beavon, and Jodi Jones could be one of the division’s standout young talents. It may only be a lack of faith in themselves as a club that holds Coventry back.

Mansfield Town

Manager – Steve Evans
Best signing – David Mirfin
Biggest strength – Steve Evans’ gravitational pull
Biggest weakness – Setting themselves up for a fall

Sigh. I’ve tried, I really have, but I can see few reasons why Mansfield won’t be right up there this season. Steve Evans may be an extremely low quality individual, but what he does bring is pretty much guaranteed success, just as long as he’s been given the unnecessarily large budget to deliver it.

I do think that some people are overstating the quality that Mansfield have brought in. It’s been vintage Evans squad building, really, with more than enough coming in to get them over the line, but little consideration having been given to what they actually need and any real sign of planning for the future being absent. Central defenders David Mirfin and Zander Diamond are ridiculous signings for this level, but in an area where Mansfield were already strong and reaching the twilight years of their careers. As with everything that Evans does, achieving this season has been given priority over absolutely everything else.

The one place where Mansfield may trip up is in attack, where a lot of pressure has been heaped on new boy Lee Angol. There’s no doubt that he has potential, but with just a handful of Football League goals under his belt, it remains a big ask for him to lead the line following the departure of Matt Green. It seems likely that another big money signing will come in before the end of August, presumably a striker, and that will probably seal the deal. What this is all in aid of? That I can’t really answer.

Swindon Town

Manager – Dave Flitcroft
Best signing – Chris Hussey
Biggest strength – The rest of the division isn’t very good
Biggest weakness – They might not be very good either

I’ll be perfectly honest here – I didn’t really want to put Swindon Town in this section. But then I also had huge doubts about putting Stevenage and Exeter City in here, which perhaps goes some way to showing the lack of proven quality in this division. On paper at least, there really is a stand-out top three with another ten teams who look to be on a relatively similar level.

Swindon do have history on their side – they tend to do well when relegated to this level – but Dave Flitcroft has had to essentially build an entirely new team, and that’s always difficult to get right. There are some signings that look good, with Chris Hussey on loan from Sheffield United and Harry Smith on loan from Millwall perhaps the stand-outs, and others like Donal McDermott and Ben Purkiss that are slightly more likely to go wrong.

With a new manager and an entirely new team, it’s hard to make any real comment on how Swindon are going to shape up, I just have more of a gut feeling that they’ll continue their trend of doing well in League Two. I can only apologise if anyone was hoping to actually learn something about Swindon from this.

Do you agree with who will be this season’s promotion contenders? Share your views in the comments or over at @GerritForward.

Dane Vincent

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