Big League Two Preview – The Title Contenders

The fourth and final part of Jacob Daniel’s Big League Two Preview sees him assess his choices for title contention… including the Magpies… 

Notts County

Manager – Kevin Nolan
Best signing – Kristian Dennis
Biggest strength – Goals
Biggest weakness – Changed too much too quickly

If anything I underestimated Notts last year, but I don’t think that there can be any argument that Notts deserved to be considered amongst the leading contenders for the title this season. The only thing that may hold Kevin Nolan’s side back is that he has changed so much over the summer, dismantling a side that came so close to promotion and bringing in what is essentially a completely new attacking unit. The defence has been kept together, though, which should offer a solid base for the likes of Nathan Thomas, Enzio Boldewijn, Kane Hemmings and Kristian Dennis to feel their way into the season. I think that we may start slowly, but should be in the conversation come the end of the season.

Northampton Town

Manager – Dean Austin
Best signing – Andy Williams
Biggest strength – So much quality
Biggest weakness – Another team with an unproven manager

Milton Keynes are the side who are generally seen to have been relegated out of nowhere, but I think that Northampton’s relegation was even more perplexing when you look at their squad. The Cobblers go into this season with quality everywhere, and are my favourites to lift the title. Andy Williams, John-Joe O’Toole, Matt Crooks, David Buchanan, Ash Taylor, Aaron Pierre, Dean Bowditch… the list of players with recent success at this level, or even the one above, is pretty extensive. There’s no obvious weakness in their strongest eleven, either, with unproven manager Dean Austin the obvious place to look for something that may prove to be their undoing. That and the fact that most of this squad was there last season and performed horribly under two much more experienced managers in Justin Edinburgh and Jimmy-Floyd Hasselbaink.

Milton Keynes

Manager – Paul Tisdale
Best signing – Jordan Moore-Taylor
Biggest strength – Kept hold of some players who are too good for this level
Biggest weakness – Tisdale may take time to make his mark

Milton Keynes are the obvious title candidates, really, having kept hold of players such as Chuks Aneke, Joe Walsh and Peter Pawlett, so far at least. Weirdly, the appointment of Paul Tisdale may be their biggest barrier to success this season. Tisdale is a fine manager and, given time, will prove to be a fine appointment, but he doesn’t necessarily seem to be the kind of man to deliver instant success. Their signings haven’t been that exciting, either, particularly the likes of Ryan Harley, Mitch Hancox and Robbie Simpson. There must be a fear that Tisdale is going to revert back to what he knows, rather than look to get the best out of a talented squad that underachieved last season.

Mansfield Town

Manager – David Flitcroft
Best signing – Craig Davies
Biggest strength – Flitcroft may feel like this team is now his own
Biggest weakness – His reputation may be beyond repair

I felt a bit sorry for David Flitcroft last season, following Steve Evans at a club is never easy and it didn’t feel as though the club was receptive to any changes that Flitcroft tried to make. Mansfield still have the majority of the squad that was installed as title favourites last season, and they have performed well in pre-season, perhaps suggesting that Flitcroft is starting to command some respect. The Danny Rose transfer request saga on the eve of the season is an unwelcome distraction, but Stags have arguably signed two better strikers this summer anyway in Craig Davies and Tyler Walker, with Rose’s goalscoring record never really having matched up to his reputation.

Lincoln City

Manager – Danny Cowley
Best signing – Scott Wharton
Biggest strength – Through gritted teeth, but Cowley
Biggest weakness – An ageing midfield

Lincoln’s place in the promotion race was assured when it became clear that Danny Cowley would still be their manager this season. There’s something incredibly smug and irritating about Cowley, but there is no doubt that he is a fine manager who will improve Lincoln again this season. If he can refind his fitness then John Akinde is perfect for their style, but I do have some doubts about a midfield trio of Lee Frecklington, Michael Bostwick and Michael O’Connor. It hardly screams of dynamism and energy, and there doesn’t seem to be a direct replacement for Alex Woodyard. Bruno Andrade and Scott Wharton are both fine signing, however, and they should be in contention.

Swindon Town

Manager – Phil Brown
Best signing – Toumani Diagouraga
Biggest strength – A fine summer in the transfer market
Biggest weakness – Overreliant on old man Marc Richards

Narrowly beating out Colchester for the final place in this section, I think that Swindon have all the ingredients to be contenders this season. Phil Brown is a decent manager at this level, and they have made good signings in Toumani Diagouraga, Jermaine McGlashan and Michael Doughty, in particular. Added to exciting young loanee Steven Alzate and they should have one of the best midfielders in the league. Where Swindon may struggle is upfront, having sold the underperforming Luke Norris. Marc Richards guarantees goals at this level, but he is getting on a bit and will miss the start of the season through injury. This will offer the chance to Keshi Anderson or Elijah Adebayo to prove that they are capable deputies, but I’m far from convinced.

Read the other three parts of the Big League Two Preview below:

PART ONE – THE STRUGGLERS | PART TWO – THE ALSO RANS | PART THREE – THE OUTSIDERS

Jacob Daniel