Jacob Daniel’s in-depth League Two preview returns, starting with arguably the most controversial section… the teams expected to be battling it out at the bottom.
Here we go again. It’s the end of what has been the shortest, sweatiest, beeriest pre-season break that I can remember, Notts start their League Two campaign on Saturday as title favourites.
There are 23 other teams in this division, though, so i’m sure that you all want to learn a bit more about the competition. I’ve been paying even less attention than usual this summer, so armed with little more than Wikipedia squad lists and the kind of intuition that proved me right about Port Vale last season, it’s time for another preview.
We start with the likely strugglers and, as you’re new to this division, Oldham Athletic fans, the Twitter handle for all of your complaints is @GerritForward (ed. – thanks, mate!).
Manager – Frankie Bunn
Best signing – Jack Byrne
Biggest strength – Zeus de le Paz has the best name in the division, maybe the world
Biggest weakness – All looks a bit Ricardo Moniz
I have endless respect for the sheer diversity of obscure nations that are represented at Boundary Park this season. Zeus de la Paz is obviously the stand out name, but he isn’t even the only Curacao international on show, with winger Gevaro Nepomuceno also on the books. There’s a Haitian goalkeeper, a midfielder with a couple of caps for Congo who could line up with his new Gabonese teammate, if they can fight off the challenge of two Frenchmen, not to mention Christian Benteke’s brother. This kind of squad building is everything that I am about, but as Notts (and then Vale) proved, the likelihood of it working is remote. There’s also Giles Coke and Jose Baxter, who could be good signings but come with more warnings signs between them than the entire M1.
Manager – Mark Yates
Best signing – Nathan Blissett
Biggest strength – A decent manager
Biggest weakness – Basically everything else
Sorry Macclesfield Town, but i’m struggling to see this side being anything other than the poorest newly promoted outfit for a very long time. Promotion last season was something of a miracle, the Silkmen never really having featured in anyone’s thoughts before the campaign, but success has not just brought league football back to Moss Rose – there’s also been a pretty big flock of vultures. Manager John Askey, the architect of their unlikely title win, has been poached by Shrewsbury Town, whilst Danny Whitehead’s decision to drop back down a league to Salford City is just one of a number of departures. Mark Yates always struck me as a good manager and he worked wonders at Solihull Moors last season, but keeping this lot up will be even more difficult.
Manager – Darren Way
Best signing – Carl Dickinson (!)
Biggest strength – Continuity
Biggest weakness – Going stale
Of all the teams in the league, Yeovil are the ones I found it hardest to say anything about. Darren Way is still their manager and looking like he may begin to approach Jim Bentley levels of both longevity and tedium. Francois Zoko is still there and may just about score enough goals to keep them in the division. The loss of Otis Khan to Mansfield Town was a blow, but not entirely unexpected, and they have at least managed to keep Omar Sowunmi for another year. I could write a long read piece on all of Carl Dickinson’s flaws, but he’s probably a pretty shrewd signing for a very young team that is likely so struggle.
Manager – Gary Johnson
Best signing – Johnny Mullins
Biggest strength – A very canny man in the dugout
Biggest weakness – A lack of goals
I feel like I may be writing this far too early, because you’ve got to assume that Cheltenham will eventually spend some of their Mo Eisa windfall on more than just Liam McAlinden. If they don’t, then you really have to fear for them. Eisa was arguably the division’s standout performer last season and kept the Robins away from any real relegation danger, but unless Gary Johnson has managed to repeat the trick with Manny Duku then you have to fear for them this year. Johnny Mullins is a great pick up, but it’s hard to see that they’ve replaced Carl Winchester and Harry Pell with anything close to like for like.
Manager – John Sheridan
Best signing – Adam Collin
Biggest strength – Plenty of experience
Biggest weakness – A general feeling of misery
Normally I would view losing Keith Curle as a good thing for a club, but the arrival of John Sheridan has made me look again. Carlisle were stable under Curle, even making the play-offs a couple of seasons ago, and I think he would have kept them plugging along in mid-table. As we saw at Notts, for all of the successes that Sheridan has had as a manager, things are capable of going very wrong. With Carlisle being a club with discontent bubbling under the surface and on a clear downwards trajectory, all of the elements are there for a repeat of the disaster that Sheridan created at Meadow Lane. Experienced players such as Gary Liddle, Jason Kennedy and Adam Collin may have enough to see them through, but there is little to suggest that things will get better rather than worse.
Manager – Jim Bentley
Best signing – Andrew Tutte
Biggest strength – History often repeats itself
Biggest weakness – Sometimes it doesn’t
Yes, Morecambe are probably going to finish somewhere around 19th again. Jim Bentley is still there and has probably stayed longer than he should’ve done, with spirited survival year after year beginning to look like constant struggle. Diggle a little deeper, though, and Bentley has again defied the odds in the transfer market. Andrew Tutte, Jordan Cranston and Liam Mandeville are all players with decent pedigree in the Football League, whilst Jason Oswell is the kind of risk that they should be taking, having scored a hatful for Stockport County (totally intended) last season. One year their luck will run out and it must feel like a very, very slow death to their fans, but I think they’ll just stay up. Again.
Look out for the next parts of the Big League Two Preview as we count down to Notts County’s opening day encounter with Colchester.