It’s the time of year where we make ourselves look stupid by trying to predict what’s going to happen at one of the country’s most unpredictable football clubs in one of Europe’s most unpredictable professional leagues.
Dane Vincent, Rob Davies, Tom Nixey, Colin Sisson, Paul Smith, Lee McKenzie and Stuart Brothers step-up to the plate to offer their thoughts ahead of the 18-19 campaign.
Who’s going to win League Two?
DV: Swindon Town.
RD: Lincoln City. It’s a very open field but their upward momentum doesn’t show any sign of halting and John Akinde is a hell of a signing.
TN: Notts County.
PS: Lincoln City for me. They are a club riding the crest of a very big wave. They have again recruited well and are an intimidating force with a forward-thinking manager.
SB: I’m trying not to get carried away and tip us, but for me it’s difficult to choose between ourselves, Mansfield Town and you’d imagine an MK Dons side who can’t afford to be down at this division for very long. They’re just about the strongest of the teams who came down for me so you’d expect them to be a threat.
…And who’s going to join them in going up?
DV: Lincoln City, Mansfield Town and Notts County (I hope).
RD: Port Vale (this year’s Accrington), Notts County and MK Dons to sneak-up in the playoffs. Swindon have recruited well but bombed last season and I’m not convinced by Phil Brown. Discounting a strong-looking Mansfield on the same basis (unpopular manager, bad end to last season), but both should challenge.
TN: MK Dons, Lincoln City and Stevenage (via the playoffs).
CS: MK Dons, Lincoln and Swindon.
PS: Notts (not sure in what position), MK Dons and Port Vale.
LM: Notts, Lincoln, Mansfield, Bury (via playoffs).
SB: Any of my choices above, with the play-offs being a straight dog fight between many, many average clubs merely existing to make up the numbers in this dismal division.
Who’s going down?
DV: Morecambe and Forest Green Rovers.
RD: Macclesfield look really light coming up and, unfortunately I think Morecambe will finally succumb.
TN: Cheltenham and Morecambe.
CS: Forest Green and Yeovil.
PS: Macclesfield will struggle and one of Yeovil or Morecambe.
LM: Morecambe and Macclesfield.
SB: It’s – not for the first time – a very poor league this year, you could probably pick any two sides from as many as seven or eight to be playing non-league football next season. But I’ll go for Forest Green and Yeovil Town.
Where are Notts going to finish?
DV: 4th. I’m going for another Play-Off finish – hopefully with a happy ending this time around.
RD: 3rd, just behind surprise package Port Vale. Though I say that with absolutely no conviction.
TN: Champions by five points.
PS: Always the most difficult one. On paper we have a top-three squad. I’m backing Nolan to deliver that.
SB: Again, I’m trying not to get carried away, but when was the last time we had a transfer window this strong? After years of being conditioned to think players don’t make decisions before their holidays, we had bolstered significantly before we’d even played our first friendly. We must be targeting in the very least a top three spot.
Best Notts summer signing?
DV: Kane Hemmings. Looks like a powerful player who could lead the line for us well as a solo striker or as a duo. He hit 15 last season and you’d like to think with the creative potential in our squad he’d provide another solid goals return.
RD: Enzio Boldewijn. All three of the six-figure fee signings look a little risky – all arriving on three year deals – but I think Boldewijn is the most exciting; the pace and trickery of Campbell-Ryce with the power of Garry Thompson – not bad for League Two. At 25, he’s still young enough to improve too.
TN: David Vaughan. Given an energetic midfield around him, he probably could’ve done a bit in the Championship this season. His quality will shine through in League Two. If he stays fit he will run the show.
CS: Kane Hemmings. Power and mobility isn’t often found together in L2 but Hemmings possesses both.
PS: Krystian Dennis. We have lacked a poacher for years. We created enough chances last season and now we have someone with a record of being able to finish them. Hemmings has looked promising in pre-season, too.
LM: David Vaughan. The player we have needed for a few years now; so good on the ball.
SB: Tough shout. In Hemmings, Dennis and Boldewijn we’ve bags of potential going forward – but for me David Vaughan is the midfield string-puller we’ve been missing since Neal Bishop left, someone who can pick the ball up in front of defence and spread the ball for us.
What would be your first XI on the opening day?
DV: Fitzsimons; Tootle, Brisley, Hall, Jones; Boldewijn, Hewitt, Vaughan, Thomas; Hemmings, Stead. I would have opted for Dennis but he’s not seen enough game time during pre-season.
RD: Fitzsimons; Tootle, Duffy, Brisley, Jones; Hewitt, Vaughan, Thomas; Hemmings, Dennis, Boldewijn. I’m not convinced Vaughan will have the legs in a two-man midfield and would like to see us tweak the likely personnel to play 4-3-3, which could see us also get the most from the pace of Boldewijn and Hemmings.
TN: Fitzsimons; Tootle (C), Hall, Brisley, Jones; Boldewijn, Hewitt, Vaughan, Thomas; Dennis and Hemmings.
CS: Fitzsimons; Tootle, Duffy, Brisley, Jones; Alessandra, Hewitt, Vaughan, Boldewijn; Hemmings, Dennis.
PS: Fitzsimons; Tootle, Hall, Brisley, Jones; Boldewijn, Hewitt, Vaughan, Thomas; Dennis, Hemmings.
LM: Fitzsimons; Tootle, Duffy, Brisley, Jones; Boldewijn, Hewitt, Vaughan, Thomas; Stead, Hemmings. This is purely for the first game; Dennis should come-in when he’s built up his match fitness.
SB: Fitzsimons, Tootle, Duffy, Jones, Hall, Hewitt, Alessandra, Vaughan, Dennis, Hemmings, Boldewijn.
Who’s going to be this year’s breakthrough star or most improved player at Meadow Lane?
Not to get carried away … but Dongda He is already a world beater
— Michael (@NewarkPie) July 24, 2018
DV: As much as everyone will have one eye on Dongda He, I think it’s a lot to ask from a first-year scholar, despite us seeing glimpses of magic in the pre-season games. Anyone remember Jaidi from a few years ago? I’m hoping we’ll see big things from Tom Crawford. I feel like we’ll need at least one of the up-and-coming midfielders to step up if we’re to have a successful season and based on the reviews of his performances last season, I think it could be Crawford. We have a strong base of young players and it’ll be exciting to see how they perform in the 18/19 campaign.
RD: Vaughan’s age and injury record means he will miss a lot of games this season, which means one of the young trio of Crawford, Noor Husin and Will Patching will have to step-up. With all the indications being that we’ll ditch the direct style of last season and play it more on the deck this season, I think Husin could excel with the ball at his feet more and I think will play his way into the preferred XI before too long.
TN: Two slightly different accolades. I hope the breakthrough star will be Remaye Campbell because it means we will genuinely have given youth a chance. For most improved, I think Elliot Hewitt has a real chance to kick on again this season. I think he’s got many more strings to his bow and I hope Nolan allows him to flourish.
CS: Noor Husin could finally become an established first team player this season, though the arrival of Vaughan makes this an even harder prospect. With a mobile strikeforce to aim at, his passing range would be incredibly useful.
PS: If we don’t get that additional striker I think we need, Remaye Campbell could have a role. He certainly knows where the back of the net is and his pace could worry League Two defenders. Most improved? Ross Fitzsimons – I like him but he has much to learn, still.
LM: Pierce Bird. Good pre-season and giving him the number 3 shirt shows a massive show of faith, but please don’t do the same as with Hollis and play him at LB.
SB: Let’s resist the temptation in saying Dongda He; we’ve heard of so many players coming through the youth system only to be discarded a few years down the line. Remaye Campbell and Sam Osborne for me are just ahead of him, both have looked dangerous in pre-season amongst the established pros and could be pushing for a place in the first team.
Give us an unpopular opinion and/or outlandish prediction for the season ahead.
DV: I still think we still need to strengthen in goal. Although I was impressed with Fitzsimons once he settled into the side last year, he still only featured 16 times. I think you need a few more appearances to be considered a proven keeper at professional level. My biggest concern is if the new number one gets injured, as I’m yet to be convinced by Pindroch. If there’s room in the budget, it’d be good to see us bring in another first-choice worthy stopper to challenge for a start. Plus, with no emergency loans we’ll need a third goalkeeper, right?
RD: Nolan still considers Jon Stead to be his no.1 striker and it will usually be either Dennis or Hemmings to partner him. On that note, it was a completely unnecessary risk to give Dennis, 28, a three-year deal on the back of one good season – my prediction is that this will bite us down the line.
TN: Adam Collin to keep a clean sheet when Carlisle come to town. Then, in the aftermath, turn to the Kop, lift his shirt above his head to reveal a white t-shirt that simply says ‘Shock’ on it whilst flipping the middle rod at thousands of fans furisuosly tweeting about it but not @‘ing him because they’ve not got it in them.
CS: We might still need a keeper. Fitzsimons impressed me last season but starting as first choice is a different mentality. Is he up to it?
PS: Notts will finally beat Mansfield Town. Just once, mind.
LM: Nolan to be sacked at Christmas and Hardy take over as owner/manager (tongue slightly in cheek).
SB: Notts to go without a win in the first three league games. We’ve added a lot of class this summer, but in the friendlies we’ve seen there’s not been a great many chances for it all to gel as Kevin Nolan might have wanted.
What do you think? Are the bookies right to consider Notts the favourites to win League Two? Do you agree with our magnificent seven that we’re set for a promotion-winning season? Get involved in the discussion with @GerritForward on Twitter.