News, views and gossip from the magnificent 72
It's not just the Premier League that starts this weekend. We're also previewing the Football League, division by division, starting with Ryan Kelly's look at the ever-intriguing League Two…
The fourth tier of English football looks set to produce another compelling, open and yet tightly-fought contest, both at the top and at the bottom.
Last time out, the promotion and relegation battles were only decided in the dying minutes of the season, so fans will have to be prepared for more drama.
Cash-rich Fleetwood Town will look to emulate the success of Crawley and use their resources to gain a second successive promotion, while the teams who have come down a league are looking to bounce straight back up.
Add a whole host of teams who will feel unlucky to have missed out on promotion last season and this could be anybody’s year – especially when you think about the achievements of Crewe’s underdogs: 15th at the turn of the year but promoted at Wembley in May. It can be that kind of division.
TITLE CHALLENGERSMoney plays a big role in the lower leagues and bookmakers are perhaps rightly backing Fleetwood Town to gain promotion. The Trawlermen have acquired firepower in the form of Steven Gillespie and Jon ‘the beast’ Parkin, who might have made a frightening partnership with Joey Barton’s crossing.
After five years at Crawley, Steve Evans is a man who knows about financial prowess, and it’s his Rotherham United side that are fancied as Fleetwood’s main rivals. The Millers have also acquired more goalscoring capability with Kayode Odejayi and Daniel Nardiello joining the Yorkshire club, who are all set to make the most of their first season in their New York Stadium.
After dominating League Two in the 2010/11 season, Chesterfield struggled to make the step up into League One and were subsequently relegated. However, a win at Wembley in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy final proved that they still have quality. The Spireites are another team with plenty of firepower after keeping hold of cult hero Jack Lester and signing the prolific Marc Richards, who had previously been Port Vale’s top goalscorer four years in a row.
Torquay and Cheltenham will be looking to avenge their disappointing ends to last season which saw them both miss out on an automatic spot and then meet in the play-offs. Torquay reached the final at Wembley but Martin Ling will want to avoid the end-of-season shootout and has brought in new talent including ex-Arsenal defender Tom Cruise.
Cheltenham manager Mark Yates has managed to keep most of last season's sixth-placed squad at Whaddon Road, but he won’t have England goalkeeper Jack Butland back on loan. Like the Gulls, the Robins will be in contention again.
Bristol Rovers fans might feel their side had a poor season in 2011/12. They failed to bounce back up in to League One after relegation under ex-manager Paul Buckle. Mark McGhee replaced Buckle in January, and the Pirates could be surprise contenders if striker Matt Harrold finds form.
PROMOTION HOPEFULSAidy Boothroyd managed to save Northampton from relegation last year but this time around they could be up the other end of the table. Boothroyd has had a busy summer which has seen a big turnaround in players and the arrival of Clive Platt and Ishmel Demontagnac from higher leagues.
After missing out on automatic promotion by a point and losing out in the play-offs, Southend are another team that will be feeling confident. However, the Blues have lost midfielder Anthony Grant and look set to lose the ‘Mario Balotelli of the Football League', Bilel Mohsni, to a bigger force. That said, they have beaten off competition from League One clubs to re-sign hero Freddy Eastwood, who could make a big difference at this level.
Oxford and Gillingham will look to build on their respective seventh and eighth places last season, with the latter bringing in Martin Allen as manager to add an air of quiet confidence at the Priestfield.
Bradford City are always tipped to do well but rarely match the pre-season hype. Manager Phil Parkinson has added a whole host of new players and will be hoping his side can do it this time.
Like Chesterfield, Wycombe will want to get straight back in to League One after relegation. Signings like Gary Doherty, Matt Spring and Dennis Oli will certainly help their cause and under Gary Waddock they know what it takes to get out of the league.
PLAY-OFF HOPEFULSAnother relegated side, Exeter, might also fancy their chances of sneaking back up into League One. The Grecians have gone for experience in signing Matt Oakley and Jamie Cureton who, at this level, could prove to be very shrewd signings.
Managing to fight off Crawley’s interest in manager Dean Holdsworth means Aldershot might look to surpass their 11th-place finish last season and sneak in to a play-off spot.
Keeping hold of Jack Midson is a big boost to AFC Wimbledon’s chances of cementing their league status. The striker's 20 goals last year did much to keep his side clear of relegation and he will look for more this season.
Port Vale’s promotion push was all but ended by administration; with Micky Adams at the helm they might fancy sneaking in to a play-off spot – but only if they can replace the goals of Richards.
Financial turmoil nearly ended Plymouth’s stay in the Football League all but for Carl Fletcher. The Pilgrims’ manager will look to build on that success and a mid-table finish would be a good achievement.
John Coleman oversaw Accrington Stanley’s rise back into the Football League before joining Rochdale in January. He couldn't stop Dale dropping back into the basement but presumably he wants to work at a higher level; however, for now it’s a period of transition and bouncing straight back up might be too much of an ask.
DROP–DODGERSA League Two season wouldn’t be complete without a final-day relegation scrap – and for the last three seasons it's involved Barnet. The Bees once again defied the odds to dodge the drop but will again be relegation favourites – not least because they have lost top scorer Izale McLeod.
Joining them could be Dagenham & Redbridge, who have lost 11 players in the close season and have only managed to bring in Gavin Hoyte from Arsenal.
Whereas Fleetwood Town won the Conference title with 103 points, York City squeezed back into the league after eight years via the play-offs, and would be forgiven for seeking safety rather than aiming for promotion. Manager Gary Mills has brought in a lot of new faces to bolster his options.
After 13 years, Accrington Stanley are adjusting to life without John Coleman. His are big shoes to fill for ex-player Paul Cook, whose only previous managerial experience was six months at Southport and five years at League of Ireland side Sligo Rovers; expectations are low at the Crown Ground.
Morecambe finished 15th last season but might find it difficult this time around: Jim Bentley hasn't added many fresh blood and other clubs look as though they are better prepared.
By contrast, Burton boss Gary Rowett has brought in a few new faces – and, crucially, kept hold of Calvin Zola. Even so, Rowett's initial aim for his first full season at the Pirelli will be to keep them up again.
TITLE ODDS from FourFourTwo's betting partner, Coral7/2 Rotherham United11/2 Fleetwood Town 10/1 Chesterfield12/1 Bristol Rovers16/1 Oxford United18/1 Bradford City 18/1 Northampton Town18/1 Southend United20/1 Gillingham 20/1 Wycombe Wanderers25/1 Cheltenham 25/1 Plymouth Argyle25/1 Rochdale25/1 Torquay United 28/1 Aldershot Town28/1 Exeter City28/1 Port Vale33/1 York City50/1 Dagenham & Redbridge66/1 AFC Wimbledon66/1 Accrington Stanley66/1 Burton Albion66/1 Morecambe150/1 Barnet Get a free £10 bet with Coral and FFT
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