League Two looks set to be very tight again this year with over half the league realistically believing they have a chance of achieving promotion and these teams will be at aiming for playoffs at least, mostly due to the usual pre-season optimism rather than genuine promotion potential. However here are the teams who I think will be up there at the end of the season.
The firm favourites to win promotion are the ‘Manchester City of League Two’ Crawley Town who romped away with last year’s Blue Square Bet Premier title with a record 105 points. Notts County recently demonstrated that the League Two title can be brought and it seems likely that Crawley, with a strike partnership of the last year’s top scorer Matt Tubbs and Cheltenham’s Wes Thomas, will repeat the Magpies trick and secure a consecutive promotion to the League One. If they challenging in January there is no doubt they will just chuck more money at it, making them deserved favourites. One of the teams that will be challenging big-spending Crawley are recently relegated Bristol Rovers who have appointed Paul Buckle as manager. The former Torquay boss took the Gulls to the play-off final last year and did an excellent job at the overachieving side. He should enable some steel in a Pirates side that has had a major overhaul in the summer. Bringing in striker Chris Zebroski from the Gulls and Scott McGleish from Orient shows the sort of intent the club has to return at the first time of asking. While another team who could have a big season are Shrewsbury Town. The teams are the nearly men of League Two after missing out on automatic promotion by one point and then falling to Torquay in the playoffs last season. After keeping hold of their key men while stil adding to the team, they will certainly be contenders again this year. They will be hoping to replicate Bury who had experienced the same sort of disappointment in the few seasons before they were eventually promoted last term.
Oxford United look like a strong outfit this year and they have recruited well in the summer with Tony Capaldi, Deane Smalley and Peter Leven all arriving. With Constable and Craddock leading their attack this could be the year when their large fan base is rewarded with promotion. Gillingham were unlucky to miss out on the playoffs last time round and despite numerous player changes during the close season, they look a good bet for playoffs at least after some shrewd investments. It is a shame for them that new signing Adam Birchall is out for the first six months of the season but the prolific former Wimbledon forward Danny Kedwell could be the man to replace Cody McDonald’s goals. Rotherham are in a similar situation to Shrewsbury as one of the nearly men of League Two and if they can keep the prolific Adam Le Fondre at the club they stand a good chance of at least making the playoffs. Even if Le Fondre departs former Brighton man Chris Holroyd has the potential to fill his large boots. The other relegated side Dagenham & Redbridge were quite unfortunate to be go down but have lost two important players in Danny Green and Romain Vincelot which will influence them. However they play attractive football under John Still and should be around the top 10 come May.
Other sides that have playoffs ambitions include Crewe will be looking to improve on last season’s 10th place finish while Accrington Stanley may have lost a number of key players after last year’s fantastic season but they could again do well with John Coleman at the helm. Swindon Town may have received all the press attention after appointing Paulo Di Canio as manager but I believe there is little evidence of his ability as a football manager so it will be interesting to see how he gets on there and I think he will struggle to finish the season with the club. Northampton Town are another team that are difficult to judge after a shocking campaign last year but with the experienced Gary Johnson in charge, they look to have an exciting side so could surprise a few teams.
I think Bradford City could well make a challenge for playoffs after a hugely disappointing campaign last year. They have recruited well in Guy Branston who will give them leadership at the back and they will be hoping that new signing Ross Hannah continues last season’s form where he scored 52 goals, albeit for Matlock Town. After being one of the favourites for the last few years this time nobody expects them and they could be a surprise package.
Let me know if I have missed anyone out and what you think of the upcoming League Two season also look out for the teams who will be looking to avoid relegation tomorrow. Follow on twitter @aidanmccartney for more Football League discussion.