Tag: seasonpreviews

League Two Club-by-Club Preview for 2018/2019: Newport County

2017/2018

Record Last Season + Quick Summary: 

League Two - 11th; W 16 / D 14 / L 14 / F 56 / A 58 / Pts 64

A miraculous escape from the snarling jaws of relegation was achieved under Michael Flynn, avoiding the National League on the final day of 2016/2017 at the expense of Hartlepool United. Few would’ve envisaged a top-half finish in the following season. A 4-0 away win at Forest Green Rovers had The Exiles in veritable nosebleed territory, and, whilst that form couldn’t last, it never really nose-dived either; two separate six-game spells without triumphing were the worst it got, and even then, they still managed to pick up several draws. The winter months were on the leaner side, but three hard-earned 2-1 results in succession at Rodney Parade were sufficient for a more than respectable placing, one of their best since reforming in 1989 and clawing their way back to the EFL the hard way.

padraig amond
Padraig Amond probably doesn’t receive the credit or attention he deserves; leading the line for The Exiles, he bagged 13 league goals last season, and will continue to be their go-to striker, as long as Michael Flynn can resist any late bids in the remaining days of the transfer window

Top Goalscorer: Padraig Amond (13 goals in 37 starts/3,139 minutes)

Top Creator:  Robbie Willmott (6 assists in 36 starts/3,226 minutes)

2018/2019

Manager/Head Coach: Michael Flynn; the much-travelled midfielder had four separate spells as a player for the south Wales outfit, both starting and ending his career in the cathedral city. Perhaps best known outside the area for his times with Gillingham and Bradford City, he returned ‘home’ two years ago, first taking up a football and business development director role before becoming a coach under the machinations of Graham Westley. Half a year later, he found himself in caretaker charge, with Newport marooned at the bottom of the pile. Eight weeks on, he masterminded their survival in a period that will live long in the collective memory of supporters and echo down the coming decades. He improved the club’s standing in the following season greatly, enhancing his burgeoning reputation to make the most from relatively limited resources. Still only 37, he has a bright future in the game, regardless of whether that’s in the land of Saint David.

Ins: Fraser Franks (Stevenage), Charlie Cooper (Forest Green Rovers on loan), Keanu Marsh-Brown (Forest Green Rovers), Tyler Hornby-Forbes (Brighton & Hove Albion), Jamille Matt (Blackpool), Andrew Crofts (Scunthorpe United), Antoine Semenyo (Bristol City U23s on loan) & Tyreeq Bakinson (Bristol City U23s on loan).

Outs: Momodou Touray (Barry Town), Jamie Turley (free agent), Paul Hayes (free agent), Frank Nouble (Colchester United), Ben Tozer (Cheltenham Town), Lamar Reynolds (Dagenham & Redbridge), Calaum Jahraldo-Martin (free agent), Marlon Jackson (free agent), Tom Owen-Evans (Falkirk), Joss Ladabie (free agent) & James Bittner (retired).

Predicted First XI & Shape: 

Newport 1819

Tactics: The current personnel in one of the division’s shallower squads (in terms of overall numbers) look more suited for a cautious 5-3-2 on-paper, with at least one sitting midfielder, if not two. Jamie Day doesn’t have any registered competition between the sticks at present, and should that continue to be the case once the season beings properly, he will offer his teammates a surprisingly high level of strength when challenging for the ball. Despite that attribute, he isn’t confident when coming out for crosses, preferring to stick close to the safety of his goal-line, even though he’s 6’3″.

The work rate of Mickey Demetriou will be key to maintaining the shape of the back three. His ability to glide over the ground will help his goalkeeper and side out immeasurably, both facing away from and towards his own penalty area. He also could prove to be an outlet for The County from long throws, should the opportunity arise. Fraser Franks could form the central component, and he is adept at playing short passes and recycling possession, as well as having the flexibility to play on the right of the trio or out wide. Scot Bennett will use his frame to out-muscle the opposing forward, shepherding them away from the danger zone and allowing his teammates to regroup when quickly countered upon, despite his own lack of speed.

The wing-backs are crucial in helping Flynn’s charges transition from a defensive to attacking posture. Dan Butler tends to appear more comfortable in this style, and he allies his stamina with excellent aerial ability and a certain penchant for floating in early crosses for the likes of Padraig Amond and Jamille Matt. On the opposite flank, David Pipe must be one of the most aggressive and tenacious customers in the whole EFL, and though he doesn’t have the same raw speed of Butler, he is still reliable from the same sort of areas to put a ball in, as he has demonstrated throughout his long career in the lower leagues.

Andrew Crofts is the new captain, and although he will stay close to the backline without the ball, he ought to have some freedom to get forward when they win it back, and will more often than not be the one they look to make a crunching tackle and play a quick, forward pass in a short timeframe. Josh Sheehan is one of the more promising members in the ranks, and will need to shuttle between the front three and Crofts in a manner that alienates neither group for too long. A lot of his passes will also be positive in their direction and trajectory, utilising the high level of skill and dribbling talents of Keanu Marsh-Brown to the maximum. More of a wide player by trade, he could find himself operating through the middle but with the license to investigate space in between the lines.

The aforementioned Amond is an all-round striker, who leads the line and has enough presence and physicality to compete with the most brutish of cloggers in the fourth tier. He could be partnered by Jamille Matt, who, whilst never prolific in the EFL, seems a good fit for the likely strategy, and to give the Irishman enough room and support to get plenty of shots off.

tyreeq
The loan capture earlier today of Tyreeq Bakinson should offer a different kind of option than already exists in central midfield; tall and rangy, he will cover a lot of ground in the engine room when other legs around him are tiring, which will help keep them on the front foot and competing until the end

Predicted ‘Area’ of Finish: Safe but sorry; there is no reason to suggest that the travails of 2016/2017 will return to Rodney Parade (where there are worries off the field). I am from far from alone in admiring the turnaround Flynn has made to the club since assuming control in the dugout. The likes of Marsh-Brown and Amond, coupled with a quick style from back to front, should ensure that the loyal Exiles in the stands are usually entertained, and the squad has a good balance about it, as well as the personnel with enough tactical and positional flexibility to change tack and keep the scouts guessing. The sheer openness of the league means that there isn’t a position from 22nd up to the play-off ranks that they can’t realistically obtain, although that same equity means there could be a handful of points that separate a bevvy of sides. Do they have enough in their contingent to last a gruelling campaign without suffering if a few are lost to injury and suspension? That could be the one major weakness.

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League Two Club-by-Club Preview for 2018/2019: Notts County

2017/2018

Record Last Season + Quick Summary: 

League Two - 5th; W 21 / D 14 / L 11 / F 71 / A 48 / Pts 77
(Lost in the play-off semi-final)

A superb campaign that bordered on exceptional. The nadir of the previous campaign was washed away almost immediately by Kevin Nolan’s charges. The opening day defeat to Coventry City was quickly forgotten as it proved to be the catalyst for a 10-game unbeaten run containing nine victories and plenty of goals to boot. The momentum slowed but didn’t completely stop in the run-up to Christmas, although perhaps there were a few too many draws for the Magpies’ liking. There was no particular poor patch that derailed their automatic promotion hopes, although they struggled to replicate their deep run in the summer. That a meant a play-off semi-final against the Sky Blues. After the first leg, the tie was finely poised, with County just having the edge by virtue of being the away side in a score draw. However, they were blown away back at Meadow Lane, having no real answer to their opponents’ potency in front of goal. Nevertheless, huge strides forward were made and built upon as the curtain came down on 2017/2018.

kevin nolan.jpg
Player-manager Kevin Nolan deserves respect for chancing his arm in the lower reaches of the EFL, and has every reason to believe he can add more accolades to his name (and the club’s) than the monthly award he managed to gain in 2017/2018

Top Goalscorer: Jorge Grant (16 goals in 37 starts/3,574 minutes)

Top Creator:  Jon Stead (9 assists in 40 starts/3,485 minutes)

2018/2019

Manager/Head Coach: Kevin Nolan; the Liverpudlian was one of the finest in his midfield role during much of the first decade of the new millennium for Bolton Wanderers, excelling under the ever-watchful eyes of Sam Allardyce in a team that reached heights in the Premier League few would’ve expected. Although he was never capped at senior level for England, his peak coincided with those of Frank Lampard, Paul Scholes and Steven Gerrard to name but three, so there’s no shame in that. After more than a decade in Horwich, he journeyed north to Newcastle United, where his best season in front of goal came during their Championship winning campaign.

Allardyce, now at West Ham United, persuaded one of his most trusted troops to join him at Upton Park, where he spent four years that slowly became less productive. In August 2015, he left the Irons by mutual consent, but he chose to stay in London, surprisingly becoming player-manager of Leyton Orient. He lasted three months before being relieved of his coaching duties, despite having a respectable win percentage. The reins were handed to Andy Hessenthaler and Nolan made the decision in the close season to depart Brisbane Road. In January of last year, he assumed his current post at Notts County, replacing John Sheridan. New owner Alan Hardy rewarded his successful survival bid with a new deal in September, once it became clear that he had a real knack for the role beyond firefighting, and he has been backed well this summer to improve on their fifth-placed finish in 2018/2019.

Ins: Enzio Boldewijn (Crawley Town), Christian Oxlade-Chamberlain (Portsmouth), Ben Hall (Brighton & Hove Albion on loan), Andy Kellett (Wigan Athletic U23s), Will Patching (Manchester City U23s), David Vaughan (Nottingham Forest), Kane Hemmings (Oxford United), Tom Crawford (Chester), Nathan Thomas (Sheffield United on loan) & Kristian Dennis (Chesterfield).

Outs: Alan Smith (free agent), Elliott Hodge (free agent), Callum Saunders (free agent), Curtis Thompson (Wycombe Wanderers), Adam Collin (Carlisle United), Mike Edwards (free agent), Rob Milsom (free agent), Liam Noble (Hartlepool United), Shola Ameobi (free agent), Carl Dickinson (Yeovil Town), Nicky Hunt (free agent), Michael O’Connor (Lincoln City) & Jonathan Forte (Exeter City).

Predicted First XI & Shape: 

Notts 1819.PNG

Tactics: Ross Fitzsimmons is Nolan’s preferred choice in goal, and he engenders confidence in his defenders by knowing when to claim crosses. His distribution is likely to be key for the way the Magpies play, as the two midfielders will be deeper than most others they come up against, creating a gap when they’re in possession between the back six and front four. Probable captain has years of experience under his belt, and will sit tight to his own 18 yard-line but will wander forward for any dangerous looking set piece. Ben Hall has returned on loan from Brighton, so the majority of the backline will be the same and he will continue to grow in the unit.

Daniel Jones might not be instructed to rove down the left flank as much as he would like, but he does offer an excellent option to recycle the ball to in order to put in deep crosses. He could also be the designated free-kick taker, which will definitely be something to look out for in tight games. Matt Tootle can vie with almost anyone who has a clear height advantage over him in the air, and combines that facet of his game with a decent amount of strength and low centre of gravity, as well as being able to keep up a steady pace for the full 90.

The signature of David Vaughan is a massive coup for the fourth tier side, despite his age. His composure on the ball will rival any other player in the entire division, as will his range of passing, both short and long. He will be the heartbeat of the team without question. Elliott Hewitt is versatile, having graduated from being an out-and-out right-back to a more than competent presence in the centre of midfield, which is where he should mostly be found during the season. Speedy and possessing the work rate his role in a two-man midfield demands, he will be just as pivotal to their potential success as his more vaunted partner.

Nathan Thomas and Enzio Boldewijn have it within them to swap wings periodically without much of an impact on their efficacy. The former is a victim of his parent club not playing a system with advanced wingers, and is another County individual that will be quietly impressive. He has flair on the ball, a strong left foot and the willingness to take on and beat his man. He will supply plenty of ammunition for the frontmen and be a threat in his own right. Boldewijn should have plenty of time on the ball to improve on his breathtaking displays in a Crawley shirt, and his presence ensures that the burden of creativity and goalscoring is spread widely. He will run both outside and inside his marker, stretching the opposing defence beyond breaking point.

Kane Hemmings is an excellent natural finisher, who bagged 15 league goals last term for Mansfield under two managers with differing tactical approaches, which is testament to his quality. A little on the languid side, he will be at his most effective on the end of whipped balls into the area. He, like Kristian Dennis, is in his prime. Dennis was sought after by many suitors following Chesterfield’s relegation out of the EFL. Weighing in with 19 goals in a shambolic outfit, he can be effective in more than one phase of play, always showing for the ball in advanced areas and testing his luck from range, which is accurate for the most part. Blessed with a strong left foot, there will be a good balance and contrast of styles up top, should he be match fit enough to start from the outset. If not, Jon Stead will be the focal point, creating as many as he scores.

stead.jpg
Jon Stead might not have lived up to his early promise at Huddersfield Town and Blackburn Rovers, but he has been an important player for Notts County, weighing in with his share of goals for the past three seasons, and could still have a role to play from the bench this year

Predicted ‘Area’ of Finish: Gunning for automatic promotion; there is a oft-repeated narrative that beaten play-off sides come back stronger the following season. There is every reason to believe that’s the case with Notts County. One or two unwelcome departures aside, Nolan has replaced the litany of players who have left in the close season with better quality. Looking at the division as a whole, open as it is, the four relegated teams from League One (with the exception of MK Dons) don’t appear as strong as the ones that have headed in the other direction, for one reason or another. Their main competition will come from sides they’re already familiar with from 2017/2018. There is quality all over the pitch, and with Vaughan pulling the strings and a potent front four, a ‘clean’ return to the third tier is very much within their collective power to attain.

League Two Club-by-Club Preview for 2018/2019: Mansfield Town

2017/2018

Record Last Season + Quick Summary: 

League Two - 8th; W 18 / D 18 / L 10 / F 67 / A 52 / Pts 72

The Stags, much like this coming season, were one of the bookies’ favourites for promotion from League Two, and there many valid reasons that lent credence to that lofty position. Steve Evans, the very epitome of a divisive manager, had been sanctioned to make many signings that seemed of sufficient quality on paper to make a real crack at the top three. The opening games were a portent of things to come, with a high number of score draws. An inconsistent September and October meant the Nottinghamshire side were well out of contention after a third of the campaign. The subsequent three months were much more impressive, and the majority of Evans’ captures were starting to produce.

However, with the Peterborough United position vacant in the tier above, the Glaswegian moved to London Road whilst they were very much in the hunt to escape League Two. A few days later, David Flitcroft was recruited from Swindon Town, another side at the right end of the standings. Unfortunately, he couldn’t maintain the winning formula, gaining only four points in his first eight matches. They finished the term unbeaten in five, but it was insufficient to prevent a fall from the play-offs, missing out by three points.

flitcroft
David Flitcroft must hit the ground running in 2018/2019 to convince many sceptical Stags fans of his managerial ability; he has been backed in the transfer market to a far greater extent than almost every other club in the window

Top Goalscorer: Kane Hemmings (15 goals in 36 starts/2,945 minutes)

Top Creator:  Alexander MacDonald (6 assists in 40 starts/3,564 minutes)

2018/2019

Manager/Head Coach: David Flitcroft; the Bolton native had a fruitful lower league career as a tough-tackling midfielder and was more known for his light-hearted personality than any particular skills he had, although few could question his passion or resolve on the pitch. Chester City, Rochdale and Bury were where he made the most appearances, returning to Spotland to assist Keith Hill in the dugout, eventually retiring in 2010.

Perceived as an integral part of the relative success Dale enjoyed, he followed his close friend to Barnsley and when Hill received his marching orders a year later, he became permanent manager after a short stint as caretaker, guiding the Tykes to safety on the last day of 2012/2013 against the odds. The next season was pockmarked with heavy defeats, and he too suffered the same fate. He was not out of work for long, with Shakers chairman Stewart Day proclaiming at the time of his arrival back at Gigg Lane that he was pursuing his signature whilst still in post at Oakwell.

His tenure in BL9 continues to divide opinion, even now. With substantial backing, he was able to galvanise a bloated squad of disparate personalities away from danger, leading to a respectable mid-table finish. ‘Promotion’ was the word banded about from before 2014/2015 kicked off. As was his pattern in charge at Bury, things started off well and petered out as temperatures dropped, only to perform once they rose again. The signing on loan of goalkeeper Nick Pope was crucial in turning around their fortunes, and their charge up the standings was built on a series of narrow victories and clean sheets. Third place and promotion was secured on the final day away at already relegated Tranmere Rovers on an occasion that will live in the memory for everyone involved.

The two subsequent seasons in the third tier followed the ‘Flitcroft Pattern’, with an inability to devise a credible Plan ‘B’, as well as injuries to key players, hamstringing his efforts to make good on his proclamations and star names that entered the revolving doors. An insipid 5-0 defeat to AFC Wimbledon was the final nail in his coffin, and it would take more than half a year for him to find work. Swindon Town came calling, and as already noted in my preview of the Wiltshire outfit, he didn’t wholly convince there either, but was always unlikely to turn down the opportunity to jump ship to a club he felt could continually support his efforts in the transfer market.

A down-to-earth person, his interviews tend to be full of modern business terminology, which whilst ultimately unimportant, often has a grating effect on fans after a while and especially so if form is poor. He has to win over many Stags fans wholly impressed with either his rhetoric or utter incapability to at least book a play-off berth last season.

Ins: Matt Preston (Swindon Town), Neal Bishop (Scunthorpe United), Craig Davies (Oldham Athletic), Tyler Walker (on loan from Nottingham Forest) & Otis Khan (Yeovil Town).

Outs: George Taft (Cambridge United), Lewis Collins (free agent), Alfie Potter (free agent), Jimmy Spencer (free agent), Joel Byrom (Stevenage), Jack Thomas (free agent), Johnny Hunt (Stevenage), Rhys Bennett (Peterborough United), Zayn Hakeem (free agent) & Zander Diamond (free agent).

Predicted First XI & Shape:

Mansfield 1819

Tactics: Flitcroft has at his disposal real competition in every area of the pitch, save for right-back. Conrad Logan opts to punch rather than catch more often than not, and is particularly strong for a goalkeeper. Matt Preston has joined his old boss at Field Mill, and is undoubtedly one of the most promising centre-backs in League Two. Combining aerial prowess with controlled aggression, he also covers ground extremely quickly. Kristian Pearce is the leader in defence, and he should be able to forge a formidable partnership.

MalvindBenning possesses plenty of skill for a full-back and is an alternative option for direct free-kicks to Alex MacDonald. He will burst forward up the pitch to offer a wide outlet for his teammates. Hayden White will do much the same, but his crossing isn’t quite of the standard, and has a serious tendency to make rash decisions in tense situations.

If selected, Calum Butcher will hold fort in front of the backline, mopping up lofted balls forward to the opposition’s frontmen; he will compete with Will Atkinson, who has been taken off the transfer list. Probable captain Neal Bishop will dictate the tempo from deep, picking passes for the marauding full-backs and Jacob Mellis. The former Bury attacking midfielder also has a lot of technical ability and favours playing through balls to the strikers. His vision is his greatest asset, and he should get plenty of time on the ball.

Otis Khan’s dynamism is something Flitcroft will be leaning on considerably, as well as to take some of the burden away from Mellis when it comes to chance creation. He’s likely to cut in from the left to allow room for Benning to operate in, as well to lend support the striker(s).

Tyler Walker’s pace and finesse will cause chaos for his marker. He can play as a wide forward or through the middle, and will have the likes of Craig Davies, Lee Angol and Danny Rose to supply and receive the ball from. The former of the trio provides the greatest focal point and had a fruitful (half) season with Oldham Athletic in that role. Angol is also potent in the air, and allies that with a knack of timing his runs well to beat offside traps. Rose’s agility and ‘hangtime’ have seen him flourish in yellow and blue, as his goal tally in 2017/2018 illustrates in bold terms.

tyler walker
Carolyn Radford pulled off a real coup in persuading Nottingham Forest to send Tyler Walker on loan two tiers below; a precocious talent, he will prove to be matchwinner for Mansfield Town, if given the chance and creative freedom

Predicted ‘Area’ of Finish: Play-off chasers; the squad is (pretty much) there; the financial clout from the Radfords is there. What’s still not there, however, is a manager who I feel who can employ a style of football that will please supporters and yield results. Flitcroft will be judged from the first whistle of 2018/2019, and I don’t think he will outstay his welcome if things don’t go his way immediately, but not through choice. In that event, it’s almost certain that someone else could come in and pick up the pieces if they’re of sufficient quality and have tactical nous. Of course, there’s every chance he could prove me wrong and the Stags will be celebrating promotion next May… but I just don’t think he ranks in the same bracket as a Tisdale, for example. That could be key.

League Two Club-by-Club Preview for 2018/2019: Milton Keynes Dons

2017/2018

Record Last Season + Quick Summary: 

League One - 23rd (relegated); W 11 / D 12 / L 23 / F 43 / A 69 / Pts 45

Certainly showed me up! The issues at stadium:mk last season from an outsider’s point of view were threefold: long-term injuries to key players, poor management and huge question marks over the mentality of some of their more exciting talents. Robbie Neilson started the campaign confident of improving over 2016/2017’s forgettable effort (in fairness, he was only in charge for the latter half). They shook off an indifferent opening to accrue a sizeable points tally in September, before once again sliding badly, only triumphing once in the last three months of the calendar year in the league. Neilson was still afforded the majority of the winter transfer window, but his fate was sealed after the Dons fell into the bottom four after a 2-1 reverse against Northampton Town.

Dan Micciche was subsequently appointed – his only previous managerial role was with England U16s, so he was certainly a choice out of left-field for a struggling team. He failed to win a single match in his first seven in the dugout, and when they did hit a small patch of form, it wasn’t sustained. Much like trap-door rivals Bury, they then turned to a third man, Keith Millen, who was placed in temporary charge, but he couldn’t prevent the seemingly inevitable from occurring. A decade after their last spell in the basement division, the team most lower league fans regard with contempt* are back, having taken their time to appoint Paul Tisdale in the close season.

gilbey
Alex Gilbey’s knee injury has kept him out since February; a classy central midfielder and a crucial part of the squad, the Buckinghamshire outfit’s supporters will be hoping he can feature in the new campaign from the get-go, having gained some valuable minutes in last night’s friendly against Ipswich Town

Top Goalscorer: Chuks Aneke (9 goals in 26 starts/2,391 minutes)

Top Creator:  Chuks Aneke (7 assists in 26 starts/2,391 minutes)

2018/2019

Manager/Head Coach: Paul Tisdale; never a regular as a pro, the Maltese-born midfielder got into management whilst still in his 20s at Team Bath, leading the university team to an incredible four promotions, and an even more memorable run to the first round proper of the FA Cup in 2003. Three years later, he took over then-Conference side Exeter City, which was the start of a tenure that lasted well over a decade, an extremely rare feat in the modern era. He guided The Grecians to successive promotions, and, in 2010/2011, equalled their highest ever finish, narrowly missing out on the play-off places in League One.

Renowned for his fashion sense, Tisdale did suffer relegation, but the board kept faith with him, full in the knowledge that he was doing the best he could, working under a strict financial model that revolved around developing young players from within and without, and selling them then on for handsome profits, most of which would go straight back into improving the infrastructure off-field and keeping the club as a going concern. His last act as manager, other than becoming the longest-serving boss in the top four divisions, was to lead Exeter to the play-off final, only to lose to Coventry City. He couldn’t agree terms with the board, and perhaps seeking a fresh challenge with fewer constraints, made the journey eastwards to another side that seem a close match for his philosophy.

Ins: Robbie Simpson (Exeter City), Mitch Hancox (Macclesfield Town), Lawson D’Ath (Luton Town), Jordan Moore-Taylor (Exeter City), Ryan Watson (Barnet), Jordan Houghton (Chelsea U23s) & Ryan Harley (Exeter City).

Outs: Scott Wootton (Plymouth Argyle), Ben Tilney (Larne), Ed Upson (Bristol Rovers), Giorgio Rasulo (free agent), Hugo Logan (free agent), Connor Furlong (free agent) & Nigel Reo-Coker (free agent).

Predicted First XI & Shape:

MK Dons 1819

Tactics: Custodian Lee Nicholls has no major weaknesses to his game, being tall, light on his feet and adept at setting up counter-attacks with his accurate throwing. Tisdale has brought with him three players he knows very well; Jordan Moore-Taylor can operate on the left or in the centre, and can dictate play from the back, picking out teammates with raking balls forward and is also a creator of chances from long throws. George Williams also possesses plenty of positional flexibility. His jumping is second to none when you consider his height. Age is catching up with captain Dean Lewington, but he has competition for his spot with the capture of Mitch Hancox. His lack of pace could catch him out, but he ought to have the wherewithal to keep those instances to a minimum.

Despite his team’s demotion, Callum Brittain is still under close watch by a slew of scouts. He has the technical skills and consistency in his play to make the grade in more vaunted surroundings, and will rove with purpose if chosen at right-back. Jordan Houghton sits in front of the back four and uses his short passing skills to recycle possession and supply his compatriots ahead of him. He could be half of a double pivot if Alex Gilbey can be ready in time for the new season.

Conor McGrandles will shuttle between both boxes, and whilst he isn’t the most convincing in the tackle, he will give his opponents no peace. Ryan Harley could become the first choice set piece taker, using his free kicks to add guile to the craft Dons fans are likely to witness once more under their new manager. An immediate on-field issue for him will be coaxing the best out of Chuks Aneke. His attitude was woeful at times last season, and whilst few would dispute his talent, he needs to be focused and consistent in his actions. Nominally on the left, he will drift close to Kieran Agard when they have possession in the final third. What he doesn’t have in speed, he makes up for in almost every single other area of importance.

The agile Peter Pawlett is strong with both feet and can play anywhere in advanced midfield areas. His dribbling will unlock defences in tense encounters. The aforementioned Agard is not wholly persuasive as a target man, and looks better coming off the wing or with someone alongside him to feed him through balls to break offside traps set by their opponents. Osman Sow is more comfortable in this role, but as with several others, is beset with injury problems.

Milton Keynes Dons v Northampton Town - Sky Bet League One
Callum Brittain is another successful graduate of the academy, which is the foundation on which the club has been ‘built’; technically excellent, tactically flexible, he has a big future in the game

Predicted ‘Area’ of Finish: Gunning for automatic promotion; there is some anxiety amongst the supporters that Tisdale’s relatively late appointment in an abridged close season might scupper any pretensions of a major tilt at the title or automatic promotion back to whence they came, before they’ve even begun. Whilst it’s certainly plausible, one factor in his favour is that the retained list only went out a week after he was in post, so he would’ve exerted at least some influence over the names on it. They are probably still short of at least one more striker, either to aid Agard or to usurp him. Tisdale is a canny operator, and should get the best from his charges. It might be a slower start than he himself would like, but I’m going to stick my neck out for MK once more and say that they should be there or thereabouts!

*Not an opinion I share!

League Two Club-by-Club Preview for 2018/2019: Yeovil Town

2017/2018

Record Last Season + Quick Summary: 

League Two - 19th; W 12 / D 12 / L 22 / F 59 / A 75 / Pts 47

Darren Way’s Yeovil Town had a baptism of fire in their opening fixture of 2017/2018, being on the receiving end of a 8-2 monstering by Luton Town. Some notable wins were achieved in the early stages, most notably against eventual champions Accrington Stanley and Coventry City. Goals were never especially difficult to come by, but keeping them out was an entirely different matter. Midwinter was the best period and the bulk of their victories came in that spell, defying the doom-mongers. They saved their best performance by doing the double over The Sky Blues, putting six past them in a truly bizarre encounter.

Way’s charges upset many a betting slip with a finish of 19th, ensuring that The Glovers have featured in the bottom six for a fifth year in a row, including their consecutive relegations between 2013 and 2015.

Top Goalscorer: François Zoko (13 goals in 35 starts/3,041 minutes)

Top Creator:  Otis Khan (6 assists in 35 starts/2,919 minutes)

Zoko
François Zoko will be even more central to Yeovil Town’s survival chances than he was in 2017/2018; his physique lends itself extremely well to the rigours of fourth tier football, and his eye for goal might be the decisive factor in which division The Glovers compete in this time next year

2018/2019

Manager/Head Coach: Darren Way; the lion’s share of his playing career came at Huish Park. What ‘Weasel’ didn’t have in stature, he more than compensated for with his battling, energetic performances in midfield. He announced his retirement eight years after returning to the fold following an injury-plagued stint at Swansea City. Indeed, a serious accident off-the-field had him wheelchair-bound for a time, having to learn to walk all over again once he was on the slow path to recovery. Slowly rising the ranks in the backroom, Way has now been in charge at Yeovil for nearly three years, working wonders to keep them above the trap-door, and his efforts haven’t gone unnoticed.

Ins: Korrey Henry (West Ham United U18s), Nathan Baxter (Chelsea U23s on loan), Carl Dickinson (Notts County),  Sessi D’Almeida (Blackpool), Garry Warren (Inverness Caledonian Thistle) & Diallang Jaiyesimi (Norwich City U23s on loan).

Outs: Nathan Smith (free agent), Oscar Gobern (Eastleigh), Ryan Dickson (Torquay United), Daniel Alfei (free agent), Connor Smith (Boreham Wood), Artur Krysiak (free agent), Jonny Maddison (Darlington) & Otis Khan (Mansfield Town).

Predicted First XI & Shape:

Yeovil 1819

Tactics: With the first-team squad currently so small, a number of the above pick themselves. Stuart Nelson’s positioning is decent, which helps no end due to his propensity to come for crosses. Ahead of him, Tom James can play across defence, and might be one of the few in the division that starts as a left-footed right-back. His aerial ability is reasonably high, and he rarely gets caught out in behind. Bevis Mugabi is one to watch out for from set pieces and has been impressive in pre-season alongside stand-in captain Omar Sowunmi, who’s very much in the old-school fashion of centre backs and possesses colossal strength. On the left, Carl Dickinson will keep well in his own half, and is very aggressive in the tackle when he needs to be.

Sessi D’Almeida will cover plenty of ground in between defence and midfield, and his ability to link the two will be crucial to Yeovil retaining the ball and winning it back quickly when there’s a turnover. Rhys Browne is very fast and good on the dribble; his versatility will also doubtlessly come into play as the season wears on. Jordan Green is a steady influence on the right flank and will provide whipped crosses for the strikers to meet first time. Alefe Santos is a flair player, more at home on the wing but can also operate centrally when required. His understanding with the likes of François Zoko will be important, as will his runs into the area to provide greater numbers.

Zoko is a veteran at this level, and will surely be looked to both to score the goals and help develop the younger players on the roster, not least of whom is likely to be Diallang Jaiyesimi, a nippy wide forward by trade.

Nathan-Baxter-800x508
If chosen, on-loan goalkeeper Nathan Baxter will surely face plenty of shots; however, despite being only 19, he has amassed more than 60 senior appearances away from his parent club, so his experience in struggling sides shouldn’t be easily disregarded

Predicted ‘Area’ of Finish: Circling the relegation drain; there remains a lot of uncertainty regarding the playing squad. Clearly, only just being able to fill a bench is far from ideal (and that’s assuming they’re all available). This might help to build a siege mentality and also give opportunities for academy prospects at the Somerset outfit. Way is obviously operating with at least one hand proverbially tied behind his back, and it’s difficult to foresee any outcome other than another season of toil. They face Bury in less than two weeks on the opening day of 2018/2019 and will hope to swell their numbers before then, with the summer window closing early and leaving little time for substantial reinforcements. Zoko will lead the line admirably, but will that be enough? They’re my most certain choice for the lowest category at the time of writing.

League Two Club-by-Club Preview for 2018/2019: Tranmere Rovers

2017/2018

Record Last Season + Quick Summary: 

National League - 2nd; W 24 / D 10 / L 12 / F 78 / A 46 / Pts 82
(won the play-offs)

Edged out by Forest Green Rovers in the previous season’s play-off final, Tranmere Rovers were determined from the outset not to allow a repeat of that disappointment taking place. However, Micky Mellon’s side were well off the pace in the opening dozen matches of the National League, plummeting as low as 18th, their lowest ever position at any time in their long and storied history. The Birkenhead outfit rallied from that embarrassment, suffering only two further defeats in 2017 and the strike partnership of Andy Cook and James Norwood proving extremely effective. Macclesfield Town were too far out in front to truly catch, and their 4-1 victory over Rovers proved to be a minor setback.

The extension of the fifth tier’s play-off system meant that they were fresher than their opponents Ebbsfleet United in the one-leg semi-final, which proved to be a decisive factor in extra time, Tranmere eventually running out 4-2 winners. In the Wembley showdown with Boreham Wood, the sending off of Liam Ridehalgh wasn’t the catalyst for the Herfordshire club to dominate proceedings; indeed, it was the Super White Army that struck first, but the lengthy amount of stoppage time did level things up. Norwood once more came up with the goods when it truly mattered, settling the tie with 10 minutes to spare and sending them back into the EFL after three years in the wilderness, but not for want of trying.

norwood
James Norwood is prolific, but works best with someone up alongside him; Andy Cook’s departure has left Micky Mellon with a big gap to fill

Top Goalscorer:  Andy Cook (27 goals in 39 starts/3,490 minutes)

2018/2019

Manager/Head Coach: Micky Mellon; as a midfielder in his playing days, the Paisley-born man carved out his niche mainly in the north-west of England, most prominently for Blackpool, Burnley and Tranmere themselves, in what is a noticeable trend with League Two managers in 2018/2019. Initially dividing his time between the Turf Moor academy and managing Fleetwood Town (in an era when the latter were still very much a part of the non-league pyramid), the latter role was made permanent in 2009.

Eventually negotiating the then-Conference North via the play-offs in 2010, they got all the way to the deciders in the league above, before being routed 8-1 on aggregate by AFC Wimbledon. Mellon made no mistake the following season, winning the title and accruing over 100 points in the process. He was harshly dismissed by the ambitious Cod Army board, with the coastal club occupying seventh in League Two in 2012/2013.

His next mission was assisting David Flitcroft in keeping Barnsley in the Championship, which they managed to do on the final day. Flitcroft was sacked in November of the same year, but Mellon stayed on for several more months before also having his contract terminated.

He took up the cudgels at recently relegated Shrewsbury Town, he guided them to promotion back to League One at the first time of asking. With Salop struggling in 2016, he made the drop to Prenton Park before he was sacked, and will be now hoping to once again reach the third tier.

Ins: Ollie Banks (Oldham Athletic), Manny Monthe (Forest Green Rovers), Harvey Gilmour (Sheffield United on loan), Mark Ellis (Carlisle United), Paul Mullin (Swindon Town), Jake Caprice (Leyton Orient) & Shamal George (Liverpool U23s).

Outs: Mitch Duggan (free agent), Eddie Clarke (Fleetwood Town), James Wallace (Fleetwood Town), Drissa Traoré (free agent), James Kirby (Stockport County), Elliot Rokka (free agent), Devarn Green (Southport), Jay McEveley (Warrington Town), Andy Mangan (Bala Town), Jack Dunn (free agent), Jeff Hughes (Larne), Andy Cook (Walsall) & James Alabi (Leyton Orient).

Predicted First XI & Shape:

Tranmere 1819.PNG

Tactics: There are several plausible shapes for Mellon to try out with the current roster at his disposal. Looking at recent friendlies and the number of centre backs in the senior side, I think three of them are likely to feature in most instances. Luke Pilling has competition in the form of Shamal George, who signed earlier today. Both are adept at organising and communicating with their defence to ensure the structure remains solid. They will receive no shortage of help in this regard from captain Steve McNulty, who I have seen several times in the flesh when he was plying his trade for Luton Town. Infamous in the lower leagues, his looks are deceptive. Whilst he doesn’t possess any pace to speak of, his positioning is excellent, as is his uncanny ability to pick out teammates with a wide range of passes.

McNulty could be joined by Ritchie Sutton, who plays best as one of the wider centre backs in a trio, as he’s equally at home on the flank as he is in front of the goalkeeper. Manny Monthe is a giant defender, who lives up to his size with his aerial prowess in both boxes. Zoumana Bakayoko returns to Prenton Park shorn of some the raw speed he used to have, but he still relishes getting up the wing and supplying crosses for the strikers. His skills are mirrored on the right-hand side by Jake Caprice.

In midfield, Ollie Banks is the closest Tranmere will have to a holding midfielder in a 5-3-2.  He’s adept with both feet and this allows him to play searching balls over the top of the opposition’s defence for strikers to run onto from more angles. Ollie Norburn is an all-action central midfielder, who has found his niche in a white shirt. He should take command of free kicks too, and most of their positive play will be conducted by him. Connor Jennings can operate off the frontmen and in attacking midfield, so he will be the link man in this XI. He’s adept at shooting from range and using his good control of the ball to beat his marker and bring others into action.

Up front, James Norwood can comfortably start from the wing and cut inside, making him difficult to track. Equally, he has a variety of finishing techniques, as his sizeable haul from last term is testament to. His threat should not be underestimated. At the present time, he might be partnered by Paul Mullin, who can play across the top end of the pitch and is best utilised as the target of lofted crosses.

steve mcnulty
Steve McNulty is one of the most distinctive figures in recent times in the EFL’s lower reaches; sometimes mocked for his physique by fans of other teams, once they have seen him in action, they normally end up wishing they had him in their colours!

Predicted ‘Area’ of Finish: Mid-table mediocrity; going slightly against the narrative of a promoted National League side being able to amble their way to a top-seven place in the EFL’s basement division, Tranmere nevertheless look the better equipped of the two from the fifth tier to have a positive impact. Mellon has slowly assembled a squad that contains numerous individuals that have attracted heavy interest from higher up the pyramid, and for good reason. They are a little short up front, but they have tactical flexibility from the bench (Larnell Cole and Ben Tollitt in particular) that can help nullify that issue, should a new player not be signed in time for the start of the campaign. Their defenders will undergo more frequent, thorough examinations than they have experienced recently, and it will be interesting to see how well they can cope.

League Two Club-by-Club Preview for 2018/2019: Stevenage

2017/2018

Record Last Season + Quick Summary: 

League Two - 16th; W 14 / D 13 / L 19 / F 60 / A 65 / Pts 55

Previous manager Darren Sarll would’ve been hoping for a bit more from The Boro, particularly given their five-game unbeaten start to the campaign. Things still looked rosy in September, and the Hertfordshire outfit were sitting comfortably in the play-offs. However, a long, sticky spell followed, with a single victory from the beginning of October until Christmas in the league; the 7-1 hammering by ‘rivals’ Luton Town was a portent of things to come. Sarll simply couldn’t coax any consistency from his players, and at no stage in the remainder of his tenure did they win twice in a row. Dino Maamria was brought in to replace him in mid-March, the first 10 results yielding the epitome of a mixed bag. That said, there is more (justified) optimism regarding the upcoming season…

skysports-dino-maamria-stevenage_4260249
Relatively new manager Dino Maamria, renewing an association with the club that goes back 15 years, will be hoping to extract the best from some eyebrow-raising signings to propel Stevenage back into League One after what will be a half-decade absence in 2019

Top Goalscorer: Danny Newton (14 goals in 38 starts/3,262 minutes)

Top Creator: Ben Kennedy (7 assists in 24 starts/2,153 minutes)

2018/2019

Manager/Head Coach: Dino Maamria; the Tunisian-born manager signed for Burnley in 1996, and has remained in some part of the UK ever since, save for a brief time in the USL with Charleston Battery.  The former striker’s most fruitful period came at Leigh RMI (now Genesis), before moving south for The Boro in 2003. Upon his return from America, he again donned the red and white, remaining there for three years.

His first taste of management was as caretaker at Northwich Victoria, where he somehow masterminded survival from seemingly impossible odds and was named as the then-Conference Manager of the Year. Shortly into the subsequent season, he was sacked by the Trickies after being placed on gardening leave. Once more, he came back to the Lamex Stadium, this time as first-team coach under Graham Westley. He followed the divisive manager to Preston North End and then back to Stevenage in assistant roles. Upon Teddy Sheringham’s appointment and an all-too-brief time in charge at Southport, he gained his UEFA Pro Licence, linking up with Westley yet again at Newport County.

He struck out on his own st Nuneaton Borough in October of last year, finding them in a similar predicament to Northwich when he first cut his teeth as a manager. The same pattern followed, lifting the National League North side to within sight of the play-offs. Back in Hertfordshire, all eyes are on whether he can keep the quiet confidence the club have been building over the summer going, and transform it into something meaningful come the end of 2018/2019.

Ins: Scott Cuthbert (Luton Town), Jamal Campbell-Ryce (Carlisle United), Ben Nugent (Gillingham), Joel Byrom (Mansfield Town), Michael Timlin (Southend United), Johnny Hunt (Mansfield Town), James Ball (Stockport County), Emmanuel Sonupé (Kidderminster Harriers), Alex Reid (Fleetwood Town), Luther Wildin (Nuneaton Borough) & Paul Farman (Lincoln City).

Outs: Ben Wilmot (Watford), Tom Conlon (free agent), Fraser Franks (Newport County), Ryan Johnson (Kidderminster Harriers on loan), Chris Whelpdale (free agent), Jack King (Ebbsfleet United), Alex Samuel (free agent), Dale Gorman (Leyton Orient), Jamie Gray (free agent), Matt Godden (Peterborough United), Kevin Lokko (Dover Athletic) & Chris Day (free agent).

Predicted First XI & Shape:

Stevenage 1819

 

Tactics: Whilst not set in stone, the setup appears to be leaning heavily towards a more direct style of football this season. Paul Farman doesn’t, at the time of writing, have an understudy in goal, so he appears set to be #1. His ability to throw the ball long and accurately might not be called upon frequently, but could be a secret weapon for Maamria if a shift in emphasis is required. In front of him will be Ben Nugent and Scott Cuthbert. Both of them are more than competent centre backs in the fourth tier; the latter is more stocky and possesses immense strength, as well as being a danger in the opposition penalty area from set pieces. Nugent is also strong and brings balance to the duo with his left foot and is adept at timing a sliding tackle to perfection.

At full-back, Johnny Hunt and Ronnie Henry probably won’t be tasked with bombing forward; instead, they’ll be asked to retain the shape of the defensive line and only advance to close down space when the need is urgent. Joel Byrom and Michael Timlin will drop off out of possession to act add an intimidating extra shield. Both are excellent long passers with their left foot, strong and far from shy when it comes to getting stuck in.

Mamaria is blessed with an array of options for the right wing. Emmanuel Sonupé and Jamal Campbell-Ryce are the most prominent and might have to settle for rotation. The latter is 13 years his teammate’s senior, and can operate anywhere behind the striker. He’s most known for his balance, surprising aerial ability… and propensity to dive. He can still be a danger though, and could just as easily compete for a spot on the left with Ben Kennedy. Another versatile midfielder, he’s more agile than quick and quite aggressive. He has a tendency to avoid using his weaker foot, so his angled runs will be designed with that in mind.

Up top, possible captain Alex Revell will be putting himself about as he always has. A target man by build, his stamina is second-to-none, and he will be seeking to carry on his good goalscoring start to life at The Boro. His first touch helps bring in others to play, which is a key skill if, as expected, his strike partner is Alex Reid. Athletic and tall, he will be calling upon Revell’s know-how to remain a fixture in a match (and the team), as well as looking to lose his marker whenever possible.

newton
Last term’s Player of the Season Danny Newton might not even start, such is the stiff competition he now faces; if he does feature, he will drift wide to create space in the middle for late runners, as well as being a goalscoring force in his own right

Predicted ‘Area’ of Finish: Play-off chasers; Maamria appears to have bought well on the whole following the sale of outstanding prospect Ben Wilmot to neighbours Watford, especially down the spine of the team. They ought to be much tougher to beat in 2018/2019, as well as having more depth throughout, except between the sticks. The optimism engendered by the current look of the squad is shared by the fans, who will be right behind their manager and his charges from the get-go. The style of play might not always be the easiest on the eye, but they won’t care if it yields results. They’re most definitely a side to look out for in League Two.

League Two Club-by-Club Preview for 2018/2019: Carlisle United

2017/2018

Record Last Season + Quick Summary: 

League Two - 10th; W 17 / D 16 / L 13 / F 62 / A 54 / Pts 67

Disappointment would be the operative word for the Cumbrians’ 2017/2018. On the back of a 6-5 aggregate loss in the play-off semi-final to Exeter City in the previous campaign, the season started slowly, yielding only two wins from the opening eight fixtures. There were some impressive margins of victory before Christmas, broken up by high-scoring draws. A mixed Christmas segued into 2018, where Keith Curle’s men have only lost four in the current year, but they didn’t manage to turn one point into three in an exceedingly high number of games, and there arose a sinking feeling that Curle had taken the club as far as his talents allowed. John Sheridan was appointed in early June, immediately setting the ambition for Carlisle United to be promoted in 2018/2019.

Top Goalscorer:  Jamie Devitt (10 goals in 30 starts/2,871 minutes)

Top Creator:  Jamie Devitt (5 assists in 30 starts/2,871 minutes)

sheridan
John Sheridan has certainly had a colourful career as a manager; he takes a single-minded, simplified approach to his relationships with his playing staff, accentuating their strengths and attempting to hide their weaknesses without burdening them with a plethora of instructions

2018/2019

Manager/Head Coach: John Sheridan; the former Republic of Ireland midfielder, capped at USA ’94, had an excellent playing career, amassing over 700 appearances in all competitions and the bulk of those were in the top flight. Retiring at Oldham Athletic a few months short of his 40th birthday, his relationship with the Latics would be renewed several times a manager. Controversy saw him leave Boundary Park after three fruitful years, whereupon he crossed the county border into Derbyshire to take over at Chesterfield. In his second season, he lifted the League Two title with the Spireites, just about holding off the challenge of a resurgent Bury and Wycombe Wanderers. Despite winning the EFL Trophy in 2012, he couldn’t prevent them slipping straight back into the basement division.

He was put on gardening leave by the club that August, taking up the cudgels at Plymouth Argyle at the turn of the year. His best period with the Pilgrims was leading them to the play-offs in 2014/2015, only to succumb over two legs against Wycombe. A brief spell at Newport County was followed by a return to Oldham, saving them from relegation before again moving away, this time with Notts County. A disastrous nine-game losing streak and a rant at the officials got him sacked for gross misconduct.

10 days later, he was back in the dugout at Oldham (for a fifth time, including caretaker roles). He led them to safety when they appeared utterly doomed. In September of last year, he left for what might prove to be the final time, but it wasn’t too long before Fleetwood Town came calling, who were hovering just above the drop zone. Once more, he led a side to safety in the third tier and now finds himself in Cumbria, tasked with steering his charges into at least the top seven.

Ins: Gary Miller (Plymouth Argyle), Joe Fryer (Middlesbrough U23s on loan), George Glendon (Fleetwood Town), Macauley Gillesphey (Newcastle United U23s) & Adam Collin (Notts County).

Outs: Luke Joyce (Port Vale), Shaun Miller (Crewe Alexandra), Morgan Brown (free agent), Nicky Adams (Bury), Mark Ellis (Tranmere Rovers), Jamal Campbell-Ryce (Stevenage), Tom Miller (Bury), John O’Sullivan (Blackpool), Reggie Lambe (Cambridge United), Cameron Salkeld (Gateshead), Samir Nabi (Torquay United) & Clint Hill (retired).

Predicted First XI & Shape:

Carlisle 1819

Tactics: Adam Collin will need to convince the Brunton Park from the get-go that he still has the capability to be an imposing force in goal. This is his second spell with the Blues and he does not return with glowing references from Notts County. He’s a puncher and has a tendency to rush out of his comfort zone, two aspects of play that can go horribly wrong. Protecting him will be Tom Parkes, who’s tall, strong and does the basics well. Unusually, both starting centre backs are predominately left-footed. Macauley Gillesphey had two loan periods in the last couple of years before signing permanently this summer, and has proven himself to more effective in the middle than out wide.

Replacing one Miller with another, Gary won’t roam forward too much and this is likely to be the case with Danny Grainger. The back four as a unit could sit quite deeply in matches they’re not expected to control, but Grainger’s early crossing accuracy does give them a creative outlet, if he’s given the time to pick out one of the target men up top. George Glendon will hold fort, mopping up loose balls and will aim his passes for the runs of Jamie Devitt. Mike Jones is more of a central midfielder these days, adding more aggression in the tackle and positional flexibility to his playing style. He hasn’t lost any of his speed and his dribbling can mesmerise defenders at times.

Next to him could be either Jason Kennedy or Kelvin Etuhu, two quite different players who both suffered awful injuries last season. The latter is nominally defensive, but has a tendency to drift out wide to the right flank, which is a double-edged sword when things need to be kept tight. On the other hand, it means he can offer more immediate support to Devitt and any forays forward Miller manages to make.

Devitt will once again carry the creative burden of the team. He’s the one that they look to in order to conjure something up out of nothing. He’s agile, potent from free kicks and usually opts for placement over power with his long range shooting. He’ll need to stick close to the front two to prevent them from becoming isolated. Cole Stockton is a hard-working striker, who is quick on the turn but needs to take some of the strain away from Devitt in the goalscoring department. He’ll be partnered with Richie Bennett, who’ll use his power in the air to win knockdowns and get on the end of any diagonals played into the 18 yard box.

Hallam Hope
It’s a big season for Hallam Hope; previously regarded as a player destined to make it at elite level, he finds himself fighting for a regular spot in the fourth tier; he offers Carlisle a different option to their target men, and can also be a defensive winger if a lead needs preserving

Predicted ‘Area’ of Finish: Safe but sorry; the business done by Sheridan to date doesn’t particularly set the pulse racing. That in itself is not necessarily a negative, but they didn’t have anyone up front in double figures last season, and that must change for Carlisle to achieve what Sheridan stated on his first day in situ. The over-reliance on Devitt must cease also, as opposition managers and scouts will be wiser to the threats he has in his arsenal. The melancholy that appeared in the latter days of Curle’s reign doesn’t show any signs of dissipating, and the goalkeeper area is a worry. Harder times might be around the corner in Cumbria.

League Two Club-by-Club Preview for 2018/2019: Lincoln City

2017/2018

Record Last Season + Quick Summary: 

League Two - 7th; W 20 / D 15 / L 11 / F 64 / A 48 / Pts 75
(Lost in the play-off semi-final)

The Imps were back in the EFL after a six-year hiatus, that must have felt like an aeon to most of their fans. It’s hard to underestimate the impact Danny and Nicky Cowley have had since being manager and assistant respectively. By Christmas 2017, they’d suffered defeat on a mere five occasions, and whilst Lincoln City had found it slightly difficult to g on any winning streaks, they were consistently at the right end of table. A superb seventh-place finish meant they had a chance of gaining back-to-back promotions and they also won the EFL Trophy, neither of which were expected. A 3-1 aggregate defeat in the play-odd semi-final to Exeter City was disappointing, but far from a killer blow in terms of the confidence in the team for the subsequent season. The general mood remains buoyant.

Top Goalscorer:  Matt Green (14 goals in 45 starts/3,800 minutes)

Top Creator:  Matt Rhead (8 assists in 37 starts/2,855 minutes)

bruno andrade
Bruno Andrade (right) is one of the most eye-catching signings in the entire EFL this summer; his versatility, intelligence and huge number of goals from a withdrawn forward/attacking midfield role helped to propel Boreham Wood to the brink of promotion; now in the tier above, he’ll form part of a lethal looking front three

2018/2019

Manager/Head Coach: Danny Cowley; it’s very much a team effort from the brothers, but Danny is the one who’s in charge. He’s that rare breed of manager that to this date, has vastly improved the standing of every club he’s taken the reins of. He spent his playing career in the non-league, bouncing from southern sides until an injury at Concord Rangers forced him to retire in 2007. Soon after, he was offered the gig at The Beach Boys, enjoying three promotions in his eight years there, getting them all the way up to the National League South. Danny and Nicky made the move to Braintree Town, spending a single campaign with the Iron and missing out on the fifth tier play-off final as Grimsby Town overturned their first leg deficit.

The brothers excelled right from the off, winning the title with two games to spare and gaining international publicity with their memorable run to the quarter finals of the FA Cup whilst the Imps were still a non-league outfit. Last term only enhanced their reputations even further, and both are fiercely ambitious to continue their remarkable progression.

Ins: John Akinde (Barnet), Bruno Andrade (Boreham Wood), Grant Smith (Boreham Wood), Harry Toffolo (Millwall) & Michael O’Connor (Notts County).

Outs: Nathan Arnold (Boston United), Sean Long (Cheltenham Town), Elliott Whitehouse (Grimsby Town), Billy Knott (Concord Rangers), Alex Woodyard (Peterborough United), Richard Walton (Matlock Town), Paul Farman (Stevenage), Ollie Palmer (Crawley Town) & Cameron Stewart (free agent).

Predicted First XI & Shape:

Lincoln 1819

Tactics: The roster is relatively small in proportion to how most of their rivals will look by the season’s kick-off. Two of Boreham Wood’s key men have made the move to Sincil Bank, starting in goal with Grant Smith. It’s too close to call as to whether he or Josh Vickers will be #1, but together, they give the Cowleys options and plenty of reassurance, should one of them be unavailable.

Captain Luke Waterfall will continue to be a rock in the central of defence, and his partnership with James Wilson is a textbook example of controlled aggression. On the flanks, they have two individuals with the right attributes to play in a conventional flat four or as wing-backs. Neal Eardley has long since shaken off the injury woes that dogged him previously. He has been a reliable figure down the right, with no shortage of skill or ability both with and without the ball. His compatriot Harry Toffolo is another young, highly talented player, who adds strength and a sizeable aerial presence to the Imps out wide.

Lee Frecklington uses every bit of his experience to dictate the tempo of a game from deep areas. He has an eye for goal from range if given the time and space by the opposition to saunter up the pitch unchecked. Similarly, Michael O’Connor might provide a double pivot option to help out his teammates and soak up the pressure. Watch out for his direct free-kicks and positional flexibility – the latter is a coveted commodity in a tight-knit squad. He could also be asked to push out wide when they lose possession, mirroring the efforts of Tom Pett, whose agility makes him hard for defenders to track.

Bruno Andrade’s signature was desperately wanted by a plethora of teams in the EFL’s lower leagues and for good reason. 22 goals from attacking midfield is an astonishing return for Boreham Wood, and there’s little evidence to suggest that he can’t make the step up and be similarly impressive, especially when he has the threat and movement of John Akinde and Matt Green ahead of him.

Green had a more than respectable goal ratio last season, and his tireless efforts to chase down lost causes will continue to bear fruit, especially as he has the pace and stamina to do so all game long. On the occasions he is fatigued, Matt Rhead’s sheer size (in both directions) is intimidating, and he remains a potent super-sub to be called on as and when he’s needed.

Akinde is yet another player who has been in demand for quite some time. He too is very strong and loves nothing more than using that to back into his marker to shield the ball, but it’s his anticipation and movement which elevates him in comparison to other strikers of similar stature. A shoe-in to be top goalscorer in League Two.

akinde
John Akinde (right) is one of the best finishers outside the Premier League in the English system; when you consider that Barnet as a collective often struggled, the goal tally he accrued in a Bees shirt only further enchances the qualities he possesses; strong and athletic, he couples that with a high level of football intelligence

Predicted ‘Area’ of Finish: Gunning for automatic promotion; this is quite unfamiliar territory for Lincoln and their fans. I can’t immediately recall a time when they were one of the favourites for promotion from the fourth tier for a multitude of reasons. With the Cowley brothers in charge and a squad that has retained the vast majority of their better individuals whilst augmenting it with yet more in key areas, there is now a bit of pressure on them to go at least one better and make the play-offs. I think that’s a conservative expectation of what they’re capable of. Although I’ve ‘banded’ my predictions into areas for every side, if someone put a gun to my head and asked me to name the champions for 2018/2019, the Imps would definitely be the first ones I’d think of. There are impressive individuals wherever you look in a group that has an extremely high level of tactical flexibility, and more importantly, a manager that can squeeze the very best out of them. Exciting times at Sincil Bank are sure to stay for a while longer yet…

League Two Club-by-Club Preview for 2018/2019: Northampton Town

2017/2018

Record Last Season + Quick Summary: 

League One - 22nd (relegated); W 12 / D 11 / L 23 / F 43 / A 77 / Pts 47

The Cobblers’ season got off to a terrible start, losing the first four matches in League One. A swift decision was taken to sack Justin Edinburgh, and, with the transfer window closed, the board appointed Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink in his place. The former Netherlands striker had enjoyed previous success in the same tier with Burton Albion, and won his first couple of fixtures at the helm. An indifferent sequence followed, topped off by a shambolic display in their 6-0 home defeat against Bristol Rovers. The main problems were pretty basic in nature: conceding way too many goals and when they did win, they rarely were able to repeat that feat in the next match.

The poorest sequence came from mid-January onwards, with a single triumph away at AFC Wimbledon looking like a blip in amongst stalemates and heavy reverses. Hasselbaink himself was relieved of duties with only five games of the season remaining and Northampton in the relegation mire. Dean Austin was brought in initially as a caretaker, but despite winning two and drawing one during the run-in, it was insufficient to save them from sliding back into League Two after a relatively short period in the tier above.

o'toole
I’ve always admired the undeniable talent John-Joe O’Toole posesses and he’s a cult figure at Sixfields; playing off the main striker, he has a propensity to let rip from range and has previously reached double figures on three separate occasions at this level

Top Goalscorer:  Chris Long (9 goals in 30 starts/2,591 minutes)

Top Creator:  Matt Grimes (9 assists in 43 starts/3,903 minutes)

 

2018/2019

Manager/Head Coach: Dean Austin; featured prominently as a player in the Premier League for both Tottenham Hotspur and Crystal Palace and stayed faithful to the Eagles when they entered administration, taking a massive pay cut in the process in an era before the income from television deals had reached anything like the amount it is now, which endeared him to supporters in no small way. Suffering with two injuries at once, he called time on his professional career, lasting one more season with Woking before hanging up his boots for good. Initially appointed Director of Football at Farnborough Town, he was asked to take full control at short notice before the 2004/2005 campaign got underway. Financial pressures hampered his time in charge, and it was a long time before he cut his teeth as a manager again, learning the ropes under figures, such as Brendan Rodgers. He had been assistant to Hasselbaink prior to the Dutchman’s sacking, and now finds himself tasked with steering the Cobblers back up the ziggurat.

Ins: Hakeem Odofin (Wolverhampton Wanderers U23s on loan), Andy Williams (Doncaster Rovers) & Junior Morias (Peterborough United).

Outs: Raheem Hanley (free agent), Leon Lobjoit (free agent), Kevin Luckassen (free agent), Aaron Phillips (free agent), Richard O’Donnell (Bradford City), Joe Bunney (Blackpool on loan) & Brendan Moloney (free agent).

Predicted First XI & Shape:

Northampton 1819

Tactics: Austin’s charges currently lack options out wide and in goal. David Cornell will be the custodian at the time of writing, but I don’t expect that to remain the case before the window closes. He likes to come for crosses, which always has a risk attached to it. Ahead of him, the back four look solid. David Buchanan’s balance and surprising aerial ability often catches his marker out, especially if a much taller player is instructed to stick close to him. Aaron Pierre’s strength and relative quickness will make him a tough customer for opposing strikers in the fourth tier, and partnered with captain Ash Taylor, the duo are unlikely to lose many battles in the air or on the floor. Shay Facey is another reliable figure on the right and could get forward a little more than Buchanan, especially with a possible lopsided midfield ahead of him.

Shaun McWilliams will hold things together as the pivot and will possibly be joined by Matt Crooks when possession is lost in central areas. Daniel Powell can operate on either flank and has the pace and technical dribbling skills to push his side up the park, particularly when under pressure. John-Joe O’Toole’s quality is famous in the EFL’s lower reaches, and if he can stay injury-free, will be the heartbeat of the team. He will be a major scorer in his own right, as well as a supplier of chances for the strikers. Junior Morias likes to come in from the half-space to draw out the adjacent centre back and create space. His physical power extends to his shooting, and his work rate will ensure that Northampton defend from the front. Andy Williams has a good all-round game; he found minutes hard to come by for Doncaster Rovers, he has an excellent track record and should be a decent foil for the likes of Morias.

Predicted ‘Area’ of Finish: Play-off chasers; as mentioned above, they are a couple of players short as I write, but I expect some more incomings to add to the three they’ve acquired thus far. The defence is largely the same as the ones that shipped so many goals last season, hence the pressing need for a confident goalkeeper to instil the same in them. The squad is there for a variety of narrow shapes in midfield, and there is impressive depth up top. Dean Austin can be a galvanising force for the Cobblers, and the top seven should be within their reach if they reduce the costly individual and collective errors that dogged much of their relegation season.