League Two – Quarterly Review 2018/19

0

EFL aficionado Gab Sutton (@_FootbalLab) made his team-by-team League Two guides and predictions in the summer. With a quarter of the season gone, how is his pre-season analysis looking?

Lincoln

Gab’s pre-season prediction: “One key ingredient to look for in a potential title-winner is unity and Lincoln City have that more than anyone. The Imps possess a formidable squad, too; they have added pace and quality in John Akinde and Bruno Andrade. 1st

Current performance: A convincing start leaves them on course to play third tier football for the first time since 1986 – and collect Accrington’s crown in the process.

Strengths: They play through the thirds quicker and with more incision than we saw last season, which is helped partially by having a mobile target man in John Akinde. Harry Toffolo has formed a fine midfield pairing with fellow recruit Bruno Andrade, while the decision to move Tom Pett into central midfield has proved inspired.

Weaknesses: If we’re being unreasonably harsh, we could perhaps say that home performances against Crawley and Crewe haven’t been brilliant. Opposing teams will start to view their trip to Sincil Bank as one of the highlights of their season and it’s important that Lincoln match the enthusiasm of their visitors.

Stick or twist? Stick. It’s very difficult to envisage a scenario in which May comes and Lincoln aren’t promoted.

Exeter

Gab’s pre-season prediction: “Jordans Moore-Taylor and Storey might be big losses and new manager Matt Taylor is a rookie. Hopes of another top seven finish could be hindered by a lack of depth in the playing squad and a lack of experience in the dugout. 13th

Current performance: The end of a long managerial reign is normally cue for a period of transition, but because Paul Tisdale divided opinion during the latter stages of his tenure, Matt Taylor’s impact has been more Emery than Moyes.

Strengths: Adaptability. Jonathan Forte late-August injury looked a blow, but Matt Taylor switched to a 4-1-4-1 system and Jayden Stockley has led the line very well on his own. They have made one of the League Two signings of the summer, too in Nicky Law.

Weaknesses: Taylor acknowledged after the 2-2 draw at Yeovil last time out that a drastic improvement was needed on that performance.

Stick or twist? Twist. Exeter haven’t been hindered by the manager change – if anything, they look well-placed to build on the last two play-off finishes and go one better this year.

Newport

Gab’s pre-season prediction: “Michael Flynn deserves credit for turning Newport County from a club doomed to non-league to one stable in mid-table. The Exiles will rarely be found wanting for effort, but they might need to build off the field before they build any further on it. 17th

Current performance: Newport are flying high in 3rd and Michael Flynn has done an extraordinary job; summer recruits like Bristol City loanee Tyreeq Bakinson have been inspired.

Strengths: The full-backs/wing-backs. The arrival of Tyler Hornby-Forbes has meant legendary veteran David Pipe hasn’t had to start as many games this season. Dan Butler, Young Player of the Year in 2017-18, has continued to serve the strikers on a silver platter.

Weaknesses: Sloppy starts. Newport have conceded 12 first half goals this season; only Morecambe have shipped more.

Stick or twist? Twist. It was clear in pre-season that Flynn was doing a great job but even he has surpassed expectations.

MK Dons

Gab’s pre-season prediction: “MK Dons have responded to relegation by making the best possible appointment in Paul Tisdale. Defender Jordan Moore-Taylor is a great signing while new boy Jordan Houghton should tidy things up in midfield alongside the influential Alex Gilbey. 4th

Current performance: The Buckinghamshire outfit endured a great start and, following a winless September, the quality of their performances has once again improved drastically in the last two games and that has been rewarded by comfortable back-to-back wins.

Strengths: Organization. Jordan Moore-Taylor, who followed Tis’ from Exeter, is one of the best ball-playing centre-backs outside the Championship, Jordan Houghton does the simple things efficiently in midfield while utility man George Williams is an intelligent operator. Because MK Dons retain possession stringently and rarely break their shape, goalkeeper Lee Nicholls spends a lot of games untested.

Weaknesses: We predicted a few early-season goal gluts, but in fact their attacking play has at times left a little to be desired.

Stick or twist? Stick. We can expect the re-organized MK to be among the main contenders.

Stevenage

Gab’s pre-season prediction: “After a summer of impressive recruitment, Stevenage’s squad now has a nice balance; Dino Maamria, loved during his playing career, has already created a siege mentality. 6th

Current performance: 5th-placed Boro have improved hugely. While last season’s side was talented but soft-centred, the introduction of the battle-hardened midfielder Michael Timlin means they now manage leads better.

Strengths: The defence. Dino Maamria has settled on his best back-four, at least when right-back Luther Wildin is available. Birmingham loanee Steve Seddon has offered plenty of energy while the experienced Scott Cuthbert has formed one of the best centre-back pairings in the division with Ben Nugent in a side that has won 1-0 on four occasions.

Weaknesses: The one area in which Stevenage might be weaker than last season is their home goalscoring record. In 2017/18, they hit three or more goals at the Lamex on eight occasions; this year, they have scored eight in six on familiar soil.

Stick or twist? Stick. The Hertfordshire outfit have a great opportunity to reach the top seven.

Forest Green

Gab’s pre-season prediction: “Liam Shephard and Joseph Mills should offer thrust from full-back, Lloyd James will add a touch of class in the holding role just behind the all-action Carl Winchester. The side has serious potential: but, with fans still divided over Mark Cooper’s conduct, that potential might not immediately be fulfilled. 14th

Current performance: Weekend defeats for Middlesbrough and Portsmouth leave Forest Green as the only remaining unbeaten side in the EFL. In fact, they probably deserve even more points than the 20 they currently possess.

Strengths: Mark Cooper has always been a keep-ball connoisseur but last season, he didn’t quite have the personnel to implement his methods. That’s changed this year, thanks to the appointment of a Head of Recruitment in Richard Hughes. For example, few players at this level have the poise and assurance to dictate proceedings at Stadium:MK quite as well as Lloyd James did last month. The former Exeter man loves to collect the ball from the defence and he switches play superbly.

Weaknesses: Draws – eight of them in total. The Green Devils have been the more prominent side in most of their encounters but they need to kill teams off, especially at the New Lawn, where they have won just once.

Stick or twist? Twist. Cooper has converted his doubters and his side’s performances suggest a top three surge is likely.

Tranmere

Gab’s pre-season prediction: “Tranmere hope that commitment and drive will serve them well in League Two but, even with key man James Norwood staying, questions could be asked about the quality of the squad. 19th

Current performance: The Wirrall outfit have enjoyed excellent start to their return to this level, sitting pretty in 7th following back-to-back wins.

Strengths: For a start, they have League Two’s top goalscorer in James Norwood, who has eight for the season. The striker – who harshly once described himself as a poor man’s Dirk Kuyt – remains a major attacking threat, even without target man Andy Cook alongside him.

Weaknesses: Tranmere have only scored four goals in six at home – and all of them have been scored by Norwood. Midfielders may need to step up.

Stick or twist? Twist. The Super White Army have done enough to suggest they can land a top half berth.

Colchester

Gab’s pre-season prediction: “New boys Frank Nouble and Luke Norris should add a little more knowhow in forward areas and midfielder Tom Lapslie can be a tough nut on his day. Although Colchester have a starting eleven potentially worthy of the top half, those players could be let down by the lack of proven quality in reserve. 18th

Current performance: The U’s have had an excellent start, sitting one place and point outside the play-off spots.

Strengths: Previous Colchester sides have been, perhaps, overly reliant on youth and this has led to defensive vulnerabilities – see the 2015/16 outfit that shipped () . This year though, the club appears to be learning lessons; having defensive leaders such as Luke Prosser in situ means they are more capable than they used to be of grinding out results.

Weaknesses: The lack of depth. John McGreal has only started 14 players more than once in the league and if an injury crisis were to occur, he would be leaning on a few unproven youngsters.

Stick or twist? Twist. 18th was perhaps a tad harsh on reflection – but they need a full squad to sustain their promotion aspirations.

Crawley

Gab’s pre-season prediction: “Filipe Morais and Ollie Palmer are good signings. Of all 24 League Two teams to back in 2018-19, Crawley Town could offer the best value; all the evidence suggests the fourth-favourites for relegation should be given more respect. 7th

Current performance: Although Harry Kewell did a good job at Crawley, Gabriele Cioffi appears to have done more in a much shorter period to build bridges with supporters and the sense of unity will aid the 9th placed outfit in their play-off push.

Strengths: Striker OIlie Palmer was one of just five players in English football’s top four leagues last season to reach double-figures in all competitions without starting more than 15 games. The other four, you ask? Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Olivier Giroud, Michy Batshuayi and Callum Lang. Since moving from Lincoln to Crawley in search of more game time, the tall yet mobile Palmer has proved he deserves more minutes at this level, scoring seven goals already.

Weaknesses: Away form. Crawley have lost four of their last five on the road and need to produce more competitive performances away from Sussex.

Stick or twist? Stick. The Red Devils look well-equipped for a play-off push.

Carlisle

Gab’s pre-season prediction: “Carlisle are a reactive side in need of new ideas, yet John Sheridan’s remit is so often to re-enforce old ideas for simplicity. More adventurous teams now appear to be the ones challenging for promotion – the Cumbrians could fall behind. 16th

Current performance: Carlisle currently sit 10th, but they have flattered to deceive at times.

Strengths: Replacing the leadership of Clint Hill was a major summer task for John Sheridan and his former Oldham player, Anthony Gerrard, appears to fit the bill, forming a sturdy centre-back partnership with the no-nonsense Tom Parkes. Kelvin Etuhu is a willing competitor in midfield, too.

Weaknesses: Chance creation. In Carlisle’s previous three victories, they have scored from six of their nine shots on target; they simply must have more attempts at goal in order to at least maintain their current position.

Stick or twist? Stick. It seems likely that Carlisle will have to settle for a bottom half finish this year.

Bury

Gab’s pre-season prediction: “After the horrors of last season, Bury have plenty of work to do before they re-connect with supporters. Without possessing many players at their peak, they risk a situation in which the veterans lack the energy and the kids lack the knowhow. 20th

Current performance: The 11th-placed Shakers have re-built quickly – all credit to Ryan Lowe for that.

Strengths: Shot data would suggest that Bury have deserved more points than the 18 they have thus far received. Nicky Maynard, who scored an impressive brace in the 2-2 draw with Mansfield, brings pedigree and could provide a much-needed cutting edge.

Weaknesses: Although Bury don’t concede a lot of shots, evidence suggests that the shots they do concede are of a high-quality.

Stick or twist? Twist. Bury should be among the play-off conversation this term.

Oldham

Gab’s pre-season prediction: “While other clubs have the mentality to deal with adversity, Oldham’s squad might not quite be prepared for a scrap let alone cash-flow issues; that’s where they might encounter problems big enough to jeopardize their EFL status. 24th

Current performance: Oldham sit 12th and have had a good start, although they are now winless in four.

Strengths: The defence. Oldham kept just four away clean sheets in 2017/18 yet have already kept five this year, thanks to the form of impressive young centre-back George Edmundson, who has benefited from the experience of Peter Clarke alongside him.

Weaknesses: Reports of players going on strike over unpaid wages were followed by some very suspect defending in a 3-1 home defeat to Carlisle. Off-field problems at Boundary Park could well transcend the white line.

Stick or twist? Stick. That feels unfair considering the solid start and the work Frankie Bunn has done, but it’s worth remembering that Leyton Orient – a club that had similar ownership problems – sat in the play-off places in September in 2016/17, before being relegated with a meagre 36 points.

Swindon

Gab’s pre-season prediction “Brown has given Swindon back-bone but questions could be asked going forward; re-enforcements are needed to a side that flattered to deceive last term. 9th

Current performance: The Robins sit 13th; they are unquestionably underachieving, relative to the size of the club at this level.

Strengths: Four-goal man Elijah Adebayo. The young striker, who is highly-rated by youth coaches at Fulham even if he had mixed reviews following his first senior stint at Cheltenham, has shown bags of potential since joining on loan, especially when deployed in a central role.

Weaknesses: Tactical uncertainty. Phil Brown has been in the post for seven months now and he is still yet to settle on his best eleven, which still causes debate among fans. Finding a system that incorporates Keshi Anderson in his favoured number 10 role whilst keeping Michael Doughty and Steven Alzate in the same side has proved challenging, which hints at an imbalanced squad.

Stick or twist? Stick. They have shown little to suggest they will make the play-offs this year.

Mansfield

Gab’s pre-season prediction: “Tyler Walker has the potential to tear up this league. If football was played entirely on paper, Mansfield would make the top three but Flitcroft has divided supporters and that could be problematic. 8th

Current performance: Currently 14th, although that doesn’t quite tell the whole story; Mansfield have been the more prominent side in a lot of games this year, they have lost only once and have a game in hand on every team above them.

Strengths: Danny Rose. There were question marks about the striker’s future in the summer but, helped by a brief injury to Craig Davies, he has won his place back. Rose, who won promotion under Flitcroft with Bury, is a selfless striker who wins a lot of headers for his size – and has scored four goals in his last four league appearances.

Weaknesses: The reports Flitcroft gets from fans of clubs he has managed is not quite in line with the relatively positive results he has attained. For that reason, either he doesn’t get the credit he deserves, or those results had more to do with personnel than tactics.

Stick or twist? Stick. Mansfield should finish higher than they currently are.

Yeovil

Gab’s pre-season prediction: “Major questions are being asked of the leadership of the club. Yeovil have a squad that contains just 17 senior professionals – unless they find a collection of gems on loan, a season of hardship could be in the offing. 23rd

Current performance: The Somerset outfit are outperforming expectations in 15th, although they are on a five-game winless streak.

Strengths: Flexibility. Yeovil have often been a long ball side under Darren Way and certainly they are not afraid to pick out early passes down the channel this year. Equally though, they have a first choice goalkeeper in Nathan Baxter, on loan from Chelsea, who is adept with the ball at his feet, meaning the Glovers can go long or short depending on what the moment calls for.

Weaknesses: Injuries. Way has recently had to cope without veteran goalkeeper Stuart Nelson, key centre-backs Gary Warren and Omar Sowunmi, wide man Wes McDonald, vibrant forward Diallang Jiayesemi among others. Hardly ideal for a low-budgeted side looking to form a promotion push against the odds.

Stick or twist? Twist. They certainly don’t look like relegation material.

Port Vale

Gab’s pre-season prediction: “Poor recruitment in the previous two summers had been a factor behind Port Vale’s recent decline, so they can take heart from this year’s smoother business. Manny Oyeleke will add energy in central midfield, while the experienced Scott Brown should end the recent keeper conundrum.15th

Current performance: On a par with expectations. Vale look stronger than last season and no longer look the relegation fodder they were at this stage in 2018-19.

Strengths: Box-to-box man Manny Oyeleke, when fit, is one of the better midfielders at this level due to his sheer athleticism. He looked reasonably impressive while at Exeter so it seems surprising that he had to drop into the National League with Aldershot before returning to shine in League Two.

Weaknesses: Neil Aspin – a Burslem legend based on his playing days – is very much a traditionalist. While this means he does not take any nonsense from his players, his allegiance to 4-4-2 and a direct style of football means Vale can at times be overrun by more flexible, possession-based outfits.

Stick or twist? Stick. A steady, if not especially exciting, season lies ahead.

Notts County

Gab’s pre-season prediction: “Veteran David Vaughan crosses the Trent but otherwise, Nolan has picked young, dynamic players coming. Extra pace in the side allows them to manage games in different ways, so promotion could be around the corner. 2nd

Current performance: There is no doubt that Notts County are drastically underperforming relative to the pre-season expectations, but a run of three consecutive wins suggests they could now be turning a corner under Harry Kewell.

Strengths: Enzio Boldewijn is arguably the most naturally gifted wide man at this level; he has already scored three goals this season, including a lovely curler at Cambridge on week two.

Weaknesses: The fact they have conceded 26 goals this season is alarming, even if they have tightened up since Jamie Turley, Elliott Ward and Cedric Evina have come into the back-line.

Stick or twist? Stick. In truth, the Magpies look a reformed outfit under Harry Kewell and while the 12 point gap to the top three is a big one, it’s not necessarily insurmountable.

Crewe

Gab’s pre-season prediction: “Over the last two seasons, Crewe have lurched from one extreme to the other: they have either been a crisis-ridden club threatened with an EFL exit, or an in-form side quietly assembling a top half challenge. 12th

Current performance: Crewe languish in 18th with three defeats from their last four encounters.

Strengths: Their home defensive record. The Railwaymen have conceded just one goal at Gresty Road – alas, it was the decisive one in the recent A500 Derby with Port Vale – but still, the likes of Perry Ng should take some credit for the home shut-outs.

Weaknesses: Shortage of goals. David Artell’s side have failed to score in seven of their 11 encounters, despite having thrashed Morecambe 6-0 on day one.

Stick or twist? Stick. The morale in the camp needs to improve – and the positions of one or two key figures at the club might be reviewed – but there is talent in that squad and a run towards the top half is still possible.

Grimsby

Gab’s pre-season prediction: “If Michael Jolley can inspire top half form in the most out-of-form side in England, it begs the question: what can he do after a full pre-season at Grimsby, having been backed by the board? 3rd

Current performance: Grimsby are currently 19th, after recording back-to-back wins for the first time this season.

Strengths: Michael Jolley likes one-touch, possession football and when it works, as we saw in the 2-0 win over Port Vale last time out, it can be hard to stop.

Weaknesses: Injuries. Jolley’s methods require attack-minded full-backs, so it is not ideal that the likes of Reece Hall-Johnson and Andrew Fox have spent a lot of time on the sidelines, along with many other first teamers.

Stick or twist? Twist – they probably won’t finish 3rd. That said, more good football could see them put together a winning streak between now and Christmas.

Morecambe

Gab’s pre-season prediction “Barry Roche remains a key figure, not just between the sticks but in the dressing room, much like the evergreen Kevin Ellison and boss Jim Bentley. Morecambe have big characters around, which should once again give them the inner-strength to survive in adversity. 21st

Current performance: The opening day 6-0 drubbing at Crewe pointed to a season of gloom, but instead that and the 2-0 loss at Crawley were the only games in which the Shrimps were conclusively outplayed.

Strengths: Unity. Part-time kit-man Les “Mr Morecambe” Dewhirst was gutted when he forgot to bring a couple of the shirts to Grimsby and the supporters helped solve the problem; the team came from behind to win that match 2-1. That might seem like a small thing but it epitomizes the Dunkirk spirit at the club.

Weaknesses: Morecambe’s final third play, although lively, has at times not been quite as refined as that of other teams at this level, which is partly a by-product of having possibly the division’s lowest or second-lowest budget.

Stick or twist? Stick. There’s normally two divided clubs that end up getting relegated in League Two; the sense of togetherness at Morecambe will once again be crucial.

Cambridge

Gab’s pre-season prediction: “Cambridge have a capable squad; Joe Dunne has brought that excitement factor back. Question marks linger over the fitness of strikers Jabo Ibehre and Barry Corr but, if one of them can stay available for a full campaign, a top seven finish could be on the cards. 5th

Current performance: In fact, the U’s are currently 23rd, having taken just one point from the last 15 available.

Strengths: Midfielder George Maris can be a real talent when fully focused while Reggie Lambe scored an impressive brace at Newport.

Weaknesses: Harrison Dunk’s absence means there is little width in the team. Talented young goalkeeper Dimitar Mitov’s injury, meanwhile, means Dunne has had to persist with David Forde, who is not quite at the peak of his powers at 38.

Stick or twist? Twist. A very difficult season lies ahead.

Macclesfield

Gab’s pre-season prediction: “Macclesfield will play more long balls than anyone else; that alone is not a bad thing, but Mark Yates’ sides don’t always play with the midfield too close to the front man. A good start will be required to dispel the notion that they have come up without the necessary infrastructure and off-field stability. 22nd

Current performance: Macclesfield are the only side in the EFL still winless and sit rock bottom of League Two, five points adrift of safety.

Strengths: Attacking midfielder Malachi Napa has looked bright and inventive since joining on loan from Oxford, while striker Scott Wilson gives them the capacity to stretch defences by running in behind, as we saw in the 1-1 draw with Forest Green.

Weaknesses: The slow, aging midfield can tire rather quickly. Previously, they have often employed long ball tactics with only one forward on the pitch, which means they have been prone to invite pressure – although this could potentially change under the next manager.

Stick or twist? Stick. They’ll definitely be in the mire, but caretaker managers Danny Whitaker and Neil Howarth are both club legends and could potentially have a Michael Flynn-esque impact.

Share.

About Author

Profile photo of gabsutton

Gabriel discovered the betting world through his passion for English football; he had a mixed start in April 2014, landing a solid treble before being let down the week after by beleaguered Torquay winning at Bristol Rovers. Although he often follows his beloved Birmingham City, he also covers other teams in the Midlands and enjoys visiting new grounds further afield now and again. Quite likes sitcom Not Going Out, too.

Leave A Reply