LEAGUE TWO specialist Edward Walker (@Edward_W97) delivers his team-by-team verdicts ahead of the 2020/21 campaign, with a 1-24 rundown covering each club in-depth ahead of the new season.
1. Bolton (5/1 Bet365)
Many of us can still remember the expeditions the Trotters had into the UEFA Cup but now, after the most stressful and difficult of seasons last year, they find themselves in the fourth-tier for the first time since 1987-88. Bolton climbed straight back out with a third place finish that season, and the intent is to do the same thing here.
Arrivals at Bolton have attracted a lot of attention. The most important of these however may well be that of 38-year-old boss Ian Evatt. A former defender with the likes of Derby, Chesterfield and Blackpool, Evatt comes to the University of Bolton Stadium after two years in charge of Barrow. There, he oversaw the Bluebirds’ long-awaited promotion back into the Football League, and many claimed his ‘Barrowcelona’ team played a style that had never been seen at a non-league level before.
The players in at Bolton are also impressive. Last season’s runaway top scorer Eoin Doyle will have expectations on him, but if Evatt gives him the free role that Richie Wellens did last year, similar numbers could appear. It is an eyebrow-raising three-year deal that the now 32-year-old has signed, but in the short term this should prove worthwhile business.
Alongside Doyle, new arrivals include Antoni Sarcevic, who makes a return to the north-west after two-and-a-half years with Plymouth. There is also Colchester midfielder Brandon Comley, Carlisle full-back Gethin Jones, Cambridge centre-back George Taft, Fleetwood loanee Billy Crellin, Wycombe full-back Jamie Mascoll, and Doncaster defender Alex Baptiste amongst others. T
hey join a squad that already contains names like Ryan Delaney, Ali Crawford and Dennis Politic who all caught the eye at times during the difficult 19-20 campaign. Politic sadly will be out for the season with a long-term injury, however.
All the ingredients are there for Wanderers to make an immediate return to the third tier. The only real doubt comes with whether Ian Evatt can get all these new faces to gel in a short amount of time. If he can do that and get them playing with the same style that won him so much praise at Barrow, Bolton should not be in this division for long.
2. Port Vale (18/1 William Hill)
Roughly 12 months ago, Port Vale’s season was deemed successful before a ball had even been kicked. After finally seeing the end of Norman Smurthwaite, Carol and Kevin Shanahan took over and the club massively surpassed expectations. They ended the season a single point outside the play-offs, and yet selflessly were one of the clubs who voted to prematurely end the 19-20 campaign.
The core of that squad have signed new deals so that they can be part of John Askey’s team again this season, and there is no reason why they cannot aim even higher this time around.
Scott Brown, Cristian Montaño, Leon Legge, Nathan Smith and James Gibbons form a goalkeeper and back four that many League Two sides would want to have. In reserve to them are the likes of Adam Crookes, Shaun Brisley, Macclesfield’s David Fitzpatrick, and Oldham’s Zak Mills.
Just ahead of them, the trio of Luke Joyce, Tom Conlon and Scott Burgess could continue to flourish both in and out of possession. Macclesfield’s Danny Whitehead has come in to provide some excellent depth alongside players like Manny Oyeleke as well. On the wings, David Amoo and the incredibly creative David Worrall will shine again. Worrall was one of the standout players in the division last year.
Up front, Vale can call still call upon local hero Tom Pope, with Mark Cullen,Salford man Devante Rodney and Southend striker Theo Robinson, who spent last season on loan at Vale’s league rivals Colchester, also available. The four each have their own strengths, and it means that Askey can make the Burslem boys have a variety of different approaches to games. This squad can deal with whatever is thrown at them by the opposition.
Port Vale’s squad showed last season that they are capable of competing with the best in the fourth tier, and given the current climate might favour the better organised sides with already strong squad harmony, we could well see the Staffordshire outfit earning automatic promotion come May.
3. Cheltenham (16/1 Bet365)
Cheltenham are one of the sides who will feel most affected by the premature end to last season.
Fifth at the time the league stopped, their momentum and style led many to believe that they could have secured a spot in that top three had the entire campaign played out. The less said about that second leg collapse to Northampton in the play-offs the better, but the core of what made Michael Duff’s squad so good last season is still here, and that could really help them.
In defence alone, Cheltenham could line-up with Scott Flinders or promising West Brom loanee Joshua Griffiths in goal, behind a back three of Will Boyle, Ben Tozer, and Charlie Raglan. All of them formed part of the league’s best defence last season, conceding just 27 goals. Add to that Chris Hussey and Sean Long, two of the most dynamic and skilled wing-backs in the league, and you have a backline that would be the envy of many other sides.
In midfield, playmaking star Ryan Broom has moved up a division to Peterborough, but in Conor Thomas, Chris Clements, Liam Sercombe, West Brom loanee Finn Azaz and Hull loanee Elliot Bonds, Cheltenham still have an excellent central unit that can perfectly provide the link between defence and attack.
A strike partnership could well feature again, and with a whole host of options available, Duff should never have to worry about a striker being unable to play. Luke Varney has moved back to Burton, but Northampton’s Andy Williams could be a particularly useful replacement. The other striker options include Alfie May, who made a brilliant impact after arriving in January, with Reuben Reid, Alex Addai and Tahvon Campbell amongst others.
We know what to expect with Duff’s team. A brilliantly defensive setup combined with a strike force capable of stretching any backline open. If they can get back to what they were doing at the end of the last season, they could certainly find themselves in an automatic promotion place at the end of this one.
4. Tranmere (14/1 Bet365)
There is not a side in this division that will feel more aggrieved by the EFL’s points per-game tables than Tranmere. The vote by League One clubs to end the season early left the Super White Army relegated despite having a realistic chance of surviving had the full campaign played out.
There has been a fair amount of change at Prenton Park since. The most notable one being manager Micky Mellon’s departure north to Dundee United. His long-time assistant Mike Jackson has taken over and plans for positive changes in Birkenhead.
Several names that played part of Tranmere’s recent back-to-back promotions have moved on, including Connor Jennings, Paul Mullin, Luke McCullough, Jake Caprice and David Perkins.
Club captain Scott Davies should keep his place between the posts, whilst Joe Murphy, back after previously beginning his career with Tranmere 18 years ago, provides good backup.
In front of them, Rovers still have Manny Monthé at their disposal. Two years ago, the Cameroonian centre-back had been dubbed the ‘Lower League van Dijk’ by fans, and he will no doubt relish being back in a division he performed so well in during the 2018-19 season.
Defensive teammates alongside Monthé can still include the likes of Liam Ridehalgh, Mark Ellis and Sid Nelson. 19-20 arrivals Peter Clarke and Calum Woods and the loanee pair of Celtic’s Lee O’Connor and Blackpool’s Calum McDonald are also possible candidates to feature.
In midfield, Ollie Banks could be partnered alongside Jay Spearing, who steps down a division after three years at Blackpool. Cambridge’s Paul Lewis also arrives as a useful alternative to either Banks or Spearing. Wide options at Mike Jackson’s disposal include Kieron Morris, Corey Blackett-Taylor, and Mansfield’s Otis Khan.
Two years ago, James Norwood’s goals made him the main man for Tranmere. He is now long gone from the club, but there are decent names who can lead the line for the Whites in this fourth-tier campaign. The most anticipated of these is perhaps James Vaughan. Initially beginning last season at Bradford, rumoured attitude issues led to the now 32-year-old moving on-loan to Rovers in January 2020. That move has now become permanent, and the very experienced striker could be the man Tranmere turn to most when goals are needed.
With Morgan Ferrier and Stefan Payne as good alternatives, Tranmere look well-stocked in the forward areas for this League Two campaign.
There is a sense of injustice in Birkenhead, and that could spur Tranmere on to an instant return to the third tier. Rovers’ squad looks strong, and it is certainly capable of finishing high up the table if Mike Jackson can utilise the players at his disposal. There is a good mix of exciting new signings and names who were part of the team that got out of this league two years ago.
The only real doubt comes with whether the new boss can recreate the results that came under Mellon. That remains to be seen, but one certain guarantee is that when the crowds are allowed back in stadiums, the Super White Army will be there in numbers for their beloved club, home and away.
5. Salford (13/2 Bet365)
There were many people who perhaps got too ahead of themselves with Salford last season. The big names came in, and the assumption was made that the Ammies would continue their rise up the English pyramid with relative ease.
When a club makes a squad overhaul like what Salford did however, it takes time for all these new faces to integrate with one another. They have now had that settling period, and this season we could see exactly how strong a force this squad is.
In the goalkeeping positions, Václav Hladký’s arrival from St. Mirren is timely. The Czech will be the starting goalkeeper, though a decent quality backup is not yet in place.
In front of the keeper sits a backline that includes players like Ashley Eastham, former Preston stalwart Tom Clarke, and Northampton’s Jordan Turnbull. Full-backs Oscar Threlkeld and Ibou Touray were regulars last season, with the latter being considered one of the best left-sided defenders in the division last season.
There are more big names in midfield as well. Richie Towell and Jason Lowe for instance are a potential pair in the centre, having amassed several hundred combined appearances for clubs much higher up the Football League. Out on the flanks are players like Bruno Andrade, Brandon Thomas-Asante and now permanent signing Ashley Hunter. All three can be some of the division’s top players on their day and could well be featuring for clubs higher up the pyramid instead of Salford.
And then you get to the frontline, which includes names like Tom Elliott, Emmanuel Deserve, James Wilson and former Rochdale man Ian Henderson amongst others. The arrival of Henderson is particularly noteworthy. The now 35-year-old carries hero status at the Dale for the numerous goals he scored there, and will be a huge asset to a City side who are very keen on getting up into the division that Rochdale currently reside in.
What may hold Salford back this season is their style of play. For all the talented names on the team sheet, Graham Alexander has shown a preference towards a direct approach during matches, which has not always got the very best out of his squad. Additionally, this style becomes predictable as a club enters the second round-robin of league fixtures, and a lack of adaptability could be what costs the Ammies a place in the top three come May.
Even still, Salford's second EFL season looks like it could be a better one than it was in 2019-20.
6. Mansfield (11/1 Bet365)
Arguably, there was not a more underwhelming team than Mansfield in 2019-20. Having come so close to promotion in 2018-19, many expected the Stags to take the next step and be right up there come the conclusion of the campaign. They ended up not even getting close.
Fans of the Nottinghamshire outfit will be hopeful that the club have learnt from the mistakes of last season. The early signs are encouraging. The Radfords have provided manager Graham Coughlan with some impressive new signings to an already decent squad.
Czech goalkeeper Marek Stech looks set to be the new number one, and in front of him are defenders and wing-backs like Ryan Sweeney, Malvind Benning, Kellan Gordon, James Clarke and Rollin Menayese, who previously worked under Coughlan at Bristol Rovers.
The acquisition of former Forest Green man Farrend Rawson, who impressed at the back for FGR in 2019-20, is another impressive bit of business. The extremely versatile Corey O’Keeffe, Southampton’s Aaron O’Driscoll and Scunthorpe’s James Perch add further depth to this defensive unit.
Bristol Rovers’ Ollie Clarke and Cambridge’s George Maris join a midfield that already includes players like Willem Tomlinson and Harry Charsley. Further forwards, Torquay’s Jamie Reid and Milton Keynes Dons’ Jordan Bowery form options in a frontline that already contains Danny Rose, Nicky Maynard and the returning Andy Cook. It leaves the Stags with an impressive number of options in the centre-forward positions.
After last season’s disaster, things can only get better for Mansfield. New arrivals look promising, but as is always the case when a squad goes through an overhaul of this size, it takes time for all the new faces to integrate with one another. The ability is certainly there though, and if Coughlan can quickly find the right system for them all, the Stags should massively improve on 2019-20.
Promotion is the ultimate target, but with many other squads looking strong, a top seven finish should not be seen as a disappointment by fans of the Nottinghamshire club.
7. Walsall (22/1 Paddy Power)
Walsall had a relatively quiet 2019-20 campaign. Only before the season’s premature end did manager Darrell Clarke finally look like he had uncovered the foundations of a decent team.
Liam Roberts will be the starting goalkeeper, though competition from the returning Jack Rose will be beneficial to both him and the club.
Clarke looked to have finally found his first-choice centre-back pairing by the end of the season, that being the duo of Mat Sadler and Dan Scarr. Zak Jules and young Calum Cockerill-Mollett can also deputise in the centre of defence if needed, as can club captain James Clarke, who found himself out of first-team contention having originally started the season as a promising addition.
In the place of Cameron Pring comes another Robins man in George Nurse. On the right-side of defence, Mansfield’s Hayden White could be first choice, with Cameron Norman and James Clarke also available in that position too.
Walsall’s midfield still contains Saddler’s product Liam Kinsella. The 24-year-old’s excellent versatility will no doubt make him a useful part of Clarke’s squad once again. Stuart Sinclair and Danny Guthrie have clear ability but have yet been unable to show it on a consistent basis. Nineteen-year-old Alfie Bates, who had a spell of impressive performances during last season, could find himself earning even more game time this year. He is one to keep an eye on.
The left and right wings now look very strong. Wes McDonald proved a quality signing last season and the 23-year-old is expected to stand out once again on the left flank. On the opposite side, Emmanuel Osadebe, who caught the eye at Macclesfield last season, could prove a top quality addition at the Bescot Stadium. Nineteen-year-old Jack Nolan may still be a way off being a first-team standard winger though.
It took Clarke a good amount of time to find his first-choice strike force, but he looks to have finally settled on Gordon playing alongside Elijah Adebayo. The pair have the collective qualities to form an incredibly good front two, and with Caolan Lavery available in reserve, Walsall possess a decent set of strikers.
The Saddlers’ recent signings have formed part of a great League Two squad. Areas of the team possess some of the division’s leading players, but in central midfield they may still be some doubts.
If Clarke can get the new and established names to integrate into a specific system, a top seven finish could be the absolute minimum this squad achieves this season.
8. Exeter (14/1 SkyBet)
The play-offs are probably the last thing Exeter fans want to find their club finishing in. Having made the post-season games in three of the last four seasons, the Grecians made it to the Wembley final every time and found themselves on the losing end every time.
Matt Taylor’s side would certainly much rather aim for a finish between first and third. Whether they can do that, however, remains to be seen.
The biggest changes to the Exeter squad have come at the back. Lewis Ward and Jonny Maxted are expected to compete for the starting position in goal, but the most concerning area for ECFC looks to be in the centre of defence.
Dean Moxey’s second spell at his hometown club is at an end, having amassed well over 300 appearances for Exeter. Aaron Martin has also been released. The new name at centre-back is former Scunthorpe man Rory McArdle. The Northern Irishman certainly brings experience but is perhaps uninspiring for a side aiming to finally get back into the third tier.
Lewis Page looks a quality addition at left-back, but 2020-21 could see an opportunity for young Jack
Sparkes to catch the eye. He is perhaps better suited to a wing-back role rather than as a left-back though.
On the opposite side of defence, Pierce Sweeney is an option, but the arrival of Jake Caprice from Tranmere is good business. The 27-year-old was a regular feature when Tranmere won the League Two play-offs in 2018-19.
The big positives for Exeter City of this season are in midfield. Nicky Law and Randell Williams were two of the division’s best creators last season, the latter gaining an abundance of praise from fans and pundits alike.
Centrally, 21-year-old Archie Collins is worth keeping an eye on too. An exciting, progressive midfielder who is likely to be playing higher up the EFL in the next couple of years, if not sooner. He is supported in midfield by the experience and solidity of Nigel Atangana and Jake Taylor, with fellow youngster Joel Randall also in contention for game time.
Up front, last season’s top scorer Ryan Bowman is expected to be amongst the goals again. Matt Jay, Alex Fisher and Nicky Ajose could all partner Bowman if Exeter use a pair of strikers.
The young man to watch up top however could be Ben Seymour. He has taken the Grecians’ number nine shirt that had previously been retired in posthumous honour of Adam Stansfield. Exeter have recently announced that the ‘nine’ will be worn by a home-grown player. Twenty-one-year-old Seymour becomes the first man to wear this newly available number, and it is a sign of how highly rated he is by the club.
The Grecians ultimately have a squad that should be able to secure a top seven finish, though there are a few doubts about their new defensive unit. Play-offs may not be what Exeter fans want to see again, but it is what they may have to settle for.
9. Colchester (20/1 Bet365)
The Covid-19 pandemic had a significant impact on Colchester last season. Securing a sixth-place finish via the points per-game tables, financial issues left the U’s unable to use four important first-team players for the play-offs, and they were officially released soon after. In the middle of July, John McGreal’s four-year tenure in Essex came to an end, with his former assistant Steve Ball taking control two weeks later.
The very experienced Dean Gerken should remain in goal. Colchester had an impressive backline last season, though two of them, Ryan Jackson (Gillingham) and club captain Luke Prosser (Stevenage), are no longer there. Tom Eastman and Cohen Bramall do remain for now, and new signing Tommy Smith looks ideal for replacing Prosser.
Miles Welch-Hayes, who can play anywhere across the backline, should also come into first team contention, with Omar Sowunmi and youngsters Ryan Clampin and Ollie Kensdale likely to make matchday squads. Tom Lapslie, a natural midfielder, can be used as an auxiliary full-back.
Twenty-four-year-old Lapslie is much more likely to be a feature in midfield though. Brandon Comley (now at Bolton) will be a loss for the U’s in the centre, but in Lapslie, Harry Pell and Ben Stevenson, Colchester do have an excellent midfield trio who possess the collective ability to control games.
Younger players like Diaz Wright, Andre Hasanally and Noah Chilvers could all find themselves getting game time as well. Jevani Brown is back with the squad but had a very disappointing 2019-20 season.
Colchester’s frontline has seen losses too. Frank Nouble is now in League One with Plymouth, and Theo Robinson has moved on. It leaves Colchester with just one senior recognised striker, that being Luke Norris who scored nine league goals last season.
The wide options in the frontline are much more impressive. Paris Cowan-Hall will be hopeful about an injury-free season, whilst Callum Harriott, Courtney Senior and the versatile Luke Gambin will all provide stern competition for him.
The man to watch however is 19-year-old Kwame Poku. Brought in from Worthing in May 2019, Poku was the breakout star last season, quickly establishing himself as a first-teamer. He can play in attacking midfield or on either wing, possess great dribbling and pace, an exceptional left foot, and will certainly be playing higher up the pyramid in the next few years.
Despite important players having to leave the club, Colchester still possess a squad that could be up there come the end of the campaign. Every unit in the team contains a great mix of experienced names and emerging youngsters, and its testament to the youth and recruitment systems that the Essex club has in place.
10. Carlisle (40/1 SkyBet)
There is a real sense of optimism around Brunton Park. The ‘Beech Boys’, as some are now coining them, have a positive manager at the helm and a squad which could potentially upset the cart in League Two this season.
Chris Beech, the man whose folded arms pose has become a stable of every Carlisle transfer story, has brought Magnus Norman and Paul Farman into the club.
The giant Norman will be keen to impress but Farman is the real noteworthy acquisition here. Many a Stevenage fan will tell you about how the 31-year-old’s performances stopped the club from having an even worse season than the one they had. Both he and Norman look an impressive upgrade on Adam Collin and Louis Gray. Marcus Dewhurst is back on-loan from Sheffield United as well.
Defence has so far seen encouraging new signings. Rod McDonald from Wimbledon, Jack Armer from Preston and Joe Riley from Bradford, who will hope to finally make his mark on the division after a season-long injury with the Bantams.
The most exciting defensive arrival however is George Tanner, in permanently from Manchester United. The 20-year-old full-back was a star at Morecambe in the first half of 2019-20, and whilst he didn’t get a sniff at Salford, Tanner is a very promising talent.
That quartet join a defence that already includes Nick Anderton, Max Hunt and new vice-captain Aaron Hayden. Following Jarrad Branthwaite’s high-profile move to Everton last January, 23-year-old Hayden is one worth keeping an eye on.
Bradford’s Danny Devine and former Oldham and Doncaster man Dean Furman arrive as central options, whilst Exeter’s Brennan Dickenson provides ability at both left-wing-back or slightly further upfield. Jon Mellish will once again look to impress in the centre of the park, with Callum Guy also an accomplished central player.
Carlisle fans will be delighted to see Joshua Kayode back for a season-long loan from Rotherham, whilst Hartlepool’s Gime Touré offers promise. Gavin Reilly also arrives from Bristol Rovers, and the trio join a frontline that already contains Lewis Alessandra and Omari Patrick. Nathan Thomas’ goals and influence may be a loss, but Carlisle have done well to replace him.
In terms of personnel, there’s a lot of reasons for Carlisle fans to be positive about the new campaign. Less than a fifth of last season’s senior squad remains, and with it comes the major doubt about the ‘Beech Boys’ this season. A squad overhaul of this size is encouraging to see, but it takes time for so many new faces to form a cohesive unit.
2020-21 may be too early for this squad to fully show what it’s capable of, but if Beech get this team clicking quickly, the Cumbrians are a potential dark horse. Underestimate this side at your peril.
11. Forest Green (18/1 Boylesports)
Arguably, no League Two club had a collapse last season quite like Forest Green. Sat in the automatic promotion places as December rolled in, three wins in their last 18 games saw Rovers fall out of the top-seven altogether, ending the campaign 10th via points per-game.
There are big questions being asked by fans about whether manager Mark Cooper should still be in control of the team. He needs to greatly improve on the backend of last season, but based on current signings, it looks like it could be a similar finish to 2019-20.
Goalkeeper was a huge issue last year. Cooper rotated often and went through four different shot-stoppers during the league campaign. Twenty-four-year-old Luke McGee, in from Portsmouth, will hopefully be the answer to that problem.
Major changes have also come in defence. Matt Mills arrived last season with a lot of promise but did not deliver at all and has announced his retirement. His brother Joseph has moved up a division to Northampton. Right-back Liam Shephard has been released after an injury-hit season, whilst centre-backs Nathan McGinley and Farrend Rawson are now with Motherwell and Mansfield, respectively.
Forest Green’s current new arrivals include an entire back four made up of Blackburn’s Jack Evans, Barnet’s Dan Sweeney, MK Dons’ Jordan Moore-Taylor and West Brom's Kane Wilson. The quartet could well make up the FGR backline for the new season, though the experienced Chris Stokes is available alongside the younger trio of Dom Bernard, the impressive Liam Kitching and Udoka Godwin-Malife.
The clear strongest area of this Forest Green team is the midfield. Ebou Adams and Carl Winchester are a fantastic central pair who could easily be playing for clubs higher up the pyramid. Grimsby’s Elliott Whitehouse provides a good alternative to them, whilst out wide, Rovers can use Morton’s Nicky Cadden and Wimbledon’s Scott Wagstaff alongside Aaron Collins, Taylor Allen, and Shawn McCoulsky.
Up front is where a big issue still lies though. Forest Green have yet to find a man who can replace the goals of Christian Doidge. Matty Stevens, Aaron Collins and Josh March all got starts last season, but none provided consistent enough form. Cooper will be hopeful that a year of integration will see one of them flourish. If that fails, he will look to Newport’s Jamille Matt as the answer.
Cooper looks set to bring Forest Green into this campaign with a new-look backline that may provide much-needed solidity behind a strong central midfield. The big doubt however comes up front, where the collection of names currently includes none that look capable of replacing the goals Doidge once provided.
If a consistent goal scorer can emerge from the squad, Forest Green do possess a chance of finishing in the top-seven. If not, then it could end up being a similar finish to the previous campaign, which is something fans of the world’s greenest football club do not want to happen.
12. Bradford (16/1 Bet365)
Bradford fans had to endure a rotten 2019-20 campaign that offered a lot of promise at the start. The Bantams were on the wrong side of League Two’s most famous transfer saga last year, and though they enter this season with a manager who certainly cannot be knocked for his passion and determination, the squad looks a way off being ready to challenge for a League One return.
There are of course some good parts to the Bradford team. Goalkeeper Richard O’Donnell looks set to retain his place after signing a new deal. In front of him is a decent backline whose options include Paudie O’Connor, Ben Richards-Everton, Anthony O’Connor, Jackson Longridge, Tyler French, the promising Reece Staunton, and Connor Wood.
Wood was considered by many fans to be the clear Player of the Season after consistently great performances on the left side. Scunthorpe’s Levi Sutton comes in as an option for both defence and midfield.
Bradford had an abundance of central players last season, few of which really managed to impress on a regular basis. The midfield unit has therefore seen a lot of change over the summer, with only Harry Pritchard and the now permanently contracted Callum Cooke remaining.
Sutton is of course a possible option in midfield, but the arrival of Elliot Watt is one Bradford fans should take interest in. The 20-year-old is a Scotland youth International who impressed whilst on loan at Carlisle from Wolves last season.
The Bradford frontline is quite different to the one that was in place 12 months ago. It initially had James Vaughan, Eoin Doyle, and Clayton Donaldson as options, but now only the latter remains. Donaldson, Lee Novak and Kurtis Guthrie are now on the books with Billy Clarke back for his third spell at the club.
Dylan Mottley-Henry and Zeli Ismail are the leading candidates for Bradford’s wing positions, though Pritchard and Connor Wood could potentially play out there as well. Mottley-Henry has failed to so far catch the eye and Ismail had a season affected by long-term injuries.
Bradford's 2019-20 season was incredibly underwhelming, and despite a large amount of that squad moving on, the team currently at Valley Parade still look a way off being promotion pushers. There are certainly players in the side that could impress, but when compared to other teams in this year’s League Two line-up, the Bantams do not look as strong.
It could be another season in the middle of the fourth-tier table for a club who should be so much higher up the pyramid.
13. Cambridge (50/1 Paddy Power)
As far as ‘new manager bounces’ go, Mark Bonner had one of the best. Following dismal form, Colin Calderwood was relieved of his duties at Cambridge in late January. Bonner initially took caretaker control of the U’s and oversaw a five-game unbeaten run that included four consecutive wins. He has since taken over permanently at the Abbey Stadium and will want to progress on last season’s 16th place finish.
The arrival of Liverpool’s Kai McKenzie-Lyle could see one of Dimitar Mitov and Callum Burton depart elsewhere. In Carlisle’s Jack Iredale and Bristol City loanee Robbie Cundy, Cambridge have a couple of good replacements for Daniel Jones and George Taft. They should form part of a solid unit alongside Kyle Knoyle, Greg Taylor and the promising Harry Darling. Harrison Dunk and Leon Davies can also be deployed at left-back and right-back respectively.
Without question, the most eye-catching Cambridge signing comes in attacking midfield. After coming on trial amid rumours of him possibly signing 12 months ago, former Ireland international Wes Hoolahan has joined the U’s on a one-year deal. Even at 38 years old, there is the potential for the former Norwich star to look a class above at the Abbey Stadium, and he will no doubt be the name on the team sheet that opposition fans fear most.
A long-term ankle injury Hoolahan suffered at previous club Newcastle Jets however may worry Cambridge fans. They will hope that they do not see a similar case with Hoolahan to the one that they saw with Samir Carruthers last season.
With Hoolahan unlikely to be a regular starter, focus should be on the rest of United’s midfield unit. Stevenage’s Paul Digby has arrived and could form a good partnership alongside Liam O’Neil. Digby’s arrival becomes even more significant with the departures of Paul Lewis and George Maris to Tranmere and Mansfield, respectively. That in turn may see youngsters like Ben Worman and Tom Knowles earning game time.
Wide options continue to look decent meanwhile with Luke Hannant, Harrison Dunk and the right-back turned right-midfielder Leon Davies all still available.
Up front, the return of Tranmere’s Paul Mullin on a now-permanent basis is great news for Cambridge, especially with Andrew Dallas and Harvey Knibbs still possessing limited EFL experience. Macclesfield’s Joe Ironside is another forward arrival who could prove useful.
Whilst the squad may not be considered one of the best in the division, Bonner has a nicely balanced side. There’s competition for places across all the units, previously impressing players are back on permanent deals, and of course, a big name is in through the door who you can arguably refer to as Cambridge’s ‘secret weapon’.
It is unlikely that the U’s will blow League Two away this season, but we could find the Abbey Stadium being a particularly difficult place for the top sides to get results at.
14. Leyton Orient (40/1 Spreadex)
2019-20 was an emotional season for all at Leyton Orient. The tragic passing of manager Justin Edinburgh in June 2019 shocked not only the club but the football world, and the following campaign saw Orient put in a display he would have been proud of.
The squad at current is largely unchanged, and whilst there is the possibility of them being left behind by clubs that have made much more business, Orient could well improve on last season’s 17th-place finish if some of their young stars flourish.
Sam Sargeant and Lawrence Vigoroux provide healthy competition with one another for the goalkeeper spot, whilst the defence in front of them still includes Sam Ling, Joe Widdowson, the promising Dan Happe, Josh Coulson, Myles Judd, Jamie Turley and James Brophy, who has great versatility up the left flank. Orient are hopeful that Widdowson can utilise his left-sided ability to replace the departing Marvin Ekpiteta.
There has been just one new arrival so far, and it isn’t even a new name. After spending the second half of last season on-loan from Gillingham, Malian midfielder Ousseynou Cissé has made the permanent move to Brisbane Road. He links back up with a unit that includes the likes of Craig Clay, Hector Kyprianou, last season’s top scorer Josh Wright and the very experienced Jobi McAnuff.
Former Jamaica international McAnuff assists in the coaching at Orient and has been a welcome part of Ross Embleton’s staff since taking up the player/coach role last summer.
James Dayton and Jordan Maguire-Drew are good wide options, the latter in particular, but the striker quartet of Conor Wilkinson, Lee Angol, Louis Dennis and January arrival Danny Johnson only scored 12 league goals between them last season. In the search for a more consistent goal scorer, Embleton could well turn to Cyprus youth International Ruel Sotiriou. The 19-year-old made far fewer appearances than Wilkinson, Angol, Dennis and Johnson but certainly caught the eye with his performances.
The transfer window is open until October, and that does give Leyton Orient time to make additions to their squad, though the O’s seem to be largely satisfied with the players at their disposal. They are going to have to up their performances though, as the teams around them are making significant improvements to their squads.
That does leave the possibility of Orient being left behind, but if the likes of Sotoriou, Happe and Maguire-Drew continue their impressive progression, it should be another decent season for the East London club.
15. Crawley (50/1 Spreadex)
2019-20 included a fantastic League Cup run for Crawley. In League Two however, the season was a mixed bag.
Gabrielle Cioffi’s side started the campaign OK, but a downturn in form saw the Italian relieved of his duties before Christmas. John Yems came in, and by the end of the premature season, had turned Crawley into a side who were capable of competing with anybody in the division. It’ll be interesting to see if he can recreate that kind of team in 2020-21.
There is still a fair amount of that well-balanced squad remaining. Thirty-six-year-old Glenn Morris was statistically one of the best goalkeepers in the entire division last season and rightly earned praise for it.
The defence in front of him still includes the impressive Jordan Tunnicliffe, but fellow centre-back Jamie Sendles-White has moved on. In Tom Dallison-Lisbon and Joe McNerney, Crawley do possess some good centre-back alternatives. The latter did struggle with persistent injury problems throughout 19-20 though. The signing of Tony Craig from Bristol Rovers therefore looks like it could be an excellent one, bringing some very useful experience and physicality to the Red Devils’ backline.
At full-back, Josh Doherty is a good option on the left-hand-side. David Sesay, a man who was rumoured to have Championship interest not too long ago, could feature on the right. Lewis Young, and the versatile pair of George Francomb and Archie Davies are also available.
Perhaps the most notable departure is that of Beryly Lubala, who was one of the division’s best wingers last season. In his absence, the likes of Reece Grego-Cox, Ashley Nathaniel-George and Filipe Morais will
need to step up should no one new come in.
Following the departure of Guinea-Bissauan midfielder Panutche Camará, the likes of Nathan Ferguson, George Francomb, Tarryn Allarakhia, Bristol Rovers’ Sam Matthews, Grimsby Town’s Jake Hessenthaler and Dannie Bulman are all in contention to have starting places in central midfield.
Up front is where the other notable departure came. Ollie Palmer, last year’s top scorer for the Red Devils’, has moved north to Wimbledon. He formed a very impressive strike partnership alongside Ashley Nadesan, and Yems will hope that he can find a new man to partner the 25-year-old. Grego-Cox could be deployed here, but Ricky German seems a likely candidate after a few good performances in the backend of last term.
Technical director Erdem Konyar has a philosophy in place at Crawley that aims to sign several upcoming youngsters to the club. Maybe with certain players no longer present, one of these potential stars can get the chance to show exactly why Konyar wanted to bring them in.
16. Grimsby (40/1 SkyBet)
Now heading into their fifth consecutive year back in the EFL, it is the first full season in charge for Ian Holloway. The lovable manager is not only overseeing first-team duties but has been a shareowner of the Mariners since he arrived in late December.
Given how quickly he has formed relationships with not just staff but the surrounding community, it is clear that Ollie intends to be associated with Grimsby for a long time to come. In the very immediate future however, Holloway desire to improve on last season’s 15th-place finish is not a simple task.
Holloway possesses a squad that still includes club stalwart James McKeown. The 31-year-old has been on the Mariners’ books since 2011 and is an excellent goalkeeper at this level.
In front of him, Holloway can still call upon the likes of Luke Hendrie, Elliott Hewitt, Ludvig Öhman, Luke Waterfall and the promising Mattie Pollock as defensive options. The new face in this backline is 33-year-old Bilel Mohsni, returning to England after seven years away. The giant Tunisian will add valuable experience to Grimsby backline.
At current, Grimsby’s midfield options are severely lacking. Jake Hessenthaler was released, and Elliott Whitehouse is now at Forest Green. That leaves Harry Clifton, Elliott Hewitt and Danny Rose left as senior central midfielders, but the signing of George Williams from Forest Green could prove an exciting one. More attack-minded and capable of also playing on the flanks, a long-term injury prevented the 24-year-old from potentially excelling in Gloucestershire last season.
William’s arrival may prove timely as the Mariners also find themselves very low on wide quality. Max Wright remains available, but many of Grimsby’s other wingers from last season have departed. Elliot Grandin and Akheem Rose were both released, with Billy Clarke now back at Bradford and Charles Vernam now at League One Burton.
Sean Scannell comes in as a free agent, but has failed to catch the eye at any of his clubs over the last few years. The hope will be that the very experienced Holloway can get out of Scannell what others couldn’t.
There is better depth in the centre-forward position, however. James Hanson and Matt Green can still offer a threat as part of Holloway’s frontline, Hanson in particular, whilst the much younger option of James Tilley, who can also play in advanced midfield, is available.
Grimsby have so far brought in three new forwards, Ira Jackson Junior, Montel Gibson and Alhagi Touray Sisay, but coming from Folkestone, Halesowen and Aberystwyth respectively, the trio bring little to no prior experience of EFL football.
At current, it looks like improving on last season’s 15th-place finish is going to be a real challenge for Holloway’s side. Several of their best performing men have moved on to other clubs, and that leaves the midfield and wide positions low on numbers. Whilst the defence offers promise, and the frontline still contains experienced names, the central third of the pitch remains a big concern.
With the transfer window running until a good way into the season however, there is still time for Ollie to work his magic here, and he will certainly look to do so.
17. Newport (40/1 Spreadex)
If you are a fan of goals, Newport games were not the place to go to last season. The Exiles did have one of the better defensive records, conceding just 39 goals, but only scored 32 in a very underwhelming campaign when compared to 2018-19. After a 14th-place finish in 2019-20, there are not too many signs that Michael Flynn’s side can improve.
Newport do still have the reliable Tom King in goal, with Nick Townsend available as the alternative. Centre-back and club hero Mark O’Brien was sadly forced to retire in June as he required further heart valve surgery and will be a sad loss to not just County but the Football League in general.
The Exiles do however still have the likes of Ryan Haynes, Kyle Howkins, Ash Baker, Scot Bennett, Daniel Leadbitter and Mickey Demetriou all available to form what should be a fairly solid backline. Ryan Inniss, George Nurse and Danny McNamara are all elsewhere however after their loan deals at Newport came to an end. Forest Green’s Liam Shephard, held back by injury last year, could prove a simply superb edition to
the South Wales outfit.
Joss Labadie and Josh Sheehan are a good pair of midfielders and depending on the system Michael Flynn chooses, could be accompanied by players like Matt Dolan and Robbie Willmott in central and wide positions.
Striker Jamille Matt has moved across to division rivals Forest Green, but in Pádraig Amond and Tristan Abrahams, Newport do still possess a decent front two that combined for more than a third of County’s league goals last season.
The signing of former Plymouth striker Ryan Taylor is a promising one. The 32-year-old could not find a place in Ryan Lowe’s progressive side but could be well-suited to Flynn’s more direct style of play. Forward numbers are further boosted by Bristol City loanee Saikou Janneh, whilst Ade Azeez and the young pair of Lewis Collins and Ryan Hiller could also find themselves getting minutes, especially if Newport suffer an injury crisis like the severe one that they had in the last campaign.
Newport in 2019-20 were a largely solid outfit that lacked a real goalscoring presence, and it looks like 2020-21 could be a similar story at current. Flynn has the spine of a decent defence in place at Rodney Parade, but their current frontline does not look like one of the division’s best on paper. Taylor could prove a useful acquisition however, and if he can recreate the partnership with Amond that Matt did in 2018-19, County could pull off a few surprises in this new League Two season.
18. Morecambe (200/1 SkyBet)
No one defines ‘League Two outfit’ like Morecambe.
The Shrimps are now entering their 14th consecutive season at this level, during which time their finishes have seen them involved in everything from relegation battles to play-off Semi-Finals. Last season, it was case of the former as January arrivals saw the Lancashire side secure fourth tier football once again. On their basis of their current squad however, it does not look like a repeat of 2019-20 is on the cards.
Club stalwart Barry Roche has called time on his career after more than 400 appearances and one goal for the Shrimps. Mark Halstead will likely take the reins and is a decent goalkeeper, whilst Newcastle loanee Jake Turner could provide competition to him.
Club captain Sam Lavelle should be at the heart of everything good about Morecambe’s defence. His centre-back partner could be any one or two of Kilmarnock’s Stephen Hendrie, Grimsby’s Harry Davis, or Carlisle’s Nathaniel Knight-Percival. The latter though did have a very uninspiring 2019-20 in Cumbria.
Hendrie can also operate at left-back, where he will face stern competition from Luke Conlan, with Bradford’s Kelvin Mellor and Ryan Cooney, returning once again on loan from Burnley, making a good pair of right-back options.
Aaron Wildig, Alex Kenyon, John O’Sullivan, and January arrival Toumani Diagouraga all remain in a good midfield unit, but the recapture of Adam Phillips on-loan at Burnley is the one to watch. The 22-year-old had an explosive impact in the backend of last season, providing four goals and three assists in just 11 league games. Continue at that rate, and he will be on more than 25 goal involvements by the end of the new campaign.
Up front, Jordan Slew, Cole Stockton, A-Jay Leitch-Smith, and the exciting Carlos Mendes Gomes all remain under contract, with Gillingham’s Ben Pringle and Stockport’s Liam McAlinden being welcome additions to the forward unit. Pringle provides an excellent crossing option from the left flank and can also play more centrally. McAlinden meanwhile, has previous goalscoring experience higher up the EFL and provides a solid centre-forward alternative to Stockton.
The Jim Bentley era at Morecambe is at an end, but Derek Adams’ first full season on the Lancashire coast offers plenty of promise. The Shrimps still have the core of that side which turned last season around after January and have added experienced EFL names to form a squad that looks more than capable of improving on the 22nd-place finish from 2019-20.
The return of Burnley loan pair Cooney and Phillips is a particular highlight from the transfer window, and whilst Morecambe may not light up the division this season, they will certainly not be the pushover that many of League Two’s top clubs assume they will be.
19. Harrogate (40/1 BetVictor)
The story of Harrogate Town is a lovely one. A club managed by a son since 2009 and owned by his father since 2011 have enjoyed some ride since turning professional in 2017. Climbing out of the sixth tier in 2018, a 3-1 Wembley win over Notts County earned Harrogate a place in the Football League for the first time in their history.
At present, Simon Weaver still has the core of that team which made history in early August and has made some interesting additions to it. James Belshaw looks set to keep the starting place in goal, with Ryan Fallowfield, Warren Burrell, Toby Lees, Connor Hall, and Will Smith all options in front of him. They are also joined by two new defensive arrivals in Wrexham’s Jake Lawlor and Dover’s Kevin Lokko.
Club captain Josh Falkingham has been one of the Harrogate’s most impressive players for years and the midfielder will get his first taste of the EFL this season. He will be joined in midfield by new recruit Connor Kirby, who arrives from Sheffield Wednesday after previously impressing on-loan at Macclesfield. Tom Walker, formerly of Salford and Fylde, will be another welcome addition to the EFL newcomers.
Up front, Harrogate can look to the incredibly experienced head of John Stead, though at 37-years-old, it is unlikely that he will be play as important a role as he did earlier into his career. In former Carlisle forward Mark Beck and former Lincoln man Jack Muldoon however, Harrogate do possess a decent set of frontline options. Weaver will certainly want to add more Football League knowhow to it though.
Harrogate have become the latest side to join the long list of Football League members. The North Yorkshire club have a wonderful behind-the-scenes story, and whilst it is unlikely that they will set this division alight, they have the foundations in place for a squad capable of safely retaining its League Two status.
With the transfer window set to remain open until October, there is still plenty of time available for Simon and Irving Weaver to bring in players that will make this club even more EFL ready.
20. Scunthorpe (40/1 Spreadex)
It was not a memorable 2019-20 for those at Glanford Park. Coming off relegation from the third tier, six defeats from their first seven games left the Iron rock bottom of the division. Results ultimately did improve, but the North Lincolnshire side never looked close to being up with the league’s top sides. Entering the new campaign, they still look a way off being up there come May.
Rory Watson should retain his place in goal after Jake Eastwood’s loan deal expired in the summer. The back four in front of him can potentially be made up of Lewis Butroid, new signing Manny Onariase from Dagenham, Harrison McGahey, and Jordan Clarke. The depth beyond that quartet however is very weak at present, especially following the permanent departures of Cameron Burgess, Andy Butler, Yann Songo’o, Levi Sutton and Rory McArdle.
Young Jacob Bedeau and Jai Rowe only have a handful of senior appearances between them. Tyler Cordner, a loan arrival from Bournemouth, similarly lacks experience but will be hopeful of impressing whilst away from the Cherries.
Despite the underwhelming campaign last year, Scunthorpe do possess two of the division’s better performing wingers in Alex Gilliead and Abo Eisa, with Ryan Colclough, Jordan Hallam, Yeovil’s Myles Hippolyte, and another Bournemouth loanee in Frank Vincent also available out wide.
Centrally, Lewis Spence has arrived from Ross County, and looks likely to be a regular starter. Alfie Beestin will hope for more game time after arriving last January, and given the low number of senior midfield options that are currently at Scunthorpe, we could see youngsters like George Hornshaw and Tom Pugh given the chance to play as well.
The frontline is where Scunthorpe look the most convincing at present. Dutch striker Kevin van Veen hit double figures last season but could be out until Christmas, with John McAtee in support. The Dutchman could unfortunately be out until Christmas however following knee surgery.
Olufela Olomola will want to prove his worth to Neil Cox after coming back from a rather uninspiring loan at Carlisle last season. Whilst three of the new forward arrivals, Sutton’s Aaron Jarvis, Hereford’s Kelsey Mooney and former Bristol Rovers man Kenan Dünnwald-Turan collectively possess little EFL experience, Leicester’s Ryan Loft could prove a useful alternative to van Veen, Eisa or Gilliead.
Scunthorpe at present look a long way off making a return to the third tier. Whilst there are players in their first team who could potentially have good seasons, Cox’s squad lacks depth and experience at the time of writing. With a low number of senior figures in each unit of the team however, that could create the opportunity for one or two of Scunthorpe’s younger players to impress.
Back with the club he grew up supporting, Cox has a lot of work to do if he wants to get his hometown team playing League One football again.
21. Stevenage (80/1 Betfred)
As far as second chances go, few can match what Stevenage have been given. After a truly terrible 2019-20 campaign, the Boro were reprieved from relegation after Macclesfield’s multiple points deductions. Manager Alex Revell intends to make sure last season does not repeat itself, and there are early signs which suggest that he is going to be able to do that.
2020’s Player of the Year Paul Farman has moved on to Carlisle, but in his place comes the young pair of Norwich’s Billy Johnson on a permanent deal and Chelsea’s Jamie Cumming on-loan. The latter has received high praise from Blues fans before a ball has even been kicked.
Revell’s squad overhaul has seen major changes to the Stevenage defence as well. Young Ross Marshall comes in from Maidstone, full-back Remeao Hutton is in on-loan from Birmingham, and the arrival of former Colchester captain Luke Prosser is one that looks incredibly promising. He is a proven player at this level and alongside Tom Eastman formed one of the division’s best centre-back pairings last year.
Scott Cuthbert could be an ideal partner for Prosser in Hertfordshire, whilst Lincoln loanee Ben Coker will want to finally get consistent game time at left-back after being denied it by injury at Cambridge.
Midfield acquisitions for Stevenage include the promising Elliot Osborne, who arrives after a great campaign with Stockport, and the very experienced Romain Vincelot. The 34-year-old is however still less than a year on from a hip resurfacing operation which he had whilst with Shrewsbury. The pair join a midfield unit that includes Charlie Carter and Arthur Iontton.
Elliott List and Danny Newton still remain from last season’s Stevenage frontline and are joined by Billericay’s Femi Akinwande, Dover’s Inih Effiong, Boreham Wood’s Tyrone Marsh and Telford’s Marcus Dinanga. The new forward arrivals are very inexperienced at a League Two level but will be relishing the opportunity to impress under an ambitious manager.
Twenty-nine-year-old Effiong could be the name to watch here, with the forward coming off the back of two impressive seasons in Kent.
There is an element of risk with Stevenage’s approach to the new season. Revell has undertaken a major squad overhaul, releasing the disappointing signings of last season, and replacing them with fresh, ambitious players. The collective inexperience from most of the new signings does of course bring with it an element of doubt, and it could take time for so many new faces to properly integrate with one another.
If they play under the right system and in a positive environment however, there is no reason why Revell’s side cannot make 2019-20 a thing of the past.
22, Barrow (50/1 Bet365)
This season has been a long time coming for Barrow. Forty-eight years after being voted out of the Football League, the Cumbrian club are finally back. At current though, securing safety in the fourth tier does not look a certainty.
The main reason for this is because of changes in the managerial position. Ian Evatt, the man who’s ‘Barrowcelona’ style got the nation talking, has moved to division rivals Bolton. In his place comes the largely unproven David Dunn. Whilst his Blackpool spell was little more than a brief interim period, his tenure at Oldham several years ago ended badly.
Barrow are potentially entering a difficult campaign, and in that situation, you would take confidence in having a proven, experienced manager at the helm. Dunn is not that, and with it comes doubts about his managerial ability. The 40-year-old will be very keen to prove his critics wrong.
There is currently a very small squad at Dunn’s disposal. Joel Dixon is the only registered senior goalkeeper, whilst the defence in front of him can include names like Connor Brown, Patrick Brough, Sam Hird, Bradley Barry and the permanent signings of Matthew Platt from Blackburn and James Jones from Altrincham.
Northern Irish wide player Bobby Burns, who arrives from Hearts, can also operate in a left-back role, whilst Barrow-born Tom Beadling, an arrival from Dunfermline, can play in the centre of defence.
Midfield has seen arguably the two most noteworthy additions so far. Mike Jones comes in after an impressive campaign with Carlisle, Harrison Biggins joins on a loan deal from Fleetwood, and the permanent signing of young Callum Gribbin from Sheffield United brings with it a lot of excitement. The pair join a central unit that still includes Jason Taylor, Lewis Hardcastle and Josh Kay.
John Rooney’s departure to Stockport led to a mixed reaction from fans, and in his place has come Luke James, now in permanently from Hartlepool after a previous loan spell at Barrow in 2018. The 25-year-old carries with him an element of risk as he is a player whose recent goal scoring record does not read too great.
Scott Quigley and Dior Angus offer more promise of providing sufficient goals in League Two, with Jack Hindle and young Morgan Penfold also available.
If Barrow were entering the campaign with Evatt still at the helm, there would be a lot more confidence in them. Under a man who still lacks experience in senior management however, there is much more uncertainty. The small squad at current contains a couple of proven names, but several are heading into a new division.
The step up from the National League to League Two is not too great but it is one that this squad will need to do if they want to make 2020-21 a season that Barrow fans will remember fondly.
23. Oldham (66/1 Spreadex)
In the current climate, a sustainable, well-run club is needed now more than ever. Oldham are sadly not this.
The Latics have been on a notable decline for years now, faced winding-up petitions within the last 12 months, and reports recently emerged that some players did not receive their salaries for January, February, and March of 2020 on time. Even with a squad that does contain one or two promising names, there is real concern that what happens on the pitch will not matter one bit.
The man at the managerial helm ahead of the new season is Harry Kewell. It is his first return to English management since a disastrous spell at Notts County which lasted less than three months. There are severe doubts about whether the former Australia international is the right man for a club that is in desperate need of some stability.
Squad-wise, there are some areas of positivity. Goalkeeper Ian Lawlor has come in on-loan from Doncaster and looks likely to take the number one spot in the team ahead of Gary Woods and Zeus de la Paz.
Twenty-year-old academy graduate Tom Hamer has shown promise for several years and is likely to have an even more important role in defence than he did last year, whilst the now permanent return of left-back Cameron Borthwick-Jackson and centre-back Carl Piergianni are encouraging signings. Sido Jombati has also arrived from Wycombe, and they join a defensive unit that still includes the very experienced David Wheater, Dylan Fage and the very injury prone Tomáš Egert.
Youngsters like Drew Baker, Sean Higgins and Will Sutton could well also be finding themselves part of matchday squads.
At current, the only senior central midfielders in the team are Mohamed Maouche, former Manchester United product Callum Whelan, Blackpool loanee Ben Garrity and Wrexham loan signing Bobby
Davis Keillor-Dunn, a permanent signing from Wrexham with no prior EFL experience, is an option on the flank, whilst Oldham do still have versatile winger Johan Branger under contract. Seventeen-year-old Jack Williams could well find himself getting plenty of game time given the depleted midfield unit ahead of him.
Up front however, there offers promise. Danny Rowe and Zak Dearnley formed a good front two in the backend of 2019-20, whilst the permanent signing of Conor McAleny from Fleetwood is one that fans are rightly excited about. The trio give Harry Kewell a very good selection of centre-forwards, and they could end up proving absolutely crucial for Athletic this season if things off the pitch do not change.
In terms of on the pitch, Oldham have a promising frontline, a decent defence, but a midfield unit severely lacking in depth. All that may account for nothing though. The Covid-19 pandemic has created a world where financial stability is more important than ever before, and Oldham do not have that at current. This could be a very worrying campaign for those connected to the club.
24. Southend (40/1 Spreadex)
2019-20 was a truly forgettable campaign for Southend fans. Now playing in a division lower, the long-standing financial issues at the Essex club, coupled with a massive on-the-field task for the new manager, means that a second consecutive relegation could well be on the cards.
The new man at the helm of the Shrimpers is Mark Molesley. The 39-year-old certainly deserves a crack at Football League management after overseeing two consecutive promotions from the seventh and sixth tiers with Weymouth, but the challenge he now faces in Southend-on-Sea is huge.
Goalkeeper Mark Oxley should retain his place between the sticks. The defence in front of him conceded 85 league goals last season, and aside from the departing Joe Shaughnessy, remains the same as it previously was.
Nathan Ralph, Timothée Dieng, John White, Harry Lennon, the promising Elvis Bwomono and the Cypriot pair of Jason Demetriou and Harry Kyprianou make up the more senior members of this backline unit. Richard Taylor, Tom Clifford, and Miles Mitchell-Nelson are the much younger members in defence.
Midfield has seen Luke Hyam, Mark Milligan and Sam Mantom leave, and that makes Southend’s central unit incredibly young. Lewis Gard, Michael Klass, Terell Egbri and Eren Kinali are all promising players, but the lack of experienced alternatives heaps pressure onto them as they must continually perform to a high standard if United are to survive.
Up front, Molesley currently has Stephen Humprhys and Brandon Goodship as his senior forward players. The latter will be excited about linking up with the new manager. Goodship originally was with Molesley at Weymouth, where two first-class campaigns that included 75 goals in 83 league games saw him earn a move up the pyramid to Southend.
Molesley’s Bournemouth academy roots has helped bring former Cherry Jordan Green in on a six-month loan from Barnsley, and he will likely play a crucial role this season. Sitting in reserve to the three aforementioned players are Emile Acquah and United States youth international Charlie Kelman, who is attracting plenty of interest from elsewhere.
Much like last season, it looks like Southend’s long-term financial issues could force the starting line-up to be an incredibly young and inexperienced one again. Whilst plenty of the names in the squad will go on to have promising careers, there are doubts about whether they are good enough in this moment to keep the ‘sinking ship’ of Southend afloat.
Mark Molesley has a simply huge task to undertake at Roots Hall, one that plenty of more experienced managers would turn down. With a winding-up order lurking on the horizon as well, the future for the Essex club looks bleak at best.