The start of the new League Two season is almost upon us, the the vast majority of clubs riding the renewed optimism of a fresh start. Bristol Rovers may be one of the few clubs where that feeling of excitement is tempered by recent off-field events, but the Gas remain one of the favourites for promotion with the oddsmakers ahead of their opening day trip to Mansfield Town. The fourth tier poses an interesting landscape: a few “big clubs” who feel it is beneath them, the likes of Newport County, Forest Green Rovers and Exeter City who are vying to break through the glass ceiling after years of trying, clubs that have tread tepid waters of mediocrity for years and sides having a crack having risen from non-league. It promises to be an unpredictable campaign as a result, but journalists covering League Two teams have joined forces to create a club-by-club guide of the runners and riders in a bid to give some clarity on how they will fare and which players could shine.
Barrow AFC – The Mail Manager: Mark Cooper Ground: The Progression Solicitors Stadium (Holker Street) Main summer signings: Offrande Zanzala, Paul Farman, Josh Gordon, Remeao Hutton, Mark Ellis, Tom White, Joe Grayson. Main summer departures: Scott Quigley, Brad Barry, Joel Dixon, Chris Taylor, Yoan Zouma, Sam Hird, Bobby Burns. What are the fans’ expectations this season? After the exhausting three-manager bid to avoid an immediate return to the national League, Bluebirds fans will hope for good progress this season under new boss Mark Cooper. The Barrow hierarchy have gone public with the increased budget they have made available, and this summer’s recruitment was more proactive. Hopefully Cooper’s experience of competing at the right end of League Two will lead Barrow in that direction – and that they won’t miss departd talisman Scott Quigley (who’s now at Stockport). One to watch: Patrick Brough. The Cumbrian was many people’s player of the year in 2020/21, and Brough now has growing experience to add to his natural left-sided ability. Ought to be a key man again.
Former Forest Green Rovers manager Mark Cooper is now in charge of Barrow.
Bradford City – Simon Parker (Bradford Telegraph & Argus) Manager: – Derek Adams Ground: Valley Parade Main summer signings: Yann Songo’o, Andy Cook, Oscar Threlkeld, Liam Ridehalgh, Lee Angol, Caolan Lavery, Fiacre Kelleher, Abo Eisa, Alex Gilliead. Main summer departures: Clayton Donaldson, Billy Clarke, Connor Wood, Anthony O’Connor, Lee Novak, Harry Pritchard. What are the fans’ expectations this season? Promotion. After another underachieving season where City drifted too close to the relegation zone, revived dramatically to flirt with the play-offs and then fall away just as rapidly in the final month, hopes are high that Derek Adams can work his Morecambe magic on a club that continue to punch well below their weight. One to watch: Andy Cook. The striker came in on loan from Mansfield in January and scored eight goals to finish top-scorer last season. He has bagged four in pre-season and the way Adams likes his teams to play should suit the way he leads the line.
Bristol Rovers – Sam Frost (Bristol Post) Manager: Joey Barton Ground: Memorial Stadium Main summer signings: Brett Pitman, Luke Thomas, Mark Hughes, Paul Coutts, Harry Anderson, Aaron Collins, Nick Anderton, Trevor Clarke, Sam Finley, Sion Spence, Harvey Saunders. Main summer departures: Jonah Ayunga, Max Ehmer, Josh Hare, Ed Upson, David Tutonda, James Daly, Luke Leahy, George Williams, Ali Koiki, Tom Davies, Mark Little, Michael Kelly, Abu Ogogo, Kyle Bennett. What are the fans’ expectations this season? After a dreadful season which culminated in relegation, Gasheads want a response. Rovers have built a squad capable of finishing in the top three, which is very much the aim set by the boardroom, but recent events have led to uncertainty. The players will have to overcome those distractions, which have left some fans pessimistic of what can be achieved this season. The general hope seems to be squeaking a play-off place, but after a big overhaul of the squad many are expecting a slow start to the season. One to watch: Luke Thomas. Played plenty of Championship football and he should not be playing in League Two. He moved to BS7 on loan from Barnsley to be closer to his Gloucestershire family home after enduring off-field struggles which wrecked a loan move to Ipswich Town last season. He’s been the outstanding player of Rovers’ pre-season, exciting supporters with his dynamic play from the right wing.
Luke Thomas of Bristol Rovers.
(Image: Andy Watts/JMP)
Carlisle United – Jon Colman (News & Star) Manager: Chris Beech Ground: Brunton Park Main summer signings: Zach Clough, Tristan Abrahams, Corey Whelan, Lukas Jensen, Manasse Mampala. Main summer departures: Offrande Zanzala, Paul Farman, Omari Patrick, Nick Anderton, Rhys Bennett, Dean Furman, Joshua Kayode. What are the fans’ expectations this season? For Carlisle to build on the best of what they did in an up-and-down 2020/21, and hope summer signings like Zach Clough can add star quality to a largely stable core from last season. Expectations may be tempered by United’s relatively low budget, a lack of hardened experience in certain parts of their squad, and the way they slid down the table from January when hit by Covid and postponements. If they can generate fresh momentum, play-offs should be a realistic goal. One to watch: Zach Clough. The former Bolton star’s quality has been clear in pre-season as he headed to Brunton Park for a fresh start. If Chris Beech can get the best out of him, Carlisle will have an undoubted asset.
Colchester United – Jon Waldron (Colchester Gazette) Manager: Hayden Mullins Ground: JobServe Community Stadium Main summer signings: Alan Judge, Luke Chambers, Cole Skuse, Freddie Sears, Luke Hannant, Frank Nouble, Sylvester Jasper (loan), Cameron Coxe (loan). Main summer departures: Kwame Poku, Ben Stevenson, Harry Pell, Callum Harriott, Tom Lapslie, Jevani Brown, Paris Cowan-Hall, Luke Gambin, Courtney Senior, Omar Sowunmi. What are the fans’ expectations this season? Colchester had a worrying brush with relegation last season where they came close to losing their League Two status. But much has changed in the summer, with eight new signings being brought in and a host of players leaving, along with Hayden Mullins being appointed head coach on a permanent basis. As a result, hopes of a top-seven push are pretty high among supporters. One to watch: Alan Judge. If Colchester can keep him fit he undoubtedly has the talent and experience to make a big impact for the U’s, this season.
Cole Skuse in action for Ipswich (Photo by Lewis Storey/Getty Images)
Crawley Town -Brian Owen (The Argus) Manager: John Yems Ground: People’s Pension Stadium Main summer signings: Will Ferry, Jack Payne, Harry Ransom, Owen Gallacher, Blondy Nna Noukeu. Main summer departures: Joe McNerney, Josh Doherty. What are the fans’ expectations this season? Crawley fans can be impatient at times but the regulars would surely recognise last season’s league placing and FA Cup run were above expectations. The first job will be to secure safety and fans will expect that – along with one or two very blunt post-match answers from boss John Yems when things don’t go so well. One to watch: Tom Nichols. The skilful former Exeter forward reached double figures in goals last season and earned a new deal in the process. Will hope to repeat that sort of form this term.
Tom Nichols of Crawley Town.
(Image: Nathan Stirk/Getty Images)
Exeter City – Stuart James (WMN and Devon Live) Manager: Matt Taylor Ground: St James Park Main summer signings: Cameron Dawson, George Ray, Jonathan Grounds, Callum Rowe, Timothee Dieng, Josh Coley, Sam Nombe, Jevani Brown. Main summer departures: Lewis Ward, Jonny Maxted, Lewis Page, Tom Parkes, Rory McArdle, Jake Taylor, Randell Williams, Alex Fisher, Ryan Bowman, Nicky Ajose, Joel Randall. What are the fans’ expectations this season? At the end of the season, there was hope that City could really have a go at promotion this season with the promise of ‘marquee signings’ but that has not really materialised. Players have decided to move elsewhere and location continues to be a problem for us in attracting players to the West Country and away from their family and friends. So I’d say the expectations are for a promotion push, but many fans want to see at least three quality signings come in soon. It hasn’t helped having players get injured in pre-season, while some players have not featured at all in pre-season friendlies leading to more questions than answers about how Exeter will fare. One to watch: Sam Nombe. A striker signed from MK Dons, although he spent last season with Luton in the Championship, where he didn’t really feature as much as he would have hoped. Needs to settle down and find a home and hopefully he has that now with Exeter, but lightning quick with an eye for goal and shown glimpses of what he’s all about in pre-season. Forest Green Rovers – Ash Loveridge (Stroud Times/ BBC Radio Gloucestershire) Manager: Rob Edwards Ground: The Fully Charged New Lawn Main summer signings: Ben Stevenson, Jack Aitchison (loan), Opi Edwards, Regan Hendry, Sadou Diallo Main summer departures: Chris Stokes, Scott Wagstaff, Aaron Collins, Shawn McCoulsky, Adam Smith What are the fans’ expectations this season? In a nutshell, automatic- promotion. Followers of the Green Army will want their side to improve on the agonising play-off semi-final defeat against Newport County last season and with the support of chairman Dale Vince, nothing less than the play-offs will be deemed a failure for new boss Rob Edwards One to watch: Kane Wilson. Arguably the best attacking right-sided player in League Two, the former West Brom man has been electric during Rovers’ pre-season campaign and can supply the bullets to feed talismanic striker Jamille Matt.
Harrogate Town Manager: Simon Weaver Ground: The EnviroVent Stadium Main summer signings: Lewis Page, Nathan Sheron, Alex Pattison, Danilo Orsi, Rory McArdle, Mark Oxley, Luke Armstrong Main summer departures: Brendan Kiernan, Calvin Miller, Ed Francis, Joe Leesley, Connor Kirby, Tom Walker, Mark Beck, Jack Lawlor, Kevin Lokko, James Belshaw, Jay Williams, Scott Brown, Melvin Minter Hartlepool United – Dominic Scurr (Hartlepool Mail) Manager: Dave Challinor Ground: Victoria Park Main summer signings: Neill Byrne, Reagan Ogle, Fela Olomola, Martin Smith, Jake Lawlor, Mark Cullen Main summer departures: Rhys Oates, Luke Armstrong, Lewis Cass, Ryan Johnson, Brad Young What are the fans’ expectations this season? On the back of a dramatic promotion season from the National League, most Pools fans would be content with being competitive in League Two and ultimately remaining in the division. The club has had its well documented struggles on and off the pitch over the past decade or so but manager Dave Challinor has gone some way to bringing the good times back. The club haven’t secured a top half finish in any EFL division since 2007 so anything near to mid-table would be seen as a success. One to watch: Jamie Sterry. The former Newcastle United defender turned down bigger clubs and better offers from elsewhere to remain at Hartlepool United. Was far too good to be playing in the National League so it will be interesting to see how he deals with the step up as he could end up being one of the stand out right backs in League Two this season.
Leyton Orient manager Kenny Jackett.
(Image: Pete Norton/Getty Images)
Leyton Orient Manager: Kenny Jackett Ground: The Breyer Group Stadium Main summer signings: Connor Wood, Darren Pratley, Paul Smyth, Omar Beckles, Tom James, Aaron Drinan, Harry Smith, Theo Archibald Main summer departures: Lee Angol, Josh Coulson, Joe Widdowson, Sam Ling, Jamie Turley, Danny Johnson, Conor Wilkinson, James Brophy, Louis Dennis. Mansfield Town – Stephen Thirkill (Mansfield Chad) Manager: Nigel Clough Ground: One Call Stadium Main summer signings: George Lapslie (permanent deal), Ollie Hawkins, Danny Johnson, Rhys Oates, Nathan Bishop (season loan). Main summer departures: Mal Benning, Jamie Reid, Aiden Squires. What are the fans’ expectations this season? After a bitterly disappointing season, which failed to ever get going, the fans will be hoping for a play-off place at least. Hope will be high after some good summer signings which has strengthened the spine of the team. In Nathan Bishop they now have a keeper of pedigree. Danny Johnson will also be expected to score the goals to get them where they want to be after a summer switch from Leyton Orient, One to watch: Danny Johnson: Johnson scored 20 goals for Orient last season and could go even better this time out if Mansfield create the same volume of chances as last year. The striker is also backing himself to have a big season.
Danny Johnson, now of Mansfield, in action for Leyton Orient.
(Image: Charlotte Tattersall/Getty Images)
Newport County Manager: Michael Flynn Ground: Rodney Parade Main summer signings: Timmy Abraham, Cameron Norman, Courtney Senior, James Clarke, Ed Upson, Christian Missilou, Courtney Baxter-Richardson, Jermaine Hylton, Joe Day. Main summer departures: Ryan Taylor, Josh Sheehan, Ash Baker, Daniel Leadbitter, Liam Shephard, Corey Whitely, Tom King, David Longe-Kick, Josh Labadie, Tristan Abrahams. Northampton Town – James Heneghan, (Northampton Chronicle) Manager: Jon Brady Ground: Sixfields Main summer signings: Nicke Kabamba, Mitch Pinnock, Jordan Flores, Jon Guthrie, Aaron McGowan, Ali Koiki. Main summer departures: Lloyd Jones, Ryan Watson, Harry Smith, Mark Marshall, Steve Arnold. What are the fans’ expectations this season? After relegation from League One, the majority of supporters will be expecting a strong promotion challenge this season. However, there is an understanding that patience may be required with so much change on and off the pitch. The club have signed 12 players this summer and there’s also been a change of structure behind the scenes. Nonetheless, anything less than a push towards the play-offs will be viewed as a disappointment. One to watch: Mitch Pinnock. The winger, signed from Kilmarnock this summer, has caught the eye in pre-season and will be the man the Cobblers look to for creativity this season.
Ali Koiki joined Northampton Town after leaving Bristol Rovers.
(Image: Pete Norton/Getty Images)
Oldham Athletic Manager: Keith Curle Ground: Boundary Park Main summer signings: Sam Hart, Jayson Leutwiler, Jordan Clarke, Harrison McGahey, Hallam Hope, Alan Sheehan. Main summer departures: Cameron Borthwick-Jackson, George Blackwood, Conor McAleny, Sido Jombati. Port Vale – Mike Baggaley (Stoke Sentinel) Manager: Darrell Clarke Ground: Vale Park Main summer signings: Lucas Covolan, Aidan Stone, Ryan Johnson, Aaron Martin, Dan Jones, Lewis Cass, Mal Benning, Brad Walker, Tom Pett, Ben Garrity, James Wilson, Jamie Proctor. Main summer departures: Vale’s post-war record goalscorer Tom Pope and goalkeeper Scott Brown, a league ever-present for the previous three years, were among 15 out-of-contract players released at the end of the season. What are fans’ expectations for this season? Expectations are certainly for an improvement on last season’s 13th-placed finish. Hopes are for a challenge for the top seven. The club has made major changes on and off the pitch since manager John Askey departed in January. David Flitcroft came in as director of football followed by Darrell Clarke, recruited from Walsall as manager. A run of eight wins from nine ended any fears of relegation and raised the bar for the new season. The majority of Clarke’s squad were recruited this summer and, on paper at least, the squad looks stronger than last season. One to watch: Tom Conlon. The captain was the club’s 2020/21 player of the year after scoring ten goals from midfield. Getting him signed to a new contract at the end of the season kicked off a busy summer at Vale Park.
Port Vale manager Darrell Clarke.
(Image: Lewis Storey/Getty Images)
Rochdale Manager: Robbie Stockdale Ground: Crown Oil Arena Main summer signings: Aidy White, Max Taylor, Sam Graham, George Broadbent, Corey O’Keeffe. Main summer departures: Conor Shaughnessy, Paul McShane, Harrison Hopper, Kwadwo Baah, Matty Lund, Stephen Humphreys, Ollie Rathbone. Salford City – Charlie Gregory (Manchester Evening News) Manager: Gary Bowyer Ground: Peninsula Stadium Main summer signings: Josh Morris, Liam Shephard, Matty Lund, Conor McAleny, Tom King. Main summer departures: James Wilson, Darron Gibson, Vaclav Hladky, Richie Towell, Tom Clarke, Oscar Threlkeld, George Boyd, Bruno Andrade. What are the fans’ expectation this season? Promotion is the expectation every season at Salford City and it will remain that way for as long as the wildly ambitious Class of ‘92 take up their seats in the North Stand. Four promotions in six seasons have been followed with two terms without success however, so returning that upward trajectory will be a priority this year. Salford are currently light on bodies, but the feel-good factor is back at Moor Lane and fans are cautiously optimistic that Bowyer will be able to build on his early foundations and lead the club out of League Two. One to watch: After finishing last season strongly following Bowyer’s arrival at the club, young forward Brandon Thomas-Asante has the potential to set pulses racing in the fourth tier this campaign. If the powerful attacker can add consistency to his game, he’ll be a major asset to a small Salford squad and a front-line short on pace and trickery.
Conor McAleny starred for Oldham Athletic last season and has moved to Salford.
(Image: Joe Prior/Visionhaus/Getty Images)
Scunthorpe United – James Findlater (Scunthorpe Telegraph) Manager: Neil Cox Ground: Sands Venue Stadium Main summer signings: Harry Davis, Alex Kenyon, Ross Millen, Alex Perry, Harry Bunn, Lewis Thompson, Tyrone O’Neill, Tom Billson. Main summer departures: Jacob Bedeau, Jordan Clarke, Abo Eisa, Alex Gilliead, Harrison McGahey, Olufela Olomola, Kevin van Veen, John McAtee, Lewis Spence, Junior Brown, Andy Dales, Mark Howard, Jem Karacan, Lewis Buttroid. What are the fans’ expectations this season? There’s a fair bit of concern among the Iron’s fans about the new season following last season’s brush with relegation, and the subsequent mass exodus of players. There’s a degree of the unknown with some of the signings coming from Championship Under-23 teams, and just avoiding the drop will constitute a successful season. One to watch: Alfie Beestin. His emergence last season was one of the few plus points for the Iron, and they’ll need him to kick on again and add more goals in the new campaign. Stevenage – Neil Metcalfe (The Comet) Manager: Alex Revell Ground: Lamex Stadium Main summer signings: James Daly (Bristol Rovers); Jake Reeves (Notts County); Arthur Read (Brentford); Jamie Reid (Mansfield Town); Jake Taylor (Exeter City). Main summer departures: Jamie Cumming (loan expired); Danny Newton (released); Tom Pett (Port Vale). What are the fans’ expectations this season? They were relegation certainties last time out but a stunning second half of the season thrust them up to mid-table. They are hard to beat, 19 clean sheets in their 46 league games last year, and they now have a formation and a tactic that works for them. Good enough for the play-offs? Maybe, but a season where that is simply an option heading into the final weeks would please most Boro fans. One to watch: Luther James-Wildin. Only re-signed in the last weeks of June but a hugely important signature. The right-back is strong, quick, and able to produce a pin-point accurate cross. A valuable asset at either ends of the park.
James Daly is unveiled at Stevenage Borough
Sutton United Manager: Matt Gray Ground: Gander Green Lane Main summer signings: Joe Kizzi, Enzio Boldewijn, Ricky Korboa, Donovan Wilson, Richie Bennett, Alistair Smith. Main summer departures: Callum Kealy, Rhys Browne, Bradley Pearce, Aaron Simpson. Swindon Town – Jonny Leighfield (Swindon Advertiser) Manager: Ben Garner Ground: The County Ground Main summer signings: Jojo Wollacott, Ben Gladwin, Lewis Ward, Tyreece Simpson, Kaine Kesler-Hayden Main summer departures: Lee Power (ex-owner), Steve Anderson (ex-CEO), John McGreal (manager for a month), Brett Pitman, Jonathan Grounds, Hallam Hope, Tom Broadbent, Matt Palmer, Taylor Curran, Scott Twine, Pierce Sweeney (here for a day), Zeki Fryers, Paul Caddis, Joel Grant. What are the fans’ expectations this season? After the summer/year we have had at Swindon, everyone’s expectations here are to struggle through this season as the club attempts to stand back up on its feet following the reckless actions of former owner Lee Power. With the club reportedly days away from following a similar story to Bury/Macclesfield, fans have set their sights as low as possible this year and believe staying in the EFL will constitute success. Even new owner Clem Morfuni said staying up would be classed as success as he looks to rebuild the club, clean out the skeletons, and replay masses of debt in the short term. Purely and simply, fans are just grateful to have a club. As such, I would expect pretty sizeable away followings everywhere this season. One to watch: Ben Gladwin. Yet another case of – if club X can keep him fit then he’ll be a huge success. Gladwin is technically superb, and he has power and skill in equal measure. If he plays more than 30 games, I would expect Town to do enough to stay up.
Former Bristol Rovers manager Ben Garner.
(Image: Robbie Stephenson/JMP)
Tranmere Rovers – Richard Garnett (Wirral Globe) Manager: Micky Mellon Ground: Prenton Park Main summer signings: Callum McManaman, Paul Glatzel, Nat Knight Percival, Chris Merrie Main summer departures: Manny Monthe, Paul Lewis, James Vaughan, Liam Ridehalgh What are the fans’ expectations this season? The Super White Army always have high expectations on their team and the return of hero Micky Mellon will only strengthen that feeling further. However, the Scot’s squad is still a little thin on the ground and he will be wanting to add to it as quickly as possible to give Rovers the best chance of promotion. With that in mind, another playoff position would be the minimum expectation. One to watch: Former Wigan wing wizard Callum McManaman has impressed in preseason so far, which is sure to excite Tranmere supporters, who love a bit of swashbuckling down the flanks. Also, Paul Glatzel arrives with an impressive goal return for Liverpool U18s. It will be interesting to see if he can do the business in League Two.
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Walsall – Joe Edwards (Express & Star) Manager: Matt Taylor Ground: Banks’s Stadium Main summer signings: Stephen Ward, Ash Taylor, Conor Wilkinson, Manny Monthe, Joss Labadie Main summer departures: Josh Gordon, Wes McDonald, Dan Scarr, Liam Roberts, James Clarke What are fans’ expectations this season? There is a lot of positivity around at the Banks’s after a summer of change – new manager, new technical director in Jamie Fullarton and lots of new players. Midfielder Liam Kinsella has been quoted as saying they want promotion and play-offs at a minimum, and fans seem to be along the same lines. One to watch: Emmanuel Osadebe. Has been playing in the No.10 role over pre-season and has the natural talent to be a match-winner. Just a case of fine-tuning his raw talent, it seems.