Redemption for van Veen but Town pegged back again

Northampton Town 2-2 Cambridge United

Saturday 18 August 2018

There are two ways you can look at this latest frustrating stumbling block to the start of the Cobblers’ season – either it was a swashbuckling adventure capped by a rejuvenated striker or evidence that our back line is still not 100% recovered from some of the trauma of the last campaign.

Cambridge United came to Sixfields having had a mixed bag of results so far with the one constant being a leaky defence that would have given Dean Austin hope of seeing Kevin van Veen and Andy Williams fill their boots. The Dutchman, who gave a frank and honest interview this week about his personal struggles since joining in January, did just that in a second half display that worked to give us hope that we finally have that twenty goal striker in our midst and to signal the start of his own redemption story.

This was, though, to be a tale of both ends of the pitch cancelling each other out and leaving Austin and the 5,000 or so Cobblers fans in attendance rueing missed opportunities and the inability to close the game out.

It was a fairly subdued Sixfields that welcomed the teams with the novelty of the start of the season giving way to the realisation that this is going to be a real work in progress. With John-Joe O’Toole not ready to start and Shaun McWilliams still missing it was down to Sam Foley to plug the hole in midfield in a 4-4-2 starting line-up.

Town began by using the width well, particularly on the right as Sam Hoskins saw more of the ball than Dan Powell on the opposite flank but the final ball or shot just wasn’t coming off. Frustration was growing in the stands as chances came and went through van Veen, Williams and Matt Crooks, who had the clearest cut of the chances but side footed wide.

There was always the worry that Cambridge could catch us with a sucker punch in the manner in which Lincoln did on the opening day and Jabo Ibehre had a header cleared off the line by David Buchanan late in the half.

Then came a moment in front of the home fans that van Veen had been waiting for. After shooting just wide at the start of the second half, van Veen was found in the area by Powell and he hammered a shot into the net and in one moment may well have started a wave of positivity towards him from the stands. Seconds later and the Dutchman was chasing down his man and crunching into a challenge. He looked like a man reborn.

There was to be a bittersweet feeling hanging over proceedings, though, as the Cobblers didn’t clear their lines well enough from a United attack and George Maris side footed in for the first of two frustrating equalisers.

As the match stretched, van Veen announced that he wasn’t finished as he chased a ball down, controlled well and hammered in yet another beauty for 2-1. The emotion again came pouring out of the big man in his celebrations and the perfect story would have seen him take home all of the match day glory.

But it was a Cobbler of the past and not the future who had the last laugh of a pulsating second half. Gary Deegan never once looked like firing a shot into the top corner during his time at Sixfields but he did just that with three minutes to go to earn his U’s side a point.

It was another lesson in what happens when you don’t close out a game or concentrate for the full ninety minutes and there still seems to be a few issues about sealing a win hanging over from last season. Patches of the game were lost to long, lost passes and we gave the ball away too cheaply on far too many occasions.

The attacking intent should mean that we score a lot of goals this season and if we can take more of the chances we create this could be a very exciting Cobblers team to watch. I’m convinced that it will come with a couple of wins that boost the confidence and maybe even a scrappy success that gives belief to us defensively.

In van Veen, it’s clear that if we keep him motivated we have one heck of a player on our hands for this level. His size can sometime deceive how good he can be with the ball at his feet and his two goals today and header at Carlisle are evidence that he can score all sorts of goals. I’ve been the most guilty of slating the big man for not appearing up for the fight and will be the happiest to admit my mistake at the end of the season if this form continues. Now is the time to give van Veen the fresh start he needs to rewrite his Sixfields history.

Matt Crooks is another who again showed his ability to take control of games at this level. He was immense once again and has the potential to run everything in midfield.

We clearly need work on building the confidence at the back and trusting our ability to play on the floor and this will hopefully come in the next few weeks. Don’t forget previous promotion campaigns (and even the championship winning season) started slowly.

There’s a quick turnaround to the trip to Morecambe on Tuesday night with the Shrimps without a point from their three games so far. That kind of fact usually sends shivers down a Cobblers fans’ spine but it’s a massive chance to get off the mark in the wins column.

With a rejuvenated striker, the return to fitness of Junior Morias (the summer signing played the final twenty minutes today) and chances being created by the bucket load it surely can’t be long…

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Five ways the Cobblers can get off the mark this weekend

There’s been plenty of hasty panic spreading throughout social media this week with the Cobblers still to pick up that first win of the season and a penalty shoot-out defeat to League One Wycombe knocking us out of the League Cup at the first round stage. But as starts to the season go, it hasn’t been the disaster that many are making it out to be with the Town squad still likely coming to terms with a damaging campaign last time out and with many of the players who were relegated and shackled under Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink still to let loose.

We’re all desperate for Town to get that first win under our belt and there are plenty of ways to do it, starting with sticking to the values that Dean Austin is trying to instil in his players.

Attack! Attack! Attackattackattack!

Austin has stated his intent to play on the front foot and a home game against a Cambridge United side who have conceded nine goals in their three games, albeit with an excellent 3-2 win over fancied Notts County on Saturday. The U’s are vulnerable at the back away from home, a trend that continues on from last season where they conceded the most (37) goals on their travels in the top half of the table. It might mean that we’re opening ourselves up at the back more, particularly if Shaun McWilliams is still unavailable, but we need to trust in our own attacking ability. Which brings me to…

Let Junior Morias loose

New signing Junior Morias came in and made his first appearance for the club on Tuesday night at Wycombe and his guile caused plenty of problems. If he can be unleashed from the start, perhaps alongside a seemingly rejuvenated Kevin van Veen who should complement his style, there’s every chance that he can provide us with a killer touch that was lacking in the opening day defeat against Lincoln.

Settle on a number one keeper

With Lewis Ward and David Cornell being rotated in the first couple of games – Ward making his debut on Tuesday night – it’s time to settle on one of them and make it clear that they are the number one. Cornell didn’t do a lot wrong against Lincoln, or for the goals that Carlisle scored for that matter, but Ward won’t want to come out on loan and sit on the bench. It’ll be interesting to see who Austin goes with against Cambridge but whoever that is needs to be told that they have the shirt, if only to reassure the back four which should include Shay Facey for the first time in the league this season.

Keep Ade Azeez in check

The former AFC Wimbledon and Partick Thistle man had an uncertain future after a difficult season last time out including a serious injury and a loan spell at Dover, arranged just after Joe Dunne took over at the club. But he’s come back firing with nine goals in pre-season and his first three competitive goals for the club, including two in the 3-2 win over Notts County. He’s sure to want to kick on and re-establish himself in the league and the Cobblers defence will need to be at their best to keep him under wraps. A first clean sheet of the season would be a huge boost for the back line.

Get the crowd going!

Sixfields can (emphasis on CAN) be loud and spur the Cobblers on. Obviously it’s difficult to get fully ‘up’ for a home game at the start of the season as opposed to one in the midst of a relegation battle but any ready-made complaining needs to be left at the turnstiles and picked up on the way out. We’re THREE games into the season and three not all that bad games at that and if the claret faithful can get behind the team from the off – we faded in the stands against Lincoln – and stay with them we can get the win we all crave and start building a momentum that we’ve not seen for a good couple of years.

Slow start but promising signs for Cobblers

It’s not been the barnstorming start that we wanted in our return to League Two – with two games down the Cobblers have collected just a solitary point – but considering the way in which the fixtures have fallen Dean Austin should still have plenty to be encouraged by in these early knockings of the campaign.

The opening day saw Lincoln come and do a job on us and welcomed us back to League Two by producing an away performance that Danny Cowley would have been delighted with. The Imps came to Sixfields to be physical and outmuscle Town with their height and power key in their victory. The Cobblers started brightly and could well have had an early lead but Shaun McWilliams’ withdrawal through injury seemed to shake our flow and broke up a midfield trio involving himself, John-Joe O’Toole and Matt Crooks that had the right balance to take control of the centre of the park.

It was perhaps the wrong move from Austin to replace McWilliams not with the strength of Sam Foley but with the more technical Jack Bridge but we still created enough to win the game, let alone claw back a draw. We ended up with neither thanks to a sucker punch from Matt Green who got on the end of a cross from the right to nod in the only goal of the game. The Cobblers could have had three or four thanks to some clear opportunities going begging for Dan Powell, Sam Hoskins and Andy Williams but the positive news from the first game was that chances were being created and forwards were breaking through a tough Lincoln backline who will keep out plenty of League Two sides this season.

It all felt like a little bit of a false start but it wasn’t an awful performance by any means against one of the favourites for promotion. The absence of Junior Morias, still not up to speed thanks to a slight knock, didn’t help and the striker was again missing for Saturday’s long trek up to Carlisle.

Transfer deadline day came and went and it was a case of no news is good news as the clock ticked on with no departures. There were a few nibbles of a rumour about Crooks leaving but nothing materialised and we go with what we have pending any loan moves in the next couple of weeks.

Ironically, two of those at the top of the rumoured departures list, Crooks and Kevin van Veen, both found the net at Brunton Park in what should go down as a good point taken from Cumbria on Saturday as long as we can build on it next Saturday back at Sixfields.

Both goals were well taken by the Town men with van Veen nodding in to level following Jamie Devitt’s opener for the Cumbrians and Crooks getting on the end of a good move and pass from Sam Hoskins. It was a case of lacking concentration from the off though as United hit back to grab a point straight away thanks to former Cobblers loanee Hallam Hope.

With the McWIlliams injury news not as bad as first thought and the likes of Morias and Shay Facey to come in there’s reason to think that Town have plenty still in the locker ahead of a busy few weeks of league and cup action. Victory on Saturday at home to Cambridge would be very welcome!

 

Cobblers positional analysis – trying to find the best Town XI as the season draws near!

Austin…decisions, decisions…

Here we are just a day away from the start of the 2018/19 season with the Cobblers’ transfer activity kept to a minimum and the need for the window to close without any outgoings now perhaps more important than trying desperately to bring in anyone new. As things stand the only thing we could possibly do with is a bit more width but played in the right way, the squad should have enough to more than compete and sustain a challenge in the top half of League Two.

So how do they all fit into Austin’s system? After a pretty good pre-season, who makes the grade to start games? And what of the youth team graduates knocking on the door? Here I look at the squad and make my choice for the ideal starting eleven for the Cobblers. Note: this isn’t necessarily based on who is available now but on the idea of a fully fit Town squad. Two players in particular, Shay Facey and Junior Morias, may not start tomorrow but I do think they will make their positions their own eventually.

So here goes…please feel free to comment/agree/more likely disagree!

GOALKEEPERS

Options: Lewis Ward, David Cornell, James Goff, Luke Coddington

Having four keepers on the books is one too many and since the end of last season it’s been clear that Luke Coddington is the one that is free to leave the club. James Goff came in and did a solid enough job against the Manchester United XI last week but is likely to be given the chance to go out on loan to further his experience. That leaves a straight race between Cornell and loan signing Lewis Ward, who only joined at the end of the final friendly.

Based on nothing more than the loanee having been brought in to replace last season’s number one, I’m going for Lewis Ward to start the season in goal.

RIGHT BACK

Options: Shay Facey, Hakeem Odoffin, Camron McWilliams

Young Camron McWilliams really stood out in the friendly win last Friday and eventually could well push for the right-back slot whilst his versatility is a real positive. Hakeem Odoffin has been brought in from Wolves to battle for this position and, while he’s raw, has good potential. But if all are fit, I’d still be giving the right-back berth to Shay Facey who has a chance to make the position his own in the coming months once he recovers from injury.

CENTRE BACKS X 2

Options: Ash Taylor, Aaron Pierre, Leon Barnett, Jordan Turnbull

You’d expect Austin to be starting with two central defenders and Ash Taylor is sure to be first choice. The big dilemma for the Town boss is who partners him and all of Pierre, Barnett and Turnbull have done well in pre-season. With the record he has at this level and the slightly better athleticism, I’m going with Pierre to partner Taylor but in the case of injury or suspension we certainly have good back-up.

LEFT BACK

Options: David Buchanan, Jordan Turnbull

One of the more straight forward decisions for Austin to make is at left-back with Joe Bunney out of the picture on loan at Blackpool and Turnbull again a good emergency option. But it’s David Buchanan, in his fourth season at the club, who should be a shoe in here.

CENTRAL MIDFIELD x3

Options: John-Joe O’Toole, Shaun McWilliams, Matt Crooks, Sam Foley, Camron McWilliams, Morgan Roberts, Yaser Kasim

Another big question to be answered is how the midfield is set up – will Austin favour a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-4-2? Formation is key to answering the riddle of the centre of the park with plenty of options to hand again. I’m instantly taking Kasim out of the equation as he seems to have been told he has no future with the club.

So how do we set up? I’d favour a 4-2-3-1 so two defensive minded midfielders and one central attacker in the middle. So that means three from the above list and I’d take O’Toole and McWilliams providing the heart of the battle and Crooks giving us that extra bit of guile and creativity further forward. McWilliams and O’Toole can also be deployed in a more advanced role which is why my option would be for the three of them to all fit in.

That leaves two wider forwards and one central striker.

WIDE FORWARDS

Options: Daniel Powell, Sam Hoskins, Billy Waters, Shaun Whaler, Morgan Roberts, Sam Foley, Jack Bridge, Matt Crooks, Dean Bowditch, Junior Morias

Plenty of choices here for the wide forward berths. The only real complaint about Austin’s recruitment has been that we don’t seem to have much width but I would argue that his system is more set up to using the wide attackers as more of an ‘inside forward’ rather than an out and out winger. Crooks is already used in my formation so he’s discarded for the wide positions.

The interesting choice could be Junior Morias on one side with his pace and power likely to cause plenty of problems for League Two defences. On the other side, it’s a pick between Powell, Waters and Hoskins and based on the performances of pre-season I would plump for Waters to be getting a start. There’s the argument that you shouldn’t read too much into pre-season and all that but I feel like he’s earned his shot and it’s another close call to make.

CENTRAL STRIKER

Options: Andy Williams, Kevin van Veen, Junior Morias, Billy Waters, Sam Hoskins, Joe Iaciofano, Dean Bowditch

With Waters and Morias cutting in from the wings, we’re now down to the one central striker that could be used. Sam Hoskins did a great job with his energy at the end of last season in the role but long-term I get the feeling that new signing Andy Williams would be the best bet to start with. He’s got an eye for goal and seems a clever player that can bring the others into play well. Kevin van Veen has a lot to prove but if he can get himself motivated there’s no reason why he can’t push Williams all the way.

So there we have it – a Cobblers starting eleven that on paper at least looks like it could challenge. I’m sure all of you are making your own picks and line-ups today so please feel free to share them in the comments section (or hurl abuse at me on Twitter!)

To cover my back, my 4-4-2 option would be: Ward, Facey, Taylor, Pierre, Buchanan, Crooks, O’Toole, McWilliams, Powell, Morias, Williams

Whatever the line-up, under Austin we do at least have the refreshing thought that the baffling selections and tactics under our esteemed former boss should be long gone.

Enjoy the start of the season, all! See you on the other side…

League Two Season Preview: Part Four

It’s the final part of this season’s League Two Preview and today we look at the final six teams: Oldham, Port Vale, Stevenage, Swindon, Tranmere and Yeovil.

Oldham Athletic

Last season…

After twenty one years in League One, Oldham finally exited the division but it was at the opposite end than they would have wished thanks to a stop/start campaign that saw them relegated on the final day at Sixfields.

John Sheridan started the season in charge but lasted only until late September following a 5-1 humbling at Rotherham and Richie Wellens was tasked with dragging the Latics away from the bottom four. The new manager bounce worked in the immediate aftermath of his appointment with four wins and two draws from his opening six games and continued to hold firm until Christmas when a late Eoin Doyle goal earned a point at Doncaster to send them up to fifteenth in the table and clear of the drop zone.

But six defeats in the next eight games took them right back down to 22nd with the club by then taken over by Moroccan businessman Abdallah Lemsagam. Another good run gave them hope of survival with an excellent 2-0 win at high flying Scunthorpe taking them out of the bottom four. There was, though, set to be a nervy and ultimately disappointing end to the campaign as a run of too many draws (seven in the final eight games) bringing them into trouble and eventually down to League Two. With Rochdale winning on the final day, they needed a win at Sixfields but a 2-2 draw sent them out of League One by the finest of margins.

Transfers…

In: Jose Baxter (Everton), Giles Coke (Unattached), Christopher Missilou (Unattached), Sam Graham (Sheffield United), Johan Branger (FC Dieppe), Andy Taylor (Unattached), Daniel Iverson (Leicester), Jonathan Benteke (Unattached), Chris O’Grady (Chesterfield), Sam Surridge (Bournemouth)

Out: Paul Green (Crewe), Craig Davies (Mansfield), Aaron Amadi-Holloway (Shrewsbury), Ryan McLaughlin (Blackpool)

Promotion Odds…

4/1

Outlook…

The untested Frankie Bunn is the latest man to be tasked with turning around Oldham’s fortunes with the former Oldham player appointed in the summer following Wellen’s departure. Another summer of upheaval means that it’s another transfer window of mass activity and without the goals of Eoin Doyle after his loan spell ended at the end of last season it’s hard to see them having a shot at returning to League One.

Jose Baxter returns from Everton and Jonathan Benteke, brother of Christian, also arrives but it may not be enough to lift the Latics to anywhere other than mid-table. They can only hope that they don’t ‘do a Chesterfield’ and get dragged into a second successive relegation battle.

Port Vale

Last season…

After relegation from League One in 2016/17 the season never really got going for Vale despite the early sacking of Michael Brown in mid-September. Brown had overseen a huge turnover of players over the summer including twenty one departures but swopped to sign former favourite Tom Pope among many others. But Brown’s new squad lost six on the bounce after an opening day win and he was shown the door, to be replaced eventually by Neil Aspin from Gateshead.

Form picked up under Aspin with eight wins from his opening thirteen games up to the end of 2017 and following a stunning 4-0 home win over league leaders Luton there were more than one or two glances at the playoff places which were just nine points away.

But the New Year wasn’t good to Vale and Aspin as they went on an awful run of fourteen games without a win, ended by an important victory over fellow strugglers Chesterfield. They just about did enough with their final games to steer clear of danger but have set their stall out over the summer to make sure they’re nowhere near the wrong end of the table this time out.

Transfers…

In: Scott Brown (Wycombe), Brendon Daniels (Alfreton), Luke Joyce (Carlisle), Leon Legge (Cambridge), Connell Rawlinson (New Saints), Manny Oyeleke (Aldershot), Idris Kanu (Peterborough), Theo Vassel (Gateshead), Ricky Miller (Peterborough), Louis Dodds (Chesterfield), Scott Quigley (Blackpool), Tom Conlon (Stevenage)

Out: Dior Angus (Nuneaton), Mike Calveley (Nuneaton)

Promotion Odds…

9/2

Outlook…

With a summer of very few significant departures and some decent quality signings including Wycombe’s Scott Brown (an ever present in the Choirboys’ promoted side from last season), Ricky Miller from Peterborough and the returning Louis Dodds there’s every chance that Vale can improve significantly on last season and throw themselves into the mix for a playoff push.

Stevenage

Last season…

After a tenth place finish in 2016/17 it would have come as some disappointment to Stevenage fans for last season to end with their side in sixteenth and a change of manager towards the end of the campaign seemed to have the summer recruitment and planning in mind.

Darren Sarll had the Borough in decent shape in the early going and they were in a playoff position in mid-October. But a torrid run up to the end of 2017 saw them win just once more – a 5-1 hammering of Chesterfield – as Borough fell down the table. Sarll never got his side back to their best and was sacked following a 2-2 draw at Port Vale that saw them throw away a 2-0 lead.

Dino Maamria, a man with plenty of history at Stevenage as a player, was brought in as the new full time boss in late March and saw them through to the end of the season. He’s now had a full summer to have a clear out ahead of his first full season in charge.

Transfers…

In: James Ball (Stockport), Luther Wildin (Nuneaton), Scott Cuthbert (Luton), Johnny Hunt (Mansfield), Joel Byrom (Mansfield), Emmanuel Sonupe (Kidderminster), Paul Farman (Lincoln), Michael Timlin (Southend), Ben Nugent (Unattached), Alex Reid (Fleetwood), Kurtis Guthrie (Colchester), Donovan Makoma (Barrow)

Out: Ben Wilmot (Watford), Jamal Campbell-Ryce (Carlisle), Matt Godden (Peterborough), Fraser Franks (Newport), Tom Conlon (Stevenage)

Promotion Odds…

10/1

Outlook…

Dino Maamria has overseen a summer of change at the Borough and looks to have done some good business including the signing of Luton’s Scott Cuthbert who played a big part in Luton’s promotion season, albeit interrupted by injury. Former Cobbler Joel Byrom has also re-joined after previously helping the club win promotion to the Football League and Luther Wildin has followed Maamria from Nuneaton.

After Maamria fought the fire well in the first stage of his return to Broadhall Way, this is the big test as a full season looms ahead. They shouldn’t be dragged into a relegation scrap but I also can’t see them troubling the top seven so I’m going mid-table for the Borough.

Swindon Town

Last season…

Following relegation from League One, Swindon appointed David Flitcroft as manager last summer hoping that he would repeat his promotion with Bury. But towards the end of a topsy-turvy campaign that saw the Robins linger around the playoff places but never truly threaten them, Flitcroft was poached by rivals for the top seven Mansfield Town at the start of March.

Former Cobblers midfielder Matt Taylor took caretaker charge for a 3-0 home defeat by Cheltenham before the experienced Phil Brown was appointed full time. The Cheltenham loss left them in ninth place but there was still ten games for Brown to attempt to turn the tide back in the right direction. He started well with a 3-1 win at Cambridge United but five draws and three defeats later and his side were out of the running for the top seven, eventually finishing ninth.

Transfers…

In: Jermaine McGlashan (Southend), Steven Alzate (Brighton), Jak McCourt (Chesterfield), Toumani Diagouraga (Fleetwood), Michael Doughty (Peterborough)

Out: Matt Preston (Mansfield), Tom Smith (Cheltenham), Luke Norris (Colchester), Paul Mullin (Tranmere)

Promotion Odds…

3/1

Outlook…

In Phil Brown, Swindon have someone who has been there and done it in the lower leagues and his summer business reflects that. Toumani Diagouraga is arguably the pick of the bunch of the players brought in by Brown with the former PSG trainee joining on a free transfer from Fleetwood to really bolster their midfield.

Town have a squad that is more than capable of going for promotion and though they may not make it into the running for the top three, the playoffs are more than achievable for this group and their experienced manager.

Tranmere Rovers

Last season…

After three seasons out of the Football League, Tranmere Rovers are back after Micky Mellon masterminded a successful run to the playoffs and to Wembley where an extraordinary showpiece final saw them pip Boreham Wood to promotion. Rovers kept pace with Macclesfield Town at the top of the Conference National for most of the season but a 2-0 win for the Silkmen at Eastleigh with a couple of games to spare saw Mellon’s team having to settle for the playoffs.

After a nervy 4-2 extra time win against Ebbsfleet at Prenton Park in the semi-final there was more drama to come under the Wembley arch. Rovers were down to ten men within the first minute when Liam Ridehalgh was sent off for a rash challenge but Andy Cook’s header gave them the lead. Bruno Andrade equalised for Boreham Wood and Rovers’ challenge was made harder given that they had used all three of their substitutes by half-time. But Mellon lifted them for one final push and James Norwood headed in a famous winner in the second half to the elation of one half of Wembley.

Mellon’s job is far from over – Tranmere are still a big club at this level and he’ll be wanting to step things up once more.

Transfers…

In: Jake Caprice (Leyton Orient), Paul Mullin (Swindon), Harvey Gilmour (Sheffield United), Jonny Smith (Bristol City), Zoumana Bakayogo (Unattached), Shamal George (Liverpool)

Out: Eddie Clarke (Fleetwood), James Wallace (Fleetwood), Andy Cook (Walsall)

Promotion Odds…

5/1

Outlook…

The departure of twenty eight goal striker Andy Cook at the end of his contract over the summer was a huge blow to Rovers with Cook signing for League One Walsall. Replacing his goals will be crucial but in James Norwood, scorer of twenty four goals himself last season, they do have another player with huge potential to bother the ranks of the division’s leading lights up front.

Micky Mellon has already taken Shrewsbury out of this division but expectations may be slightly tampered going into this season with the Conference Playoff winners. They should be better equipped than Macclesfield to tackle league football and I’ve got them down for a top ten finish.

Yeovil Town

Last season…

It was another disappointing season for the most part for Darren Way’s Glovers with Yeovil again finishing in the bottom six of the Football League. The highlight of the campaign was an FA Cup Fourth Round clash with Manchester United at Huish Park which ended with a 4-0 defeat. But league form improved briefly after that tie with three wins and a draw from their following four games which included and important home win against fellow strugglers Barnet.

An extraordinary 6-2 victory at Coventry City was another highlight of the second half of the season but it was a scrappier 0-0 draw with Forest Green that finally confirmed league safety. Town didn’t win another game after that hammering of Coventry, a run of eight games at the end of a difficult league season.

Transfers…

In: Gary Warren (Inverness) Nathan Baxter (Chelsea), Carl Dickinson (Notts County), Diallang Jaiyesimi (Norwich), Sessi D’Almeida (Blackpool), Korrey Henry (West Ham), Reece Cole (Brentford)

Out: Otis Khan (Mansfield)

Promotion Odds…

16/1

Outlook…

The big move in Yeovil’s summer came when the talented Otis Khan left the club to join Mansfield Town and that could be a huge blow to the Glover’s chances of improving a desperate run of league positions. Darren Way has a tough task on his hands to continue fighting off the bottom two and this could well be the year that they really get themselves dragged into the thick of the relegation battle.

League Two Season Preview: Part Three

With just two days to go until the new season, here’s Part Three of the League Two Season Preview, including a closer look at the Cobblers as well as Mansfield, MK Dons, Morecambe, Newport and Notts County.

Mansfield Town

Last season…

Much was made of Mansfield at the start of last season and with Steve Evans at the helm bringing in plenty of League Two experience there was every reason to think that the Stags would be up among the challengers for promotion. Evans had brought in the likes of Zander Diamond, David Mirfin and Bobby Olejnik at the start of the summer and had his own experience to draw on for an attack on the top three.

Despite this, Town didn’t really get going properly until December when they would embark on a run of one defeat in sixteen including a three game winning run in late January/early February. Then came the shock resignation of Evans with the club just two points away from the top three with Evans moving to League One Peterborough United, an apparent dream job for the Scotsman.

David Flitcroft was identified as the man to finish the job at Field Mill and he joined from fellow playoff chasers Swindon but Evans’ departure clearly hit the squad hard as they wouldn’t win again until 14 April, a 1-0 success of Chesterfield that reinvigorated their playoff hopes. But one win and two draws, including a final day 1-1 draw at home to Crawley wasn’t enough to finish in the top seven thanks to results elsewhere.

Transfers…

In: Matt Preston (Swindon), Neal Bishop (Scunthorpe), Craig Davies (Oldham), Otis Khan (Yeovil), Tyler Walker (Nottingham Forest)

Out: Rhys Bennett (Peterborough), George Taft (Cambridge), Johnny Hunt (Stevenage), Joel Byrom (Stevenage), Paul Digby (Forest Green)

Promotion Odds…

9/4

Outlook…

David Flitcroft begins his first full season as Stags boss with the clear aim of going one better than last season and at least making it into the playoffs. Early signs are good with the exciting signings of Tyler Walker from Nottingham Forest and Otis Khan from Yeovil and they look in good shape to be one of the challengers again this season.

One vital piece of outgoing business may yet hinder Town’s chances, though, with prolific striker Danny Rose, who hit seventeen in all competitions last season, handing in a transfer request this week amidst interest from former boss Evans at Peterborough United. If they can get a deal done and a replacement in during the final week of the window then they should still have enough to be up there in the table so for now I’m going with another playoff push for the Stags.

MK Dons

Last season…

There won’t be a lot of fond memories being handed down to the grandchildren from a wretched League One campaign for MK Dons. Starting off as outside bets for the playoffs, MK went from manager to manager and looked a shadow of their tag as contenders.

Despite a September win over AFC Wimbledon, form was concerning and Robbie Neilson was beginning to come under increased pressure. Between the end of September and the end of Neilson’s reign, MK fans only saw their side win on two occasions, one of which included a remarkable nine man win at home to Peterborough United. Neilson was sent packing after a 2-1 defeat at Sixfields in January and former academy coach and England under 16s manager Dan Micciche was the surprise appointment to try and steer them away from the relegation zone.

Micciche would last less than three months after seeing his side win just three times in sixteen outings. The season was all but over at that stage with just three games to go and the club six points from safety and Keith Millen stepped up from assistant manager to see through the inevitable relegation. As MK try to turn their tide back in the right direction they now turn to long serving Exeter boss Paul Tisdale and it’ll be interesting to see how he sets about his business as his new club.

Transfers…

In: Mitch Hancox (Macclesfield), Ryan Watson (Barnet), Jordan Moore-Taylor (Exeter), Ryan Harley (Exeter), Robbie Simpson (Exeter), Jordan Houghton (Chelsea), Mathieu Baudry (Doncaster), Baily Cargill (Unattached)

Out: Ed Upson (Bristol Rovers), Scott Wootton (Plymouth)

Promotion Odds…

6/4

Outlook…

Paul Tisdale wasted little time in bringing in three of his trusted Exeter playing staff in Jordan Moore-Taylor, Ryan Harley and Robbie Simpson to add to his squad which should be a level above League Two should they all stick together. Tisdale is the type of manager that will be excited by a project like rebuilding MK and should be relishing the fact that he no longer has his hands tied by financial pressures.

Anything less than promotion will be seen as a failure and that’s surely what Tisdale and his new team will finish with.

Morecambe

Last season…

Another season of battling the odds under Jim Bentley so nearly saw The Shrimps relegated but right at the death they managed to keep their heads just, and only just, above water to send Barnet down to the National League on a dramatic final day of the season.

A 2-1 opening day win against Cheltenham Town showed nothing of what was to come and Bentley’s men would win just four more times before Christmas. Poor form continued to mean that they were dicing with death for the entire season and after beating Exeter 2-1 in mid-March they would slowly see Barnet close in on them in the relegation battle thanks to a number of dropped points in the last knockings of the campaign.

They would need a point on the last day of the season and duly got it on a nerve wracking afternoon at Coventry. Barnet won their game 3-0 but it wasn’t enough to catch Morecambe on goal difference, giving the Shrimps their salvation.

Transfers…

In: James Sinclair (Unattached), Andrew Tutte (Bury), Jason Oswell (Stockport), Zak Mills (Grimsby), Rhys Oates (Hartlepool), Liam Mandeville (Doncaster), Mark Halstead (Southport), Jordan Cranston (Cheltenham)

Out: Aaron McGowan (Hamilton Academical)

Promotion Odds…

20/1

Outlook…

It’s again going to be tough for the Shrimps to break out of the pack at the bottom of the table, particularly as talisman Kevin Ellison turns forty by the end of August. They’ve brought in some decent experience including Andrew Tutte from Bury, a consistent performer at this level. Jason Oswell is one to watch having scored twenty nine times in the National League North for Stockport County last season and Jim Bentley will be desperately hoping that form continues in league football.

Bentley will be sure to get the best out of what he has again but it looks like another relegation battle to me.

Newport County

Last season…

A season that exceeded many expectations at Newport with a superb FA Cup run and a small tilt at getting into the top seven. Mike Flynn did an excellent job at getting the most out of his players once again as the Exiles finished in an impressive eleventh place in League Two.

The first three games of the season were all away games thanks to the Rodney Parade pitch being re-laid but County picked up five points from those three to give themselves a good start to the campaign. Inconsistency dogged them through the early months but the fact that wins were being racked up in good number meant that they were never in any danger of being dragged into the battle at the bottom end of League Two.

County would be just five points from the playoffs following a 2-0 win at Yeovil in March but a four game winless run put paid to any realistic ambitions of reaching the top seven. Back to back victories in April, though, steadied the ship and a final day draw at Carlisle earned them their final place in eleventh.

Away from the league, County would earn national recognition thanks to their fine FA Cup run that saw them beat Walsall, Cambridge and Championship side Leeds United en route to a plum tie with Spurs. They so nearly pulled off an incredible upset at Rodney Parade thanks to Padraig Amond’s goal but Harry Kane levelled with eight minutes to go to take the tie back to Wembley, where Spurs finally sealed the victory but only by a 2-0 score line that in no way disgraced Flynn’s men.

So a good league finish, a cup run and a Wembley appearance – not bad at all!

Transfers…

In: Keanu Marsh-Brown (Forest Green), Charlie Cooper (Forest Green), Fraser Franks (Stevenage), Tyreeq Bakinson (Bristol City)

Out: Ben Tozer (Cheltenham), Frank Nouble (Colchester)

Promotion Odds…

12/1

Outlook…

The problem you have with punching so high one season is that it’s difficult to match the following year and Newport could well fall into that category. Transfer activity has been fairly limited so far but the capture of the exciting Keanu Marsh-Brown from league rivals Forest Green Rovers should add a new level of creativity to their play.

Without a cup run distraction they may go well but it will be still be tough to reproduce the form of last season. I’m only giving them a shot at mid-table security again this time around.

Northampton Town

Last season…

Where do we start? From the dourness of Justin Edinburgh to Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink’s constant tinkering and mind blowing starting line ups, the season was an absolute disaster and produced some of the worst performances from a Cobblers team that we’d ever seen.

There was even some mild optimism at the start of the season but Edinburgh lost his first four games of the season included a morale sapping 4-1 defeat at Peterborough which was the final straw and he was shown the exit before September could even get going. Hasselbaink was brought in under a lot of fanfare and started well but a 6-0 home defeat to Bristol Rovers highlighted the deficiencies in the squad. The plan was to try and keep in touch with those outside the drop zone by the time the January transfer window came around and there was brief relief thanks to a three game winning run at the start of 2018.

But everything slowly unravelled for Hasselbaink as baffling tactics and players playing completely out of position led to a divide between the fans and manager. A 2-1 home defeat to Gillingham was the height of the mess and the narrow score line masked an absolutely horrendous Tuesday night outing. Time was running out in the battle for survival but it looked like we’d left it far too late when Hasselbaink mirrored Edinburgh’s exit after defeat to the Posh.

Dean Austin tried hard to turn things around and instilled a sense of fight and belief among the squad that we’d not seen all season. A 3-2 win at Bury and a 2-0 success at home to Plymouth gave us real hope that we could pull off a miraculous escape but everything evaporated thanks to Walsall’s last minute winner at the Bescot Stadium that all put sent us packing to League Two barring a miracle score line against Oldham on the final day. A 2-2 draw with the Latics took them down with us but the consolation would come from Austin being appointed full time thanks to the fight he gave the club in the final few weeks of a torrid season.

Transfers…

In: Andy Williams (Doncaster), Junior Morias (Peterborough), Hakeem Odoffin (Wolves), Lewis Ward (Reading)

Out: Richard O’Donnell (Bradford), Joe Bunney (Blackpool)

Promotion Odds…

11/4

Outlook…

It’s always difficult to predict your own team but the Cobblers could do well now that we seem to finally have a manager leading the way with a passion that rubs off on his players. The summer has seen Town going for quality over quantity in the transfer market with Austin not keen on breaking up a squad and starting again. The fact that he earnt the player’s respect at the end of last season gave him the chance to send them away over the summer knowing exactly what was expected of them and that should help us be much more combative this time around.

Once Junior Morias is fit we should have a great striker on our hands and Lewis Ward looks a safe pair of hands in goal. If we keep the squad fit we should pose most teams problems and compete for at least a playoff place.

Notts County

Last season…

County were the front runners early on in League Two last season. After losing their opening game, Kevin Nolan’s men won eight of their next nine games to accrue 25 points from 10 games and see them top the table. A 3-1 defeat at Mansfield finally ended their terrific run but the Magpies would stay right in contention through the autumn. A late penalty in the New Year’s Day victory over Port Vale put them in second place ahead of the second half of the season.

It was here that the league season began to get interrupted by progress in the FA Cup where County saw off Championship side Brentford to set up a Fourth Round tie with Premier League Swansea City at Meadow Lane. Back to back league defeats preceded that glamour game but the Magpies pulled off an excellent 1-1 draw to take the Swans back to the Liberty Stadium. The cup run would end in a dramatic 8-1 loss in Wales so it was back to the league for the final push for the top three.

A pivotal 1-0 loss at Accrington at the start of April looked to have knocked the stuffing out of their chances of automatic promotion and though they hit back with three straight wins, Jamille Matt’s stoppage time winner against them for Grimsby in the penultimate game meant that County had to settle for the playoffs.

Coventry City were the opponents for the semi-finals and a solid 1-1 draw at the Ricoh there was plenty of hope of reaching the Wembley showpiece. But a stunning away performance from the Sky Blues at Meadow Lane saw them win 4-1 and consign Nolan’s side to another season in League Two.

Transfers…

In: Kristian Dennis (Chesterfield), Andy Kellett (Wigan), Tom Crawford (Chester), Kane Hemmings (Oxford), Will Patching (Manchester City), Ben Hall (Brighton), David Vaughan (Nottingham Forest), Enzio Boldewijn (Crawley), Christian Oxlade-Chamberlain (Portsmouth)

Out: Jonathan Forte (Exeter), Carl Dickinson (Yeovil), Michael O’Connor (Lincoln), Adam Collin (Carlisle), Nathan Thomas (Sheff Utd), Nicky Hunt (Crewe)

Promotion Odds…

11/8

Outlook…

Kevin Nolan will have surely learned many lessons along the way to the playoffs last season and should come back with a renewed sense that this could be County’s year and the season that will come to define his early years as a league manager. Kristian Dennis brings with him an eye for goal that had him scoring regularly for Chesterfield despite their relegation and David Vaughan, signed from across the river at Nottingham Forest, could be that gem of experience they need. Enzio Boldewijn is another who can excite the Meadow Lane faithful after signing from Crawley for a six-figure fee.

County have the backing, squad and manager to really challenge again and should be challenging for promotion again come May,

League Two Season Preview: Part Two

Welcome to Part Two of the League Two Season Preview. Today we take a closer look at Crewe Alexandra, Exeter City, Forest Green Rovers, Grimsby Town, Lincoln City and Macclesfield Town.

Keep checking back on the blog every day this week for more!

Crewe Alexandra

Last season…

With his first summer and pre-season under his belt as Crewe boss, David Artell set about the job of improving on a seventeenth place finish in 2016/17. The season would once again throw up a mixed bag of results but the Alex did manage to recover from a poor first half of the season as runs of poor results in a row led to them sitting just two points above the drop zone after a 4-1 defeat at Notts County in February.

It’s testament to the club, though, that they stuck with Artell – who spent two years at Gresty Road as a player – through it all and there was an upturn in fortunes in the last few months of the campaign. A fantastic 4-1 win at Lincoln was a turning point and took them six points clear of the bottom two with relegation never really a huge worry from then on in.

The Alex finished the season with three straight victories to finish in fifteenth place – only a slight improvement on twelve months previous but enough to give Artell more time to put his mark on the club.

Transfers…

In: Paul Green (Oldham), Shaun Miller (Carlisle), Alex Nicholls (Barnet), Nicky Hunt (Notts County)

Out: Chris Dagnall (Bury)

Promotion Odds…

8/1

Outlook…

David Artell has bolstered his attacking options well over the summer with Shaun Miller making his return to Gresty Road, where he scored six goals in fifteen appearances on loan last season and previously came through the Alex youth ranks, and Alex Nicholls signing from relegated Barnet. Losing top scorer Chris Porter to injury mid-way through last season wasn’t ideal but he’s back in contention and will feel like another fine option to have up top.

Right-back Nicky Hunt, signed after he was released by Notts County, knows all about League Two while Paul Green also returns after a loan with the club last season.

With extra fire power you might see Crewe improve slightly on last season but I don’t envisage there being a huge change so I’ll go for a safe mid-table bet for Artell’s men.

Exeter City

Last season…

The 2017/18 campaign will go down in Exeter history because it turned out to be the final season in charge for Paul Tisdale, who left the club after twelve years at the helm. For the second successive season, and following City fans’ voting to serve the manager notice on his contract in November 2016, there would be heartbreak in the League Two playoff final at Wembley.

Tisdale’s men had made a roaring start to the season, winning seven and drawing the other of the first eight games and meant that inconsistent form in the autumn still kept them in and around the top three. Three straight victories in January and an unbeaten April raised hopes of automatic promotion but an Alex Revell hat-trick for Stevenage in the penultimate game ended that, meaning a double legged playoff semi-final against Lincoln City.

After a goalless draw at Sincil Bank, City won the second leg 3-1 but a second visit to Wembley in as many seasons didn’t produce a fairy tale ending for Tisdale as Coventry City saw them off by the same score line.

Matt Taylor took the reins in the summer having previously played over 150 times for the Grecians and most recently been in charge of the City Under23s squad.

Transfers…

In: Jonathan Forte (Notts County), Tristan Abrahams (Norwich), Nicky Law (Bradford), Lee Martin (Gillingham), Jimmy Oates (Hereford)

Out: Jordan Moore-Taylor (MK Dons), Jordan Storey (Preston), Ryan Harley (MK Dons), Robbie Simpson (MK Dons), Lloyd James (Forest Green), Liam McAlinden (Cheltenham)

Promotion Odds…

5/1

Outlook…

It’s set to be a pretty uncertain time at St. James’ Park after the Paul Tisdale era came to a close so making Matt Taylor, part of the coaching set up already, the top boss makes absolute sense. Continuity has been made tougher with Tisdale having swooped for three of their key players for his new MK Dons side in Jordan Moore-Taylor, Ryan Harley and Robbie Simpson but Jonathon Forte, Nicky Law and Lee Martin all bring bags of experience to City’s squad.

It could well take time for this new look Grecians side to take shape but I still think they can surprise a few by making a push for the playoffs once again as soon as they’ve got into their groove.

Forest Green Rovers

Last season…

Having achieved a promotion that changed the course of Forest Green Rover’s history, the club from the New Lawn set about the challenge of league football for the first time in their history, led by former Kettering, Peterborough and Swindon boss Mark Cooper.

It was to be a baptism of fire for the league’s newcomers and they struggled to get to grips with things in the early going, losing nine of their first thirteen games and winning just once. A 1-0 victory at Coventry City turned the tide in mid-October and Rovers would go on to three wins in a row to ease the early blues. A terrible Christmas period that saw them lose every game in December kept them right in trouble and they were rock bottom of the league following a 1-0 defeat to Wycombe on New Year’s Day.

The great escape was achieved, though, thanks to a real turn in fortunes from February onwards including completing the double over Coventry. Safety was secured thanks to a 0-0 draw at Yeovil that kept both sides in League Two for another season with games to spare.

Transfers…

In: James Montgomery (Gateshead), Carl Winchester (Cheltenham), Tahvon Campbell (West Brom), Isaac Pearce (Fulham), Liam Shephard (Peterborough), Robert Sanchez (Brighton), George Williams (Fulham), Joseph Mills (Perth Glory), Lloyd James (Exeter), Theo Archibald (Brentford), Paul Digby (Mansfield)

Out: Charlie Cooper (Newport)

Promotion Odds…

12/1

Outlook…

The world’s first UN Certified Carbon Neutral football club continue their quest to defy the odds as they set about their second season in the Football League. Snapping up Cheltenham captain Carl Winchester was an astute move and Rovers have also added plenty of young and hungry talent from higher in the footballing pyramid including Isaac Pearce from Fulham who is one to keep an eye on.

Having survived the drop well last season, Rovers will be looking to build on that with a tilt at the top half but I think a lower mid-table finish would not be sniffed at here.

Grimsby Town

Last season…

Three managers, a relegation battle and the season long threat of returning to non-league – not the best of campaigns for the Mariners. In the early knockings of the season there were no real signs of the struggles to come and victory at Port Vale at the start of October was their fifth of the season and had them comfortably in mid-table.

Form continued to be enough to keep them from getting drawn into the lower reaches of the league but a catastrophic run from 16 December through to 7 April without a league win meant that Russell Slade was shown the door on 2 February. Paul Wilkinson stepped up to take on the role for a month before reverting back to assistant manager when Michael Jolley was appointed. Jolley couldn’t turn the tide straight away and it took him until the 7 April win over Chesterfield to finally deliver some relief for the long suffering Mariners fans.

A home draw with Barnet and victories over Swindon, Notts County and Forest Green were enough to keep them up and Town will now be hoping for stability under Jolley.

Transfers…

In: Alex Whitmore (Chesterfield), Louis Robles (San Roque De Lepe), Jake Hessenthaler (Gillingham), John Welsh (Preston), Jordan Cook (Luton), Elliott Whitehouse (Lincoln), Harry Davis (St Mirren), Akin Famewo (Luton), Charles Vernam (Derby)

Out: Sam Kelly (Hamilton Academical), Siriki Dembele (Peterborough), Zak Mills (Morecambe)

Promotion Odds…

10/1

Outlook…

Michael Jolley has certainly had a good start to life as Mariners boss having reached the target of keeping them in the Football League. Jake Hessanthaler should bring experience and energy to their midfield and defence has been bolstered by the signing of Alex Whitmore from Chesterfield who Jolley worked with in the Burnley Under 23s. Former Cobbler JJ Hooper switched to a wide attacking berth under Jolley and benefited by scoring a hat-trick on the final day of last season so expect to see him move away from his central role again.

I don’t see enough in Grimsby at the moment to see them competing at the top end of the table but if they avoid my prediction of another relegation battle it may give them a platform to build on.

Lincoln City

Last season…

Following a memorable season back in 2016/17, during which the Imps made an astonishing run to the FA Cup Quarter Finals and were promoted back into the Football League, Danny Cowley had a real task on his hands to go anywhere near the same levels of glory. But somehow, he and his trusted and vibrant Lincoln squad managed to find more and more success.

The EFL Trophy was much maligned but City would make the competition their own and eventually gave themselves another big day out, this time at Wembley as they beat League One Shrewsbury Town in the final. The league form didn’t let up either and the Imps finished the season in seventh place to earn a shot at the playoffs.

A double legged semi-final against Exeter was just about a step too far though and after a 0-0 first leg draw they finally bowed out of another excellent season with a 3-1 reverse at St. James’ Park. There’s plenty of ambition being shown by the club and with Cowley at the helm anything is possible. A stern test awaits the Cobblers on the opening day of the season.

Transfers…

In: Bruno Andrade (Boreham Wood), Grant Smith (Boreham Wood), Michael O’Connor (Notts County), Harry Toffolo (Millwall), John Akinde (Barnet), Scott Wharton (Blackburn), Shay McCartan (Bradford)

Out: Alex Woodyard (Lincoln), Ollie Palmer (Crawley), Sean Long (Cheltenham), Elliott Whitehouse (Grimsby), Paul Farman (Stevenage)

Promotion Odds…

2/1

Outlook…

It’s been an outstanding summer of business by the Cobblers’ first opponents of the league season and no deal was celebrated more by Imps fans than the Cowley brothers signing a new contract with the club until 2022. Manager Danny and assistant Nicky have also been busy in the transfer market and there aren’t many at League Two level who wouldn’t want John Akinde lining up for them up front. The former Barnet man will score bags of goals and is a sure fire commodity in the basement division.

Elsewhere, Bruno Andrade, who had an outstanding season for Boreham Wood that led them to the National League Playoff Final in which he scored, joins City along with highly rated full-back Harry Toffolo from Millwall. Shay McCartan will be looking to reproduce his form from his Accrington days in League Two after signing for Lincoln on loan and it already looks like an excellent piece of business.

All of this should lead to a promotion challenge for City this season as their momentum continues to build. Let’s just hope it starts after their first game!

Macclesfield Town

Last season…

Despite having one of the smallest budgets in the National League, Macclesfield Town produced one of the more incredible title winning campaigns in non-league history to return to the Football League absolutely flying under John Askey. Askey was subsequently snapped up by League One Shrewsbury Town in the summer but their momentum shown last season should continue to shine through.

Town also made it to the FA Trophy final and despite losing to York City in the showpiece final they returned to league football to complete a title winning season that will go down in Silkmen folklore.

A 2-0 win over Eastleigh sealed both the title and promotion for Town, a feat made even more impressive given that they only had three players signed up at the start of the previous summer thanks to a mass exodus of their squad. A truly remarkable campaign.

Transfers…

In: Fiacre Kelleher (Oxford), Jamie Grimes (Cheltenham), Ben Stephens (Stratford), Nathan Blissett (Plymouth), Miles Welch-Hayes (Bath), James Pearson (Unattached), Harry Smith (Millwall), Michael Rose (Unattached), Rhys Taylor (AFC Fylde), Callum Maycock (Coventry)

Out: Shwan Jalal (Chesterfield), Mitch Hancox (MK Dons), Kieran Kennedy (Shrewsbury)

Promotion Odds…

14/1

Outlook…

It’s undoubtedly going to be tough for the Silkmen on their return to the Football League and the departure of John Askey came at exactly the wrong time, possibly drawing parallels to the Cobblers’ title winning season ending with Chris Wilder being snapped up by Sheffield United. It’s a sign of the great success by Askey’s now former squad who will need to keep the togetherness in place that took them so far last season. Mark Yates will need to bring his Football League experience and nous to the club having replaced Askey.

Defender Kieran Kennedy has followed his former boss to the New Meadow while Mitch Hancox’s move to MK Dons means they’re without a couple of their key men from the title winning side and incomings seem a little hit and miss.

I’m not hugely convinced by the Yates appointment either and feel that it’s going to be a tough relegation battle for Macclesfield in their first season back.