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.

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