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.


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

Out: Chris Dagnall (Bury)

Promotion Odds…



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.


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…



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.


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…



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.


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…



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.


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…



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.


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…



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.

Concentrating on the league…

fa_cup_6057891Grimsby Town 2-0 Northampton Town

FA Cup Second Round

Saturday, December 7th 2013

Grimsby fans finally got their joyous moment against the Cobblers. In 2006, as they were waiting to party and invade the Blundell Park pitch, Ryan Gilligan stunned them all and the rest is history. On Saturday, the cup celebrations and the Mariner’s progression into Round Three, where they will meet Championship side Huddersfield Town, would have gone a long way to replacing their previous memories of games against Northampton Town.

The Cobblers suffered from sloppiness at the back and a lack of desire to go and win the game. We were inevitably caught out going for the draw and the replay that would have satisfied many. Grimsby weren’t messing about though and although our game plan worked up until a certain point it was destined to be shot down in the second half as the hosts pressed more and more and clinched it with two decent goals.

First, Shaun Pearson rose to meet Scott Kerr’s free kick and looped a header beyond Matt Duke to get the home crowd off their seats, from which they never really returned for the rest of the afternoon. Jacob Blyth was cutting a lonely figure up front and it was always going to be difficult for him to get in the game with the tactics so much leading to a defensive display.

After the goal, we did start to try and get back to where we wanted to be in clambering out a draw but the introductions of Clive Platt and, much too late in the day, Ishmel Demontagnac and Luke Norris, had only minimal success. Platt carved out a good chance on the turn but his left footed effort flew over the bar.

Grimsby kept trying to kill the game off and as we pressed for number two, Patrick McLaughlin wriggled his way through to seal it in stoppage time. It was one of the ‘upsets’ of the day with pretty slim pickings in the rest of the fixtures in that respect and the Cobblers now go back to the age old adage of focusing on the league.

That league campaign is still on dodgy ground despite the recent upturn in performances and we simply cannot afford to go for a draw at Bury on Saturday in what is an absolute crunch game against one of our rivals at the foot of the table. We’re severely lacking in goals away from Sixfields with 2013 a shocker of a year for results on the road.

If we can defeat the Shakers, though, we would be guaranteed to jump out of the bottom two at the weekend – that’s surely incentive enough for a group of players and the manager who need to get this cup exit forgotten about right away.

Finally, best of luck to Grimsby for the rest of the season and if they carry on the way they are we could well be rekindling the old rivalry once again come August!

Grimsby Town v Northampton Town – FA Cup Second Round Preview

fa_cup_6057891Grimsby Town v Northampton Town

FA Cup Second Round Round

Saturday, December 7th 2013

Going into the FA Cup First Round tie at Bishop’s Stortford there were more than a couple of questions over the future of Aidy Boothroyd. But three wins in five, including that victory over the Conference South outfit and a creditable draw at Chesterfield, have saved the Cobblers manager from serious interrogation from Cobblers fans and the board – for the time being at least!

It’s saying something, though, when you come into a cup game against a lower league opponent and feel like the underdogs. Indeed, you’ll struggle to find a bookie that have Town at shorter odds than the Mariners going into the weekend.  Grimsby are fourth in the Conference coming into the game and haven’t been beaten since mid-October, making them as dangerous a non-league side as we could possibly come up against at this point in the competition.

After easing past Rushall Olympic in the Fourth Qualifying Round, they were paired with local rivals Scunthorpe United in the First Round. A goalless draw at Blundell Park in the first game was followed by a famous victory for the Mariners in the replay as Lennell John-Lewis and Clayton McDonald scored either side of a Terry Hawkridge goal for the Irons to set them up for the Cobblers tie.

The game will once again be in the spotlight from the TV audience, albeit as one of the main games on the highlights show on Saturday night, so there’s again the sense that we could be on the end of an “upset”. Big emphasis on the inverted commas there!

We’re one step away from a potentially huge game in Round Three so the gradual transformation of this season could be accelerated big time if we can come through this latest cup examination.

O' Donovan...back in the squad

O’ Donovan…back in the squad

Team News…

Grimsby are without Liam Hearn who limped out of last weekend’s victory over Barnet with cruciate ligament damage. That could that mean young forward Dayle Southwell gets another chance after scoring a second half hat-trick in Tuesday night’s FA Trophy Second Round victory over Coalville Town. Andy Cook, meanwhile, is expected to be fit after coming off in the last few minutes of that game.

The Cobblers are without Izale McLeod who has already played in the FA Cup this season with MK Dons but Roy O’Donovan is back in full training after recovering from a double hernia operation so could return in his place. Clive Platt made a strong return last week and will do battle with O’Donovan, Jacob Blyth and Luke Norris for the starting places up front. Chris Hackett served a one match ban in the win over Accrington Stanley so he returns to the side but Stuart Dallas hasn’t been given permission to play in the cup by parent club Brentford so he misses out.

Previous Six Meetings…

02/04/10: Grimsby 1-2 Cobblers (League Two)

As the Cobblers rose back up the league towards a near miss on the top seven, Grimsby were teetering dangerously in the bottom two. Liam Davis gave us the lead before Michael Coulson levelled just before half-time. The game turned on Grimsby’s Olly Lancashire being sent off ten minutes after the break and Bayo Akinfenwa scored the winning goal to send the hosts closer to the Conference.

14/11/09: Cobblers 0-0 Grimsby (League Two)

There were more red cards in the other game between the sides from that season as the Cobblers’ Peter Gilbert and Grimsby’s Rob Atkinson both saw red in an otherwise uneventful Sixfields clash.

21/11/06: Grimsby 0-2 Cobblers (FA Cup First Round Replay)

After a Sixfields draw in the first game, the Cobblers – finding their feet in League One – came through a difficult replay thanks to a Justin Whittle own goal and Joe Burnell’s strike just on half-time. There would be disappointment in Round Two, though, as Town crashed out 4-1 at Barnet.

11/11/06: Cobblers 0-0 Grimsby (FA Cup First Round)

Ten days earlier, the sides played out a tame goalless draw at Sixfields to set up the replay.

06/05/05: Grimsby 1-1 Cobblers (League Two)

With the Cobblers having been promoted a week earlier, we headed to Grimsby ready for a party and looking to prevent the Mariners from earning that win that would have taken them into League One with us. It looked to be going very much to plan for them when Jean-Paul Kalala stroked home a penalty with fifteen minutes to go but there was still time for the most dramatic of finishes to the season. Leyton Orient, in fourth place and chasing Grimsby going into the final day, suddenly scored a last minute winner at Oxford United and it was suddenly all on events at Blundell Park. With home fans preparing for a pitch invasion, Ryan Gilligan stunned them all with an injury time equaliser that meant that it would be Orient promoted in Grimsby’s place. They never really recovered from that moment, losing in the playoff final and suffering relegation to the Conference in 2010. More on that game here.

11/11/06: Cobblers 0-0 Grimsby (League Two)

A much less eventful game earlier in the season saw the sides share the spoils in a disappointing game at Sixfields.

The man in the middle…

The official charged with taking this one is Scott Mathieson. Mathieson was recently involved in Fleetwood’s epic 5-4 win over Mansfield Town in League Two and last refereed a Cobblers game just over a year ago in the 2-1 defeat at Oxford United, during which he sent off Clarke Carlisle.


I don’t think I’m alone in saying that I would take a replay and a place in the hat for Round Three from this one. Grimsby are in a fine run of form in league and cup and proved against Scunthorpe that they’re not to be messed with. I’m going for a draw and to get them back to Sixfields following what could be a big cup draw on Sunday. 1-1.


Grimsby Town: 2 Moments, 2 memories…

wembleyticketgrimsbyWhen I think of Grimsby Town there’s two moments in time that spring directly to mind – one of a devastating childhood memory and one of some sort of morbid redemption years later. As we prepare to visit Blundell Park to attempt to write another chapter in our historic tussles with the Mariners I look back below on two vivid days in recent times involving the two clubs.

Wembley 1998 – What might have been…

I was still a relative nipper in 1998 when the Cobblers, fresh off the back of the first Wembley appearance and arguably the biggest day in the club’s history, made their way into the shadows of the Twin Towers again to meet Grimsby Town for the chance to play in the second tier of English football (Division One, now the Championship). Back in those heady days of enormous team spirit and unity of the town, it felt that it was our destiny to win back to back promotions.

Grimsby, though, had other ideas and would edge a game that will be with us almost as vividly as the first Wembley game twelve months previously. It was settled mid-way through the first half when a slip in the Cobblers defence was capitalised on by Kevin Donovan who skipped through to fire past Andy Woodman for what would be the only goal of a tense game.

Woody would have his moment, of course, with a second half penalty save but even after that it never felt like our day. The one other abiding memory is that miss from Dean Peer from just a few yards out late on that could have turned the tide but it just wasn’t to be.

After two years of glory that had seen the Cobblers capture the imagination of the entire town it was a sudden bump that we didn’t come back from for many a year. Relegation followed just a year later and so began a period of rebuilding with Ian Atkins sacked near the start of the 2000/01 and old monetary issues rearing their ugly heads once again a couple of years later.

As a young teenager and with a relatively small amount of Cobblers supporting experience behind me, this was the first real moment of utter disappointment that I felt. Fortunately there were happier days ahead that made these days somewhat worthwhile…

ryan_gilligan_670070 (1)Blundell Park 2006…Gilligan spoils the party…

It was the final day of the 2005/06 season and one week ago I had one of the best individual days (and nights) that I have ever had. It was a few days after my final week of university and the Cobblers were up against Chester City at Sixfields.  On the same day, my housemate and emerging Cobbler, Jamie, was watching on as his first love, Chelsea, won the Premier League at lunch time. Before I travelled to Northampton from Southampton, the base for our uni life, we had provisionally planned a night out should two things happen: a) Chelsea won the league and the Cobblers were promoted and b) I got home in time!

After Chelsea had done their bit for our personal celebrations, the Cobblers won 1-0 to seal promotion and after the on-pitch party, I raced back to Southampton to eventually find a now unfortunately defunct, almost all night venue, the Frog and Frigate to be the perfect setting for sing alongs and celebrations.

That party mood was still in full swing when we visited Grimsby on the last day of the season a week later with a sold out away end ready to see it out in style. The Mariners, though, came into the game in third place and needed one more victory to seal their own promotion. They seemed confident and it appeared that we would all be singing along to “We are going up” by the end of the afternoon.

Leyton Orient and Ryan Gilligan had other ideas.

Orient were fourth at the start of play and needed us to do them a favour as well as having to win at Oxford United to edge Grimsby out of the final automatic promotion place. If the events of that afternoon had happened further up the footballing pyramid they would still be showing repeats to this day.

It was as tense as you like until Grimsby found a break through with fifteen minutes to go when they were awarded a penalty and Jean-Paul Kalala converted to give them a direct ticket to League One. With Orient drawing at the Kassam it was all pointing towards a Grimsby promotion. Until the final seconds of the day unfolded, that is.

Suddenly, and almost at the same time, two goals changed the course of history.

I’m not even sure what happened first but just remember a haze of astonishing celebrations. The Cobblers won a corner in stoppage time and the ball broke to Gilligan. As Grimsby fans hovered on the edge of the pitch ready to begin their own party, Gilligan swept the ball into the net for 1-1, sending shockwaves around the ground. At the same point, Orient broke away at Oxford and scored themselves and, in a split second, were promoted in the Mariners’ place!

We were celebrating alone, after all, in the away end at Blundell Park but Leyton Orient will forever thank us for coupling their victory with a crucial goal that sent Grimsby into the playoffs, eventually to defeat in the final against Cheltenham Town.

A few years of struggle followed for them and ended with relegation to the Conference in 2010 – you’re unlikely to find a more convincing point of reference for where the slide began other than this day in 2006.

While this one didn’t directly replace the disappointment from 1998 it went a long way to healing old wounds when you talk about Grimsby Town to Cobblers fans.

On Saturday afternoon, any high will be nowhere near the high felt from that game and any low won’t come close to Wembley ’98 but as we meet again, there will be plenty of fans from either side shuddering as they consider their opposition.

Cup date set as Grimsby upset the Iron

After last night’s dramatic FA Cup First Round Replay at Glanford Park, we now know that the Cobblers will be reunited with Grimsby Town in the Second Round with the teams now just one win away from the ‘big guns’. The Mariners overcame their rivals thanks to goals from Lennell John-Lewis and Clayton McDonald with the victory the final straw for the powers that be at Scunny – manager Brian Laws was shown the door today.

The next round now sees the Cobbler travelling to Blundell Park for the first time since a Good Friday encounter back in 2010 that we shaded 2-1. The sides have met in the competition before, the First Round in 2005/06 when we won through after a replay. The tie will take place on Saturday, December 7th and has been chosen as one of the main games for that night’s highlights show on ITV so the upset hunters at that organisation get another go at highlighting a potential banana skin for Aidy Boothroyd!

Big league games to get through before that though with our build up containing a long trip to Hartlepool United on Saturday and then to Chesterfield on Tuesday night before a crunch battle with Accrington Stanley at Sixfields. The Mariners, currently fourth in the Conference Premier, face Barnet in the league, Coalville Town in the FA Carlsberg Trophy and Welling back in the league ahead of hosting the Cobblers.

There’s plenty of recent history between the clubs with Wembley in 1998 and then that final game of the season in 2006 so it should be a good battle, especially with the carrot of Round Three dangling there for the winners.

First, though, let’s get more league places between us!