Sol Campbell deserves a huge amount of credit for keeping Macclesfield in the Football League last season. The former Arsenal man picked up 33 points in his 27 games in charge last season which enabled, what looked like a poor team on paper, to stay in the division.
The task on Campbell’s hands this season is arguably even greater though. Threats of winding up orders have remained a constant at Moss Rose throughout the off season, as the club’s players seek to recoup their unpaid wages.
The departures of strikers Harry Smith and Scott Wilson make things even harder for Campbell, as it means they have also lost their two main goal threats and survival looks a tough ask for the Silkmen.
23. Oldham Athletic
In each of the last three seasons an established Football League team has been relegated out of League Two. The reason for Leyton Orient, Chesterfield and Notts County dropping into non-league can largely put be down to differing levels of poor ownership and Oldham fans will be hoping it’s not their turn to suffer this year.
Latics owner Abdallah Laemsagam, has made some questionable decisions so far in his season and a half in charge at Boundary Park and this summer continues to be no different.
Former agent Laemsagam, appointed Laurent Banide in June, despite the fact the Frenchman hasn’t worked in Europe since 2011 let alone held a job in England. Banide’s task won’t be helped by the departure of promising centre back George Edmundson and the Latics’ 102 year stay in the Football League could be at risk this season.
22. Crawley Town
Crawley have had a quiet summer when perhaps more fresh faces were required at The Broadfield Stadium following a sub-par season where they ended up in 19th.
A big boost for the club is that last season’s top scorer Ollie Palmer hasn’t departed. The 27-year-old managed to bag 14 league goals in a struggling side last season, but don’t expect his goal burden to be eased by the signing of Fleetwood striker Ashley Nadsean, who only managed 1 goal in 20 league appearances last term on loan at Carlisle.
Manager Gabriele Cioffi flattered to deceive last season and expect more of the same this year, as Crawley slide ever closer to the Football League trapdoor.
21. Cambridge United
Most of the media focus on Cambridge this summer has centred around Norwich legend Wes Hoolahan joining the club for a trial period during pre-season training. However, the U’s’ hopes of signing the 37-year-old were dashed this week as he opted for a move abroad instead, leaving the lack of quality in Colin Calderwood’s side under increasing scrutiny.
Jevani Brown will be a huge miss this season and the fact that he leaves for a league rival in Colchester, rather than a club in a higher division, will surely leave a bitter taste in the mouths of Cambridge fans.
The fact that the ageing Jabo Ibehre is the only striker currently in the squad over the age of 20 is a massive worry and unless youthful new signings Harvey Knibbs and Andy Dalass hit the ground running don’t expect Cambridge to improve much upon last season’s 21st place finish.
Jim Bentley does a superb job in defying expectations year in year out at Morecambe and expect more of the same this season.
Bentley has managed to keep the majority of the squad that finished 18th last season together and has also added some experienced campaigners in full back Adam Buxton and forward Lewis Alessandra.
Kevin Ellison heads into the 23rd year of his career this season and will be hoping to once again provide a significant contribution to the Shrimps survival bid.
19. Port Vale
Norman Smurthwaite’s six and a half year spell as owner of Port Vale came to an end over the summer as the club was taken over by local business owners Carol and Kevin Shanahan.
And whilst that news will have delighted many fans, expectations might need to be dampened as to whether John Askey can improve on last season’s 20th place finish.
Very few key players have departed Vale Park in the off season, but in terms of incomings their recent signings lack a ‘wow’ factor.
Mark Cullen is a player who has tasted success previously in this division, his goals helped Blackpool to promotion via the playoffs in 2017, but that remains the only true purple patch of his career.
He is joined by another striker who you wouldn’t exactly describe as prolific in Richie Bennett. The 6ft4 striker no doubt provides a physical presence but unless him and Cullen can provide the goals then another season battling against the drop seems probable for Askey’s men.
18. Grimsby Town
Grimsby have reacted to the departure of last season’s top scorer Wes Thomas by bringing in two experienced goal getters. James Hanson comes in from Wimbledon after aiding them in their survival bid last term, whilst Matt Green joins after struggling to make an impact in a short spell at Salford.
Replacing last season’s star loanee Elliott Embleton, might prove a more difficult task for the Mariners but in Michael Jolley they have a talented manager with enough fresh ideas to help them to beat the drop.
17. Carlisle United
Steven Pressley did enough in his five months in charge of Carlisle at the back end of last season to earn himself the permanent job. Though with rumours surfacing about the board only allowing one year contract offers, he’s had a tough summer trying to entice players to move to Cumbria.
Nathan Thomas is a player that given the right conditions could really shine in this league and he should prove more than an adequate replacement for the outgoing Jamie Devitt but the rest of their summer business seems fairly underwhelming at first glance.
Strikers Harry McKirdy and Olufela Olomola, brought in from Aston Villa and Scunthorpe respectively, are both inexperienced and can’t be relied on for guaranteed goals which means a lot of that burden will fall on Barbados international Hallam Hope. Taking that into consideration don’t be surprised if Pressley’s men fail to replicate last season’s 11th place finish.
16. Northampton Town
Northampton have been the busiest club in the Football League this summer. 12 new players have joined the Cobblers as Keith Curle looks to put his own stamp on the side.
Two of the most eye-catching deals are the arrivals of experienced duo Alan McCormack and Nicky Adams. McCormack made 20 appearances for League One Champions Luton Town last term, whilst Adams was integral to helping Bury get out of this division, supplying 16 assists from the wing-back position. Both should fit in to Curle’s system should he choose to go with the 3-5-2 he employed during his time at Carlisle.
Target man Harry Smith and centre back Scott Wharton are more youthful additions compared to the latter two and Wharton in particular comes with good pedigree after a number of successful loan spells at this level.
However, trying to build cohesion amongst so many new faces might prove to be a struggle for Curle and a season of transition is a distinct possibility at the Sixfields.
15. Crewe Alexandra
David Artell has been Crewe manager for around two and a half years now and under his management the club has improved year on year, with last season’s 12th place finish being their best since dropping out of League One in 2016.
Although this could well be a season of regression for the Railwaymen after losing a couple of their influential players from last season in George Ray and Jordan Bowery to two promoted clubs in Tranmere and MK Dons respectively.
Those two have been replaced by Olly Lancashire and Daniel Powell but the Alex still look short on quality up front and in defence, which means Artell will do well to better last season’s top half finish.
14. Leyton Orient
A decorated player who had no qualms about starting his managerial career at the bottom of the non-league pyramid, Justin Edinburgh will always be remembered in East London as the man who transformed The O’s from a club at its lowest ebb into champions in just 18 short months.
His untimely death will undoubtedly have an impact on Orient’s season but the clubs fans will be hoping that the tragedy could have a galvanising effect on the club with players desperate not to let their late manager’s achievements go to waste.
That task was made a little harder though by the exits of two of last season’s leading lights in Macauley Bonne and Josh Koroma, who both make the move to Championship sides in Charlton and Huddersfield. They’ve been replaced at Brisbane Road by Lee Angol and Conor Wilkinson, two players who’ll be looking to kick on following stop start careers so far, whilst fellow new boy Louis Dennis, is a player with the potential to do very well in this division after joining from Portsmouth.
It’s fitting that the Orient hierarchy have chosen Edinburgh’s three closest lieutenants from last season in Ross Embleton, Danny Webb and Jobi McAnuff to oversee first team affairs on an interim basis this season and given everything that’s happened in the last few months, a mid table finish should be viewed as a success for the O’s.
Despite being 48 years of age, Dino Maamria is being tipped as one of the brightest up and coming coaches in the EFL at the moment. The Tunisian did very well in guiding his side to a 10th place finish last time out and fans at the Lamex will be hoping for more of the same this season.
QPR loanee Ilias Chair played a big part in Stevenage’s late season run of five wins and a draw in their final six games of the season. But the 21 year old has returned to Loftus Road this season and Maamria will need to replace his creativity in the final days of the window.
However, Dean Parrett, Tyler Denton and Paul Digby are all solid signings for this level and battling for a place in the top half could constitute a successful season in Hertfordshire.
12. Cheltenham Town
Cheltenham improved steadily as the season went on last season and ended up finishing the season only losing four of their final fourteen games. Michael Duff studied under Sean Dyche whilst working as a coach at Burnley and he demonstrated some of those lessons last season as the Robins finished the season as one of the better bottom half teams in the league.
Their recruitment this summer also looks promising. Strikers Reuben Reid and Tahvon Campbell both join from Forest Green and could look to provide the goals the side was perhaps lacking last term after they failed to properly replace star man Mo Eisa.
Charlie Raglan was a standout player last season after joining on loan from Oxford in January so to get him in on a permanent deal is something of a coup. Ball winning midfielder Rohan Ince also joins after sitting out last season without a club through injury and if he can pick up where he left off before his knee troubles then he could prove a class above League Two level.
All the signs are there for the Robins to progress this season and a top half finish is more than a realistic target for Duff and his side.
11. Salford City
If you believe the bookies then Salford are second favourites for the League Two title this season. However, you have to believe that’s more to do with their spending potential rather than the personnel currently in the squad.
When the club announced the arrival of Richie Towell – a player who made 34 appearances in the Championship last season – many thought that the Ammies would be spending their way to a third successive promotion. The subsequent signings however, have flattered to deceive and haven’t been of a similar stature to Towell.
Mid way through last season manager Graham Alexander ditched a possession-based style in favour of a more direct one to great effect as they managed to go on a run of 9 wins in 10 games before falling away by losing their last two. So it’ll be interesting to see how they set up on the opening day against Stevenage.
It’ll also be interesting to see how Adam Rooney handles League Two football. The 31 year old managed to bag 22 league goals following his controversial move from Aberdeen last summer and you expect he’ll need to at least match that tally if Salford are to have any hope of promotion to League One.
10. Colchester United
It’s been a turbulent summer for Colchester so far, they’ve lost three of their best players in Sammie Szmodics, Frankie Kent and Brennan Dickenson. And whilst doubts remain over manager John McGreal’s suitability to the job, it’s hard to get overly optimistic about the U’s this season.
That being said though, they have brought in some good attacking talent to replace the output of last season’s star man Szmodics. Paris Cowan-Hall and Luke Gambin both arrive as wingers with points to prove after being released from League One clubs last season and in Jevani Brown, McGreal looks to have brought in one of the most promising talents in the league.
Goals might be a worry after last season’s headline signing Luke Norris, failed to impress only scoring 7 goals in his 34 appearances and unless more firepower is added, Colchester might have to settle outside the playoff places for yet another season.
9. Newport County
Newport did superbly in reaching the playoff final last time out and Michael Flynn continues to impress as one of the most talented young managers in the EFL.
However, a number of the Exiles points last season were gained by some magnificent keeping from Joe Day and his move across Wales to Cardiff will have a big impact on their season, leaving replacement Tom King with some big shoes to fill.
Attacking full back Dan Butler also departed Rodney Parade this summer, but it’s not all doom and gloom for Flynn’s side as Kyle Howkins, Corey Whitely and Daniel Leadbitter all look like impressive buys.
Another tilt at the playoffs might just be out of their reach this season but don’t be surprised to see them comfortably perched in the top half come May.
Go back a year and Darrell Clarke was being tipped up as a man who could manage in the Championship in the near future. Just 12 months later he’s having to pick up the pieces of a dismal season at the Bescot, where Walsall finally succumbed to relegation after flirting with it numerous times in the years since Dean Smith’s departure.
Clarke has added to his squad with some players he knows well in Stuart Sinclair and James Clarke, whilst Danny Guthrie, Matt Sadler and Gary Liddle are all experienced players that will help foster a positive mentality in the dressing room.
Although, those incomings have been offset by the losses of Zeli Ismail, Luke Leahy, Andy Cook and Joe Edwards, all four could have been very handy options at this level. The departure of last season’s star man George Dobson will surely hit hardest though as he leaves for an undisclosed fee to Sunderland.
Clarke’s managerial talent should shine through at this level however and expect him to get the most out of a slightly makeshift squad.
7. Exeter City
Exeter didn’t feel the impact of losing long serving manager Paul Tisdale as much as many anticipated they would last season. New man Matt Taylor came in and delivered a comfortable top half finish with the Grecians unlucky to miss out on the final playoff spot by just a point.
They look good to go again this year, despite losing promising keeper Christy Pym and influential midfielder Hiram Boateng. Taylor has added experience at the back in the shape of Gary Warren and Tom Parkes, whilst Nigel Antangana is a solid midfield enforcer at this level.
Nicky Ajose is the pick of the signings though and his goals could be the difference as Exeter look to make up that one point difference they were missing last season
6. Swindon Town
Richie Wellens is a manager that likes to play attacking football that is pleasing on the eye and at times last season it seemed his Swindon players needed more time to adjust to that style. With a full pre-season in the bank and several quality additions arriving at the County Ground over the summer, Wellens’ attractive style could pay dividends this coming season.
New centre back Mathieu Baudry will be key to the way Wellens wants to play, as long as he can stay fit the Frenchman is known for his composure and ability on the ball. Baudry should also have two new full backs either side of him with Rob Hunt signing from Oldham and Zeki Fryers coming in from Barnsley.
Jordan Lyden should provide some defensive solidity in midfield after coming in from Aston Villa, whilst Lloyd Isgrove is a player that on his day is much better than League Two level.
A lack of a goal threat could mean that an automatic spot is just out of the Robins reach, but expectations are high in Wiltshire that a place in the top seven is a real possibility this season.
5. Scunthorpe United
There are a lot of quality managers operating in League Two this season and you could easily make the case that Paul Hurst is the pick of the bunch. Just over a year removed from coming very close to taking an unfancied Shrewsbury side to the Championship, Hurst will be looking to rebuild his reputation at Scunthorpe following a short but dismal spell in charge of Ipswich last season.
Ambitious owner Peter Swann has gambled over the last few seasons to get the Iron into the Championship but now that gamble has backfired, it seems sensible that the club are mostly sticking with what they’ve got for their first season in League Two since 2014.
What they’ve got however should be more than enough to challenge at this level, Lee Novak and Kevin Van Veen have the potential to get a hatful of goals between them, whilst Matty Lund is an extremely accomplished player in midfield. At the back Rory McArdle will be partnered by one of the few new signings Andy Butler, who comes fresh from a successful season at Doncaster.
Combine the players mentioned with Hurst’s undoubted managerial ability and there should be no reason why Scunthorpe can’t finish comfortably in the playoffs this term.
4. Forest Green Rovers
Forest Green were a couple of ill timed red cards away from a playoff final at Wembley last season, this time round Mark Cooper’s side will be aiming to go one better.
They’ve lost big front man Christian Doidge and playmaker Reece Brown but have perhaps added more dynamism to their side by bringing in Ebou Adams from Ebbsfleet, Matt Stevens from Peterborough and Kevin Dawson from Cheltenham.
Cooper has got the vegan, village club playing some of the best football in the division and as long as he keeps that up you can be sure they’ll be there or thereabouts come the end of the season.
3. Bradford City
Bradford suffered a humiliating shock relegation last time out, Gary Bowyer was powerless to prevent the clubs side into League Two once he was appointed in March, but by keeping him on they’ve given themselves the best chance of bouncing straight back.
Bowyer’s task has been aided by the clubs recruitment, in come two experienced strikers in Clayton Donaldson and James Vaughan, who both possess CV’s that are a cut above this level. Matty Palmer is a midfielder that could easily been playing in League One this season, whilst Adam Henley and Zeli Ismail are two who were tipped for big things when they were younger and now will be looking to prove that all the hype surrounding them in their early career wasn’t without merit.
Players like Joe Riley, Hope Akpan, Sean Scannell and Eoin Doyle all still remain at the club following relegation and when you look at their squad on paper plus the man in the dugout it’s easy to see why a lot of people are tipping Bradford as the division’s favourites.
2. Mansfield Town
Mansfield have taken a gamble this summer by replacing David Flitcroft – a man who very nearly took the club up in his first season in charge – with former player turned Academy Manager John Dempster.
The fact that Flitcroft lost his job after failing to deliver promotion shows the extent of owners John and Carolyn Radford’s ambitions, which surely means getting out of the division is once again the target after another summer of spending at Field Mill.
Nicky Maynard and Andy Cook are this summer’s headline additions as they’ll both be looking to better departed loanee Tyler Walker’s 23 league goal tally from last season. Quality runs throughout this Stags’ side with Conrad Logan being one of the finest shot stoppers in the league and CJ Hamilton possessing the speed and creativity to unlock defences regularly at this level.
It’s been a long time coming but this could finally be the season the Radford’s investment pays off with promotion to League One.
1, Plymouth Argyle
You may remember towards the end of last season there were a number of teams backlogged in the League One table, all of them from about 13th to 24th fighting to stave off the possibility of relegation. Plymouth proved to be the mercenaries of that battle as a side once known for its fortitude under Derek Adams collapsed in front of his very eyes.
In a bid to start again Argyle have looked to exploit the situation of one of the club’s who replaced them in League One. Ryan Lowe joins from Bury after a supremely successful season at Gigg Lane, where his side put the club’s off field matters to one side and managed to gain promotion back to the third tier at the first time of asking.
A number of players have followed Lowe from the North West of the country to the South West including Callum McFadzean, Byron Moore, Will Aimson, Dom Telford and most notably one of the most talented players in the division last season Danny Mayor.
You have to ask yourself if Lowe was able to achieve what he did at Bury with the chaos that must have been going on at boardroom level, how much more will he be able to achieve with a more stable, well run club such as Argyle.
You can find my League One predictions here.
Championship predictions here.
You can also follow me on Twitter @BrendanPitcher