It’s shaping up to be the biggest League Two in history. MK Dons (who narrowly missed out on promotion to the Championship in May 2022 before a disastrous relegation campaign last season) join newly promoted Wrexham and Notts County: two teams who incredibly amassed over 200 points between them last season and who have both had promising pre-season campaigns. Stockport County felt the agony of play-off heartbreak last season but have significantly strengthened this season, including the eyebrow-raising signing of midfield maestro (and former Manchester United star) Nick Powell. Meanwhile Gillingham’s new American owners helped bring much-needed investment last season (they finished last season as the in-form team in the division) and the clubs has also bought well in the summer, including several permanent transfers across the team, including defenders Scott Malone and Conor Masterson.
Amongst the front-runners expected to do well this season, there’s always one team who will defy the odds, going under the radar amongst the bookies to achieve promotion glory, while one of the bigger names in the division falls at the last hurdle and succumbs to the weighty expectation of promotion.
Let’s look at five teams who could be the unexpected surprise package in League Two this season:
Promoted to League 2 for the first time in 2021, the South London side have impressed in their two seasons in the EFL. Matt Gray has been at the helm throughout the side’s impressive rise, and his stock as one of the best young managers continues to grow.
Despite having one of the smaller playing budgets in the league, the club have recruited smartly over the summer, bringing in Carlisle’s play-off winning winger Omari Patrick on a permanent transfer and signing versatile Aiden O’Brien on loan– a classy, experienced frontman who could easily be one of the star pick-ups this season. Add in midfielder Craig Cray (who achieved a double promotion with Leyton Orient) and Scott Kashket (who scored Wycombe’s first-ever Championship goal only 3 years ago) and you have a team who could very well execute some impressive team play this season.
Ben Garner’s appointment in March certainly seemed a huge gamble by the man who nearly took Swindon to promotion in 2022. With Colchester sitting precariously close to the bottom two, Garner helped to rejuvenate the side, steering the club clear of the relegation places before finishing in 20th place.
In pre-season, the team have more than matched their League One opponents, beating last season’s champions Leyton Orient and earning a credible draw with much-fancied Peterborough. The club has some of the most exciting young attacking talent in League Two: watch out for Noah Chilvers and Samson Tovide to do some damage to defences this season. The side is now awash with promotional experience too, with Matt Jay, Tom Hopper and John Akinde achieving success in recent years. If they manage to hold onto their most talented youngster in 19 year-old full-back Junior Tchamadeu (with reported interest coming from the Championship), it could lead to a much improved season for the Essex side.
In Luke Armstrong, the Yorkshire club have a striker who stats are mightily impressive. 16 goals last season (and 6 assists) is better than the strikers of the three teams who achieved automatic promotion last season. Armstrong missed only a handful of games and his aerial dominance and all-round team player is going to be vital to Harrogate’s chances of a successful season.
This summer, the club’s recruitment strategy has been focused on securing a mix of younger and older players with credible EFL experience. Matty Daly, Liam Gibson and Rod McDonald fit that identity, while Matty Foulds has joined from Mark Hughes’ Bradford City (another of the big sides with the weight of promotion expectation firmly on their shoulders).
Manager Simon Weaver has added significant pace to the side too, with young wingers James Daly (who scored 7 goals last season to help Woking reach the National League Play-Offs) and Abraham Odoh from Rochdale, who could surprise many if he finds early-season form.
Look no further than Barrow as THE prime example of exceeding expectations last season. With one of the smallest budgets in the league, the team finished 9th, ahead of Swindon, Grimsby and Tranmere.
This summer, the club has secured 22 year-old Emile Acquah from Maidenhead – one of the top scores in the National League last season with 13 goals. Acquah’s pace should work well with the strength and hold-up play of EFL veteran (and Port Vale legend) Jamie Proctor. One of the first summer signings in League Two back in June, Proctor’s 13 goals in 2021-2022 lead Port Vale to promotion from League One.
Dean Campbell will also strengthen their midfield, with the former Aberdeen player notching 26 appearances for Stevenage last season (and we know where Steve Evans’ side ended up!).
Despite a far stronger League 2 campaign in-store, Barrow could yet again really spring more than a few surprises this time round.
Accrington have built up a proud history of punching above their weight. After all, they managed to spend four seasons in League One before their relegation last season, despite having the lowest of low budgets. Despite the recent sale of Ethan Hamilton to Lincoln, the core of the team remain from their League 1 campaign. Furthermore, they have one of the most respected managers in the EFL in John Coleman: a man who has experienced promotions from National League and League Two.
Despite this, they appear to be nobody’s tip for instant promotion back to League One. The club’s transfer policy this summer has focused on loan signings of young up and coming players from Championship clubs, finalising deals with Norwich for Lewis Shipley and Brad Hills, along with Josh Andrews from Birmingham. It’s a risky formula that could reap rewards. Many will see this season as a transitional one for Accrington, but with Coleman conducting the team once again and instilling that never say die attitude amongst his new recruits, the club really could have a chance of challenging near the top of the league once again.