MARTIN CHAPMAN: League 2 Preview
Hard to believe that August 3rd brings about the beginning of the new football league season. 46 matches in the 3 divisions of English football to decide the respective champions. In my humble opinion , the most interesting one for me this term is the basement , League 2, which for those of us who knew football before Sky invented it, the 4th Division.
As usual in a preview , let’s start with the favourites. Now , I’ll hold my hand up here and admit to being a Portsmouth supporter, but even at a top price of 5/1 available with us, I’d not be tempted. Plenty of Pompey fans are now rather more pragmatic in their outlook, the fact they simply have a club to support is in itself a marvelous achievement and one that’s now fan owned and hopefully rid of the mis management and bad ownership over the past few years. But, being fan owned , doesn’t suddenly make us Barcelona or Bayern Munich, Guy Whittingham, the astute , If still very inexperienced boss has made it quite clear that his budget is, sensibly , only a mid table one, and despite the fact Pompey have sold almost 11,000 season tickets (indeed the opening fixture vs Oxford is a sell out, a week before the game- though also fair play to Oxford who themselves have sold 2500 tickets and could have sold more) and will probably average over 15,000 this season, support alone doesn’t get you out of this section , it took Bradford long enough averaging 5 figure crowds. Keeping a few of the promising youngsters and more experienced hands from last term, interspersed with a few new faces I’d expect Pompey to be pushing for a play off place, but no more.
So on to who I think will be challenging for the top spot this time and those I expect to struggle. Chesterfield are 2nd favourites with us at 7/1, and to me look a fairly solid bet for automatic promotion. They fell away a little over the end of last year when looking sure automatic promotion candidates for most the season , they’ve strengthened well and with that behind them can go all the way this time. Of the bigger prices Burton Albion have recruited some decent looking players with good experience at this level and seem overpriced at 25/1 for a side who made the play offs last season , as at a slightly bigger price are York City, formerly one of the bigger hitters in this league with a good cup pedigree, Nigel Worthington tried to reshape them last season. He is too good a boss to have a run of the mill League2 outfit and with a solid start I can see them making the play offs at least. Looking at some of the other sides, Fleetwood have a few quid behind them and a bit of ambition, always worth a few points at this level, while I fancied Bristol Rovers last term and purely on the fact teams seem to do well a year after I back them I’d expect them to be up there! Rochdale have the mercurial Keith Hill back in charge , but it may take more than just him to get them back out of this division they spent longer than any club in. While Oxford made the apparent eye catching signing of Dave Kitson, I’m fairly sure any Portsmouth or Sheffield United fans would hardly scream from the rooftops about the ginger striker now back near to the only place he was apparently ever popular . Reading.
Of the strugglers , well…everyone’s 2nd team Accrington Stanley (yes..you know the rest) look one of the better bets in the whole league in my view at 9/2 in places to get relegated . Stanley will never attract the crowds in view of their location, have really struggled to make any impact since joining the league, bar one season making the play offs under their former long serving boss John Coleman. Whether James Beattie really has it to be a manager is highly debatable and a season of struggle is in order for Stanley, rather like Barnet last season I can see a small club slipping back into the conference. Of other clubs looking to struggle , I’m sure my colleague and Exeter fan Luke Tarr wouldn’t be at all surprised to see his beloved Grecians struggle this time, with no new players on the books. The do have the very highly regarded if slightly eccentric Paul Tisdale at the helm and that alone should keep them safe. Whilst on the subject of eccentric managers, Mr Perma-tan himself Phillip Brown, turned up at Southend last backend (no one knew if his jumper was draped round his shoulders or not) , they like a lot of clubs in this league have cash flow problems, the move to their new stadium has been called off, players have to be begged, stole and borrowed and at 16/1 you could have worse bets for a season to see them make the drop , along with 12/1 about Wycombe Wanderers suffering the same fate. (Covering all bases, and yes..I know only 2 can go down!) it’s a long time since Martin O’Neill stayed at Wycombe instead of going to Notts Forest, but Wanderers have really become a bit of a ‘nothing’ club, and could easily find themselves staring at the trapdoor come the end of April.
So..bets to maybe look at with a warm glow if things are going well in December.
Chesterfield ew @ 7/1. Burton Albion ew @ 25/1. Burton and York on the handicap.
Relegation: Accrington @ 9/2 (max) , Southend @ 16/1, Wycombe @ 12/1.