STAR PREVIEW: Early Signs – League Two

LEAGUE TWO: Star Sports Graduate Intern, Cameron Brown, looks at the first 6 fixtures of League Two and speaks to Racing Post journalist James Stevens about his beloved Newport County


League Two has always been a great league to keep an eye on and for fans it can take you traveling the country far and wide, seeing stadiums large and small. You can also see some of the oldest clubs in the English Football League such as Port Vale and Macclesfield Town, both established in 1876. The League offers a passage into League One for those who earn promotion but also drops those out of the EFL, into the National League, if they don’t perform. Just like the latest League One blog, this will only focus on the title contenders and the playoff places, as well as a few notable mentions.

As it’s a recurring theme in my blog posts, we’ll start at the top of the League with Exeter City. They go into their 7th fixture undefeated which only them and Newport County have managed to do. They have accumulated 4 wins and 2 draws, beating the likes of Mansfield Town and taking a point off Swindon who are 7/1 to win it all. This immense form means that they are 2 points clear from second place Newport County and sit at 9/1 to take the league. In the 2018/19 season Exeter finished a positive 9th place – only missing the play offs by a single point. I believe there is a strong chance for them to make the playoffs, if the first 6 fixtures are anything to go by they may even go one better and secure automatic promotion.

The other undefeated team in the league, Newport County, have currently got 3 wins and 3 draws. The famous FA cup giant killers have raced out of the gates in a bid to gain promotion to League One. Racing Post journalist and Exiles fan, James Stevens (@JamesStevens180), shared his thoughts with me about the attractive football that his team have displayed so far, and what it could mean for the rest of the season.

When asked about his expectations he had for the current campaign, based on the previous season, James said: “I did not expect us to get so close last season so I was quite unsure what to expect but we kept hold of the majority of our key players and strengthened well so I was hoping we could at least make the top 10”

Newport finished in 7th place last season, qualifying for the League Two playoffs before being narrowly beaten by Tranmere 1-0 at Wembley in the final. This, and the current form they are in means that they are priced at 12/1 to win League Two.

Commenting on whether he thought there was value for the punter in that price, James said:” I think so yes, in the past years our big problem has been our squad depth but that seems to be resolved.

“We have got the same quality players from last season but also plenty of new faces who have looked really good. Title-winning teams need a striker who can always get goals and Podge Amound is exactly that sort of player – while our defence has been exceptional this season, five straight clean sheets in the league”

Newport have only conceded 2 goals in the league thus far which is a testament to Vice Captain Mark O’Brien, Crystal Palace loanee Ryan Inniss and summer signing Kyle Howkins who have built a wall in central defence. However, the lower leagues can be very unpredictable, and teams can’t go to others expecting results.

Regarding Newport’s run of form, and if it can continue, James said: “Newport County are very unpredictable, and I always warn people away from ‘expecting’ something from us. We beat Lincoln and Bury (1st and 2nd) last season but lost 6-0 at home to bottom-placed Yeovil!

“But yes, I do think we can keep it going, we have a bigger and better all-round team which will be crucial if we have a quick succession of games and I always think that is important. Our budget is not big, but we have invested well, we are excellent at home and our atmosphere is great and we have been pretty good so far. Long may it continue!”

This fine run of form surely points to value at 12/1 outright, and if it continues expect that price to shorten very quickly.

League favourites Plymouth Argyle haven’t had quite the start they would have wanted but are still in the mix sat in 6th with 10 points, 4 adrift from league leaders Exeter City. Defeats to Newport County and Northampton Town will have knocked their confidence and only managing a point against EFL newcomers Salford City could only do the same. There have been some highlights for The Pilgrims with convincing wins against Crewe Alexandra on the opening day of the season and Walsall.

Promotion contenders Bradford City and Forest Green Rovers have had good starts to the campaign with 8 and 10 points. The same however, can’t be said for 10/1 shots Mansfield who succeeded in booking themselves a place in the 2018/19 play offs only to be beaten by Newport County in the first round. Only gaining 1 win in the first 6 fixtures is a dangerous game to play in such a cut throat league. A loss to recently promoted Leyton Orient and a draw to potential relegation battlers Morecambe has summed up a very slow start which Mansfield will be looking to turn around in coming months.

Predictions

Predictions for the top 6 have been based on current form and the opening 6 fixtures
Here I’m faced with another League which is essentially impossible to predict right up until the final weeks of the season. Based on current form and what could be in the coming weeks, my top 6 is as follows:

1. Newport County
2. Plymouth Argyle
3. Exeter City
4. Swindon Town
5. Bradford City
6. Forest Green Rovers

Newport County’s form is undeniable at present and if it can continue then there is no doubt that they are serious title contenders this season. Heavyweights Plymouth Argyle have had a steady start to the season but once a rhythm is found they’ll start to back up why they are currently priced as favourites. Exeter City are like Newport in the respect that if they can continue the current form they are in, and don’t have any injury worries, then they can be right up the top challenging for promotion.

Swindon Town, Bradford City and Forest Green Rovers round off my top 6 as they are consistent and know what the league is about. As said in previous blogs, the play offs are a whole different ball game where anything can happen so promotion could be on the cards for any of these teams. Salford, who are currently priced at 11/1 to win the league are interesting. I personally haven’t seen enough of Salford to seriously consider them for promotion just yet, but only one loss in the opening 6 games is an interesting statistic and they could be sniffing around the play off places come the end of the season. Cameron Brown

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