Friday, 5 August 2011

Matt Bruce’s npower League Two 2011/12 Preview - Part Two

In his debut article for The Football Front, Matt Bruce in a two part feature assesses the npower League Two teams ahead of the big kick off this Saturday.

This is part two. Part one can be found here

For two of the league's smallest clubs, Accrington and Dagenham, the off-season has presented a familiar scenario of having to replace last season's better performers, who have moved to bigger clubs. Accrington, who defied the odds last season to reach the playoffs, have a complete rebuilding job on their hands. They lost the services of Jimmy Ryan, Phil Edwards, Terry Gornell, Alex Cisek and Sean McConville. While relegated last season from League One, Dagenham also find themselves looking for cheap replacements once again after losing Romain Vincelot and Danny Green, both of whom have stayed in the league above, while veteran goalkeeper Tony Roberts has retired. Losing so many important players may seem like a body blow to these two clubs, but in John Coleman and John Still these clubs have shrewd managers who have repeatedly managed to find previously unheard-of players out of non-league or from Academy scraps and turn them into quality, consistent performers. The fortunes of both clubs depend on the ability of their managers to again work miracles and haul up some rough diamonds.

Like Accrington and Dagenham, Macclesfield are often hotly tipped for relegation. Yet every year they exceed expectations and usually survive comfortably and I expect the same this season. They have also lost a couple of important players in Barnett and Bencherif, so their fortunes this season will be defined by how well they can cope without them and whether anyone can step up to replace two important figures, otherwise they may flirt with relegation.

Having mentioned Crawley in part one of this feature, we now come to the Football League's other new boys, AFC Wimbledon. The Dons have lost Danny Kedwell and technically gifted midfielder Steven Gregory. This will leave a huge hole in the squad, and with limited resources they will be relying on making some shrewd signings to replace them. They have targeted young, hungry players with raw talent and if this tactic works as well for them as it has for Dagenham and Accrington they could be quite successful at this level, but as ever it represents a gamble which could cost them their place in the Football League. They have so far known only success, next season will be tough but a well-run club such as this should be absolutely fine.

After a dramatic season that saw Barnet escape relegation to the Conference by the narrowest of margins, it may be reasonable to expect that new manager Lawrie Sanchez would seek to make drastic changes. However, he has clearly seen potential in a squad that underachieved massively last season and this season he will set about nurturing that potential, while the permanent signings of Sam Deering and Mark Byrne (both of whom were on loan late in the season and were instrumental in Barnet's great escape) will no doubt add some flair to their midfield. Like Barnet, Hereford started last season disastrously, but new manager Jamie Pitman was able to steer the Bulls from relegation certainties, to safety. Their squad is not much stronger this season than last time out, but they performed much better under Pitman in the second half of the season and if that continues they should avoid the drop. Cheltenham have good cause to be disappointed with their 17th place finish last season, especially considering the presence of the talented Wes Thomas in their team. This season they will be without him, and manager Mark Yates faces the unenviable task of improving on last year's disappointment with limited resources and apparently no funds for transfers. Despite this, they have pulled off some decent signings, such as Marlon Pack and Darryl Duffy, but it is doubtful that they will be enough to significantly improve the team.

Burton could be in trouble this season. For much of the second half of last season they seemed to be in a death spiral, going on a horrendous run of form that saw them finish worryingly close to the relegation zone. The club still also haven't found adequate replacements for Shaun Harrad or Adam Legzdins. The return of Cleveland Taylor from St Johnstone was one piece of good news for Burton fans. But this summer has proven to be a frustrating one and they will have real fears of relegation. Morecambe also look set to struggle, after a disappointing campaign last season they have replaced the long-serving Sammy McIlroy with rookie manager Jim Bentley and they have failed to attract any real quality to the Globe Arena. Morecambe could find themselves filling one of the relegation spots come the end of the season.

This should set out the obvious candidates for promotion and relegation, but League Two seems to throw up surprise packages every year and undoubtedly this season will be the same. There is every chance that one of the sides I have written off may make a surprising challenge, while there is always at least one of the league's big hitters who fail to live up to the hype. The truth is, until the season gets underway it's very difficult to judge who this season's surprise packages will be, but I have little doubt that some of the clubs in this league will have some very big surprises in store for us this season.

Part One is available here

This piece was written by Matt Bruce, you can follow him on his Twitter - @tbfuth, You can find Matt’s blog here too: theboysfromupthehill

Things you may like to read

Matt Bruce’s npower League Two 2011/12 Review – Part One

Christian Brown’s nPower Championship Review 2011/2012 – Part One

Christian Brown’s nPower Championship Review 2011/2012 – Part Two

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