Monday, 1 August 2011

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

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.

With the new season almost upon us, this is the time when bloggers and journalists start to publish their season previews. Not wanting to feel left out, I have jumped on the bandwagon and, as a supporter of Oxford United, it seems right that I should preview League Two ahead of the season opener on Saturday.

Within the flurry of transfer activity around over the past weeks some clubs have been spending big whilst others are cutting back. Some are looking to make minor improvements while others rebuild from scratch and while some clubs grab headlines others go about their business quietly.

So who looks set to challenge and who is in for a season of struggle?

A few clubs have made serious moves in the transfer market and it is with those that I begin with. What better place to start with the league new boys Crawley Town. Last year's controversial Conference champions, who having assembled something of a non-league Galacticos last season, appear to have continued their expensive revolution by getting their hands dirty in the transfer market. After releasing a host of solid Conference players, they have shrewdly strengthened their squad with the acquisition of numerous proven league talents. They have brought in players from the higher leagues (Bristol City's John Akinde) as well as poaching some of last year's better performers in League Two (Cheltenham's Wes Thomas and Macclesfield's Tyrone Barnett). They have again assembled a strong squad capable of challenging, but much will depend on how quickly they can adjust to life in the Football League.

Other big movers include Northampton and Bristol Rovers, both of whom have seen huge player turnover as their new managers attempt to assert their identity on the squad. Northampton fans are overjoyed with the return of cult hero Adebayo Akinfenwa, as well as strengthening their midfield with Stockport's Paul Turnbull and Peterborough's Arron Davies. New Bristol Rovers boss, Paul Buckle, has been given a large budget to play around with and has used it wisely, bringing Chris Zebroski and Scott Bevan with him from Torquay. He has also brought in Matt Harrold from Shrewsbury, Adam Virgo from Yeovil and Lincoln's Mustapha Carayol. With the backing they have had, fans of both clubs will expect to challenge for promotion this year, but success will depend on how quickly the new arrivals will settle.

Swindon are another club who have undergone major surgery this summer, following their relegation from League One, and they have been the subject of much publicity after the controversial appointment of Paolo Di Canio as manager. A host of exotic names have since signed up to the Swindon cause giving the squad a rather international feel, however Di Canio appears to have put together a team designed to play physical, English football. With their high-profile manager and the high expectations of the fans the pressure will really be on for Swindon’s gamble to work immediately.

Other clubs have opted for evolution instead of revolution. Clubs such as Oxford, Gillingham and Southend have built on the foundations of last season's solid but unspectacular showings. Oxford have added experience and strength to last year's young and inconsistent side, bringing in Michael Duberry in defence and Peter Leven in midfield. Gillingham lost two important players in Cody McDonald and Adebayo Akinfenwa but have replaced those with local boy (and Gills fan) Danny Kedwell and with Dover Athletic's 45-goal Adam Birchall, but this places quite a burden of pressure onto the shoulders of two strikers with little Football League experience to spearhead a promotion charge. Southend boss Paul Sturrock knows what is required to get out of this league and has made some canny acquisitions to add to the firm base he established last season. However, most notable of these signings is Millwall legend Neil Harris, a gamble at the age of 33 (especially as he's been given a three year contract) but if it pays off he could emulate Bury's Ryan Lowe, who scored 22 League Two goals last year at the tender age of 32. Aldershot manager Dean Holdsworth has kept the core of last season's squad together and supplemented it with solid signings from non-league clubs, such as York City's creative striker Michael Rankine and Bradley Bubb from neighbours Farnborough. Bubb scored 22 goals in the Conference South last season. Holdsworth clearly feels he can get more out of these players and if he shows traces of the brilliance he hinted at while at Newport then Aldershot could be dark horses for the playoffs.

Meanwhile, the likes of Shrewsbury, Port Vale and Rotherham have been left licking their wounds this summer. After challenging closely for promotion for most of last season only to see late downturns in form cost them at the death. Shrewsbury can feel especially aggrieved at still being in the division. They were denied an automatic promotion place by a truly awful refereeing decision after Wycombe earned a point at the New Meadow when they were awarded a goal that clearly never crossed the line. Despite this, they were strong last year and are clearly of the opinion that a few tweaks here and they should be strong enough to go one better this time. Shrewsbury have signed Reuben Hazell. The midfielder will provide some much needed leadership into to the team.

Port Vale's preparations have been hampered by boardroom conflicts which left them unable to sign any new players for several weeks. Returning manager Mickey Adams has not made many additions to the side, instead placing much faith in the players that were challenging for automatic promotion when he left to take over at Sheffield United last season. But his buys, such as Ryan Burge and Ben Williamson from the Glenn Hoddle Academy are prospects for the future.

Rotherham's preseason has been much more stable, though they have lost two important players in Nicky Law and Ryan Taylor. They have, however, kept hold of goal machine Adam Le Fondre (so far), while the signings of Chris Holroyd and particularly Danny Schofield are impressive.

Plymouth, meanwhile, have had little time to concentrate on footballing matters at all, with the club still blighted by financial difficulties, and their inability to pay their players, it doesn't make the club a particularly attractive prospect for new signings. Both Liam Dickinson and Anthony Elding have signed for the Pilgrims over the summer, before making a quick exit when the full horror of the situation became apparent. Plymouth fans will be desperately hoping for some stability this season and, rather than dreaming of glories on the pitch, they will just be happy to still have a team to support this time next year.

Last season's playoff finalists Torquay have lost some of their more important players, as well as their manager, to Bristol Rovers. New manager Martin Ling is left to try and repeat last season's success on a tight budget, bringing in a mix of strong Conference players and young cast-offs from higher leagues. However, without their stronger performers from last season, one should expect them to be considerably weaker this time around. Crewe have been rocked by the not-unexpected departure of last season's top scorer Clayton Donaldson and have been unable to replace him, turning once again to their much-vaunted youth system for replacements. After falling short last year, Alex fans will be disappointed to see that this looks set to be a rebuilding season, but the style of football they play means that they create a lot of chances, so they are not likely to go without goals this season. However, goals alone do not make a successful season.

Another club who seem to be making youth a priority is Bradford. The club’s well-publicised financial problems have severely hampered their ability to compete for big names in the transfer market and so, instead of buying stars, they've chosen to grow their own and have begun assembling a separate developmental squad for the future. But back in the present, they're still struggling to bring in the quality signings they desperately need, especially in the striker department. They have, however, brought in Guy Branston, who will be sure to get them organised at the back, which should be enough to prevent them from struggling too much this season.

Part Two will be available on Friday 5th August

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

Splintered Woodgate’s final chance

Kevin Leonard’s all star five aside Premier League team

Is there a right or wrong way to play football?

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
[Valid Atom 1.0] // technoaryi