The new League Two campaign is nearly upon us and sure to be another great season!
Our football tipster Joe Citrone has put together his 2023/24 preview, complete with 1-24 predictions and recommended ante-post bets.
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1. Stockport County
Following their heartbreaking play-off final defeat to Carlisle United last season, I am backing Stockport County to get over the line this season and they are my pick to win League Two.
County are very well-backed financially, have a very astute and well-respected coach in David Challinor – who has done very well since leaving Hartlepool United to take the job in 2021 – and have also been very busy in the transfer market.
The headline signing is undoubtedly attacking midfielder Nick Powell from Championship side Stoke City – a simply outrageous addition for a League Two side.
Louie Barry, who has recently signed on loan from Aston Villa, is also another eye-catching addition and should compliment their existing attacking options of Paddy Madden and Kyle Wootton very nicely.
I think the Hatters are in for a great season.
Stockport County to win the League Two title – currently at
2. MK Dons
Not many people saw MK Dons’ relegation from League One coming last season, least of all chairman Pete Winkelman who claims they “blew it” last term.
However, with relegation comes an opportunity to wipe the slate clean and rebuild and that’s what I think MK Dons are doing.
In Graham Alexander, they have made a very sensible appointment. It is certainly a different approach from the young, up-and-coming coaches that they have gone for in recent years, but someone like Alexander – who has won promotion from this level before with Fleetwood Town – is probably what MK need right now as they plot a return to League One at the first attempt.
Their business in the transfer market is strong with Cameron Norman a particularly impressive signing at right-back. But, in fairness, many of the players who have come down with them from League One, the likes of Mo Eisa and Warren O’Hora, should be already be leading players at this level.
MK Dons to be promoted – currently at
Under their new American owners, Gillingham feels like a rejuvenated and revitalised club and I am backing them to take the third and final automatic-promotion spot this season.
The first half of last season was one that Gills fans would rather forget, but a much-needed financial boost from the takeover came just in the nick of time and a busy January window managed to yield a much stronger second half to the campaign and saw Gills finish 12 points clear of the drop-zone.
The ambitions for this campaign look much different with promotion undoubtedly the aim for Neil Harris’ side.
Jonny Williams looked set to join Bradford City, but Gills swooped in at the last-minute to secure his signature and the former Wales international looks like a real coup who should create plenty of chances for Oli Hawkins and fellow new signing Ashley Nadesan.
I fancy Gillingham to continue the momentum they built up towards the end of last season and go really well this year.
4. Salford City
Salford have flirted with promotion from League Two on a few occasions since they first rose to this level from the National League in 2019.
Last season was the closest they have come to getting themselves into the third-tier for the first time in their history, but Stockport County denied them in the play-off semi-finals.
They have made some very good additions to their squad so far this summer, namely Luke Garbutt who was plying his trade in the Championship last season and Ossama Ashley who has been impressive in this league for Colchester United.
However, arguably the best business they have done so far, is keep midfield dynamo Elliot Watt who was absolutely crucial to the Ammies’ play-off push last season.
Neil Wood is a good coach and I feel that Salford finally have some stability for the first time in a few years after chopping and changing managers too frequently. They should go well this season and I have them in 4th-place.
5. Notts County
I have newly-promoted Notts County going strong in their first season back in the EFL and pushing towards the top end of the table.
Under Luke Williams, Notts County became embroiled in the most extraordinary title race that English football has seen in a long time with the Magpies somehow missing out on top-spot to Wrexham in the National League last season despite accruing 107 points.
They managed to get the job done via the play-offs though, seeing off Chesterfield on penalties in the final, which is no less than they deserved for the spectacular football that they played all season.
Macaulay Langstaff, who scored a simply ridiculous 42 league goals for County last season, will no doubt be big for them again. This season he will be partnered by David McGoldrick who has decided to see out his career with this hometown club after bagging 22 goals in League One last term.
County have lost Ruben Rodrigues to Oxford United, who was a crucial player for them last season, but have recruited really strongly and look in good shape ahead of the new season. 5th-place.
6. Doncaster Rovers
Grant McCann is back as Doncaster Rovers manager and, after a pretty disappointing first season back down in League Two, I am backing the new Rovers boss to put them back in promotion contention this season.
McCann is well-known to Doncaster supporters having successfully managed the club to the League One play-offs in the 2018/19 season before departing for Hull City.
He has wasted no time in stamping his authority on the club and has been incredibly busy in the transfer market, making no less than ten new additions to his squad at the time of writing. It’s a nice blend of youth and experience as well with George Broadbent a promising addition in midfield from Sheffield United and Richard Wood and Ian Lawlor sure to add plenty of know-how in defence.
With McCann back in the hot seat, I can see Doncaster’s fortunes changing dramatically in the 2023/24 season.
Wrexham’s Hollywood dream begins its next chapter as they return to the EFL after a 15-year absence.
Phil Parkinson’s side, owned by actors Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney of course, came out on top in that extraordinary National League title race with Notts County that we spoke about earlier and the expectation is that they will be able to kick on and immediately compete at the top of League Two this season.
They haven’t made an enormous amount of additions to their squad although, arguably, they didn’t need to considering how far about National League level they already were.
The likes of Paul Mullin, Elliot Lee, Ollie Palmer and, of course, Ben Foster should adapt to the new level with ease having all played most of their careers in the EFL or even above in Foster’s case. Ben Tozer’s long-throw will no doubt cause havoc in League Two as well (despite new regulations that mean he will no longer be allowed to dry footballs with a towel during matches).
However, I do wonder if their big USA pre-season trip, although great for publicity, might be more of a distraction than good preparation with Wrexham due to land back in the UK just a week before the beginning of the season.
Star striker Mullin will also miss the start of the campaign with a punctured lung, which is a severe blow, and might mean that Wrexham get off to a slower start than some are expecting. That said, I still have them going well and sneaking into the top-seven.
8. Bradford City
Bradford City came close to securing a return to League One in Mark Hughes’ first full season in charge, but ultimately the Bantams were denied in the play-offs by Carlisle United and find themselves in for another season in the fourth-tier.
Their big statement of intent this summer was retaining the services of striker Andy Cook who topped the League Two scoring charts last season with an impressive 28 league goals in 46 appearances.
Tyler Smith, who spent the second half of last season on loan at Oxford United, has arrived from Hull City to provide some support up-front for Cook which should help ease the burden a bit.
However, I am less sure about some of their other signings like full-back Daniel Oyegoke who really struggled at MK Dons last season and midfielder Kevin MacDonald who may be past his best now.
Bradford should still have enough to push towards the top end of the table, but I have them just missing out on the coveted play-off positions in 8th-place.
9. Mansfield Town
Mansfield Town – always the bridesmaid, but never the bride in League Two. After several near-misses in recent years, the Stags will be hoping that this is their year to finally get out of the fourth-tier.
In Nigel Clough, they have an experienced manager who knows this level extremely well and how to get results. But, after losing in the play-off final the year prior, Mansfield failed to get over the line again last term; missing out on the top-seven on goal difference.
I think getting striker Will Swan back on a permanent deal could be a real coup with the young forward only likely to get better and better, and they still have a strong squad for the level even though a few key players are getting on a bit, but I think it will be a familiar story for Mansfield this season.
10. Grimsby Town
Grimsby Town is another club that feels revitalised and rejuvenated and potentially set up for their strongest League Two campaign in many years.
Paul Hurst has done a marvellous job since returning to the club in 2020. Although initially unable to keep the Mariners in the EFL, Hurst managed to get them back up at the first attempt and achieved a first positive campaign back in League Two last season.
The most impressive achievement, though, was unquestionably Grimsby’s remarkable run in the FA Cup which saw them knock out Luton Town and Southampton on their way to the quarter-finals.
Now the feeling is that Hurst’s side could push on in the league with some smart moves made in the transfer window. Kamil Conteh, who enjoyed a positive season in the National League for Gateshead last season, looks like a particularly impressive signing.
I have Grimsby in 10th-place, but don’t be surprised if they push towards those play-off places.
Over the past few years, firstly with FC Halifax Town and now with Barrow, Pete Wild has shown himself to be a top up-and-coming manager.
In his previous role at Halifax, he consistently managed to get the Shaymen punching above their weight in the National League on a limited budget and, in his first season as Barrow boss, repeated the same trick.
They got off to a rip-roaring start last term before falling away slightly, but I think some smart additions – which includes Emile Acquah after scoring 13 goals for Maidenhead United – should have them in the top-half again this season.
Under Michael Flynn, who is an experienced operator at this level, many outsiders had Walsall as potential promotion candidates last season, but the Saddlers really flattered to deceive.
As a result, Flynn was axed and the Saddlers made the surprising choice of naming Mat Sadler as their new boss in what is his first managerial role. It wasn’t an appointment that initially went down well with supporters, but much of their transfer business since has.
Priestley Farquharson, who has come in from Newport County, is the headline signing for me. The cultured centre-half is a strong defender, comfortable with the ball at his feet and had been linked to League One clubs prior to joining the Saddlers.
I foresee a steady season of progress for Walsall. 12th-place.
13. Forest Green Rovers
Forest Green Rovers went back down from League One in pitiful fashion last season, finishing up on just 27 points from 46 games and 19 points adrift of safety.
Former Everton and Newcastle striker Duncan Ferguson was set to lead Rovers back into League Two but, after just a couple of days of pre-season, was axed by owner Dale Vince.
Following Hannah Dingley’s brief spell in charge, Dave Horseman was selected as the man to replace Ferguson and has a job on his hands instilling a winning mentality back into a group of players who became so used to losing last season.
Of their transfer business so far, Matty Taylor is probably the pick of the lot. The former Oxford United striker struggled for goals in League One last season, but should score plenty in the level below.
However, I think it’s going to take time to overhaul and rebuild this squad; especially for a rookie manager. I’ve got Forest Green in 13th.
14. AFC Wimbledon
Considering the criticism he was on the receiving end of towards the end of last season, it is quite surprising to see Johnnie Jackson still as the AFC Wimbledon manager.
A disappointing campaign, which saw the Dons finish just five points above the bottom-two, put Jackson under real pressure heading into the summer, but the Wimbledon board have backed their man to turn around their fortunes.
And, in fairness, considering the financial constraints they are operating under, they have been able to do some decent business.
Alex Bass should be a safe pair between the sticks, Josh Neufville is an interesting addition in the forward areas and they have done well to get creative midfielder Armani Little back on a permanent deal.
The best business they could probably do, though is keep hold of striker Ali Al-Hamadi who scored 10 goals in 19 appearances after joining from Wycombe Wanderers in January.
I have Wimbledon improving slightly, but not a lot. 15th-place.
15. Colchester United
The last time Ben Garner had a full season in League Two, he guided Swindon Town into the play-offs and will be hoping to have a similar impact in his first full campaign with new club Colchester United.
The signings made are clearly with the idea in mind of implementing Garner’s progressive, possession-based tactical philosophies with Mauro Bandeira and Nico Lawrence both technical players who have come in on loan from the academies of Arsenal and Southampton respectively.
It might take time to fully implement the ideas of Garner, and get the players in place that he needs to execute his style, which may mean results aren’t perfect this year but I expect the U’s to be a better watch.
16. Tranmere Rovers
The appointment of Nick Dawes, who replaced Micky Mellon as Tranmere Rovers boss, didn’t garner the most welcome reception and he will have a job on his hands turning around a club that has arguably stagnated a bit in the last couple of years.
Rovers could only muster a 12th-placed finish last season and missed out on the top-seven the year before that. Sadly, I have them even lower next season with it unclear to me at what direction the club wants to head in.
Losing two key players in Josh Dacres-Cogley, who has gone to Bolton, and Ethan Bristow, who has jetted off to the MLS with Minnesota United, certainly won’t help them.
Luke McGee is a solid addition between the sticks and Kristian Dennis should still score goals, but I don’t those signings stopping them from sliding down to 16th.
17. Swindon Town
Swindon Town suffered a simply disastrous end to last season, losing 10 of their last 19 matches, which ultimately cost Jody Morris his job as manager after just four months in charge.
Although they have recruited Michael Flynn as manager, who has achieved success at this level before with Newport County, I find it hard to envisage a positive campaign for the Robins.
Their transfer business hasn’t exactly blown me away. Dan Kemp is a shrewd signing on loan from MK Dons, but they need a lot more to keep up with other teams who have strengthened.
I feel like Charlie Austin is going to be relied upon a lot this season and I’m just not sure that’s going to be good enough.
18. Accrington Stanley
Accrington are back in League Two after five seasons at League One level, but I am far from confident in their chances of being in the mix to bounce straight back up.
John Coleman is a very experienced manager who has worked wonders with Accrington Stanley over the years, an affiliation that stretches all the way back to 1999 across two spells.
Players like Ethan Hamilton and Joe Pritchard should adapt well to the level and, as things stand, it looks like they may be able to keep hold of Tommy Leigh.
However, I don’t feel that the squad has been refreshed enough from the one that went down last season and, as such, think it could be a bottom-half finish for Stanley.
19. Crewe Alexandra
It was an underwhelming first campaign back in League Two for Crewe Alexandra and, unfortunately for the Alex, I don’t them improving much this season.
Losing Dan Agyei, a player who was crucial in keeping their head above water last season, is a massive blow and as yet I’m not sure that they have replaced him with similar quality.
They also have a manager in Alex Morris who is inexperienced and still learning on the job and I see all that culminating in another disappointing season.
These are uncertain times for Morecambe and, despite just coming down from League One last season, I have them struggling again this term.
Absent owners and huge financial constraints mean that this has been a tough summer for the Shrimps and they have had a huge turnover of players with the likes of Connor Ripley, Ash Hunter, Dan Crowley and main goalscorer Cole Stockton all departing.
They have made some sensible signings, and midfielder JJ McKiernan could end up being a coup following a strong National League campaign with Eastleigh, but the Shrimps still look very short.
Their only hope, really, is manager Derek Adams who has performed wonders at this club before. I have him doing it again by keeping Morecambe in the EFL, but I’m not expecting a great season for them.
21. Newport County
Optimism is not high at Rodney Parade as Graham Coughlan prepares to lead Newport County into their 10th consecutive season in League Two.
After a fairly underwhelming 2022/23 campaign, which saw County finish in 15th-place, things have not got better and two key players in Cameron Norman and Priestley Farquharson have since left the club.
Omar Bogle, who bagged 19 league goals for the Exiles last season, is still there and will be important but they will be relying on him a lot this season.
I have Newport down there and struggling, but narrowly staying up.
22. Sutton United
Sutton United flirted with the play-offs in their debut EFL season but had to settle for a mid-table finish last term.
And now, after a huge turnover of players this summer, I can, unfortunately, see Matt Gray’s men getting embroiled in a battle at the wrong end of the table – and I don’t expect them to win it.
Winger Omari Patrick is probably the pick of the bunch from their summer transfer business, but I don’t see the quality coming through the door that is going to pull them away from a relegation scrap this time around.
23. Harrogate Town
Harrogate Town were very nearly sucked into a relegation battle last season, but ended up pulling away and finishing nine points clear of the drop. However, after a couple of seasons of punching above their weight, I don’t see them surviving again
Simon Weaver is the longest-serving manager in the EFL, having taken over at Harrogate in 2009, and has done a simply sensational job in his 14 years at the helm.
However, when I look at their squad, I am just not seeing the quality to keep them up. They have retained the services of Luke Armstrong, who will be vital, but I’m not sure can be solely relied upon again. I have the Sulphurites going down.
24. Crawley Town
There is always a chance this could come back to bite and make me look very stupid in 12 months’ time, but I am not sure I have ever been more confident of a team getting relegated than I am with Crawley Town this season.
Under the ownership of crypto sports company WAGMI United, Crawley Town have turned into a complete circus. The promise of Premier League football that was made when Preston Johnson and Eben Smith took control of the club now looks completely laughable with the real risk of relegation back to non-league looming over Broadfield Stadium.
In a series of PR disasters last season, the Crawley owners offered YouTubers the chance to sign for the club, handed out a contract to a player with the financial incentive of winning the ball back in the opposition half, sacked a manager after three games and one of the owners even sat in the dugout for a match.
This summer has not gone much better with a string of Crawley’s better players leaving the club and a host of unproven, untried players from non-league coming in to replace them.
Manager Scott Lindsey, who himself is still fairly inexperienced, has an almighty job on his hands keeping this club up and I don’t see him achieving it.
Crawley Town to be relegated – currently at
BACK Stockport County to win League Two title 1pt each/way at 5/1 (⭐
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PROFIT/LOSS (JULY 2023): LOSS -52.16 points