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Match Previews

Sky Bet League 2 season preview

30 July 2013


After three relegations in four seasons, an air of rejuvenation swarms Fratton Park with Portsmouth aiming to work their way back up the ladder, starting this season in Sky Bet League 2.

A Premier League club as recently as 2010 and FA Cup winners in 2008, Pompey will have the might of 10,000 season ticket holders roaring them on at home every other week and it's no surprise that they have been billed as one of the favourites for promotion this term.

And it's not just off the field where things are looking positive for the South Coast club, with manager Guy Whittingham recruiting very wisely during the close-season. The 48-year-old secured the services of two players who won League 2 with Swindon Town - defender Joe Devera and midfielder Simon Ferry - and also snapped up Sonny Bradley, Danny East, Tom Craddock and Ricky Holmes, all of whom have had a taste of League 2 before.

On top of that, Whittingham has managed to keep hold of experienced trio David Connolly, Patrick Agyemang and captain Johnny Ertl, as well as young starlet Jed Wallace. The mix of youth and know-how in Whittingham's squad will be vital if Pompey are to challenge at the top end of the division, and the momentum the club has gained from off the field activities could act as a catalyst to get them started on the right note.

Fleetwood Town are another team in Sky Bet League 2 who have recruited heavily this summer and they will certainly be aiming for promotion, in what is only their second season in The Football League.

The Cod Army had high hopes last time around but ended up finishing 13th, and changed managers mid-season with Graham Alexander replacing Micky Mellon, the man who guided Fleetwood up from non-league.

Alexander's first pre-season as a manager has certainly been an active one and the star signing looks to be that of Mark Roberts from Sky Bet League 1 outfit Stevenage. Alexander also signed influential centre-back Ryan Cresswell from divisional rivals Southend United, and highly-rated midfielder Antoni Sarcevic from Chester.

Add those players to the quality that remains at Highbury from last season and Alexander has what looks like, on paper, a squad worthy of challenging for the Sky Bet League 2 title this season.

Chesterfield were another team hopeful of a promotion challenge last term but ended up falling short. The Spireites finished eighth, and also had a change of boss during the campaign, and will now be targeting a place in the upper echelons of Sky Bet League 2.

Paul Cook, who took over at the Proact Stadium in October, has brought former Chesterfield favourite Ian Evatt back to the club, and also signed the likes of Gary Roberts, Sam Morsy and Ritchie Humphreys - players with Football League success on their CVs.


Two seasons of Play-Off heartache will be at the forefront of Mark Yates' mind and he will certainly be hopeful of another challenge at the top end of Sky Bet League 2 this season with his Cheltenham Town side.

Yates' men were the lowest scorers in the top half of the division last season but the 43-year-old looks to have addressed that issue with the capture of experienced front man Jamie Cureton, as well as Terry Gornell and winger Ashley Vincent, a promotion-winner with Port Vale.

Troy Brown has also signed on at Whaddon Road to add defensive stability and Matt Richards has joined from Shrewsbury Town to add power to the midfield engine.

Northampton Town finished two points behind the Robins in the standings last time around but overcame them in the Play-Off semi-finals, only to be soundly beaten by Bradford City at Wembley and denied promotion to Sky Bet League 1.

Manager Aidy Boothroyd decided against offering talismanic striker Adebayo Akinfenwa a new contract and he is seemingly yet to be replaced, with JJ Hooper - a youngster previously with Newcastle United - the only front man to join the club.

The nucleus of Boothroyd's team is going to look much-changed after a number of other departures, including the retirement of Clarke Carlisle, but the signings of centre-midfield duo Darren Carter and Gary Deegan look to have given Boothroyd's team a new edge.

Like Cheltenham, Burton Albion also fell at the Play-Off semi-final stage last term and lost key players Calvin Zola and Jacques Maghoma in the close-season. Boss Gary Rowett moved quickly to replace the duo, signing Rory Delap and Rene Howe, and the Brewers look set for another promotion charge.

Elsewhere, Bristol Rovers experienced an underwhelming campaign last time around but will be hope to re-capture the form that John Ward brought with him when he was appointed to replace Mark McGhee mid-season.

John-Joe O'Toole played a key part in that good run whilst on loan from Colchester United and the permanent capture of the midfielder could prove vital. Ward will again lean partly on the club's promising youth products but there's no reason as to why they shouldn't challenge at the top of the division.

Another eye-catching addition to Sky Bet League 2 is that of striker Dave Kitson, who joined Chris Wilder's Oxford United. The U's failed to break into the promotion mix last time around but with changes aplenty at the Kassam Stadium, including the addition of Kitson, Wilder's men could be there or thereabouts.


One of the division's new boys, Portsmouth, have already been covered, but don't be alarmed if any of the other new additions to Sky Bet League 2 find themselves amongst the frontrunners.

Mansfield Town were crowned champions of the Conference last term after winning 20 of their last 23 games to end their five-year exile from The League, and manager Paul Cox will hope to maintain that momentum. He has kept the core of his side at Field Mill, apart from star striker Matt Green who stepped up to The Sky Bet Championship to join Birmingham City, so will be confident of doing so.

Cox's astute acquisition of defender John McCombe could be telling but whoever steps forward as Green's replacement may determine whether the Stags shine on their League return.

Justin Edinburgh's Newport County were triumphant in the Play-Off Final against Welsh rivals Wrexham, following a third-place finish, to join Mansfield in The League and it seems as though the former Tottenham Hotspur defender is keeping faith with the majority of his promotion-winning team.

Striker Chris Zebroski has been added to the squad, though, and he will look to get in the goals, alongside Christian Jolley and Aaron O'Connor - the two players who found the net in the Exiles' Wembley win.

Attempting to gauge where the relegated sides from League 1 will end up this term is a challenging matter.

Scunthorpe United finished just three points short of safety last season and look to have made some wise signings on their return to League 2, including former top-flight players Chris Iwelumo, Deon Burton and Andy Dawson. Manager Brian Laws has experience of promotion from League 2 with the Iron and will hope to replicate what he achieved in 2005 in his last spell with the club.

Bury were inundated with a whole host of off-field troubles last term and that resulted in a poor season on the pitch with the Shakers being relegated on 41 points. Kevin Blackwell has made a number of good additions including Tom Soares, and the manager and his players will hope for a positive start to wipe away any memories of last season.

Hartlepool United finished alongside Bury, also on 41 points, and they will start afresh this season with the management team of Colin Cooper and Craig Hignett in charge.

Cooper and his assistant have had a quiet close-season with regards to signings and have seemingly focussed on improving the club's spirits. The last time the Pools dropped into League 2 they won promotion at the first time asking; can lightening strike twice?

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