Key player: George Maris
George Maris will be starting his fourth campaign with Cambridge this season, and will be key for them this season. Following the loss of a number of players, Maris is currently the highest scoring member of last season’s squad that is still around, having netted 5 league goals and assisted a further 5 from central midfield.
Maris will feature in a team with a lot less quality this time out and a lot will be expected of him. Three key players departed the Cambridge to be replaced by lower quality individuals over the summer, so it was vital that Maris signed a new contract with the club this summer. The Us will struggle for goals, and Maris, who will likely be positioned further forward, will be the main man that they will have to turn to in what is expected to be a tough campaign.
Manager: Colin Calderwood
Ex-Scotland international, Colin Calderwood has been at the helm since December 2018. After ex-manager Joe Dunne was sacked mid-season with Cambridge in 21st position, Calderwood took over but failed to push the squad any higher, with the side finishing where he picked them up.
Calderwood, who has Football League experience as both an assistant – namely to Chris Hughton at Newcastle, Birmingham, Norwich and Brighton – and a manager with Nottingham Forest and Northampton in the early to mid 2000’s, is about to start his first full season in charge. However, the odds on him still being in the post come the end of the year are quite short.
Engine: Gary Deegan
Gary Deegan played more minutes than anyone else for Cambridge last season and is the midfield anchor that steadies the ship, covering the the more attack-inclined Maris. However, Cambridge will have to do without their captain for the foreseeable future, due to a freak illness which has seen Deegan hospitalised.
The midfielder will be out for “a considerable time” with blood poisoning, and Cambridge will have to find someone who can lead the side as well as their captain would. When he returns, his drive and leadership will be vital in staving off any potential relegation battle the club might find itself in.
Last season: 21st
Cambridge avoided the drop last year, by 6 points, which looks better than it was. Goals were hard to come by, with the U’s scoring only 40 over the 46 game season – less than a goal a game – while conceding 66. Yet, they did beat Ryan Lowe’s Bury 3-0 at the beginning of April, a rare highlight of their season, and an important moment as they opened up a nine point gap between themselves and relegation.
A large number of their goals came from counter-attacks, helped by the speed and strength of the now departed David Amoo and Jevani Brown. A lack of real attacking purpose and intent hurt the side, as they pottered along to a poor league position.
Key departure: Jevani Brown
The loss of Jevani Brown is going to hurt Cambridge, with the attacking midfielder making the switch to Colchester for a little over £300,000. Brown scored 7 league goals last season, assisted a further 10 and was instrumental in Cambridge’s fight against relegation, playing the second most minutes behind the aforementioned Deegan.
As their top scorer – a depressingly low top scorer at that – Cambridge will almost certainly struggle for goals next season, given that none of their replacements look up to quality on-paper. Indeed, in Amoo and Brown, the U’s have lost over a quarter of their goals last season. Could an even lower scoring season beckon?
Target: Avoid relegation
Cambridge surely won’t finish much higher than a few spots above relegation. The loss of their top two scorers in Jevani Brown and David Amoo, plus captain Gary Deegan’s absence, is going to hurt them a lot. They have seemingly struggled to replace these players with anything approaching the same level, and have nobody apparently ready to step up from last-season.
Dan Jones is a good signing, but is only a left-back (aged 32) and that is probably their highlight of the window. It’s quite unlikely that he will turn their goalscoring troubles around. Cambridge will struggle for goals, and without players stepping up, could find themselves in a lot of trouble come the turn of the year and, ultimately, the end of April. A troublesome season looks on the horizon, despite some promising pre-season results.
Key player: James McKeown
Shot-stopper James McKeown is regarded as one of the most important players at Blundell Park. The 30-year-old goalkeeper has played 376 times for the Mariners keeping 123 clean sheets along the way. Born in Birmingham and raised through the academies of Coventry and Walsall, McKeown moved to Grimsby in the 2011/12 season after a spell away in the Dutch 5th tier.
He has developed into a consistently reliable pair of hands at this level, particularly in 1-on-1 situations. Such has been his impact at the club, he has won their player of the year award in four of his eight years at the club, including last season. In fact, had it not been for him, they would have gone much closer to being relegated last season, instead of finishing comfortably safe by 15 points.
Manager: Michael Jolly
Sheffield born Michael Jolley is the man currently at the helm of the Lincolnshire side. Jolley’s first season as a first team manager was not so long ago, as Swedish side AFC Eskilstuna took a punt on him in 2017 after three year spell coaching Burnley’s under-23s. Jolley took over the Scandinavian side with danger looming but was unable to steer the ship clear despite an improvement in results.
In January of 2018 Jolley parted company with the Swedish outfit as he was unable to agree on the future direction of the club. 3 months later, he found himself back in England, joining Grimsby. He was tasked with once again steering a sinking ship clear of dangerous waters and this time he succeeded, winning three of the final four after a twenty game winless run to miraculously dodge relegation. Jolley remains at Grimsby to this day and seems to be slowly but surely directing the side to a safer future.
Danger man: Matt Green
Although Matt Green (32) is reaching the twilight of his career, the Bath born forward will still be a danger in the area for the Mariners. A clinical finisher with a bit of pace, he is able to play well in a two alongside an aerial presence, like James Hanson, or as the lead for a pacey counter attacking team.
A career spanning 357 games has seen Green’s most prolific periods occur when in the National League. In fact, the 6ft striker found the net more often than everyone during the 2012/13 season as he was awarded top goal-scorer in the Conference Premier. However, he is still a handy asset when in League Two, finding the back of the net 42 times in 190 games, a tidy record. His goals in an unspectacular but functional Grimsby side should be help them stave off relegation for another year.
Last season: 17th
After the late revival act in 2018, Grimsby were far more secure this time around as runs of form in October, November, December and February saw them retain their league status with ease. It was their defence that kept them up, with 15 clean sheets shows and only 56 conceded – the joint second best total in the bottom half of League Two.
Only three teams scored fewer than Grimsby’s total of 45 (less than a goal a game), but because of their strong defence each goal counted for extra. 12 of their sixteen wins came when the side kept a clean-sheet, and nine came by a one goal margin.
Key transfer: James Hanson
The Bradford born forward spent last season at Kingsmeadow for League One side AFC Wimbledon, where his aerial prowess was very much a talking point. According to EFL news outlet D3D4, Hanson won around 15 aerial battles every 90 minutes winning 54% of all he partook in. Hanson was the most dominant forward in League One last year when it came to winning aerial battles.
As previously stated, danger man Matt Green would work well with an aerially dominant strike partner, Hanson fits this mould. With a solid defence still in place, the Hanson’s ability to bring the ball down in attack may help a direct team add extra fire-power to their bottom-heavy team.
Target: Avoid relegation
Despite these positive signings, the target for the Mariners is likely to be to avoid the drop. Though they finished comfortably last season, they still lack creativity and fire-power. It is all good having dangerous strikers but if you have no one to feed them they are simply not going to score. Relying on Hanson and Green to supply and score the goals, especially as both are aging and past their prime.
In which case, it would only take a slight increase in goals conceded next season to see drop down the table. Though most of the core components of their defence have been carried over to this season, a poor start, a shift in mentality or an unexpected sacking could alter the course of their season. Though we expect Gimsby to finish relatively comfortably in lower mid-table again, their target once more is simply to avoid relegation.
Key player: David Fitzpatrick
Perhaps damningly, there appears to be scant choice when searching for Macclesfield’s key player for the season ahead. That being said, Fitzpatrick is a good enough candidate to make the cut. Primarily a left back, Fitzpatrick has now been at Macclesfield for over four years, captaining the side on numerous occasions.
He made 47 appearances in all competitions last season in defence and midfield, and his late-season form was an important factor in the Silkmen retaining their League Two status. His goal in a 1-0 win over Port Vale at the end of April ultimately secured survival. The club may well have lost the player had he not signed a two-year deal back in 2018. Fortunately, he remains, and he will be a key figure as the club look set to be involved in a dogfight again.
Manager: Sol Campbell
For perhaps one of the lesser known clubs at League Two level, Macclesfield surely have the most notable manager. A whole article could be written about Campbell himself, but for now let’s just accept that he had a glittering playing career. He picked up 71 England caps, scored a World Cup goal, and won numerous honours at Tottenham, Arsenal and Portsmouth.
Campbell has raised eyebrows since retirement. In 2015 he put himself forward as a Conservative candidate for the 2016 London Mayoral election, but wasn’t selected. He turned his attention to football management, and picked up his first job with Macclesfield last year (though thanks to an ill-advised one-game spell at Notts County, it’s not been Campbell’s first experience of League Two).
Campbell enjoyed success with the Silkmen last season, surviving by a three-point margin after initially joining a side five points adrift from safety. He’ll be hoping to be part of a similar success story in 2019/20.
Engine: Michael Rose
Much of Macclesfield’s success this season may depend on how well Michael Rose can break up play and run games from a deep midfield position. He has played for a number of clubs, predominantly in the north of England having been born in Salford, in a playing career stretching back to 2001. Whilst undoubtedly talented, Rose is now 37 years of age, and Campbell will have to manage him carefully.
Last season he played almost 4,000 minutes for the Silkmen. He’s not getting any younger, and it would be unwise to expect him to be able to put in that level of effort for another year. Unfortunately, due to Macclesfield’s financial situation, they may not have a choice. With that in mind, Rose will undoubtedly be a key player for the side this season, for better or worse.
Last season: 22nd
The fact that Macclesfield managed to drag themselves towards safety last season is a minor miracle in itself. Campbell emerges with an awful lot of credit, but the siege mentality that engulfed the squad following problems on and off the pitch also played a role. In the end, it came down to the final day, but going unbeaten in their final three games was enough to see the Silkmen over the line.
Their record certainly wasn’t pretty. Indeed, 74 goals conceded – the second worst in the division – was alarming. It would doubtlessly have had Campbell, one of the best defenders of his generation, squirming. But in the end, they did what they had to do, and that’s all they’ll care about.
Key departure: Scott Wilson
It speaks volumes about Macclesfield’s current predicament that their key transfer this summer has been a departure. Scott Wilson joined Macclesfield in the summer of 2017, and played a key role in the side winning promotion from the National League. He then ended last season as Macclesfield’s top scorer with 11 goals, earning his side crucial points along the way. His brace against eventually relegated Notts County on Boxing Day secured a 2-1 win; those goals were perhaps the most important of his career to date.
Alas, the club couldn’t keep hold of him. Despite signing a two-year contract, he left to join OIdham this summer by “mutual consent”, a symptom of all not being well behind the scenes at Moss Rose. Replacing Wilson’s goals will be of paramount importance for Macclesfield heading into this campaign.
Target: Avoid relegation
Put simply, Macclesfield look set to be battling the drop from day one this season. Whilst they do appear to have a competent manager, Sol Campbell faces an uphill struggle. In all honesty, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him leave the club if the right offer comes in, and Macclesfield’s off-field struggles continue.
Even if Campbell does remain at the club, prospects are bleak. He enters the season with a squad weaker than the one he narrowly avoided relegation with last season, and any success this season would be in the face of adversity. If the Silkmen stay up this season, it would arguably eclipse their successes from last term.
Key player: Sam Lavelle
Scottish defender Saml Lavelle, son of Morecambe favourite Ben, played the fourth highest number of minutes for Morecambe last time out. The former Blackburn and Bolton youth player showcased his potential last season and will need to take another step forward to aid Morecambe’s leaky defence. The young defender formed a solid partnership alongside experienced centre-half Steven Old (who is unsurprisingly reaching the latter years of his career), and should gain valuable leadership from his counterpart.
With most of the change coming among the midfield and forwards, it will be up to the talented Lavelle to come into his own and help steer Morecambe through another year in League Two.
Manager: Jim Bentley
Following Paul Tisdale’s departure from Exeter in 2018, Jim Bentley is currently the longest serving manager in the Football League, having taken up the position in 2011 following a nine year playing career with Morcambe, and has amassed over 400 games at the helm.
The Morecambe job isn’t a walk in the park, with a very low playing budget, highlighted by the fact that Bentley hasn’t paid a single transfer fee in his 8 year tenure with the club. Despite these trying conditions, and Bentley’s 29% win percentage, Morecambe have achieved survival every season during his reign, though the seasons in which he generated teams that could have a run at the play-offs appear to be over.
Danger man: Kevin Ellison
A beloved fan-favourite or notorious wind-up merchant depending on who you support, Kevin Ellison has been an ever-present feature in Morcambe’s side since joining the club in 2011. Ellison is a bit of a tactical anomaly, featuring in wide positions as a taller and slower player, he has made the left side of Morcambe’s attack his own.
Always a danger, even at 40 years old, Ellison has scored at least 7 league goals in each campaign he’s played with the Shrimps. He finished as his side’s second top scorer last season, a feat he has achieved in each of the past three years on his way to finding the net 86 times for the Shrimpers. In a couple more seasons time, he may well reach the magical 100 mark! .
Last season: 18th
Morcambe finished the 2018/2019 campaign in 18th position; a relatively decent outing for a team with the lowest budget in League 2 and threadbare squad. Injuries played a large part last season, with more than 10 senior players missing time on the sidelines, and a lack of superior squad depth hurt the Shrimps early on as they picked up only three points from their first eight games.
Following a move to Lancaster Universities training facilities in the New Year, Morecambe saw a change in fortunes and, despite never putting more than two consecutive wins together, finished the season at seventh place in the form table as they climbed from third bottom at the beginning of February to a comfortable position at the close of the season.
Key transfer: John O’Sullivan
John O’Sullivan, signed from Blackpool brings, Championship experience and a higher level of attacking quality to Morecambe. A serial loanee in his career so far, the 25 year old has spent time at a number of clubs across Leagues 1 and 2, experiencing the most success during two spells at Accrington, for whom he provided six goals and seven assists in 38 appearances.
O’Sullivan will likely feature on the right, though can also play through the middle, and provides good width and pace to Morecambe’s attack. He is the classic kind of Jim Bentley signing: a player with a high work-ethic and a bit of quality that can play an important role as a big fish in a smaller pond. O’Sullivan will be expected to replace the useful contributions of striker Aaron Collins, who left for Forest Green earlier in the window.
Target: Avoid Relegation
As said earlier, Morecambe have survived season after season, with one of the lowest budgets in the league, and Jim Bentley has done an amazing job up to this point. Morecambe struggled to keep goals out last year, conceding the third most in the division. However, they also scored a lot more goals than they had the season before, so this balance of conceding more but scoring more helped them reach a more safe position that the season before, when they stayed up on the final day.
Morecambe should have better luck with injuries this time around, and though despite their lack of squad depth, they have enough characters around the squad to maintain their League 2 status for another season. The likes of the evergreen Ellison, Barry Roche and other long-term players know how to stay in this division, and they’ll probably do it again.
Key player: Filipe Morais
Former Chelsea youngster Morais isn’t just an important player for Crawley to have on the field, he’s also a big character at the club off it. Only signing for the club in July 2018, the 33-year-old was part of a makeshift management team for the 2-1 defeat against Oldham in September following the departure of Harry Kewell. He’ll be expected to be a leader in the dressing room for Crawley during the season ahead.
On the pitch, the Portuguese player has generally played as a winger across his career, but in recent months has adapted to play in both deep and more advanced midfield position. His versatility is therefore a key attribute, and we can therefore expect him to be on the field very regularly. He’d have probably played the vast majority of games last season had an injury not ruled him out for the entirety of December.
Manager: Gabriele Cioffi
Cioffi was a left-field choice when Crawley were forced to replace Harry Kewell last season. He spent his entire playing career in his native Italy, and coached for Birmingham City more recently, but his only prior managerial experience came very briefly in the Italian lower league system. In announcing Cioffi, Crawley said they wanted “a head coach with passion”, and they certainly haven’t been left disappointed.
Cioffi has already served a touchline ban for accumulating four yellow cards, awarded to him for offences such as throwing a water bottle and running onto the pitch to celebrate a goal with his players. His passion may have given him a little leeway with the supporters, but this season his results will have to do the talking.
Danger man: Ollie Palmer
By virtue of his recent goalscoring record, Ollie Palmer must be regarded as Crawley’s danger man for the season ahead. The 27-year-old built up his career from non-league, with Mansfield eventually taking a chance on the player following a very successful spell at Havant and Waterlooville. It hasn’t exactly been plain sailing from there – his time at Mansfield didn’t go to plan, and he was loaned back to the non-league at Grimsby in 2015.
Since then, however, things have gone better. He’s had spells at Leyton Orient, Luton and Lincoln, winning the Checkatrade Trophy at the latter, before joining Crawley in 2018. His last season was a very fruitful one – Palmer ended the season as Crawley’s top scorer with 16 goals in all competitions. Five of those came in his first five league games, so don’t be surprised if he hits the ground running once more.
Last season: 19th
Crawley suffered a tumultuous start to last season. All of their pre-season planning and transfer activity came under the impression that Harry Kewell would manage the side, but his August departure left Crawley in the lurch. Credit must go to the club for announcing Cioffi quickly, but his honeymoon period didn’t last long. A run of one win in ten league games stretching from October to December left them in trouble.
Things certainly looked bleak at the start of April. A 2-1 defeat against Forest Green was their fourth on the trot, and left them in 21st place. However, two wins from two Westcountry visits against Yeovil and Exeter steadied proceedings, and eventually Crawley were able to comfortably beat the drop.
Key transfer: Ashley Nadesan
Whilst Ollie Palmer did hit 16 goals in 2018/19, no other Crawley player reached double figures. Cioffi will be hoping that striker Ashley Nadesan can fill that void and help provide goalscoring support to Palmer across the season. Nadesan hit the 10-goal mark last season whilst playing for Fleetwood, though most of his goals came in a loan spell at Carlisle during the start of the season.
Nadesan was given game time by Fleetwood during the second half of last season, but didn’t have too much success playing at a higher level. Despite this, he was offered a new deal by the club this summer, with the Fleetwood hierarchy clearly seeing something in the 23-year-old. He was, however, also offered a three-year contract by League Two Crawley. Whether it was due to the security of that deal, or a desire to play more, Nadesan opted to sign for Crawley at the end of May.
Target: Avoid relegation
Realistically, Crawley look unlikely to challenge at the right end of the table this season. A simple season of survival would be seen, on reflection as a successful one season. Having said that, Crawley are very much in the same boat as Grimsby: their first aim will be to avoid relegation, but the club, Cioffi and his players may be quietly confident of escaping the relegation picture altogether and challenging for a spot in the top-half.
After working with somebody else’s squad for much of his managerial career so far, Cioffi has finally had the chance this summer to build the squad in his own image. It’ll be a key test of his managerial skills and, come January, we’ll have a much better picture of what the future may hold for him and his team.
Nick Saunders Smith
Key player: Luke Varney
It’s hard to look past last season’s player of the year as Cheltenham’s key player, considering he was by far and away their top scorer with 14 goals, grabbing twice as many as the next best player. Though he is well in the twilight years of his career, Varney transitioned brilliantly from ten consecutive seasons playing in the Championship or above to League Two football.
Having been a bit of a Championship journeyman – he’s appeared for nine different clubs at that level – he showed the quality he has always had, particularly in the finishing department, as he was able to stand out despite his reduced physical capabilities. With that in mind, it is just as likely that Varney will continue to shine at this level for another few years to come.
Manager: Michael Duff
Having never managed a club before last season, Michael Duff was appointed in September after the sacking of Gary Johnson in late August. Johnson, who went on to lead Torquay United to promotion from the National League South, won none of his first four games and the axe was promptly – and harshly – wielded.
Duff, a veteran of over 300 appearances for Cheltenham in his playing days, was swiftly parachuted in from his role as head coach of Burnley’s under-23 team to take over, and he successfully kept the side in the league, easing to safety well before the final weeks of the season. He now enters his first full year as manager, hoping to build on the progress he made last time out.
Engine: Chris Hussey
30 year-old Chris Hussey enters his second season with Cheltenham after a very successful first at the club last time out. True to form, Hussey was an energetic presence from left-back, defending well but also offering himself as an option in attack as he picked up eight league assists to go with his solitary goal.
That actually made Hussey the clubs second highest assister, underlining his importance in their attacking phases. While Cheltenham remain a team lacking quality in key areas, the left-back brings a wealth of EFL experience and skill that compensates for its absence in other areas. He will continue to be a very important member of the team next season.
Last season: 16th
If you had told Cheltenham fans on Christmas day that they’d stroll to safety, they’d have probably laughed you out of the room. As it was, they entered Boxing day with just three points keeping them above the drop zone having played an extra match. Yet, from then on they hit their stride on the way to survival.
A surge of form heading into January put eight points and a game in hand between themselves and the drop-zone, and they extended this lead through fits and spurts of form throughout 2019. Three sets of back-to-back victories helped them accelerate to safety, and they entered April fifteen points clear and comfortably in mid-table. They went on to only pick up one win from their final six, but the job was already done by then.
Key transfer: Reuben Reid
League Two veteran Reuben Reid joined Cheltenham this summer from Gloucestershire rivals Forest Green Rovers and will probably be expected to lead the line along with Luke Varney. Indeed, with Varey now relying on his skill and finishing ahead of his physical abilities, the likes of Reid will help produce more opportunities, while bagging a few himself.
The big target-man-cum-poacher has scored over 100 career goals, and is the kind of player that will do well in a direct team like Cheltenham’s. Even if he cannot quite find his goalscoring touch, his sheer physical presence always helps sides, particularly those at the lower end of the league.
Target: Avoid relegation
Cheltenham may have retained most of the squad the survived comfortably last season, as well as their manager, but they remain a side with a small budget and a relative dearth of quality in the team. Signing Charlie Raglan permanently was an excellent piece of business, as was securing Reuben Reid. They still have the impressive Conor Thomas, too, so there should no doubt be enough quality to carry them to safety, but that isn’t always as simple as it seems.
As is the case for so many teams in this list, though their aim should be to avoid relegation, they can certainly achieve much more. They have produced a quietly functional team that could achieve another comfortable mid-table position, but they should not be complacent of injuries or a loss of form, both of which could send this side hurtling back towards the National League.