Key player: James Vaughan
Bradford have acted well in the transfer market bringing in former Everton striker James Vaughan. Vaughan first made a name for himself after he graduated from Everton’s academy, going on to make 47 Premier League appearances, as well as going on many loans to different Championship clubs. He finally settled down at Yorkshire side Huddersfield Town, where he scored 31 times in 86 Championship appearances. A few unsuccessful spells elsewhere led him to the all so familiar place of Gigg Lane, home of Bury FC.
The forward would see the most prolific spell of his career netting 24 times in 40 games while they were in League One, earning moves to Sunderland and Wigan. Though neither of those moves worked out, he has showed himself to be of at least League One quality. Indeed, it was his goals that largely saved Bury from relegation in 2017. Newly arrived at Bradford, and named captain, he is likely to be heavily relied on for goals in Gary Bowyer’s likely 4-4-2 formation, a style focused on feeding the strikers quickly and directly.
Manager: Gary Bowyer
Gary Bowyer is a man admired largely throughout the EFL due to the excellent job he did at troubled side Blackpool. The behind the scene problems involving the Oystons made life difficult but Bowyer strung together an impressive side to gain promotion to Sky Bet League 1, terminating Exeter City’s promotion hopes in the process as his side won 2-1 at Wembley.
Bowyer’s previous success with Blackpool should set him up nicely for Bradford, as he will be well adapted to behind-the-scenes trouble and discontent among the fans. The Bantams are looking likely to line up in a direct 4-4-2 system, with the pairing of Clayton Donaldson or Eoin Doyle up-front with captain Vaughan. This system should be deadly, as either pair have the finishing ability well above this league. However, with the disappointment of relegation hitting hard (as it would) will Bowyer be able to revitalise the drab side which occupied the rear end of League 1 for a large part of last season?
Stopper: Richard O’Donnell
One of the few Bradford players who have survived the cut is English goalkeeper Richard O’Donnell. The shot stopper has played the majority of his career in the third tier of English football. The stopper has made 190 League One appearances accumulating 51 clean sheets along the way, and was considered a catch when Bradford pipped West Brom to his signing last season after an impressive six months for Northampton, despite their relegation.
Most of O’Donnell’s appearances have come from his time in Walsall where he accumulated 113 appearances during his stay, which helped him climb his way towards being a Championship goalkeeper at Bristol City. The Bradford number 1 is very much League 1 quality and will almost certainly be a vital component of their team this year.
Last season: 24th (relegated)
It was a car-crash of a season for Bradford in 2018/19. The issues were obvious: they were too top heavy, stocked with attacker and creators but lacking a calming midfield presence or solid defenders. Chuck in Michael Collins’ total lack of experience and they seemed unlikely to take a run at promotion but, as we put it, “too good to go down”. You can’t overlook how many quality players they managed to recruit. However, they never made them into a team.
Bradford had three permanent managers in the season, making Bowyer the fourth since Stuart McCall was sacked in February 2018 despite his side over-performing and sitting in the League One play-offs. Collins was obviously out of his depth – and probably a bit of a puppet for former Chairman Edin Rahic to do things his own way – while the direct style of football that David Hopkin prefers was never going to marry with Bradford’s smaller, skilful squad. Even Bowyer couldn’t kick them into gear as they were rooted to the bottom of the table for months at the back-end of the season, leading to their inevitable relegation.
Key transfer: Clayton Donaldson
After Vaughan, you really can’t look much further than Clayton Donaldson for Bradford’s key transfer. Although he is very much reaching the twilight of his career at the age of 35, you would still back a player who has been a Championship attacker for five consecutive seasons to be one of the best in League Two. He may have been one of the key components of Bolton’s side that was relegated last season, but prior to that he had been a key player for Birmingham City, finding the net 33 times in 117 appearances.
When he was last in League Two, before he moved on to promotion challenging League One side Brentford, he found the back of the net 28 times for Crewe Alexandra, earning him the accolade of league’s top scorer. He’s also closing in on 200 professional goals, a total he should reach next season. His speed, strength and dribbling made him a huge threat in previous years, the question is whether he still has the attributes to make the difference in a promotion campaign this time around.
Automatic promotion must be the aim for Bradford City this term. They have a plethora of proven attackers in their squad to supplement the left over, wasted quality form last-season. If Bowyer can find the way to marry the attacking qualities of Donaldson, Vaughan and Doyle (already referred to as DVD), then he’ll have one of the most dangerous attacking threats in the league, particularly on the counter.
With League Two only having a small selection of high-profile or big-budget sides, Bradford are one of the favourites going into the season and will look to dominate a large majority of games, and maybe even have their sights on the title. It would certainly not be a surprise if they were to do so.
Key player: CJ Hamilton
Though Tyler Walker was the top scorer, CJ Hamilton was arguably the key played in 2018/19 for Mansfield, having featured in every single game in League Two throughout the season. Across all competitions, Hamilton scored 14 goals and got 9 assists, making him one of the most crucial players in regards to goal contributions.
His blistering pace, composure in attacking areas and ability to play in a number of positions (particularly breaking in from the left-wing or as a second-striker) makes him a valuable asset. Dempster revealed in June that there was interest from clubs in higher league but that it would take a substantial offer for them to consider selling, and since they’ve held onto him this long it’s unlikely he’s going to depart now. He is likely to be key in any success Mansfield have this season.
Manager: John Dempster
John Dempster is an interesting appointment at Mansfield, taking over from David Flitcroft after his contract was terminated once Mansfield missed out on promotion. 36 year old Dempster is certainly one of the more inexperienced managers in the league and currently the youngest manager in England, but after a successful spell as the academy manager at Mansfield it will be interesting to see how he does when his professional managerial career begins shortly.
Given he has never managed a professional football match, there isn’t much to know about how he will fare. The pressure will certainly be on him as Mansfield continue their high-spending quest to win promotion to League One, so if he doesn’t look like delivering then it may well be curtains for him come the turn of the year.
Creator: Jacob Mellis
Jacob Mellis is another player who will be very important to the whatever success Mansfield enjoy this season. The 28 year old central midfielder made 48 appearances across all competitions last season, and registered 4 goals and 9 assists. He was excellent last season and, with his contract his contract expiring last summer it seemed likely that he would move to a League One or Championship club, yet Mansfield were able to entice him to stay.
Certainly, in the playmaking department, he is one of Mansfield’s key assets. He has to skill to run the game, combining his excellent awareness with solid passing skills, as well as contribute to the scored tally through goals and assists. The sort who is unlikely to get as many plaudits as the goalscorers, but the true beating heart of the team. Arguably their best piece of business this summer was keeping Mellis at the club.
Last season: 4th
2018/19 was a year nearly full of success for Mansfield, finishing 4th in League Two and just one spot from going to League One automatically. In fact, in the first half of the season they were one of the strongest sides in the league, losing just two of their opening 24 matches in all competitions.
Yet, they slumped in the second half of the year, picking up eight fewer points, and lost their final three games of the season to miss out on the top three. Going into the final game of the season, they occupied the final promotion spot ahead of MK Dons on goal difference, but lost 1-0 to MK, and therefore had to settle for the play-offs. They choked again, losing on penalties after a 1-1 aggregate draw over two legs against Newport County.
Key transfer: Nicky Maynard
Many Argyle fans will be familiar with the name Nicky Maynard, after the 32 year old was such a crucial part of Ryan Lowe’s Bury side that gained promotion from League Two last season. In fact, he was the only striker of those Bury used who was virtually ever present.
Across all competitions, Maynard bagged 21 goals and 8 assists. However, apart from last season it has been nearly 10 years since Maynard was a regular goalscorer (for Bristol City in the Championship) and it remains to be seen if last season was a one off or whether he can keep up his excellent goalscoring form for another season at a new club. After Mansfield lost 26 goal Tyler Walker from their squad last season – he returned to parent club Notts Forest – they’ll need a new player to step forward and bag the goals. No doubt Dempster will hope that Maynard is that man.
After going so close to ending their quest for promotion in 2018/19, Mansfield will be desperate to make amends and leave nothing to chance this time around. They are already one of the early favourites with the bookies to be promoted and it’s not hard to see why, given the quality in their squad and relative weakness of the division.
It is not often that a team will sack a manager for finishing 4th (and just three points from finishing 3rd) which should give all the indication you need of Mansfield Town’s ambitions for the year ahead. Yet, Dempster is untested, the squad may struggle to adapt to the departure of leading goalscorer Walker, and the threat of chocking when promotion is theirs to lose remains. All in all, it may come down to whether the Stags can believe in themselves enough.
Forest Green Rovers
Key player: George Williams
One of the most exciting players in League Two, George Williams joined Forest Green at the start of last season having been released by Fulham. A versatile, attacking threat, he can play on either wing or through the middle and has been capped by Wales on seven occasions. Despite only finishing seven league games last season, Williams scored seven and created five in 38 league appearances on Forest Green’s impressive run to the play-offs.
Now that key players Christian Doidge and Reece Brown have departed, a lot of the onus will be on Williams to step up and fill the void. With tricky dribbling skills and a Ronaldo-esque freekick, Williams will cause problems for defences across League Two as he tries to win back his place in the Welsh team.
Manager: Mark Cooper
Mark Cooper has been with Forest Green since 2016 when he joined in somewhat unusual circumstances. Having confirmed their place in the National League Playoffs with a second place finish, but without a win seven games, Forest Green sacked their manager Ady Pennock. Cooper joined the club once they had made the Playoff final in which he played an advisory role to caretaker boss Scott Bartlett.
They won promotion to League Two and have barely looked back since, with Cooper leading them to 21st and survival in his first year in charge and a Playoff semi final in his second. His aim will be to continue the Forest Green project this season and, like Mansfield, rely on their big-spending Chairman and established league position to provide the platform for another promotion challenge.
Danger man: Dayle Grubb
Maybe a wild-card, but Dayle Grubb might step up in the way many expected him to at the start of last season. Having joined the team from Weston-Super-Mare in the winter transfer window of 2018, he scored five and assisted four in just 21 appearances, having previously netted 86 goals for Weston. Yet, he failed to continue this in 2018/19, appearing in a little over half of his team’s league matches.
However, as with Williams, expectations on Grubb will have only increased after key departures over the summer, and with a full season under his belt, he should play a prominent role in Mark Cooper’s side this time around. Playing predominantly on either wing, he can both create goals and score goals for his team, and his versatility should allow him to slot in to a number of positions should Cooper need him.
Last season: 5th
Despite the disappointment of a Playoff semi final loss at the hands of Tranmere Rovers, who would go on to win promotion to League One, Forest Green will be very happy with their efforts last season. Having only just survived the season before, they spend the final ten weeks of the season in the play-off positions, holding their nerve to see off the likes of Colchester and Exeter.
They secured some impressive results along the way too, with a 4 – 1 victory away to Newport County, who were eventual Playoff finalists themselves. However, like Mansfield, they also dropped off at the half-way point. They started the year in fifth, two points off third placed Mansfield, but the unexpected return of Christian Doidge from troubled Bolton forced them to change the tactical plan, which had been more fluid until then. Results took a bit of a downturn, though they held it together enough to secure their play-off spot.
Key departure: Christian Doidge
Perhaps one of the most disappointing departures in the Football League this summer, striker Christian Doidge left Forest Green to join Hibernian in a deal rumoured to be worth around £250,000. Not only are Forest Green losing a striker that scored 66 goals in 122 appearances for the club, he leaves at a price substantially less than the fee they were expecting to receive.
Doidge played part of last season on loan at Bolton, who he agreed to join permanently in January for a fee of £1m. However, due to the financial crisis at Bolton, it never happened and he returned to The New Lawn. Exciting striker Aaron Collins has arrived to replace him, but those will be difficult boots to fill, along with those of departed attacking-midfield Reece Brown – Forest Green’s player of the year and member of the League Two team of the season – who added 26 goals and assists last season.
Forest Green will want to go one step further than last season and achieve promotion to League One. They still have the makings of a good squad and have improved at the back with the introduction of experienced centre back Matt Mills. Minutes for Dayle Grubb and George Williams will be crucial, who both have the ability to influence games in their favour.
As momentum behind the club grows off the pitch, should Forest Green improve upon their home form, they will be a much fancied team in this division. However, though their squad has been bolstered in key positions, the loss of 26 goals from Doidge and Brown leaves question marks over the firepower for next season.