Key player: Perry Ng
Before we continue, yes that is is surname – apparently it is pronounced like ing, but with little emphasis on the I, though we stand ready to be corrected on that. The 23-year-old versatile right-back proved to be a vital cog not only in terms of his defensive abilities but also his high work rate going forward last season.
Ng made 44 appearances in League Two and behind Charlie Kirk (10) assisted the second most assists for his side with eight for the season, including two as Crewe romped to a 6-1 win over Crawley in March. Such has been manager David Artell’s confidence in the youngsters ability, the Englishman was given the captaincy numerous times during the season, including three consecutive victories over Notts County, Yeovil and Swindon towards the end of the campaign.
Manager: David Artell
A former defender, most notably with Morecambe and Crewe, ex-Gibraltar international David Artell took over following the sacking of Steve Davis in January 2017. Artell steadied the side away from relegation that season, finishing 17th and then 15th the following season.
The 38-year-old is known for his no-nonsense management style, declaring after his first season: “we all had a say. It’s not a dictatorship. I’m not Idi Amin or Pol Pot… it’s evolution, not revolution, but we won’t be happy with 17th in the table again next season.” The 2018/19 season was much more impressive as the former Rotherham man achieved a 12th placed finish, with poor away for massively contributing to their failure to reach the play-offs. Many are now tipping them for a play-off challenge come the end of the season.
Danger man: Charlie Kirk
With double digits for both goals and assists last season, Kirk was undoubtedly one of the breakthrough players in League Two. Still only 21-years-old, the academy graduate averaged a goal contribution every 158 minutes which is all the more impressive given that all but one of these were registered at Gresty Road. League Two’s Freddie Ladapo?
With a sharp burst of pace and growing confidence to dribble past opposition defenders, his match-winning performance against Forest Green towards the end of the season particularly caught the eye with two last minute goals earning his side a 4-3 victory. Should Kirk manage to replicate the form he produced last season he will prove to be a vital cog as Crewe will look to challenge for the play-offs after missing out narrowly last time.
Last season: 12th
Poor away form proved to be the difference between a mid-table finish and the League Two play-offs last season as Crewe missed out by just six points. They lost 13 of their 23 away games, winning just four and scoring a league joint low 15 goals along the way.
In contrast, they won a league high 15 home matches, racking up 47 points at home, a figure that only Bury and Newport better (both 48). Alex will be looking for a better start to the season this time round. Despite hammering Morecambe 6-0 on the opening day, they went on to win just two of their next 12 league games, including being on the receiving end of 6-0 and 3-0 defeats to Colchester and Mansfield respectively.
Key departure: Jordan Bowery
The 28-year-old and veteran forward Chris Porter forged a prolific partnership last season, scoring and assisting 28 goals, of which Bowery scored eight and assisted a further four. The former Aston Villa man’s performances garnered the attention of newly promoted League One side MK Dons, who picked him up on a free transfer.
The Englishman joins an impressive roster that already includes Kieran Agard, Rhys Healey and Joe Mason. Porter remains at the club, and Kirk stands eager to step into Bowery’s boots, so Crewe should be able to deal with his departure, yet the composed striker will be a big mess for them nevertheless. His absense may well be the difference between another failed play-off push and an extended season.
Having held onto both Charlie Kirk and star defender Perry Ng, they have the foundations for a very good season and should they improve on last terms away record, they have the quality in their side to be challenging for the play-offs rather than mid-table mediocrity.
They have only made two signings so far this summer, so there’s still undoubtedly work to be done, specifically replacing the outgoing Bowery, goalkeeper Ben Garratt and also centre-back George Ray. Yet, with only six departures at the end of the season, the nucleus of the Crewe side is still very much intact and, combined with the latest crop to emerge from their famed youth academy, they have what it takes to make a charge for the play-offs.
Nick Saunders Smith
Key player: Chris Lines
With such a huge squad turnover, picking a key player for Northampton was always going to be difficult. As it is, Chris Lines appears to be establishing himself in central midfield, and the composed passer will likely be a crucial part of Northampton’s performances next season as the heart-beat of the team.
Northampton’s attacking roster currently includes serial-promotion winner Nicky Adams, the speedy Sam Hoskins, the more selfless Vadaine Oliver, the emerging talent Harry Smith and the poacher Andy Williams. Yet, without an authoritative midfield presence, their service will be restricted and thus their danger reduced. Lines’ influence will help provide them with the possession and territory to extract even more out of a varied attack.
Manager: Keith Curle
55 year-old Curle returned to management with Northampton mid-season in 2018/19 following his departure from Carlisle at the end of the previous season. Curle’s first venture into management was as a player-manager at Mansfield Town, with whom he could not save from relegation, though he then led them to the play-off final the following season. Curle dotted around for a number of years before he finally settled at Carlisle.
Then, he took over a team struggling after relegation from League One the previous season. The club were bottom of the league with no wins in eight, but Curle set to turning that around, with seven wins by Boxing day finally lifting the club out of the relegation zone. He then set about building them up, and they looked set for automatic promotion in 2016/17, with his side locked in a three horse race for the league title with Argyle and Doncaster (both of whom went on to win promotion). Instead, they threw away a seven point lead over fourth going into the new year to collapse down to tenth, only to scramble couple of late wins to secure a place in the play-offs, though they were knocked out by Exeter.
Danger man: Andy Williams
Poacher Andy Williams will be the one likely to provide the goals against next season and make it double figures in goals for the eighth time in ten seasons. Indeed, the only two years he has failed to hit that total in the league has been in seasons that he has barely played in: he only made three starts in 2017/18 and even in 2013/14.
The key will be finding ways to ensure he has a constant supply of chances. Fortunately, Northampton have a number of attacking talents. Adams – more on him later – will provide trickery on the wing and dead-ball deliveries, Hoskins speed and Oliver selfless play in the role of a second-striker. If Curle can take advantage of the attacking variety on offer to him, he can ensure that he gets the required number of goals from Williams.
Last season: 15th
Northampton made a big financial loss in 2017/18 as they were relegated from League One. They build a midfield heavy team that was unbalanced and then spent a lot in January to try and rectify this. As a result, they were short of money last season and (unlike Bury) cut back on expenses. This impacted their league performance.
As a result, they started the season very slowly, picking up one win in their first twelve and sitting 21st at the beginning of October. From there, they finally clicked into gear. Four wins in five pulled them into mid-table and another run of four consecutive wins later in the season guaranteed their survival.
Key transfer: Nicky Adams
Any team that signs Nicky Adams will always have a shot at winning promotion, purely because of his quality on the ball. In fact, Adams has now achieved three promotions in the past five years (including a league title with Northampton). Had it not been for Carlisle’s total meltdown in 2016/17, that could have been four.
This will be his third season working alongside Keith Curle, who has already learned how to extract top performances out of him from their shared time at Carlisle. Adams has topped the League Two assists charts last season, came second in 2016/17 under Curle and joint fourth in 2015/16 as Northampton romped to promotion. His dead-ball delivery is a key weapon in his arsenal, as well as his crossing from open-play. With Andy Williams and others aiming to take advantage of these, moments keep an eye out for his assists total this year too.
A lot of people are predicting Northampton to have a strong season on the basis of their signings, but many have seemingly missed the fact that they have lost some good players and long-term servants. Aaron Pierre (last season’s player of the year and a top centre-back at this level) and John-Joe O’Toole (player of the year in their last promotion season and a probably their best player of the past five years) have left, along with another ex-player of the year in Ash Taylor.
When you look at the players to have joined, only Adams, Lines and Alan McCormack stand out as quality replacements, and each of those three are well into their thirties. McCormack is 35, and unlikely to feature in any more than thirty games next season. Their signings mostly fall into the territory of past their peak or full of potential, with precious few in their prime.
After such a high turnover in players, it will take a while to balance this squad out, and sometimes the pieces of the puzzle don’t always fit together. Against my better judgement, Northampton have made it onto this list to target the play-offs, but they are the most likely to fall short of that target from this list.
Key player: Nicky Law
The experienced midfielder joined Exeter last summer on a free and marked an impressive first season at St James Park with ten goals and five assists. He established himself as a key player for the Grecians and ended the season winning every Player of the Year Award that the club had to offer.
For a League Two midfielder, particularly one playing outside of the top teams, he’s something of a rare entity. He can score goals and create opportunities for others and is often to be found at the centre of everything positive that Exeter do. Expect Law to play a prominent role in Exeter’s forthcoming season. Another year of accolades beckons.
Manager: Matt Taylor
Matt Taylor had the unenviable job of succeeding Paul Tisdale when he left the club in June 2018, having rejected the offer of a new contract. Tisdale had been the longest serving manager in England’s top four divisions at the time of his departure, leaving Taylor with a huge void to fill, especially in as his first job in management.
Nonetheless, the former Exeter centre back, flourished and largely picked up where Tisdale left off. Despite the departure of the hugely impressive Jayden Stockley, who joined Preston for £750,000 in the January transfer window, Taylor managed to guide the Grecians to within one point of the League Two Playoffs in his maiden season.
Danger man: Lee Holmes
Another one of Exeter’s more experienced players, winger Lee Holmes, is the man to watch when it comes to creating chances at St James Park. Capable of playing on either wing, Holmes created seven goals in 34 league appearances last season, whilst adding three goals of his own to his overall tally.
Exeter would only win three games of the 12 he didn’t start, partly illustrating how influential he was to the way his side played. Holmes didn’t make as many minutes as he’d have liked last season, as has been struggling through pre-season with a number of niggles that have left manager Matt Taylore frustrated. If they can get Holmes on the pitch however, he’ll be sure to create a number of good chances for his team mates.
Last season: 9th
Despite just missing out on the Playoffs last season, Exeter will be largely happy with their performance in League Two. Manchester United and Arsenal have both shown how difficult it is to follow a manager that has made a job their own, and given this was Taylor’s first season in management, the Grecians must be pleased with how the club reacted to Tisdale’s departure.
Exeter didn’t fall lower than 9th position all season, and considering they also lost Jayden Stockley part way through the campaign, they did well. However, like many other sides, they also limped over the finish-line, having dropped from three points clear of eighth with a game-in hand towards the end of March to a point off seventh by the close of the season. Two wins in their final eight was simply not good enough despite one of the easiest run ins of the top ten teams.
Key departure: Christy Pym
Christy Pym personifies all that is good and all that is bad with Exeter City’s development strategy. A product of his hometown club’s academy, Pym went on to play over 150 times for Exeter before leaving on a free transfer this summer. Given Pym’s age, which many will be astonished to hear is just 24 given how long he has been playing in the Football League, the Grecians are not due any compensation for his development.
This means that, once again, Exeter enter the season having lost a key-player. This season it is Pym and Hiram Boateng, last season it was Jordan Moore-Taylor and Jordan Storey. Before then it was Ollie Watkins and David Wheeler. As the team continues to regress from it’s apex in 2016/17, more key players continue to depart. Pym was experienced beyond his years, and will be sorely missed by the Grecians.
Exeter will be hoping to build on last season and make it to the play-offs this time around. They have a good mix of experience and youth throughout their squad and have been smart in the transfer market too. They’ve added Nicky Ajose up front and replaced Christy Pym with Lewis Ward from Reading.
Any serious doubts surrounding Matt Taylor’s ability as a manager were set straight last season and he’ll be keen to improve upon his first year in charge. Yet, the team is trending downwards, so a lot may rely on their famed youth academy and whether the youngsters can compliment the more experienced members of the squad. Recent history suggests they’ll be up to the task, but will it be enough to help them reach a third play-off campaign in four years?
Key player: Adam Rooney
Salford turned heads last season when they landed former Aberdeen striker Adam Rooney, who is supposedly on 5k a week! That’s huge money for the National League! The Irish goal-scorer found the back of the net upon 20 different occasions last campaign and was a regular for Graham Alexander’s men as he featured 41 times across the season in various competitions.
Averaging a goal every 146 minutes the Republic of Ireland international was Salford’s main source of goals, particularly from open-play and set-piece crosses. Rooney is of a very high pedigree; the striker was once the top goal-scorer in the Scottish Premiership (2014/15) during his time at Aberdeen, accumulating 18 goals. It is very likely that the forward will do the same this season despite a step-up in division, as the team is once again very well set up to get him scoring.
Manager: Graham Alexander
Graham Alexander was another one of the high-profile capture during Salford’s final National League campaign. The former Scunthorpe United and Fleetwood boss arrived on the back of a play-off failure at Glanford Park as he failed to capitalise on what was a very good season for the Irons. Alexander’s arrival was extremely impressive, leaving the top end of League 1 and darting for a promotion battle in the National League.
Having said that, although Alexander got Salford promoted at the first time of asking, they didn’t run away with it. They didn’t play free-flowing attacking football throughout the season and it would be fair to say that this Salford side did not take the world by storm. Despite their huge budget, they finished third and only made the play-off final via a penalty shoot-out. Questions must be asked as to whether the Greater Manchester side can make the step up to the EFL quite as easily as they transitioned to the National League.
Engine: Danny Whitehead
From one Iron to another, former West Ham youth team player Danny Whitehead was a key member of the promotion winning side but didn’t quite see the plaudits he deserved. The 25-year-old midfielder featured in 42 games across last season’s campaign in various competitions, winning promotion from the National League for the second successive season after winning the league with Macclesfield they year before.
The Stretford born midfielder acquired 8 assists last term and 4 goals, a tidy return, though that was not his man job. A tidy, combative midfielder, Whitehead is strong with the ball at his feet, allowing him to drive up the field and set the tempo for his team’s performances. He is likely to get a bit of a shock transitioning to the EFL, but the 25 year-old should evolve soon enough.
Last season: 3rd (promoted via play-offs)
Salford started strong in their league campaign and jockeyed for the automatic promotion spot in the first half of the season, but fell away around the turn of the year after losing four in a row during December and winning just two of eleven between then and the end of February.
A late push closed the gap, and Salford were just two points off Orient with two games to go, but suffered back-to-back defeats and settled for the play-offs. Having reached the final, they delivered one of their best performances of the season, comfortably seeing off the free-scoring AFC Fylde 3-0 to secure promotion.
Key transfer: Richie Towell
Despite the introductions of two former Pilgrims and Boro forward Luke Armstrong, the key signing at Salford is Dublin born midfielder Richie Towell. During his days in the Irish top flight, the midfielder accumulated 96 appearances and managed to find the back of the net upon 43 different occasions. Alongside this impressive record, he has also enjoyed success recently it in England, playing a key role in Rotherham’s 2018 promotion campaign.
A hard-working central midfielder, the 28 year old arrives in Greater Manchester as a perfect player for their energetic, direct style. He has a huge throw-in that Salford can add to their arsenal of set-piece attacks, and is diligent and hard working in defence while offering a few composed finishes at the other end of the pitch. A player well above League Two and definitely one to watch out for.
With the money being spent down at the Peninsula Stadium you’d have thought that Salford will be aiming for a play-off finish as a minimum. Due to their reputation as big-spenders, many already have them tipped for promotion, but’s that just the classic attitude at the start of a season, a bit like the years of Sheffield United and Portsmouth being favourites to win Leagues One and Two respectively but rarely getting close.
With some shrewd signings along the way, including former Pilgrim pair Oscar Threlkeld and Kyle Letheren the Manchester based side should be up there. However, the transition from non-league football isn’t easy, as big spenders such as Luton, Forest Green, Mansfield and many others have discovered, so there is the distinct possibility that it may take a bit of time before Salford City get firing on all cylinders.
Key player: Michael Doughty
Despite only making 30 league appearances, Doughty was a vital cog in the Swindon Town machine last season. Only injury prevented him from adding to his game time – he had three spells out across the season that threatened to curtail his momentum – and the club and player will be hoping he’ll remain fit for a sustained period this time around. When Doughty was fit during 2018/19, he was very regularly in the side. Only once across the entire season in League Two was he an unused substitute.
Still only 25 years of age, Doughty is more than capable of providing the energy required in Swindon’s midfield engine room. This, combined with how reliable he is from the penalty spot, makes him vitally important. The former Wales U19 international will be the key for the Robins this season.
Manager: Richie Wellens
39-year-old Wellens is a relative newcomer to the managerial scene. He racked up appearances for Blackpool, Doncaster and Leicester during his playing career, but only entered management two years ago with Oldham. This was initially as a caretaker, but he was installed as full time boss for the Latics quickly, signing a two-year deal. Things weren’t meant to be for Wellens at Boundary Park, however. At the end of the season, Oldham were relegated, and Wellens was dismissed as stories emerged of problems behind the scenes.
He entered management again last season at Swindon, where he remains to this day. Wellens took over from Phil Brown in November, and suffered an appaling 4-0 home defeat to Carlisle in his first game. He eased the mood by following that up with three consecutive wins, but his side didn’t get up to much across the season. Now, Wellens enters what will officially be his first full season in management with plenty to prove.
Danger Man: Keshi Anderson
Anderson was one of the players picked up by Crystal Palace from an obscure background. He started off at non-league Barton Rovers before being spotted by Palace. This led to a series of Football League loan spells, where Anderson enjoyed mixed success, before his final loan at Swindon. He appears to have found a home at the County Ground.
Swindon made his move permanent at the start of last season, and he went on to appear in all but three of the side’s League Two fixtures across the campaign. Primarily a winger, he got a total of nine assists in all competitions, and scored at Home Park against Argyle in the Checkatrade Trophy. He is a dangerous player to face, and he’ll be hopeful of improving on those numbers this time around.
Last season: 13th
Having finished 9th in League Two in 2017/18, Swindon went into last season hoping to build on the foundations and challenge for promotion. It wasn’t to be. By November they were well off the pace, with a dismal run of one win in nine league games leaving the Robins in 18th. We’ve already mentioned Richie Wellens’ three-game unbeaten run – that was the best run Swindon put together all season.
Ultimately, inconsistency, and a few too many draws, killed off their chances of challenging. But that doesn’t mean their season was a complete write off. A 13th place finish provides them with another opportunity to build on the foundations. They’ll be hoping to do a little better this time.
Key transfer: Mathieu Baudry
Swindon’s tally of 56 goals conceded last season certainly wasn’t the worst, but that number wasn’t good enough when their relatively blunt attack is taken into consideration. Not one side in the top half of the league scored fewer goals than the Robins, suggesting a defensive setup may have been deployed. With that in mind, improvement at one end of the pitch will be necessary if they wish to push for the top this time around.
Step forward Mathieu Baudry. The Frenchman is a clear step up in quality compared to their current central-defenders, and with extra security at the back Swindon can afford to throw more caution to the wing going forward. Injuries took their toll on him last season, and at 31, his career is in need of some reinvigoration. Therefore, his move to Swindon could benefit both club and player, and could be the missing piece of the jigsaw the Robins need.
If all goes well for Swindon this season, they’ll definitely look to make the top seven. It won’t be easy, but the key transfers at the County Ground this season have been incomings, not outgoings. Despite last season’s initial struggle, they are in a good position to take advantage of their stable foundations. If they hit the ground running, they could yet sneak into the playoff places come the start of May.
This will be a big test for Richie Wellens, but accomplishing it could demonstrate he means business in the world of management. And whilst making the top seven won’t be easy, it isn’t impossible. Granted, Wellens and Swindon will have to deal with a strong quartet of relegated sides, but League Two as a whole will be weaker. Keep an eye on them.
Key player: Harry Pell
The 28-year-old central midfielder was limited to just 31 league appearances last season due to a hamstring injury sustained in March, which kept him out for the remainder of the season. Pell contributed six goals and five assists, including scoring one and setting up another against former club Cheltenham during a 3-1 away win in January.
His goal contributions are a massive plus as a predominantly defensive midfielder from which he orchestrates play from a deep-lying role. However, unlike David Fox, he brings with him a very physical presence in the middle of the park. If Colchester wish to go one better and reach the play-offs this season, they’ll need Pell fit and in top form.
Manager: John McGreal
Following the end of his playing career, McGreal joined Colchester and over time performed a number of roles, firstly as an academy development coach before going on to manage the under-18 side and then later under-21 manager. Following relegation to League Two and manager Kevin Keen’s sacking, the 47-year-old was named permanent manager in May 2016.
Following three wins and a draw from five games in his first month as manager, McGreal was nominated for Manager of the Month in August 2016. The Englishman went on to finish 8th in his first season, but fared worse the year after and achieved a 15th placed finish. He got things right last year though, as the U’s returned to 8th last season, missing out on the play-offs by just a single point.
Danger man: Jevani Brown
Dangerous attacking-midfielder Jevani Brown arrives from League Two Cambridge United for an undisclosed fee that includes future add-ons. A like-for-like replacement for the outgoing Sammie Szmodics, the 24-year-old had an impressive season at the Abbey Stadium, recording an seven goals and 10 assists from 43 league appearances despite his clubs struggles.
With a burst of pace, Brown glides through defenders, easily beating two or three opponents before taking advantage of the space he has created. The Jamaican particularly caught the eye later in the season, registering a brace of assists twice over the space of three games in victories over Carlisle and Bury. He has big boots to fill, but the feet to do so.
Last season: 8th
Following a poor 2017/18 season that saw United finish 15th in League Two, their eighth placed finish last season was a big improvement. The departure of Szmodics will hit hard as he proved to be the catalyst for such a high finish. However, goals were spread well through the side, with Courtney Senior (six), Frank Nouble (nine), Luke Norris (seven) and Harry Pell (six) all making vital contributions, something which the U’s will be heavily relying on again next season.
23-year-old centre-back Frankie Kent enjoyed a brilliant breakthrough season which earned him a move to League One side Peterborough. The youngster and captain Luke Prosser formed a solid partnership which saw them concede just 53 goals in 46 league matches, a record that only five other sides managed to better. A single extra point anywhere throughout the season would have seen them record a play-off place, a lesson they will hope to learn in the next eight months.
Key departure: Sammie Szmodics
The 22-year-old attacking midfielder has joined Championship side Bristol City following the expiration of his contract at the Colchester Community Stadium. The academy graduate registered 14 goals and nine assists from 43 League Two appearances as Colchester missed out on the play-offs by a solitary point.
The youngster loves to make driving runs towards opposition defences and often looks for the unselfish option, playing through teammates or simply passing across the penalty area to gift an easy tap-in. Very much in the mould of Graham Carey, Szmodics will have to continue to impress if he wishes to break into the Bristol City side who have a real shot at the Championship play-offs this season.
Mid-table will be the minimum target for Colchester this season, who have done relatively well in the transfer window and haven’t been afraid to spend following the departure of Szmodics. Jevani Brown and Omar Sowumni arriving from Cambridge and Yeovil respectively provide two solid signings who should slot right into the side. Paris-Cowan-Hall and Luke Gambin will offer plenty of width and pace.
With nine signings currently and 13 departures, there has been a high turnover on last season’s playing squad so whilst the U’s might not fly out of the starting blocks, they should be a very strong side once they begin to gel. Play-offs should be the minimum aim; with the right run of luck, automatic promotion is on the cards.
Key player: Lee Novak
Striker Lee Novak scored 13 goals in all competitions for Scunthorpe last season in what was largely a very disappointing campaign for The Iron. He’s a player that, with a good supply, can hit the back of the net regularly, having scored double figures in five of his previous league campaigns.
Scunthorpe will be hoping that, playing in a weaker league, they can get the ball to their talismanic striker more often than they did last time out. At times he looked isolated, but with a drop in division and more time on the ball expected, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Novak hit the 20 mark this coming season.
Manager: Paul Hurst
Paul Hurst joins Scunthorpe for his first season in charge, following the departure of Stuart McCall in March, and the temporary reign of
cheating Andy Dawson. Hurst was sacked by Championship club Ipswich Town after just five months in charge last October when he managed just one win in 15 games.
Nonetheless, he still enjoys a solid reputation in the lower divisions of English football having previously earned promotion with Grimsby Town back to the Football League after a six year absence. He’s also picked up runner-up medals in the FA Trophy and EFL trophy and successfully saved Shrewsbury Town from League One relegation in place of their local rivals Port Vale. His best season was no doubt in 2017/18, as he guided the Shrews to 87 points, a total that would normally yield automatic promotion, but instead suffered heart-break in the play-off final before departing for Ipswich.
Defensive rock: Andy Butler
Andy Butler returned to his childhood club aged 35 as Paul Hurst’s first signing as manager. Whilst many might accuse Scunthorpe of being sentimental, Butler clearly still has a role to play at his boyhood club. Only Rochdale conceded more goals in League One last season, with The Iron defence, or lack of, being one of the key factors in their relegation.
On the other hand, the experienced defender made 40 appearances and played over 3,500 minutes for Doncaster Rovers who were Playoff Semi-Finalists in the same division. There’s clearly life left in him yet and his experience could be vital in strengthening Scunthorpe’s previously leaky back line.
Last season: 23rd (relegated)
Last season was one to forget. Having ended Argyle’s hopes of making the play-offs the season before, and ending within the top seven themselves, Scunthorpe followed up an impressive 2017/18 campaign by finishing 23rd in League One last time out. They were relegated on the final day along with Argyle, in what was nearly – as we all know – very controversial circumstances. Luckily for all involved, Josh Morris’ equalising ‘goal’ had no bearing on the final outcome of the league.
Scunny started in a middling fashion, then collapsed, placing one point and one position above bottom club Argyle after boxing day. A flurry of transfer activity in January seemed to turn their season around, as they responded by climbing the table, putting seven points and eight places between themselves and relegation in the early weeks of February. Like Argyle’s resurgence, it didn’t last, and they too imploded once more. One win in fourteen saw to their fate.
Key departure: Funso Ojo
Fan favourite Funso Ojo completed a £125,000 transfer to SPL club Aberdeen in the summer transfer window, having turned down an offer to join Hibs. Ojo is known for his tireless work ethic, with former manager Stuart McCall saying the defensive midfielder was in the top three when it came to ground covered during his time at the club. He was so much more than a work-horse though, and was the most important component in their midfield during 2017/18.
Scunthorpe will no doubt miss the player who would routinely act as the link between defence and midfield. With money on the table though, a three year contract, and an acceptance that Ojo could play at a level higher than League Two, a transfer always seemed inevitable following relegation. That Yann Songo’o is his replacement signals a clear step down in quality this season, as he will bring the work ethic but not the composure or control.
Scunthorpe will want to bounce back to League One at the first time of asking. However, such a feat can often prove difficult for a relegated side. They have hired a manager that many would suggest is capable of success at this level but he joins after a tricky spell with Ipswich and having only won promotion at a professional club once in nearly ten years.
Time will tell as to whether or not he can overcome that disappointment. Having lost key players Ojo and Morris, Scunthorpe look noticeably weaker than they did last season. Nonetheless, they have the makings of a fairly decent squad if they can tighten up defensively and get the ball to Lee Novak in dangerous positions with more regularity. Expect them to challenge for the play-offs, but they may need one or two additional signings and a bit of luck to challenge for the automatic promotion places.
Key player: Scott Cuthbert
Not a single player was on the field for more minutes than Scott Cuthbert for Stevenage last season. That tells you all you need to know about Boro’s defensive rock. Now 32 and vastly experienced, with his former clubs including the likes of Leyton Orient, Luton and Swindon, Cuthbert will be expected to organise the Stevenage defence as the club look to push on.
The former Scotland U21 international only missed games in the Checkatrade Trophy last season, and again we expect him to be a mainstay in the side heading into 2019/20. With that in mind, his performance levels will be key in helping Stevenage to achieve their goals across the campaign.
Manager: Dino Maamria
Tunisian Maamria had always a familiar name to Stevenage fans even before he was eventually given the top job. He had numerous spells with the club as a player, and spent time as a member of the backroom staff at Broadhall Way before stepping into management. Nonetheless, the 48-year-old still had plenty to prove when he replaced Darren Sarll as Stevenage manager in March 2018. The job was, and remains, his most high-profile in management.
“So far, so good” would be the verdict. Maamria was responsible for an overhaul of the squad in the summer of 2018, making up for the loss of Matt Godden with 14 new players joining the side in the transfer window. Building a team in his image helped Maamria push the side from 16th to 10th, and he’ll be hoping to take another step forward this season.
Stopper: Kurtis Guthrie
Kurtis Guthrie is a curious case. His goalscoring record at League Two and National League level has never been bad, but there has always seemed to be something missing from his game. Whether there is a problem with his attitude (he received a straight red card twice in the league last season) or something else at play, Guthrie hasn’t quite hit the heights some may have expected after he joined the Football League from Forest Green back in 2016.
That being said, there are signs now that Guthrie is coming into his own. Of his 14 goals last season, 7 came in the final six games. He also provided three assists in that time. Is this a flash in the pan or the start of a goalscoring run that will continue well into this season? We’ll have to wait and see. But there is no doubt that the strong and athletic Guthrie can be very dangerous when he’s on form.
Last season: 10th
Stevenage blew hot and cold last season, but so nearly ended the campaign in memorable fashion. They always seemed to be challenging for the play-offs, but never looked like actually making them. In fact, they may well have ruled themselves out of the race with 10 games to goal, when a last-minute Nicky Maynard goal secured a 1-0 win for Ryan Lowe’s Bury at Broadhall Way after having missed a host of chances. But they certainly ended the season with a flourish.
After losing 3-0 to eventually relegated Notts County at the end of March, Stevenage would go unbeaten for the remaining six games of the campaign, winning five of them. This included a superb 2-1 away win against Mansfield, who so nearly won promotion. As a result, Stevenage ended the season in 10th, but just one point away from the playoff positions.
Key transfer: Dean Parrett
Dean Parrett will be a familiar name to fans of both Argyle and Stevenage, though primarily the latter. The 27-year-old had a short loan spell at Home Park back in 2010, but spent three successful years with Stevenage between 2013 and 2016. He left the club to return to League One with AFC Wimbledon, before leaving the Dons to sign for Gillingham in the summer of 2018.
Parrett was at best a bit-part player under then Gills boss Steve Lovell, never particularly having a solid run in the side to establish himself in the squad. Yet, observers of him know that he is a composed player in midfield, capable of running games in League Two, and this is exactly what Stevenage will need following the departure of Michael Timlin. He’ll hope to make as much of an impression this time around as he did when he was last at the club.
The play-offs have to be the aim for Stevenage this season. Even though it won’t be easy, they have to set their sights on going one better than last season. After all, an extra point would have seen them over the line last season, and they’ve strengthened since then. We’ve already mentioned Parrett, but the likes of Chris Stokes and Paul Digby will also add something to the side.
Don’t be surprised if they are challenging, though perhaps it would be equally unsurprising if they settled for a midtable finish.