How’s It Gonna End? — EFL League Two 22/23

AFC WIMBLEDON

A manager cruelly tossed aside by the club he served for over a decade, and a club with a cult following relegated for the first time in their comparatively brief history. It seems like a minor match made in heaven, but for some, not so minor. The clear-out has been rather major, but what remains is a dedicated and talented core, added to with (as it stands) five players who all seem capable of startling the supporters present at League Two games this season. There’ll be a warming period, but there are all-stars here, and that could be more than telling come season’s end.
This is a club no longer focused on short-term survival, for now relegation has hit, they’ll shake themselves off and get back in the real game.

BARROW

Pete Wild can bring some stability here. They’ve been hanging on since they arrived in the EFL, and after a series of false starts and stuttered journeys, this could be a real strong push-off. They’re still developing, and this’ll take a hot second to set in, but I think they’re in a good position to get a bit more comfortable. There’s been necessary additions and it makes for a rigid squad who should be able to fend off the spectre of relegation, if not kill it outright.

BRADFORD CITY

So Mark Hughes is still there? Huh… That’s weird.
Anyways, alongside the sizable managerial appointment, several major departures have also occurred — Lavery, Watt, Cooke, O’Donnell, O’Connor — all of them leave a gap. And the acquisitions they’ve made… Fill them… But in a mishy-mashy sort of way. Walker, Oliver, and Osadebe et al all have the potential to stand out, but seeing how Bradford have played in recent seasons, it seems more likely they will blend in, and Bradford could get lost in the pack again. I’ve seen it under a few managers, and while Hughes obviously brings something different, I reckon this fact will stay the same.

CARLISLE UNITED

It seems like every year, a swathe of talent has to leave Carlisle and they are forced to renumber themselves on a tightrope budget. If that is the case, great job this year — sure, the departures need to occur, but to bring in the likes of Holy, Edmondson, Moxon, and Barclay? That’s a pretty good recovery. That being said, I don’t think Simpson is going to be able to capture and consistently deliver the form he oversaw when he first arrived back in Cumbria, but he’ll inspire enough of it to see them comfortable.

COLCHESTER UNITED

Good to see Wayne Brown in permanently, as even if he didn’t inspire world-changing form, he gave some stability that was much needed for a Colchester side anonymous at its extremities, but with a bustling centre just trying to play out. Some promising names have gone and signings haven’t been too inspiring, but there’s still that thrashing mitochondria to provide security. It’ll get harder season on season if the problem isn’t fixed, but for this one at least, the ledge is grabbed again.

CRAWLEY TOWN

I’m sure Crawley will manage to divide opinion this season. After a bizarre end to the campaign last time out, they haven’t rested, adding bumper signings to an already swollen squad and making sure their name is at least in everyone’s mouth, if not the title race. I don’t think they’ll be far off the latter though; even with their rookie manager, the squad remains gelled, and integrating the new faces shouldn’t be too much of an issue if done gradually and professionally. Something Crawley haven’t been known for recently.

CREWE ALEXANDRA

There was certainly an upturn in confidence when Alex Morris took over at Gresty Road. Of course, that could have been due to the fact that they had nothing left to play for because they had just been relegated so they felt a bit more free. That freedom was then expanded on when several members of the roster were cut, including some long-tenured and important names, to be replaced with some recent League Two experience and faces from their own hallowed academy. I don’t see this team setting the world on fire, but I see their potential to. Give the young ‘uns a season to get their feet wet, let the squad get together, and see where they are next season.

DONCASTER ROVERS

Big signings alongside sadly necessary departures leave a squad who have something to prove. A lot of promise was obvious in last season’s collapse, and though some was lost in the descent, a lot was also retained, with some more acquired this time round. Though McSheffrey is still inexperienced, he ain’t silly, and he’ll know what’s expected, and how to get it.

GILLINGHAM

Neil Harris hasn’t minced words with what needs to happen with this Gillingham side. A tight squad trimmed to his design is what we see now, but I reckon he might still have some fixins to sidle up to it. I will go out on a limb and say that what’s there now is not enough to take a side that should be gunning for the title back up. But I trust Neil Harris, and though (as I write this) I can’t put them as champions, I can put ’em up the right side. But like the squad, not there yet.
It’s like I’m spending money I don’t have, but I’ve been told I will get. Risky business that. Somebody get me a ciggy.

GRIMSBY TOWN

Hey, welcome back, guys! How you been? Good? Good.
The Mariners come roaring back with a slew of folk just waiting to show what they can do, and though some might struggle at first, there’s enough here to power their way up at least a few spots — some of the National League’s finest from last season will be on show and it’ll be a real generational showcase at some points, with a proud finish at the end of it.

HARROGATE TOWN

The Sulphurites started to buckle last season, and honestly, I’m not seeing much that’s telling me they’re not gonna do the same this time. I’m not doubting the fortitude of the squad at all, but the character is waning, and it could billow itself right off the edge if the necessary changes aren’t made.

HARTLEPOOL UNITED

Paul Hartley is a bit of a coup, innit? They even share the same first six letters in their names, so that’s gotta be a good omen. Hopefully, he will fix some seriously inconsistent form, as a wealth of defensive recruits will attest to. He’s also added some personality up top as well, and the next Hartlepool could well be on its way. There might not be fire, but sparks? Yeah, lil’ sparks.

LEYTON ORIENT

Richie Wellens galvanised this squad when he arrived last season, and in recruitment, he’s done the smart thing of getting Theo Archibald (a loanee from last season) right back in, as well as pulling off a major get in George Moncur, and swapping out the departing Cypriot for another Cypriot because they’re the rules. Throw Charlie Kelman in and Orient could be the top scorers this season, something sure to get them pushing at the right end.

MANSFIELD TOWN

A smoothing of the sides for the beaten play-off finalists, and then a shoring up of the good ship. There’s depth, there is character, and there is the willingness to go again in a calm and composed manner befitting of the manager. With the occasional bout of madness of course, befitting of the manager. I don’t expect them to push on as much as I expect kinda… Same again? There or thereabouts anyways.

NEWPORT COUNTY

There’s a new frontline at Rodney Parade, and more of the same elsewhere, with the additions of a few fresh faces out of the academy. It’s not a startling squad on paper, but we’ve seen what Newport are capable of and the belief they have in their talents; I’m expecting a tight season, but that’s at both ends — something to build on if nothing else.

NORTHAMPTON TOWN

They were ridiculously close last season. Maybe closer than I’ve ever seen anybody get without achieving it. This season, they’re gonna be gunning for it, and while they’ve lost stalwarts in Roberts and Horsfall, the power remains, and if they add one more striker, they’re champions. I’m specifically predicting the rediscovery of Danny Hylton, whom I truly hope is in for a 20+ goal season.

ROCHDALE

The promise of Grant, the consistency of O’Connell, and the heart of O’Keeffe have gone. In their place, a face from the past, the underappreciated stalwarts from pastures new, and established or burgeoning talents from the floor above. The numbers might be the same, but the prime is different.
Right off the bat, there is not enough here for a promotion push or anywhere near one, but there’s hope to keep them steady on these choppy waters. But it won’t keep them afloat forever. There’s a growing wave on the horizon that they need to begin to steer away from very soon.

SALFORD CITY

Forever threatening, never following through — as their supporters will whisper hopefully once again, ‘could this be the year?’ Big trim, big names, a Man U hire as manager — the small squad does boast promise, and I’ve no doubt they’ll put many to bed, but I also think… They’ll drop off. Not just through the season, but through games. It seemed to be what they did last season, and maybe it has been seen to, but I can still smell it on them. As much as I can see them delivering the title as smooth as owt, I can also see them in the background shaking their collective head once more.

STEVENAGE

I am struggling to come to terms with the fact that Steve Evans will have a hand in relegating this Stevenage side. I won’t be surprised if he doesn’t, put it that way. He has added well, he’s sealed them well; we saw the improvements last season, but… There’s a mighty pack of teams here in League Two, with so few of them seeming they are primed for the drop. But one simply has to. One will drop into that final relegation position because that is how the cookie crumbles. Whether they win on the final day, or have a high scorer, whatever their qualifications for the league, one will have fewer points, have scored fewer goals, or will have an inferior goal difference. One aspect will not be enough, and it will spell the end of the EFL stay, at least for now. This season, that team is Stevenage. It doesn’t feel right to say, but it makes sense to say.

STOCKPORT COUNTY

Yeah, why not, let’s get on the hype train. Champions. I’m calling it. I know they were spectacular under Davey last season and that this is a whole different kettle of fish, but nah, they’re gonna walk it in the end. They’ll start well, stutter a bit, teams’ll threaten to catch up and then The Hatters’ll get on another streak and there’ll be no catching them. No analysis, just a feeling.
Not that the squad ain’t good and together and well-drilled and coming off a real high and due to that are full of confidence, not to mention the addition of quality, experienced players.
3rd might have been a better shout…

SUTTON UNITED

They’ll do a bit despite some big departures. They’re still solid enough to deliver results and they’re better than other teams in this division. They’ll get it together again, not that it fell apart, but just that a few parts needed replacing. It’ll probably be a more realistic season than last, but considering the effect second-season syndrome has on some, I think they’ll be happy with it from that perspective, if no other.

SWINDON TOWN

Lots of departures, interesting acquisitions, and a rookie manager for a side that overachieved last season. It’s a cocky look, and I don’t like it, and it rubs me the wrong way, and it’s hard to explain why I feel any of this. I didn’t feel like they were worth it last season, and I predicted them 23rd. I feel they deserve it even less this season, and yet I’m going to predict them 16th.
The heart wants what the heart wants, it doesn’t have to make sense.

TRANMERE ROVERS

I can see some stand-outs, but they’re not commanding me. No doubt Micky Mellon will see to that though. There’s a few players who can kick on as they began to sparkle last season, as if they only just noticed what was holding them back late in the day and then played up, so hopefully they can kick in to that gear from the off this time. If they do manage it, I can’t see it lasting, almost a reverse of last season. Mellon is one of the best in the game, certainly at this level, but he won’t be able to work ’em into the main picture.

WALSALL

I like Flynn, I like Walsall, I like what he’s done. We already saw glimpses last season as he turned an aggressively anonymous Walsall side into one that took a few more chances and left with a few more scalps. They looked hungry and I’m sure that hunger was not satiated, so they’ll be looking at this season like a buffet. It’s not like they’re wolves yet though, still occasionally yapping above their weight, but they’ll be a lot more of a force, and you’ll know you’ve played ’em this time.

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C.L.R.

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