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Gabriel Sutton gave us his League Two Season Preview in the summer and, with Christmas approaching, our EFL pundit returns with his revised predictions in his League Two Season half-way Review.

Read Gabriel’s Championship Season Half-Way Review 1-24 here.

Read Gabriel’s League One Season Half-Way Review 1-24 here.

Carlisle United

Season Preview Prediction: 9th

1st

Carlisle have been a joy to watch this season.

Chris Beech inherited a struggling side last season and, within a year, has transformed the Cumbrians into a team that is not only far more solid than the one we saw under Steven Pressley, but also one that poses a huge attacking threat.

Speedsters Omari Patrick and Josh Kayode have combined beautifully with the intelligent Lewis Alessandra – so good has been the equilibrium of Carlisle’s attack that wide forward Gime Toure, the stand-out individual during the early weeks of their campaign, has found it difficult to break into their XI.

Beech has been vindicated in his belief that a strong midfield controller lay within Jon Mellish, who has chipped in with seven goals from that position, while the likes of Callum Guy and Joe Riley bring energy alongside him.

Elsewhere, right-back George Tanner has rediscovered the excellent individual form he displayed in the first half of the 2019-20 campaign at Morecambe, while Aaron Hayden and Rhys Bennett have formed the division’s best centre-back pairing.

Combining entertainment with efficiency, Carlisle look the complete package and could be ready to bring the title home.

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Forest Green Rovers

Season Preview Prediction: 13th

2nd

Forest Green look a well-balanced outfit this year.

Rovers not only play some great football with the likes of technical attacking midfielder Odin Bailey, slick ball-shifter Carl Winchester and attacking left wing-back Nicky Cadden, they also have players with the qualities required to earn them the right to play that football.

The likes of Jordan Moore-Taylor and Chris Stokes can force opponents back with driving runs from deep, mezzala Ebou Adams makes penetrative runs from central to wide areas to create space for others, Jamille Matt can hold off defenders with his physical presence while Aaron Collins is a threat in behind.

The Green Devils have ways of hurting teams when they squeeze up too high, which means there is a temptation to drop off more and let Mark Cooper’s side settle into their rhythm.

There have been previous question marks over Cooper’s conduct and man management but, none, this season, over his ability to deliver results.

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Cheltenham Town

Season Preview Prediction: 2nd

3rd

Cheltenham have recent history behind them.

Michael Duff led a struggling Robins side to comfortable safety in 2018-19 with impeccable home form, then to their first top seven finish in seven years last term. They could have gone up automatically had the season concluded organically. And they are in the mix once again.

There is a reliability about the Cotswold outfit – who should be trusted to respond firmly to successive defeats to Bolton and Barrow – which stems from defence.

A sturdy back three of ball-player Charlie Raglan, midfielder turned defender Ben Tozer and aerial specialist Will Boyle have played together regularly since February 2019 and are thus, in most games, metronomically in tune with one another’s defensive positioning.

Cheltenham also have two good goalkeepers because, while Josh Griffiths has starred on loan from West Brom, Scott Flinders has grabbed his opportunities, with the more experienced stopper bagging a man-of-the-match performance in the victory at Carlisle.

Going forward, meanwhile, Alfie May has not quite been able to replicate the goalscoring form he showed after joining from Doncaster last season, but the striker remains a persistent presence, competing for two spots with the lively George Lloyd and tall but technical Andy Williams.

The Robins should secure a top three berth.

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Exeter City

Season Preview Prediction: 4th

4th

Matt Taylor is doing a fabulous job at Exeter, having led them into contention in each of his three seasons in charge with improvement every year.

Last season’s Grecians side were solid defensively but reliant on Randell Williams’ dribbling ability down the right flank. When opposing teams nullified the wing-back, they went a long way to nullifying the whole team.

This year, the rise of youth has diversified City’s attacking threat.

Firstly, the switch to a back four has allowed youngster Josh Key to thrive behind Williams on the right, meaning the former Wycombe man has a flank partner to pick up loose balls when he’s marked out of the game.

Secondly, Joel Randall has been a revelation on the left wing and a crucial out-ball, which means Exeter can release a direct wide player on either side, making them a much harder team to second guess.

This unpredictability has in turn opened the field for midfield captain Jake Taylor, creative talent Archie Collins and number 10 Matt Jay, who has brought another avenue of service for top goalscorer Ryan Bowman.

Exeter need to tighten up defensively to stay in the top three hunt, but woe betide anyone who crosses them at their swashbuckling best.

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Newport County

Season Preview Prediction: 16th

5th

Michael Flynn has dabbled with a back-three for much of his reign as Newport boss, but this season is the first time he has used it as a default formation.

The Pillgwenlly-born boss knew that while his side was solid last season, with 12 clean sheets, they needed to work on their deep use of the ball, especially with target man Jamille Matt leaving for Forest Green.

To do that, Flynn converted midfield controller Matty Dolan into a half-back, handed the freedom to carry the ball toward the opposing half, with utility man Scot Bennett dropping into defence when he does so.

Dolan’s new role, sandwiched by young talent Brandon Cooper and long throw specialist Mickey Demetriou, has helped Newport evolve tactically in a way that few would have predicted.

A large component of Flynn’s management had been his ability to galvanize people, which he was able to do at crucial late stages in the great escape of 2016-17 and the run to the Play-Off Final two years later.

Perhaps the 40-year-old does not get enough credit, therefore, for his ability to evolve his team tactically and develop players individually.

Scott Twine, for example, had struggled for minutes at Swindon but, since arriving on loan, has brought bags of quality in an advanced midfield role, scoring five goals from outside the penalty box – the most in the division.

Twine has formed an excellent midfield trio with Bennett and Josh Sheehan, a classy controller in midfield.

Other teams might overtake County, but they have more than enough to secure a second top seven berth for the second time in three seasons.

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Salford City

Season Preview Prediction: 8th

6th

When Richie Wellens first took charge of Swindon, it may have helped him, perversely, that he inherited a mediocre squad that sat 17th in League Two.

The fact he was not initially working with a great deal of individual quality meant the Mancunian could home in on clear patterns of play, which were designed to create chances organically – rather than give the ball to a star man.

After steady improvement in 2018-19, Wellens could then introduce those big, match-winning players into a coherent system.

The problem the former midfielder has at Salford is that the natural ability of their attacking players – such as Ian Henderson, Ashley Hunter and James Wilson – far exceeds the natural ability of their deeper players.

Henderson’s clinical finishing can be crucial, Hunter has single-handedly earnt Salford points from below-par performances through his ability to cut in from the left hand side and curl shots into the far corner plus, most recently, Wilson’s pace has been a major weapon.

Salford’s double-pivot of either Alex Denny or Oscar Threlkeld and Jason Lowe are not players who Wellens can fully trust in possession, so there is a temptation to get the ball into the final third quickly, which may act against the patterns of play their manager is looking to introduce.

Equally, City are currently in the Play-Off places as it stands and will have greater January spending power than their rivals, so it would be a surprise to see them miss out on the top seven.

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Walsall

Season Preview Prediction: 7th

7th

Josh Gordon is the saviour of Walsall’s universe.

In six games in which “Flash” starts, the Saddlers have accrued 12 points, scoring 12 goals, but only 18 points and 14 goals from 13 when he does not.

This is partly because Gordon’s ability to make quick, bold runs from the right channel into dangerous areas threatens opponents and drags them back, whilst allowing Walsall to dictate via their playmaker of choice, be that veteran Danny Guthrie or young Alfie Bates.

It is also, though, because Gordon’s presence allows Darrell Clarke to move Rory Holden into his favoured central role.

In the first half of the previous campaign, Holden was deployed out wide because Clarke felt he had to incorporate the then-Bristol City loanee’s quality – but it was just as clear then as it has been this season that the Northern Irishman is not at home on the flank.

At the back-end of 2019-20, Holden was given free reign in the number 10 role and it led to fantastic home performances against Northampton, Port Vale and Exeter.

In some ways, then, the literal return of Gordon has led to the figurative return of Holden, who has been unplayable in the recent four game winning streak, likewise all-action midfielder Liam Kinsella.

Then again, Walsall enjoyed two four-minute double-salvos in the second half of their 4-3 win over Port Vale without Gordon, who was a victim a quirky quadruple half-time substitution.

Guthrie, Mat Sadler, Caolan Lavery and Jake Scrimshaw all turned the tide for the Saddlers in that match, which proved Clarke has the will and wherewithal to change games.

Not quite king of the impossible, but the former Bristol Rovers boss is converting recent out-of-form strugglers into in-form contenders.

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Bolton Wanderers

Season Preview Prediction: 1st

8th

It’s fair to say that the first half of Bolton Wanderers’ campaign has not gone as Ian Evatt would have hoped.

The Trotters have been keep ball merchants but, while Evatt’s Barrow side had the ability to quickly change the pace and direction of play, his current group have struggled.

Part of the problem is that 3-4-1-2, which Evatt has stuck with religiously, is a particularly complex system.

Most sides that play two up top are direct, because if they almost always have two men up against two or three centre-backs, it makes sense to get the ball into the final third as quickly as possible.

With top goalscorer Eoin Doyle and willing runner Nathan Delfouneso both leading the Bolton line, but no freedom to hit them early, there is a lot of work work for the other eight outfield players to create space and passing angles between themselves, while two players are on the periphery for long periods.

When Evatt was at Barrow, he was afforded a full season of transition, as well as patience during a tough start to his second season, to get his system across to his players.

Although the calibre of player is higher at Bolton – dynamic midfielder Antoni Sarcevic was a key part of the Argyle side that won promotion from this level last season, for example – the immediate stakes are higher with far greater pressure for short-term success.

Evatt may well yet have the credentials to lead Bolton back on the up, given time – whether he gets that time is another matter.

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Cambridge United

Season Preview Prediction: 18th

9th

Before the season started, Cambridge would have gladly taken their current position.

Now, though, it looks less appealing, given that the U’s have kicked off two-thirds of their games when sitting inside the division’s top three.

For much of their campaign, the talking point has been the incredible form of Paul Mullin, who remains the division’s top goalscorer with 16.

Mullin has had a reputation as being an average to decent League Two centre-forward, with stand-out attributes being his work rate and spring. So to see him match the efficiency we have seen from proven marksmen like Nicky Maynard and Eoin Doyle in recent seasons was somewhat surprising.

Concerns have arisen elsewhere, though, especially in midfield, where Hiram Boateng’s injury has troubled Mark Bonner’s side – especially with Liam O’Neil also sidelined and Adam May declining in form.

Bonner’s solution has been to pair Paul Digby, a solid but limited holding midfielder, with Greg Taylor, a centre-back by trade.

This double-pivot has given Cambridge little creativity or thrust to take attentions off their key attacking performers, so winter additions in that department are a must if the Yellow and Black Army are to witness their club elevate themselves back into the promotion conversation.

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Morecambe

Season Preview Prediction: 17th

This blog predicted progress for Morecambe this season with Derek Adams’ stony, business-like drive. But perhaps not the scale of progress.

The Shrimps have emphatically avoided a relegation battle this season, they are on course for their first top half finish in six years – and, sitting fifth, are in the mix for promotion.

Adams’ side average 1.34 Expected Goals For (xGF) per game and 1.08 Against (xGA), giving them a Ratio (xGR) of 55.22% which is the sixth-best in the division – so performances are very much lining up with results.

Sam Lavelle has matured from his time playing alongside Steven Old in previous seasons and stepped up to become the central leader in this Morecambe rear-guard next to the experienced Harry Davis.

Adams is familiar with attacking right-back Kelvin Mellor and athletic anchor man Yann Songo’o from his promotion at this level with Plymouth Argyle in 2016-17. But, as if to highlight the depth this Morecambe squad has in comparison with previous ones, both have stiff competition.

Mellor has to fight for his place against Ryan Cooney, who is more of an inverted right-back who will drift into midfield rather than attack the flank.

Songo’o, meanwhile, is up against Alex Kenyon; Morecambe score once every 71 minutes and concede once every 59 minutes on average this season, but that record changes to 52 and 83 respectively in time when the “Chorley Cambiasso” is on the field.

Adams has at times incorporated a double destroyer midfield combination of Songo’o and Kenyon, which has even counted against muscular playmaker Toumani Diagouraga, who has terrific pedigree for this level.

Unlike “Tooms”, Cole Stockton appears to save his strong EFL form for his spells with Morecambe and the strong, industrial striker has been a real handful for the division’s surprise package.

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Leyton Orient

Season Preview Prediction: 12th

It’s important not to get overly compelled by Leyton Orient’s strong record of 28 goals in 19 games, which is stronger than four of the top seven.

With the attacking trio of rangy yet skilful Conor Wilkinson, poacher Danny Johnson and direct wide man James Brophy, the O’s are a major threat whenever they get into the final third – especially in transition.

When the East Londoners are granted long spells of possession, though, getting into the final third can be difficult.

Ousseynou Cisse keeps things simple at the base of midfield while Craig Clay gets in for his commitment to the press, but Jobi McAnuff is arguably the only truly creative performer in Orient’s midfield options – and he is now 39!

At the other end of the age spectrum, Dan Happe looks a talent as a left-sided centre-back while Lawrence Vigouroux brings much-needed higher league knowhow. But whether Sam Ling and Josh Coulson are top seven League Two performers remains to be seen.

Ross Embleton’s side have produced several attacking wonder-shows so far and while they may continue to deliver some in the New Year, the regularity may decrease as opponents grow more respectful of their transitional threat.

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Oldham Athletic

Season Preview Prediction: 20th

Times are tough for Oldham Athletic off the field, with ongoing problems with Abdallah Lemsagam’s ownership regime.

On it, though, Harry Kewell is giving Latics fans reason to see light at the end of a long, dark tunnel.

A five-game winless league run to start the season prompted fear of an EFL exit, but Zach Dearnley’s injury-time winner at Bolton in mid-October began a run of six away wins in seven which saw the Lancashire club climb the table.

Aggressive centre-back Harry Clarke has shown immense potential since joining on loan from Arsenal, while Kewell has been spoilt for choice in attack.

Danny Rowe gives Oldham a physical presence up top but his individualism, combined with modest productivity, has seen Kewell dabble with the agile-footed Bobby Grant as a false nine.

Because going long to 5’11” Grant is not an option, players have had to be more selective about their use of the ball and that trend has led to improved December displays against Cambridge and Bradford.

In the skilful Dylan Bahamboula, the bright Conor McAleny and the nippy Dearnley, Oldham have the tools to cause problems, while even Davis Keillor-Dunn is confounding his early critics with some positive form.

The midfield still looks limited – despite having looked tougher since Brice Ntambwe came in – with Alfie McCalmont yet to truly deliver on his reported potential and the jury out on Callum Whelan and Ben Garrity.

With the right touches of experience in key areas, Oldham could spoil the top seven party – but their home form must improve.

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Tranmere Rovers

Season Preview Prediction: 3rd

After Mike Jackson was unable to earn himself a third month of competitive football as Rovers boss, Ian Dawes and Andy Parkinson did wonderful jobs in caretaker charge.

The interim duo led Tranmere to three league wins out of three, a winning streak Keith Hill extended to five, before a more erratic three-game period.

One thing the Wirral outfit are not short on is appealing options out wide, where Corey Blackett-Taylor brings searing pace, Kieron Morris selfless running and Liam Feeney exemplary crossing ability.

And yet, in recent 3-1 and 5-0 defeats to Walsall and Exeter respectively, Tranmere have not been able to use their natural width and instead had a midfield bunched together.

This suggests a lack of confidence in their central midfield to win the individual battles and give those wide players the freedom to stay high up the pitch, where they can do damage.

Jay Spearing, having recently captained Blackpool to a League One Play-Off tilt, is not short of tenacity in midfield but it could be that Hill is yet to establish a reliable midfield partner for the ball-winner, with neither Ollie Banks nor Paul Lewis are quite providing the level of consistency required.

Manny Monthe, meanwhile, is struggling to dominate his battles in the way he did in Rovers’ last campaign at this level and the aerial powerhouse may have to bide his time, after the bloody-nosed Sid Nelson came in to form a fine centre-back partnership with Peter Clarke in the 3-0 win at Bolton last time out.

Clarke, ironically, is Tranmere’s second top goalscorer with four goals behind James Vaughan – reducing the reliance on the veteran workhorse will go a long way to boosting Hill’s top seven hopes.

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Port Vale

Season Preview Prediction: 5th

Last season, Port Vale boss John Askey played the same XI almost every week regardless of performance levels.

He believed that the need for tactical continuity exceeded the need to adapt to individual circumstances and, broadly speaking, the former Macclesfield boss was proved correct with a highly respectable eighth-placed finish.

This year, Vale have a lot more depth, a densified fixture schedule and more injuries to key players like James Gibbons, Luke Joyce, David Amoo and Tom Pope, which has forced Askey to rotate – with inferior results, as the Burslem club spend Christmas languishing in 16th.

It was hoped that the Valiants’ reliance on Pope, which was evident in their first two seasons following relegation to League Two, was reduced under Askey but that issue has returned this term.

Neither Mark Cullen, Theo Robinson nor Devante Rodney have made the centre-forward role their own – although Rodney started down the middle in the shock 6-3 win at Bolton, which accounts for three of Vale’s five points from their last nine games.

Gibbons’ forward thrust has been a huge miss at right-back but it’s defensively where Askey’s side have struggled of late, with aerial specialist Leon Legge and the intelligent Nathan Smith no longer looking the pillars of solidity they were last season.

Proving that stellar showing at Bolton was not a flash in the pan will be crucial, if the Vale are to find their grail.

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Colchester United

Season Preview Prediction: 11th

There is a feeling among Colchester fans that the squad they possess, this season, is better on paper than the one that reached the Play-Offs last term.

Loanees Michael Folivi and Josh Bohui have given the U’s more depth in attack, Miles Welch-Hayes and Tommy Smith have adequately replaced Ryan Jackson and Luke Prosser at right-back and centre-back respectively while Noah Chilvers has risen from the periphery into a prominent midfield role.

Plus, 2019 Cambridge recruit Jevani Brown – an experimental false nine who scored 11 goals in the first 16 games of the season – is delivering far more in the first half of this campaign than of the previous one, when he was loaned out to Forest Green.

Collectively, though, Colchester are 10th in League Two after a sixth placed finish last term and shot data suggests they are more likely to regress further than find an inroad into the top seven.

Steve Ball’s side average 0.90 Expected Goals For (xGF) per game and 1.70 Against (xGA), giving them a Ratio (xGR) of 34.53% – the 2nd-worst in the division.

Chairman Robbie Cowling clearly wanted the manager replacing John McGreal to have knowledge of the existing first team and Under-23s squad, having invested much into the latter.

The former assistant to McGreal, though, has work ahead to prove he has the managerial credentials to make ColU contenders.

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Crawley Town

Season Preview Prediction: 14th

If anyone deserves a raise this Christmas, it’s Crawley’s scouting team.

Max Watters was released by Doncaster this year after numerous non-league loan spells that were not prolific, so a less dedicated bunch would have taken one look at the 21-year-old’s bare stats and scrolled elsewhere.

Crawley, though, did their due diligence on Watters, watched clips and gained character references before taking the punt. And they’ve been rewarded, with the forward becoming joint-second top goalscorer in League Two with 12 goals.

Another former non-league player, midfielder Jack Powell, has been a more prominent performer this term after a tough debut campaign following his arrival from Maidstone United – Powell’s ability to turn in tight areas and play forward is key to Town’s ability to beat the press.

Forward Tom Nichols, meanwhile, was criticized at Bristol Rovers for his low goalscoring contribution, yet has scored five in four months in Sussex, compared with four in three years at the Mem, whilst bringing his usual creative qualities.

The common theme with Crawley’s top performers, therefore, is that they all have a point to prove, which in some ways mirrors their manager.

Perceived by some to be unfashionably gruff, John Yems is delivering better results than one would expect.

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Mansfield Town

Season Preview Prediction: 6th

Mansfield have been well backed by John and Carolyn Radford over the last half-decade but, unlike 2017-18 and 2018-19 campaigns in which the club competed strongly for promotion, the Stags have drastically underperformed since the start of last season.

Nigel Clough, though, has the credentials to correct the mistakes made by John Dempster and Graham Coughlan before him, using his strong managerial pedigree.

Clough did a reasonable job in the Championship with Derby, he managed in League One with Sheffield United and led Burton to two surreal second-tier seasons.

It has been a steady start, too, for the former midfielder, with the run of just two defeats in his first eight league games in charge alleviating some fears of a relegation battle.

Clough will be judged primarily on the results he delivers next season, but the current task is to produce performances convincing enough to suggest they will get there.

He has not been afraid to drop big players, either, with Nicky Maynard – top scorer at this level with Bury in 2018-19 – finding himself outside recent starting XIs as Clough favours the searing pace of Jamie Reid and the selfless graft of Jordan Bowery.

These tweaks have made Mansfield stronger collectively in the press, a cause helped by the youthful exuberance of academy graduate Harry Charsley and Charlton loanee George Lapslie.

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Bradford City

Season Preview Prediction: 10th

As the season fell into it’s rhythm, Bradford ceased to be a side that is merely failing to live up to the expectation associated with the club at this level and became one finding itself in relegation trouble.

A run of five straight league defeats was enough to persuade the board to end club legend Stuart McCall’s third stint as manager.

Luckily for the board, Mark Trueman and Connor Sellars have stepped up from roles in charge of the academy to do great caretaker work with the first team, overseeing seven points from a possible nine to lift the Bantams seven points above the drop zone.

The duo’s interim performance reduces the immediate need to make a permanent appointment, though Paul Hurst is the current odds-on favourite.

Hurst, if appointed, would need to rediscover his magic touch to turn around this sinking ship.

Hurst worked miracles at Shrewsbury, whom he kept up in the division above from a tough situation in 2016-17 and led to an unlikely automatic promotion challenge the following season, with one of the lowest budgets in the division.

Since leaving Salop acrimoniously, Hurst presided over a disastrous stint at Ipswich before leaving Scunthorpe for reported budgetary disagreements, but his incredible work three seasons ago remains a massive draw.

Hurst has built sides that can control games without having the ball through efficient pressing and incisive transitional play, though the former Grimsby promotion winner would want to add pace to the squad this January.

Austin Samuels is the only Bradford player effective when it comes to running in behind but, having played sixth-tier football as recently as last season, the Wolves loanee is understandably raw.

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Barrow

Season Preview Prediction: 22nd

Barrow’s decision to dismiss David Dunn as manager was, perhaps, slightly harsh.

In their first season at this level since 1972, performances under Dunn suggested a side capable of pushing well above League Two’s bottom six, especially when factoring in injuries to the likes of Kgosi Ntlhe and Josh Kay.

Unfortunately for the former Blackburn midfielder, though, two league wins in 17 is a poor record by anyone’s standards and sadly for the former Blackburn midfielder, that is what will ultimately be remembered.

Rob Kelly, who was assistant to Dunn, had the perfect interview for the number one gig when he oversaw a 3-0 victory over promotion contenders Cheltenham in his first game in temporary charge.

The key for new manager Michael Jolley, who did a good job in his previous role at Grimsby, will be to get the best out of Scott Quigley, who starred in that crucial victory.

Quigley has the frame of a natural target man at 6’4”, but also the ability to receive the ball at shoulder height, swivel and instantly start running at defences which makes him a major threat.

The midfield needs renovating, though: Mike Jones’ composure when collecting the ball off defences helps Barrow beat the press and the experienced midfielder’s return will be welcomed, while enigmatic attacking midfielder Callum Gribbin – who arrived with glittering reviews from Manchester United youth followers – could yet resurge under new management.

If Barrow could pair a fit Jones and a motivated Gribbin with a box-to-box midfielder in January, they could climb the table under the right guidance.

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Harrogate Town

Season Preview Prediction: 19th

Harrogate’s debut season as an EFL club is encapsulated by the fact that 16 of their 22 points to date came in the first seven games of the season.

The Sulphurites took the division by storm with their high-pressing game, triggered by influential captain Josh Falkingham, early balls into target man Mark Beck and intelligent use of the ball in the opposing half.

Full-backs Ryan Fallowfield and Warren Burrell do not have the pace to attack the flank directly, but this allowed Simon Weaver’s side to retain possession stringently whilst getting the tidy Lloyd Kerry on the ball.

Any hopes of a shock Play-Off push though have been scuppered by a run of five points from 12 league games from late October onwards which, perhaps, was to be expected given the lack of depth.

There are arguably six players – right-back Fallowfield, centre-backs Connor Hall and Will Smith, left-back Warren Burrell, creative right-sider George Thomson, midfielder Falkingham and athletic forward Aaron Martin – who do not have a natural understudy capable of replicating their work to anywhere near the same quality.

Harrogate might have been able to get away with that in normal circumstances, but with the volume of fixtures and Smith picking up a long-term injury in November, it has been very hard for them to sustain their Autumn levels.

Mere survival will do for now.

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Scunthorpe United

Season Preview Prediction: 21st

Friday 13th brings bad luck for some, but not for Scunthorpe United.

Had their season finished on that mid-November date, Neil Cox’s side would be second-bottom of League Two but, had it started then, they would be top.

Fixture delays have something to do with that statistic, but composed attacking midfielder John McAtee, lanky Ryan Loft and the direct Abo Eisa have combined to devastating effect, most notably in the 5-2 victory at Harrogate.

Athlete Manny Onariase has started to form a strong centre-back pairing with ball-player Jacob Bedeau, as Scunny are getting far better results with a back-four than the back-five that Cox has at times experimented with.

Alex Gilliead has brought boundless energy, to the right of the hardworking Alfie Beestin and the technical Lewis Spence.

Understandings are being forged across the field so Scunthorpe could stay up – more likely through hard work than quirks of the Gregorian calender.

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Grimsby Town

Season Preview Prediction: 15th

Long-serving Majority Shareholder John Fenty, who has received a lot of criticism for his running of the club, was selling his stake, according to a Twitter statement from resigning manager Ian Holloway.

It is unclear, though, what these new owners look like, especially after Tom Shutes, Jason Stockwood and Andrew Pettit have revealed that Fenty has declined their offer to buy his shares in the club.

Fenty had invited Alex May, formerly known as Alick Kapikanya, to attend several matches with a view to a possible takeover – but May was jailed in 2014 for his part in a £3.5 million mortgage fraud.

Given what happened to Bury, Grimsby cannot have May anywhere near the football club and even if the convicted fraudster is not the man set to take over, it is worrying that somebody with his background can get so close.

Problems off the field have hardly helped the Mariners but, a 1-0 win over local rivals Scunthorpe aside, fortunes are not much stronger on them.

There is a case to be made for the individual talents of some players in this Town squad like defenders Mattie Pollock and Duncan Idehen, utility man Harry Clifton, Bristol City loanee Owura Edwards and forward Ira Jackson Jr.

Collectively, though, they have been too easy to play through, which speaks to a lack of experience in key areas and tactical inconsistency.

The new boss will need to change that and manage upwards, whilst keeping Grimsby in the EFL.

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Stevenage

Season Preview Prediction: 24th

Stevenage have had to call two games off for health reasons, so a mid-December no-show at Carlisle festers in the memory.

The 4-0 defeat at Brunton Park proved an especially sobering afternoon for Boro, who had enjoyed a slight resurgence in the previous weeks with improved performances as well as victories over Hull and Port Vale in the cup and league respectively.

Jamie Cumming, whose goalkeeping display in Cumbria spared Stevenage a cricket score, is one of just a handful of players around whom Alex Revell could build a competent League Two squad.

Terence Vancooten, who has played a criminally low number of minutes in recent seasons due to injury, is a defender who can read the game to a standard belonging much higher than this level.

Romain Vincelot’s height, experience, battling qualities and strong protection of the defence, meanwhile, is a big part of why Revell’s side have kept five clean sheets – more than Exeter and Morecambe.

Tom Pett, having been part of Lincoln’s 2018-19 title-winning side at this level, is operating slightly deeper in his second stint at Stevenage on the left of a diamond, which is where he sees more of the ball and can utilize his technical qualities.

Elliot List, meanwhile, has pace and some pedigree, having influenced League One games from the bench at Gillingham.

There is a big gap, though, between those five players and the rest, which is why Stevenage have scored just 11 goals all season.

The Hertfordshire club were given a reprieve from relegation in extraordinary circumstances last year and while they have since improved, it may not be enough to beat the EFL’s trap door.

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Southend United

Season Preview Prediction: 23rd

After a 3-0 loss at Bolton saw Southend conclude November with just five points from their first 14 league games, natives could have been forgiven for fearing the worst.

Instead, the Shrimpers secured a healthy eight points from four December encounters – thanks to successive wins over relegation rivals Scunthorpe and Grimsby – and they could even have spent Christmas Day off the bottom of League Two, were it not for a late equalizer conceded at Mansfield.

Stevenage included, all four of their opponents in this unbeaten sequence currently reside in the bottom six, so it is important not to put too much weight on their resurgence until they have thrived in more challenging fixtures with Colchester, Leyton Orient and Newport.

There is, though, reason to think that Southend are stronger now than they were in the first three months of the campaign.

Their recent form gives them a chance but, with the worst shot data in League Two and just five points from 13 games against top 18 opposition, a second successive relegation remains a very real threat.

Alan McCormack was arguably the best midfielder in League Two last season when fit, bringing a combination of aggression off the ball and quality on it in Northampton’s promotion from this level, so it is no surprised the veteran’s return from injury has boosted Mark Molesley’s side.

Their resurgence has also coincided directly with the return from injury of energetic forward Simeon Akinola, who signed from Barnet in the summer, while December free signing Greg Halford brings higher league experience and a penchant for long throws.

Southend still have plenty to prove, but their recent form at least gives them a chance.

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Odds are correct at the time of posting

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