We gave our 1-24 predictions for the 2019-20 League Two campaign back in July. With half the season gone, we review our picks.

 

1. Swindon Town

Pre-season prediction: 6th

Summer verdict: “Swindon Town made significant improvement under Richie Wellens last season, in a high-pressing 4-3-3. Chairman Lee Power has work to do to re-gain the trust of certain natives but in Wellens, he has the man to get the club back on an upward trajectory.”

Swindon continue to make huge progress under Richie Wellens.

Performances massively improved under the Mancunian’s management last season; now his side lead the way in League Two and are starting to show the level of superiority that we might expect a club of their size to demonstrate.

Getting Bradford loanee Eoin Doyle firing has been key for Wellens, but that comes from the system; there is a lot of creativity in this Town team with well-co-ordinated movement and thus a high level of chance creation.

Paul Caddis, who was one of the best right-backs in the Championship four years ago, has been an excellent addition; the Scot’s positive forward passes brings a lot out of Keshi Anderson, who stretches play with bold runs in behind defences while Michael Doughty, Jerry Yates and Kaiyne Woolery all rotate and interchange.

This flexibility and movement are allowed by the discipline of Anthony Grant, who does all the dirty work in his holding role; Mathieu Baudry is an organiser at the back while Steven Benda’s shot-stopping brilliance bails Swindon out during tough spells.

Even if Doyle is recalled by their promotion rivals in January, the Robins are strong enough to go up as champions.

 

2. Colchester United

Pre-season prediction: 7th

Summer verdict: “Colchester invest time into supporting their academy and sign players for the Under-23s squad almost as often as they add to the first team. Robbie Cowling’s running of the club – including his unerring faith in John McGreal and Steve Ball – has been questioned at times, but there is merit in the club’s long-term thinking and if the right striker is added, they could begin to reap the benefits.”

Colchester entered New Year on a 10-game unbeaten run whilst playing some good football, with partnerships on either side on the pitch.

On the right, we are seeing athletic full-back Ryan Jackson link-up with Kwame Poku, who loves to make winding runs in from the right channel and Luke Gambin, who drifts in the opposite direction to maintain the equilibrium.

On the left, meanwhile, the pace, positivity and productivity of Cohen Bramall when fit represents a compelling outside option for Callum Harriott, who loves to make driving runs from the left into dangerous areas.

ColU also have Harry Pell popping up into goalscoring positions from midfield and Ben Stevenson dictating from deep; plus, striker Theo Robinson always puts in an excellent shift for the team, even if he is not always quite as clinical as he was in Boxing Day’s 3-1 victory at Leyton Orient.

Injuries have not been kind lately to Colchester, but the fact they can win comfortably without ball-winner Tom Lapslie, dribbler Courtney Senior, centre-back Luke Prosser and individualistic goalscorer Luke Norris in their starting XI shows that this is the best squad they have had since their days in League One.

With one or two quality additions in January and some of the existing players returning to contention, McGreal could lead the U’s to promotion at the fourth time of asking.

 

3. Crewe Alexandra

Pre-season prediction: 3rd

Summer verdict: “The board and Majority Shareholder Norman Hassall, hoping for a takeover, have given David Artell time to devise a system that can challenge and there is now quiet optimism that he has done just that; Ryan Wintle is running games next to the battle-hardened Paul Green; the while the energetic Tommy Lowery is also blossoming. Crewe’s potential is as high as any team in this division – they just need to show it when the pressure is on.”

Crewe were not tipped for promotion by too many other EFL pundits, but the excellent football they are playing this season should not be a huge surprise, given what they produced in the second half of the previous campaign.

The left-sided combination between Harry Pickering and Charlie Kirk has been a key feature of their play; Pickering spends much of his games further inside than his corresponding wide man which can deceive opponents, especially when the duo link up so well in the final third.

The midfield blend of Ryan Wintle, Paul Green and Tommy Lowery has amalgamated as nicely as manager David Artell could have hoped.

Lowery is not only a driving force in this Alex midfield, he can also pick quick, reverse passes to release Daniel Powell on the right of the front-three, with the athletic Chuma Anene successfully replacing Chris Porter, recently, as the main focal point.

The fluidity of Crewe’s play has seen them score four or more goals in a league win at least once each month between September and January, which speaks volumes for their promotion credentials.

 

4. Exeter City

Pre-season prediction: 4th

Summer verdict: “Manager Matt Taylor seems popular with natives, even though the Grecians missed out on the top seven in his first season in charge. The skilful Randell Williams and the intelligent Nicky Law interchanging and overloading either flank is an enticing prospect, so Taylor should repay the faith fans have shown in him by delivering a serious promotion push.”

In previous seasons, Exeter had displayed some good passing and movement but been found wanting for two things: physicality and the ability to do the basics required in League Two.

This year, though, they look strong in size and quality.

Not only do they possess the skill of Randell Williams, who has been a key outlet from right wing-back, the intelligence of Nicky Law and the direct movement of Lee Martin, they are also better equipped for a scrap.

Nigel Atangana is arguably the most underrated ball-winner in League Two and his return from injury is a huge boost; the Devon outfit have a no-nonsense centre-back in Tom Parkes, a captain in Jake Taylor who gets through a lot of work off the ball as well as a striker in Ryan Bowman who can mix it.

Still, Exeter have at times relied on goalkeeper Jonny Maxted, who excelled in 1-0 wins at Salford and Forest Green.

In fact, eight of their 13 league victories heading into New Year have come by that scoreline while ten have come by a one-goal margin; and yet, all four of their pre-Christmas defeats have come by a margin of more than one goal.

Their shot data leaves something to be desired, with an Expected Goals Ratio (xGR) of 50.23mouth Argyle.

On the second day of January, the Shrimps made as many as four signings – inverted right-back Ryan Cooney and powerful striker Ryan Slew along with Toumani Diagouraga and Adam Phillips.

Diagouraga’s presence and passing range has been sufficient to dictate midfields in divisions above and, if fit, will be a key asset in League Two; Phillips, meanwhile, was highly rated as an all-action youngster at Liverpool and could massively upgrade the midfield.

Co-chairmen Graham Howse and Rod Taylor deserve huge credit for making these deals happen – with an improved squad, improved results should follow.

 

23. Stevenage

Pre-season prediction: 10th

Summer verdict: “Last season for Stevenage was one of progression. Dino Maamria instilled strength, drive and game management nous into this Boro side and Player of the Season Scott Cuthbert proved key to the transformation. New defender Chris Stokes has won promotion in his last two seasons at this level and a personal hat-trick would be ambitious – but then again, so are Stevenage.”

Stevenage hoped that last season’s 10th-placed finish would give them the platform to push for a top seven berth, but instead the Boro have dropped alarmingly.

It seems that their positive 2018-19 campaign may have been inspired largely by loanees like Steve Seddon then Ilias Chair; by contrast, none of their signings this season have significantly enhanced the squad.

Dino Maamria was sacked as promptly as early September before Mark Sampson was handed an extended run as caretaker, which saw seven draws in 13 games; now, Graham Westley returns for his fourth spell as manager.

Westley places heavy emphasis on strength and fitness, which should help Stevenage go up a gear in the second halves of their games, rather than break down and win the ball in midfield, rather than back-off.

Stevenage had scored a paltry 15 goals up to New Year’s Day, so there are huge question marks over their creativity and quality of finishing.

A resurgence for Ben Kennedy will give them help in the final third and truthfully, they will need it – their current shot to goal ratio is 20:1.

 

24. Macclesfield Town

Pre-season prediction: 24th

Summer verdict: “Macclesfield Town’s achievements last season should not be underestimated. However, the expiry of four loan deals and the release of 11 players means the Cheshire club conclude pre-season with a teen-numbered squad – and paying wages has been problematic under Amar Alkadhi’s questionable regime. The Silkmen must defy their doubters once again.”

2020 at Macclesfield Town has begun with news that manager Daryl McMahon and assistant Steve Gritt have resigned from their posts, citing cashflow issues at the club as the primary reason.

It has been clear for a long time, now, that the club is financially unstable and naturally, the difficulty they have had in paying wages in full on time has had a negative impact on all employees.

In the circumstances, it is miraculous that, even with a six-point deduction, they are still three points above the one-placed drop zone with at least one game in hand on their relegation rivals.

The Silkmen have conceded only 26 goals, the seventh-fewest in the division, which speaks volumes for the goalkeeping performances of Wigan loanee Owen Evans, as well as the centre-back displays of the aerially commanding Fiacre Kelleher, the aggressive Theo Vassell and the energetic Miles Welch-Hayes.

Plus, Theo Archibald has turned in some compelling displays from right wing-back, Jay Harris presses well in midfield next to the athletic but enigmatic Emmanuel Osadebe, who has grasped what could have been his last chance in the EFL.

Kelleher, Vassell, Welch-Hayes, Archibald and Osadebe, though, are all under 24 and may attract interest this month from fellow League Two clubs – Macclesfield will not be in a position to reject any bids, so their squad may be significantly weakened come the close of the window.

As well as they have done to be in with a chance of staying up at this stage, they are being undermined massively by the current ownership regime.

Tips:

Swindon to win the title

Colchester for a top three finish

Crewe for a top three finish

Cheltenham to finish in the top seven

Forest Green to finish in the top seven

Cambridge to finish in the top half

Mansfield to finish in the top half

Any odds mentioned in this article are correct at the time of posting

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