This preview appears in the August 2021 edition of FourFourTwo.
Searching for a shining example to demonstrate the merits of managerial stability? Look no further than League Two.
Last season, Ian Evatt led Bolton from the depths of 20th in early February to astonishing automatic promotion – and there’s more. Additional evidence comes from title winners: four of the last five had previously fallen short in the play-offs under the manager who subsequently led them to the top. Three of those just happened to be established legends at their clubs too, in John Coleman (Accrington), Danny Cowley (Lincoln) and Michael Duff (Cheltenham).
It may be a good omen for Newport icon Michael Flynn, whose teams have twice been narrowly beaten at Wembley and now hope to bounce back from their latest play-off heartache. Unlike the Welsh outfit, other defeated semi-finalists have responded by appointing new managers: Micky Mellon returns to Tranmere, having previously led the Birkenhead side to successive promotions, while former Wolves man Rob Edwards arrives at Forest Green with an excellent reputation from the youth circuit.
The Nailsworth newbie’s predecessor Mark Cooper looks like a coup for Barrow, who are targeting more than mere survival in their second season at this level. It’s the same for Harrogate, where Simon Weaver has just inked a new deal to extend his long-term stay working for chairman (and father) Irving.
Town fans will be relishing their first local trip to recent underachievers Bradford, where new boss Derek Adams will hope to add a third League Two promotion to his CV after taking Morecambe up last term. Managerial calibre should also count at Mansfield, Leyton Orient and Port Vale: the Stags are building around a strong midfield under Nigel Clough, but Kenny Jackett and Darrell Clarke will be looking to overhaul their respective squads to bolster top-seven hopes.
Any challengers face strong competition from Salford and Exeter, however, both of whom missed out on the play-offs by a fraction last term and may have the funds for January recruitment drives should needs demand them.
Scunthorpe and Colchester, by contrast, have been shopping through necessity after close shaves with the drop. They could be helped by off-field turbulence at Oldham, Rochdale and Swindon – though with the latter, that is putting it mildly.
Northampton and Bristol Rovers come down from League One with more optimism than the latter two, with the top seven a hopeful aim for the Cobblers and minimum expectation for Joey Barton, who has addressed the Gas’s leadership void.
Coming up from the other end are Hartlepool, who have an exciting manager in former long throw extraordinaire Dave Challinor; Sutton United, meanwhile, are making their EFL debut 123 years into existence. Better late than never!
John Yems sees it that way, since the curt Crawley chief hasn’t noticeably suffered from the 25-year gap between his first managerial post and current one. He’ll be battling a new kid on the block in former Portsmouth hero Matthew Taylor, who looks like a promising appointment at Walsall.
All require fortune, though: Carlisle led the league last season before COVID issues forced prolonged periods without games… then an almighty fixture pile-up. The subsequent loss of momentum almost sends boss Chris Beech back to square one.
Most important to any potential title winner, however, may be the ability to build on strong foundations laid down under a popular manager the previous year – at least, that’s what history suggests.
Not got one of those? No fear: this is League Two where, within a year, Stevenage have gone from being reprieved cellar dwellers to fancied outsiders. Let the fun begin…
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