Monday, 4 May 2015

The Big League 2 Review 2014/15

The Sky Bet League 2 season is over for another year and I have decided to assess Oxford United and all the other clubs plus giving my views on how they got on. 

Oxford United
Manager- Michael Appleton
Season Assessment- Oxford simply couldn't have got off to a worse start this season, losing the first four league games. Everyone was fearing the worse at that stage, was a relegation back to the Conference on the cards? Well, our form did pick up but we were nervously looking over our shoulder for most of the season. It was a disappointing season for Oxford but was it surprising? Not really, I tipped us to struggle this season as soon as the final whistle was blown at Northampton on the final day of last season. However, there were some shining lights in this stale season. Danny Hylton was an excellent signing for us. I have to admit in a pre-season friendly at Didcot, I saw him play and said "I'm not too sure about him". I couldn't have been more wrong. His hard work and determination won the hearts of many Oxford fans, including myself. Other signings like Tarieq Holmes-Dennis, George Baldock and Kemar Roofe also shone while on loan at the club. However, I think there were too many loan signings and that's why the season didn't go well. It was like a merry go round of players at times, who remembers Carlton Morris and Alex Jakubiak from the start of the season? No one, don't worry you're forgiven because they were about as memorable as paint drying on a wall. My honest assessment of this season is it is the worst since Darren Patterson was in charge. However, I do feel strangely optimistic about next season. If we can bring players in like Ryan Taylor, Liam Sercombe and Marlon Pack then we have an excellent chance of reaching the play offs and beyond. I honestly believe that a title charge on could be on the cards for the Yellows. Enjoy the rest of the blog!

Accrington Stanley
Manager- James Beattie (until 12th September 2014)
John Coleman (appointed 18th September 2014)
Position- 17th
Season Assessment- John Coleman returned to Accrington after James Beattie surprisingly parted company with the club by the ever popular 'mutal consent'. Beattie left Stanley 21st in League Two and they looked set for another long, hard season battling against relegation. However, Coleman steadied the ship and Stanley managed to slowly climbed up the League Two table. They didn't manage anything spectacular this season, a 17th finish is where Accrington would probably expect to finish. They did almost get an FA Cup glamour tie with Manchester United, however lost the second round replay to League Two elect Yeovil Town. I would describe it as a solid season for Accrington Stanley but I am sure John Coleman will want them to kick on next season. 

Burton Albion
Manager- Gary Rowettt (until 27th October 2014)
Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink (appointed 13th November 2014)
Position- 1st 
Season Assessment- Burton Albion started the season well under Gary Rowett, clearly dealing with the devastation of losing the play off final very well. However, they had another setback in deal with in late-October. Popular manager Gary Rowett resigned to take over the reigns at Championship club Birmingham City. I at this point thought that Burton's promotion bid would be derailed. I was wrong. The clever appointment of former Chelsea striker Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink kept the dream alive. Players like Phil Edwards, Lucas Akins and Robbie Weir really shone this season. They spent most of the season in the top three and thoroughly deserve to be promoted to League One for their first ever season in the third tier. It will be difficult for Hasselbaink to keep a club of Burton's size in League One but for now they won't be worrying too much about that. They will for now be celebrating a historic promotion!

Manager- David Flitcroft
Position- 3rd

Season Assessment- A highly successful season for the Shakers who went into the 2014/15 season as clear favourites. The talented squad got off to a great start, dominating the early stages of the season. Nardiello scoring for fun in the opening few weeks. However a spanner was thrown in the works as injuries threatened to kill their season. At Christmas time, a lot of Bury fans would have been happy with a play off place let alone an automatic promotion spot after a dodgy run of results. Despite this, a few more additions including Everton loanee Hallam Hope got things back on track for Bury. A dramatic final day of the season saw them leapfrog Southend into 3rd and win promotion to League One! Huge credit must go to David Flitcroft who took over Bury last season with them battling against the drop in League Two. I fear for their safety next season and I would predict them to come straight back down, sorry to be a party pooper Bury fans!

Cambridge United
Manager- Richard Money
Season Assessment- Cambridge had a mildly successful first season back in the Football League. There were definitely some highlights for Richard Money's men. A thumping 5-1 win against the mighty Oxford United will be a fond memory of the season for Cambridge supporters. They also had a wonderful FA Cup fourth round glamour tie with Manchester United to enjoy, forcing the Red Devils to a replay in the process. It looked like they would finish comfortably in mid table but a late season wobble had the nerves jangling. However a 1-0 win over rivals Northampton secured safety. Richard Money will be content with consolidating in the league but will be hankering for the U's to kick on next season and possibly challenge for a coveted play off place. 

Carlisle United
Manager- Graham Kavanagh (until 1st September 2014)
Keith Curle (appointed 19th September 2014)
Position- 20th
Season Assessment- I'm sure most Carlisle supporters will admit that it was an ultimately disappointing season for the Cumbrians. Having been relegated from League One the previous season, they would have been looking to bounce straight back up. It never materialised and it became clear that they would spent the season fighting against a second successive relegation. Keith Curle made an impact after being appointed, Carlisle were rock bottom when he came in. Despite some impact, Carlisle were never going to set the division alight. They were dreadful when they visited the Kassam Stadium a few weeks ago. The season has been poor, Keith Curle will look to overhaul the squad in the summer to make sure improvements are made next term. 

Cheltenham Town
Manager- Mark Yates (until 25th November 2014)
Paul Buckle (from 26th November 2014 to 13th February 2015)
Russell Milton (from 16th February 2015 to 30th March 2015)
Gary Johnson (appointed 30th March 2015)
Position- 23rd
Season Assessment- A season to forget for Cheltenham Town which saw them relegated to the Conference. A season in which Cheltenham had the same amount of managers as away wins. A real embarrassment for every connected with the Football Club. The season started off brightly under Mark Yates, however things started to go wrong when young starlet Koby Arthur was recalled from his loan spell by parent club Birmingham. I think the sacking of Mark Yates was a dreadful decision from the board. The league campaign was certainly starting to going pear shaped under Yates but they would never have got relegated under his stewardship. The appointment of former Bristol Rovers boss Paul Buckle was atrocious. Cheltenham plummeted down from mid table to relegation to scrappers in a matter of months. The 79 day reign of Buckle will probably go down as the worst in Cheltenham Town's history. Interim manager Russell Milton tried his best to keep things steady till Gary Johnson was appointed as Cheltenham's fourth boss of the season. Despite Johnson's high credentials, he failed keep the Robins in the Football League. A poor season for the Gloucestershire club.

Dagenham & Redbridge
Manager- Wayne Burnett
Position- 14th
Season Assessment- A decent season for the Daggers. They didn't quite repeat the remarkable feet of last season, where they finished 9th. However goals from Jamie Cureton managed to keep them safe in the league. Former Oxford right back Damian Batt was released by the club which was sad to see. I would rate this as a good season for Dagenham & Redbridge, even if they had to rely on a 40 year old! Wayne Burnett does deserve credit for achieving decent finishes on a shoe string budget. 

Exeter City
Manager- Paul Tisdale
Position- 10th
Season Assessment- I personally think Paul Tisdale hasn't been given enough credit for the wonderful job he has done at Exeter this season. A summer transfer embargo meant that only two signings were made in the summer, manager Paul Tisdale even had to register himself as a player to fill up the squad. They were everybody's favourites to get relegated at the start of the season and yet managed to put together a play off push. They also managed to get a much needed 1.75m pound winfall through the sale of hot prospect Matt Grimes to Swansea. They didn't quite manage to get themselves in the play offs but the Grecians should be very proud of a successful season. Don't be surprised if a higher league clubs are looking to gain the services of Paul Tisdale next season. 

Hartlepool United
Manager- Colin Cooper (until 4th October 2014)
Paul Murray (from 23rd October to 6th December 2014)
Ronnie Moore (appointed 16th December 2014)
Position- 22nd
Season Assessment- If you told a Hartlepool fan that they would finish 22nd, they would be far from happy with it. However, as it turns out they are delighted with it. They got off to a shocking start under Colin Cooper and looked dead and buried by the time they dispensed of their second manager of the season Paul Murray in December, after a humiliating televised cup defeat to Blyth Spartans. They couldn't buy a win. However Ronnie Moore helped pull of the great escape. He galvanised the players and got them believing that they could stay up. His first game in charge was against Oxford, managing to hold us to a 1-1 draw. You could tell that the players believed in the philosophy that Moore was trying to stamp on the club. They managed to pull of four straight wins in March to help them climb out of the bottom two for the first time since the opening few weeks of the season. I think Ronnie Moore is the League Two manager of the year. It was the impossible job to keep Hartlepool in the league and he managed to do it, sending former club Tranmere Rovers down in the process. A wonderful achievement but Moore will be desperate to avoid another stress-ridden relegation scrap next season. 

Luton Town
Manager- John Still
Position- 8th
Season Assessment- Luton fans will be bitterly disappointed that a mad March cost them a play off place. John Still's side looked destined to finish in the top seven but after defeats to Bury, Morecambe, Portsmouth, Newport, Wycombe, Northampton and Exeter they dropped out. Unfortunately the seven straight defeats damaged them beyond repair and they prepare for another season in League Two. John Still probably would have taken an 8th place finish at the start of the season, especially after a dodgy start. However it was in their hands and they chucked it away. That will hurt Luton. Mark Cullen had a good season for Luton, scoring an impressive 14 league goals but he was unable to push Luton into a play off place. Overall not a bad first season back for the Hatters but John Still will be demanding at least a place off place next season.

Mansfield Town

Manager- Paul Cox (until 21st November 2014)
Adam Murray (appointed 5th December 2014)
Position- 21st
Season Assessment- Not a great season for Mansfield fans, many of which were hoping their team would kick on and finish in the top half. Paul Cox lost the fans early on in the season and despite insisting that he was "the best manager Mansfield had ever had" he was dismissed in November with the club sitting in 19th place and without a win in nine matches. Adam Murray was put in temporary charge and eventually appointed permanently on 5th December. He didn't set the world on fire but managed to steady the ship. Many Mansfield fans are still unsure about the inexperienced Murray but I believe the ex Oxford player should be given a chance to learn and improve as a coach. When he was a player for the us, I could definitely see the attributes of a fine manager. I just think it is about gaining experience in the managerial world. Overall, Mansfield have not been great this season. They got battered 3-0 when they visited the Kassam. It will be very interesting to see how Mansfield Town do next season. 

Manager- Jim Bentley 
Position- 11th 
Season Assessment- Jim Bentley and his players should very proud of this season. The budget that Morecambe are working with is probably one of the lowest in the league. To finish 11th in the league and beat all the teams that finished in the top three is simply marvellous. Yet again Kevin Ellison topped the Morecambe scoring charts, a great servant to that football club. Jack Redshaw was also red hot towards the end of the campaign, two solid strikers for this level. I'm not sure how Morecambe will do next year, they are usually favourites to go down but always seem to defy the odds. A good season for Morecambe including a purple patch towards the end of the season that five wins in their last six games. I am going to stick my neck on the line and say Morecambe could the the dark horses of the fourth tier next season, I think they could even sneak into the coveted play off positions.

Newport County
Manager- Justin Edinburgh (until 7th February 2015)
Jimmy Dack (from 7th February to 2nd May 2015)
Season Assessment- A very good campagin for Newport County in what is their second season back in the Football League. They had to suffer setbacks like the resignation of popular boss Justin Edinburgh and the jailing of striker Chris Zebroski but they came through and almost nicked a play off spot. Justin Edinburgh is a great coach and it was a great loss when he joined Gillingham but Jimmy Dack kept things steady until the end of the season. They did fall away but a play off spot would have been a big over-achievement for Newport anyway. We beat them 1-0 in our most recent match and they didn't look anything special. I think they realised the play off dream was dead and were on the beach already, it would be harsh to rate Newport on that game alone. Terry Butcher is a good appointment and it will be interesting to see how they do next in the 2015/16 season. 

Northampton Town
Manager- Chris Wilder
Season Assessment- Chris Wilder has absolutely no reason to be happy with a desperately mediocre league campaign. The amount of money that has been pumped into the club should be more than enough to get into the play offs at the very least. To finish below Morecambe with their budget is nothing short of an embarrassment. They even flirted with relegation around Christmas time and Wilder had to pretty much rebuild the squad in January, they probably would have gone down if they didn't have the resources needed to sign a new team mid-season. Marc Richards had a decent season, scoring an impressive eighteen league goals despite injury problems. To be fair, they put together a good first half performance at the Kassam. However Wilder's predictable tactics cost them the precious points. He threw on a lumbering centre back, similar to what he did with Rhys Day and Michael Raynes at Oxford. They will probably spend a lot more money in the summer and strengthen the squad. With Chris Wilder's decent knowledge of the lower leagues, they will presumably go into next season with a really strong squad. This season has not been great for Northampton, although I wouldn't be surprised if they were right up there next season. 

Plymouth Argyle
Manager- John Sheridan
Season Assessment- I'm sure everyone at Plymouth will be happy with how the season has gone. Since they have been in League Two after their financial issues, mid table is where they have been languishing. They had a chance of reaching they play offs last season but they fell away late on. This season they had a new mental strength which stood them in good stead. They have not been spectacular, they haven't at any point really challenged for automatic promotion. However they have been consistent and been near or in the play offs since the very start. They didn't look up to much when we played them at the Kassam, mainly because talisman striker Reuben Reid wasn't fully fit. He has probably been the best centre forward in League Two this season and they wouldn't be anywhere near the top seven without him, mainly because Deane Smalley is their back up! I am not sure how Plymouth will get on in the play offs but this has been a decent season for the Pilgrims whatever happens. 

Manager- Andy Awford (until 13th April 2015)
Gary Waddock (caretaker from 13th April 2015 to 2nd May 2015)
Season Assessment- Another frustrating for Pompey, which saw another manager axed. There is no doubt that on paper Portsmouth had a great squad at the start of the season, however on the pitch it never really worked out. A poor away record cost them any chance of reaching the play offs. The addition of star striker Matt Tubbs saw them score a few more goals but not enough to catapult them up the league. I think Portsmouth will be fighting for the title next season but for now they are just not good enough. I think appointing Gary Waddock on a permanent basis would the best decision. Despite his short and unsuccessful spell in kharge of Oxford, I think he is a good manager at this level. Another manager that who would be good for Portsmouth who I have seen linked is Darren Ferguson. He is a top manager and would be perfect for them, although for me Waddock would be a better option. This has been a poor season for Portsmouth in the grand scheme of things but I'm sure they will come back stronger next season. 

Shrewsbury Town
Manager- Micky Mellon
Season Assessment- A great season for Shrewsbury Town thanks to the excellent management from Micky Mellon. After a disheartening relegation to League Two, they had to rebuild the squad. They had to make 17 summer signings. A lot of people thought that it would take some time for the new players to gel and this would be a transitional season for Shrewsbury. Everyone was wrong, they began the season like a house on fire. They had the right balance between youth and experience, Liam Lawrence leading the team well all season. Ryan Woods also looked like a superb player, who is simply too good for this division. They even managed to give Chelsea a tricky game in the Capital One Cup, although they won't be best pleased with Eden Hazard calling them "Strawberry Town". I believe that they have a good chance of doing a 'Chesterfield' and finishing nearer the top of League One than the bottom next season. It has been a terrific season for Shrewsbury and I'm really pleased for them. It is the start of a new chapter at Shrewsbury Town Football Club. It is going to be a good few years ahead for them. 

Southend United
Manager- Phil Brown
Season Assessment- A devastating end to what would have been a wonderful season for Phil Brown's team. It's just desperately unlucky that their final game of the season was at bogey team Morecambe. They still have the play offs to come, so it still could be a successful campaign for Southend United. I would say they are the favourites going into the play offs as well. Phil Brown should be managing at a higher level in my opinion, his achievements at Hull City warrant that and he has proved himself in the lower leagues as well. If Southend are still in the fourth tier next season, I would be very surprised if Phil Brown is still the manager. Barry Corr and Michael Timlin will be people they'll be desperate to keep hold of as well, they are players that can make a huge impact on every game they play. They have been an integral part of Southend's promotion bid. The Southend faithful have every right to be proud of their team but that won't stop the hurt of missing out on a deserved promotion, especially because it was in their own hands on the final day. 

Manager- Graham Westley
Season Assessment- Graham Westley's team do what Graham Westley teams do. Grind out results. Do whatever they can to win football matches. At the start of the season, I predicted Stevenage to do well because a Graham Westley team at his level is going to be difficult to beat. Although Oxford managed it! On a serious note though, I am pretty sure Stevenage will beat Wycombe in the play offs and make it to the final. Who knows what might happen in that final but Stevenage will go all the way and fight until the very end. Do I want Stevenage to get promoted? Not really, I don't like how they play. It's stop start and tedious to watch. However they get results, are very boring and have a very annoying manager. They are the Chelsea of League Two!

Tranmere Rovers
Manager- Rob Edwards (until 13th October 2014)
Micky Adams (from 16th October 2014 to 19th April 2015)
Season Assessment- A total disaster for Tranmere from start to finish. By far the worst team in the division suffering a devastating second successive relegation. Rob Edwards was a ridiculous appointment, he had no managerial experience and was the assistant manager at Exeter City. How was he going to make an impact on a club like Tranmere? They needed an experienced manager to revamp and rebuild the club after a dreadful previous campaign in League One. Maybe if Micky Adams was in charge from the start it would have been a different story. Although he was also a disaster when he was appointed manager. I personally thought he would have no trouble keeping them in the Football League but he failed completely. However, from what I have seen of Tranmere this season the players were just not good enough. Cole Stockton is probably the worst striker I have seen in the Football League and Kayode Odejayi isn't much better. Not even club legend Jason Koumas could save the sinking ship of Tranmere Rovers. Max Power looks like a bright midfield player with a bit of quality but I don't think he is going to want trips to Barrow and Braintree next season. Overall, this season couldn't have gone much worse for Tranmere. I do expect them to bounce straight back up though, even though the Conference is notoriously hard to get out of when you have just been relegated. 

Manager-Neal Ardley
Season Assessment- I was very underwhelmed by AFC Wimbledon this season. They spent quite a lot of money in the summer. They brought in proven League Two players in Adebayo Akinfenwa, Sean Rigg, Matt Tubbs and Dannie Bulman. However, the loss of Matt Tubbs to Portsmouth in January really hurt Neal Ardley's men. They went from play off contenders to mid table obscurity in a matter of weeks. Without Tubbs' goals early on in the season, Wimbledon might have been in a relegation scrap. Neal Ardley really needs to achieve something next year or he risks losing his job.

Wycombe Wanderers
Manager-Gareth Ainsworth
Season Assessment- After last gasp escape from relegation last season, not many people would have though Wycombe would be challenging for promotion this time around. They defied all the odds to only just miss out on automatic promotion to League One. Aaron Pierre impressed at centre back for Wycombe. His strength and aerial prowess made him extremely resilient at the heart of the Chairboy's defence, chipping in with a few goals as well. Veteran striker Paul Hayes was the main man for goals. He certainly didn't look 'past it' this campaign banging in a decent 13 league goals. Gareth Ainsworth has to be given credit on Wycombe's achievements this season. The squad was incredibly small and they made do with what they had, while consistently winning football matches. They will go into the play offs disappointed that they are not already in League One and I fancy Stevenage for that semi-final clash. They should be proud of what they have achieved after a horrible 2013/14 season. 

York City
Manager- Nigel Worthington (until 13th October 2014)
Russ Wilcox (appointed 15th October 2014)
Season Assessment- Underwhelming for York fans. They managed to do the impossible last season and reach the play offs, denying Oxford a top seven finish. However this season, the York City faithful had to get themselves ready for a stressful relegation battle. They managed to just about stay up but it was not good enough for York in a season that had so much promise. I think Russ Wilcox was a great appointment and I think they will be improved over the summer and come back a new team next season.