2020/21 League Two preview: Title challengers, promotion contenders and relegation battle
The EFL League Two trophy before the play-off final match between Exeter City and Northampton Town at Wembley Stadium, London on Monday 29th June 2020. (Photo by Leila Coker/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

After 178 days since the last competitive ball was kicked, it’s now just over a week until the start of the 2020/21 Sky Bet League Two season.

And as each of the division’s 24 clubs continue preparations ahead of the new campaign on September 12, here is VAVEL UK’s guide to the fourth tier this season.

  • Title Challengers

Bolton Wanderers

It’s been a summer of change at Bolton Wanderers. 

New manager Ian Evatt takes charge of his first EFL job after leading former club Barrow to the National League title last season and will look to do the same this time out as the club prepares for their first season in the division since 1988.

Last season’s top scorer Eoin Doyle leads the list of (at the time of writing) 15 new signings at the University of Bolton Stadium and will be eager to provide a similar output to that of his 25 goals last season for champions Swindon Town

A number of experienced names, including Antoni Sarcevic and George Taft, will help to ensure the side is ready to challenge from the start alongside a handful of younger players who look to help accommodate Evatt’s high intensity, possession-based approach.

Managing expectations will be the challenge, though, and it will be up to the new boss to get his ideas across as quickly as possible. 

Cheltenham Town

After losing out to eventual winners Northampton Town in the play-off semi-finals last time out, Cheltenham will be looking to go one better this season.

Michael Duff led the Robins to their best finish since their return to the EFL in 2016 and a first in the top seven for seven years.

However, he will be without last season’s key man Ryan Broom following the winger’s move to Peterborough United on August 24.

Experienced midfielder Liam Sercombe comes in alongside former Northampton forward Andy Williams as well as the young duo of goalkeeper Josh Griffiths and midfielder Finn Azaz from West Brom.

Add those to the existing core of Will Boyle, Charlie Raglan and Ben Tozer, and the Robins look set for another impressive campaign.

Salford City

It won’t come as a surprise to fans of any League Two club to see Salford City tipped for promotion this season.

As expected, the Ammies have made a number of changes to the squad that finished 11th last season as they look towards promotion this time around.

The centre-back pair of Tom Clarke from Preston North End and Jordan Turnbull from Northampton will provide much needed defensive reinforcements, with the re-signing of Ashley Hunter and the addition of the vastly-experienced Ian Henderson adding extra firepower up top.

Jason Lowe looks set to be a good fit alongside Richie Towell and the returning Darron Gibson in midfield, with youngster Brandon Thomas-Asante looking to build on an impressive debut season.

Anything less than the play-offs looks set to be deemed as a disappointment for boss Graham Alexander

  • Promotion Chasers

Exeter City

It wouldn’t be a piece on the League Two promotion contenders without the mention of Exeter City.

Last season’s play-off final defeat to Northampton was the Grecians third in the last four seasons and manager Matt Taylor will be desperate to go one step further this time around.

This summer has seen a change to Taylor’s squad following the departures of favourites Lee Martin, Dean Moxey and Lee Holmes and the additions of the experienced Rory McArdle and full-back Jake Caprice.

Add in another goal-scoring season from Ryan Bowman and Exeter should be in a recognisable position come May.

Port Vale

Missing out on the play-off places by just one point following points per game calculations, Port Vale look well-equipped to break into the top seven this year.

Owners Carol and Kevin Shanahan have provided manager John Askey with the resources to build on last season’s squad as the Vale boss looks to return the club to the third tier for the first time since 2016/17.

New signings Devante Rodney and Theo Robinson will provide competition for both Tom Pope and Mark Cullen as well as much needed cover from full-backs Zak Mills and David Fitzpatrick.

Combine those with an impressive existing squad and Vale fans could have something to shout about this season.

Forest Green Rovers

After just two wins from their last ten in 2019/20, Rovers could only manage an underwhelming 10th placed finish, nine points off the play-offs.

The summer transfer window has seen plenty of experience being added to Mark Cooper’s squad, with Jamille Matt, Jordan Moore-Taylor and Scott Wagstaff all coming in.

Full-back Kane Wilson from West Brom and goalkeeper Luke McGee from Portsmouth are also impressive moves at this level, as well as the addition of Elliott Whitehouse from Grimsby Town.

Carl Winchester and Ebou Adams will also provide stability in midfield to what is, on paper, a potentially strong League Two squad - whether they can fulfil that potential is the question, though.

Mansfield Town

Last season was one to forget for Mansfield.

After just missing out on promotion the season earlier, the Stags slumped to a 21st placed finish - their first in the bottom half for five seasons.

Manager Graham Coughlan will look to improve as he takes charge of his first full season at the One Call Stadium and has strengthened well in the transfer market so far with help from new Director of Football David Sharpe.

Midfielders George Maris and Ollie Clarke will bring both energy and leadership to the midfield, as well as experience from goalkeeper Marek Stech and full-back James Perch.

Forwards Jordan Bowery and Jamie Reid come in, as does the returning Nicky Maynard, with goals from all essential if Coughlan is to guide his team towards the play-offs.

  • Relegation Battle

Stevenage

Back in League Two just a month before the start of the new season, Stevenage face another mountain of a challenge to stay in the division this time around.

Reprieved at Macclesfield’s expense, the Boro accumulated just 22 points in 2019/20 and were preparing for life in non-league until the decision was made on August 11.

An expected exodus from the playing squad following the initial relegation saw the likes of goalkeeper Paul Farman leave for fellow league opposition and a number of non-league talents such as forward Inih Effiong brought in for a promotion challenge in the fifth-tier.

Now faced with the opposite, it looks increasingly unlikely that the club will be able to mount a challenge for survival.

Barrow AFC

Returning to the EFL for the first time since 1972, the key objective for Barrow is simple: survival.

Following Evatt’s departure to Bolton, David Dunn takes charge of his first managerial job since a short stint at Oldham Athletic in 2015/16.

The void left by the loss of John Rooney to Stockport County could be difficult to fill, following the midfielder’s 17 league goals in the previous campaign.

Midfielder Mike Jones from Carlisle United will add league experience, however, and both Dunn and fans will be eager to see how 21-year-old Callum Gribbin develops after signing on a free transfer from Sheffield United.

Oldham Athletic

It’s never a dull day at Oldham Athletic.

Latics fans continue to call for the sale of the club by current owner Abdallah Lemsagam as issues off the pitch continue to mount - the latest regarding the late payment of player wages.

On the pitch, the club appointed it’s seventh different head coach in two years following the sacking of Dino Maamria, as former Crawley Town and Notts County boss Harry Kewell takes charge at Boundary Park.

At the time of writing, Kewell currently has just 16 senior players at his disposal, although that’s not to say that transfer business has been lacklustre.

The former Manchester United pairing of Cameron Borthwick-Jackson and Zak Dearnley have joined permanently, as well as forward Conor McAleny, midfielder Ben Garrity and defenders Carl Piergianni and Sido Jombati.

More reinforcements are desperately needed, however, and will be essential if the club is to avoid another relegation battle.

Southend United

The issues surrounding Southend United aren’t difficult to find, with financial problems leaving the club in an extremely difficult situation last season as they were relegated to the fourth tier with just 19 points.

New manager Mark Moseley has been appointed to take over from the departed Sol Campbell, and the former Weymouth boss will be hoping he can perform similar miracles as he did for the Terras in the National League South.

He will, however, encounter some issues with an extremely youthful squad that ultimately lacks experience.

Moseley will likely look to rely on attackers Stephen Humphrys, Charlie Kelman and Brandon Goodship, who he worked with at Weymouth, to provide the goals needed to bounce back at the first time of asking. 

Winger Jordan Green could be a good addition given his experience with Yeovil Town and solid campaigns from established players Jason Demetriou and Elvis Bwonomo will be essential.

Combining this with an overall young squad though, will be the challenge for Moseley and if it goes wrong, could signal another difficult season for the Shrimpers.

What are your predictions for the new League Two season? Let us know on Twitter @VAVEL_EFL.

VAVEL Logo