Following on from part 1 published yesterday, here is part two of our League Two season preview, featuring Aldershot Town, Southend United, Plymouth Argyle, Port Vale, Shrewsbury Town, Rotherham United, Crewe Alexandra and Bradford City. If you haven't yet read part 1, featuring previews of Crawley, Northampton, Bristol Rovers, Torquay United, Swindon, Oxford, Gillingham and AFC Wimbledon you can do so here.
Aldershot boss Dean Holdsworth is trying to get value for money, releasing some of the club's higher earners (including trouble-making forward Marvin Morgan) and attempting to stamp his own signature on the side he inherited in January. Holdsworth has used his experience from his time at Newport to bring in a few players from non-league, such as York City's creative striker Michael Rankine. One standout signing has been Bradley Bubb from neighbours Farnborough, scorer of 22 goals in the Conference South, this season offers him the opportunity to step up and score at a higher level. On the whole, Aldershot seem to be maintaining a bit of stability going into this season and Holdsworth's task will be to get the side to overachieve, though a midtable finish looks likely. Much depends on Holdsworth's ability as a manager and if he shows traces of the brilliance he hinted at while at Newport then Aldershot could be dark horses.
Southend have also opted for stability, choosing to build on the solid foundations of last season and have made one of the standout signings of the summer, bringing in Neil Harris from Millwall, an exciting signing but at 33 the fear will be that he's too old to play a full season of competitive football and if this proves to be correct the decision to give him a three year contract could be costly. Harris' would-be strike partner, Barry Corr, has suffered a knee injury and as a result will miss the start of the season, which comes as a major blow to Southend's hopes of a good start to the season, however Paul Sturrock has moved quickly to sign striker Liam Dickinson as a replacement and his son Blair has already re-signed for the season. With a young and inexperienced squad Southend fans will wonder whether they have enough quality and experience in the side to improve on last season but given that this time last year all the talk was of administration and transfer embargoes that might come as something of a relief.
Plymouth in some ways resemble Southend at this time last year, with the primary concern of most around the club being with off-field matters. The turmoil that the club has been in for quite some time has taken its toll on the field and they now find themselves in League Two and unable to pay their players, which, as one might expect, doesn't make them a particularly attractive prospect for new signings. Plymouth's best hope is that, if they can fulfill all of their fixtures this season, they could be this year's Southend and get some stability as a result. Having recently played as high as the Championship, some quality players remain on their books, and they will at least be good enough not to trouble the relegation spots, but their unstable financial condition seems likely to hamstring any efforts to get out of the division in the right direction.
Another side whose summer has been dominated primarily by off-field issues is Port Vale, where ongoing boardroom disputes have continued rumbling on in the background and have hampered their efforts to build for this season, as returning manager Mickey Adams was unable to sign any new players until a functioning board was appointed. Adams has not made many additions to the side, instead placing much faith in the players that were challenging for automatic promotion when he left to take over at Sheffield United last season. Adams appears to have made a conscious effort to focus on youth in his dealings in the transfer market, bringing in Ryan Burge and Ben Williamson from the Glenn Hoddle Academy. The question that underpins Vale's season is whether the return of Mickey Adams will bring some much needed stability which will enable the club to finish the job or will the club be held back once again by the infighting that derailed their season last time?
Shrewsbury, meanwhile, have spent the summer reflecting on what might have been. If not for a truly dreadful refereeing decision they would be preparing for life in League One now, instead of coming to terms with another year in the basement division. They have lost striker Matt Harrold to Bristol Rovers and recruited former Aldershot striker Marvin Morgan, who is always good for goals, but on the whole have been fairly subdued in the transfer market. However new signing Reuben Hazell could prove to be a masterstroke, bringing a cool head and some leadership which, given the Shrews' lacklustre display in the playoffs, could be just what they needed. The mood amongst many Salopians remains downbeat, however, and the fear is that the club will suffer the familiar post-playoff hangover of previous years and if the side starts slowly it could be a long and disappointing season for Shrewsbury.
Quite a different story for Rotherham who, despite falling away from the promotion charge late last season, have many reasons to feel positive. Firstly, work has started on their new stadium and they can look forward to moving from the awful Don Valley in the near future. Secondly, new manager Andy Scott has experience of winning this division and has strengthened considerably, despite losing Nicky Law to Motherwell. The signing of Luke Foster from Stevenage will strengthen the defence, while their midfield certainly looks competitive, but it is their strikeforce that looks most impressive on paper. Despite losing Nicky Law and Ryan Taylor this summer, the club have still, so far, managed to keep hold of Adam Le Fondre and the signing of Chris Holroyd will also add options up front. However, it is the signing of Danny Schofield from Millwall that has made waves, with the striker dropping two divisions when he would be capable of playing in the Championship. As a result, Law and Taylor may not be missed after all. Rotherham again look strong and after looking impressive for the last two seasons but failing to finish the job, the task this season is promotion from what looks to be the most competitive League Two yet. Millers fans would love to open their new stadium in League One.
Crewe have lost 29-goal top scorer Clayton Donaldson, but have just about held onto future prospect Byron Moore. However, they have not replaced Donaldson and, as is typical with Crewe, will be relying on youth to step up and mature over the season. Preseason has been frustrating for Alex fans, who have been expecting new signings to replace those who have departed and enable the club to push on up into playoff contention. Crewe's policy of developing high quality youth and blooding them early means they are often difficult to replace, sometimes proving to be immensely successful while other times proving to be a flop. Without any knowledge of Crewe's latest batch of young hopefuls it's difficult to judge whether they will be successful or not but the loss of Donaldson will undoubtedly hurt them. They have retained a strong core of players and the style of football they play means that they create a lot of chances, so they are not likely to go without goals this season. However, goals alone do not make a successful season.
Another club who seem to be making youth a priority are Bradford City, who appear to be planning for the future – a wise strategy, given their financial troubles and inability to compete for big name signings at the moment. In fact, probably their biggest announcement of the summer is the announcement of a new chief scout in Archie Christie from Dagenham and Redbridge, and with this an entire 'developmental squad' of hopeful future stars. Things could potentially be bright in the future for the Bantams, however in the here and now they have struggled to recruit players of a high enough calibre and it seems that once again Bradford will be unable to challenge seriously for promotion, after releasing many of the players who failed so spectacularly for them last season. So desperate are they for players that they have offered a new contract to Omar Daley, having previously released him at the end of the season. This comes after having bids for numerous strikers rejected, suggesting that this was an area they were prepared to splash out on. They have signed Guy Branston, whose experience and leadership proved immensely important to Torquay last season. One signing that has stood out is Ross Hannah, who scored 37 goals for Matlock Town in the Evo-Stick Premier. The standard may have been low, but 37 goals is nonetheless an impressive record and he could be one to watch out for. Bradford's weak financial position will probably see them fall short of being a significant force this season, however recent indications suggest there is light at the end of the tunnel for Bantams fans.
Part 3 to follow shortly...