League Two 2011/12 Season Preview

Only a bobble on the Wembley turf prevented Charlie Austin scoring against Millwall to take Swindon Town one step closer to returning to the Championship. A year later and Swindon are relegated from League One and face at least one season in the Football League’s lowest tier. Oxford fans were over the moon to hear of Swindon’s demise, and a relegation that meant an old rivalry was rekindled. The last time the two teams played, it was in the FA Cup in 2001. Oxford won through a goal scored by Jefferson Louis. It was on the telly and everything. It means a lot to Swindon and Oxford fans alike.

This is potentially one of the most interesting League Two seasons in quite a while. After the owners of Plymouth probably bought a lifetime supply of Ginsters, they were deducted points and were relegated from League One, their second relegation in a row. This has a stench of Luton about it, and if Plymouth don’t sort out their problems soon, they could find themselves in a spot of bother come the end of the season. What I mean is, Plymouth could by this time next year be playing Non League football. But they could also potentially be playing League One football next season. Plymouth’s off-the-pitch matters will affect their league position, no matter how much Peter Reid will deny it.

Other teams vying to be promoted are Swindon, Oxford, newly promoted Crawley, Rotherham, Shrewsbury, Bristol Rovers and Gillingham. Swindon have Mussolini-lover Paulo Di Canio in charge. This is a bold and risky appointment. Di Canio has a lot of contacts in the Premier League and abroad, but he doesn’t know much about League Two football and how different it is to the Premier League. This could end in a triumphant campaign or could end in tatters, with Di Canio’s managerial reputation ruined.

I also speak of Oxford United. Their moment of fame and glory came in 1986 with a League Cup victory over QPR. The times of Shotton and Aldridge are long gone though. Oxford were dumped out of the Football League and have only recently returned. Manager Chris Wilder has brought together a squad of talented players. The question is: can he gel the team together? Preseason results against the MK Dons and Birmingham seem to suggest so, but it is only preseason, so I wouldn’t write too much into it. Players like Peter Leven and Deane Smalley rejected offers from League One clubs to join Oxford because there is a feel good atmosphere around the club and they believe the club is going places.

Crawley were dubbed ‘The Manchester City of Non League’ because of all the money they had. Now they’ve won promotion into the Football League and Steve Evans has claimed that Crawley are targeting yet another promotion this term and will spend big to get whatever they want. Gillingham only narrowly missed out on the playoffs last term and are hoping to come back stronger this term. Shrewsbury were controversially denied an automatic promotion place after they missed out by only one point to Wycombe. They were playing against promotion rivals Wycombe and looked like they would be grabbing all three points when Gareth Ainsworth scores for a late goal for Wycombe that blatantly did not cross the line. The Shrews are furious. They are back, and back with a vengeance.

Bristol Rovers have for the meantime kept Jo Kuffour at the club. This is good news to all Rovers fans, because a front two of him and Joe Anyinsah will be unstoppable at this level. Many defences won’t be able to cope. Rotherham have made one of the biggest coups in League Two with the signing of Danny Schofield. If he and Adam Le Fondre can link up, it could potentially be one of the most dangerous partnerships in League Two. It’s a big if though. The only hope Rotherham have of promotion is if they keep Le Fondre out of the clutches of Sheffield Wednesday. This looks almost unavoidable now.

This season also sees the return of a familiar face, Wimbledon. After the relocation fiasco and the Milton Keynes saga, AFC Wimbledon was born. They’ve climbed their way up the Non League divisions to become a Football League side again. Getting into the Football League is one thing, staying in it is another. However, I believe Terry Brown’s boys have enough about them to stave off the threat of relegation.

However, teams like Morcambe, Hereford and Barnet will feel a tough season is up ahead. Even with several new faces arriving at Edgar Street, Jamie Pitman’s Hereford are going to face a tough test. Again this season they are going to have to rely on Stuart Fleetwood for goals this season. If he gets injured, Hereford have had it. Morecambe failed to fire last season and will be hoping for better this year, but I don’t see a way out of this predicament, even with Jim Bentley as player-manager. Barnet have been teetering with relegation for the past two seasons. They were only saved last season by two players: Izale McLeod and Sam Deering. Barnet fans will be relieved to know that Sam Deering, who was on loan from Oxford last season, has made his move a permanent one. However, I doubt that McLeod and Deering will last a whole season without being injured or in need of a rest, and that’s when Barnet will lose points.

Accrington, Aldershot, Bradford, Burton, Cheltenham, Crewe, Dagenham, Macclesfield, Northampton, Port Vale, Southend and Torquay will probably be midtable this time around. Paul Buckle’s departure will make Torquay less of a force than last season. Dagenham and Redbridge will need some time to recover after losing League One status. They will have to try and start again, and this may take some time. 

 Josh McGrillen

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