League Two Season Preview: Clough key for Stags' promotion hopes

Nigel Clough, the Mansfield Town manager
Nigel Clough could be the experienced manager Mansfield have been looking for

Experienced managers could reap dividends in the 2021-22 League Two season says Ian Lamont who also thinks Swindon might be live outsiders to make the play-offs...

"Bradford excite me at 12-1 mostly because boss Derek Adams has earned promotion from this division twice, firstly with plenty of resources at Plymouth and then last season by performing miracles at Morecambe."

Mansfield could emerge from the pack

Every year in the Snooker World Championships I have a little bet on Shaun Murphy. For me, he is a "middle of the pack" possible winner, who could upset the obvious favourites. This year, I didn't back him. Lo and behold, he reached the final.

I feel there are several "Murphys" in the League Two winners market for 2021-22. Seasoned division regulars who could be talked up every year: Exeter, Newport, Mansfield, Port Vale and Bradford all fit the bill.

Mansfield Town and Bradford City are the ones I'm most interested in. They are both short enough in the betting on Sportsbook, being 9/1 and 12/1 respectively. The market favourites are Salford City (6/1), while there is always a relegated side among the leading pack. This year Bristol Rovers carry that pressure at 10/1.

Shrewd managers crucial to clubs' success

My choices come down to managers. I like what Mansfield's Nigel Clough achieved at Burton, when he was given time to prosper. The Stags' owners now have a big name in charge rather than a succession of smaller ones: someone to attract talent and inspire performances.

He has had a summer to shape his own squad now and the board have backed him, not least by signing striker Danny Johnson, who scored 19 goals last season for Leyton Orient, and Oli Hawkins (ex-Ipswich and Portsmouth) to pressurise Jordan Bowery for game time up front.

Bradford excite me at 12-1 mostly because boss Derek Adams has earned promotion from this division twice, firstly with plenty of resources at Plymouth and then last season by performing miracles at Morecambe. If you'll forgive him for jumping ship just days after the play-offs, you'll note his ambition at joining fallen football giants.

Some canny signings include Yann Songo'o from his former club, Mansfield forward Andy Cook and winger Abo Eisa, who netted 14 goals for struggling Scunthorpe in 2020-21.

Barton-factor could undermine Rovers' promotion bid

Relegated sides installed at short prices rarely appeal. Joey Barton's off-field dramas (he appeared in court last week on assault charges and is set for a trial in December) bring the wrong sort of attention to third favourites Bristol Rovers.

The reason for the Pirates' short price seems to be some cute signings. League Two followers will know about Aaron Collins, the former Forest Green striker, while Barton has brought in several from League One or above, including two midfielders (Paul Coutts and Sam Finley) and a forward (Harvey Saunders) from former club Fleetwood.

It would be some turnaround to finish bottom of League One and win promotion, however.

Salford need to support Bowyer

What of favourites Salford City at 6/1? The layers ran scared of the Ammies this time last year, too, making them an equally short price. Come May, however, they finished eighth. Ambitious and well financed by some famous former-footballers, I can't trust a season-long bet at that price to a club which fired a manager (Gary Alexander) after an unbeaten five-game start last season and had four bosses during the last campaign.

Maybe former Blackpool boss Gary Bowyer has the experience to pull off the desperately desired promotion. He has brought in experienced defender Liam Shephard from Newport and Conor McAleny, who netted 17 league goals for Oldham last term.

Robins a nice price for promotion tilt

Swindon are a long-shot 22/1 to win the title, but could their new head coach turn things around? Ben Garner is relatively inexperienced in such a role, having managed Bristol Rovers in the past but otherwise been a number two, at Crystal Palace and West Brom no less.

It is only 15 months since the Robins' triumphant rise from League Two, with promises of becoming a Championship club soon. But after the boom came the "bust" - not quite as dramatically as with Bury, which cost a town a football club, but in nearly as colourful a story.

April 2020 was the last time they paid rent on their ground to the local council (before a recent takeover). In June this year, they failed to pay full wages and only had nine registered professionals on their books.

A manager walked out after a month. The football authorities screamed "foul" when an agent declared he owned shares in the club and owner/chairman Lee Power was effectively forced to sell up. New owner Clem Morfuni has now declared "the fans have their club back". How long will the fresh era take to truly bring dawn, is the question?

They are 3/1 to win promotion, 5/1 to make the play-offs and 15-2 to make the top three. Bolton snatched third last year, after a poor start to the season. Reaching the play-offs might be something to aim for, at best.

Another decent outside bet might be the 10/1 on Crawley Town to be promoted (which I would envisage being via the play-offs). If the Red Devils can put a home run together like they did at the back end of 2019-20 into last season, they could well build some momentum to attack the top seven.

John Yems is good at pulling out non-league gems and just how good central midfielder Jack Payne (Eastleigh) proves to be could be crucial to what they can achieve. Maximising Tom Nichols' abilities up front and getting consistency from others around the experienced heads like George Francombe, Ashley Nadesan and Jordan Tunnicliffe will be key.

Iron could sink to non-league

I'm sure boss Alex Revell will agree it seems unfair to make Stevenage - who finished comfortably in mid-table last season - 9/2 joint second relegation favourites with Barrow. Experienced signings Jake Taylor (Exeter) and Jamie Reid (Mansfield) should help Stevenage survive.

Scunthorpe, who really started to struggle last year, have to be in danger at 5/1. Eisa's exit is a big blow. Can new strikers Harry Bunn and Tyrone O'Neill replace his goals or, crucially, receive decent enough service?

It's no surprise to see Football League debutants Sutton United the favourites to go back down at 7/2. Yet Harrogate survived, after ripping up their artificial surface, as Matt Gray's club has also had to do. It has been a real income generator for Sutton. They have some experience, but whether Harry Beautyman's goals from midfield (11 last season) and Enzio Boldewijn's time at Crawley will get them through remains to be seen.

Barrow (9/2) and Harrogate (5/1) could easily suffer from second season syndrome, while returning Hartlepool (5/1) are equally vulnerable.

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