The start of the new EFL season is but a few days away - 72 teams playing 46 fixtures each in the Championship, League One and League Two, plus a load of cup games to boot. It'll be a slog, a marathon, and all sorts of emotions will be flying round the country as some teams hit the jackpot and others hit the mud.
In this piece, Pride of Nottingham gives its predictions on who is expected to impress in League Two, from the automatic promotion candidates to the playoff hopefuls, as well as those who are expected to have a tough time staying in the Football League. And of course, looking at where Notts County will be expected to rank among the 24 teams come may.
Luton Town lost in last season’s playoff semi-finals, but should challenge again under the management of Nathan Jones. Alongside Mansfield, the Hatters have one of the highest budgets in the division, and although they lost Cameron McGeehan and Jack Marriott in the summer, they have made a number of impressive signings, including Alan McCormack from Brentford and 22-goal striker James Collins from Crawley Town.
The Stags finished last season just four points behind the playoffs, but over the summer, owner John Radford has financially backed manager Steve Evans to the hilt, leading to more than a dozen additions, many of these high-quality, alongside an already talented squad. And with Evans already boasting seven promotions on his CV and determined to make it eight, it is no surprise many are tipping the Stags to go up (but as a Notts fan, I hope they don't!).
Relegation was a bitter pill to swallow for Sky Blues fans last season, but manager Mark Robins gave the club a much-needed boost with an upturn in performance and results. In addition, a number of quality signings have arrived at the Ricoh Arena, including Michael Doyle from Portsmouth, Liam Kelly from Leyton Orient, Mark McNulty from Sheffield United and Peter Vincenti from Rochdale.
The Railwaymen have been on a downward trajectory for a number of years now, culminating in a woeful 17th-placed finish in League Two last season, but this time round, Steve Davis is gone and David Artell will be able to stamp his mark on the team. With the impressive Chris Porter up front and a host of other quality players, Crewe could well mount a playoff tilt.
Former Notts County manager Shaun Derry is building an impressive side at the Abbey Stadium. The U's had one of the league’s standout performers in goalscoring midfielder Luke Berry last season and have strengthened by recruiting Jabo Ibehre from Carlisle United. They finished four points shy of seventh last season and have strengthened at the back with the goalkeeper David Forde, a big influence at Portsmouth last season.
Following relegation to League Two, the Robins will be hoping to find more stability this season with the departure of director of football Tim Sherwood that many fans were eager to see. With a proven manager in David Flitcroft at the helm and a good squad which includes Chris Robertson and James Dunne, Swindon will probably fall short of automatic promotion but should be in the hunt for a playoff berth.
Stevenage made huge strides in Darren Sarll’s first full season at the helm and looked like genuine contenders for automatic promotion as they claimed ten wins from 13 matches, but limped over the line with two wins from their final six games. Sarll will want to make amends this time round and, with the additions of Blair Turgott, Danny Newton and Joe Martin, the team is a stronger proposition this time round.
Perhaps a little biased given this is a Notts fan site, but I honestly believe the Magpies will be pushing for a playoff position. Although the latest batch of signings may be somewhat underwhelming, let's not forget what preceded it - all the key players from last season renewing their contracts, some shrewd acquisitions which have strengthened most of the outfield areas, and of course the return of Jorge Grant. I'm a little skeptical about the goalkeepers, but I'm hoping Ross Fitzsimons and Branislav Pindroch will surprise me. With stability behind the scenes and a quality manager in Kevin Nolan, it bodes well.
Last season, Newport were a dead club walking, only to pull off one of the greatest escapes in modern football. However, the reality is that they have one of the smallest budgets in the division and lost several key players over the summer, including Mark Randall, Ryan Bird and Mitch Rose, to leave them with a playing squad of just 19. They've pretty much been the Sunderland of League Two, and I think they will finally give in this year.
The Red Devils have a real fight on their hands beating the drop again. New manager Harry Kewell is inexperienced - his first managerial job in senior football, in fact - while highly-rated striker James Collins has moved to Luton, with no adequate replacement having yet been recruited, and their back line let in 71 goals last season, so it's difficult to see them do anything but struggle this year.
The Glovers have dropped down two divisions and finishing in the bottom six of the basement for the past two seasons. Last season they won just three out of their last 27 games, and although manager Darren Way has not been shy in the transfer market, few of them are particularly impressive and it is hard to see where goals will come from, while at the back, Alex Lacey's departure will be difficult to replace.
Off the field problems and the loss of Ryan Edwards at the back and Paul Mullin up front will likely make it a hard fight for survival this season for the Shrimps. Their budget remains one of the lowest in the division which means recruitment will not bring in any exceptional players, so once again, it is difficult to see the Globe Arena side offer anything more than a battle to stay in the Football League.