Market Movers: League Two promotion race opens up

Market Movers: League Two promotion race opens up

With just two teams who began the weekend in League Two’s top seven winning at the weekend, the promotion race is beginning to hot up. 

Gabriel Sutton (@_FootbalLab) assesses the state of play a quarter of the way into the season.

Forest Green

Why they can go up

Defensive solidity.

Forest Green have kept eight clean sheets in 12 games so far this season, which shows they have been strong at the back with the experienced Matt Mills leading the rear-guard.

Namesake Joseph is among the best left wing-backs in the division, while the return from injury of his right-sided counter-part, Liam Shephard, is a huge plus along with go-getting Gambian Ebou Adams’ dynamic displays in midfield.

Why they might not

The Greens have only scored more than one goal on two occasions this season.

While the 4-0 win at Salford City quelled some of the question marks over their attacking potential, with Aaron Collins and Matty Stevens finding good form lately, there is still work to be done.

Verdict

Surprisingly, the leaders are more generously priced for promotion at 3/1 with SkyBet than Plymouth Argyle, who are 11 places lower.

Exeter

Why they can go up

Stability.

Exeter tend to have faith in managers and in Matt Taylor, they have somebody who is popular with supporters.

Nicky Law is one of League Two’s most intelligent operators while the skilful Randell Williams is a huge asset too, in a team that can grow in influence as games go on.

The Grecians have scored a combined eight goals coming in the final 15 minutes of matches – more than anyone in League Two.

Why they might not

Exeter are yet to beat a team heavily.

Four of their six victories have come by a one-goal margin and for large parts of some of those games, they have had to absorb their fair share of pressure.

The aim should be to control matches for longer periods.

Verdict

They have been in the promotion race in each of the previous three seasons; Exeter are 11/8 with SkyBet to reach League One and we can expect them to be competitive.

Newport

Why they can go up

Michael Flynn’s Amber Army have a fabulous spirit about them, which enables them to thrive in tight games and perform above the sum of their parts.

Newport’s back-three is a real strength, with Mark O’Brien an inspirational presence.

In the speedy Tristan Abrahams, target man Jamille Matt and persistent poacher Padraig Amond, they possess different types of strikers which allows them to adapt to different scenarios.

Josh Sheehan and Ryan Haynes are key assets, too.

Why they might not

If they need to strengthen the squad mid-season, their budget will be among the lowest of the promotion contenders.

Flynn will need to add smartly to enhance the group if required.

Verdict

May just miss out on promotion – priced at 2/1 with SkyBet, the perennial underdog specialists must now handle the weight of expectation.

Crewe Alexandra

Why they can go up

Crewe play arguably the slickest football in the division.

The left-sided partnership of Harry Pickering and Charlie Kirk, who rotate and interchange very well, is a key asset.

Tommy Lowery, meanwhile, is a driving force in midfield and some of the patterns of play are arguably far too advanced for this level.

Why they might not

The only reason players like Perry Ng have not attracted interest from higher up the pyramid previously is because they have not been in a team challenging for promotion.

Now that is no longer the case, Ng and a very impressive crop of young players are likely to become valuable commodities and thus the club could receive offers for key players.

Verdict

As long as 11/1 for promotion with some bookmakers after the opening day defeat but are now joint-favourites at 5/4 with SkyBet – we fancy them for a top three finish.

Cheltenham

Why they can go up

Cheltenham have a progressive young manager in Michael Duff and, with a stable squad, he has been able to build on a strong second half of last season

The Robins can play out from the back, but they can also go direct to Luke Varney and, by executing two or three patterns of play but to a high standard, they are keeping teams guessing.

Ryan Broom has been in excellent form from a central midfield role, while Ben Tozer is a key influence at centre-back.

Why they might not

Since reaching the League Two Play-Offs in 2012-13, Cheltenham have not managed a top half finish in the EFL.

Due to the questionable commitments the club made the summer before last under the previous regime, it might not be until 2020-21 that Duff has his squad tailored exactly to his requirements, so we should be forgiving if they hit a bad patch.

Verdict

Cheltenham are 5/1 with SkyBet for promotion, having been 9/1 after their first three games – there could be value in showing some faith in this tight-knit group.

Bradford

Why they can go up

Everything about Bradford in League Two screams promotion: big club, loyal fanbase, strong manager in Gary Bowyer and in theory, a good squad for this level.

The centre-back pairing of Ben Richards-Everton and Anthony O’Connor has been impressive, while Zeli Ismail is finding form on the wing.

Why they might not

Very much a rebuilding job at Valley Parade, after 18-months of a negative culture, off-field mistakes and a continual decline.

It could be argued that this season is about putting the right foundations in place to win two promotions in the following five years, rather than necessarily going up straight away as there are a lot of things to change before that happens.

Verdict

Lots of people understandably want to back Bradford due to their stature at this level, but that has shortened their odds for promotion to an arguably flattering extent.

Swindon Town

Why they can go up

Swindon have recruited well.

Lloyd Isgrove, who has played in the Championship before, has been a fine addition on the right, along with strikers Jerry Yates and Eoin Doyle while Kaiyne Woolery is an exciting player at this level too.

The Robins post the best shot data in the division under a driven and innovative head coach in Richie Wellens.

Why they might not

The highest-placed team Swindon have beaten this season is 11th-placed Cambridge.

Recent defeats to Colchester, Newport and Bradford raise questions about their ability to perform against the top sides.

Verdict

They should achieve a top-seven finish, but promotion quotes on the joint-favourites look a tad slim.