1st Season Back: Predictions For 2018-19
How do we see Tranmere faring in League Two?
Posted: 03/08/18. Updated 08/10/18.
Hello and welcome to this, the final instalment in our Countdown to 2018-19 feature. The feedback from you, the Deadly Submarine audience, has been overwhelming and we'd like to thank each and every person who has supported this unique experiment. We've definitely enjoyed producing these pieces — it's been a real challenge to present different articles to the standard our loyal readers expect, but if we say so ourselves, we think we've pulled it off.
With the self-congratulatory back-slapping out of the way, let's look at our predictions for the 2018-19 campaign. Last season, we predicted the entire National League table, but after three years away from the division, we'll be honest and say we simply don't know enough about the division to make such a prediction this term.
Instead, we'll focus on the important action at either end of the table.
With the addition of Cole Stockton on 2nd August, Tranmere took the tally of new players to nine ahead of the 2018-19 campaign. A known quantity, Cole gives Micky Mellon more options and brings a physicality to the attack it was missing just a week ago. We have already given our opinions on the summer recruits, so we won't re-tread old ground.
With options all over the pitch, there needs to be a realisation that there is a huge gulf in quality between the National League and the top three-quarters of League Two. With Andy Cook gone, it could take time for players such as Paul Mullin and Jonny Smith to bed into the team, whilst the vast majority of Tranmere's squad will need to become accustomed/re-accustomed with life in League Two.
Reasonably solid at the back, the question mark could come over how they will unlock the better defences in the league. They will have to avoid individual errors such as those seen in pre-season, but with Micky Mellon's drive and determination to do well for the Club, the players will not lack motivation or enthusiasm for the task.
May just sneak into the top half but should hopefully be comfortably above the relegation zone by the end of the season. Whilst the transition may be difficult to start with, a solid mid-table return for Tranmere and a platform from which to build next season would seem about right.
Champions: Notts County
Ending the 2017-18 season in fifth, Notts County were defeated by eventual play-off winners Coventry City in the semi-finals. With the departures of Paul Tisdale and several key players from Exeter City, County appear to be the best placed of the unsuccessful play-off contenders to mount a promotion challenge in 2018-19. Players such as David Vaughan, Lewis Alessandra and Jon Stead provide a wealth of experience, whilst new signing Kristian Dennis is proven goalscorer at Macclesfield Town and Chesterfield.
Promoted: Lincoln City and Milton Keynes Dons
2016-17 National League champions Lincoln City qualified for the League Two play-offs at the first attempt in 2017-18, falling at the semi-final stage to Exeter City. Whilst the Grecians have lost key personnel since that tie, Lincoln have strengthened considerably over the summer. With signings such as Bruno Andrade and John Akinde, they have boosted an already threatening attack still further. The most likely team to push Notts County for the title.
Whilst it is dangerous to work to assumption, one would expect a team relegated from League One last season to be in the hunt for an automatic return in 2018-19. The most obvious of those appears to be Milton Keynes Dons. In the Championship as recently as 2015-16, they have hired the man behind Exeter's play-off final qualification, Paul Tisdale. Known as a man who likes to play a certain brand of football, he seems to be a perfect fit at a club where he will have greater resources than Exeter. With Notts County and Lincoln guided by familiar faces in Kevin Nolan and Danny Cowley, the transition period to the Tisdale era may prevent a title victory.
Play-offs: Northampton Town, Mansfield Town, Swindon Town and Colchester United
For the play-offs, relegated Northampton Town should have enough quality to reach the top seven. Familiar faces David Buchanan and Ash Taylor will be good players at League Two level and, in John-Joe O'Toole and Dean Bowditch, they have experienced attacking players with a lot of quality.
Speaking of quality, Mansfield Town are another side expected to make a real push for promotion this term. With quality throughout the side, summer signings Craig Davies and Otis Khan could prove the key pieces to take them a step further than last year's disappointing eighth place.
Swindon Town are another of the sides who just missed out on the play-offs last season, finishing ninth. Making a host of impressive signings this summer, none more so than the exceptional Toumani Diagouraga, Phil Brown will be hoping to go one better than last term and qualify for the play-offs as a bare minimum. They should do it.
Finally, and perhaps surprisingly, Colchester United appear to have snuck under the radar. A club that always threatens to put a promotion campaign together, John McGreal's side finished 2017-18 in the bottom half of the table in thirteenth. With attacking talents such as Sammie Szmodics, Luke Norris, Aaron Collins and Frank Nouble, they should score a lot of goals — certainly more than the fifty-three they registered last term.
Relegated: Oldham Athletic and Macclesfield Town
Recently relegated, fourth from bottom of League One? Yes.
First time in the fourth tier for decades? Yes.
Inexperienced manager? Yes.
Club recently taken over? Yes.
If this all sounds eerily familiar to Tranmere fans, then you may understand why our first pick to be relegated in 2018-19 are Oldham Athletic. On paper, they have a good, perhaps very good squad. However, the team is littered with 'names', gambles on players with off-field issues and a host of foreign signings who have no experience of English football.
If Ishmael Miller can recapture some form after a year away from the game. If Jose Baxter can play consistent football. If Chris O'Grady can recapture some of his old spark, then Oldham could be fine. But it's a huge gamble. The situation has all the makings of another Tranmere or Leyton Orient season about it.
The other side likely to struggle is National League champions Macclesfield Town. Earlier in our countdown, we highlighted the fact that no club has been immediately relegated back to the fifth tier since the introduction of the play-offs in 2002-03. However, the Silkmen could push that sequence beyond breaking point after Forest Green Rovers came within a point of doing so last season.
Macclesfield have simply been decimated over the summer. Manager John Askey left to join Shrewsbury Town in League One. With what will presumably be one of the lowest average gates (they averaged 1,839 in the National League — lower than all League Two teams except Morecambe) in League Two and little financial clout, they appear to have an uphill task to avoid taking the unwanted step back to non-League football after just one season.
Surprise Package: Forest Green Rovers
As surprising and perhaps unpopular as this selection may be, our dark horses for 2018-19 are Forest Green Rovers. Yes, they only just survived relegation last term, but over the summer they have recruited an attacking line-up with genuine goalscoring intent. With swathes of new signings added to a team heavily reliant upon Christian Doidge last term, the side from The New Lawn could upset a few teams this season.
So, there you have it. A comfortable mid-table finish for Micky Mellon's side in their second debut season in the EFL.
Thank you again for your support throughout the past ten days, we hope you've enjoyed counting down the days with us. If you've missed any entries, the links are at the bottom of each page, so you can easily navigate back to the very start if you wish. Perhaps you are making the journey to Stevenage? Or at a loose end in Australia.
No matter where you are, don't forget to follow us on Facebook and Twitter and share the content with other members of the SWA. Also, let us know your picks for promotion, play-offs and relegation — we'd love to hear your thoughts.
Come on Rovers!
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