Six Managers Assessed: Who will win the League Two title?

Gabriel Sutton by Gabriel Sutton / 10 February 2020, 16:02

The League Two promotion race is really hotting up so it's time for Gabriel Sutton to assess six managers who could be lifting the division’s biggest prize come May...

Richie Wellens (Swindon Town)

Why he will

Richie Wellens has done a fabulous job at Swindon.

He has got the team playing delightful football with superbly co-ordinated passing and movement; we are seeing players like Diallang Jaiyesimi and Jerry Yates reach new performance levels in a fluent system, whilst 23-goal man Eoin Doyle is proving a clinical finisher.

Equally, Wellens has a drive and determination about him to ensure his side has a ruthless streak, with Anthony Grant breaking up play tenaciously in midfield and former Birmingham captain Paul Caddis bringing leadership from right-back.

Why he might not

Swindon’s away form, going into Tuesday’s trip to Northampton, has not been great with just one win in six – and some might suggest they were fortunate last time out to escape Carlisle with a point.

David Artell (Crewe Alexandra)

Why he will

Like Swindon, David Artell’s Crewe play some excellent stuff that arguably belongs at a higher level.

Left-siders Harry Pickering and Charlie Kirk work closely in tandem for the Alex, who have a strong midfield.

Tommy Lowery enjoyed a wonderful first half of the season but just as he dropped out of the equation, we have seen Oli Finney come to the fore while Ryan Wintle dictates next to battler Paul Green.

Chuma Anene, who joined just before Christmas, has reduced the reliance on veteran Chris Porter to start every game up top and has brought athleticism to the table.

Plus, Crewe always have a diagonal ball to right-sided forward Daniel Powell in their locker when play gets congested.

Why he might not

Injuries to ball-player Ollie Lancashire, utility man Nicky Hunt and, crucially, the dependable Eddie Nolan have left Artell short on options at the back.

Luckily for him, Michael Nottingham has brought some aerial prowess to his rear-guard since joining last month and Luke Offord has stepped up to the senior game surprisingly quickly, but any more injuries in that department could be fatal.

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Richie Wellens is currently leading the way in League Two

Matt Taylor (Exeter City)

Why he will

Matt Taylor is a popular figure at Exeter and has galvanized a fanbase that had been divided in the latter stages of Paul Tisdale’s reign.

Since taking charge in summer 2018, the former centre-back has recruited smartly: firstly, he has added intelligent midfielder Nicky Law and direct wide man Randell Williams, who both have proven to belong at a higher level.

A less obvious piece of business was the decision to offer Nigel Atangana, arguably League Two’s most underrated ball-winner over the last five years, a two-year contract despite the risk of injuries; Atangana has put his stamp on midfields with his aggression and tenacity.

Taylor has learnt a thing or two from Chris Wilder, a title-winner at this level with Northampton in 2015-16.

He has deployed a 3-5-2 with wide centre-backs, particularly right-sider Pierce Sweeney, afforded freedom to get up the channel and put crosses in, as we saw for the goal in the 1-0 victory at Salford.

Why he might not

12 of Exeter’s 16 wins have come by a one-goal margin, while five of their six defeats have come by a margin of two or more goals.

When the Grecians have won, they have relied more heavily than they might have liked on their goalkeeper, either Lewis Ward or Jonny Maxted.

When they have lost, meanwhile, it has often been a comprehensive defeat and it remains to be seen whether their current performance levels merit a top three berth.

Ryan Lowe (Plymouth Argyle)

Why he will

Ryan Lowe’s Argyle side pose a wide range of threats, much like his Bury outfit from the previous campaign.

The 3-1-4-2 system is really starting to click with Ryan Hardie, on loan from Blackpool, offering penetrative running in behind and Luke Jephcott, recalled from Torquay, poaching from close range to assuage the problematic striker issues from the first third of their campaign.

Tyreeq Bakinson has offered energy and dynamism in midfield while Danny Mayor is a deceptive dribbler, putting him once again among the star players in League Two.

Why he might not

Heavy away defeats.

Argyle have lost 3-1 at Northampton and 4-0 at Devon rivals Exeter then most recently 3-0 at Colchester.

Lowe’s troops have conceded a combined 11 goals in five road trips to teams mentioned here as realistic title contenders.

The Green Army try to play expressive, expansive football whilst looking to make the pitch as big as possible, but this can leave them vulnerable to counter-attacks.

At least, when they have scored the first goal, like they did at Forest Green and Cheltenham, they have showed that willingness to dig in but maybe they need to be more compact against the very best.

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Ryan Lowe is on the hunt for a second successive promotion

John McGreal (Colchester United)

Why he will

Colchester have recently gone on a 17-match unbeaten run; it is their longest this millennium and is also on course to be the second-longest invincible streak seen by any team in four League Two seasons.

After that run ended with a 2-1 loss at Cambridge, John McGreal’s men then thumped Argyle 3-0 with a sumptuous first half display which re-asserted their promotion credentials.

The U’s have their best squad, arguably, since the John Ward-led crop of 2011-12 that managed a 10th placed finish in League One.

Ball-winner Tom Lapslie, dribbler Courtney Senior and poacher Luke Norris were indispensable 12 months ago, yet now McGreal could leave all three out of his starting XI and still oversee a comfortable victory.

Why he might not

Colchester have only accrued 13 wins, which is five fewer than the current leaders with the same number of games.

The Essex outfit have struggled to put teams to the sword, with nine draws and five defeats in 22 games against sides outside the top seven; one point from a possible six against Morecambe, for example, leaves something to be desired.

Keith Curle (Northampton Town)

Why he will

Northampton relish big games.

Keith Curle’s Cobblers have beaten all the teams who would, theoretically, be more technically refined than themselves – Swindon, Plymouth Argyle and Crewe, as well as Burton in the FA Cup.

They can bully sides in the air through Vadaine Oliver, who has led the line superbly since coming in for the injured Harry Smith, bringing the likes of Sam Hoskins and Nicky Adams into play.

Northampton love a direct ball from deep and they leave the free-flowing football to the final third, which has largely worked for them.

Why he might not

The efficiency of Northampton’s football relies entirely on their main reference point winning the initial aerial duels, so when that does not happen, their more accomplished players are taken out of the game.

Their best player, veteran Alan McCormack, has had problems with injuries.

Verdict

With Doyle and Yates back at Swindon, Richie Wellens looks best-placed to take top honours – though David Artell will run him close.

Managers Departed

Last man down

Graham Westley
Graham Westley
(Stevenage)
16th February
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