2019/20 League Two Managerial Preview: The view from the dugout

Gabriel Sutton by Gabriel Sutton / 01 August 2019, 14:56

With the football season returning this weekend, Gabriel Sutton takes an in-depth look at the managers in League Two and provides The Sack Race with his thoughts ahead of the new season.

Title winner – John Dempster, Mansfield Town

Mansfield Town missed out on promotion last season.

The Stags had been in a position of strength but untimely injuries to goalkeeper Bobby Olejnik and athletic right wing-back Hayden White represented significant blows to their chances.

Once Jorge Grant joined, David Flitcroft tried to follow the recent footballing trend of incorporating two no. 10s in the same XI, with the Nottingham Forest loanee playing next to a similarly enigmatic technician in Jacob Mellis.



This though perhaps disrupted the balance of the side and overburdened veteran ball-winner Neal Bishop, while the lack of width due to White’s absence meant they had to play high crosses from deep, which was not suited to maximizing the strengths of Tyler Walker.

The latter was a natural goalscorer but has been replaced favourably by target man Andy Cook and proven spearhead Nicky Maynard, meaning the Nottinghamshire outfit can go direct and not automatically lose possession in the final third.

Replacing Flitcroft is John Dempster, a Mansfield legend who deserves this opportunity after impressing as Academy Manager.

The 36-year-old has worked with the likes of defender Lewis Gibbens, midfielder Alistair Smith and forward Jimmy Knowles – who have all featured in pre-season.

While Mansfield’s signings show their target remains promotion, there may come a point at which John and Carolyn Radford cannot keep funding big squads with 22 guaranteed performers, so Dempster’s willingness to dip into the academy and nurture youngsters could become a big advantage.

One To Watch – Michael Duff, Cheltenham Town



If there is one up-and-coming manager who could make a real name for himself this season, it’s Michael Duff at Cheltenham Town.

Duff is of course a Robins legend, having successfully played the first half of his career at Whaddon Road, yet the club’s commitment to him is not based on oversentimentality, as has arguably been the situation in one of two previous cases.

The Northern Irishman is a very down-to-earth character; he has little time for philosophy or inspiration, but rather is focused on and energized by the here-and-now.

If one were to ask him a post-match question, he would offer an honest, direct answer which simplifies matters for everyone around him.

Duff took over in September and, while he was learning the league as well as his own players, there was an initial nine-game winless streak that appeared to leave Cheltenham in relegation danger.

After an encouraging 2-2 draw with Mansfield though, the Robins took 46 points from 30 games – a whopping 10 wins in their final 15 home games – meaning they ended the season some 16 points clear of the drop.

Most impressively, Duff’s troops played their way out of trouble rather than just needing to scrap every time and while they could go long to vigorous veteran Luke Varney, they could also play out from the back with a talented centre-back in Charlie Raglan and a midfielder by trade in Ben Tozer operating in the middle of the back-three.

The only key player Cheltenham have since lost is midfield dynamo Kevin Dawson and Ryan Broom can fill that void, with right wing-back Sean Long looking bright since returning from injury.

If there’s one new manager who could have a real breakthrough season, it’s Duff.

First Casualty – Sol Campbell, Macclesfield Town

Nobody could blame Sol Campbell if he decided to leave Macclesfield.

The former centre-back’s playing career and status in the game means he will attract a lot of suitors – and his achievement in keeping the Silkmen up from a very precarious position last season may satisfy some prospective employers, who may have previously been concerned by his lack of experience.

Campbell is unlikely to inspire sustained progression at Macclesfield, mainly because of the ownership situation at the club. 

Director Amar Alkadhi is not a particularly popular figure with supporters and there are a lot of question marks over the financial management of the club.

They appear to have had difficulty paying all the player and staff wages in full on time, with a court case to come on 14th August over payment of wages – yet while this has been going on, they have been able to sanction deals for nine new players.

Campbell will surely have opportunities to work at a higher-placed club, with more clarity regarding the financial dealings to give him a more secure base from which to build.

 Best Summer Appointment – none of them* 

*apart from Dempster, as mentioned earlier.

This might seem a surprising response, given that all four relegated clubs have made on paper very positive moves.

New Bradford and Scunthorpe bosses, Gary Bowyer and Paul Hurst respectively, have managed in the Championship, new Walsall chief Darrell Clarke led Bristol Rovers to back-to-back promotions while Argyle’s Ryan Lowe produced arguably the most complete managerial performance in the EFL last season.

Our bold prediction for the 2019-20 League Two campaign, though is that every manager in League Two’s final top seven in May will have been employed their club across at least three separate calender years – stability will be a key factor in the promotion race.

Bowyer inherits huge cultural problems at Bradford from the last 18 months and perhaps solving systematic structural issues could make it harder to perfect the technical and tactical aspects of his work; it’s a similar story for Hurst.

Clarke is by far Walsall’s biggest asset, because he has had to instigate a high turnover of players and with the club making so many new signings, it has been difficult for them to identify the calibre of players likely to help them secure a top seven finish, so this looks a rebuilding season.

Lowe, meanwhile, is cultivating a whole new style of football at Argyle and while he has brought in some colleagues from Bury, he will need to impress his ideas on other players who are used to more direct methods of predecessor Derek Adams.

Crewe Alexandra and Colchester have far more stable squads; they could benefit from placing trust in David Artell and John McGreal respectively through rough patches. 

Richie Wellens has recruited well at Swindon this summer and can build on improved performances and results after he took over in November last season, while Exeter look a united ship under Matt Taylor.

The three unsuccessful Play-Off candidates from 2018-19 meanwhile, also have the means to go strong – continuity could be king.

Managers Departed

Last man down

Graham Westley
Graham Westley
16th February
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