This year’s battle for promotion in League Two looks like being one of the most competitive in memory.
With 14 players coming in, there are too many variables to tip Bradford City at , while it feels unlikely Stockport will storm the league in their first season back in the EFL, and Salford continually fail to meet lofty expectations.
Instead, last season’s losing play-off finalists Mansfield look the safest bet for promotion.
If not for a shocking start to the 2021/22 season, the Stags would certainly have been among the automatic promotion spots.
They were second-bottom after 14 matches, but improved to finish seventh – three points behind third-placed Bristol Rovers.
As a result, wholesale changes were never going to be necessary to bridge the gap, but Nigel Clough has added quality with goalkeeper Christy Pym from Peterborough – a League One promotion winner two seasons ago – and midfielder Hiram Boateng arriving from MK Dons.
They join big hitters Rhys Oates, Lucas Akins and Stephen Quinn, who all contributed to an impressive campaign last time out.
This year, they can go one better.
Top-seven finish: Crawley
Crawley’s acquisition by US cryptocurrency company WAGMI United has already guaranteed that there will be plenty of interest in them over the course of the season.
While plenty have been sceptical of the owners’ understanding of football – they allowed members to vote on positions of planned signings earlier in summer – they have made an eye-catching start to life in the EFL.
Earlier this month, an NFT drop in partnership with Adidas raised £3m, having only been on sale for a few hours.
With that money filtering back into the club, it can only be a positive for their chances in the 2022/23 season.
Former Arsenal U23 and England U18 manager Kevin Betsy has replaced the outgoing John Yems and will look to instil a more progressive style of play.
Ball-playing defender Dion Conroy’s arrival from Swindon underlines that, but the headline signing is that of Dom Telford from Newport.
Telford top-scored in League Two with 25 goals last season and will have had the pick of plenty of clubs in the third and fourth tier.
That he picked the Red Devils is not only a sign of their new-found financial pull, but also that they mean business and can convince others of that.
Crawley finished 12th in League Two last season and it’s not hard to see where their improvements will come from. At this price, they are worth backing.
Just as the promotion market looks to be a competitive one this year, there are a handful of clubs who could find themselves in one of the two relegation spots.
Among them are Harrogate , who have stagnated.
Simon Weaver’s side finished 19th last season and conceded the second-most goals in the division, while their best player Jack Diamond’s loan has finished and he has returned to Sunderland.
Despite that, there is better value to be had elsewhere, the best being with Sutton.
Matt Gray’s side were one of the stories of the season last term, finishing just one point shy of the play-off positions after occupying the top seven for most of their debut season in the EFL.
But it is hard to see Sutton getting anywhere close to the highs of last season this time around.
Top scorer David Ajiboye has left for Peterborough, second-top scorer Isaac Olaofe is another whose loan has expired, while goalkeeper Dean Bouzanis is now a Reading player.
In a crowded market, the Amber and Chocolates are the most eye-catching.
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