League Two season review
There was drama right until the end in League Two, with Chesterfield justifying their pre-season favourites’ tag to win the title and go up alongside Scunthorpe United and Rochdale. At the bottom, the events of the final day accounted for Bristol Rovers, whose shock demise ended 94 years of continued service in the Football League, accompanied by Torquay United who are relegated to the Conference for a second time in eight seasons.
After they narrowly missed out on the play-offs in 2013, Chesterfield’s summer business made them look a force to be reckoned with, and that was how it proved. The experience of Ian Evatt and Gary McSheffrey was pivotal, while in Gary Roberts they had arguably the best player in the division.
The Speirites did have the occasional lean spell in what was manager Paul Cook’s first full season in charge, such as a nine-match winless run in September and October and a shock 3-1 defeat at Accrington Stanley later on in the campaign, but they finished strongly to secure promotion on the penultimate weekend, before beating Fleetwood Town to claim the title on the final day.
Rochdale played arguably the best football in the division and deserve their place back in League One after two seasons away, while a world record was broken at Glanford Park as Russ Wilcox went unbeaten in his first 24 games in charge, a run which was enough to earn an immediate return to the third tier.
The race for the play-offs was over with time to spare as York City completed their rise up the table to overtake Oxford United, who wilted in dramatic fashion. The Minstermen were unable to overcome when it mattered, however, as the Lancastrians moved through to the play-off final to face Burton Albion, who had accounted for Southend United in their semi-final.
At Wembley, a mistake by Burton goalkeeper Dean Lyness proved fatal as he allowed Antoni Sarcevic’s free-kick to sail over his head. That sent Fleetwood up to the third tier of English football for the first time ever, after only two seasons in the Football League.
At the bottom, the battle to stay in the Football League twisted and turned and went right to the wire. For long periods of the season, Northampton Town looked certain to be heading for the Skrill Premier just a year after losing the League Two play-off final, but their fortunes changed after they tempted Chris Wilder to leave promotion-chasing Oxford to become manager.
From then on, they were one of the form sides in the division, and made a mockery of their lowly standing to ensure that Torquay United would be the side cast adrift. Unlike Northampton, the Gulls were unable to save themselves as the loss of two key strikers before the start of the season cost them dearly. Without Ryan Jarvis and Rene Howe, nobody in a Torquay shirt could find the net regularly.
On the penultimate weekend, Hartlepool United, Morecambe and Exeter City all salvaged crucial wins to drag themselves out of trouble, leaving Bristol Rovers and Wycombe Wanderers fighting to avoid the second and final relegation spot. They met in what was seemingly a decisive game at Adams Park, and it was Rovers who came out on top 2-1, leaving Wycombe three points from safety heading into the final day.
Wycombe did what they had to do by comfortably defeating Torquay 3-0, leaving Bristol Rovers, who had made the surprising move to promote assistant manager Darrell Clarke during the throes of a relegation battle, needing just a point against mid-table Mansfield Town.
However, Colin Daniel struck the fatal blow with a volley that went in off the post, and despite several near misses in the second half, the Pirates were condemned to non-league football against all the odds, having been fourth favourites with the bookmakers for promotion at the start of the season. Indeed, the only time they entered the drop zone during the whole season was on the final day.
Looking at the stats, it is easy to see where their shortcomings lay. An away record which reads just two victories out of 23 was a major factor, as well as scoring less than a goal a game. Despite the 13 league goals of enigmatic midfielder John-Joe O’Toole, none of the club’s strikers could score regularly enough.
It now leaves everyone at Rovers with a lot to ponder with the fans expecting a quick return to league football. One thing that is for sure though, is that getting out of the Conference is no easy task.
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