FL 125 League Two
As Sky Sports picks out 125 players to watch in the Football League, here's the best from League Two. All 24 clubs are covered, but have we got it right?
By Chris Burton
Last Updated: 29/07/13 8:43am
With the Football League currently celebrating its 125-year anniversary since inception and with the new season to get underway in earnest at the weekend, we've spread our net across the Sky Bet Championship, League One and League Two to pick out 125 shining lights outside of the Premier League for the 2013/14 campaign.
Even if you're the type of supporter that doesn't have to debate whether the glass is half-full or half-empty because you've long-since since drained the contents, there's no need for despair as we've picked out at least one player from every club.
In total, we've ranked 65 players from the Championship and selected 30 each from Leagues One and Two respectively as those most likely to make a significant impact this season.
It's all a matter of opinions though and we'd love to hear yours. So if we've got your club's star man all wrong or missed a young kid all set for a breakthrough campaign let us know by filling in the feedback form below.
AFC Wimbledon - Jack Midson
Midson had spent much of his career trawling the non-league ranks before linking up with AFC Wimbledon in 2011. He had spent time with Oxford, and taken in loan spells at Southend and Barnet, but had offered little to suggest that he was capable of putting down roots and being a regular source of goals in the League ranks. Midson has, however, been a resounding success with the Dons. The 29-year-old has made over 100 appearances for the club and has been their top scorer in each of his two seasons in the capital - netting 13 times in the league in 2012/13 to help the Dons avoid the drop.
Accrington Stanley - James Beattie
He may not spend as much time in front of goal in 2013/14 as he would like, but there is no doubting that Beattie will be a key figure at Accrington this season - on and off the field. The former England international is cutting his managerial teeth in League Two, having officially been handed the reins in May. He will be eager to ensure that he strikes the right balance between playing and coaching, and that may limit his game time. If he is on the pitch, though, there are not too many League Two strikers who have represented the Three Lions and have spent the best part of their career in the Premier League. He still knows where the back of the net is, of that there is little doubt.
Bristol Rovers - Michael Smith
When looking at Smith's performances last season, and the standard he was able to set himself, it is easy to forget that he is a relative newcomer to the professional ranks. Bristol Rovers brought him to England from Ballymena in 2011, where he had been a standout performer, and he has improved his game year on year. In 2012/13 he saw his consistency rewarded with a new contract and Rovers' Player of the Year award. The 24-year-old may not be the finished article, but he is getting better all the time and should be setting his sights on international recognition with Northern Ireland.
Burton Albion - Rene Howe
Having seen Jacques Maghoma lured away to Sheffield Wednesday this summer, it was imperative that Burton found a replacement for their most potent attacking weapon. They wasted little time in identifying Howe as the man they wanted, and have actually brought in a player who netted more goals last season than Maghoma. Howe found the target on 16 occasions in 2012/13 for Torquay and will be looking forward to now leading the line at a promotion-chasing outfit - with Burton determined to ensure that their play-off appearance last term was no flash in the pan.
Burton Albion - Rory Delap
Since 1997, Delap has spent just two full seasons outside of the top flight. That is some record for a man who is now 37 years of age. There is little question that he could still hold his own in the top two tiers, but Burton have persuaded him to join their quest for promotion in League Two. The addition of any player who has made close to 600 career appearances and who has 11 international caps to his name is never going to be a gamble, and Burton know precisely what they are getting from Delap - with the fourth tier now home to the most famous long throw in English football.
Bury - Gareth Roberts
Given everything that has happened at Bury in the space of the last 12 months, you get the feeling that Roberts could be a key figure in 2013/14. Financial troubles have left manager Kevin Blackwell with his hands firmly tied, but he has been able to convince Roberts to step down into League Two at Gigg Lane. The vastly-experienced defender was released by Derby at the end of last season, but even at the age of 35 he still has plenty to offer. Anyone with nine caps for their country, in his case Wales, must have something about them and Roberts should have no problem settling into new surroundings.
Cheltenham Town - Jamie Cureton
Cureton is readying himself to represent a 13th club in a much-travelled career after penning a one-year deal at Cheltenham. It comes as something of a surprise that he is not still on the books at Exeter, having enjoyed a standout season for the Grecians last term. Exeter greatly benefited from the veteran frontman's eye for goal over the course of two spells - as he netted 35 times. The 37-year-old has been allowed to move on, though, and will be hoping his Indian Summer continues at Cheltenham. His experience could be key as the Robins look to mount another promotion charge.
Cheltenham Town - Billy Jones
Forward-thinking full-backs have become increasingly common in the English game, and Cheltenham have one of the best around in the form of flying left-back Jones. The 30-year-old is very much out of the Ashley Cole-Leighton Baines mould and is as adept bombing down the flanks as he is tracking back to keep things tight. A glance at the 2012/13 assists table for League Two proves just how comfortable he is in the attacking third of the field, as he laid on 10 goals in the league. That is some return, but you can bet your life he will be looking to better it in the new campaign.
Chesterfield - Tendayi Darikwa
Darikwa has made rapid progress at Chesterfield in recent times, penning two new contracts in as many seasons. He is now tied to the Spireites until 2015 and they will be hoping to see his upward curve continue for many years to come. The 21-year-old midfielder certainly took another step forward in 2012/13 - if not two or three - as he nailed down a regular role under Paul Cook and landed personal accolades - including the League Two Young Player of the Month award for December. Darikwa could also see international recognition coming his way in the not too distant future, with Zimbabwe keen to secure the services of the Nottingham-born youngster.
Chesterfield - Sam Togwell
Togwell missed just one League Two fixture for Chesterfield last season, and made 50 appearances in total. Having narrowly missed out on a top-seven finish with the Spireites, he will be hoping to go one better this time around. He knows what it takes to win promotion - having made it to the Championship with Scunthorpe in 2009 - and has vast experience of life in the Football League. Only title winners Gillingham could better Chesterfield's defensive record in 2012/13, with Togwell's efforts in a holding midfield role helping to keep opponents at arm's length.
Dagenham & Redbridge - Matthew Saunders
Given that Dagenham spent much of the 2012/13 campaign sweating on their Football League status, the exploits of Saunders are all the more impressive. Doing the business in a struggling side is never easy, with confidence in short supply and players often failing to get themselves in positions to really influence games. You could not accuse Saunders of that, though, as the 23-year-old enjoyed his most productive season to date on a personal level. He made 32 appearances in the league, scored three goals and laid on 11 assists. Dagenham will be hoping for more of the same this term.
Exeter City - Artur Krysiak
There must be something in the water in Poland as they have produced a generation of top goalkeepers. The likes of Jerzy Dudek, Artur Boruc, Lukasz Fabianski, Wojciech Szczesny and Tomasz Kuszczak have all impressed in British football, and Krysiak can add his name to that list. He may not be gracing the Premier League, but the 23-year-old is a shot-stopper of some repute. He has spent the last three years at Exeter, after being released by Birmingham, and has displayed continuous improvement to nail down the Grecians' number one spot. A commanding keeper who dominates his penalty area, expect Krysiak to step up the League ladder in the near future.
Fleetwood Town - Ryan Cresswell
Solid centre-halves are a must in League Two, with the fourth tier no place for the faint-hearted. Taking that into account, Fleetwood would appear to have done well to bring Cresswell onto their books. The 25-year-old knows what the Football League is all about, having represented Bury, Rotherham and Southend with distinction over recent years. He was keen to move back north this summer, despite enjoying a productive debut season at Roots Hall which saw him finish as runner-up in Southend's Player of the Year reckoning and earn a place in the PFA League Two Team of the Year.
Fleetwood Town - Mark Roberts
It is an indication of how far Fleetwood have come that they were able to tempt Roberts down from League One to join their ambitious project at Higbury. The 29-year-old has spent the last five years at Stevenage, and was crowned their Player of the Year on two occasions. He was, however, looking for a new challenge this summer and snubbed the offer of a new deal with Boro. He has bought into what Fleetwood are trying to achieve and will add vast experience to their ranks - as he is close to breaking through the 400-game barrier in terms of career appearances.
Hartlepool United - Anthony Sweeney
Following the departure of club stalwart Ritchie Humphreys, Hartlepool have turned to another mainstay in their side in their appointment of a new club captain. Sweeney has spent his entire career to date at Victoria Park, graduating out of the youth ranks to make over 400 senior appearances. He is a midfielder who knows his way to goal and will want to embrace the added responsibility placed on his shoulders in 2013/14 as Pools aim to avoid suffering a relegation hangover.
Mansfield Town - Sam Clucas
Clucas' story is an interesting one, as he was on the books at Lincoln City as recently as 2010 but has taken a scenic route back to the League ranks. The 22-year-old is one of those to have benefited from time spent at the Glenn Hoddle Academy in Spain. While on the continent, he took in a spell with Jerez Industrial. Hereford brought him back to England in November 2011 and he has been taking positive strides ever since. Mansfield snapped him up after winning promotion back to League Two and it has not taken him long to settle at Field Mill. It has already been suggested that other clubs are now looking at Clucas, but Mansfield would be reluctant to let him go after barely getting to know him.
Morecambe - Kevin Ellison
For any winger, ending the season with a healthy goal return and a notable number of assists is a must. You are there, first and foremost, to create opportunities and put opposition defences on the back foot. Ellison is a wideman who has been around long enough to have perfected his art, with the 30-year-old having turned out for the likes of Hull City, Tranmere and Rotherham. He is currently tearing down the flanks at Morecambe and can reflect on an impressive showing in 2012/13 which saw him claim one match-ball, for a hat-trick against AFC Wimbledon, and nine assists.
Newport County - Aaron O'Connor
After ending their 25-year absence from the Football League, Newport quickly got to work piecing together a squad they hope can be competitive in the fourth tier. It did not take a genius to work out that keeping top goalscorer O'Connor on their books was going to be key, and he was swiftly offered an extension to an expiring contract. The 29-year-old, who was released by Scunthorpe while still in his teens, scored 19 goals last season - including one in a play-off final date at Wembley - to help Newport edge out Welsh rivals Wrexham and claim the final League placing for 2013/14.
Northampton Town - Chris Hackett
Northampton fell at the final promotion hurdle in 2012/13, with Bradford dashing their dreams at Wembley. The Cobblers are, however, expected to be among the frontrunners again next term, and Hackett will have another starring role to play. He, along with Ben Tozer, provided the ammunition last season for others to feed off. He laid on 13 assists over the course of the campaign and will need to get close to that figure again if Northampton are to make their way back to the third tier of English football.
Northampton Town - Darren Carter
Cheltenham claim they did all they could to keep Carter, while the midfielder says no fresh terms were put to him and he was left bemused by his omission from the Robins' two-legged play-off semi-final clash with Northampton. Whatever the case may be, the 29-year-old is now on the books of the club that denied his former employers a day out at Wembley last term. The Cobblers have snapped the classy midfielder up on a two-year deal and will be delighted to have added a player who has spent the vast majority of his career competing in the top two divisions to their squad.
Oxford United - Dave Kitson
Kitson once demanded a £5.5million transfer fee, as Stoke snatched him from Reading in July 2008. It is, however, fair to say that things have not gone entirely to plan for him since then. The 33-year-old is still a proven marksman, though, and will fancy his chances of filling his boots in League Two if offered the right kind of service. Oxford are a side that are pleasing on the eye and will feel that their style plays to Kitson's strengths. Should the flame-haired forward click in 2013/14, he could figure prominently on the four tier scoring charts.
Plymouth Argyle - Andres Gurrieri
A man born in Switzerland, who holds dual Argentine and Italian citizenship, has spent time turning out in Uruguay and is now on the books at Plymouth - Andres Gurrieri is not your average footballer. He was offered a 12-month contract by the Pilgrims in 2012 following his release by Burton. It comes as no surprise to find, given his South American ties, that he is a tricky playmaker capable of tying opposition defences in knots. He grabbed his first Football League goal last season and will be hoping there are plenty more to come as he and Plymouth set their sights on promotion.
Portsmouth - Jed Wallace
Wallace appears to be a young man with his head screwed on. It would have been easy for his head to have been turned last season, given everything that was going on around him. After breaking into the first team at financially-crippled Portsmouth, the 19-year-old was quickly linked with moves to the very top of the game. No deal materialised and the highly-rated midfielder has committed to a new deal at Fratton Park. Pompey will be hoping he gets to see that agreement out, but can console themselves with the fact that they will be able to demand a decent fee if the vultures start circling once more.
Portsmouth - Ricky Holmes
Had Holmes not suffered a season-ending foot injury in February, there is every chance that Barnet would still be a Football League club right now. The 26-year-old forward was a vital cog in the Bees' machine, operating in a deep-lying role which allowed him to influence proceedings in and around the final third. It did not take Portsmouth long to snap him up when Holmes became a free agent this summer, and they will be looking to make the most of his playmaking abilities in 2013/14 - with Pompey having seen off stiff competition to secure his signature.
Rochdale - Ashley Eastham
The long list of clubs reported to have been keen on Eastham following the news that he was to leave Blackpool just goes to show how highly he is rated in the League ranks. He may have found the going tough at Bloomfield Road, but the Seasiders were still reluctant to see him head through the exits. In the end they couldn't stop him and a man who impressed while on loan at Notts County and Bury last season will now be looking to add steel to Rochdale's back four. Eastham is a powerful centre-half who takes no prisoners, which will delight new boss Keith Hill - as he fitted that mould during his playing days.
Scunthorpe United - Hakeeb Adelakun
Relegation out of League One has cost Scunthorpe dear, with their top performers from last season having headed for the exits. The likes of Jimmy Ryan, Tom Newey and Mark Duffy have all headed for pastures new. It will be something of a fresh start for the Iron in 2013/14, and that could play into the hands of Adelakun. The highly-rated forward made his senior bow last season, becoming Scunthorpe's youngest ever debutant at 16 years and 201 days. He will be hoping for further outings next term, with Brian Laws having already shown that he is prepared to give young talent an opportunity to shine if he believes they are ready.
Southend United - Kevan Hurst
If Southend can get Hurst to replicate his achievements from 2012/13 in the forthcoming campaign, then they will stand every chance of positioning themselves back in the promotion-chasing pack. The 27-year-old made over 50 appearances last term, helping himself to six goals. It is, however, for his creative ability that he is most noted. No player in League Two could better Hurst's tally of 14 assists last season, with his efforts making him the leading goal provider in the country at one stage. Can he scale those heights again?
Torquay United - Aaron Downes
Torquay's reigning Supporters' Player of the Year, and it is easy to see why the burly Australian is such a popular figure on the South Coast. Downes took the tough decision to leave his homeland to chase the dream in England, and is now reaping the rewards of that decision. It may have taken him until the age of 28 to get the credit he deserves, but he has quickly become a popular figure at Plainmoor. Downes recently penned a new two-year contract with the Gulls, so will be lending his physical presence to Alan Knill's back line for the foreseeable future.
Wycombe Wanderers - Matt Bloomfield
He may not be flashy, but the 2013/14 season will be a notable one for Bloomfield and he deserves his efforts to be recognised. The longest serving player in the Wycombe ranks by some distance, the 29-year-old will be taking in his testimonial year this term. He has spent the last nine-and-a-half years at Adams Park, racking up close to 300 appearances. Last season was a forgettable one, as a hip injury left him frustrated, but Bloomfield will be looking to soak up every second of the campaign to come.
York City - Ben Davies
There won't be too many 17 years old focused on holding down a regular role at a Football League club in 2013/14, but Davies will be among those breaking the mould. He has been allowed to link up with York in an effort to get games under his belt and toughen him up to the demands of life in the lower divisions. His parent club Preston will hope he is then returned to them ready to push for a starting berth at Deepdale. Davies has already represented the Lilywhites, making his debut back in January, and is a full-back who likes to get forward and offer width down the flanks.