Much like League 1, the nPower League 2 came to an even closer finish, with the final day seeing 24th place Aldershot up to 18th place Accrington still vying for places – 5 points separated them with anyone one having a chance of being relegated. At the top of the table, Gillingham had won the league but with Cheltenham, Burton, Rotherham and Port Vale within touching distance of each other, all four still had a chance of automatic promotion!
Rotherham and Port Vale came out on top to win the automatic promotion fight, finishing 2nd and 3rd respectively. Burton and Cheltenham settled for 4th and 5th, but both lost play-off semi-finals. Bradford and Northampton contested the final, the latter will be disappointed after a lacklustre performance, with Bradford winning easily – the Capital One Cup finalists achieving the original seasonal goal of promotion, although an appearance at Wembley won’t be grumbled at, especially after beating Wigan, Arsenal and Aston Villa on the way there. Nakhi Wells was particularly impressive this season for Phil Parkinson’s men, the Bermudan scoring 26 in 54 games, including several important goals on the way to the final against Swansea.
Interestingly no relegated side that came down from League One last season got into the top 7, the highest being Chesterfield – showing that it’s a tough league to fight your way out of. Rochdale and Wycombe in particular struggled, Exeter were in the play-offs for long spells but form deserted them when it mattered most. The two promoted sides from the Conference fared better – Fleetwood managed a respectable 13th place, while York just steered clear of trouble, finishing 4 points off relegated Barnet in 17th place. Those hoping to repeat the feats achieved by these two are Mansfield and Newport – Mansfield back after a lengthy absence, and Newport enter League Two for the first time in 25 years, having had to complete 7 games in 17 days to complete their season, with weather playing a huge part. Backed by £45.5m Euromillion’s winner Les Scadding – it is good to see them return after folding in 1989, and the re-formation of AFC Newport, who had to play in Gloucestershire for two seasons after the League of Wales refused them permission to play in Newport as they had ambitions to play in the English Leagues.
Nobody could have predicted the top 6 or 7 this season, with Northampton going from 20th-6th place, Bradford from 18th-7th, Burton from 17th-4th, Port Vale from 12th-3rd, Rotherham from 10th-2nd and winners Gillingham from 8th-1st. it’s a testament to the effort put in by players and coaches alike, and that just because you had a bad year it doesn’t necessarily mean next season will follow suit.
On the flip side Southend and Torquay, who some would have considered favourites for promotion – had dreadful seasons after 4th and 5th place finishes respectively. Torquay endured a run from hell, looking like relegation certainties at times, finishing 19th, and Southend, drifted from 15th-7th for the best part of the season, only improving when Phil Brown came in for Paul Sturrock in March, with Britt Assombalonga, on loan from Watford, top scoring for them with 15 goals.
The relegated duo were Aldershot and Barnet – a shock for all Barnet fans as Dutch Legend Edgar Davids was player-coach and later manager, and failed to inspire players. Aldershot going down was less of a surprise, with the Shots struggling for much of the season. Bristol Rovers have been disappointing in the league since their demotion, with such money spent and an experienced squad they were expected to go back up first, if not second time around. 14th place for them represents another poor season.
Tom Pope of Port Vale led the scoring charts with 31 goals, and add 11 assists and he is our player of the season! 2nd place went to Jamie Cureton, with the veteran set to leave Exeter for Cheltenham. Ex-Man Utd youth team player Danny Nardiello took 3rd with 19 strikes this season. As far as assists go, Southend’s Kevin Hurst topped the pile with 14, closely followed by Northampton duo Chris Hackett with 13 and Ben Tozer, once a million pound player, with 12.
The football league gets a bad reputation for being over-aggressive, but as far as the statistics go, it is far from it. The side with the worst discipline was Fleetwood, with 44 yellow cards – less than one a game on average! Interestingly Fleetwood also kept the most clean sheets, just 13, showing how few 0-0’s there were.