League Two this season has been – well, nuts at times.
I, for one, certainly didn’t expect Cambridge United to be our runaway leaders – but here we are. Carlisle United have also shown themselves as front runners, and have the chance to go top with their games in hand in coming weeks.
Forest Green were always going to be up there, let’s be honest. It’s about time they finally got their promotion, and they’ve stuck a tidy squad together.
So much of this must be placed down to the great work of the managers, though, and not just the players. With the new salary caps in place, alongside other financial difficulties related to the pandemic, it’s harder than ever to keep a club afloat – and it’s no surprise that the best are starting to shine through.
But who do you think are the best managers in League Two? Here are my top five – see what you think!
Nigel Clough – Mansfield Town
It’s difficult to write an article like this without mentioning old Cloughie, isn’t it? His career perhaps hasn’t been as illustrious as his father’s, but Nigel Clough has still proven himself on a number of occasions – and he’s doing exactly that, once again, at Mansfield this season.
Under previous manager Graham Coughlan, the Stags hadn’t won all season – but that completely changed after the former Blades head honcho’s appointment at the start of November.
Fast forward three months, the club are on a five-game winning streak in the league. Previously underperforming forward Jordan Bowery has been transformed into a prime Pele; star midfielder, George Lapslie, has now had his loan move from Charlton Athletic made permanent.
More importantly, though, the Yellows have climbed as high as 14th and away from the trap door back into non-League, just 18 months after having been minutes away from League One promotion.
Whether Clough can keep up this excellent work is another question. But, for now, he’s well and truly deserving of a place on this list as one of League Two’s top managers.
John Yems – Crawley Town
Bit of an interesting call this one – but trust the process and hear me out.
Crawley manager John Yems is getting himself a bit of a name throughout the EFL for his – erm, interesting? – press conferences, but he’s still been asset to the Sussex side this campaign and is deserving of a place on this list.
Crawley currently sit fairly comfortably in 11th in League Two – a decent effort, given some of the quality within the fourth tier this season. In the cup, I’m sure everyone is aware of their exploits against Leeds United – a phenomenal achievement, and one that will live in the memories of Town fans for many years to come.
But one of Yems’ best achievements this season, though, has been the work he did with striker Max Watters. Picking the 21-year-old up on a free in October after his Doncaster Rovers release, Yems (and his fellow coaches…) in almost no time transformed him into one of the most lethal strikers in the division, Watters netting 13 times in just 15 games. Fairytale stuff.
Watters pretty quickly caught the attention of higher-placed clubs, and Cardiff City came calling with an offer believed to be just shy of £1,000,000. That sort of money is a lifeline for any club in League Two during these testing times, let alone one like Crawley Town (sorry Reds fans!).
Credit to Yems – he may sometimes come across as a bit ‘old school’, but he’s doing a fine job with the Red Devils this campaign, in my eyes.
Mark Bonner – Cambridge United
35-year-old Mark Bonner certainly deserves a mention on this list – and that’s not even taking into account just how young he is.
The Cambridge-born, who didn’t actually have a career in the professional game as a player, was appointed as the full-time manager after a successful spell in an interim role in March 2020. Of course, he wasn’t actually able to take his first game in full charge until September due to lockdown – a victory over Championship outfit Birmingham City in the league cup.
But behind-closed-doors, he’s since led the U’s to the top one League Two – currently so on goal difference above Forest Green. Outstanding work.
Over January, Bonner was forced to part ways with some of his key men – notably Harry Darling to Milton Keynes, managed by fellow rookie manager Russell Martin – which will provide a challenge for Bonner, but I’ve got full belief he’ll be able to carry on his good work. Top man.
Certainly ‘one to watch’ for the future, with regards to managers.
Michael Duff – Cheltenham Town
As a player, Duff made over 300 appearances for the Robins before a move to Burnley, a club at which he won promotion to the Premier League a record three times and made an almost equal amount of appearances. He was also capped 24 times by Northern Ireland.
He stepped into management in September 2018 with Cheltenham, completely turning around their fortunes and building a solid side that would have been Play-Off contenders were it not for their poor start under Johnson. Nevertheless, the season after he continued his good work and led them to a fourth-placed finish.
Unfortunately, though, that semi-final collapse against Northampton Town cost them a promotion shot at Wembley – but it certainly hasn’t stopped Duff. This season, the Robins have gone about their business as normal, and once again sit high in the table.
I’ve got full faith that, given the time to do so, Duff will guide Cheltenham into League One and keep them their. That’s unless another club come calling, which could well happen.
Chris Beech – Carlisle United
I’ve saved the best until last, though. What Beech has achieved up in Cumbria has been nothing short of exceptional, and he’s a man for whom I have so much respect. He embodies everything we’re about here at FanHub.
The former midfielder had a successful career with Huddersfield Town, Hartlepool United, Blackpool and Rochdale, before settling into the latter as an assistant coach, eventually moving on to become manager at Carlisle. Whilst at Dale, the club achieved their first promotion in decades whilst also re-establishing themselves as a League One club and remaining there since.
And since his arrival at Brunton Park, Beech has transformed the Blues’ fortunes, taking them to be real challengers at the top end of League Two – and, dare I say it, the favourites to win this year’s title. They currently sit third, three points off of top spot, but have three games in hand – a big chance to get on top of the pack!
It’s not just the performances on the pitch that have earned him recognition with United fans, though. He’s become an integral part of the community – his 18-year-old son making himself clear as a keen fan on Twitter! – and completely recognises the importance of fans to the club. A real GameChanger.
So there we have it – my top five managers in League Two. But who are yours? Are there any obvious choices I’ve missed off of the list? I assume you won’t be rushing around to stick Ian Evatt’s name in the hat.
Make sure to drop a comment below, or Tweet us in on @FanHub_Football. Keen to know your thoughts!