Top of the League Two Pops
One of the many pleasures of watching and writing about football is the up-and-coming players who come through at our level and onto bigger and better things. I think it is something we can all relate to. It takes us back to when we first started kicking a ball and dreamed of scoring the winning goal in an F.A. Cup final at Wembley.
I have selected a squad of 18 players (11 starters and 7 subs) who I predict will make a name for themselves in League Two this season. Keep an eye out for them when they face us and see what you think. I have given myself just one rule - no Wycombe players! Anthony Stewart and Charles Dunne would have made this list otherwise but I am biased.
1. Ross WORNER
The 22-year-old goalkeeper spent much of last season claiming the No.1 jersey as his own, leaving ex-Chairboy Jamie Young to sit it on the bench. He was signed by Shots boss Dean Holdsworth last summer from Charlton Athletic. The Surrey-born stopper began his career at local side Woking where he progressed through the youth set-up and into the first team squad. He was snapped up by the Addicks in 2010 and made nine appearances before being released. Holdsworth rates his goalkeeper so highly he compared him to England goalkeeper Joe Hart. Sadly for Worner he suffered a back injury in March which kept him out for the rest of the season and he has so far been unable to take part in pre-season. It will be the Shots loss if he remains sidelined for long.
2. John JOHNSON
The 23-year-old versatile right-back from Middlesbrough is starting to make a name for himself with the Cobblers. He began his career with his hometown club and made his Premier League debut against Chelsea back in 2008. He made a loan move to Sixfields in September 2009 which was soon extended for the rest of the campaign and he then signed a permanent deal in the summer of 2010. He provides an attacking outlet down the right and can also play in the middle of the park. The last two years of struggle at the wrong end of League Two appeared to have benefitted the youngster who has now matured into a very classy player and the chances are his efforts will guide his side towards the top of the table this time around.
3. James MEREDITH
The 24-year-old left-back will keen to impress with his new club Bradford City after signing from York City this summer. The Australian was scouted as a youngster by Derby County and turned professional after coming through the Rams youth set-up. He was however sent out on loan at Cambridge United and Chesterfield before being released. After a short spell with Sligo Rovers he signed for Shrewsbury Town but spent a season on loan at neighbours AFC Telford United. His performances caught the attention of then York City boss Martin Foyle. Meredith spent three years with the Ministermen which included three trips to Wembley. The last of those saw him play a part in their Conference National play-off final victory over Luton Town. Instead of staying with City he opted to join the Bantams where his pace down the left is set to make him a crowd favourite.
4. Connor ESSAM
The 20-year-old central defender is local boy from Chatham and showed what he could do when he came into the Gills first team towards the end of last season. Then boss Andy Hessenthaler was forced to throw the youngster into action in February due to a succession of injuries but Essam`s performances were so impressive that he remained in the side for the rest of the campaign. He joined the club as a 10-year-old and was handed his first professional contract in March 2010. Loan spells with Bishop`s Stortford, Dover Athletic and Dartford have helped his progression and he looks like a real prospect. Of course football is a game of opinions and new Gills boss Martin Allen might have other ideas but anyone who has seen him play will know the boy has got what it takes.
5. Michael SPILLANE
Dagenham and Redbridge
He might only be 23 years old but Jersey-born under-21 Republic of Ireland international has plenty of experience. He began his career with Norwich City where he became their youngest ever player to appear in the F.A. Cup against West Ham United, aged 16. He was sent out on a season-long loan at Luton Town in 2008/09 where he twice played against the Chairboys as they achieved promotion under Peter Taylor. He returned to Carrow Road and again met the Blues in the 5-2 win in Paul Lambert`s first game in charge of the Canaries. He joined Brentford the following summer before moving to Victoria Road on loan in November last year. He is comfortable playing in the centre of defence or midfield and his performances were crucial as the Daggers pulled themselves clear of safety at the bottom of League Two last season.
6. Billy BINGHAM
Dagenham and Redbridge
The 21-year-old midfielder is yet another example of Dagenham and Redbridge boss John Stills` innate ability to spot footballing talent in young players. Greenwich born Bingham was part of the youth set-up at Crystal Palace but was released in the summer of 2008. He was snapped up by the Daggers in February 2009 and had short spells on loan with Sutton United and Grays Athletic. He made his breakthrough into the first team last season and soon notched his first goal for the club. He offers versatility too as he possesses a sweet left-foot and can play at left-back if needed. It is in the middle of the park where he looks most comfortable and his importance to the side was highlighted by the new three-year deal he signed this summer to keep him at Victoria Road until 2015.
7. Kári ÁRNASON
The 29-year-old Icelandic midfielder (pictured above) is likely to be an integral part in big-spenders Rotherham United`s push for promotion from League Two this season. He has arrived at the Millers` brand new New York Stadium on a free transfer after turning down a lucrative offer to stay with SPL side Aberdeen. He began his career with two Reykjavík clubs before spells in both Sweden and Denmark. He was handed a trial with Plymouth Argyle in the summer 2009 and impressed then boss Paul Sturrock. He spent two seasons with the Pilgrims but left due to the clubs` financial problems and eventually signed with the Dons. Árnason`s capture illustrates the financial clout of Rotherham under current owner Tony Stewart and he will take on the role of playmaker for Steve Evans` side.
8. Alex RODMAN
The 25-year-old winger-cum-striker is the perfect example of a player fighting his way up from the bottom. Born in Sutton Coldfield his career began with two lowly non-league clubs and he had spells with five midlands based sides before joining Tamworth in the summer of 2008. It was with the Lambs that he started to make a name for himself and his displays convinced Aldershot Town boss Dean Holdsworth to sign him for an undisclosed fee in January 2011. He can play on both the left and right wings as well as up top and he certainly looked the part as he scored five goals in his first 14 appearances. Sadly he missed the second half of last season after suffering from a pulmonary embolism. He has now recovered and is set to play a significant role in guiding the Shots into the play-off places in 2012/13.
9. Eliot RICHARDS
The 20-year-old Welshman came of age last season. The striker has spent his career with Bristol Rovers and was handed his first professional contract in the summer of 2009. He made his debut in February 2010 and scored his first goal against Colchester United in May 2011. He was given his chance under boss Paul Buckle last year and successor Mark McGhee did likewise. He notched his first career hat-trick in a mauling of Burton Albion in April and finished the campaign with ten goals in twenty starts. He will be battling with ex-Chairboy Matt Harrold and David Clarkson for a starting place in the Pirates first eleven and despite his tender age he could be the man to fire them to the top end of League Two.
10. Marc RICHARDS
The 30-year-old striker really needs no introduction to fans in League Two. He has been Port Vale`s leading goalscorer for the past four seasons before making the move to join Chesterfield this summer. He began his career with Blackburn Rovers but failed to make a first team appearance. He had loan spells with four different clubs before making a permanent move to Northampton Town in 2003. He spent two years at Sixfields and another two with Barnsley before joining the Valiants in the summer of 2007. He made 202 appearances in five seasons, scoring 75 goals. Spireites boss John Sheridan captured the marksman in May and could be rewarded with the goals to take them straight back up to League One.
11. Jacques MAGHOMA
The 24-year-old Congolese winger has been one of the Burton Albion`s biggest attacking threats since they won promotion to the Football League in 2009. He began his career at Tottenham Hotspur but failed to progress from the youth side into the first team. He enjoyed a successful trial with the Brewers and was signed by then manager Paul Peschisolido in the summer of 2009. He possesses both power and pace and is equally adept on the left or right flanks. He has been capped at international level with the Democratic Republic of Congo and has made over 120 appearances for Albion, scoring 14 goals. He has another year on his contract and could make a difference in the Brewers' efforts to maintain their Football League status under rookie boss Gary Rowett.
Morecambe goalkeeper Barry Roche has been an outstanding performer for a couple of years now and the 30-year-old is likely to be an integral part of the Shrimps side again this season. The Dubliners has superb reflexes despite being 6`4" and is one of the best glovesmen in the division.
Left-footed Laurence Wilson has shone brightly at Morecambe for the past three seasons and Rotherham United boss Steve Evans didn`t need to think twice to sign him on a free transfer this summer. He will be as reliable as they come at left-back and also provides a real attacking threat.
Remember the name Bradley Dack because there is a very good chance you will be hearing it a lot in the future. The 18-year-old Gillingham midfielder scored 26 goals for the youth side last season and has been rewarded with a professional contract. Former boss Andy Hessenthaler hailed the youngster as the next Frank Lampard.
Dublin born Mark Byrne enjoyed an impressive campaign with Barnet last season. The 23-year-old has spent two years with the Bees and provides plenty of ammunition from the right side of midfield. His most notable attribute is his delivery from set-pieces which are likely to be crucial again this time around.
19-year-old Joe Mwasile could be set to make a real impression on League Two this season. The right-winger signed his first professional deal with Morecambe last summer and broke through into the first team towards the end of last season. He looks a real threat down the right and delivers a great cross.
22-year-old striker David Ball has big boots to fill this season. He signed for Conference National Champions Fleetwood Town for an undisclosed fee believed to be around £100,000 from Championship side Peterborough United following the departure of Jamie Vardy to Leicester City for a cool million. The ex-Manchester City trainee could be the man to fire the Cod Army to a second successive promotion alongside Jon 'the Beast` Parkin.
John Still has unearthed another gem in 24-year-old Brian Woodall. He signed the striker from Gresley Rovers last summer and was rewarded with 13 goals in 32 starts as the Daggers maintained their Football League status. Despite interest from a number of Championship sides he has signed a new three-year deal with the Daggers this summer.
Also keep an eye out for the following ex-Chairboys in League Two next season.
Former loan striker Ashley Chambers will line-up with newcomers York City on the opening day.
The trio of midfielders Lewis Montrose and strikers Adam Birchall and Ben Strevens return to Adams Park with Gillingham in August.
The following Saturday, goalkeeper Scott Bevan and striker Matt Harrold make their returns to Adams Park with Bristol Rovers.
Loan winger Anthony Straker and striker Elliot Benyon could feature for Southend United at Roots Hall at the beginning of September.
A week later defender Alan Bennett, loan midfielder Marlon Pack and winger Chris Zebroski return to Adams Park with Cheltenham Town.
Defender Craig Woodman and Tommy Doherty have both joined Exeter City this summer and could face the Blues at St. James Park in September.
Youth team goalkeeper Sam Cowler and defender Danny Senda will both be hoping to be involved for Barnet when they visit Adams Park at the end of October.
Four days later striker Jon-Paul Pittman makes his first appearance at Adams Park since leaving for Oxford United. Defender Michael Duberry will miss out however after having an operation on a prolapsed disc in his neck.
The midweek trip to the Recreation Ground at the beginning of November will see goalkeeper Jamie Young, defender Guy Branston and loan midfielder Josh Payne line-up against us for Aldershot Town.
In the middle of the month we will be reunited with midfielders Ben Harding and Chris Hackett against Northampton Town at Sixfields.
Three days later we make our first ever visit to Rotherham United`s new New York Stadium and the hosts could include goalkeeper Scott Shearer, winger Lionel Ainsworth and striker Alex Revell in their side.
Loan goalkeeper Matt Duke and defender Luke Oliver return to Adams Park with Bradford City just 72 hours before Christmas Day.