As footballing culture shocks go, slipping out of the safe confines of the FL72 and into the apocalyptic wastelands of non-league must be right up there with the worst of them.
The fact is that with just two teams getting promoted from the National League – a task made more difficult by the strange new six-team play-off system that have been introduced for the 2017/18 campaign – previously-considered ‘big’ clubs can sink without a trace.
After all, it’s not a million years ago that the likes of Tranmere and Stockport were plying their trade in English football’s second tier.
So avoiding relegation from League Two is essential; otherwise, a good few years in football’s wilderness are likely to be endured.
With the new season well underway now, who are the sides currently looking in most peril at the foot of the League Two table?
After an awful end to the 2016/17 League One campaign in which they won just 3/29 matches under former boss Gary Caldwell, most pundits suspected that Chesterfield’s downward spiral might continue this season in League Two as well.
And they weren’t wrong: six defeats in their opening nine matches saw the Spireites plummet into the bottom two and cost Caldwell his job.
What the board did well was to replace the Scot with a bona fide club legend in Jack Lester, whose appointment naturally got the fans back on side. It took a while for the former striker to get his methods across, but the Midlanders’ recent results suggest a clear improvement.
They’ve lost just one of their last five, with wins against Exeter and Crawley backed by points taken from decent outfits in Swindon and Carlisle.
That points haul has breathed new life into the Spireites’ campaign, and they are now just four points from safety. If they continue to impress under Lester, they will make an absolute mockery of their position as bookmakers’ favourites for the drop into the National League.
It was only an absurd togetherness in the face of adversity – players and staff regularly went unpaid – that saved Morecambe from relegation last season, but with financial security guaranteed, for now at least, in 2017/18 things can start to look a little rosier for the seasiders.
And in further good news, popular manager Jim Bentley has just signed a new contract that will keep him at the club until 2020.
Bizarrely, Morecambe are surely the only League Two side with Qatari-based financial backing, with former co-chairman Abdulrahman Al Hashemi committing to bankrolling the club for the next two years. This is not exactly Paris St Germain levels of investment, but it should be enough to keep the Shrimps afloat for a while.
On the field, things really aren’t that bad. Bentley has built a side in his own mould: tough, uncompromising and well drilled, and that has led to them collecting more home points than the likes of Swindon and Carlisle this term.
And wins over Cheltenham and Wycombe, plus draws against high-flying Luton and Lincoln, suggest that Morecambe should be free from the perils of relegation this season.
Forest Green (4/1)
Up until very recently the knives were out for newly-promoted Forest Green, who won just one of their opening thirteen matches in League Two and appeared doomed to an immediate return to the National League.
But something has clicked of late under Mark Cooper, and the Green Devils have embarked on a run of five unbeaten (W4 D1 L0).
A haul of seven points from a possible nine against sides in the bottom five has catapulted Forest Green up the table, and if they continue to take the spoils against their fellow strugglers then they may just put up a strong resistance to the relegation that looked almost a certainty a month or so ago.
But then, this is a side that generally does things differently under chairman Dale Vince, who prides himself on being a sort of New Age business hero. They are the UK’s first wholly vegan football club, with an organic pitch tended by a robot lawnmower based in a stadium made almost exclusively out of reclaimed wood.
If they can keep up their current form, Forest Green’s innovations may just hang around in the fourth tier for a while longer.
Crawley Town (9/2)
When Crawley Town appointed Harry Kewell as manager back in May, they must have known they were taking a calculated gamble.
The Aussie has played in a Champions League final and represented his country in World Cups, so the Red Devils knew that his appointment would generate plenty of interest in the club.
But then he had just been sacked from his only managerial position thus far at Watford Under-21s, and that lack of experience was a bone of genuine contention for Crawley supporters, who saw their side stay up by the skin of their teeth in 2016/17 by just five points.
Thus far Kewell does not appear to have passed on the fruits of a prestigious playing career to his new employer, and a run of just one win in nine – in which they have failed to find the net on six occasions – has only served to emphasise the 39-year-old’s rather thin managerial CV.
There was an ugly confrontation at the end of Saturday’s 0-4 defeat at Wycombe when Kewell was involved in a verbal dust-up with a group of away supporters, and he has since had to deliver the dreaded ‘let’s stick together’ statement via the club website.
Of those currently ensconced in League Two’s relegation battleground, Crawley perhaps have the lowest morale – and that could prove fatal come next May.
Without a win in twelve, Barnet are firmly in League Two’s relegation zone and, on the face of it at least, appear in deep trouble.
But the Bees can call upon mitigating circumstances – chiefly a crippling injury list – that is arguably giving a false reflection of their abilities.
The likes of Jamie Stephens, Shaquille Coulthirst and John Akinde, who has blasted 49 goals in his last two seasons at the club, have spent large swathes of 2017/18 on the sidelines, but their return to fitness should signal the start of an upturn in fortunes.
And the appointment of Mark McGhee as manager is a shrewd one, too. The Scot is rarely universally adored at the clubs he manages, but he has that sort of ‘belt and braces’ approach that teams in trouble desperately need.
McGhee’s first season in charge of Bristol Rovers, in which he turned them from relegation cannon fodder to mid-table merchants, suggests he can work well with limited resources, and once fully fit Akinde’s goals will surely be enough to keep the Bees in full flight.
Yeovil Town (11/2)
Few teams in the land tend to get as homesick as Yeovil Town, who have earned 15 of their 19 points this season on home soil.
So punters need to weigh up whether a decent record at home is enough to keep a side up; because the Glovers’ away form – W1 D1 L7 – is simply not going to get the job done.
But of course, this has been Yeovil’s modus operandi for a while. Their haul of 50 points in 2016/17 was enough to stay afloat, and 32 of those were picked up at home, so as long as they keep winning in front of their own supporters – and they have already downed the likes of Coventry and Accrington at Huish Park – they should be just fine.
Crewe Alexandra (11/2)
Crewe have lost 10 of their last 12 League Two outings, and you don’t need to be Inspector Clouseau to work out where their problems lie.
The Alex have shipped some 27 goals in that dozen-match spell, and naturally if you are conceding at a rate of two per game then picking up points does become a rather difficult ask.
Saturday’s 2-3 defeat at Forest Green was symptomatic of their season, with the Crewe Chronicle since calling on the players to ‘grow up and man up.’
At this stage last season, the Alex had 26 points to their name; now, they boast just seventeen. Of all the odds offered on the League Two relegation market by the bookmakers, Crewe’s are by far the most tempting value for punters.