WE asked Gabriel Sutton (@_FootballLab) editor of thefootballab.co.uk to give us three dark horses to follow ahead of the 2015/16 Football League season. Tuck in!
The success of Bournemouth, Brentford and Wolves in the Championship last season, shows that it is possible for a team recently promoted from League One to launch an immediate promotion challenge. Therefore, there is potential for title winners Bristol City to take the division by storm.
There are so many impressive features of this Robins team. They pass the ball around well, there are players constantly running into space, every player looks composed on the ball, and they press teams high up the pitch. The flexibility in the side, created by the centre-backs carrying the ball out from defence and the wing-backs, Mark Little and Joe Bryan, bombing up the flanks, makes it difficult for opposition teams to handle them.
Bristol City might have had a quiet transfer window, but that is not necessarily a bad thing. When Leicester stormed to the Championship title in 2013-14, they had only signed one player before the first game of the season, and when Bournemouth won the title last season, only two of the four players they signed started more than around 10 games.
If anything, a summer of stability helps the players integrate. Bristol City showed their quality in League One last season, and they are good enough to compete at the top of the Championship.
Sportingbet have made the Robins 8/1 for promotion.
In 17 games under Justin Edinburgh last season, Gillingham picked up an impressive 27 points. That form, sustained over a season, would have seen the club finish comfortably in the top-six.
The natural counter-argument here is that Gillingham simply had a honeymoon period under Edinburgh, which will not last much longer. However, Lee Johnson and Dave Robertson joined Barnsley and Peterborough respectively at a similar time to Edinburgh’s appointment, and both of those managers had perfect starts, before results faded in the last few weeks. By contrast, Gillingham amassed 10 points from their final five games, thus highlighting Edinburgh’s influence.
The team will have an excellent three-man defence this season. Centre-back John Egan was one of the stand-out performers in League One in the previous campaign, and Edinburgh has been able to convince Max Ehmer, who performed well on-loan from QPR last season, to sign a three-year permanent deal. Gillingham have also bolstered their wide options, as Ryan Jackson and Bradley Garmston should make sturdier wing-backs than Jermaine McGlashan and Ben Dickenson.
Gillingham have improved their midfield too, with Jordan Houghton, captain of Chelsea’s Under-21 Development Squad, signing on loan. Furthermore, the Gills averaged just seven shots-per-goal last season, making them the joint-second most clinical shooters in League One. Justin Edinburgh is building a group of intelligent, tactically flexible players at Priestfield, and Gillingham will be a team to look out for this season.
The Gills are available to back at 14/1 for promotion with Sportingbet.
There is a running theme with the teams I am backing to mount a surprise promotion challenge this season, and that is that they all play with a three-man defence. After seeing his side lose 1-0 to Bury in March last season, York manager Russ Wilcox starting playing a three-at-the-back system, which helped the Minstermen amass an impressive 15 points from their final nine games.
York City conceded just 51 goals last term. They have arguably the best centre-back in League Two in Keith Lowe, and the best midfield enforcer in Russ Penn, factors which are often overlooked due to the understated nature of the jobs those players do for their team. One only need to look at what has happened to Cheltenham Town since Lowe and Penn have left to see how good they are.
The majority of League Two teams have made significant changes to their defence this summer, whereas York already have a settled back-line which has built up a level of tactical understanding, and this gives them a massive advantage over other teams.
York’s sole problem last season was poor finishing, and this needs to change. However, the narrow gap in quality in League Two dictates that this is a short-term problem. It can be changed by a good loan signing (and as one of only five northern clubs in the division York may have an advantage in the loan market), a couple of players rediscovering their confidence, which Jake Hyde’s patches of good form last season suggests he is capable of, or new striker Vadaine Oliver proving a success.
If they can find a bit more composure in front of goal, York have in place the core elements of a promotion winning team.
We can back York at 8/1 with William Hill.
Championship – Bristol City to be promoted (8/1 Sportingbet)
League One – Gillingham to be promoted (14/1 Sportingbet)
League Two – York to be promoted (8/1 William Hill)