WHO’S going to be playing Championship football next season? Mark O’Haire (@MarkOHaire) attempts to find the value prices ahead of the new League One season.
English League One | Outright Winner
For the third time in four League One seasons, Sheffield United find themselves as firm favourites to take top honours. Nigel Clough’s Blades flopped as 11/2 shots whilst Danny Wilson’s troops failed to oblige at 6/1 back in 2012/13. But with Nigel Adkins, veteran of three League One promotions, in the hot-seat there’s plenty of optimism surrounding Bramall Lane.
United begin the campaign well fancied at 9/2 and it’s easy to see how. Along with Adkins’ arrival, the Blades have brought in Billy Sharp and Conor Sammon to bolster their attacking output. Finishing 20 points off the pace last season, the Steel City club were desperate for a consistent goalscoring edge. With that now in place, you’d assume the time is now for a serious tilt at top spot.
However, Wolves’ 2013/14-title triumph is the only occasion across the previous 20 League One seasons that’s seen the ante-post favourite oblige. Sure, in 14 of the past 16 renewals, said favourites have finished in the top-six (half of which won promotion) but although I’m not a big believer in curses, that trend alongside the skinny quotes on offer mean a long-term investment on Sheffield United isn’t really an option.
In a section short of anything exceptional, it may pay to look at a few of the lesser-fancied sides at smarter prices. Five Yorkshire sides make up the top 11 in the betting and as well as the aforementioned United, I reckon Bradford can continue their impressive upward trajectory under Phil Parkinson.
The Bantams are rated at 16/1 (Bet365) to finish top of the tree and there’s most definitely an interest in taking City on with an each-way wager. The past four years under Parkinson’s watch have brought about year-on-year improvement and finishing just four points outside the play-offs in a difficult division last time out suggests they’re not too far away.
Bradford fans snapped up cheap season tickets in their droves over the summer and with 18,000 fans at Valley Parade, they’ll not be short of support. A season-ending injury for Filipe Morais and the loss of centre-half Andrew Davies to Ross County has left a void in Parkinson’s preferred XI and whilst replacements are being sought, Parkinson claims four or five new names could be on their way to join the arrivals of Mark Marshall and Luke James – both addressing the lack of pace in forward areas.
They won’t win prizes for their aesthetics – they remain a direct team with James Hanson and Billy Clarke leading the line – but they’ll prove a match for most. City’s recent cup excursions should stand the side in good stead for a decent tilt at promotion and it’s well worth noting that the last nine teams to reach a cup quarter-final from the bottom two tiers have all improved upon their league position in the following campaign.
The average price of a top-two finisher across the previous 10 League One seasons is 16/1 whilst five of the past 10 champions finished between 7th and 12th in their previous campaign. The Bantams fit the bill for both and look well worth a poke.
Meanwhile, the third tier team with the hottest attack has finished in the top-four in each of the last nine renewals – six of which won promotion – and judging by Scunthorpe’s summer signings, the Iron are intending on blasting their way through the third tier.
With hot-shot Paddy Madden likely to be used in his preferred central spot this term, manager Mark Robins has brought back sacked Leicester starlet Tom Hopper and Middlesbrough’s Luke Williams after successful loan spells as well as snapping up veteran Darius Henderson in the off-season. Stephen Dawson’s battling qualities in the middle of the park will be welcomed and Preston trio Scott Laird, Scott Wiseman and Jack King are all interesting captures.
Robins, a boss I rate highly, has put his own marker down on the squad with cover in almost every position. He’s been backed by an ambitious board who’ve handed out plenty of long-term contracts in a bid to get back to the Championship in time for their move away from Glanford Park next season. The investors want promotion and I expect the Iron to feature heavily in the top-six battle and are worth an interest at 13/2 (Bet365) in the promotion market.
Finally, Gillingham appear to operating under the radar but the appointment of Justin Edinburgh midway through last season may help the Kent club receive their fair share of headlines in 2015/16. The former Newport County manager made an immediate impact at the Priestfield and I’d like to think the Gills could progress significantly on their 12th-placed finish under his guidance.
Having lost just four of their final 21 games, Gillingham know what’s required to grind out results. A play-off chase could well come into fruition if Edinburgh’s young squad fire but they’ll have to make-do without John Marquis who opted to sign an extended contract with Millwall instead of joining permanently.
Rory Donnelly and Ben Williamson have made the move to the south-east but Chelsea loanee Jordan Houghton’s the name that’s gotten Gillingham fans purring – the 19-year-old captained Chelsea’s U21’s last year. Adedeji Oshilaja should provide strong competition for Player of the Season John Egan and Max Ehmer at centre-half and Edinburgh has indicated he’ll be happy to play the loan market again to further bolster the ranks.
Whether Gillingham can pierce the play-off positions may come down to Cody McDonald’s fitness. The striker is struggling to be available for the big kick-off and with relegated Yeovil attempting more efforts at goal than the Gills last time out; it’s an area that requires addressing. A fit and firing Cody might be what’s required but at 10/1 (Bet365) they’re an excellent prospect amongst a division that’s lost three big-hitters from last term.
League One – Bradford to win League One (16/1 each-way Bet365)
League One – Scunthorpe to win promotion (13/2 Bet365)
League One – Gillingham to win promotion (10/1 Bet365)
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