HOW does Football League expert Mark O’Haire (@MarkOHaire) see the League One campaign working out? Here he delivers his mid-season analysis.
Hands up, who had Burton, Walsall and Gillingham in the top-three of League One after 22 games? The trio were chalked up at an average price of 35/1 but hold sway at the top of the third tier as we approach half-time.
We might not have managed to advise all three high-flyers but I can lay claim to a suggestion on Gillingham to win promotion at 10/1 back in July. With both Burton and Walsall seeing their managers lured away – admittedly, with little effect on results thus far – I’m chuffed Justin Edinburgh is still the man in charge of the Gills.
The Kent club have continued their superb run of results under the ex-Newport boss this term and in the 39 fixtures since he arrived at the Priestfield, Edinburgh has returned W19-D11-L9 figures – a points-per-game average of 1.74 – with the side scoring at least twice in 22/39 (56%) of games.
In a division dominated by northern clubs and Gillingham facing the longest away journeys in League One this term, it’s perhaps unsurprising to see Edinburgh’s charges proving very profitable in front of their home supporters (a league best W8-D2-L1) and less so on their travels (a ninth best W4-D3-L4).
The Gills are only four points off the summit and still have four of the current top-eight clubs to host and so still make a slice of appeal at bulbous 10/1 (SkyBet) quotes to win the title. The side’s longest winless streak is just two this term and that home record should keep them in contention.
Burton boast the biggest lead across the English pyramid – although Walsall do hold a game in hand – so 7/2 (Coral) quotes may appeal to some. Personally, I’m waiting to see how Nigel Clough gets on with the Brewers; after all, they leaked three goals in his first league fixture – Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink saw Albion concede three goals just once in 50 matches in charge!
One omen in Burton’s favour though resides around the Christmas number one – nine of the previous 13 leaders of League One when the turkey has been cut went on to win automatic promotion. However, that success rate falls to just 50% in the past six seasons.
I’m a big fan of Walsall’s capture of Sean O’Driscoll and I’m hopeful the appointment will be seamless for the Saddlers. But the 3/1 (Bet365) makes little appeal with just a one point advantage over third-place – I’m never a fan of assuming the game in hand is a given three points.
The current League One favourites can call upon the league’s best road record but again, it’s worth pointing out that Walsall still have to visit eight of the current top-half and with bigger clubs such as Coventry, Wigan, Peterborough, Bradford and Sheffield United in pursuit, the January transfer window could make-or-break their campaign.
Talking of the Bantams, our 16/1 each-way title recommendation are plodding along nicely but may have left it a little too late for top-two honours. Phil Parkinson’s side returned just W2-D2-L4 in their first eight matches to sit 19th but they’ve rocketed to 8th thanks to W7-D3-L1 since October.
The West Yorkshire side are relying on a defence that’s kept nine clean sheets already this term as their tally of 23 goals is only worsened by three other third tier sides. Throw in their three-point (W0-D3-L3) return from games against clubs in the top-nine and 11-point deficit to table-topping Burton and Bradford look unlikely to pull it off.
I’ve not totally written off Scunthorpe but Mark Robins’ men seem to take one step forward and two steps backward, just when you think they’re about to click into gear. Still, with hot-shot Paddy Madden onside, they’re capable of so much more. Sadly, their seven-point climb to the top-six positions look unreachable with a strong calibre of club in competition.
Bradford to win League One (16/1 each-way)
Scunthorpe to win promotion (13/2)
Gillingham to win promotion (10/1)
Oldham to be relegated (4/1)
Chesterfield to be relegated (6/1)
Swindon to be relegated (9/1)
Sorry to bore your knickers off but yes, there’s room for a little more Graham Westley love here. Peterborough are 25/1 (Ladbrokes) pokes to take the League One title and 5/1 (Bet365) to win promotion and I’m a fan of both angles.
I’ve reeled these stats off before but they’re worth an update and recap as they’re simply streets ahead and country miles clear of their League One rivals; since Westley joined Posh, they’ve returned W10-D2-L4, scoring 40 goals and conceding 21 – an average of 2.00 points-per-game by an average 2.50 – 1.31 scoreline.
They’ve kept just five clean sheets but in all bar three of those 16 matches they’ve scored at least twice and seven of those fixtures have been won at least two clear goals. Posh are averaging 2.50 goals-per-game, are firing in an average of 19.31 shots-per-game with 7.62 efforts on-target per-game – they’ve been dismantling and destroying opposition clubs; even in their one-point haul from games against Blackpool and Shrewsbury recently, they’ve been top dogs.
The way in which Peterborough have been transformed into such an enterprising, exciting team under Westley and Grant McCann is truly remarkable with the gifted Marcus Maddison even unable to get a start. Erhun Oztumer – labelled the Turkish Messi – has excelled with his spectacular vision and string-pulling from midfield.
Posh fans will be delighted to hear the top-scoring side in League One has won the division in four of the last 10 renewals and won promotion on seven occasions. They’re 11 points off the top and have only W1-D2-L6 against top-nine teams but I believe they’re well worth siding with to blitz their way into the Championship.
Elsewhere, Doncaster are on a roll under Darren Ferguson. The Keepmoat club have W4-D2-L1 now the fiery Scot has gotten his feet under the table following a run of three defeats in his first four. In six of those recent seven games Rovers have struck at least twice meaning 58% of their total goal tally has arrived in those fixtures.
Donny have already travelled to the top-six as well as Sheffield United and Millwall and sit just two points off the top-half and six away from the play-off positions. With that in mind and a striker on the shopping list for January, the 2/1 (BetVictor) they conclude the campaign in the top-half looks huge, as does the 20/1 (Bet365) they reach the top-six.
Much will depend on Doncaster’s success in the January transfer market but Ferguson has suggested he’s confident that Everton loanees midfielder Conor Grant and wing back Felipe Mattioni will extend their deals and Sheffield United defender Craig Alcock will join permanently. Should all three stay put, Rovers should continue to go well.
On a similar theme, Swindon are 3/1 (SkyBet) shots to finish in the top-12 and that also looks wrong. The Robins are also just two points adrift of the top-half having won five of their first six League One matches under Martin Ling’s watch – they’d managed just five in the 25 previous games to his arrival.
I’ve put the boot into the Wiltshire mob on more than one occasion but Ling’s tactical tweaks and personal touches have helped breed confidence, belief and a sea-change in attitude at the County Ground. The Robins now deploy a diamond midfield with a two-man attack and the switch has worked a treat thus far; I’d expect them to continue their upward momentum now until May.
Swindon were straggling in the relegation zone before Ling took charge and I felt there was a fantastic chance our 9/1 ante-post recommendation on the Robins suffering demotion may come home to roost. Sadly, I’ve chucked that slip in the bin (see above).
So with Oldham and Chesterfield already advised at handsome quotes back in July, there’s not a huge amount that’s caught my attention in the mid-term relegation markets. Crewe, Colchester, Oldham and Blackpool are all odds-on in places whilst next best Shrewsbury, Barnsley and Fleetwood are all good enough to save their skin.
Chesterfield are 11/4 (Ladbrokes) now but I’ve no interest with 6/1 backed five months ago although the Spireites do look the most vulnerable at reasonable odds of that collection of clubs. And truth be told, I just can’t find the reasoning to support any other sides from suffering a dramatic drop-off.
So instead, why not invest a few quid in Crewe staying up at 13/2 (SkyBet). I appreciate you’ll need a leap of faith to follow me here but at least allow me to put a case together on the Railwaymen, eh?
To begin with, the Alex are only two points from survival. They’ve already been away to four of the top five and beaten all four of the current bottom-five – three of which came on the road. That means six of the bottom-nine still have to come to Gresty Road.
Want more? As Mike Holden’s (@Ratings_Mike) pointed out previously, Crewe have a horrid habit of starting seasons slowly and this was no different. The Railwaymen managed W1-D3-L7 from their first 11 with their most recent 11 returning W4-D2-L5 – that’s an increase of 0.54 points-per-game to 1.27 points-per-game.
Dig a little deeper and we can see, Crewe have W5-D11-L24 – a points-per-game average of 0.65 – across their first 10 fixtures of a season under Steve Davis. From matchday 11 to 46 they’ve returned W45-D26-L49 – a points-per-game average of 1.34. See how similar it is to their 2015/16 exploits?
Should Crewe continue along their theme for picking up in the final ¾ of a season, we should be able to forecast a final points tally of 54, which should/could be good enough to stay up. It would certainly make a mockery of the 13/2 quotes, which suggest just a 13% chance of survival.
The Alex have survived on the final day of the season in each of the past two League One campaigns and I have the utmost belief they’re capable of repeating the feat this time around at a handsome price.
Peterborough to win League One (25/1 Ladbrokes)
Peterborough to win promotion (5/1 Bet365)
Doncaster to finish in the top-six (18/1 BetVictor)
Doncaster to finish in the top-half (2/1 Bet365)
Swindon to finish in the top-half (3/1 SkyBet)
Crewe to stay up (13/2 SkyBet)
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