MARK O’HAIRE (@MarkOHaire) picks out his favourite fancies from the promotion markets in League One.
League One | Promotion
Death, taxes and Sheffield United chalked up as League One favourites…
The Blades were well punted last pre-season at ante-post quotes of 5/1 with the general feeling that serial promotion-winner Nigel Adkins could finally unlock the potential in the red side of Sheffield.
A disastrous campaign saw United finish in mid-table, only the third occasion in 17 years the League One ante-post favourites had failed to finish outside of the top-six.
It means United will play in the third-tier for the sixth successive season – the longest amount of time outside the top-two tiers in their history.
The Blades are now under the watch of Chris Wilder and the expectation is for United to again challenge for top honours but at odds of 6/1, can they really be trusted? Not for me.
Wilder hit the headlines for his fabulous work in guiding Northampton to 99 points in League Two last year and earned plaudits for solidifying the Cobblers and Oxford in previous campaigns.
I’m just not totally sold on Wilder’s credentials to justify their pre-season position as standout market leaders.
In 14 years as the main man in the dugout, the Blades fan has never managed at League One level and although a top-six bash is on the cards, I’ll look elsewhere.
Oh… and if you haven’t already read about the wretched record of League One favourites in this division, it’s one winner from 21 now (Wolves 2013/14).
At almost double the odds (11/1 Bet365), Millwall make much stronger claims from a betting perspective.
The Lions exceeded expectations in their first campaign back at League One level following relegation but after an initial bedding in period, Neil Harris’ troops soon found their rhythm and shot-up the standings.
Millwall picked up 47 points from their final 22 games and the squad that suffered play-off final heartache isn’t in need of significant tweaks.
Sure, centre-back Mark Beevers has moved to Bolton but Sid Nelson is capable of stepping into the breach alongside Byron Webster whilst quality has been added in wide areas thanks to the signings of David Worrall and Gregg Wylde.
Young goalkeeper Jordan Archer claimed Player of the Year honours last season and in attack, deadly duo Steve Morison and the sought-after Lee Gregory will again lead the line having grabbed 33 league goals between them in 2015/16, whilst talented youngster Ben Thompson can only get better after an excellent campaign in central midfield.
Millwall lost just three league games in 2016 with Harris creating a simplified game-plan revolving around hard-work to reconnect disgruntled supporters. The result is a vibrant, talented and tightly-knit group that has the full backing of the Londoners vociferous fans.
There’s a real feel-good feeling around The Den right now and understandably so. In a section without any outstanding standout candidate, the Lions are worthy of support and can make a serious assault on top spot.
I’ll take the 11/1 from Bet365 on Millwall outright and back the capital club each-way to ensure a ¼ odds pay-out should Harris’ men finish second or third.
This time last year I recommended a run on Scunthorpe for promotion and it’s a selection I’ll return to again with Bet365 offering a generous 6/1 on the Iron climbing into the second-tier come May.
In 2015/16, Scunny missed out on Barnsley’s play-off place due to goal difference, an incredible achievement considering the side were sitting 16th in January when Mark Robins was ditched.
Andy Dawson and Nick Daws steadied the ship before Graham Alexander was given the gig. The ex-Fleetwood supremo added steel and self-belief to an already capable squad and saw his new look charges amass seven wins from their final nine fixtures.
Scunthorpe’s centre-back partnership of David Mirfin and Murray Wallace gives the club an excellent base to work from and Alexander has looked to coax a more attacking mind-set out of his full-backs Jordan Clarke and Conor Townsend, giving the Iron confidence and presence at the back.
Summer signings have purposely been few compared to last summer’s spending spree but rather than budgetary problems, the reasoning is again Alexander’s – the boss is keen to retain the core of last year’s squad with only three new faces being added into the mix.
Josh Morris and Duane Holmes should add pace and guile to the midfield flanks whilst Sam Mantom will prove a shrewd capture from Walsall. With Jamie Ness, Neal Bishop and skipper Stephen Dawson also in tow, there’s now a nice balance between brains and brawn.
And in attack, Scunthorpe have kept hold of hitman Paddy Madden, scorer of 34 goals over the past two terms.
There’ll perhaps be an overreliance on the Irishman going forward but even so, the Iron look a little underrated in the ante-post markets considering they suffered just three defeats in 2016.