FOOTBALL LEAGUE expert Mark O’Haire (@MarkOHaire) analyses the best bets in the League One relegation market for 2016/17.
League One | Relegation
With four clubs suffering League One demotion, finding a side to take the drop should in theory be easier than elsewhere in the Football League. However, that one extra relegation place is reflected in the ante-post markets with pre-season odds suffering.
So whilst obvious selections to struggle, such as Oldham and Port Vale, should be considered, do we really want to tie up our hard-earned dosh on 7/4 shots? No.
The League One relegation market is always one that intrigues me and I’m always keen to be a little more adventurous.
Last year I copped a bit of grief for backing Swindon at 9/1 for the drop following their play-off final defeat and although the Robins fluttered into a mid-table position, the theory and ethos behind that selection is the base of my first punt this time around…
Walsall were offered at just 4/1 for relegation heading into last season but the Saddlers took the section by storm, threatening the automatic promotion places for much of the campaign and eventually suffering play-off heartache at the hands of a rampant Barnsley outfit.
Now the Black Country boys have routinely been cast as relegation favourites over the past five or so seasons and regularly defied the odds under the stewardship of Dean Smith.
As we know, Smith moved on to pastures new midway through last year and after Sean O’Driscoll made a hash of things at the Banks’s Stadium, Jon Withney saw out the season.
Whitney, once a physio at the club, has been at Walsall for six years but this is his first step into management and although he kept the club on track last year, he was tactically found out over two legs against Barnsley.
I’ve big reservations over his credentials and he hasn’t been helped by the break-up of last year’s squad. Top scorer Tom Bradshaw, Sam Mantom, Romaine Sawyers, Anthony Forde, Milan Lalkovic and more have departed with Whitney taking over a rebuilding job.
The assumption that the Saddlers will go well again ‘just because they did last season’ seems a bit fanciful, to me.
A 37-year transfer record was broken to bring in Cypriot striker Andreas Makris but the 20-year-old forward is unproven on these shores. Erhun Oztumer’s an exciting addition from Posh and Simeon Jackson has always had the potential to ignite at this level but should Walsall really be rated as 13/2 (Sportingbet) shots for the drop?
It’s a price based on last season’s success, not taking into account the new team/squad and an unproven manager.
Unsuccessful play-off campaigns at League One level tend to lead towards a stronger push at promotion the following year or a serious battle with relegation; I’d rather be on the latter here.
The average position of a promoted League Two side is 13th over the past 10 years whilst only six clubs have suffered immediate demotion over previous 11 seasons – two very strong trends to support Northampton, Oxford, Bristol Rovers and Wimbledon this term.
However, the rapid rise of Wimbledon makes the Crazy Gang a little vulnerable this term.
The capital club took just 14 years to arrive at this level and having been chalked up at 33/1 ante-post in 2015/16, it’s fair to say few expected a promotion push.
Neil Ardley’s were 14th at Christmas but a final flourish and the goals from Lyle Taylor saw Wimbledon pierce the top-seven and deservedly take their place in League One thanks to an excellent play-off campaign. But now the real work begins.
The Kingsmeadow club’s budget is miniscule compared to plenty of their divisional rivals and a small squad could struggle with the demands of third-tier football should injuries begin to bite.
Ardley is a well thought of tactician in the game and will hope momentum can carry his troops on to a season of survival and consolidation.
But with stretched resources, should the Crazy Gang be marked up as seventh favourites and 4/1 (SkyBet) shots for the drop?
I’d love Wimbledon to prove me wrong here but this is a betting game and I’m backing a swift return to League Two at that price.
League One – Walsall to be relegated (13/2 Sportingbet)
League One – Wimbledon to be relegated (4/1 SkyBet)