FOOTBALL LEAGUE fanatic Matt Vale (@MattDVale) shares his thoughts on the specials markets ahead of the 2017/18 League One season.
WLB Season Preview 2017/18 | League One: Specials
Having watched Walsall for 30 years, I’ve seen around 1,000 third-tier games; 14 of them actually half-decent. Recently, there’s been one team who are head-and-shoulders above the rest; Wolves in 2013/14, Bristol City in 2014/15, Walsall in 2015/16 (insert tongue in cheek here) and Sheffield United last season.
Blackburn look to be that side this campaign and I’ll be backing them for an immediate return to the Championship – they’re 5/2 with BetVictor for a top-two finish.
Tony Mowbray steadied the ship last term and although they still went down, their ability to call on the likes of Peter Whittingham, Dominic Samuel, Bradley Dack, Danny Graham and Charlie Mulgrew make them red-hot favourites for League One.
A good manager in League One is absolutely vital and is a big reason why I’m favouring Portsmouth and MK Dons over the likes of similarly fancied Wigan, Bury and Charlton.
Pompey failed to convince last season and for many of the seasons before that but now they’re finally rid of the shackles League Two, I think they might just kick-on.
They certainly won’t be seen as the scalp they were in the bottom tier and in Kenny Jackett they have the right man to help them to successive promotions; Jackett having secured 103 points in League One last time around.
The acquisition of Brett Pitman looks to be a shrewd one and I think Pompey might just clinch second spot behind Blackburn – the straight forecast is a whopping 50/1 (SkyBet!
For me, swapping Paul Cook for Jackett is a massive upgrade for Portsmouth and is why I’m not quite as keen on Wigan as the bookmakers.
Yes, they have a fabulous squad, calling on the likes of Sam Morsy, Alex Gilbey, Shey Dunkley, Nick Powell and either Will Grigg or Omar Bogle up top (if Bogle sticks around long enough).
However, I just can’t forget how much of a palaver Cook made of trying to get promotion with very good Chesterfield and Portsmouth teams and, although they should reach the play-offs, I just don’t think they’ll get over the line.
MK Dons, Bristol Rovers and Oxford all visited Walsall during the second half of last season and all impressed me suitably enough to enter my notebook for this season.
Robbie Neilson waltzed into MK Dons with fresh ideas and a new philosophy (granted, not difficult after the previous incumbent) and showed enough promise for me to think they’ll have a real crack at promotion this time around.
The Dons W12-D7-L10 once Neilson took charge and had the fourth best away record in the division. If they can manage to improve their home form to be even middle of the road then they’ll have a great chance. The acquisitions of Ethan Ebanks-Landell, Aaron Tshibola and Ryan Seager will certainly help and I think they’ll definitely finish in the top six at 9/4 (BetVictor).
I’m a big admirer of Darrell Clarke and Bristol Rovers seem to be pretty unfancied by the bookmakers and previews that I’ve read so far. I like the signing of Tom Nichols from Peterborough who will help fill the gap left by Matty Taylor and there’s a lot to be said for a consistent, steady squad in League One. I think they’ll do as well as last season, if not slightly better.
There are too many unknowns about Oxford for me to get too involved. Pep Clotet appears to be a sound appointment but without Chris Maguire and John Lundstram, their potential to progress has been halted slightly. They’ll have a good season – potentially play-offs – but I’m not quite as sure about them as I thought I would be.
Rotherham remind me a little of Aston Villa this time last season. An absolutely disastrous campaign seems to have been quickly forgotten and they’re now full of positivity that they’re a big fish in a small pond and everything will be just fine.
Sorry, Millers but I just can’t see it. Paul Warne is a reluctant manager, Danny Ward is a big loss and, although Darren Potter and David Ball are steady League One acquisitions, it takes a monumental effort to turn around a side that lost 33 games and conceded 98 goals into even a top half side, let alone a play-off one.
I’ll be backing Rotherham for a bottom-half finish at 5/6 (William Hill).
My own side Walsall seem destined to struggle and our lack of creativity and goals, plus the handicap of a tactically inept manager will leave us flirting with the bottom six.
Thankfully, Gillingham, Shrewsbury, AFC Wimbledon, Blackpool and Oldham will be there to keep us company.
League One – Blackburn to finish in the top-two (5/2 BetVictor)
League One – Blackburn-Portsmouth straight forecast (50/1 SkyBet)
League One – MK Dons to finish in the top-six (9/4 BetVictor)
League One – Rotherham to finish in the bottom-half (5/6 William Hill)
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