MARK O’HAIRE (@MarkOHaire) highlights the best betting opportunities from the opening weekend of the Football League season.
Reading v Preston | Saturday 15.00
Reading were a Premier League club as recently as 2013 but the Royals have languished no higher than 17th in their past two attempts at the Championship and enter 2015/16 with their fourth new manager in just two years.
John Madjeski sold the club to Anton Zingarevich but his reign in charge left the Berkshire boys staring at a financial mess whilst the Thai consortium who eventually took charge were rumoured to be looking for their own getaway after another campaign of decline.
Something needed changing and the Royals, with a little Dutch courage, acted decisively this summer.
The club appointed Brian Tevreden – a former Ajax coach – as Director of Football and brought in legendary defender (and management novice) Jaap Stam as their new boss.
Understandably, the MadStad supporters are tentatively optimistic about the new era but it may take time for the new-look approach under Stam to pay dividends. A coach of Ajax’s youth team, the ex-Manchester United man will favour an attacking and traditional Dutch 4-3-3 formation.
Reading will look to press high from midfield with their centre-halves sitting deep. Potentially crucial to the system would have been Oliver Norwood but his sale this week – in my eyes, Reading’s best player – leaves a void in the middle.
New signing Joey van den Berg is expected to add the steel in the side but I can’t help but feel we should be opposing Berkshire’s finest until we see evidence to the contrary.
If Reading gambled this summer, Preston have quite rightly opted for continuity and consistency.
Simon Grayson deserves plenty of plaudits for guiding the Lilywhites into a comfortable top-half position in North End’s first campaign back in the second-tier since 2010/11.
Sure, Preston were far from pleasing on the eye but do PNE fans care? Of course not. It’s all about consolidation at this point with the visitors’ budget dwarfed by an abundance of big Championship fish this term.
Grayson conducted swift transfer business this summer and had the majority of his squad in place for the whole of pre-season with new additions Callum Robinson and Ben Pringle arriving just a few days after training started.
Injury victim Calum Woods’ absence is a blow at right-back but I’m certain Preston will arrive primed and ready for action here. They’re a unit, there’s a strong structure in place, every player will know their job, work hard and make life incredibly difficult for a new-look Reading outfit.
Last season only 90 goals were scored in North End games – no side’s matches featured fewer – and only twice did the Lancashire outfit lose by two or more goals. PNE kept 14 clean sheets and no club outside the top-six shipped fewer than their 45-goal tally.
I want the Lilywhites onside here and so I’ll snap up 188BET’s odds-against quotes on Preston with a +0/0.50 Asian Handicap start at 2.05 – we’ll pocket a half-stakes win should PNE pick up a point and full-stakes profit if the visitors claim a victory.
Millwall v Oldham | Saturday 15.00
Millwall fans would have bitten your hand off a crack at the play-offs this time last season and it’s fair to say, few thought the Lions would enjoy a major tilt at promotion back to the Championship.
The Londoners exceeded expectations in their first campaign back at League One level and 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.
Key centre-back Mark Beevers has moved on but there’s a ready-made replacement in Sid Nelson already at The Den whilst quality has been added to the flanks following the signings of David Worrall and Gregg Wylde.
Crucially, Harris has so far managed to keep hold of sought-after striker Lee Gregory, who’ll partner Steve Morison in attack this weekend – the deadly duo grabbed 33 league goals between them last season and represent the third-tier’s outstanding front two.
There’s a real feel-good feeling around The Den right now and with the Lions losing just three league games in 2016, I’m confident the Bermondsey boys can make a sustained challenge on the automatic promotion positions.
Millwall can begin their campaign with a comfortable victory at home to Oldham on Saturday and should be supported in the Asian Handicap market with 188BET offering 1.85 on Harris’ charges with a -0.50/1 start.
Taking this selection sees us collect a half-stakes profit if the Londoners win by exactly one-goal and a full-stakes profit landed should Millwall run out victors by at least two goals.
Few clubs have suffered a more turbulent summer than visitors Oldham.
The Latics are onto their sixth manager in 18 months but new boss Steve Robinson didn’t takeover until just over a month ago and with no previous management experience.
A lack of resources at Boundary Park saw Athletic return to pre-season with just six professionals on their books and although Robinson has moved fast to bulk out the squad, Oldham are quite rightly ranked as League One’s rank outsiders this term.
Hartlepool v Colchester | Saturday 15.00
Hartlepool came flying out of the traps in 2015/16 but their early season momentum soon dissipated under Ronnie Moore and eventually threatened their League Two status.
Moore was moved on and Craig Hignett given the gig in February and the former Middlesbrough midfielder steadied the ship to see Pools conclude the campaign in 16th – it could have been even higher had the Monkey Hangers not eased off once their fourth-tier status was confirmed.
Summer business has brought optimism back to Victoria Park with Hignett managing to snare Grimsby’s 30-goal promotion hero Padriag Amond; an area that needs decent surgery with Hartlepool having plundered just 49 goals last time out.
It’s also hard to find faults in Hignett’s other summer signings – Michael Woods, Jake Orrell and Lewis Alessandra should bolster the ranks and with Billy Paynter still knocking about, United have more ways than one to find the back of the net.
Opponents Colchester conceded one short of a century of goals during their relegation from League One in a campaign that saw neither Tony Humes nor Kevin Keen find the magic formula between a potential potent attack and an unbalanced or structured defence.
Over the off-season ColU have lost gems George Moncur and Alex Gilbey with first-time manager John McGreal moving up from the U21s to try and consolidate the club.
The ex-Ipswich defender has added eight new faces but few are fancying the Essex-outfit to make any inroads on the top-seven and it may take time for the travellers to really find their feet.
With that in mind, I’ll happily side with Hartlepool off a 0 start on the Asian Handicap market at 1.85 with 188BET.
Working in the exact same format as the Draw No Bet market, we’ll see our stake returned should the game end all square but pick up profit should the hosts take the honours.
Yeovil v Notts County | Saturday 15.00
Yeovil’s fairytale rise to the Championship ended in tears with back-to-back relegations and 51 league losses from 92 fixtures leaving the Glovers reeling ahead of their return to League Two last summer.
Sitting rock bottom and with just two wins before 2016, the realistic prospect of another demotion led the club to remove Paul Sturrock as manager and give crowd favourite Darren Way the job to keep the West Country club afloat.
From two points adrift off safety, the Greens jumped to an end-of-season finish of 19th and 14 points clear of the drop zone thanks to a superb run of results built upon solid and firm defensive foundations.
The Somerset side recorded the 12th best League Two return from the 1st December (the date Way took interim charge), losing just seven of 26 encounters and keeping their sheets clean on 11 occasions. The only negative? no fourth-tier club scored fewer goals (43).
Still, it’s a fantastic tale, made all the more remarkable thanks to an online poll at the local Western Gazette rag that suggested only 3% voted for Way to be given the job full-time. The ex-midfielder has won over the supporters thanks to his meticulous preparation, professionalism and positivity.
There’s been a summer clear-out at Huish Park but you’d suspect similar themes from the Glovers this time and Saturday’s season opener against Notts County could see two managers driven by a need for organisation and defensive excellence cancel each other out.
It’s been another summer of upheaval at County but in John Sheridan the Magpies boast a boss that’s well adept with fire-fighting missions and finding solutions in the most difficult of circumstances.
Having splashed the cash before a transfer embargo impacted, Notts were expected to challenge the top echelons of League Two last season but a rollercoaster campaign under Ricardo Moniz, then Jamie Fullarton and lastly Mark Cooper resulted in a lowly 17th-place finish.
For a club that’s made few smart decisions in recent years, Sheridan should consolidate the club and like Way, he’ll be hell-bent on keeping his team compact, difficult to beat whilst demanding 100% commitment and buy-in to his ideas.
In spells at Newport and Oldham last term, Sheridan oversaw 39 league fixtures with 24 (62%) resulting in winning Under 2.5 Goals selections.
Yeovil followed suit under Way’s tutelage with 18/26 (69%) League Two outings featuring fewer than three goals. 188BET have chalked up Under 2.5 Goals as a 1.81 shot.
The odds suggest a 56% chance of winning but with both Way and Sheridan’s Under 2.5 Goals strike-rate well above the 60% mark, I’m happy to jump on the value price.
Reading v Preston – Preston +0/0.50 Asian Handicap (2.05 188BET)
Millwall v Oldham – Millwall -0.50/1 Asian Handicap (1.85 188ET)
Hartlepool v Colchester – Hartlepool 0 Asian Handicap (1.85 188BET)
Yeovil v Notts County – Under 2.5 Goals (1.81 188BET)
There's four Football League selections this season. Why? Well our sponsors 188BET offer an industry-leading four-fold acca insurance offer so if just one leg lets you down (of four-folds or higher), they'll hand your cash back.
The promotion applies to pre-match bets on the 1×2 and Both Teams To Score markets with minimum odds of 1.70 but do check the full terms and conditions before placing your acca.