WE’RE all set for another season of Football League and Mark O’Haire (@MarkOHaire) has scanned the week one card to find three bets worthy of considering come Saturday with odds supplied by our brand new Football League sponsors Favourit.
Blackburn Rovers v Wolverhampton Wanderers | Saturday 15.00
The opening weekend of the Football League season should always be approached with caution. Despite the various claims of managers up and down the country that their side is ready after a successful pre-season, the truth of the matter is, the majority of clubs won’t be. It can take time to adjust back into the rigours of competitive league football and it’s advisable to tread carefully unless you’ve found an angle worthy of pursuing.
Looking at data over the past five years we can see that only 54% of opening day odds-on favourites justified their skinny price by winning – 32/70 (46%) failed to record maximum points. Nottingham Forest struggled to see off a disastrous and underprepared Blackpool at this stage last season despite 2/5 quotes. So those contemplating a wager on Hull at home to underrated Huddersfield may want to reassess.
There is one match that does stick out, mind. Returning to the opening paragraph, it’s revealing that Blackburn are eager to see out August as quickly as possible following a turbulent off-season. Having suggested Rovers for relegation at a nice price in our pre-season previews, I’m keen to oppose the Lancastrians again this weekend.
The club dismissed an approach from Burnley for defender Grant Hanley this week whilst snapping up free transfer signings Nathan Delfouneso and Danny Guthrie. It’s hardly earth-shattering business but it’s the best that boss Gary Bowyer can do under the transfer embargo at Ewood Park. Jordan Rhodes is still rumoured to want out and with Rudy Gestede, Tom Cairney and Josh King just three of 14 players with first-team experience to leave, it’s hard to find the positives.
There’s no question the current crop at Blackburn are considerably weaker than the group that took Blackburn to within 11 points off the play-offs in 2014/15 and I can’t help but feel the upheaval at Ewood may have a knock-on effect this weekend. They just have to be taken on with Wolves heading north.
There were murmurings of discontent over a the lack of signings at Molineux for the majority of the summer but Wolves supporters should be delighted at the business Kenny Jackett’s completed just this week. Serial goal-getter Adam Le Fondre has been added to an attack already featuring the frightening Benik Afobe and the deadly Nouha Dicko as well as the loan capture of Liverpool flyer Sheyi Ojo – the Black Country boys now boast one of the most devastating second tier forward-lines.
Jackett’s been bullish about his team’s prospects, claiming they’re more than ready for week one whilst also stressing the important to get off to a good start, “Starting well is vital – so much of your season is based on your start, you don’t want to be recovering”. There’s a real air of confidence about the Wolves boss and you can bet your bottom dollar they’ll be organised and meticulously prepared.
Injury has robbed the visitors of Jed Wallace, a summer signing from Portsmouth, but Conor Coady’s settled in brilliantly since joining from Huddersfield and Wanderers would be gutted if they came away empty handed. Only three sides picked up more points in the second half of last season (W13-D5-L5) and it’s worth noting that six of their away defeats came at top-eight teams. Take out those top-eight clubs and Wolves’ road record reads W8-D6-L2 while they also did the league double over Saturday’s opponents.
The best value appears to be backing Wolves in the Draw No Bet market at 2.00 with Favourit. Taking this selection means we’ll get our cash back should the match end all square with a Blackburn win the only result possible to leave us out of pocket.
Chesterfield v Barnsley | Saturday 15.00
Harping back to preparation, it’s hard to believe Chesterfield will be up to speed come Saturday. The Spireites lost highly-rated manager Paul Cook and top performer Gary Roberts to Portsmouth with talented midfielder Jimmy Ryan, starlet Sam Clucas and key defender Tendayi Darikwa also heading for the exit after their failed play-off attempt.
Dean Saunders is hoping to resurrect the side but reinforcements have been few and far between leaving the Derbyshire outfit thin on the ground. Last week chief executive Chris Turner indicated that the club was ’48 to 72 hours away’ from making signings that would ‘excite the fans’ but as yet, nothing has materialised.
It’s not all bad news. Saunders still has a solid back-line to work with – Tommy Lee is protected by fit again Drew Talbot, Ian Evatt, Sam Hird and Dan Jones but the Spireites are seriously lacking in midfield. Three of the regular five players under Cook’s charge have yet to be replaced and the engine room at the Proact Stadium is lacking resources.
Great news then for Barnsley who finished their 2014/15 campaign with a surge under talented Lee Johnson’s tutelage (W7-D6-L3). Oldham nosedived following Johnson’s departure whilst the Tykes roared and although the Reds are without Ryan Williams this weekend, their youthful squad should be trusted at fancy 2.37 quotes, again in the Draw No Bet market with Favourit.
Johnson’s hungry for success and made no bones about his ambition to win promotion this season. His column in the Racing Post’s Big Kick-Off was impressive and the capture of 17-year-old Arsenal prodigy Dan Crowley could easily be the game changer that pushes Barnsley into top-two contention, even if he’s only on a six-month loan deal.
Oxford United v Crawley Town | Saturday 15.00
OK, you know that second paragraph about favourites? Scrap that. Forget about it. Put it to the back of your mind and lets start over; I’m going to go against what I’ve said previously as I just have to put Oxford up at 1.75 with Favourit.
I’m not Michael Appleton’s biggest fan and I’d need persuading to believe he’s the right man to guide The U’s to promotion but there’s no doubt they should be improving on last season’s disappointing 13th-placed finish. They did conclude their campaign impressively, suffering just four defeats in their final 20 outings with defence their strong point – Oxford ending their efforts with 11 clean sheets from 22.
With decent transfer business conducted – defender George Baldock returns on loan, Sam Slocombe takes over the number one jersey, Liam Sercombe is a classy midfield addition from Exeter, striker Ryan Taylor arrives from Portsmouth and most impressively, speedster Kemar Roofe is back permanently having hit six goals in his final seven matches – and with a brand new playing surface conductive to passing football laid at the Kassam, the ‘no-excuse environment’ created by the club suggests everything’s in place for a tilt at the top-three.
The total opposite can be said of Crawley. Town fought valiantly against League One relegation under Dean Saunders’ rule last term but have undergone huge changes over the summer. Mark Yates has been charged with stabilising the ship and the club admit bouncing back to the third tier is probably unlikely as they look to consolidate.
Crawley fans would probably bite your hand off if you offered them mid-table mediocrity and things could take a turn for the worse before improving. Yates has plugged the huge holes in his squad with freebies and kids but there remains a void at left-back. And if pre-season results are anything to go by, the Red Devils need a whole lot of surgery before Saturday.
Obviously friendly results and performances need to be taken with a pinch of salt but Yates’ comments after Crawley’s final warm-up fixture were striking. Having lost to National South side Whitehawk, the Town manager said, “We couldn’t get near them all day today. “We had a general tiredness and lethargy. They were better than us by a million miles and credit to them for that”. It’s 1.75 (Favourit) The U’s pocket the opening day points.
Blackburn v Wolves – Wolves draw no bet (2.00 Favourit)
Chesterfield v Barnsley – Barnsley draw no bet (2.37 Favourit)
Oxford v Crawley – Oxford to win (1.75 Favourit)
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