WE'RE delighted to introduce Matt Vale (@MattDVale) to the WeLoveBetting stable and in his first piece, the League One fanatic takes a look at how the third tier is panning out after the first quarter…
League One: A Quarterly Review
As an increasingly less enthusiastic follower of Walsall, I’ve seen plenty of League One football over the past few seasons and this year is no exception. All the teams have now played at least 12 games and I’ve seen a third of the division with my very own eyes. What better time for a Quarterly Review of how things stand in the third tier of English football.
The Table Toppers
Bristol City are the obvious place to start. The Robins currently sit six points clear at the top of the tree and they’re the best side I’ve seen this season. Although they were good, they’re a long way from being Wolves and Brentford ‘good’ and there is an opportunity to exploit their weaknesses in defence. Their expansive 3-5-2 formation is great for the neutral and sees them score plenty of goals (30) but does leave them vulnerable to the counter-attack and they’ve conceded as many goals as Walsall (15).
Most of their creative danger comes from Luke Freeman in central midfield or Mark Little down the right-hand side but they’ve got pace, flair and goal threats from all over the pitch. The price for promotion vanished before the middle of August but they are always worth looking at if you like the Result & Both Teams To Score market. This would have paid out in six of their nine wins this season whilst BTTS was successful in 10/14!
The Best Of The Rest
Peterborough, Preston North End, MK Dons, Notts County and Sheffield United make up the remainder of the top-six and Notts County aside, all were tipped to be there or thereabouts. Simon Grayson’s men disappointed when I saw them beaten 3-1 at Walsall but that was their only setback of the season and they’d be my fancy to accompany Bristol City in the automatic promotion places.
The Lilywhites have only lost four times in their last 33 league games and haven’t been beaten at Deepdale since Brentford came to town back in December 2013. 11/8 (Bet365) for promotion is slightly skinny but is a better bet than similar prices available for Peterborough and Sheffield United.
The Surprise Package
If you’re looking for a surprise package, then Oldham fit the bill nicely. Lee Johnson’s men currently lie in eighth and the Football League’s youngest manager has overseen another impressive run of form at the ridiculously named SportsDirect.com Park (Boundary Park to me and you).
Following on from last season’s 10-game unbeaten run, the Latics have lost just three of their past 26 games in all competitions and have done so despite seeing a massive overhaul in personnel during the summer. Any Walsall fan who went to Boundary Park a couple of weeks ago couldn’t fail to be impressed by Oldham’s energy and fight as they bullied their way to victory but Tuesday’s 4-1 victory over Coventry showed that they can play a bit too.
Oldham are available at 9/2 (Bet365) for a top six finish or 14/1 (William Hill) for a surprise promotion. The latter might be beyond them but they’ll give you a good run for your money if you fancy them to reach the play-offs. They’re the pick of the chasing pack and it’s a shame I couldn’t have written this three weeks ago when I backed them at 11/1 for the top six!
After seeing off Walsall on Tuesday, Crawley aren’t exactly flavour of the month in the Vale household so I’m going to use my WeLoveBetting powers to tip them for relegation. They appear to be sat comfortably in 13th position but they've only a four-point cushion to the drop zone. They won their first two fixtures at Barnsley and at home to Swindon but both were by a solitary goal and both were assisted by red cards.
Since then, they’ve only won three times in 12 games, all deep in the second-half and all after being outplayed for most of the 90 minutes. It’s the nature of their defeats which catches our eye. They conceded five to Notts County, four to Peterborough, four to Rochdale, three to Bradford and despite victory last night, Walsall had 25 attempts on goal!
A more confident, more assured side than the Saddlers would have come away with a comfortable three points. Upcoming fixtures against Gillingham, Crewe and Scunthorpe might tell us more but I’m happy to snap up the 11/4 (Skybet) available on the Red Devils to be relegated.
Against All Odds
At the start of October, Crewe were completely off the rails, manager Steve Davis was well and truly snookered and they seemed destined for League Two. What a difference three weeks makes! Alex have moved to a new system with three central defenders and they’ve won three on the spin, culminating in Tuesday’s hard earned 1-0 victory over Peterborough.
The three central defenders defend resolutely, ably supported by Anthony Grant in midfield and the system allows George Cooper, Brad Inman and Febian Brandy the opportunity to express themselves in the advanced positions. They weren’t overly impressive at Walsall on Saturday but they defended well and took full advantage of their strength at set-pieces to nick the winner.
If they continue in the same vein, there’s no reason why they should be 1/2 or 4/11 shots for relegation. Last night’s win moved them above Walsall into 22nd. It’s not for me but Crewe might just be back on track (they're 3/1 with BetVictor to stay up – ed).