REGULAR Football League contributor Matt Vale (@MattDVale) is topping up his League One ante-post picks after the first quarter of the season.
As a Walsall season ticket holder with renewed enthusiasm and excitement, I’ve seen plenty of League One over the past few years and have already seen a third of the teams play this season. Most have played around twelve games so it’s a perfect time for our quarterly review and a look at how things are panning out in England’s third tier.
In this same article last season, I successfully tipped Preston for promotion (11/8), Crawley to be relegated (11/4) and then-bottom Crewe to stay up (3/1). Only a fancy for Oldham to make the play-offs let me down but I’m sure this quick article will help a few of you out; especially those whose ante-post predictions are starting to look a little silly….
I didn’t expect to be writing this in early August but yes, Walsall are top of the table and perhaps deservedly so. We’ve only lost one of our first twelve and – more impressively – have only conceded six goals in the first dozen games.
Saturday’s 2-0 victory over Burton Albion was perhaps not our most fluid of the season but we showed a great mix of neat and tidy football and more than a hint of dogged determination and with Romaine Sawyers, Tom Bradshaw, Rico Henry, Adam Chambers and James O’Connor all on top form, I left Bescot whispering the word ‘play-offs’, if not quite ‘promotion’.
We’re a mind-blowing 8/15 to finish in the top six which I find almost as laughable as the 15/8 (Bet365) for promotion. We’re playing exceptionally well but there’s still a hell of a long way to go and both injuries to key players and the January transfer window terrify me.
Play Off Hopefuls
Obviously excluding us, Bury are the best side I’ve seen this season. They came to Bescot in early September without a win and comfortably managed to keep us at bay after nicking an early goal.
They’ve since gone on to win five and draw one of their next six league games and are unbeaten away from home in the league since a 1-0 reverse against Burton Albion in January.
After conceding 11 in their first five games of the season, the Shakers defence seem to have rekindled the solidity which served them so well last season and have shipped only six in their last seven (including the two late goals at home to Wigan on Saturday).
With Leon Clarke amongst the goals, frequent Walsall-nemesis Tom Pope in reserve and impressive wide-man Danny Mayor, Bury are here to stay and I’d happily back the 5/4 (Skybet) available for them to finish in the top six.
Elsewhere, I’m yet to see Peterborough and they would need to improve their record against the Top Ten (P7 W0 D2 L5), but there’s plenty of room for improvement in their squad and the 3/1 available for them to finish in the top six is worth a look.
With the title race wide-open and no runaway leaders for the first time in years, it may also be worth checking out some of the bigger odds on teams to win the league. Peterborough are currently 33/1, Wigan 18/1and Bradford 22/1. I can’t see a vast number of points between first and sixth come the end of the season so the extra value might be found in top-two or title markets.
Missing Out On The Play-Offs?
I expected a lot from Burton Albion on Saturday and left surprised but pleasantly thankful. They weren’t as neat and tidy as I imagined and the isolation of Stuart Beavon explains their lack of goals.
They were resolute enough (Saturday was only the third time under JFH’s stewardship that they’ve conceded more than once in a league game) and their excellent home form will no doubt continue but I get the impression that they’re still on a crest of a wave from last season and a few knock-backs might just leave them reeling.
The deficiency in front of goal (13 goals in 12) is a worry and, as this was their first visit to a side in the top half, I’d be keen to back them at 5/4 (Skybet) to miss out on the top six; especially with some of the more fancied sides yet to hit form.
Before the season kicked off, we were all giddily backing Chesterfield for relegation at 6/1. The departure of manager Paul Cook and the subsequent appointment of Dean Saunders had us all convinced that their short stay in League One was about to come to an abrupt conclusion.
Fast forward two months and we can now get 9/1 for the Spireites to be relegated; despite them sitting precariously in 16th position and having won only one of their previous seven. Their four league wins have come against four sides in the bottom half and, with the vultures already circling around Saunders and a trip to the Bescot on Saturday (!), we should be snapping up the 9/1 available with Bet365 whilst we can.
League One – Bury to finish in the top six (5/4 Skybet)
League One – Burton to miss out on the top six (5/4 Skybet)
League One – Chesterfield to be relegated (9/1 Bet365)
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