THE SKRILL PREMIER – ANTE POST PREVIEW from Alan Alger of Skrill.com
A new title sponsor in online payment company ‘Skrill' and a new broadcast partner in ‘BT Sport', but some things never change in the Conference. Luton Town find themselves at the head of the market for a fifth consecutive season, in a stay that nobody ever figured would last beyond 12 months. The incredible price of 6/4 (their 2009/10 promotion odds) for them to make an immediate return will be filed in the ‘worst ever bets' folder of all hindsight merchants. Now against the backdrop of a seventh placed finish last season – when they'd never been further away from a Football League return.
It's an unforgiving division with just one automatic promotion spot and that can define seasons and force rash decisions. The last two runners-up in the section both managed a haul well in excess of 90 points yet both ended up empty handed. Even a shot at the play-offs regularly requires at least 1.9 points per game – the kind of return that will often send a Barclay's Premier League team to the Champions League! Fourth place is certainly no trophy in this league Monsieur Wenger!
So The Hatters once again find themselves sharing favouritism with a side splashing the cash. Forest Green Rovers are indeed clear favourites in some quarters, but this is their second season of being tagged as the ‘moneybags' club. A poor campaign last year saw them finish in tenth, 15 points off a play-off berth, and dashed the hopes of punters looking to follow up on the success of previous big spenders Crawley and Fleetwood.
Dave Hockaday's team gained just one point from a possible 24 when playing at home to the sides that eventually made up the ‘top 8' – so vast improvement is needed. Their squad does look stronger this season, but best odds of around 5/1 do not make any appeal. Luton's best price of 9/2 will have taken the eye of some, but those with their fingers burnt in previous campaigns may just let them ride. The each-way supposed ‘bet to nothing' on them finishing in the top three would only appeal to the very brave.
A nice range of ‘Long Term' markets are available on the division and Bet Victor have continued the fine service from last season where they matched the now defunct title sponsor, Blue Square Bet, special for special. Starting with the basic outright market though, last season's runners-up Kidderminster Harriers demand an each-way investment at 8/1 (Bet Victor). Steve Burr has added Lee Fowler to his squad, the player with the best ‘win ratio'in the division over the last three seasons. His time at Wrexham and Fleetwood proved that he can dictate games at this level.
There wasn't much wrong with The Harriers anyway, although we have to forgive their capitulation in the play-off semi-finals in the spring. The two-legged defeat to Wrexham can possibly be attributed to tired legs after chasing Mansfield all the way in the title race. Either way, they cannot start as badly as last season (3 wins in their first 17 games) and even a minor improvement on the first half would put them in great shape to challenge again.
Kidderminster also appeal on Bet Victor's Handicap at 18/1 with a +7 point start (+5 with all other firms) – with both Forest Green AND Luton Town off ‘scratch' there must be additional value in this popular market. The Racing Post Non-League tipster Dan Childs is to be respected on this league and I was pleased when he tipped Cambridge United for the outright each-way as I also fancy The U's to go well this season. I'd much rather play them on Bet Victor's Handicap at 18/1 with an incredibly generous +12 point start (as low as +8 in places). Richard Money has built a good squad that he will make difficult to beat, but also cram with match-winning options week-in-week out to improve on four disappointing seasons under his predecessors.
The relegation market in this division is now titled ‘Bottom Four Finish' – just in case things get settled off the pitch at any point in the season. The prices have been built around Aldershot starting with a -10 point figure in the table. They are 2/5 to sink with that burden, but may make a better fist of it than those odds suggest. Four teams make appeal to me at prices that will ensure that if just one is right we won't be losing too much, and of course in the hope we can fill more of the spaces than that for a nice profit.
Southport's squad looks weaker than the one that survived by just four points last season so they have to be backed at 9/4 (Bet Victor). Tamworth have been severely weakened by departures and with just five points to spare last time also have to be backed at 3/1 (Sky Bet). Salisbury City look to have a tough task on their hands to extend their stay beyond one season under young boss Mikey Harris, Bet Victor's 5/1 that they end up in the bottom quartet is more than fair. The other recommendation would be Dartford at 6/1 (Sky Bet) for the reason that South play-off winners always struggle to last more than two seasons and the because of the good players they have lost in the transfer window.
Elsewhere we are offered the chance to bet on the Top Goalscorer, but this division (as with any of the ones lower down) presents the conundrum of the January transfer window. Matt Tubbs nearly cost me with a departure to Bournemouth in 2010/11, only for the deal to be delayed for a few months because of Steve Evans' champions landing a plum FA Cup tie at Old Trafford. I forget who drew the Crawley ball out that day but I certainly owe him a drink.
With a degree of caution advised, Jon Shaw looks the type of player that will go about his business quietly for Luton Town and at 20/1 (Coral, Totesport) makes plenty of each-way appeal for a title chasing team who look to have built a large portion of their system around him. Particularly when you consider that potential strike partner Andre Gray is a weak favourite in the lists due to ongoing speculation over a move away from Kenilworth Road.
ALAN'S LONG TERM BETTING ADVICE FOR 2013/14 IN THE SKRILL PREMIER:
Kidderminster Harriers 8/1 E/way (Bet Victor)
Kidderminster Harriers +7 18/1 E/way (Bet Victor)
Cambridge United +12 18/1 E/way (Bet Victor)
BOTTOM FOUR FINISH
Southport 9/4 (Bet Victor)
Tamworth 3/1 (Sky Bet)
Salisbury City 5/1 (Bet Victor)
Dartford 6/1 (Sky Bet)
Jon Shaw 20/1 E/way (Coral, Totesport)